Genesis 3:22-24

Here is Alter’s translation of these final verses in the narrative:

“And the LORD God said, Now that the human has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he may reach out and take as well from the tree of life and live forever.” And the LORD God sent him from the garden of Eden to till the soil from which he had been taken. And he drove out the human and set up east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and the flame of the whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Here is the NIV translation:

“And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Some thoughts:

1. First of all, I don’t know who designed the reading schedule and left so much material to cram into the final week. They should have planned ahead better.

2. “And the LORD God said . . . ” If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time in this narrative that God addresses a heavenly “us” not identified in the story. We get such a move in 1:26, but nowhere else in chapters 2 or 3. How this “us” gets read and identified will, I think, profoundly inflect one’s interpretation of the rest of the story. An “us” referring to heavenly parents (both genders!) is a very different context from a “royal” we or a heavenly council of angels or a Holy Trinity. But the “us” is left undefined. (The New Interpreter’s Bible commentary refers to this, of course, as “inner-divine communication.”)

3. “The man has become like one of us . . . ” Is the “man” here to be understood as a proper name, as a general name (human) referring to Adam in particular, as a general name referring to both Adam and Eve, or as a general name referring to all human beings? If it just refers to Adam, why? Why does Eve get left aside?

Is Adam (a single person) here becoming like some ONE else (another single person)? Or is Adam (a single person) here becoming a like an “us” (i.e., a plurality of persons)? Has Adam himself been split and multiplied by the acquisition of knowledge? Knowledge itself certainly requires the ability to adopt multiple points of view which aren’t necessary compatible in any simple way with one another. (Rosalynde knows about this one: ask her :)

4. “. . . has become . . .” Is the verb here the most important part of the sentence? Meaning: is the most important thing here not that the man has become X, but that the man has just plain started to become? Of course, this observation touches a major nerve in the Western philosophical tradition, much of which is structured around Plato’s distinction between Being (good!) vs. Becoming (bad!). It’s not entirely clear, I would argue, in the Mormon tradition which side we take in the debate: is time real (and, hence, Becoming is real) or is time an illusion (and, hence, only Being is real)? Does a positive Mormon evaluation of temporality have a lot to do with a positive evaluation of what happens as a result of the fall?

5. ” . . . has become like one of us . . .” The way in which we’ve become “like” whoever the “us” is is specified: “like one of us, knowing good and evil.” Though, again, the “like” at work in this verse touches another major nerve in the history of Christian theology: what exactly is the nature of this analogical relationship? Or, more generally, there is the philosophical problem of deciding even what an analogy is or how analogies function. How one answers this question will depend on how one treats “universals” or “categories” or “classes” and on how one treats their construction and population. It’s not clear me that we have anything like a Mormon position on these kinds of questions. Which, in some ways, is nice. Because it means we’re free to experiment for ourselves with different metaphysical platforms and see what happens. The nature of the “like” is crucial.

6. he may reach out and take as well from the tree of life and live forever . . .” There is an important difference here between Alter’s translation and the NIV. Where Alter translates all of vs. 22 as a single sentence, the NIV breaks it into two. The effect, in the former case is that there is a causal link between the first part (“man has become like one of us:) and the second part (“so he may now reach out and partake of the tree of life”). The connection, if legitimate, is obscured by the NIV’s version that splits the construction in two.

If there is a connection, what is it? Why is it that only now, after knowing good and evil, that the man might reach out and eat the fruit of the tree of life? Is the claim that the man couldn’t have done it before now? Or is the claim that it only matters whether he eats it or not now after he knows the difference and death has entered the picture? (We’d already noted the possibility that until now they may have already been eating of the fruit of the tree of life. Though that seems less likely, I think, in light of these verses.)

If the tree of life is read symbolically, then what kind of reading would we give of it? If there was no actual fruit for the man to risk eating, then what is the X to which the fruit refers? What is God protecting us from? What X in our daily recapitulation of this story is guarded from us by way of the flaming sword? What’s the flaming sword? It seems much easier to give a naturalized existential/developmental reading of what happens with the fruit of TTOK than of the fruit of TTOL.

7.  “. . . banished from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken . . .” Does the “take” in vs. 22 echo in any meaningful the “take” in 23 (it’s the same word in Hebrew)? Are they intertwined, contrasted? Is there irony at work here? Is it ironic (or not?) that the man, by way of his banishment, will be able now to fulfill the purpose originally given to him?

Banished may actually be a little strong of a translation for the Hebrew here that Alter, showing more restraint, translates simply as “sent.” Adam here is one who is “sent” out into the world. This word, of course, also has serious resonances for Christians in that an “apostle” is literally one who is sent. Should Adam here be associated with an apostle/angel insofar as he is “sent by God himself out into the world”?

8. “. . . at the east of the Garden of Eden . . .” Why does only the east side of the Garden need guarded? Can’t you get in from any of the other three sides?

9. I wish I had something cool to say about cherubim or flaming swords, but I really don’t. But I’d love to here something about it. Consider yourselves tasked!

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Genesis 3:20-21

Alter renders these two verses as follows:

20 And the human called his woman’s name Eve, for she was the mother of all that lives. 21 And the Lord God made skin coats for the human and his woman, and he clothed them.

The NIV reads like this:

20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

These verses initiate the narrative’s falling action. After the torrential downpour of the climatic verses that preceded them (with God’s voice thundering poetically throughout), the pacing has shifted and we’ve tapered off to a light rain. In fact, it’s hard not to read the “and” that marks the beginning of vs. 20 without vocalizing it with a sigh, releasing a deep breath we’d forgotten we were holding.

Some thoughts about the verses themselves:

1. “And the human called his woman’s name Eve . . .”

Eve is, at last, named. What should we make of this naming’s postponement? Should this naming have been postponed until after the fruit had been eaten? Did it have to be postponed until Adam knew more than he previously did? All the other animals had already been named. Why not Eve? The other animals were named in connection with Adam’s fruitless search for a companion. Is there a connection, in that respect, with Eve’s not being named until now? If so, what?

Or is it something else? Eve did, in fact, already have a name: woman. In effect, Eve is given here a new name, a second name. Here, rather than her giving it to Adam, Adam gives it to her. Also, note that, in this respect, Adam does not get a new name. Adam is still just the man/human. As is obvious in relation to the various translations (see Alter’s vs. the NIV above), Adam’s name just slips imperceptibly from a common noun to a proper name. The point at which this transition occurs isn’t clear: hence the variation in the translations. But perhaps the point at which it would be most appropriate to switch (though Alter’s translation, in fact, never does switch from “human” to “Adam” until all the way at 4:25, keeping “human” even at 4:1!) would be when it finally gets paired with Eve as a proper name.

Why doesn’t Adam get a proper name? Why doesn’t Adam get a new name?

2. The New Interpreter Bible (NIB) commentary argues that this naming of Eve feels a bit out of rhythm with the narrative but, as a result, views it as “a positive development in the midst of the judgment, anticipating that life will still go on (a negative assessment of this verse incorrectly associates naming with subordination).” Do you agree with this? I’m not sure what the reasoning is (no explanation is given) for why this naming couldn’t have a tinge of subordination to it – it does with the names of animals right? And frequently elsewhere, right?

At any right, I like seeing it as a positive development, as a way for Adam to reach out, after all that’s happened, and draw Eve to him.

3. “. . . for she was the mother of all that lives.”

There is a little homophony going on here between Eve (hawah) and the verbal root “to live” (hayah). But it appears to be phonic rather than semantic. Does it matter that the connection is bridged formally rather than semantically? That is, in poetry rather than prose?

However the gap is bridged, it functions to define a role for Eve: as the mother of all living, such that this role becomes synonymous with her own proper name. Adam, on the other hand, never receives such a name or definition? Or does he already have such a role-defining name as a tiller of the “adamah”?

Also, note that we get here a strident affirmation of life and it’s continuation immediately following God’s description of how Adam will shortly return to the dust from which he came.

God says: work everyday with the dirt until you die! And the first words out of Adam’s mouth then are: And Eve is the mother of all living!

The other interesting thing here has to do with the verb tense. Alter renders it as past tense (“she WAS the mother of all that lives”) while the NIV renders it as “she would BECOME the mother of all living” The NIB claims “the NIV future tense seems correct (since the perfect verb expresses certainty).” But the ambiguity is fun, nonetheless. What if Eve were already the mother of all living? Meaning that there were already children in the garden? How would this change the story?

4. “And the Lord God made skin coats for the human and his woman, and He clothed them.”

God as tailor. Why replace the clothing the humans made for themselves? Is it important for no other reason than that it allows God to make an initial gesture of reconciliation following the “spelling out of consequences” just concluded?

It strikes me as an immensely tender gesture: measuring, cutting, and sewing. Plus, especially tender, is the description of God not just making the clothes and delivering them to Adam and Eve, but personally clothing them in what he had made.

Also, why the shift from plant-based clothes to animal-based clothes? Why specify that these clothes were made of “skin”?

Also the significance, in relation to other kinds of divinely invested clothing throughout the OT and NT and D&C shouldn’t be overlooked. But, for now, I don’t have anything in particular to say about that.

From here, I commend what else may be said about these verses to your care.

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Genesis 3:16-19

KJV:  16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

NET Translation:  To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your labor pains;
with pain you will give birth to children.
You will want to control your husband,
but he will dominate you.

NRSV: To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

This verse presents several translation conundrums and interesting interpretive possibilities.

First, what kind of “desire” is envisioned here?  Sexual desire?  (If so, why would this be a consequence of eating the fruit?)  Desire for protection (as a pregnant woman and/or mother)?  A desire to be dominated?  It has also been read as saying that Eve must eliminate her own desires and instead be subject to Adam’s desires.  How can we determine the best reading here?

Next, what is the relationship between Eve’s desire and Adam’s rule?  Does her desire cause his rule?  (That is, does he ‘lord it over her?’)

Why are labor pains relevant here?  Why is that a consequence of eating the fruit?  Is it related to having one’s eyes opened and/or dying?

I’m thinking about the idea of “increased” labor pains.  Increased relative to what?  Was it possible for her to have children before the Fall, but now it will be (more) painful?  If she hadn’t eaten of the fruit, would it have been given to her later, but without the nasty side-effect of painful child birth?

There are also translation complications with the idea of “multiplying sorrow and conception.”  Some have taken it to mean that Eve will have lots of children (that is, the number of conceptions will be multiplied), perhaps because so many of her children will die.  That reading, at least, makes some sense of the relationship of the consequence to the introduction of death into the world.  Otherwise, it seems hard to understand what Eve’s childbearing has to do with eating the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Why are these things even related?

Another translation problem:  I’ve also seen it suggested that in “he shall rule over you,” “he” does not refer to Adam, but to Eve’s desire.  That is, her desire will rule over her.  (There are good verbal parallels to the Cain story’s use of this word here.) (Perhaps meaning that her sexual desire for Adam will rule over her, causing her to continue to have sex with him, despite the painful births that follow.)

Is there a link between the pain and the relationship to the husband?  One way to tie all of the strands together would be to read it thusly:  you will sexually desire your husband, but that desire will result in repeated, painful child births and open up room for your husband to dominate you (because of your sexual desire for him and/or your vulnerability/dependence as a pregnant woman and mother of small children).  However, this seems odd–why would sexual desire be a consequence of the fall?  And why emphasize Eve’s sexual desire for Adam as opposed to his for her?  (And does it imply that sexual desire is a condition of the Fall?  That it is unique to women?)  In a previous comment, Rosalynde pointed out that the first instance of the “male gaze” was actually Eve’s “lust” for the tree.  Now, in what seems to be the first reference to sexual desire, it is a woman’s!

Another translation conundrum:  the final lines can describe a situation where both Adam and Eve are trying to dominate each other, without the verse speculating on who the “winner” is.

This verse feels crucially important to our understanding of women’s experience of mortality, but, ultimately, I feel that our efforts to make sense of it are frustrated by an inability to understand what the verse is saying.  But even if you felt confident in your translation and interpretation, there’s another obstacle:  is this verse describing the ideal conditions of a mortal woman?  Or are they conditions that she should strive to overcome?  When anesthesia was introduced for child birth, there were some Christian theologians who argued that its use was unbiblical, since women were, according to this verse, supposed to have pain in child birth and it was therefore wrong for humans to attempt to circumvent it.  I don’t know that that position has many adherents today, but there are a fair number of people arguing, based on this verse, that husbands should rule over wives.

KJV:    17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

NET:  But to Adam he said,

“Because you obeyed your wife

and ate from the tree about which I commanded you,

‘You must not eat from it,’

cursed is the ground thanks to you;

in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your lifeNRSV 3:17 And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

Note the logic of the verse:  the ground is being cursed because Adam obeyed his wife.  (Note also how this verse requires us to read into the story something that wasn’t narrated–namely, Eve commanding Adam to eat.)  Why would it make sense for the ground to be cursed because of something Adam did?

Note that the verse assumes that it was wrong for Adam to listen to his wife.  Why might this have been?  Did Adam know it was wrong to listen to her?

Why do you think the command and its violation are reiterated in this verse, but not in Eve’s situation in the previous verse?

Note the theme of eating:  they ate of forbidden fruit; now what they eat will only come as the result of painful toil.  And the serpent will eat dirt.

Note the parallelism between Adam and Eve’s consequences:  she will sorrow in pain to produce children; Adam will sorrow in pain to produce food.  What can we learn from these parallels?   In what ways are their consequences different, and in what ways might those differences be significant to our understanding of gender roles today?

18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

NRSV thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I’m curious about the “for dust . . .” statement here.  Is it explaining why he will return to the ground?  If so, how does this relate to “the Fall”?  Which is to say, he’s always been created out of the dust, so why would eating of the fruit impact his relationship to it?  Also, isn’t it correct to say that Eve, too, will return to the dust, so why limit this to just Adam?  Why give an explanatory comment here, but no explanatory comment for Eve?

General thoughts on this passage:

(1) Is it significant that the consequences are presented in this order:  serpent, then woman, then man?  If so, what is the significance of the order?

(2) We casually talk about these consequences as “curses,” but note that the ground is the only thing that is cursed (and the serpent as well)–Adam is not cursed, Eve is not cursed.  And, in fact, the ground is cursed “for thy sake,” suggesting that the cursing of the ground in some way is a benefit to Adam.  If these aren’t curses, what are they?  The natural consequences (to use the language of modern parenting practice) for having eaten the fruit?  Is this a “heads up” from God as to what they should expect?

(3) How does this account differ from Moses 5 and from the temple ceremony and what should we make of the differences?

(4) From my files; statements from various LDS thinkers and leaders about this passage:

Hugh Nibley:

“Now a curse [sic] was placed on Eve, and it looked as if she would have to pay a high price for taking the initiative in the search for knowledge. To our surprise the identical curse [sic] was placed on Adam also. For Eve, God ‘will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children.’ (Gen. 3:16.) The key is the word for sorrow, atsav, meaning to labor, to toil, to sweat, to do something very hard. To multiply does not mean to add or increase but to repeat over and over again; the word in the Septuagint is plethynomai, as in the multiplying of words in the repetitious prayers of the ancients. Both the conception and the labor of Eve will be multiple; she will have many children. Then the Lord says to Adam, ‘In sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life’ (that is, the bread that his labor must bring forth from the earth). The identical word is used in both cases; the root meaning is to work hard at cutting or digging; both the man and the woman must sorrow and both must labor. (The Septuagint word is lype, meaning bodily or mental strain, discomfort, or affliction.) It means not to be sorry, but to have a hard time. If Eve must labor to bring forth, so too must Adam labor (Gen. 3:17; Moses 4:23) to quicken the earth so it shall bring forth. Both of them bring forth life with sweat and tears, and Adam is not the favored party. If his labor is not as severe as hers, it is more protracted. For Eve’s life will be spared long after her childbearing—‘nevertheless thy life shall be spared’—while Adam’s toil must go on to the end of his days: ‘In sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of the life!’ Even retirement is no escape from that sorrow.”
–Hugh Nibley, “Patriarchy and Matriarchy,” Old Testament and Related Studies, page 92f.

“There is no patriarchy or matriarchy in the Garden; the two supervise each other.  Adam is given no arbitrary power; Eve is to heed him only insofar as he obeys their Father—and who decides that?  She must keep check on him as much as he does on her.  It is, if you will, a system of checks and balances in which each party is as distinct and independent in its sphere as are the departments of government under the Constitution—and just as dependent on each other.”
–Hugh Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies, page 92f.

President Kimball:

“As He concludes this statement he says, ‘and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.; (Gen. 3:16.) I have a question about the word rule. It gives the wrong impression. I would prefer to use the word preside because that’s what he does. A righteous husband presides over his wife and family. . . . No woman has ever been asked by the Church authorities to follow her husband into an evil pit. She is to follow him as he follows and obeys the Savior of the world, but in deciding this, she should always be sure she is fair.”
–President Spencer W. Kimball, “The Blessings and Responsibilities of Womanhood,” Ensign, March 1976, page 70f.

President Hinckley:

“[I] call attention to the statement in the scriptures that Adam should rule over Eve. (See Gen. 3:16.) . . . I regrettably recognize that some men have used this through centuries of time as justification for abusing and demeaning women. But I am confident also that in so doing they have demeaned themselves and offended the Father of us all, who, I am confident, loves His daughters just as He loves His sons. I sat with President David O. McKay on one occasion when he talked about that statement in Genesis. His eyes flashed with anger as he spoke of despotic husbands and stated that they would have to make an accounting of their evil actions when they stand to be judged by the Lord. He indicated that the very essence of the spirit of the gospel demands that any governance in the home must be done only in righteousness. My own interpretation of that sentence is that the husband shall have a governing responsibility to provide for, to protect, to strengthen and shield the wife. Any man who belittles or abuses or terrorizes, or who rules in unrighteousness, will deserve and, I believe, receive the reprimand of a just God who is the Eternal Father of both His sons and daughters. No man who engages in such evil and unbecoming behavior is worthy of the priesthood of God. No man who so conducts himself is worthy of the privileges of the house of the Lord. I regret that there are some men undeserving of the love of their wives and children. There are children who fear their fathers, and wives who fear their husbands. If there be any such men within the hearing of my voice, as a servant of the Lord I rebuke you and call you to repentance. Discipline yourselves. Master your temper. Most of the things that make you angry are of very small consequence. And what a terrible price you are paying for your anger. Ask the Lord to forgive you. Ask your wife to forgive you. Apologize to your children.”
–President Gordon. B. Hinckley, “Daughters of God,” Ensign, November 1991, page 97.

(5) What is set out in these verses is the condition of Adam and Eve post-Fall.  So, to the extent that we want to read these verses as normative for human life (side note:  should we be doing that?  We are very comfortable reading Adam and Eve as the template for male-female relations but would surely balk at reading Cain and Abel as the template for sibling relations; why?), do we read things as Eve’s desire for her husband as “natural,” or something that is part of the fallen world and that should be overcome?  In other words, how much of this section is “the way things are [and perhaps you should try to change them]” or “the way things should be”?

(6) D &C 61:17 reads:  “And, as I, the Lord, in the beginning cursed the land, even so in the last days have I blessed it, in its time, for the use of my saints, that they may partake the fatness thereof.”  Does this verse impact how we interpret the curse on the land in Genesis?

(7) Eve was created from Adam; her consequence has to do with her relationship to Adam.  Adam was created from the ground; his consequence has to do with his relationship to the ground.  V19 seems to emphasize this idea of the relationship between creation and consequence.  Some scholars have pointed out that for each person (snake, Eve, Adam), the consequence/curse involves two parts:  a personal function and a relationship.

(8) Presumably, Eve and Adam lacked knowledge of good and evil before they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  If this is the case, then how can they be accountable for their action of eating the fruit?

(9) Maybe it’s just me, but I find it hard to read this story as being about anything other than gender.

(10)  Is the Fall in some sense analogous to the sealing covenant—both are necessary in order that the command to multiply and replenish the earth be kept?

(11) Purely speculative, but do you think that YHWH would have offered the fruit to them at some future point?  In other words, is this a story about timing and/or initiative?

(12) Why is this story the centerpiece of the temple endowment?

(13) Were Adam and Eve given contradictory commandments?  (If so, does that happen now, or was it a one-time thing?)

(14) Some modern translations, including the NET Bible, format v14-19 as poetry.  If you read it that way, does it change your impression of what is happening here?

(15) Is there anything in the consequences enumerated in this section that helps us better understand what it means to say (a) that eating the fruit would cause their eyes to be opened and/or that (b) eating the fruit would cause them to die?

Are these consequences negative or positive?  Are they good things?  Bad things?

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Genesis 3:14-15

These verses transition into what became, in the text’s Christian afterlife, one of the most important passages of Genesis: the curses and consequences. But to begin with, let’s look at them apart from their Pauline afterlife and see what they have to say on their own.

The curses are rendered in verse, as was Adam’s rhapsody on the creation of the woman.  Here the Lord is not rhapsodizing but cursing; nevertheless the verse form has the effect of setting apart, lending emphasis to what follows. It moves the Lord’s voice into a new register, to take up again the notion of heteroglossia. Yahweh’s voice has always been authoritative, but heretofore it has been an oddly improvisatory, limited, negotiated authority: Yahweh failed comically in his early attempts at creating a companion for the human, his instructions are flouted by his own creatures, and the limits of his knowledge are highlighted by his questioning of Adam and Eve.

At the beginning of verse 14, however, Yahweh begins to speak with a new formality, gravity and design, qualities lent to his discourse by the verse form.  The absent King has returned to restore order to a world upside down, but true to the logic of carnival the re-ordered world is changed and enriched by the powerful creative chaos that temporarily reigned. The trickster serpent introduced figurative speech, dialogue, dramatic irony and trope into the garden, and this new richness and energy of language is incorporated into Yahweh’s discourse, even as it reasserts authority. In his lines directed at the serpent we find metaphor (“dust shall you eat,” “seed”), metonymy (“boot” and “heel,” in Alter’s translation), contrast, image – a new richness of language and expression.

What of the curse itself? There appear to be two parts: the serpent will now move on his belly, debased in relation to other creatures and despised by them; and there will be special enmity set between the serpent and the woman. Why does Yahweh specify that the woman will be particularly alienated from the serpent? It was the woman who engaged verbally with the serpent, who was open to dialogue and persuasion, who learned from the serpent desire and possession. So perhaps the curse recognizes and condemns that particular connection between the serpent and the woman.

But perhaps this curse also finalizes and formalizes humanity’s definitive split from the animal world.  (What follows owes a lot to Alter’s note on this point.) Until this point, the woman was a sibling of the serpent and all the other beasts, who were after all created in the attempt to make a suitable companion for the man. The woman was just the last, best attempt.  I’m reminded again of cave paintings and myths that depict strange human-animal hybrids, as if early hominids could sense evolution occurring as they split off and differentiated from the beasts.  Here, in Yahweh’s curse, we see at last a definitive boundary between “civilized” humans — who use technologies, wear clothing, experience self-consciousness and shame – and beasts. I suppose this is the primal moment of “Othering”, the first instance of humanity’s alienation from “nature.”

It should be noted that this text is key in Paul’s formulation of Christianity. (I’m assuming so, anyway – I’m not an expert in this. Help in the comments would be appreciated.) I understand “it [the serpent] shall bruise thy head, and thou [humanity, or the seed of Eve, or Christ] shalt bruise his heel” to have been interpreted as a type of Jesus’s victory over Satan, death and sin. As we’ve talked about before, that interpretation isn’t privileged by the text itself, but it has undeniably been centrally formative to historical Christianity.

Let’s jump into discussion.

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Guilt and Interrogation

I apologize for only providing notes.

Verse 8: “In the cool of the day” = “in the breath / wind of the day.” I wonder whether this has any connection to God breathing the breath of life into Man: he has breathed life into Man, now coming in the breath of the day, God will condemn Man to death.

Hearing the voice of the Lord is used throughout the Pentateuch to mean “obeying God.” Its use here is surely ironic: having disobeyed, they hear the voice of God.

The term translated “walking” is used in other places in reference to God’s presence in the Tabernacle: Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 23:14; 2 Samuel 7:6.

Verse 9: Those involved are questioned in the opposite order in which they took part: the order of the temptation is snake, woman, man; here the order is man, woman, snake; when the consequences are pronounced it will be snake, woman, man again.

God asks Man rhetorically “Where are you?” but Man responds as if he’d been asked “Why are you hiding?” God’s question has traditionally been read as a reproof: “Do you know where you’ve put yourself in relation to me?” Note that in these verses, from 8 through 13, God only asks questions.

Thou is singular, but since adam can refer to the man and the woman as a couple, as in Genesis 1:26, I assume that might also be the case here.

Verse 10: Man acknowledges that he knows he is naked, but says nothing about how he came to that knowledge.

Verse 12: Man blames Woman and, indirectly God. As Ephrem the Syrian says, “Instead of confessing what he had done . . . he related what had been done to him.”

Traditionally, beginning with Paul (1 Timothy 2:14), the interpretation has been that Man’s sin was not as great as Woman’s because he was not deceived by the serpent.

Verse 13: God doesn’t challenge Man’s accusation of Woman—nor of himself. He asks Woman what / why she has done. She, too, shifts blame: the serpent tricked / deceived me.

Since I’m a Walter Brueggemann fan, let me end with something I found in his book on Genesis:

The situation moves from the forming by God (2:7, 22) to the driving out by God (3:23–24). Between there is the hiding of humankind (3:8–10) and the walking of God (3:8). The human creatures, in or out of the garden, still finally must live on God’s terms.

     The story is not explained. It is simply left there with the listening community free to take what can be heard. There is, of course, talk here of sin and evil and death. But it is understated talk. The stakes are too high for reduction to propositions. The story does not want to aid our theologizing. It wants, rather, to catch us in our living. It will permit no escape into theology.

(Walter Brueggemann, Genesis: Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 50 [Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982])

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Genesis 3:6-7, The Moment (Part 2)

Some further notes, on verse 7.

Continue reading

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Genesis 3:6-7, The Moment (part 1)

This section is really the lynchpin of our whole text; setting aside our large question about the meaning (or lack thereof) of a “Fall” in the Old Testament, these two verses are the axis around which all else in the narrative revolves. Everything before has been stage-setting, everything after represents the fallout.  And yet, there’s not a lot that happens. “Two people eat some fruit” is not exactly a plot description on which to hang or sell a theological drama. (Perhaps in Norway?) Or, as Boromir says, “Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing? So small a thing!”  Continue reading

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Genesis 3: 4-5 (Satan as a Trickster)

Genesis 3: 4-5 (Everett Fox translation):

The snake said to the woman: Die, you will not die! Rather, God knows that on the day that you eat from it, your eyes will be opened and you will become like gods, knowing good and evil.

Because I wish to talk about Satan in a broader and character based sense in this post, I will call him Satan rather than the snake or serpent. Satan’s dialogue with Eve reminds me of the trickster role of Prometheus in Greek myth. Prometheus is positioned liminally beween Gods and mortals. He’s a Titan— that is, a member of the old, defeated generated of Gods conquered by the Olympians led by Zeus. He also straddles divine and mortals worlds as a creator of humans from clay. Later, he becomes a teacher to them and gives them fire after Zeus takes it away. At a feast intended to promote unity between Gods and humans, Prometheus tricks Zeus into taking the bad half the of the humans’ offering. He hides bones and gristle inside the attractive roasted exterior of the animal, and puts the bacon inside organs for the humans to enjoy. Zeus punishes the  humans for this deception so they can’t follow Prometheus’s suit and offer such offensive sacrifices in the future. But Prometheus steals fire from heaven and brings it to the humans, which allows them to gain new knowledge and build civilization by making tools and so forth. This time, Zeus punishes Prometheus by tying him to a rock and causing an eagle to tear out his liver, which grow anew every day. Some literature exalts Prometheus as a hero, even a symbol of human perseverance, intelligence and achievement. But other perspectives, such as Hesiod’s Theogony treat Prometheus as ordinary and pretentious, and his trick as a minor ploy that can’t defeat Zeus’s more enlightened way of being toward humans.

The way we treat the serpent’s deceptions is similarly open to different perceptions and interpretations. How vital his actions are in the course of events is in question. Does the serpent really change anything? What cause, if any is he fighting for? Tricksters are usually catalysts of otherwise impossible events. They can wield this influence precisely because of their in-betweenness. When Prometheus brings fire down from heaven to mortals, for example, this is something humans cannot do for themselves. Only someone who has access to Olympia and who is also intimately concerned with human events could do such a thing. Major changes occur among humans and to their society as a result. Like Prometheus, Tricksters tend to initiate rites of passage in myths—they are transformative figures that tend to exalt what is lowly. They shake up the spaces they inhabit and leave them changed.

They often are initially lowly or defeated figures who succeed in exalting themselves and or others.

This is my list of meanings and intentions Satan’s words might possibly claim in the passage at hand today that I am considering as I question the nature of Satan’s deceptions:

  1. “Die! You will not die!” God lied to Adam and Eve about the consequences of partaking of the fruit; Adam and Eve will not “in the day” (Eve’s words) they eat the fruit. As others have discussed on this blog, Eve has already altered God’s words here, and Satan is playing off her apparent carelessness or misunderstanding. God said they would “surely die” without communicating, as far as we know, that it would be in the same day.
  2.  Perhaps Satan implies that they will not die immediately after. Dropping dead, Snow White like, after biting the fruit might have been something Eve had imagined and was frightened of, and perhaps Satan guessed at this.
  3. “Rather, God knows…” Fox’s use of “rather” here is useful to me, it helps the reader identify that Satan is assertively claiming he has superior knowledge about God, his purposes and motivations. Also, that he claims to offer concealed information. “Rather” intends to cut through error, leading a listener to the truth.
  4. “…on the day that you eat from it, your eyes will be opened…” What will happen “on the day” they partake of the fruit is not death, but a desirable transformation—they will become like Gods, have their eyes opened, and gain knowledge. This seems like an especially dangerous half truth. Adam and Eve’s eyes may be opened in a new way, but only in a way more comparable to how a newborn baby first opens his eyes and looks on an unfamiliar world with blurry vision.
  5. Satan appears to use a false and ill-intentioned countenance of openness. We might occasionally see such tactics in people around us. Some people speak “openly” about life in a manner that is superficially or prematurely intimate. The façade is instant friendship and benevolence, but the motivation is often selfish. This kind of voice seeks to gain trust in order to become a greater influence. The appearance of selfless honesty masks some of the greatest lies.
  6. God told Adam and Eve that they would die not because they actually would, but because he didn’t want their eyes to be opened, and for them to become like him.
  7. “…you will become like gods…” God is jealous of his status and knowledge. He is exclusive and keeps others from progressing; he gains personal benefits from the fact that Adam and Eve are ignorant and blind. This plays off of Satan’s own character; it is of course Satan who actually seeks solo self-aggrandizement at the suffering of others.
  8. Gaining knowledge is as easy as consumption and mere absorption. While death will not come instantaneously, Godhood and knowledge will. Another particularly dangerous half truth. They will not “[know] good and evil” in any rich sense in an instant. What might transform a little more instantaneously is not knowledge but their potential and desire to gain knowledge, including capacities for personal responsibility, pain, enjoyment, and moral discernment.
  9. God is not on the side of humans, but Satan is. God does not promote human progression, especially when assertively sought by humans, but Satan does.
  10. Disobedience is desirable and right if it appears it will increase your personal knowledge, power, and pleasure, even if it damages relationships and trust.

Satan is a unique kind of trickster. Mythological tricksters, like Prometheus, frequently suffer and sacrifice. It is through this that they evoke change– they offer something of themselves. They are loyal to some cause, even if they tear down and deceive others in the process who have created boundaries. Satan does this only pretentiously and insincerely. He pretends to care about humans, but only intends harm. Also, while Prometheus is invested in humans as a creator on earth, Satan pops into this scene out of nowhere in our narrative. Even when we consult the richer array of pre-mortal narratives about him, he never promotes anyone but himself, and that only tragically and failingly. Even if we took the perspective as Prometheus as inferior to Zeus, Prometheus at least offers meat, warmth, and light to humans at his own cost and his own suffering. Satan claims to offer knowledge and to promote human advancement, but all he ultimately offers is lies. These lies are especially dangerous because of the way Satan mixes insinuations that God is a selfish monster (the truth about Satan himself actually) with deeper hidden truths about human exaltation that Eve hasn’t learned from God yet and is not yet ready to identify and separate from error. Satan pressures and confuses. He is not on the side of humans or Gods, however catalystic we might interpret his role to be in the transgression and course of events that follow.

God’s punishment to the serpent after this temptation does not inflict the kind of suffering that refines or exalts. God basically communicates to Satan he is going to ignore him more and feed him less than ever; he is worth less attention, not more, and there is no need to inflict any kind of violence. It is tempting to celebrate Prometheus as a hero because he suffered in consequence of helping humans, but Satan suffers only out of selfish disobedience.

But despite all these thoughts, I still feel the need to compare Prometheus bringing fire with Satan offering the fruit. Satan’s opposition may catalyze meaningful changes the world, even if most or all of these changes are not what he specifically intends. Fire and fruit are both such beautiful and powerful representations of the enjoyment of life, and human striving after light and intelligence. The partaking of the fruit ultimately benefits Adam and Eve, as they recognize later, even though they first tasted it in the obscurity and confusion of Satan’s presence. Satan’s opposition appears to prove productive, but because of human agency, it does so in two directions—evil and good. His pressures accelerate human growth and unintentionally (for Satan, tragically) aid the Father’s purpose of exalting humans again and again.

Or perhaps, as some have treated Prometheus, we should treat Satan’s efforts more as pathetic deterrents to God’s plans that are really just mild annoyances more than vital opposition and catalysts. I sometimes wonder what would happened had Satan not appeared here. Perhaps a day would have arrived when Adam and Eve were prepared to partake of the fruit, and the Father would have encouraged or even commanded it. And perhaps this even would have been a better kind of learning and growing experience for them.

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Genesis 3:1-3

“…And the two of them were naked, the human and his woman, and they were not ashamed.”


The break between chapters 2 and 3 is a major formal and thematic cleft in the text. The first seven verses of chapter 3 are a kind of narrative carnival, an interlude during which Yahweh withdraws and a new maker-god temporarily takes his place to preside over a topsy-turvy feast of conversation and transgression.

(My thoughts here are informed, perhaps eccentrically, by an oldie-but-goodie from my undergraduate days, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Bakhtinian theory of dialogue/heteroglossia and carnival. Bakhtin is a bit musty in critical theory these days, but it seems to me that both of his major ideas are active in these verses so perhaps he is worth resurrecting here.)

“Now the serpent…” “Now” points to a temporal disjunction in the narrative, a new scene and a new plot. And a new character: the serpent. Whereas the walking, tree-like Yahweh initiates the action in the first scene of the story, the slithering, ground-like serpent (1) will take over during this interlude. But where has Yahweh gone? The last we saw of him, he was presenting the woman to the human; after the human accepts and names the gift, Yahweh disappears from the text. His sudden absence is what allows the serpent to appear in the narrative. Is this withdrawal analogous to the seventh day of the first creation story, in which Elohim withdraws from his work to rest? Perhaps Yahweh is off sleeping in the shade of the garden someplace. In any case, God, on the first of many occasions in human history, withdraws from human perception while things take a hard left-hand turn on earth.

“… was most cunning of all the beasts of the field that the LORD God had made.” Alter chooses the word “cunning” to describe the serpent; the NSRV uses “crafty”; the KJV uses “subtil.” Of the three I prefer “crafty” because it suggests a connection between the the serpent and Yahweh: after all, Yahweh is more than anything else a crafter, a tinker, an incremental maker of imperfect but living things out of material scrabbled together from the ground. The serpent is Yahweh’s double and his opposite. But also, the text reminds us, his creation and creature. Is there a whiff of theodicean reasoning here — an implied suggestion that if the serpent is crafty, cunning, and subtle, it is only because Yahweh made him so? Should his creatureliness excuse the serpent for merely acting on his nature, or, on the contrary, is he all the more blameworthy for controverting his own maker (as Milton has it)?

“And he said to the woman, “Though God said, you shall not eat from any tree of the garden—” There is so much to be said here that I hardly know where to begin; please consult your commentaries! Perhaps one thing to be noted is the matter of God’s name: Yahweh Elohim. (Ben generously supplied his linguistic expertise to talk this through with me.) The narrative voice in chapters 2:4+ and 3 consistently uses both names together, Yahweh Elohim, which Alter and many other translators render as LORD God. But in the quoted dialogue of the serpent and the woman, Elohim is used alone. Is this coincidence, an artifact of redaction, or a thematically meaningful distinction? I don’t know.

This sentence also represents the introduction of the dialogic imagination into the garden. We have heretofore heard both Yahweh’s voice and the human’s voice, but never in responsive dialogue; there are scarcely even distinctly implied points of view distinguishing the human from his creator. In Bakhtinian terms, everything that has come before has been uttered in “authoritative discourse.” The serpent breaks this wide open by introducing a distinct voice, which in turn makes dialogue possible. There’s irony in the fact that he does so by subversively (mis)quoting Elohim, moving the original (and foundational) authoritative utterance (“You shall not you shall not eat from any tree of the garden…”) into a different register and thereby changing its meaning. The serpent here purports to reproduce Elohim’s speech, but of course Yahweh Elohim in fact said “From every fruit of the garden you may surely eat” (emphasis mine). This is what Bakhtin calls “heteroglossia” or a “hybrid utterance” — the presence of multiple discourses (in this case, both Yahweh’s and the serpent’s, both authoritative and subversive-carnival-authoritative) in a single utterance. More on that when the woman starts speaking in a moment.

The introduction of distinct points of view, distinct discourses, is what makes dialogue possible. I love how Alter conveys a welter of overlapping voices by rendering the serpent’s first utterance not as a disingenuous question, as the KJV and NSRV have it (“‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’), but as an appositive clause which is frankly interrupted by the woman’s voice: “Though God said, you shall not eat from any tree of the garden — “ I have no idea how justifiable this is textually, but it’s fantastic storytelling and the perfect formulation of a truly dialogic consciousness: a worldview open to contest, multiplicity, and incommensurability. If we define a novel as a text infused by the dialogical imagination, as Bakhtin does, we might say that this sentence is the first and shortest novel ever written.

“And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the garden’s trees we may eat, but from the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it and you shall not touch it, lest you die.’” The woman’s words here are a tour de force of heteroglossia. Peeling back the layers of the utterance we discover: at the first level, the woman’s voice, interrupting and correcting the serpent’s mis-quotation; at a second level, an implied quotation of the male human’s voice, for how else did the woman to learn of the proscription?; beyond that, of course, is the authoritative voice of Elohim himself. Only not really, because the woman misquotes Elohim too. Somewhere along the way, either by the male human or the female, a hedge was added around the fence, and the woman now suggests that she is prohibited from both eating and touching the fruit. What do we make of this multiplication of the taboo?

It’s interesting that the woman identifies the tree only by its position, its locality in the midst of the garden, rather than by its characteristics. Does she know that there are two trees in the “midst” of the garden, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge, but only one is proscribed? Matter of fact, do WE know that there were two trees? Is it possible that the text in 2:9 applies two descriptors to a single tree?

I don’t have a great way to tie this all together. Let’s dive into the discussion.

(1)  Does the serpent slither at this point? Yahweh later curses him to “go on his belly and eat dust”, so it’s possible that at this point the serpent is a walking, upright-oriented beast. Either way, it’s worth noting that the serpent’s associations are not negative at this stage; indeed, my commentary suggests that the serpent was anciently associated with wisdom and fertility.

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Genesis 2: 21-25: Comparing Eve’s Creation to Birth

A gospel instructor recently introduced me to a new concept:

“Men and women are each required to lay down their lives for the sake of giving life to others. Women lay down/risk their lives in childbirth to give physical life. Men, in turn, are called on to provide spiritual rebirth to other souls, and to be willing to give their lives for this cause.”

Does this idea ring true? What are its limitations? Gender roles in the plan of salvation definitely blur together; men and women prove essential to assisting in each other’s life giving roles. In other words, women are also needed to provide spiritual life, and men are needed to provide physical. Nevertheless, I keep finding myself drawn back to this insight as I contemplate this big question that has already been raised:

Why are Adam and Eve created so differently, and what might this teach us about gender difference?

In this post, I’d like to contrast it with a birth experience. Is there any sense in which Adam is laying down his life symbolically?

One thing is clear at this point just prior to Eve’s creation: there are no mortal women on earth to give birth to new souls. While Adam is hatched or molded on ground level like a seed or an egg, Eve’s organic material is removed from Adam’s body and remolded and structured like clay by a potter. It is resuscitated with new breath to become female and independent from Adam’s body by divine hands. Why should Eve’s body originate partly from Adam’s, with him serving as a kind of surrogate male mother/father for her? By fusing Eve’s creation so closely with Adam and his body, the story invites us to plumb the emotional  and psychological depths of Adam and Eve’s first meeting. I am particularly intrerested in the  joy and feelings of unification Adam feels when he wakes, rises and first looks on Eve. What does Adam’s part in Eve’s creation signify, and how might this process be said to transform and prepare him?

Point of contrast 1: Anticipation

Any awareness Adam might have had concerning the creation of Eve beforehand is unclear. Encountering other living creatures and naming them might have starting him thinking about the possibility of a female human being.

“And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.”

Adam is the active agent in the first half of this verse, perhaps the “not finding” is on his part. Was Adam was searching and waiting for a female human to come?

Did God give Adam any clue about what to anticipate with Eve’s creation? There doesn’t seem to be clear evidence of this unless we want to assume Adam overhears God’s plan: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” But  God seems to be talking about Adam to someone else. The biggest evidence that Adam may have hoped for Eve’s creation is his words “at last,” or “now”—“This at last is bone of my bones” as if he had been waiting for these events, even hoping to have this kind of “same flesh” relationship with another being.

And a new mother is like Adam alone– the last link in the chain of her own family’s line. She feels desire for a relationship with a child, but of course can’t know what being in this relationship will entail—what she will feel, experience, sacrifice, and become. Nor can Adam.

Julie raised the question why of the commandment not to eat the tree, and then the Lord’s determination to get things rolling with Eve’s creation should go together. Maybe God needs Adam to gain knowledge, but he isn’t ready for Adam to actively partake of knowledge himself. Might we see the course of events as God asseringt parental control over what knowledge is revealed? Understanding of what it means for Adam to be male, and Eve female, and for them to be partnered together is coming Adam’s way through God’s actions rather than Adam’s. Like a child, Adam is treated as if he is not ready to have much foresight or to choose his own course of learning. A structured rites of passage is presented as suitable for him as to a little child who doesn’t appreciate parental perspective.

2. Labor, deep sleeps, and other trances

Labor is comparable to a kind of sleep in that it is for many women a trancelike state. A woman loses consciousness of time. Bodily pain causes her to turn in and become somewhat oblivious of surroundings and people. Completely unprecedented behavior reveals itself—the women is out of her element, transformed. She is never more aware of herself than in these moments, yet also never less aware. She, exhausted and terrified, is compelled to focus on the labor at hand. Labor and birth is more like a state of hyper wakefulness and awareness beyond ordinary consciousness.

Adam probably doesn’t suffer physically and is unconscious. Adam has something more akin to the early 20th century American birth experience. Many doctors, not wanting to deal with all the drama and trauma of women in labor, thought it best to knock patients out and wake them up when the baby was out (this is also known as a “twilight birth”).

Adam is put into a “deep sleep” with the intention of waking him when Eve is prepared to meet him. Deep sleep from God tends to be invoked for merciful purposes. Deep sleep induced by God, used symbolically, protects the unprepared and heedless from divine wrath. It also comes upon enemies in order to liberate captives in the Book of Mormon. A similar thing happen when David is spared from sleeping enemies. Perhaps God mercifully lets Adam sleep through this “procedure” in our story because wakefulness would cause him needless suffering. The JPS commentary shares this: “a deep sleep Hebrew tardemah is … abnormally heavy sleep, divinely induced. It has here the dual function of rendering the man insensible to the pain of the surgery and oblivious to God at work.” Eve’s creation may be something he was not prepared to witness and understand. Again, God is treating Adam like a child. Adam may be unprepared to have the knowledge of what it means to suffer and sacrifice. Adam’s body being new to him, we would imagine him being frightened and overwhelmed by his experience.

Some women consider it a privilege to suffer in order to give life, and to retain this knowledge. My husband’s grandmother begged her “twilight birth” doctor in the 1940’s three times to stay awake for the deliveries of her children unsuccessfully, which haunted her. She wanted to be present. Labor and birth are not things to sleep through—they are things to wakefully engage and gain a knowledge of. For a mother, birth is an act of sacrifice and suffering and a brush with death. She gives life through suffering that is difficult and probably impossible to measure and fully describe. She lays her life on the line during labor. There is no guarantee her body can make way for the baby to come out. After the baby is out, she bleeds heavily, and even risks death again with this bleeding.

In Adam’s case life is literally in God’s hands, we assume he is safe. Nevertheless, how do we imagine Adam’s body in this experience? Is he bleeding? Does he need to receive resuscitation? Will there be afterpains? Prostrate and unconscious, with his chest slit into, he may actually appear closer to death than the actively laboring mother, or something more like organ donation than birth.

This image of Adam prostrate and opened foreshadows in my mind the powerful and divinely given human capacity to lay down our lives to give life that is described in the thesis I shared above. You might even suggest that the taking of Adam’s flesh gestures toward all the ways that we are related the Christ—through the suffering of his body, his death, and the symbols of his body used in the sacrament.

3. Moments of birth/creation

A baby comes out crying, drawing in air into its lung on its own for the first time, covered in blood and fluid and ready to be human and bond with its mother. Adam’s ribs come out, fairly small white bone covered in muscle, fat, veins and blood. A piece of flesh, not a living soul. Seeing as how God intends Adam to go into a deep sleep, it seems to be suggested this restructuring process takes a long time. A human being is formed from part of another human. This happens behind veil of a mother’s womb every day; in this story, it happens in the open air of a garden. Why doesn’t Eve fly out or come pulled out of a part of Adam’s body like in some other ancient myths? This part of the story seems to bear special emphasis on gender identity and sacred purposes in gender distinctions. Only the hands of God can make flesh of identical origins ontologically distinct.

4. Waking, Meeting, Bonding, and Joy

Divinely invoked deep sleeps often lead to revelation and transformation that is evident at waking. King Lamoni, his father and mother, and many others received powerful testimonies of Jesus Christ while in deep trances. At waking, they are filled with profound joy and cannot be withheld from testifying. Job describes being awoken from a deep sleep to be faced by God himself with the crucial questions of his life, such as “Shall mortal man be more just than God?” (Job 4:13).

Sleep is forgetting, dust, and death. Waking and arising are remembering, drawing strength, and preparing for sacred and celebratory events (Isaiah 51-52). The sleep of God transforms us—just as after an ordinary night of rest, we wake with new strength, and knowledge we are present in a new day.

Giving birth is a kind of “waking” experience out of the trance and pains of labor that transforms a new mother. The pains of her labor prepare her for moments of profound new love, bonding and revelation. The presence of the child can be saturating, overwhelming. A woman once shared with me how she found herself asking, “This is what has been growing inside of me, with this little face?” I remember the first moments I saw my son Adam. The fact that his gender is different than mine is vital to what I thought and felt. I recognized Adam bore an unmistakable resemblance to me, yet being male made him completely other. He bore an uncanny similarity to myself, he was even a piece of me taken out, but coupled with distinctions that would never be reconciled. I witnessed he was in a sense “flesh of my flesh,” but never before had a being presented itself with this same/other quality. These thoughts were coupled with the epiphane that every male person I had ever encountered had started as one of these innocent and helpless beings. Every son must have or should have struck awe and elation in this way. It was a moment of healing for me when bitterness melted away. My eyes were opened to see gender identity, particularly males, anew.

What I thought and felt when I first saw Adam is comparable to what passed through Adam’s heart when he first saw Eve. Adam is filled with sudden, surprising joy. As the JPS Torah commentary suggests, “Man’s first recorded speech is a cry of ecstatic elation at seeing the woman.” Adam confirms the eye opening experience to himself, praises God, and perhaps indirectly speaks to Eve with these words:

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”

The opening of Adam’s body for the sake of taking out flesh for Eve both gestures toward birth and distinguishes itself as producing this new relationship. The rib is not put back, there is a hole in Adam where Eve’s transformed flesh once belonged and in a sense she still belongs there. Knowledge that Eve is created of his flesh cultivates special feelings and thought in Adam. He seems to instantly and wholeheartedly recognize the closest of familial bonds between the two of them—something possibly closer than family, unity on the level of self. If a man is to “leave his father and mother” to cleave to a wife, only a relationship that can compete with or supersede the bond of son to parents would motivate him to do so. At this moment, Adam wraps his mind around two seemingly paradoxical insights—he feels such unity with Eve that it is as if she is still inside him and is part of his own self, and yet she is so ontologically different that she needs her own name that denotes a completely different way of being.

Man and woman: a relationship with potential to be as emotionally powerful, binding and sacred to human beings as any. This is not because of parental or blood bonds, but, least to begin with, because we experience such powerful unity and sameness combined with interesting and fulfilling otherness.

This unity/otherness leads Adam and Eve influences Adam and Eve’s first choice—Eve independently partakes of the fruit, Adam out of loyalty chooses to do the same. When Adam chooses Eve there is a sense in which he also deliberately and willingly chooses death (as Milton suggests in book 9 of Paradise lost, sorry, can’t find the lines right now, it’s just so amazingly long). What might Adam’s choice can lead us to understand something of the love, impulses, and feelings of duty and protectiveness that lead men to be willing to lay down the lives for others and perhaps particularly women?  As likely in Adam’s case, the spiritual wellfare and mortal safety of others are entangled together in men’s motivations—they shield against and fight violence both spiritual and bodily violence.

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