The serpent was craftier than any other wild animal the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman answered, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 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’.” The serpent said, “You will not die, for God knows when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw the tree was good for food, and 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.(1)
And ever since, Eve, the first woman, thus, the metaphorical mother of humankind, has borne the mark of guilt for committing the first sin, a veritable trifecta of lost wagers – falling prey to temptation, disobeying God, and seducing her husband, Adam, into sharing her betrayal.
More than 2000 years ago, Yeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira wrote: From a woman sin had its beginning and because of her we all die.(2) At the close of the first century, the Apostle Paul added his disapprobation: I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.(3)
These views, o’er centuries, when, indeed, as illumined and magnified as truth in the teaching and preaching of the church, have been used, rather misused to substantiate the idea of the inferiority of Eve to Adam and, by extension, women to men.(4) This unjustly and wrongly perceived inherent inferiority, I believe, has contributed to the individual and societal assessment and treatment of women as powerless subordinates to men.
As I read the Genesis account of the first sin and the fall from grace, I interpret it as a mythological – that is, not a false, but rather an ahistorical (it didn’t happen!) – story that expresses a number of truths about life in this world, among them:
• That we humans, women and men, are equally endowed with a knowledge of right and wrong.(5)
• That we, women and men, are called in the chance and circumstance of life to choose between the two (alway being mindful that life is laden with ambiguity).
• That when we, women and men, choose rightly, wisely, there are blessings and consequences for choosing wrongly.
• That we, women and men, in choosing wrongly, are equally subject to the temptation of disavowing our responsibility and casting blame on someone or something else.(6)
Thus, it seems to me that it is not Eve’s image that needs rehabilitation, but rather the restoration of humankind’s…mankind’s view of women as equal. For so it was in the Garden of Eden.
Illustration: The Fall and Expulsion from the Garden (1508-1512), Michelangelo (1475-1564), Sistine Chapel, Rome. Note: In The Fall (the left side of the panel), Michelangelo depicts the serpent (following medieval custom, portrayed as a woman; thus, amplifying the woman-as-temptress theme) handing a piece of the fruit from the tree to Eve, and, notwithstanding the Apostle Paul’s declaration that “Adam was not deceived” (1 Timothy 2.14), Adam, not waiting for Eve to offer the fruit to him, reaches for his own!
(1) Genesis 3.1-6
(2) Ecclesiasticus (or The Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Eleazar, Son of Sirach or Sirach, for short) 25.24
(3) 1 Timothy 2.12-14
(4) In this regard, sometimes I think that traditional church teaching about Mary as perpetually virginally pure and wholly virtuous in her obedience to the will of God that she become Theotokos, God-bearer, is intended not only to make a statement about who Jesus is as God’s Son, but also to redeem the image of Eve.
(5) By whatever sources and means, e.g., civil code, natural law, religious ethical instruction.
(6) The Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3.9-13, emphases mine).