Eve as Pioneer of Adam’s Salvation

I have observed the misery of my people . . . ;
I have heard their cry. . . .
Indeed, I know their sufferings,
and I have come down to deliver them (Exod 3:7f).


4b. Eve as Pioneer of Adam’s Salvation

Prof. Aaron Milavec

In the Genesis account, one finds two divergent narratives of creation.

creationThe first narrative (Gen 1) presents God (always named as Elohim) as the Master Architect of creation that unfolds in six days. On the seventh day, God takes his rest. The message here is that God recommends the Sabbath rest to us, his creatures. But, quite clearly, he does not name this as a requirement. This will come only much later.

EveandAdamThe second narrative (Gen 2-3) presents God (always named as YHWH) as a Master Gardener who creates Adam as his apprentice. Adam complains of being lonely; hence, God proceeds to create all the animals, birds, and fish by way of seeking a suitable companion for Adam. Finding none, God finally takes a rib from Adam’s side and creates Eve. Adam identifies Eve as the perfect companion. Later Eve eats of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of God and Evil and offers some to Adam. Upon eating their eyes are opened. Shortly thereafter God offers a farewell address and makes leather garments for Adam and Eve such that they can begin to live outside the Garden of Eden. God sets a guard at the entrance to the Garden because he wishes to prevent Adam and Eve from eating the Tree of Life which would enable them to live forever.

Clearly there are many differences between the first and second narrative. In each narrative, God is named differently—a signal that they were composed at a different time in Israel’s history. In the first narrative, Adam and Eve are created on the sixth day in the likeness of God. In the second narrative, Adam is created first, and then a prolonged period takes place as Adam slowly recognizes his loneliness and God proceeds to create hundreds of thousands of creatures before creating Eve. In the first narrative, all these creatures were created before Adam and before Eve on the fifth day. More importantly, the second narrative says nothing about the “likeness to God” prior to their eating from the special tree in the center of the garden: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5).

When John Paul II examines the second narrative (in Mulieris Dignitatem) he imagines that the story has for purpose to demonstrate that friendship with God depends upon obedience. Eve (and later Adam) are deceived by the serpent (Satan in disguise) into disobeying God and, as a result, they fall into sin and ignorance and disease. In his mind, the first narrative describes the creation and the second narrative describes the fall.

Statement of the Problem

However, when the second narrative is examined in detail, it says nothing about “sin” or “the fall from grace”[1]. Rather, the keynote in the narrative is that the special tree in the center of the garden has the power to confer a special blessing: “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). Moreover, the serpent may be crafty but he is assuredly not a deceiver (Matt 10:16). Eve tells him: “God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” God had said to Adam earlier: “for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen 2:17). Eve touches the fruit, nothing happens. Eve eats of the fruit, and her eyes are opened, just as the serpent predicted: “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[2] knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4-5).

Thus, at this point in the second narrative, the serpent is the truth-teller encouraging Eve to test the unfounded assumptions she has been making based on what Adam has been telling her. [3] Moreover, according to the second narrative,  our first parents do actually become “like God” and “their eyes are opened” as he serpent suggests.

If this eating of the fruit enables Eve and Adam to become “like God,” why then does God expel them from the Garden? The text tell us why:

Then the LORD God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also[i] from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”‑-therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden (Gen 3:22-23).

Ah, so this text reveals that there are two marvelous trees planted by God in the garden of Eden. The first enables our first parents to discern good and evil—a property that God alone possessed up until the time of the eating. The second would give our first parents eternal life—another property that God (at least at this point) alone possesses. What God makes clear is that he is not yet ready to share this second grace. Maybe in the future, but surely not now. For God says to Adam: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). Being made from dust, consequently, signals that God, right from the very beginning, intended to make his creatures mortal. What one can understand from this is that mortality does not come as a result of the first eating from the Tree of Knowledge. It comes from being made from clay. Contrary to what God said to Adam–“for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen 2:17)—death is NOT the result of the eating.

Why Eve Did Not Die Immediately After Eating

Three explanations are commonly given to explain why Eve and Adam did not die on the day that they ate of the forbidden fruit:

(1) The first explanation is that God was speaking about a “spiritual death” rather than “physical death.”
(2) The second explanation is that, had the first couple not sinned, they would not have been expelled from the garden of Eden and God knew that he would have allowed them to eat from the “tree of life” and “to live forever” (Gen 3:22).
(3) The third explanation is that Adam began to die physically on that day by applying the often misquoted “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8).

Each of these explanations are flawed:

(1) “Spiritual death” is a notion that never shows up in the entire book of Genesis. One has to wait for Paul (Rom 5:6) to have “death” associated with “Adam’s sin,” but this is a much later interpretation that is foreign to the original meaning of Gen 2-3.[ii]
(2) Genesis makes no provision for God permitting Adam and Eve to eat of the second tree if they stayed away from the first tree.
(3) True, 930 years is just short of 1000 years; yet, Genesis never hints that God imposed a thousand-year limit on human life due to this eating.

Adam, according to Gen 5:5, lived 930 years. With the passage of generations, there is a gradual diminution of life-spans. The Catholic Encyclopedia draws our attention to this:

graphagesofpatriarchsIf the genealogical dates recorded in that narrative are examined, a gradual and systematic shortening of man’s lifetime is distinctly noticeable. From Adam to Noe the duration of man’s life ranges from 500 to 1,000 years. From Sem to Thare [after the flood] it ranges from 200 to 600 (11:10-32). From Abraham to Moses, from 100 to 200. Abraham lived 175 years; Isaac, 180; Jacob, 147 (Gen 35:28; 25:7; 47:28). After that the average human life is 70 or 80 years.[iii]

There are various ways of explaining this. The most favorable explanation appears to be what Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century, says:

Let no one make the shortness of our lives at present an argument that neither the Patriarchs attained so long a duration of life; for those ancients were beloved of God and made by God himself; and because their food was then fitter for the prolongation of life; and besides God afforded them a longer time of life on account of their virtue . . . . (Ant., I, III, 9.)

If Adam has one of the longest life-spans in the Hebrew records, it can be surmised from this that God was very pleased with his life.[iv] This does not sit well with the surmise by most Catholic scholars to the effect that God thought of Adam as a grave sinner.


Accordingly, my purpose in this essay is to explore a lost reading of the second creation account that honors Eve as an explorer and a seeker of wisdom. Thanks to her discovery, Adam and all her children are able to participate in knowing good and evil in the likeness of God. Far from being the cause for the primordial fall from grace, therefore, Eve can be understand as the truth-finder who risked her own life to empower Adam to become “like God.” Once this lost reading of Gen 2-3 is explored, we can then explore how this narrative was corrupted by the misoganistic Greek narrative of Pandora. This will enable us to understand how the lost reading was corrupted by the Greek church fathers.

Traditional reading of Gen 2-3 Lost reading of Gen 2-3
serpent=devil in disguise serpent=facilitator, wisdom figure
First sin=trying to be like God First step=wanting to be like her Father
Woman leads Adam into sin Woman leads Adam into enlightenment


The second narrative of creation (Gen 2-3) begins remarkably like the first narrative (Gen 1), but then it quickly moves off in a unique direction:

In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,2:5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and THERE WAS NO ONE TO TILL THE GROUND;2:6 but a stream [of water] would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground 2:7 then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and BREATHED INTO HIS NOSTRILS THE BREATH OF LIFE; and the man became a living being.

The second story envisions a beginning in which the earth is barren. Anyone living in the Middle East knows full well that the desert is entirely barren and that it only takes a small spring of water to produce all sorts of plants.  The God that shows up in Gen 2-3 is clearly a hands-on master gardener. He rolls up his sleeves and begins to plant a garden. This is in sharp contrast to the God in Gen 1 who appears to be sitting on a regal throne and functioning like a master architect who depends upon his capable assistants to execute his commands:

God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so (Gen 1:11).

Notice how God takes the water-soaked earth and fashions Adam. Then God breathes his own breath into the shape he has formed and it becomes a living being. This method of fashioning a human was not uniquely promoted by the Hebews. The Greek theologians held the same notion: “Pandora, the first woman, was fashioned by Hephaestus [the crippled god] out of clay and brought to life by the four winds, with all the goddesses of Olympus assembled to adorn her.” In Greek, “wind” and “breath” are indistinguishable since there is only a single word (PNEUMA) for both of these.

God’s Breath as the Principal of Life

For the Hebrews, breath was the source of life. When someone died, their breath left them and only the inanimate body remained. This is why, each of the Evangelists writes that Jesus, when on the cross, “gave up his spirit” (Matt 27:50 and par.). In Greek, the word for “spirit” and “breath” and “wind” are the same=PNEUMA. So the “holy spirit” is nothing else but the holy breath of God which is like the “wind”— “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Clay+breath are thus the necessary ingredients for creating a human, whether Adam or Pandora.

Adam is not the proper name given to the first man. Adam, in Hebrew, means “of the earth.” The more accurate translation of “Adam” would be “earthling.” In what follows, accordingly, I will occasionally substitute “earthling” in place of “the man” (NRSV) and “Adam” (RSV).

Immediately after creating the earthling, God plants the garden:

And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. . . (Gen 2:8).

At this point, only God, the master-gardener, and the earthling, his apprentice exist. In Gen 1, humans are created on the sixth day after the creation of birds, fishes, and beasts on the fifth day. Not so here:

2:18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the earthling should be alone; I will make him a  helper (‘ezer) as his partner.”2:19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.2:20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper (‘ezer) as his partner.

When God Tackles an Unforeseen Problem

In Gen 1, God alone judges the worth of his architectural plans. “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Not so in Gen 2. Here it is the earthling who signals to God that he is lonely. Ηοw can this be? Is not God a fitting and complete companion for his apprentice? One might think so, but how else explain this nagging loneliness of the earthling. God concludes, “It is not good that the earthling should be alone” (Gen 2:18). What to do? Could God train him in transcendental meditation? Could God create a herb that dispels “loneliness”? But no:

2:19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.

In the end, God decided to amuse the earthling by creating, rabbits, giraffes, storks, chickens, lions, horses, etc. Notice that God forms each creature out of clay and breathes life into it—the very same formation used for the earthling.[v] In each instance, God brings his latest creation to the earthling in anticipation that he might find a suitable helpmate to dispel his loneliness. Note here that even God has to freely experiment[vi] since, being God, he never gets lonely and, as a result, he has to wait for the verdict of the earthling in these matters. Note also that here God is not presented as having the perfect solution to Adam’s problem. Rather, in this instance, God clearly misses the mark and keeps missing the mark. After weeks and months (and perhaps even years) of trial and error, NOTHING provides the satisfaction that Adam is longing for.

Time for Plan B:

 2:21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.2:22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.2:23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

Success at last.

Lilith as Adam’s First Wife

LilithThe Jewish rabbis speculated that God did firstly create a soul-mate for the earthling from the same formula used in the creation of the first earthling, namely, clay plus breath. Her name was Lilith.[vii] She met all of the earthling’s expectation but, having the same “spirit of independence” that animated the first earthling, she was forever imposing her will upon Adam and eventually ran off and was never seen again.

Relative to the formation of Eve, the rabbis  speculated that the use of rib was critical. Had God chosen to extract a higher organ (e.g., part of the earthling’s brain), then the companion might dominate the earthling. Had God chosen to extract a lower organ (e.g., a foot), then the companion might be too prone to submission. So, in the end, God got it just right when he chose to extract a rib.

androgenousGoing further, the rabbis also speculated that the original earthling was both male or female (androgynous). Only when God had extracted the femininity of the earthling while leaving behind masculinity did he have the perfect solution. This is why “sexual longing” takes place that serves to keep the “man” and the “woman” interested in and firmly bound to each other. Thus Genesis says: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (2:31). Hence, the sexual longing serves to assert itself with greater force than the “father-son” or “mother-daughter” bonding. Such an affirmation, needless to say, is by way of explaining how it is not only proper but divinely foreordained that sexual bonding should trump all other forms of bonding. One could even speculate that this is why “love of God” must often take a back seat to “love of a spouse.”

All the aspects that we have put forward are seemingly invisible to John Paul II. To his credit, John Paul II does affirm that Gen 1:27 makes clear that “both man and woman are human beings to an equal degree, both are created in God’s image” (Mulieris Dignitatem 6). Going further, “We can easily understand that – on this fundamental level – it is a question of a “help” on the part of both, and at the same time a mutual “help” (Mulieris Dignitatem 8). My suspicion is that John Paul II arrives at these conclusions more from his study of philosophy and fails to grasp how to examine the clues in the text of Genesis.

When it comes to the eating of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” John Paul II is clearly off the mark. According to John Paul II:

 The tree “of the knowledge of good and evil” denotes the first principle of human life to which is linked a fundamental problem. The tree signifies the insurmountable limit for man and for any creature however perfect. The creature, in fact, is always merely a creature and not God. Certainly he cannot claim to be like God, “to know good and evil” like God.[Uck!] God alone is the source of all being, God alone is absolute Truth and Goodness according to which good and evil are measured and from which they receive their distinction. God alone is the eternal Legislator from whom every law in the created world derives and in particular the law of human nature. Man as a rational creature knows this law and should let himself be guided by it in his own conduct. He cannot himself pretend to establish the moral law, to decide himself what is good and what is bad, independently of the Creator, even against the Creator.

At this point, John Paul II falls into a dangerous absolutism that dwarfs the God-given potential for being in relationship with the living God. One cannot easily say that “God alone is absolute Truth and Goodness” and that he is the “eternal Legislator.”  Such an image of God is incompatible with Gen 2-3:

1.  God who does not know “loneliness” has to learn from Adam by sympathetically listening to the manifestations of this “loneliness.”

2.  As God proceeds to create this or that animal, God brings each animal to Adam in order to discover from him whether it holds the secret for alleviating his loneliness.  Thus God presents himself as willing to serve Adam’s interests with thousands of trial runs.

3.  Defeated in this venture, God explores the possibility of taking flesh of his flesh and creating a helpmate for Adam.  Here, too, God awaits and learns from the discretionary maturity of Adam.

John Paul II takes no notice of these things.  His God has no need of any sensitive listening.  His God is the Eternal Legislator who gives absolute decrees that derive from the divine plan.   At this point,  John Paul II might have wished that Genesis had God rebuking the earthling (as in Job 38:2ff) in the following terms:

 I measure you and you do not measure me. I have created you for the garden work that we do side-by-side. I have no patience with your loneliness. I did not, in my infinite wisdom, anticipate it. Nor am I in the mood to alter my divine plan to remedy it. I am absolute Truth and Goodness and my plan of creation does not allow for any improvements or any criticisms as I go forward. Hence, learn to live with your loneliness! Accept it. If it causes you suffering, big deal! Suck it up!

According to some rabbis, God passed over the choice of Noah as his beloved “son” precisely because when he revealed to him the devastation that was to befall all life on the face of the earth, Noah silently passed over the enormous and excessive suffering that would be inflicted upon the guilty and the innocent alike. When God revealed to Abraham his plan to destroy the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, however, Abraham became a firm advocate for the innocent victims within this divine plan. Accordingly, Abraham openly challenged the unacceptable collateral damage implicit in God’s plan:

 18:23 Then Abraham came near [to God] and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?18:24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?18:25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

The bite in this is that if God intends to judge the whole world he must first of all have credibility—he must act justly. When challenged, God did not pull rank and dismiss out of hand Abraham’s challenge. Rather, he saw the merit of Abraham’s observation. Thus God himself changed his mind and conceded that Abraham had made his point.[viii] Then, Abraham, seeing that God acknowledged that his plan was flawed, continued to press his advantage by openly bargaining with God: “Suppose there are forty . . . ; suppose there are twenty . . . ; suppose there are ten.”

AbrahamAt ten, Abraham went no further because he calculated that, with Lot and his family, there would surely be ten righteous. Abraham thus felt assured that God’s mercy would overcome his wrath.

But it was not to be.

When the whole town surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that the two angels be surrendered to them for abuse, the required ten righteous was not achieved. Nonetheless, one should take notice that Lot, when his own sons-in-law refused to seek refuge from the wrath that was to come, did openly bargain with the two avenging angels to save the small town of Zoar. One should also take notice that “God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot [his wife and his two daughters] out of the midst of the overthrow” (Gen 19:29).   This indicates that Abraham, even while he was not able to avert the disaster entirely, does nonetheless get God to further reduce the collateral damage. In brief, the justice of Noah did not go far enough. God blessed Abraham precisely because he challenged and enlarged the justice of God.

John Paul II knows nothing of this God of Abraham.

It is just at this point that Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth, moves into focus. He was a specialist in extending God’s compassion to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 10:5).  By all accounts, he even extended the covenant of Abraham to include some Gentiles, who in the end times, reached out to God’s mercy and embraced the God of Israel for their God. Thus, for example, Acts 10 demonstrates how Peter gave up his prejudice against Gentiles in order to visit the house of Cornelius and to bring them into the covenant God had made with Abraham. Nor should it go unnoticed that, when Paul begins to argue for the inclusion of Gentiles in the drama of salvation, he does not fall back on any saying of Jesus but rather goes deep into the story of Abraham in order to argue that God, from the very beginning, had ordained “to make him [Abraham] the father of all who believe without being circumcised . . . and likewise the father of the circumcised” (Rom 4:11). Paul, consequently, interprets his own outreach to Gentiles as founded upon the inclusive qualities uniquely demonstrated by Abraham. In this same spirit, Christians were in the habit of extending the mission of Jesus to include his preaching to Gentiles in Hades. Thus, with time, Jesus was understood to have taken more and more initiatives in the direction of extending the net of those who are destined to be saved by God.[ix]

John Paul II fails to note how Jesus and those who came after him extended the mercy of God.  Hence, for him, the case of Abraham and the case of Jesus equally fall upon deaf ears.   In his own words: “Man . . . cannot himself pretend to establish the moral law, to decide himself what is good and what is bad, independently of the Creator.”

Now let us return to the Genesis account and come to understand the depth of the woman’s gift to the earthling in the Garden of Eden. . . .

Eve as Explorer and the First to be Enlightened

Let’s examine the key part of the text using the NRSV translation:

And the earthling and his woman were both naked, and were not ashamed.3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”3:2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;3:3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'”3:4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die;3:4.for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”3:6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.3:7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

This section of the text begins: “And the earthling and his woman were both naked, and were not ashamed.” It ends with “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” What the text signals is that the fruit of the forbidden tree has the power to profoundly effect those who ate it. They eat and their “eyes are opened.” “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And, there is bodily shame.

Think about the bodily shame and young children. After her evening bath, my daughter of five prances into the living room in front of my guests. She feels no shame. A few of the adults are amused. In India, naked children are a common sight. In America, even children are clothed. Only at the beach are children allowed to play naked in the surf. No adult (save for nudists) would allow themselves to move about naked on a public beach.

This picture captures Eve as an inquiring child [rather than as a mature adult as in Renaissance art].
It is quite possible, therefore, that the original narrator wanted his readers to know that Adam and Eve were innocent children before they ate from the fruit. Some of the early Church Fathers (Irenaeus, Origen) and some rabbis regarded Adam and Eve as having been created as children. Thus, they imagined that God brushed Eve’s hair every morning and gave Adam his bath before putting him to bed each night. As children, God had to do for Adam and Eve what every parent everywhere has to do for their children.Going further, Origen (d. 214) notes that, being children, the fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17) was naturally inaccessible to children; yet, God planted this tree in the middle of the Garden with the expressed intention that he wanted them to eat of it when he discerned that they were ready. As often happens, however, children rush ahead and seize adult ways prematurely.
According to Origen, Eve’s initiative merely represents the well-known case that girls mature earlier than boys. The serpent in this narrative is not Satan in disguise (Wis 2:24; Rev 20:2) but the traditional wisdom figure of ancient cultures. The serpent, accordingly, reveals quite rightly to Eve that by touching the fruit, she will not die—on the contrary, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened [so as to be empowered to discern good and evil], and you will be like God” (Gen 3). They ate and “the eyes of both were opened” (Gen 3:7)—just as the serpent had foretold.
Thus, an impartial observer would have to conclude that the serpent was the truth teller that was guiding Eve toward examining and setting aside  misinformation regarding the forbidden fruit that Adam had relayed to her.
.John Paul II makes the blanket judgment that “The creature, in fact, is always merely a creature and not God. Certainly he cannot claim to be like God, ‘to know good and evil’ like God.” But here John Paul II is flatly misinformed. It is not only the serpent who says “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God” (Gen 3). According to the text, God himself confirms this same result: “Then the LORD God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:22). Therefore, there can be no doubt that the text of Genesis has a meaning that John Paul II flatly denies.
John Paul II makes the judgment that “Although he was made by God in a state of justice, from the very dawn of history man abused his liberty, at the urging of the Evil One.  Man set himself against God and sought to find fulfillment apart from God” (Mulieris Dignitatem 9).   By committing sin man rejects this gift and at the same time wills to become “as God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5), that is to say, deciding what is good and what is evil independently of God, his Creator.
John Paul II, given his upbringing in the tradition, is persuaded that our human destiny was to cling to God and his rules for living for the entirety of our lives. Thus the initiative of Eve is not only distrusted, it is openly condemned as an evil, as an open rebellion, as the height of sin.
True, God wanted to be the one who first introduced his children to the knowledge of good and evil.[x] What parent does not want to play this role for his own children. As it is, the serpent stepped in and Eve rushed ahead.   As a Parent, God is naturally disappointed. Yet the results are just what God had in mind when he created this special tree. . . .TreeofLiveAt this point, remember that God planted this tree in the middle of the Garden. It was God’s show piece. If God knew that the Tree of Knowledge was a worthless piece of junk, he would have placed it near his compost pile or uprooted it entirely. If God wanted to entrap his children in an evil plot of the devil, then he might place the fatal tree in the middle of his garden. But what Father would set out to entrap his own children and to collaborate with thugs. Quite the contrary, any Father worth his name sets out to protect his children from evil. We can allow then that God knew that this Tree was “the best” and, accordingly, he wanted his children to admire it and, in due course, to eat of its fruit.

This is the dream and expectation of every parent, that their children would grow up to be like their father and their mother. It is no different with God. Yet, as suggested earlier, every parent wants to preserve the innocence of his/her children. Thus God had good reason to mark this tree as off limits. Every child, the Church Father, Origen (d. 254), explains, causes a pang of disappointment in the heart of his/her parents when they grow up faster than their parents had expected. And, even here, it is the same with our God.

crossingstreetI reflect upon my own case. When my daughter was three to five years old, I made it a point to emphasize that she was never to go near the street in front of our home. I told her that cars were dangerous. Should she go near the street, a car would crush the life out of her and cause her to die. The sidewalk was her limit. At eight years old, however, I taught her the rules for crossing the street and getting safely to the other side “but, at first, only when I was watching her” and “only when she had looked both ways to be sure that no cars were coming.” I was progressively getting her ready to be able safely to cross the street where and when she wanted to. I wanted her to be able to recognize for herself the good and evil that results in having streets for the cars. I wanted her to have the good sense of how to protect herself when she needed to cross the street. If, at age twenty, my daughter refused to cross the street unless I was holding her hand, I would have considered my fatherly training to be deficient. Alternately, I would have suspected that my daughter was mentally retarded.

The same thing can be said about God. In their early years, he allowed his children to depend upon him. At a certain point, however, he expected his children to become progressively independent of him. This is what the eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil is all about. It is the rite of passage. His children become adults. Suddenly, their eyes are opened and they become like their Father.

Some readers may be puzzled that the Genesis narrative hints that sexual maturity and deliberational maturity go hand in hand. This is so because, for Catholics in my neighborhood, “the age of reason [and responsibility]” is established at the age of seven. Sexual maturity takes place around the age of twelve. In the Jewish tradition, the rite of deliberational maturity is the bar mitvah or the bat mitvah that takes place at the age of twelve. Hence, this is an indication that the audience for Genesis are Jews who expect sexual and deliberational maturity to take place at nearly the same time.[xi]

It is more reasonable to find that sexual maturity and deliberational maturity go hand in hand. In the Jewish tradition, the rite of deliberational maturity is the bar mitvah or the bat mitvah. Thus, while Catholics spoke of deliberational maturity as taking hold at the age of 7, the Jewish tradition preferred 12—the age where sexual and deliberational maturity go hand in hand.]

God, as a responsible parent, does not want to keep us in a childish dependence. Thus, even the rules that God has given us need to be seen as propadeutic and transitory. In the end, God wants us to grow beyond being rule-bound. God wants us to cherish the values that the rule was designed to protect. For adults, this means that one discerns when the rule needs to be kept and when the rule needs to be bent. And, for this, our eyes need to be opened and we need to become like God discerning good and evil for ourselves.

In the Genesis narrative, we hear next to nothing about the training that God gives Adam and Eve in order to take care of the garden he has planted. What we do learn, however, in great detail is how the Lord-God takes the loneliness of Adam very seriously. At this point, God demonstrates the power of self-sacrificing love. God also demonstrates the necessity of creative inventiveness[xii] and undertaking risks and doing experimental testing in order to discover what suffices to heal the loneliness of Adam. Thus God is demonstrating the power of knowing good and evil. In the end, Adam says, “Urika! This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” but, as a child Adam takes no steps to imitate God’s inventiveness and self-sacrificing love. For Eve, however, it is different. Eve want to become “like God” and she set out experimentally testing to see whether that strange and mysterious tree in the center of God’s garden might be the route to attaining her goal. In so doing, she brings true love and inventiveness to Adam.

The notion upheld by John Paul II regarding the absolute mandate of obedience is thus out of step with “their eyes were opened.” This is why John Paul II dismisses the notion that Eve wanted to become like God as the height of pride and envy. Had he married and raised children, he would have understood just how powerful the impulse of children is to become like their parents. In his mind, becoming like God registers the greatest temptation that leads to the greatest sin.

In Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II says : “Although he was made by God in a state of justice, from the very dawn of history man abused his liberty, at the urging of the Evil One. Man set himself against God and sought to find fulfillment apart from God” (Mulieris Dignitatem:9). In taking as his own this “misreading” of the narrative, it is puzzling that John Paul II never asks why Eve does not die (as was expected) and why Eve’s eyes are opened (as was not expected). The serpent leads to the truth. And, in pursuit of this truth, “Eve does not set herself against God” for she is exploring the very gift of God (the tree) in pursuing her goal of become “like God” (knowing good and evil). It would appear, consquently, that John Paul II wants to glorify the mindless obedience of childish existence and to deny the grace of “eating of the fruit.”  Authoritarian masters may do this, but not resourceful parents and teachers of wisdom.

Notice also that the narrative enforces the notion that Adam and Eve hide from God because they are naked[xiii], not because they have sinned. None the less, Eve felt the disappointment in God’s challenge, “”What is this that you have done?” (Gen 3:1). So, in order to protect her desire to please God, she covered herself by immediately blaming the serpent: “The serpent tricked me.” Hardly! Somewhere down the line, Eve will be able to acknowledge to her Father that she set aside her father’s rule because she was seeking the wisdom that would make her “just like daddy.”

Eve1Adam, for his part, blamed Eve: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Adam, even at this point, is still ill-equipped to inquire about the tree and about its “mystical” properties. Nor is he of the mind to thank Eve for her initiative. For the moment, he is confused and intimidated by his nakedness and his shame. Somewhere down the line, he will appreciate the bold and courageous step forward that Eve has pioneered. Then he will come to understand how Eve’s eating of the fruit was a “happy fault” that delivered the liberation from ignorance and servile obedience that God had always intended for his beloved children.

But with growing up comes suffering. Every parent knows this. Thus God, acting like a good father, gets Adam ready for the tasks of farming and gets Eve prepared for the tasks of childbearing. Notice, in this, that the serpent is cursed but that God never even gets close of cursing his children.  This would be unthinkable. He loves them for who they are trying to be. He has no intention to compel them into an everlasting servile obedience to his former rules.

Folk Elements within the Genesis Account

There are curious elements of folklore introduced into this narrative. Gen 3:14 explains the strong aversion that the offspring of Eve have for serpents as the result of God’s determination to block any further discourse between them. Gen 3:16 and 3:18 imply that the “greatly increasing pangs in childbearing” and the “thorns and thistles” growing in the wheat field are a result of God’s dissatisfaction. More importantly, Gen 3:16-17 suggests that the mutual companionship between Adam and Eve will henceforth be marred by subjugation and social inequality. There is no other place in the whole bible where these elements of folklore come into play; hence, it is possible to speculate that these folk elements must have been added very late.

When one reads Gen 3 without Gen 3:14-20, one discovers how the action moves  flawlessly forward from the discovery of their nakedness to God’s solution of sewing  clothes (3:21) and that their removal from the Garden was motivated by God’s desire to prevent them from eating of the Tree of Life (3:22) and becoming indistinguishable from God [i].

Immediately after this, the narrative jumps ahead: “Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived” (Gen 4:1). Note that the couple proceeded to this step in Gen 2-3 without any expressed command or instructions on the part of God. The narrative, on the other hand, intimates that they were initially ashamed at their nakedness and shy when it came time to being seen by God. Hence, the text gives subtle clues as to their growth in sexual maturity. The narrative passes over in silence how their desire to hold hands and to touch each other and to kiss would eventually elevate their sexual longing and overcome their shame and shyness. Now are we told how, thanks to their gift of knowing good and evil, they eventually and mutually discovered for themselves how the joys of sexual arousal naturally climaxed in sexual intercourse. Nor does the narrative tell us how, after repeated acts of coupling, they came to suspect that Adam had planting his seed (“semen” Latin) in the womb of Eve such that, with the passage of nine moons, the first human birth would take place. Here we can conjecture that the extraordinary gift of the knowledge of good and evil led them to discover these things by trial and error for themselves. And just as their Father had demonstrated how a seemingly endless trail of trial and error could lead to a surpassing result when it came to healing Adam’s loneliness, they now were finding their way as explorers and inventors in their own right “just like God” had done before them.

One or Two Mystical Trees?

In the Gen 2-3 account that has come down to us, there appears to be two narratives that have been conflated. This leads to the textual confusion as to whether God has one tree (Gen 3:2, 3:17) or two trees (Gen 2:9, 3:22) that had mystical qualities and that were off-limits. When the Tree of Knowledge is spoken of as off-limits, it is curious that nothing is said immediately regarding the Tree of Life. This only comes at the end, just prior to the expulsion. When the Garden of Eden figures into later eschatological texts, however, the Tree of Knowledge is overlooked entirely and it is the Tree of Life that has the focal attention. In Proverbs, for example, the one who learns wisdom from the Lord is compared to the one who has found the “tree of life” (3:18). In the Book of Revelation, the final eschatological vision deals with “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” (21:10). From the throne of God, “the river of the water of life” (22:1) flows and “on either side of the river is the tree of life” (22:2).

Seemingly God had originally intended both trees to confer their mythical gifts upon his children. Once his children eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God fears that they will eventually end up also discovering and eating from the Tree of Life and thereby overcoming death and living forever as God does. Thus, in harmony with God’s intention to keep his children mortal, he expels them from the garden of Eden and places a guardian angel at the entrance of the garden so as to keep the Tree of Life off-limits. The entire book of Genesis has no reference, outside of Gen 2-3 , to the Tree of Life.

TreeofKnowThe ancient Near East delighted in tales of royal gardens that had mystical trees that had special healing properties. In the famous Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, one learns of a tree with mystical properties: “with it a man may win the breath of life” and “an old man turns into a young man” (Tablet XI, 6:15-16). It is quite possible that at a time when such curiosities attracted the attentions of the Israelites in Babylon that the one-tree garden narrative of Gen 2-3 was transformed into a two-tree narrative.[xiv]

Before they exited the garden of Eden, God performs one last parental blessing on their behalf: “And the LORD God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.” God knew that the “fig leaves” would not hold up, so God himself becomes their tailor making “garments of skins” to just the right size, and he himself “clothed them.” Notice that there is nothing here of a Father embittered and angry against his children and grandchildren. Nor is there any prompting them to confess their sins and to beg God’s forgiveness. What sins? What forgiveness? Does a child confess to her father that she was too quick to grow up? Hardly. It comes when it comes. And God is like every good parent who comes to recognize the inevitable. Once his disappointment has cooled down, he begins to feel for them and to plan ahead on their behalf. Then he proceeds to sew for them the best clothes he can make because he knows full well that they will need them, esp. to protect them from the chill of the night. Then he dresses them one last time, embraces and kisses them [implied], and sends them out into the world with his blessing.

This is the hidden story of Genesis. In this story there is no fall from grace, and subservient obedience to God is not the abiding lesson. Nor is this the story of how Adam and Eve foolishly lost the company of God and the promise of eternal life. Rather, it is the story of how God accommodates himself to his children. There are five levels of accommodation:

  1. On the first level, there is the divine accommodation of the loneliness of the earthling. The Lord God never says, “I didn’t anticipate your loneliness and I don’t intend to help you to deal with it.” Rather, he rolls up his sleeves and partners with Adam in searching for a suitable solution.
  2. The woman pulled from Adam’s side becomes much more than a companion and a remedy for loneliness. The second level of accommodation pertains to how Eve emerges as an explorer and a wisdom seeker. The Lord God accepts that Eve has made a key discovery and he takes no steps to reverse its effects.
  3.  Origen, accordingly, notes that girl children mature first and he uses this experience to understand how it was, even for the very first girl, that Eve was so much superior in curiosity and intelligence than her brother. God does nothing to punish Eve by retarding her adult development so that the sons of Adam would permanently have the role of initiating their wives into adulthood.
  4.  Eve asks good questions and knows how to risk testing new-found answers. In so doing, she leads Adam into an exploration of a horizon for becoming that exceeds the one that God has expressed for him. Without Eve, Adam would be are farmer’s apprentice and would be continually asking God to hold his hand every time he wanted to cross the street. With Eve, Adam entered upon an adventure of assimilating the skills that God has in designing and testing safety rules—the knowledge of good and evil. This is what it means to become “like God.” Without Eve there would never have been an Abraham or a Jesus ready to challenge God on his version of acting justly. Thus, even God accommodates himself to the challenges that follow from the eating of the knowledge of good and evil.
  5. Without Eve religion would have functioned like a mental straight jacket that produces fear and uncertainty any time one does not do exactly what God said. In a moment, we will examine the story of Pandora and we will notice how the Greek gods were jealous of their gifts and resorted to making humans suffer when they failed to continue in their childhood subservience to the will of the gods.

This is where John Paul II does us a disservice. This is why he has such a lame and uninviting reading of Genesis. He wants to frighten women into settling for a sterile and servile conformity to what their husbands want them to be. He wants to withdraw women from exploration and innovation and to confine their activities to the kitchen and the nursery. It is no surprise, therefore, that he repeats pious platitudes that are a disservice to modern women. His reading of Genesis is not Good News for modern women. True, he does not fall into the older blame game where all the evils that have visited upon men were assigned to Eve and her daughters. But, let’s face it. I would not advise any of the women I love to rely upon his reading of Genesis.

But John Paul II does not stand alone in his depreciation of women. Within the later Fathers and Doctors of the church, one finds a steady and repeated theme: the “woman” in the Garden showed herself to be weak and unreliable.  Thus, she was chosen by the demon-serpent as the easier prey and, having fallen into disobedience, she deliberately used her influence to bring her “man” down with her.  Thus, in the mind of the later Fathers and Doctors, one has the paradigmatic case of how women must not to be trusted or given undue influence over men in general and their husbands in particular. Thus, the moment of grace (“their eyes were opened and they became like God”) gets turned into the fall from grace (sickness, ignorance, and strife enter into the human condition).

What brought about this change in the reading of Gen 2-3?   The story of Pandora!

The Greek story of Pandora

PandoraThe Hebrew story of the origins of Eve, preserved in Genesis (9th cen. B.C.E.), and the Greek myth of Pandora, preserved in Hesiod’s writings (7th cen. B.C.E.), have had profound impact on Western civilization because they allegedly both reveal woman’s true nature. Scholarly studies as well as popular treatments have generally presumed that both myths aim at alerting men to the evil that women bring to men. Other scholars disagree and show that the Pandora has been mistakenly read back into the Eve of Genesis.

This needs to be examined.

Synopsis from Hesiod: After Prometheus’ theft of the secret of fire, Zeus ordered Hephaestus to create the first woman, Pandora, as part of the punishment he intended to inflict upon mankind. Pandora, the first woman, was given many seductive gifts from Aphrodite, Hermes, Hera, Charites, and Horae (according to Works and Days). Fearing additional reprisals, Prometheus warned his brother Epimetheus not to accept any gifts from Zeus, but Epimetheus did not listen, and he received and married Pandora. Pandora had been given a mysterious jar and instructions by Zeus to keep it permanently closed, but she, like all women after her, had an insatiable curiosity and ultimately opened it. When she did so, all of the evils, ills, diseases, and burdensome labors that the society of men had not known previously, escaped from the jar, but it is said, that at the very bottom of her jar, there lay hope.

Here is the full text:

prometheus“Son of Iapetus [Promethius], surpassing all in cunning, you are glad that you have outwitted me and stolen fire — a great plague to you yourself and to men that shall be. But I will give men as the price for fire an evil thing in which they may all be glad of heart while they embrace their own destruction.”
[60] So said the father of men and gods, and laughed aloud. And he bade famous Hephaestus make haste and mix earth with water and to put in it the voice and strength of human kind, and fashion a sweet, lovely maiden-shape, like to the immortal goddesses in face; and Athene to teach her needlework and the weaving of the varied web; and golden Aphrodite to shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs. And he charged Hermes the guide, the Slayer of Argus, to put in her a shameless mind and a deceitful nature.
[69] So he ordered. And they obeyed the lord Zeus the son of Cronos. Forthwith the famous Lame God moulded clay in the likeness of a modest maid, as the son of Cronos purposed. And the goddess bright-eyed Athene girded and clothed her, and the divine Graces and queenly Persuasion put necklaces of gold upon her, and the rich-haired Hours crowned her head with spring flowers. And Pallas Athene bedecked her form with all manners of finery. Also the Guide, the Slayer of Argus, contrived within her lies and crafty words and a deceitful nature at the will of loud thundering Zeus, and the Herald of the gods put speech in her. And he called this woman Pandora [All Endowed “Gift of All [the Gods]”), because all they who dwelt on Olympus gave each a gift, a plague to men who eat bread.
[83] But when he had finished the sheer, hopeless snare, the Father sent glorious Argus-Slayer, the swift messenger of the gods, to take it to Epimetheus (=brother of Prometheus) as a gift. And Epimetheus did not think on what Prometheus had said to him, bidding him never take a gift of Olympian Zeus, but to send it back for fear it might prove to be something harmful to men. But he took the gift, and afterwards, when the evil thing was already his, he understood.
Pandoraboxevil[90] For ere this the tribes of men [and men only] lived on earth remote and free from ills and hard toil and heavy sickness which bring the Fates upon men; for in misery men grow old quickly. But the [first] woman took off the great lid of the jar with her hands and scattered all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men. Only Hope remained there in an unbreakable home within under the rim of the great jar, and did not fly out at the door; for ere that, the lid of the jar stopped her, by the will of Aegis-holding Zeus who gathers the clouds. But the rest, countless plagues, wander amongst men; for earth is full of evils and the sea is full. Of themselves diseases come upon men continually by day and by night, bringing mischief to mortals silently; for wise Zeus took away speech from them. So is there no way to escape the will of Zeus?


Notice how Zeus regards earthlings. He is jealous of their well-being. More especially he is angry at Promethius who has stolen the heavenly fire twice on their behalf. This being the case, Zeus intends to get his revenge.   Promethius will be chained to a rock where his liver will be torn out and eaten  daily by an eagle, only to be regenerated by night.

For the race of human men who welcomed the gift of fire, Zeus has calculated a much more refined revenge.  The name of his revenge is Pandora, the first woman. Designed by the crippled god, the goddesses deck her out in alluring finery. Mercury, however, at Zeus’ instructions, “contrived within her lies and crafty words and a deceitful nature.” Finally, she is given a jar filled with all the sorrows and sicknesses that, up to this time, were unknown among the society of men.

Finally, Pandora is given to the brother of Promethius—better to rub in his sin of defying the command of Zeus by giving fire to mankind. He accepts Pandora just as the easily as did the people of Troy accept the horse left behind by the Greeks. And then the jar is opened. . . .

While there are some superficial parallels in this narrative with Gen 3, the contrast between the disposition of God could not be more glaring. Zeus is fuming over the deception of Promethius in advancing human affairs with the gift of fire. He is bent upon punishing men and destroying the human enterprise. He sets up a conspiracy to entrap humans in an irreversible catastrophy.

The Lord God, meanwhile, lives peacefully with his children in the garden. He patiently apprentices Adam. He shows concern over his loneliness. He looks for a solution over months at a time. He creates Eve as a solution to Adam’s problem—which is not his own. He furnishes his garden with mystical trees that he intends for the benefit of his children. He sews leather clothes for his children when they are ready to make a life for themselves outside of the garden. Never, at any moment, does he complain about them. Nor does he curse them. And he certainly does not enter into plots with the serpent to do them irreparable harm.

Greek converts to the Jesus movement came into the Church with a distrust of women. They accepted the narrative of Pandora as a warning that women are filled with lies and crafty words and a deceitful nature. When they heard the narrative of Gen 2-3, it seemed blasphemous that the woman was featured as the wisdom seeker and the savior of the man. Hence, they gradually overlaid the work of Eve with the great deception found in Pandora.

 Phillis Trible takes note of the passivity of Adam in contrast to the activity of Eve. She comments that at no point does Eve or the serpent persuade Adam of anything:

 He does not theologize; he does not contemplate; and he does not envision the full possibilities of the occasion. Instead, his one act is belly-oriented, and it is an act of acquiescence, not of initiative. If the woman is intelligent, sensitive, and ingenious; the man is passive, brutish, and inept.[xv]

 This modern assessment is clearly intended to provoke; yet, when the thought settles, it is quite harmonious with the received text. Nor is Trible alone of this opinion, for Irenaeus, eighteen hundred years earlier, made the same observation even more acutely:

 If you say that it [the serpent] attacked her [Eve] as being the weaker of the two, [Ι reply that], on the contrary, she was the stronger. . . . For she did by herself resist the serpent, and it was after holding out for a while and making opposition that she ate of the tree. . . ; whereas Adam, making no fight whatever, nor refusal, partook of the fruit handed to him by the woman, which is an indication of the utmost imbecility and effeminacy of mind (Against Heresies, 3, 22 4).

Clearly here Irenaeus felt no compulsion to side with the man against the woman. Even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that an intellectual battle was in progress, the text again makes it quite plain that Adam had nothing to contribute. The text makes plain that Adam was present for the entire exchange. Hence there was no need for the serpent to get Eve alone:

She took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened (Gen 3:6-7)

This image distinguishes itself by illustrating that the eating produced an ecstatic illumination of her mind to know good and evil like God does.
This image distinguishes itself by illustrating that the eating produced an ecstatic illumination of her mind to know good and evil like God does.

Eve, in this taking and eating, was putting her life on the line. Her understanding was that God said, “Nor shall you touch it, or you shall die” (Gen 3:3). She touches it. Nothing happens. Ah, just as the serpent indicated. She eats it first so as to test it before giving it to her man. If it is poison, she will die and leave her partner unharmed. He eats and, then, “the eyes of both were opened.” So, even at this point, Adam is mute and inert. Eve meanwhile is ecstatic.

The Pandora motif was transferred to the Eve myth in Jewish writing after the era of the Hebrew Bible and before the Christian era. Philo, who absorbed the Hellenistic culture of Alexandria, projects onto the Hebrew Bible alien Greek ideas. His references to the poems of Hesiod show that he must have been acquainted with the Pandora myth. In his commentary on Genesis, woman is singled out as “the beginning of evil.” Eve and her daughters are described in this disparaging way: “The woman, being imperfect and depraved by nature, made the beginning of sinning and prevaricating; but the man, being the more excellent and perfect creature, was the first to set the example of blushing and of being ashamed, and indeed of every good feeling and action” (QG 1.43).

The Greek text of The Life of Adam and Eve, probably written in the first century of the Christian era, retells the Eden story in order to stress Eve’s culpability. In that Jewish midrash, published now in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Eve explains to her children what she did after eating the forbidden fruit:

 I cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Adam, Adam, where are you? Rise, come to me and I will show you a great mystery… When he came, I opened my mouth and the devil was speaking, and I began to admonish him, saying, “Come, my lord Adam, listen to me and eat the fruit of the tree of which God told us not to eat from, and you shall be as God.” Your father answered and said, “I fear lest God be angry with me.” And I said to him, “Do not fear; for as soon as you eat, you shall know good and evil.” Then I quickly persuaded him. He ate, and his eyes were opened, and he also realized his nakedness. And he said to me, “O evil woman! Why have you wrought destruction among us? You have estranged me from the glory of God” (The Life of Adam and Eve, 21).

What one notices here is that, unlike the situation in Genesis, Adam is not alongside Eve while she is deliberating with the serpent. While she is shown here as confident in her discovery, Adam is hesitant. Fear holds him back. But Eve’s arguments prevail. Even so, when his eyes are opened, he still appears blind and falls back upon his judgment that the eating brings “destruction” rather than “enlightenment.” Thus the text is being torn away from its original intent, and the great saga of the fall from grace is being superimposed upon Gen 2-3.

Tertullian, the first leader of Latin orthodoxy, compared the biblical and Greek stories of the first woman. Eve only differs from Pandora, he notes, in that she is “encircled with leaves about the middle rather than with flowers about the temple” (De Corona Militis). His infamous denunciation of women displays his mixture of the two myths:

Do you not know that each of you is an Eve? God’s sentence on your gender lives even in our times, and so it is necessary that the guilt must also continue. You are the one who opened the devil’s door; you unseated the forbidden tree; you first betrayed the divine law; you are the one who enticed him whom the devil was too weak to attack. How easily you destroyed man, the image of God! Because of the death which you brought upon us, even the Son of God had to die” (On the Apparel of Women, 1, 1).

Opening the devil’s door and unseating the forbidden tree are similar images to Pandora’s raising the lid of a jar containing the earth’s evils. Tertullian thus carried into Western Christianity the slander against all women that was implied in the Greek narrative of Pandora.

Marina Warner finds in men who share Tertullian’s perspective an unwitting tribute to those they denounce. She writes: “The fury unleashed against Eve and all her kind is almost flattering, so exaggerated is the picture of women’s fatal and all-powerful charms and men’s incapacity to resist.”[xvi]


For nearly eighteen hundred years, women have been distrusted and blamed because it was supposed that Eve, the first woman, had betrayed her man and fallen from grace.  What this essay shows is that the evidence for this is far from conclusive.

EveandAdamWhat we have done in this essay is to explore a lost reading of the second creation account that honors Eve as an explorer and a seeker of wisdom. Thanks to her discovery, Adam and all her children are able to participate in knowing good and evil in the likeness of God. Far from being the cause for the primordial fall from grace, therefore, Eve can be understand as the truth-finder who elevated Adam and pioneered his elevation to be “like God.”

In a period of history wherein women are endeavoring to redeem the face of the earth by entering all the professions that were earlier exclusively reserved for men, it is not timely to meditate on this lost reading of Gen 2-3?  I, for one, welcome this opportunity.  Those ready to join me are invited to add a comment below.

The traditional interpretation of Genesis where the serpent is understood as Lucifer in disguise and Eve is blamed for leading Adam into committing the unpardonable “original” sin that gets passed down from generation to generation and can never be forgiven until Jesus, the sinless one, dies on the cross is very questionable on both biblical and pastoral grounds. Going further, the whole image of our Father in heaven locked in unforgiveness until such time as his only-begotten son gets tortured to death might appear as a horrendous example of abusive parenting. The fact that Jesus himself never tells such a grim story is an obvious sign that he himself did not use this as the primal narrative guiding his own understanding of God. When Jesus portrayed his Father as rushing to forgive the sins of his prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), moreover, he unknowingly offers us weighty reasons to condemn the traditional theology of original sin as a pious fraud. Finally, in the face of a patriarchal Christianity that has had so many bad things to say about women, the lost meaning of Gen 2-3 that has surfaced in this chapter certainly provides a healing remedy to misogyny and offers men a shining example of how the first woman brought Adam to overcome his own misconceptions and to discover how he and his partner were destined to have their eyes opened so that they could see as God sees. This is no small achievement. And this is precisely why God planted this remarkable tree right in the center of his Garden of Eden. . . . That also helps explains why God created the first woman with exploratory powers of mind and of courageous initiative so that she would be equipped to do much more than just cooking and cleaning and gardening for Adam. The following chapters will make this increasingly clear. . . .

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P.S.: If you are a woman or a man who ministers to women and are seeking a woman-friendly approach toward eating the fruit that will allow you to enter, theologically and emotionally, into the feminine image and likeness of God, I would suggest the following resource:

Jennie S Knight, Feminist Mysticism and Images of God: A Practical Theology (Danvers: Chalice Press, 2011), esp. 1-53 which can be read online at books.google.com/books?isbn=0827210515.

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[i] According to the rabbis, when God first created Adam in his own image, the ministering angels could not distinguish between the Lord and Adam. “They did not know which one was which. . . . So what did the Holy One, blessed be he, do? He put him [Adam] to sleep.” (Gen. R. 8:10). The surmise here is that God does not sleep; hence, Adam was distinguishable from the Lord. Jacob Neusner, in examining this text, suggests that “sleep” is frequently used by the rabbis as a metaphor for “death.” In that case, the rabbis were suggesting that God expelled Adam from the garden of Eden so that the ministering angels would be able to distinguish Adam from the Lord God. See Jacob Neusner, The Incarnation of God: The Character of Divinity in Formative Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988) pp. 147 & 222.

[1] When a text is interpreted, one must first carefully examine the words of the text itself.  In this case, the absence of “sin” in Gen 2-3 offers the first clue that the narrative has nothing to do with the origin of sin.  Moreover, when the fruit is eaten, the text says clearly and repeatedly that “their eyes were opened.”  Thus the common Christian interpretation of Genesis shows itself as defective in so far as it shifts its focus from what the words of the text, namely, “eyes were opened” (Gen 3:5, 7) and “became like God” (Gen 3:5, 22) in order to project a theme, namely,  the origins of “sin,” “disobedience,” and “the fall from grace” which are NOT actually found in the words of the text.  This will become clearer as our analysis continues.

Modern critical interpretations of Gen 1-3 begin, not by reading Christian commentaries, but by examining the words of the Hebrew text.  Ziony Zevit, for example, in his “What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden?” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013) does exactly this.  In part he concludes that Gen 2-3 “was not a story about sin–no word for sin, rebellion, disobedience, or the like occurs in it–although it does deal with the circumvention of a divine instruction” (261).


[2]  Both of the Genesis accounts demonstrate the awesome potential of earthlings by indicating that they can and need to aspire to be “like God.”  More importantly, the second narrative says nothing about the “likeness to God” prior to the eating from the special tree in the center of the garden: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5).  Becoming “like God” here is an awakening of our interior capacity for making discoveries and for discerning what is good and evil.  This is what our Parent does!  And, now, this is what God enables his children to do in imitation of God.

In the classical theological tradition, Gen 2-3 narrates the process whereby Eve discovers her calling to be “like God.”  The importance of divinization (theosis) in Roman Catholic teaching is evident from what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says of this:

The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

The Roman Rite liturgy expresses the doctrine of divinization or theosis in the prayer said by the deacon or priest when pouring a small amount of water into the wine of the Eucharistic chalice: “By the mystery of this [mingling of] water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” (“Per huius aquae et vini mysterium eius efficiamur divinitatis consortes, qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps” ) (source)

What Eve acquires through the eating of the Tree of Knowledge is thus what Jesus is able to impart to  his disciples.   “We come to share in the divinity of Christ” today by way of acquiring what Eve discovered when “her eyes were opened” and she saw herself and her world from God’s perspective.  Thus, in the beginning, Eve gave to the earthling the ability to be “like God,” while today, we gain this ability from Jesus.  This is what the Church Fathers meant when they said, “we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

Eve is thus the physical and spiritual mother of all the living!  Once the later Church Fathers condemned Eve as the one who betrayed Adam, the Church elevated Mary,  the Mother of Jesus, to become the “new Eve” who accompanied the “new Adam” (=Jesus) in his work of salvation.  According to Gen 2-3,  however, Eve is the savior who brings salvation (=divinization) to Adam.  This will become clearer as you continue to examine and meditate on the text of Gen 2-3 which is before us.deification


[3] Riane Eisler points out that “in archaelogical excavations all through the Neolithic [Period], the serpent is one of the most frequent motifs” and “the serpent was too important, too sacred, and two ubiquitous a symbol of the power of the Goddess to be ignored” (The Chalice & the Blade [New York: Harper One, 1987], p. 87).  Hence, “from the perspective of that earlier reality, the orders of this powerful [male] upstart God Jehovah that Eve many not eat from a sacred tree (either of knowledge or divine wisdom or of life) would have been not only unnatural but sacrilegious” (88).   There was thus, within this narrative, “a clear warning to avoid the still persistent worship of the Goddess” (89) or to experience the dreadful punishments of this vengeful male god who intended to displace and overrule every Goddess and to put every woman under the absolute rule of a man.

[ii] Garry K. Brantley, in his study, “Why Did Adam Live So Long After Eating the Fruit?” (Apologetics Press), says this:

The usage of the phrase “you shall surely die” (môt tamût) indicates that a violent, physical death is under consideration. This grammatical construction juxtaposes an infinitive absolute (môt), and the imperfect verb (tamût), which provides the emphatic nuance, you will “surely, or indeed” die (Lambdin, 1971, p. 158). While it is true that the word “die” can refer to natural causes or to violent death (Smick, 1980, 1:496), the manner in which the verb is used in this phrase indicates the latter. In fact, this grammatical construction appears several times in the Hebrew Bible, and commonly denotes a physical, violent death. [For example,] God cautioned Abimelech that if he refused to return Sarah to Abraham, he and all his would “…surely die” (Genesis 20:7). (http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=356).

[iii] From the Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright © 1913 by the Encyclopedia Press, Inc. Electronic version copyright © 1997 (http://www.piney.com/BabKingCath.html)

[iv] For example, Ps 95 says: “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, And show him My salvation.” (Psalms 91:14-16)

[v] The implication here is that there is no inherent “godliness” in the earthling other than the “breath of God.” Since this divine breath also resides in birds and animals, it confers “life” but not knowing good and evil as God does. In Gen 2-3, this property comes later with the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

[vi] Rabbi Neil Gillman, one of the great Jewish theologians of our time, writes as follows:

We were trained to believe that God, at least, has it all together. This is not so, say our sources. In theory it may be true, but in practice it is not. The God that we experience is a God who needs humanity to achieve God’s own purposes. This is a God who is frustrated, who dreams dreams for humanity and the world, who is rebuffed but returns again and again, with infinite yearning, pleading for our help to achieve God’s purposes and our own as well. That may well be God’s most striking tribute to us. (http://www.jewishjournal.com/torah_portion/article/parashat_reeh_deuteronomy_1126-1617_20100804 )

[vii] Ariela Pelaia, in “Where Does the Legend of Lilith Come From?” describes the origins as follows:

Not surprisingly, the ancient rabbis noticed that two contradictory versions of Creation appear in the book of Genesis (which is called Bereisheet in Hebrew). They solved the discrepancy in two ways:

One was to explain that the first version of Creation actually referred to Adam’s first wife, a ‘first Eve.’ But Adam was displeased with her, so God replaced her with a ‘second Eve’ that met Adam’s needs.

Another interpretation is that the Priestly account describes the creation of an androgyne – a creature that was both male and female (Genesis Rabbah 8:1, Leviticus Rabbah 14:1). This creature was then split into a man and a woman in the Yahwistic account. Learn more about this explanation in: What Was the Androgyne?

Although the tradition of two wives – two Eves – appears early on, this interpretation of Creation’s timeline was not associated with the character of Lilith until the medieval period, as we shall see in the next section.

Scholars are not certain where the character of Lilith comes from, though many believe she was inspired by Sumerian myths about female vampires called “Lillu” or Mesopotamian myths about succubae (female night demons) called “lilin.” Lilith is mentioned four times in the Babylonian Talmud, but it is not until the Alphabet of Ben Sira (c. 800s to 900s) that the character of Lilith is associated with the first version of Creation. In this medieval text, Ben Sira names Lilith as Adam’s first wife and presents a full account of her story.

According to the Alphabet of Ben Sira, Lilith was Adam’s first wife but the couple fought all the time. They didn’t see eye-to-eye on matters of sex because Adam always wanted to be on top while Lilith also wanted a turn in the dominant sexual position. When they could not agree, Lilith decided to leave Adam. She uttered God’s name and flew into the air, leaving Adam alone in the Garden of Eden. God sent three angels after her and commanded them to bring her back to her husband by force if she would not come willingly. But when the angels found her by the Red Sea they were unable to convince her to return and could not force her to obey them.  Eventually a strange deal is struck, wherein Lilith promised not to harm newborn children if they are protected by an amulet with the names of the three angels written on it (http://judaism.about.com/od/jewishculture/a/Where-Does-The-Legend-Of-Lilith-Come-From.htm).

[viii] This is a stunning object lesson for Catholic bishops today. Herein God is presented as functioning effective as a leader using consultation and deliberation with humans. Far from being authoritarian and dictatorial, the Lord God displays a partnership with humans. If the Lord God functions collegially, how much more so is it incumbent upon bishops and even popes to act in like fashion.

[ix] By the opening of the second century, some sectors of Christianity went even further and explored ways to extend the benefits of Jesus’ preaching mission to those who had already died. In these scenarios, Jesus’ death afforded the occasion for him to be able to offer his message to those who had died and were abiding in Hades awaiting the general resurrection of the dead on the last day. In 1 Peter, for example, one finds the notion that Christ, following his death, descended into Hades and “made a proclamation to the spirits in prison” (3:18f). Those to whom he preached, are expressly limited to those who “did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark” (3:20). The implied meaning here appears to be that those who died in the flood without the benefit of a prophet’s warning were now to be given a second chance when listening to the saving message of the Jewish prophet Jesus. In so doing, Jesus overcomes the inadequacy of Noah and brings God’s merciful message to even those who were presumed to be doomed by the wrath of God—the world-wide flood.

Hades was the mythical abode of the dead‑-a borrowing from Hellenistic culture—and should be understood as quite distinct from what the medievalists identified as “hell.” The original intent of “he was not abandoned to Hades” in a sermon in Acts (2:31) was to reinforce the reality of the death of Jesus prior to his resurrection.

In the mid-first century, Justin Martyr again makes reference of Jesus’ preaching mission as offering a second chance to those who had died. In this case, however, it is not the sinners of Noah’s generation who are recipients of the Good News but those Jews who had died prior to the coming of Jesus: “The Lord God remembered his dead people of Israel who lay in their graves, and he descended to preach to them his salvation” (Dial. 72.4).

In the early second century, Clement of Alexandria further extended this mission to the dead. In his way of thinking, Jesus preached his Good News to the righteous Jews in Hades (as just noted), and, the Apostles, following their deaths, preached to the Greek philosophers who had lived righteous lives (Strom. VI, 6:45, 5).

In sum, 1 Peter, Justin Martyr, and Clement of Alexander form something of the stepping stones whereby the Gentile outreach of the Jesus movement extends not only to the nations of the earth but also reaches backward in time to liberate even those who had died. At each step, the mercy of God is marvelously extended. What Abraham had put into motion relative to expanding God’s sense of justice relative to Sodom and Gamorra was accordingly actively extended by Jesus and his disciples to the ends of the earth and to the deepest pits of Hades. God’s decision to create earthlings in Gen 2 and his decision to attend to the loneliness of Adam thus set in motion an economy of salvation whereby, at every step, God’s mercy was overcoming his justice and God’s collaborators were undoing the shortcomings of his past actions.

[x] There is no hint that God had expected Adam to introduce Eve to the graced blessing of the Tree of Knowledge.

[xi] Some may object that sexual maturity and deliberational maturity take place gradually. For girls, their first menses generally shocks them even when their mothers have prepared them in advance. For girls, likewise, marriage and childbirth normally follow very close upon their first menses. Within the ancient world the period that we now call “adolescence” did not exist.

Another factor to consider here is that, in the tradition of oral folklore, sudden effects are to be preferred since they convey to the listened the astonishment that accompanies the transitions being portrayed. In Genesis the transition from childhood to adulthood takes place suddenly after the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. In the folk narrative of Snow White, likewise the effect of the poisoned apple to produce a lethargy akin to death and the effect of the prince’s kiss to dispel that lethargy both take place quickly: “To everyone’s astonishment, Snow White opened her eyes.”

Even in Snow White, “opening her eyes” after her long sleep is highly symbolic. The narrative demonstrates this, for once her eyes are opened, she sees her prince as her “true love” and she leaves the dwarfs in the forest in order to marry her prince in his castle. In this narrative, the kiss awakens the sexuality of the girl that has been “sleeping” for so many years. For cultural variations on this, see http://www.womenwriters.net/editorials/rakow.html

Everyone knows that poisoned food causes painful stomach cramps before the lethargy of the limbs sets in. Likewise, modern readers know that the antiseptic administered intravenously before an operation takes control within ten seconds while the recovery requires thirty to sixty minutes. If these “realistic” elements were to be introduced into the folk narrative, the “astonishment” that accompanies the transformations would be blunted. Thus one can make a case that the quick effects of the eating of the fruit in Genesis serve the story tellers craft in “shocking” the audience just as in the case of Snow White.

[xii] We are living in a world which delights in inventiveness. As an example, consider the Weapons of Mass Creation Fest that took place in Cleveland, 15-17 August 2014. Eric Natzka is presented in these terms:

His sensibility, combined with his stubborn resolve, has enabled him to push back the limits of his digital medium, beyond known methods and approaches. Erik Natzke loves to take risks, in the awareness that the value of failure lies in discovering new, never-before conceived solutions. The successes that have emerged from these risks have garnered numerous awards and speaking engagements around the world (http://wmcfest.com/speakers/eric-natzke/).

[xiii] Remember above what we noted regarding sexual maturity and deliberational maturity taking place at roughly the same time.

[xiv] Peter Thacher Lanfer, Remembering Eden (Oxford: University Press, 2012), 33-43.

[xv] Phillis Trible, Texts of Terror (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 113.

[xvi]  Marina Warner, Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary (Oxford: University Press, 1976), 59.

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2 thoughts on “Eve as Pioneer of Adam’s Salvation”

  1. I read this with great interest. Such a sensible and intuitive interpretation. I like the way you have documented the evidence in support of this reading and demonstrated how contemporary interpretations are generally deficient. I agree we should be reading these scriptural texts with a new lens that identifies the intended “spiritual” focus of these texts rather than a “so-called” salvation history perspective. I hope this reading reaches a wider audience.

    Thanks for sending this to me. I really appreciated it.

    Dr. Anne Dawson

  2. Dear Anne,

    I’m glad you found my study on Eve of importance for you. Your words of appreciation are dear to my heart.


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