Women in Genesis
Interpretation is everything when it comes to identifying a text - Women in Genesis introduction. Readings of one verse “may vary, when in fact they regularly do much more – at times they clearly oppose or contradict each other. ” 1 Within the book of Genesis we encounter opposition and contradiction in every verse depending on a variety of factors. “… Religious or theological persuasions, or one’s place in history, society and culture” 2 can sway or change an interpretation of text. This being said, the popular and widely accepted interpretations are the ones affecting women and our population in general.
The Bible is widely distributed and acknowledged, Genesis is known throughout the world and its social order. Even more so, the creation story is famous, it is mentioned in films, books, school and much more. The interpretation of this story is still additionally accepted, everyone knows the story of the apple and Eve. The impact this one story has on the institution of patriarchy, Phyllis Bird has a good representation : “A hierarchy of order is introduced into the relationship of the primal pair. Mutuality is replaced by rule. Patriarchy is inaugurated. . .
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The rule of man over the woman, as announced in Genesis 3:16, is the Bible’s first statement of hierarchy within the species. ” 3 The potential for this verse to be used for oppressive should not be underestimated. Eve and Lilith, the women of Genesis are sexualized, sin ridden and seen as antagonists within the creation story. Let us see how the interpretation of this take has created societal norms for gender roles. 1 Joel N. Lohr, “Sexual Desire? Eve, Genesis 3:16 and Desire,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 2, no. 130 (2011): 227-246. 2 Joel N. Lohr, “Sexual Desire?
Eve, Genesis 3:16 and Desire,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 2, no. 130 (2011): 227-246. 3 Bird, “Bone of My Bone and Flesh of My Flesh,” ThTo 50 (1994): 527. Eve is “second” first woman in the creation story and has a somewhat tarnished reputation in traditional circles. Modern Jewish women are attempting to present Eve in a more positive light. However it seems that Eve’s reputation precedes her. Eve has immense meaning and connotations attached to her. She is one of the most well known female characters from the Bible, and is prevalent within society.
In many ways, the biblical character of Eve in not relatable to the modern women. “Considered an afterthought, a female derivative of the male first human, she is perceived as less admirable than her non-biblical “predecessor,” the demon Lilith”. 4 Eve readily accepted a acquiescent position and tempted her male companion into violating the divine command not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. The image of Eve as deceiving temptress has been dominant in western culture from its inception to the present. 5 Eve must be understood in the larger context.
She is branded as yearning for sexual intimacy, unbridled sexual desire and lusts. Perhaps we are dealing not so much with desire as with dependency. Eve requires a cohabitation, that must be understood in the larger context of the man and the woman losing the original union and equal bond in Genesis. There are a plethora of interpretations surrounding Eve. Her situation becomes more complex as we look into more interpretations and opinions. We must note that the modern Jewish women are looking to Eve as positive and independent.
Anne Lapidus Lerner, “Back to the Beginning: An Exploration of the Roles Played by Eve and the Garden of Eden in Modern Poetry by Jewish Women,” Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues, 19 (2010): 9-31, 10. 1353/nsh. 0. 0074 (accessed February 15, 2013) 5 Anne Lapidus Lerner, “Back to the Beginning: An Exploration of the Roles Played by Eve and the Garden of Eden in Modern Poetry by Jewish Women,” Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues, 19 (2010): 9-31, 10. 1353/nsh. 0. 0074 (accessed February 15, 2013)
Eve has created this standard for women to behave in a certain way. When you first open the Bible, Eve is the first female character we run into. Her character alone holds so much oppression and negative connotations just from interpretation. However can we really justify that the popular version of Eve we know today is really a fair representation of her? Just as the interpretations of Eve came to be, they are changing with the views and values of our society. For so long we have accepted the interpretations, until recently where they are now being challenged.
Lilith was Adams first wife featured in Genesis. However, not named within the Bible, her story is known throughout the myths and legends. Lilith was defiant to Adam and they fought. She fought for equality between Adam and herself which provided no solution. 6 Lilith pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air. There is no explanation as to why there are two creation stories in Genesis. There are similarities and differences between the two yet Adam, the man stays the same.
The interpretation of Lilith is that of a demon, she carried none of the respected values of a good wife and rebelled against Adam. Although Lilith in today’s society has qualities of a valued women we must take into consideration the values of society back then. Lilith is seen as strong, seeking equality among those who were named equal to her. 7 We can now note that God created Lilith and Adam as equals, yet in Eve’s case she is created from Adam, for Adam. 6 Joel N. Lohr, “Sexual Desire? Eve, Genesis 3:16 and Desire,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 2, no. 130 (2011): 227-246, Anne Lapidus Lerner, “Back to the Beginning:
An Exploration of the Roles Played by Eve and the Garden of Eden in Modern Poetry by Jewish Women,” Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues, 19 (2010): 9-31, 10. 1353/nsh. 0. 0074 (accessed February 15, 2013) Lilith is known with more negative connotations that Eve even though some might say she did no harm compared to Eve. Her story continues into her as a demon killing children and tempting men in their sleep. No positive comes from her interpretive life. Women throughout the Bible are seen as servants to their husbands.
Lilith broke this main promise to Adam and therefore is banished from the stories. Women still know the story of Lilith to this day. Her interpreted story is compelling and has a backbone into convincing the reader that Lilith was in the wrong, that she was crazy. Looking at Lilith and her characters values without this perceived interpretation we see a young women fighting for what is rightfully hers. The story has become so skewed that it seems women can do no right. Comparing Lilith and Eve is very interesting. Seeing as there should really only be one wife to Adam, comparing the two stories is out of the ordinary.
Lilith strives for equality whereas Eve strives to please Adam. The way the text has been interpreted we believe that Lilith is meant to show women how not to behave, and Eve is a better example for women. Eve however listens too well and takes advice from the serpent. This is not a set in stone meaning though, this is from our history of translation and interpretation. It could have been any of the infinite other ways, yet the society chose to interpret the text this way. Should society and women truly be basing their gender roles off of these two women?
Eve and Lilith have powerful rolls in guiding women as there are so few women in the Torah. Women must learn from their sacred text countless things, however it is evident that in the department of women they have lacking resources. Not just within the book of Genesis but throughout the Bible we are comparing to extremes of women. With Wisdom explaining the adulterer there is another harsh comparison. It leaves little to decide on for women within the religion. It boils down to the interpretation of these texts. The historical interpretation has had and likely will continue to have a tremendous influence on religion and society.
We struggle to find a common ground between all personal interpretations that float out there, yet we are always drawn back to the status quo, the orthodox interpretation. The relation between religious tradition and politics must also be mentioned because of the effect the have on each other. As our politics have changed, has the religion been changing with it as well? Perhaps this is the reason these interpretations are being challenged and uprooted. As mentioned in the film “Half the Kingdom”, Judaism will become a relic if it continues its strict ways, it will lose its living force.