The Bible records two separate creation accounts. The first one describes the
creation of Homo Perfectus, who was created in the image of God.
Elohim said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness...so Elohim created man [humankind] in his own image, in the image of Elohim created he him; male and female created he them.1
It is crucial to an understanding of the text to know that the word Elohim is the word that is translated as God. It is a plural noun but is used to designate the one, Creator God. Elohim means "rulers" or "majesties." Philologists classify it as a masculine noun and they do this knowing that elsewhere in the Bible, Elohim refers to the feminine and is used to denote a goddess. It is used interchangeably as a male or female noun because in its origin it is an androgynous word.2 And that is the sense in which it is used in the first creation account.
The biblical account is remarkable in the way that it is able to transcend the barriers of language and reveal a profound truth to a dogmatically patriarchal society: Elohim is the androgynous God who unites the male and female principles within its Godhead and created human beings in its own male/female image.
It was this male/female unity, manifested in each person, that constituted the power and perfection of Homo Perfectus. In this state of unity within themselves, these beings were also in union with the mother/father God, Elohim. Yet in spite of their goodness, and in spite of the fact that these first beings imaged God, the misuse of their free will caused them to fall from their high estate.
No details of that original fall are given. It happened so far back in time, and was such a high order of existence, that the ancient Hebrew chroniclers were incapable of describing the kind of world inhabited by these distant forbears. The Bible simply reports the fact of their existence and then goes on to give the second creation account--the story of Adam and Eve.
Adam and Eve represent the advent of Homo Sapiens and their appearance marks a degeneration of human beings that has already taken place. The time that elapsed between Homo Perfectus and Homo Sapiens was eonic and the differences between them are profound. The Bible makes no claim that either Adam or Eve truly imaged God. Neither does it say that God blessed the couple or told them to be "fruitful, and multiply and fill the earth." The scriptures reserve that blessing for the first human beings: for Homo Perfectus.
The Bible describes the differences between the two human species. It reports that Homo Perfectus was created in God's image but says that "the Lord God formed Adam from the dust of the ground."3 The numerous translations of this verse of scripture are careful to avoid using the word dirt when referring to Adam's origins, although this would be an accurate translation. (Elsewhere in the Scriptures, the same word is translated as rubbish.)
In reporting that Adam was made from the dust/dirt of the earth, the Bible is making its point in the strongest possible terms: Homo Sapiens is of a much lower order than Homo Perfectus. And just in case that message has been missed, the scripture uses very different terms in describing the advent of the two species. Homo Perfectus is described as being "created" in the image of God. It is an exalted term: to create is to "make a thing that has not been made before."
But that is not the term used to describe the birth of Homo Sapiens. Adam is not created, he is formed--this is a utilitarian, rather than an exalted, undertaking. The ancient Hebrew uses the same word when referring to pottery--to the making of pots, dishes, and vases. These are not original creations; they are formed from preexisting materials that are mingled and molded in a new way. Adam was not an original creation: he represents a human race that was remodeled--remade--after the original creation had fallen from its high estate.
The Bible makes further distinctions between Homo Sapiens and Homo Perfectus by describing their different spheres of influence and responsibility. The first humans were given sovereignty over the earth and all other creatures. "Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air...over all the earth."4 They could be trusted with such tremendous power and responsibility because they were created in the image of God.
This was not true of Homo Sapiens. Adam was not a perfect reflection of God and could not be given such far-reaching powers. In fact he was never given dominion over any other creature in the Garden of Eden, much less over the whole earth. His much-humbler circumstances and responsibilities are described in the second chapter of Genesis. He was to work for God as a caretaker: a gardener. And even in that capacity he was not given unlimited domain; he was restricted to a clearly circumscribed portion of the earth.
"The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed...and the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it." 5
Although Adam represents a human race that no longer manifested the perfection of its Creator, the grace of God continued to abound. The man was given beautiful surroundings in which to live and little effort was required of him. There was a river that watered the land and in this lush setting everything grew easily. The fruit of the trees was abundant and was given to him for food.
Yet in spite of this paradisiacal existence, Adam was not satisfied. He was an imperfect being--incomplete-- and he was lonely. Seeing this, God declared, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a help meet for him."6 God formed the other creatures of the earth--the animals--to be companions for him. They were not created for his "use" and Adam was not given dominion over these creatures.
But their presence was not enough. In spite of their companionship he still felt a dissatisfied longing. "But for Adam, there was not found an help meet for him."7 It is at this point in the narrative that the woman appears. And although men have always referred to her as the helpmate that finally meets Adam's needs, the Bible never refers to the woman in this way. Only the animals are said to have been formed to help the man.
The story of Eve's appearance is unique. In the second chapter of Genesis all other creatures are described as being made from the dust of the earth. Not so the woman. She is not formed from the earth--she is withdrawn from Adam. She is the female principle whose existence was experienced only as a lack until she appeared in material form.
When Adam was formed from the dust of the earth, he did not become a living being until God breathed into him the "breath of life."8 This "breath"--the Hebrew nesh-aw-maw'-that gave him life--was feminine."9 Because Homo Sapiens is androgynous by nature, Adam could not become a living being until he was infused by God with the feminine. In his fallen state he was unaware of his androgyny, although he knew something essential was missing; that life, for him, was incomplete. But in order for him to realize the female component of his own being, that which was innate within him had to be manifested.
"And the Lord God caused a heavy sleep to fall upon the man and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh thereof. "10
This quotation is from the King James version of the Bible, and it gives the same misleading message that other translations have given. But following is the kind of translation found in interlinear Hebrew-English textbooks; books that are written by, and for, scholars. It gives a different message:
And Yahweh Elohim caused a heavy sleep to fall upon the Man and he slept;
and he took One from his ribs and closed flesh instead-of-her.11
This scholarly translation makes it clear that the Bible does not say God took one (1) of Adam's ribs and formed the woman from it. Besides using the wrong preposition in the popular translations--took one of his ribs, instead of one from his ribs--the word for one has been treated as if it was a number. But the word does not refer to the numeral one (1). When the Bible states that "one" was taken "from his ribs" it is referring to personhood--to the one who was taken--to the person who became known as Eve. She personifies the female component, nesh-aw-maw' that God breathed into Adam after his physical formation as a male.
In telling the story of Eve's advent, the Scriptures are reporting one of the most profound mysteries of human life. But scholars have managed to obscure the truth the Bible seeks to reveal. They have used the word rib to describe the part of Adam that was utilized in the formation of Eve. They have done this although the word used in the Bible--tsela--does not mean a rib. Their corruption of the text implies that woman was somewhat of a postscript. She could be formed simply and completely by the removal of a single rib from the male: "and [God] took one of his ribs."
In reality, the Bible says nothing at all about Adam's rib. The Hebrew word
for rib is ala, but the word the bible uses to refer to the appearance of Eve is
tsela. It does not take an expert to see that they are two entirely different
words. Tsela is used forty times in the Hebrew scriptures, but the only place it
is translated as rib(s) is in the account of Eve's formation. Only an extreme
bias can account for the fact that scholars translated tsela as rib.
Elsewhere in the bible, tsela is used in its true meaning--with the connotation of an overarching or encompassing thing or structure; an enclosure surrounding something sacred. In First Kings 6:5, tsela is used to describe that which surrounds both the sacred Temple and the Holy of Holies. In Exodus 25:1112 it is used to describe the covering that surrounds all sides of the Ark of the Covenant.
The account of Eve's formation has the same connotation. There is an important, mysterious essence contained within the overarching, skeletal structure of the man: it is the female principle. But he has no awareness of this principle until it is manifested by the advent of Eve. She was not formed from one of Adam's ribs: Eve is the personification of the essence that is an integral part of his being--the female essence.
In the story of Adam and Eve, the Bible overcomes the barriers of language by the use of powerful imagery. In describing how God reached deep inside Adam to withdraw the female of the species, the Scripture reveals the existential truth that although the race of Homo Sapiens manifests itself as separate male and female creatures, its reality is something different. Like their predecessors, Homo Perfectus, Adam and Eve are androgynous creatures. But in their diminished and fallen state of being, they do not have awareness of that fact. To have any contact with their inner reality, each needs to see it manifested in the other sex.
When Adam first sees Eve, he exuberantly cries out: "This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman (ishah) because she was taken out of man (ish)."13 But the Bible is careful to point out that the man and the woman are not missing halves of each other. The verse of Scripture that immediately follows the appearance of Ishah explains the nature of the male and female and shows that each are complete within themselves.
The Bible explains, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh."14 The statement that "they shall become one flesh" is not figurative, nor does it refer to marriage. It is a literal statement of fact. When a man and woman complete the act of intercourse, the female egg and the male sperm unite. And when they do, the two principles--the masculine and the feminine--have literally formed one flesh. The child conceived from this union, whether a boy or a girl, can only be formed when the embryo contains within itself the union of the male and female principles. Whatever its sex, the heritage of every child is masculine and feminine: it is androgynous. They are not missing halves of each other.
Because they refuse to admit the androgynous nature of human beings, biblical
scholars have given the statement "they shall become one flesh" a figurative
interpretation; they say it pertains to marriage or to the momentary fusing of
two bodies in the act of intercourse. But the Bible is not using a figure of
speech when it says the man and woman shall become one flesh. Every time a baby
is born, its mother and father have produced "one flesh" in their child. And the
birth of every child is a reminder of the androgynous nature of human beings.
The Garden of Eden provided optimum conditions under which Homo Sapiens could evolve and someday regain the holiness that had been lost by the fall of Homo Perfectus. But the evolutionary process is a slow one and Adam and Eve decided they had found a better way to regain the power and the perfection of their predecessors. The serpent told them if they ate the fruit of a certain tree they would quickly develop god-like powers. They would not have to exercise the patience or the effort that characterizes evolutionary development. They could have it all--immediately.
He said that the fruit of one tree had been forbidden by God in order to limit their human potential. "And the serpent said....God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."15
In this text, as elsewhere in the Bible, the form of the word knowing is used to indicate experiential knowledge.16 The invitation of the serpent was to know good and evil. Adam and Eve already knew the good: the Bible reports that they were in conscious contact with God--with ultimate goodness.17 By partaking of the forbidden fruit, they added the knowledge--the experience--of evil to their knowledge of the good. They introduced a divisive element into their lives.
The first sign of this divisiveness was the realization that they were naked. "And the eyes of them both were opened and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons...and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God."18 The serpent had promised them that they would not die if they ate the forbidden fruit--if they experienced evil. But they did die: they died to the consciousness of their male/female identity.
Before this, they could see beyond their physical differences and were aware that each was a manifestation of the inner reality of the other. But after partaking of evil, their vision of reality was limited to the superficial, and within that limited vision they saw only their differences. The sexual organs that signified their unity--their complementary development of inner and outer realities--now seemed to be a sign that each was incomplete.
Both had lost consciousness of their male/female identity and the loss of that identity created a rift with God as well as with each other. The couple hid themselves from the presence of the androgynous God whom they no longer resembled.19 And when they finally did appear before the Lord, neither the man nor the woman accepted responsibility for the evil that had become part of their lives. The woman blamed the serpent and the man blamed the woman.
This refusal to accept responsibility for their actions placed the couple in the position of continuing on the destructive path they had chosen. But it was not only Adam and Eve who were adversely affected by what had taken place. In their divisive and unrepentant state, their behavior was a threat to the beauty and goodness of life in Eden. Because of this, they would have to live outside the limits of the Garden. They would live in an in environment that reflected the harmful choices they had made.
Unlike Eden, where food was plentiful and easily obtained, the reverse would now be true. The man was told, "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life."20 This difficult land would also "bring forth thorns and thistles" as well as the produce needed to sustain life. Like the man, the woman, too, would labor to exhaustion. She was told her "sorrow and conception" would be greatly multiplied. She would have little control over the number of children she bore and the birthing process would be difficult. "In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children."21
In this fallen world, the woman would reject her own autonomy. She would allow the man to be dominant and as long as she did this, he would rule over her. "Thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee."22 In the past, scholars treated this passage of scripture as a divine command that the woman be subject to the man. They did this by reasoning that in a fallen world the best possible way to run things was for the man to be in control. But the text does not support that explanation, and most Bible commentaries no longer claim that it does.23 Rather than a command, this scripture indicates that the subjection of the woman to the man is in itself a sinful act. The woman's "desire" for her husband to rule over her is her decision to cooperate with him in establishing a hierarchy of roles--a hierarchy that is in contradiction to God's plan.
The language used in this passage is used in only one other place in the book of Genesis,24 and in that instance relates to the world's first murder. Just before Cain killed Abel, the Lord appeared and warned that the "desire" to commit sin--to do something wrong--was present in him. Immediately after this warning, Cain killed his brother. Scholars link the two incidents together--Cain's murderous act and Eve's submission to her husband--because of the unusual phraseology used in both passages of scripture. One commentary makes the point that "there are several important links between the Cain and Abel story and Genesis 3. The similarity of Yahweh's address to Cain in v. 7 and to the woman [Eve] in 3:16 underscores the relationship between the two primal sins."25
Although commentators remark on the similarities between the two incidents, most stop short of equating the woman's desire for a hierarchy of roles with sinfulness. Their gender bias does not allow them to make this appropriate association. However, all agree that the passage poses a problem. A typical remark is, "How can you explain such unusual and strong word usage?"26 The question is not answered because the answer is unacceptable: the scripture uses the same language in both instances because the murder of Abel and the subjection of Eve are both sins.
It is on this sinful foundation of male/female inequality that the Bible story unfolds. Human beings will maintain a rigid stratification of roles. They will do violence to their androgynous nature by refusing to let either sex manifest its inner reality. The man will repress the female principle of care-giving and concern, and the woman will repress the male principle of action and overcoming. Together, they will build a destructive and divisive world.