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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5 Responses to Genesis 3:20-21

  1. juliemariesmith says:

    Thanks, Adam.

    I also wonder how this naming relates to back where Adam named the animals. I do get the impression that Adam is “calling her by her correct name” as opposed to “giving her a name” here, so there is a difference. I wonder if there is any relationship between the naming and the coats of skin.

    I wonder why God makes the skins, instead of Adam and Eve making them. How does the creation of the clothing relate to the previous acts of creation?

    If the clothing is made of skin, something had to die for them to be clothed. Is this the moment where death enters the world? If so, why is it such a subtle element in the story?

    A general question: what is “death” in this story? (Obviously, Adam and Eve don’t drop dead when they eat the fruit.) Does it mean expulsion from God’s presence?

  2. Candice says:

    I agree that this moment of naming is very ambiguous temporally. Perhaps this is a moment full of grace when anxieties and fears dissipate, and time collapses a bit into a peaceful moment of seeing, appreciating, and enjoying the now of this new life. Is Adam filled with the spirit of prophecy when he looks at his wife here and sees her now as she will be? It is as if she already is what she will become because of their recent choices. The placement of this naming in the stories chronology may suggest Adam sees and knows things about Eve and their future together he couldn’t before the fruit and his , and that he is filled with hope at the beginning of this journey. It is almost like a new meeting between them.

    Ben noted how those leaves didn’t sound very comfortable :). They were inadequate for what was coming, and it seems like the Father recognizes this and recognizes a lack of skill in Adam and Eve. The Father appears in this story as a being who adapts himself and applies whatever skills necessary to aid specific human needs. He is the kind of being whose creating is inspired by compassion and his knowledge of what it is like to having a sensing body and spirit. His act seems akin to replacing a child’s blanket fort with an insulated tree house. I also think of the difference between grass skirts used in modern hula (actually better than figs leave, probably :) ) and the Buffalo hide coats used by plain dwelling American Indian tribes.

    The image of the Lord sewing, cutting, and measuring shatters naive understanding of the Lord’s labors and creative acts as effortless, quick, and or “magical.” Perhaps making an object, even a domestic object takes just as much thinking, labor, and sacrifice for him as it does for a mortal human being. Perhaps he puts even more of himself and his energy into it.

    We could see this clothing act as a gesture confirming Adam and Eve are still part of the Father’s family. He is still going to clothe them and bless their lives with his grace, though form afar, and even though they are expected to labor for their own means now. Like children going off to college who receive an unexpected source of aid from Grandma.

  3. If Eve is the mother of ALL living, then isn’t she also Adam’s mother? He has named her and, thereby, brought her into being as a person of this world. But she also brings him into being.

  4. rosalyndewelch says:

    In the past, I’ve been somewhat critical of the uses to which Mormonism has put the Eden narrative, both in the Book of Mormon’s interpretation and in the temple. I’ve felt that our appropriations distort the character of the narrative (though, to be fair, they do not distort it any more egregiously than Paul does) and I’ve been dismayed at the effects of the distorted narrative on our discourse.

    But these last verses offer themselves much more willingly to the Mormon interpretation, I think. For one thing, the fact that Eve is only named after eating the fruit — that is, she only becomes “the mother of all living” after transgressing — can be plausibly interpreted to mean that the couple were unable to reproduce pre-fruit, as Lehi asserts. (That’s not the only or the inevitable interpretation, but I think it’s plausible.) For another, the original narrative itself privileges Eve’s reproductive function but not Adam’s — Adam is never identified as a “father” (nor is Yahweh) in this passage, but only and always as a farmer. So in some senses the collapsing of woman into mother and man into provider (not priest, however!) that makes Mormon feminists crazy is supported in this text. Motherhood and fatherhood simply aren’t linked together in this text.

    Finally, of course, the connections between the Mormon endowment and the coats of skins are profound and compelling. I argued here before that the Eden narrative isn’t necessary to the endowment and that we would have been much better off if Joseph had chosen the war in heaven narrative instead, but that one lovely, loaded phrase about God clothing Adam and Eve in coats of skins is powerful evidence against my own argument.

  5. Ben S says:

    I was thinking about this today while working on my paper.
    This is a very odd place in terms of narrative flow to stop everything and declaim on Eve’s name. Man and woman have been “caught”, “confessed”, and God has set forth new circumstances they’ll encounter. Then Adam names, followed God making clothing.

    Is it that this new post-fruit knowledge coupled with God’s explicit reference to pains in child-bearing (the first time such a concept has been introduced) that Adam suddenly realizes Eve’s full capabilities, and exclaims, in essence, “wow, It all comes through you!” If so, that helps the narrative logic make more sense.

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