From:  A Feminist Companion to Genesis (ed. Athalya Brenner), Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993, pp. 77-117.

Please note that most of the italicized words below are English transliterations of the Hebrew words; the bold hot-link numbers in parenthesis are links to endnotes (click on the number to jump to the endnote page); and the numbers in red brackets refer to the upcoming page number of the article.  The latter will help for citation purposes.


RETHINKING THE INTERPRETATION OF GENESIS 2.4B-3.24
by Lyn M. Bechtel
 
[77]  Probably the biblical passage that has been most voluminously interpreted is Gen. 2.4b-3.24 (1). Most, and in particular Christian, interpretations of the story are variations on the 'sin and fall' of humanity theme, where the human and woman are created immortal and placed in a paradise. Because they are disobedient and commit the first sin (they overstep the bounds of creatureliness), they fall and are expelled from 'paradise', punished with pain and mortality, and life goes from being completely good in paradise to completely evil in a fallen world radically changed by their sin (2).  This interpretation denies the goodness of the structure of the universe (the oppositional forces) and 'life' as presently constituted. All of this has had a strong negative influence on Western culture's view of life.

    Although the myth is unquestionably patriarchal in its orientation, many versions of the traditional interpretation have escalated that patriarchal orientation, making the myth a
misogynist's playground. They have suggested that women are secondary, inferior, and should be subordinated to men as their punishment from God for being seductive and responsible for
bringing sin, evil and death into the world. Consequently, it has been used through the centuries as a prooftext for [78] male supremacy and the inferiority and moral weakness of women (3). When all the logical arguments against women's liberation have failed, the chauvinist falls back on this interpretation of the story to show that the subjugation of women is 'ordained' by God from the beginning.. As Phyllis Trible points out, 'Over the centuries this misogynous reading has acquired a status of canonicity so that those who deplore and those who applaud the story agree upon its meaning' (Trible 1978: 73). And as von Rad notes, 'There is perhaps no other biblical text which is so inflexible with regard to this confused mass of stalled questions and whose witness proceeds from a road as narrow as a razor's edge' (von Rad 1961: 75). The pervasiveness of this interpretation of the myth in modern culture, which does not value myths, is incredible.


a. Problems Associated with the Traditional Interpretation
    There are enough problems associated with the traditional 'sin and fall' interpretation to suggest that it may not respect the integrity of the text and may not be the most convincing, and certainly not the only or most authoritative, interpretation. Some of the problems need to be reviewed. Probably the most compelling reason to question the 'sin and fall' interpretation is the fact that Adam and Eve and the Gen. 2.4b-3.24 myth in general are not used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible as an example of sin, fall and punishment despite plentiful opportunities, particularly in the prophets. It is only from the second century BCE onward (beginning with the Wisdom of Ben Sira) that the 'sin and fall' interpretation begins to emerge.
 
    There are many illogical aspects to the 'sin and fall' interpretation. For example, if the man and the woman are created immortal, why are they created sexual? Their sexual potential is evident well before the 'fall', and indeed in 1 Enoch sexuality is necessary because humanity is created mortal. Or, the human is [79] supposedly created immortal, yet the human is created from finite material, the ground ('aphar) of the earth (4). Or, if the garden represents a 'paradise', it should, by definition, be devoid of binary opposition and have only life, goodness, permanence and prosperity. Why has God placed a tree for discernment of good and bad and a snake of evil and death in this paradise? Or if the woman is responsible for bringing evil and death into the world, why is she given the honorable and positive name 'hayya (Eve) Life, mother of all living'? Why does the human not question the eating of the fruit? The woman at least questions and thinks about the action. Why in 3.14-15 is enmity between snakes and women emphasized through parallelism? Is it really critical to fallen human existence? Many people have no such aversion to snakes. Why, after eating the fruit, do the human and woman not fear sin and death but, instead, fear their nakedness? And why is it considered punishment for the human being to be sent out into the world to cultivate the ground from which the human is taken when it has been stated (in 2.5) that humans are intended to cultivate the ground of the earth?

    The Tree of Life and the section on the River of Eden (2.10-14) seem to be extraneous, having no meaning for the 'sin and fall' interpretation. This forces scholars to posit that these elements are secondary and do not really belong in the story (5). The myth is too carefully constructed to suggest that it contains sections or elements that are there by mistake.

    The traditional 'sin and fall' interpretation talks of a response of guilt for sin, and punishment for that guilt. Yet, there is no 'guilt' or 'sin' vocabulary used (6).  Instead, the story talks about a [80] response of 'shame'.  In my study of shame in ancient Israel (Bechtel 1991: 47-76) I find that shame and guilt are radically different emotional experiences (a conclusion supported by modem psychology), and that shame is the central means of social control used by society. Scholars have assumed that shame and guilt are synonymous, and have interpreted them both in terms of guilt-because guilt is a modern means of social control for Western society and is, therefore, more familiar. Use of guilt as the central means of social control characterizes a later period, from the third century BCE onward. In light of the important functioning of shame in monarchical society, the implications of the response of shame in the myth should be investigated.

    The traditional `sin and fall' interpretation presents a very negative view of life, death and the perception of women as the bringers of sin and death, a view not found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. It is, on the other hand, characteristic of thinking from the third century BCE onwards, under the influence of Hellenism.

    The story is clearly fraught with mythical elements and symbolism, yet it is generally interpreted as if it were a historical narrative. The symbolic mode of communication of the myth has not been adequately considered (7).  A myth is a collective or group product that tells a universal truth in a highly symbolic way. So myth communicates truth through symbols and a symbolic mode of communication. It is truth that has been experienced collectively and developed into a myth over many generations through collective effort. So it is not surprising that myth and the symbolic mode of communication are characteristic of predominantly group-oriented societies, in contrast to the historical mode of communication, which is characteristic of predominantly individual-oriented societies.

    One important aspect of the symbolic mode of communication is that language functions on a very different level than is [81] common in historical narrative. So, any emphasis on language or linguistic play in a myth should be taken very seriously. Another important aspect of the symbolic mode is the concept of time. Myth universalizes time by lifting the truth it depicts out of specific history, out of specific time, so that it can apply to any point in history/time. It does so by portraying time as cyclical rather than linear. A final aspect of the symbolic mode is the fact that themes are presented primarily synchronically and symbolically, and only secondarily chronologically as in historical narrative (8).

    The Genesis story should be classified and analyzed as myth, with methods that discern the symbolism, the language and the synchronic mythical structure. Levi-Strauss and Edmund Leach have tried unsuccessfully to analyze the story according to mythical conventions, using the 'sin and fall' paradigm. Their lack of success should not suggest a problem with the myth, but a problem with the interpretation of the myth.

    Even though myths communicate through symbols, in the traditional 'sin and fall' interpretation the full impact of the symbolism of the trees, water and garden has, for the most part, been ignored because it does not illuminate the interpretation. Furthermore, the completely negative symbolism of the snake in the traditional interpretations is incompatible with snake symbolism in the ancient Near East and in Israel during the monarchy. Most scholars agree that this negative snake symbolism was introduced in the second or third century BCE and is consistent with the world-view of that later period. But since negative symbolism is deemed so central to the traditional 'sin and fall' interpretation, an accurate meaning is often not pursued.

    An emphasis on language through wordplays is typical of symbolic communication. Wordplays function as flashing signposts indicating the emphasis of the narrative and relatedness between separate items. Yet in the traditional interpretation most often the wordplays do not function.
All of these problems should indicate that there is a lack of [82] integrity between the traditional interpretation and the text. It is my contention that the 'sin and fall' interpretation develops very slowly during the last centuries of the first millennium BCE (9). The change in interpretation occurs because of and in response to the changes in social, political and economic conditions of those centuries.

    Despite the fact that most scholars have recognized the numerous problems associated with this interpretation, a significant number still cling tenaciously to it. Most feminists have recognized the misogynistic misreadings in the traditional 'sin and fall' interpretation, but some still hold to the 'sin and fall' interpretation with its subordination of women (10).  Others, rather than question the interpretation, have suggested that the challenge is to transcend the sexism of the traditional interpretation (11). Phyllis Trible and Mieke Bad have attempted to expose and remove the misogynistic misreading' from the traditional 'sin and fall' interpretation (12).  It is only recently that there has been questioning of, and a slow movement away from, the `sin and fall' interpretation. Carol Meyers has de-emphasized disobedience, sin and fall and emphasized other existing themes of the text (13). Ellen van Wolde, through an excellent and comprehensive semiotic analysis, has shown the complete absence of the 'sin and fall' theme and, instead, her semiotic [83] analysis reveals the theme of maturation of humanity (van Wolde 1989) (14).

    In light of the growing uneasiness with the traditional 'sin and fall' interpretation, it should be rethought and the possibility of 'another' interpretation entertained: an interpretation that would acknowledge the integrity of the text, incorporate all the existing symbols and synchronic themes, give meaning to the elements of the myth that have no meaning in the 'sin and fall' interpretation, and undergird the cultural assumptions and concerns of monarchical society. But to find such an interpretation, it is mandatory for the exegete to liberate her/himself from the assumptions and concerns of the traditional interpretation-the assumption of temptation, disobedience, sin, fall, guilt and curse-and from misogynous perspectives.

    One key to finding 'another' interpretation is laying out the symbols and the synchronic themes of the myth since, according to Levi-Strauss myths communicate through symbols and an interplay of binary forces which are found in the synchronic structure. In this article I will expose and interpret the mythic structure, analyzing symbolically and synchronically (rather than diachronically), in order to develop the direction of the interpretation (15). My purpose is to lay the foundation for `another' interpretation and an eventual diachronic narrative analysis. Without the symbolic/ synchronic analysis as a base, a diachronic narrative analysis is less than convincing (16).


[84] b. Symbolic Image: Maturation/Differentiation
    One of the most important symbols in the myth is a symbolic image in 2.25: the 'adam (human) and the 'isha (woman) are 'naked' ('erummim) and not ashamed. When in the course of human life would this be true? The conclusion is: in early childhood. Small children are not the least bit ashamed of being seen naked because they have not matured enough to be self-aware, aware of their sexual difference, or conscious of the social implications of public nakedness. They have not begun one particular stage of differentiation or individuation. Later in the story (3.7), as a consequence of interacting with the snake and eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowing, 'their eyes are opened', they 'know' that they are naked ('erummim). In other words, they have become self-aware, aware of their sexual difference, and conscious of the social implications of public nakedness. They have begun to differentiate communally; they are aware of public nakedness and a reaction of shame in the context of community, albeit their parent Adonay Elohim. This is symbolic of a critical stage of maturation. Their response in 3.10 is not 'fear of death', which is the consequence that Adonay Elohim gave for eating of the Tree of Knowing, but 'fear of being naked' ('erom), because in Israelite society the consequence of being publicly naked, for adults, is shame. They have had their first experience of shame as maturing people, so they cover themselves. In a society in which the major means of social control is shame (17), this first experience of shame is critical to the socialization process that accompanies maturation, and would be viewed positively. And in such a society the 'fear' of shame is as important, or more important, as a means of social control, than an actual act of shaming (18). Maturation entails increasing differentiation. So, this section provides the first important clue: the male human and the woman will go through increasing [85] differentiation, in order to progress from immature childhood to mature adulthood (19).

    This stage of maturation can be roughly compared to the stage of adolescent individuation and questioning, which is essential to the process of differentiation of the self from parents. This kind of differentiation is not 'rebellion' or 'sin' but natural and critical growth, in which the adolescent begins the quest for mature selfhood, freedom and independence (20).  It is not a process of alienation from parents but a maturing of the relationship with the parents. Likewise, in the myth it is not a question of alienation between Adonay Elohim and the humans, but a maturing of their relationship. The implications of that maturing relationship will become evident when the implications of knowing good and bad have been explicated. This stage is a crisis or crossroads in that it is a point of both danger and opportunity, a point of decision and change, a point of personal growth. It is not a 'fall', but movement toward the emergence of human consciousness, freedom, maturity, socialization, and the realization of identity in relation to the group.

    One issue that needs to be dealt with before proceeding is the use of the word 'adam I have translated it as generic 'human', (21) to distinguish it from the sexual differentiation implied in 'ish (man). The word 'adam is masculine, requiring masculine pronouns, but when the character in the myth is called 'adam, sexual differentiation or functioning is not indicated. In ch. 2 'adam represents a small child who is unaware of sexual differentiation. In ch. 3 'adam is aware of sexual differentiation, but sexual differentiation or functioning is not essential. When the text wants to emphasize sexual differentiation or functioning, it uses the word 'ish (2.24; 3.6; 3.16).

[86]  Are there other indications of the process of differentiation/ maturation? The first level of awareness of differentiation of self from 'the other' comes with the creation of the animals. Up to the point of creating the animals there is no evidence of the 'adam doing or saying anything. The 'adam is an infant or a very small child. When the animals are created, the 'adam differentiates himself from them by sorting them into categories and naming them. The 'adam is learning to differentiate with language. It is interesting to note that when the animals are created, there is no mention of their sexual differentiation. Since the 'adam is still a child, and has not realized sexual differentiation (portrayed by the use of the generic, sexually indifferent term, 'adam), the 'adam certainly would not be able to recognize sexual differentiation in the animals either.

    The second level of differentiation/maturation is that of sexual differentiation which begins with the forming of the 'isha. Now the 'adam actually speaks, declaring in 2.23, 'This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh [unity or similarity]. She shall be called 'isha (woman) for from 'ish (man) she is taken [differentiation or separation]'.

    The first stage of differentiation is differentiation of self from other; the second stage is sexual differentiation; and the third stage is communal differentiation.

    Another key piece of evidence regarding the process of maturation comes in the dialog in 3.12-13. Neither the 'adam nor the 'isha are able to assume responsibility for their actions. Each places the blame on someone else or on Adonay Elohim. Since assuming responsibility for one's actions represents maturity in its most accomplished state, its absence here signals immaturity. By this point in the story the pair have begun to mature, but maturation is a slow process which begins in the garden and continues throughout adult life in the 'world'.

 
c. Symbols: Trees
    But, can this theme of maturation be supported by the major symbols of the myth? In the archaeological and textual evidence stemming from the ancient Near East during the Middle Bronze Age, one level of symbolism of the tree is that of growth, [87] maturation and the continuation of life from generation to generation through sexual reproduction. It acquires this symbolism because of its slow imperceptible growth (similar to the slow process of human growth); because of its phallus shaped trunk, making it a symbol of male sexuality; because of the production of seeds or fruit, making it a symbol of male and female sexuality (children are often referred to as 'seed'); and because of the shedding of leaves season after season, making it appear to die and begin life anew, over and over in a cyclical fashion (22). In symbolizing both male and female sexuality, it is the ability to produce 'life' generation after generation that is essential. Procreative capacity is something that develops and is realized during the process of maturation. For a predominantly grouporiented society, sexuality and the cyclical continuation of life through the generations of the group is the way they cope with death. Life and death are part of the same cyclical process of life.

1. Tree of Life
        In the myth two of the trees have additional symbolism. As a symbol in the ancient Near East, the meaning of the Tree of Life is straightforward?  (23)  It represents a sense of pure life, life without awareness of binary opposition or death, recurring youth without a sense of progressing toward death (24).  At the beginning of the story there are no prohibitions concerning the Tree of Life, [88] because it represents childhood and a child's view of life. When the humans are still children, eating of this tree would simply verify their existing state and view of life. After they have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, begun to mature, and are being sent forth from the garden into the world, the Tree of Life is prohibited. An immature view of life is fine and even essential for children, but inadequate for adults. The Tree of Life could be called 'the Tree of Immature Knowledge of Life', which means a lack of awareness of binary oppositions and death.

2. Tree of Knowing Good and Bad
    The meaning of the Tree of Knowing Good and Bad centers on the root yd', general knowing or broad intellectual, moral, experiential and sexual discernment (25).  But knowing what?
Knowing 'good and bad' is the capacity to discern the binary oppositions of life. In the Hebrew Bible, as Ackerman points out, knowing good and bad is human wisdom with all its shortcomings, definitely not knowledge that reaches beyond the limits of human possibility (see Ackermann 1990: 41-60). It is particularly important as a royal capacity, which is seen in the Court
History in 2 Sam. 14.17; 19.35; 1 Kgs 3.7-9 (cf. Deut. 1.39; Isa.7.15-16). This tree could be called 'the Tree of Discernment of Oppositional Forces'. Eating the `fruit' of this tree symbolically begins the process of maturation, which includes sexual maturation (with the procreative potential to produce life) and the awareness of good and bad or oppositional forces. Since this knowledge comes only with maturation, the tree could also be called 'the Tree of Mature Knowledge of Life', and it is only prohibited for children.
    Two important aspects of adult knowledge which are subtly embedded in the text are the awareness of the ambiguous nature of life, and the awareness of death.  One example of
ambiguity comes in reference to the trees in the garden:  [89] Adonay Elohim causes to grow from the ground all the trees that are a delight to see and good to eat, and a Tree of Life in the
midst (26) of the garden, and a Tree of Knowing Good and Bad (2.9). The Tree of Life is in the midst of the garden, but is the Tree of Knowing Good and Bad there also? The text is ambigu-
ous (Brueggemann 1982: 48). Later Adonay Elohim says, 'From the Tree of Knowing Good and Bad do not eat from it' (2.16). In 3.3 the woman says, 'From the fruit of the tree which is in the
midst of the garden Elohim said, "Do not eat from it"'. To which tree does she refer? For the ambiguities of life there are no answers.
    Both awareness of ambiguity and awareness of death are combined in the statements of Adonay Elohim and the snake in 2.16-17 and 3.4-5. The chiastic construction of the two state- ments brackets them (adding emphasis), and the use of the infinitive absolute construction conveys ambiguity of meaning.  Adonay Elohim says, 'From all the trees certainly you may eat, but from the Tree of Knowing Good and Bad do not eat from it, for when you eat from it certainly you will die' (2.16-17). Does it mean that the 'adam will immediately die or just become aware of the certainty of death? The audience's assumption is expected to be immediate death, yet the humans do not die at once. And immediate death does not appear to be the assumption of the 'adam and 'isha who, after eating of the tree, fear their nakedness and not death. They are still not mature enough to be fully  aware of death, let alone fear it (3.7-10). The snake says, 'Certainly you will not die, because Elohim knows that when you eat from it, your eyes will be opened and you will become like Elohim, knowing good and bad' (3.4-5). The snake is correcting the assumption of immediate death and is not dealing with the issue of eventual death, which they have not matured enough to understand. Instead, he deals with what they can understand: the fact that once maturation begins with the eating of the fruit, there is the acquisition of new knowledge like that of the parent Adonay Elohim, knowledge of oppositional forces [90] which, incidentally, includes the awareness of death. The humans are experiencing the ambiguity of life and developing a growing awareness of death. The only thing that has changed is human knowledge and awareness.


d. Symbols: Snake
    In the traditional interpretation the snake is often symbolic of evil,(27) temptation, seduction/sexual sin, death, and the causal links among those (28).  It has already been noted that the snake is not identified with exclusively negative symbolism until approximately the third century BCE, so snake symbolism during the monarchical period needs to be reviewed. One of the problems in deciphering this symbolism is that the way a culture experiences snakes on a daily basis largely determines the interpretation. In modern culture, which is more technological and less agricultural, snakes are universally disliked. There is an assumption that all people have a dislike for snakes. But this is not necessarily true. Many people are fascinated by them (29). So, in interpreting the symbolism of the snake, care should be taken not to allow cultural prejudices against snakes to color the interpretation.

    According to K. Joines's extensive study of snake symbolism in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Israel (30), the snake is a synthesis of recurring youthfulness (because of the ability to shed its skin periodically and so appears to cyclically begin life anew), wisdom and chaos/death. In addition, many scholars have acknowledged that in the ancient Near East the snake is a universal symbol of male sexuality because of its phallic shape. On a practical level, the snake is a wild or uncontrolled animal that is beneficial in cultivated or controlled areas, ridding farms of rodents that consume crops and stored grain. So, snakes are [91] life-protecting. Yet they contain a degree of ambivalence, being a wild/ uncontrolled animal that protects in the cultivated controlled areas. In addition, the snake can often be observed sunning on a rock, giving it a terrestrial or 'known world' orientation.  Seconds later it slithers into a hole, giving it a subterranean or 'unknown world' orientation and a further ambivalent quality. And the ambivalent snake is mysterious and fascinating because it is extremely agile, yet it has no visible motor organs. It is a mystery that eludes full perception. Consequently, it characterizes wisdom and is a symbol of the human potential of discernment, particularly the ambivalent or binary qualities of life. And within the wisdom tradition in general, wisdom is life (see Prov. 3.16, where Wisdom is personified as a woman with riches and honor in her left hand and long life in the right hand).

    All of these concepts color the symbolic meaning of the snake. But in the Genesis myth the snake is also described as 'arum (shrewdly or cleverly wise). This warrants further amplification. 'Arum is often translated as referring to 'cunning' wisdom, which indicates 'underhandedness'. But this has a negative connotation which is inappropriate. The wisdom referred to here is simply being 'streetwise' about life, it is the shrewdness or cleverness of one's wisdom which allows an inferior person to attain superiority over a superior person. This kind of 'street' wisdom is an ideal within tribal societies (for example, see the wife/sister stories in Gen. 12.10-20; 20.1-18; 26.7-11). In the myth, the Snake of Discernment is associated with the Tree of Discernment.

    Over against the potential of the clever wisdom ('arum) of the snake stands the fact that it is shamed ('arur) (31) because it crawls on its belly and eats the dust ('aphar; cf. Isa. 49.23; Mic. 7.17) (32) of [91] the ground. I have purposely chosen to translate 'arur as 'shamed' in regard to the snake. Normally, 'arur is translated 'cursed', and I will translate it that way in reference to the 'ground'. But the snake's bodily position is part of a common shaming technique used in warfare (33).  In Israelite society both shaming techniques and cursing are means of social control and limitation, so with either a translation of 'shame' or 'curse' the underlying concept is that of limitation'.  In addition, shaming lowers social status, whereas cursing does not have the same degree of status manipulation. Because of the low, inferior bodily position of the snake, 'shamed' seems to be a preferred translation for 'arur here. The ambivalent snake is simultaneously superior, because of its potential of clever wisdom; and inferior, because of the limitation of the shameful position of crawling on its belly. These oppositional forces of its nature are only perceived after maturation has begun, after the human and the woman have eaten of the fruit of knowing good and bad.

    And of course, some snakes are poisonous and life-threatening. Because of their life-threatening potential they are also linked with chaos, evil and death. But, interestingly, if you 'know' what kind of snake it is, you will then know if it is beneficial or life-threatening. Knowledge is critical to the experience of the snake!

    Most importantly, in the myth the snake functions as a symbol, a symbol of adult male and female sexuality, of the continuation of life through generations, and of mature knowledge of the oppositional forces of life: the life-producing and life-threatening aspects of life, the known and unknown aspects of life, the controlled and uncontrolled aspects of life, superiority and inferiority, potential (wisdom) and limitation. It is a symbol of 'life'. The fact that the snake is a wild, 'natural' animal means that maturation, which it encourages, happens 'naturally', not because of a sin or fall.

[92] e. Symbols: Garden
    The garden is a symbolic place. It is a separate place planted by the parent Adonay Elohim after the creation of 'adam (34) It is 'in Eden toward the east', which has led some scholars to try to define an actual geographic location in Mesopotamia (e.g. von Rad 1961: 78). But it must be remembered that language in a myth functions on a highly symbolic level. As many scholars have observed, the Hebrew word 'eden (35) means either 'pleasant/ delight' or "steppe/plain", suggesting a general pleasant environment more than an actual geographic location. To support this, the trees of the garden are described as a delight (nehmad) to see and good to eat (2.9). It is an aesthetically pleasant place, cultivated and controlled by the parent Adonay Elohim. It is 'in the east', symbolic of the beginning of the day or the beginning of life (infancy and childhood). There is no description of oppositional forces in the garden, as there is in the rest of creation (heaven and earth; wild vegetation [siah] and cultivated vegetation/ grains ['eseb] (36) rain from above and subterranean water ('ed) (37) from below), except for a tree that will produce awareness of oppositional forces (the Tree of Mature Knowledge). The presence of this tree indicates that the human will eventually need this awareness of oppositional forces that characterize the outside world. In the garden there are only [94] trees, trees that will provide the sole source of 'nourishment' for the man and woman, trees that are symbolic of growth and maturation. And there is a Tree of Lack of Awareness of Oppositional Forces (the Tree of Life), the tree of childhood and childhood awareness of life. The garden is the place where at first the 'adam lives alone, unaware of differentiation as an individual, unaware of sexual differentiation, and unaware of the oppositional forces that characterize the outside world. The 'adam lives securely, protected, cared for and confined. The garden is symbolic of the pleasant, childhood world created by the parent, Adonay Elohim, but for children only. There is clear differentiation between inside the garden and outside in 'the world' ('eretz). Yet the garden is filled with symbols of maturation. Maturation entails increasing differentiation, and part of the process of differentiation is separation from the childhood world of the garden. From the beginning there is an indication that the 'adam is to return to the world to cultivate/serve ('vd) the 'adama from which the 'adam is taken (3.23). It should be noted that the 'adam is not created from the 'adama of the outside world ('eretz). The garden has not been 'planted' when the 'adam is created. The 'adam must grow up in order to fulfil the original potential.
    As a parent prepares young adults to leave home and live on their own, so the parent Adonay Elohim prepares the young humans to leave the garden by clothing them fully (a sign of civilization and maturation), making them socially acceptable to go out into the world (3.21). When they are mature enough, Adonay Elohim sends them forth into the adult world, so that they too can become parents (4.1).
    The traditional understanding of the garden has been that of a paradise, coming from the Septuagint translation of Hebrew gan (garden) as Greek paradeisos (enclosed park, pleasure ground). The understanding of 'paradise' has changed over the centuries, to the point that it is now a place void of oppositional forces. That concept, though it is a misunderstanding of the original Greek, can be retained, as long as the garden remains a 'paradise' for children who are unaware of the oppositional forces of life. But it cannot be a place for immature grown-ups who are seeking to escape God's oppositional forces. Thus God [95] places cherubim and a revolving flaming sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life, or Immature Knowledge of Life (3.24). The idea of childhood as a paradise which needs to be protected from outside danger is particularly important in today's world, where children are given guns and stones to fight adult battles of death when they do not even understand the concept of death. Childhood should be a time of delight, a paradise 'cultivated' and 'protected' by parents. The myth, in its wisdom, suggests that, for growing and maturing children, this is the best kind of environment.

f. Symbols: Water
    The garden contains one more symbol of the oppositional forces of life: the water of the river. Water is symbolic of death, when it is uncontrolled (too much or too little), and life, when it is controlled, because it produces growth and fertility. Growth is essential for maturation, and the power of fertility is essential for mature male and female sexuality to produce life. The Tree of Knowing, the River of Eden, and the snake have been placed in the garden from the beginning by Adonay Elohim, and are all symbolic of the maturation that will occur. But, at first, the humans are 'naked and not ashamed' in the childhood world of the garden, surrounded by symbols that point to the process of maturation.

g. Word Plays: 'adam/'adama
    The next symbols that need to be investigated are wordplays. As stated earlier, wordplays indicate the emphasis of the myth and relatedness between separate items. The initial wordplay is between 'adam (human) and 'adama (ground). Although the word 'adam is masculine, here it represents human beings in general as well as, more specifically, the male character in the myth. The 'adam is originally a unity with the 'adama.  In its creation or birth, the 'adam is separated from the 'adama and formed into a nefish hayya (38) (living being). This shows the intimate relatedness or unity between the 'adam and the 'adama and the fact that 'life' is differentiation or separation. Linguistically, there is phonic [97] similarity between the two words. The word 'adam is actually contained in the word 'adama and can be separated from it. This linguistic play lends further emphasis to the 'adam's intimate relatedness to, yet differentiation from, the 'adama.  As an adult the 'adam's primary role is life-sustaining: the 'adam is to cultivate/serve ('eved; not exploit or plunder) the 'adama of the world (2.5; 3.23). As a parent the 'adam is also to cultivate/serve ('eved) and protect (shmr) the garden/childhood world (2.15; the reference foreshadows eventual maturation and the parenting role). There is never any indication that the 'adam carries out either function as a child. So maturation is critical.
    The human will have multiple relatedness to the 'adama to the animals and to the 'isha (woman). The 'adam's relationship to the animals is on a different level than the 'adam's relationship to the 'adama or the 'isha.  The 'adam is related to the animals in that the 'adam and the animals are called nefesh hayya (living being; 2.7; 2.19) and the 'adam and the animals are both formed from the ground 'adama but there is no further wordplay indicating intimacy.

h. Wordplays: 'ish/'isha
    The second wordplay is 'ish (man) and 'isha (woman). And here the terms indicate sexual differentiation. It is not a question of the 'adam being sexually undifferentiated before the creation of the woman, but of the 'adam's being unaware of sexual differentiation. When the 'adam has matured enough to be aware of sexual differentiation, the woman is created. The 'isha is originally a unity with the 'ish.  In her creation or birth the 'isha is separated from the 'ish. This attempts to account for the powerful physical and psychological draw between the sexes. The intimate tie is stressed by the 'adam's statement that she is 'bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh' (2.23) (39). Linguistically, there is [97] phonic similarity between 'ish and 'isha but, unlike the first wordplay, the word 'isha is not contained in the word 'ish and, therefore, cannot be separated from it. Linguistically, the unity/ separation does not work here (40). This noticeable incongruity points to the main action of the myth: the need for a change, namely, maturation. In the story the 'isha is portrayed as being born or separated from the 'ish in order to establish her physical and psychological unity with him. When the 'isha matures, she will have the ability to produce life; then 'ish will be separated from 'isha (Gen. 4.1), portraying the unity and separation of the birth process. Then, linguistically, the wordplay would work because the word 'ish is contained in and can be separated from the word 'isha. This wordplay shows the relatedness between men and women and the need for maturation in order that the woman produce life.
i. Wordplays: havva/hayya or hay
    The woman will also have multiple relatedness. She is related to the man and now, in the third wordplay, she is named havva (41) (Eve) because she gives birth or is the mother of all hay (life/living). This name is only given to her after she is sexually mature and is ready to leave the childhood world of the garden. Sexual maturation is critical for her because her primary role is 'life-producing'. Interestingly, the Hebrew havva is related to the Aramaic hiwya (snake/life) - another way of pointing to the connection between the woman and life (42). Like the man's names, [98] indicating that he is farmer and parent, the two wordplays on the woman's names ('ish/'isha and havva/hayya) emphasize the woman's role as woman/wife and parent. Should it be assumed that the woman's role is restricted to being wife and mother? If so, then it must be assumed that the man's role is restricted to being a farmer and parent.
    According to S.N. Kramer (1963: 149), in Akkadian the word for 'rib' and the word for 'life' are interchangeable. Thus, at one point in the development of the myth, the woman may have been the 'Lady of the Rib' and the 'Lady of Life' simultaneously. This wordplay is lost in Hebrew, even though the idea of the creation of the woman from the rib and the idea of the 'mother of life' is retained.
j. Wordplays: 'arum/'erom/'arur
    The fourth wordplay ('arum/'erom/'arur) concerns the perception of the symbolism of the snake and its symbolic functioning in the myth. This wordplay is marginally homophonous rather than homonymous. Before maturation begins through the immature awareness of a child, the snake is perceived as only 'arum (cleverly wise). After the human and woman have become aware of being 'erom (naked) and the next stage of maturation has begun, then through the more mature awareness of a young adult the snake is perceived as both 'arum (cleverly wise), superior to the other wild animals, and 'arur (shamed because he crawls on his belly), inferior to the other animals. Now the snake/life is perceived as existing squarely in the tension of the oppositional forces ('arum and 'arur), and the wordplay establishes the snake's critical role in this stage of the maturation process (awareness of being 'erom). It also must be remembered that the parent Adonay Elohim initiates the maturation process through the creation of the animals and the woman; but the critical stage, the acquisition of mature knowledge, has to come through experience in life ('seminars with snakes'; Clines 1990: 46).

[99] k. Synchronic Structure: Oppositional Forces
    The last clue for a fresh interpretation of the myth comes from the synchronic or deep structure of the myth, which reveals an interplay of the major oppositional forces that characterize life. Levi-Strauss (1955: 81-106) feels that the meaning of a myth is not found primarily in the 'isolated elements' that one reads diachronically, but in the way these elements are combined synchronically into bundles that share common themes. These bundles form the deep or synchronic structure. To find the bundles, it is necessary to break the myth into the smallest possible sentences or elements and group them together according to theme. Once the bundles of themes have been laid out, the myth can be read synchronically. In the Genesis myth the bundles form pairs of oppositional forces, which the humans will be able to discern upon eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowing Good and Bad. There are four major bundles of
oppositional pairs: unity and separation, potential and limitation, high/superior and low/inferior, and wild/ uncontrolled and cultivated/ controlled. Each of the bundles of oppositional forces not only portrays the binary quality of life in general, but the bundles found in nature also foreshadow their occurrence in the maturation process: images of nature become images of society. Levi-Strauss stresses that human beings need consonance between their perception of social and cosmic levels of experience. When adolescent maturation begins in ch. 3, the foreshadowing ends.

1. Unity and Separation
    The unity and separation bundle has already been partially revealed in the wordplays, so it is a good starting point. The first group of unity and separation oppositional forces are found in the text preceding the 'sin and fall' of the traditional interpretation, suggesting that oppositional forces are part of the structure of God's creation, not something that occurs as a
result of the 'fall'. Adonay Elohim makes or 'separates' heaven and earth (2.4b), as Adonay Elohim also 'separates' the 'adam from the 'adama (2.7) and the 'isha from the 'ish: cosmic creation [100] introduces human creation (Trible 1978: 74). (43).  Unity and separation describe not only creation but also the life/death process. The 'adam is a unity with the 'adama and birth is separation. Though the 'adam retains a significant degree of the original unity, life is separation. When human beings die, they will once again return to the original unity with the clay/dust of the ground, thus giving death positive value within the overall cyclical life process. Within the unity/separation/unity paradigm, death is not finality or nothingness; it is a return to an original state, a return to the earth, a return to the source of new life.  The 'adama (feminine) gives birth to the 'adam (masculine), so death is a type of return to the womb. In forming the woman, the 'adam is put in a deep sleep, returned to a state of unconsciousness: the 'adam is virtually dead. Then from death comes life.

    This paradigm portrays the cyclical aspect of life and death as one unified process, one reality. The cyclical nature of life is further accentuated in the myth by the constant use of the
imperfect consecutive tense and participles, to convey the idea of ongoing or repeated action. And to further portray the cyclical nature of life, certain important life stages are repeated
in the myth ('adam's separation from the 'adama [2.7; 3.19, 23], putting the 'adam in the garden [2.8,15], and expelling him from the childhood world of the garden [3.23, 24]).
 
    In the section on the River of Eden (2.10-14), which some exegetes feel has no meaning in the story, (44) nature offers a paradigm, a foreshadowing, of the unity and separation which
will characterize the overall life process and the maturation process. The river functions symbolically and also, to a limited degree only, geographically. There is one river in the garden
(childhood world), signifying original unity or the lack of differentiation of infancy. But Adonay Elohim has said that it is [101] not good to be alone or have a lack of differentiation (2.18). Next the river separates into four heads or rivers, signifying increased separation or differentiation which characterizes the maturation process. So far the river has functioned symbolically. Each of the four rivers (45), which may geographically symbolize the cardinal points of the compass, encircles one fourth of the world, thus together they encircle the entire world, creating a symbol of unity or wholeness characteristic of maturity at its best or most accomplished.

    The mention of gold, (46) bdellium, (47) and lapis lazuli in 2.11-12 may symbolize the marriage/dowry/bride price, and create a link with 2.24 where 'marriage' bonding is foreshadowed. In 2.24 the marriage bonding is described in terms of unity and separation: 'A man ('ish) separates from his father and mother and unites, with his woman ('isha) and they become one flesh' (2.24). In a society where women literally leave their father's house, while men after marriage often remained within the patriarchal household, the text can appear strange. The fact that women separate (physically and psychologically) from father and mother may be assumed. The text, then, establishes the fact that the man separates psychologically, though not always physically, from his father and mother. The 'ish and the 'isha form 'one flesh', a new unity. The phrase `one flesh' is ambiguous, symbolizing both a psychological unity or loss of distinction between the self and the other, and the production of a child who will separate from his father and mother and unite with his woman ...and so on and so on. This is the first suggestion of parenthood. Producing children is one way a predominantly [102] group-oriented society copes with death. The individual has continued life through children and the children's children, all of whom contribute to the continued existence of the group, generation after generation. Verse 15 belongs with 2.10-14 because it foreshadows the parenthood role. As a parent the 'adam will cultivate/serve and protect the childhood world of the garden, as Adonay Elohim has cultivated and protected the childhood world of the garden. The reference in 2.24 of a man ('ish) separating from father and mother will also apply to the 'adam who, when sexually and intellectually mature enough, will separate from the garden and from mother/father/ Adonay Elohim (3.22-24). Hence, in 4.1 'adam and hawwa unite with one another and become one flesh in the birth of Cain.

    One of the important contributions of the unity/separation theme is its emphasis on the cyclical nature of life (48). The mythical portrayal of time, the symbolism of the tree and the snake, all contain this cyclical element. What is taught in the myth is not that the life-enhancing oppositional force has lost to the deaththreatening force, or that fulfilment has lost to fragmentation, but that existence is a continual process of life and death, and a continual process of unity and separation. In our extreme individual-orientation of modern society this sense of being part of the community of humanity, with its cyclical flow of life/death (oppositional forces), has been lost. In our orientation the individual ego becomes obsessed with 'self-preservation', and the oppositional structure of life becomes threatening.

    The theme of unity and separation is certainly a concern of Israelite society during and after the division of the kingdom so, in this light, the myth has underlying political implications and reflects the social values and problems of the monarchy. Similarly, Ackerman shows that the Court History attempts to create unity, yet there is constant separation within the house of David and the nation that will lead to the eventual separation of the nation (49).

[103] 2. Limitation and Potential
    The second bundle of oppositional forces is limitation and potential. Again, nature forms the paradigm and foreshadows the human condition, and once again these oppositional forces exist before the 'fall' of the traditional interpretation. When the earth is first created it is dry, infertile, limited; it has no potential for growth or production. Then there is a change: Adonay Elohim causes subterranean water to rise up from the ground and water the earth, so that it becomes fertile and has potential for growth and production (2.4b-6). The change in the earth parallels the change that will occur in maturation, when humans go from being infertile children to fertile adults.

    Adonay Elohim allows the 'adam as a child to eat from all of the trees (potential), except the Tree of Mature Knowledge (limitation; 2.16-17).(50)  In establishing this limitation Adonay Elohim is, for now, protecting the children. But Adonay Elohim has filled the garden with the potential for maturation.

    When they are ready, the snake (recurring life) encourages the woman to eat of the Tree of Mature Knowledge (now it is potential), so her eyes will be opened and she will have insight like her parent Adonay Elohim (3.5, 22). Although the woman stands on the threshold between childhood and adulthood, she still perceives the world through the idealism of youth. She is only able to perceive the good or potential of eating/ maturation (3.6), but not the limitations, despite the fact that the snake said she would discern good and bad. In this circumstance the snake cannot correct her perception; it must wait for maturation to reveal the limitation. She must learn the reality of adulthood from experience-the Tree of Knowledge is experiential as well as intellectual.

    The snake has the potential of being cleverly wise and superior and, simultaneously, limited by the shame ('arur) of crawling on its belly in an attitude of inferiority. The ground
('adama) has the potential of producing food, and the limitation of being cursed/limited ('arur) by producing inedible vegetation.

[104]  In 3.16 the woman learns the reality of female adult life: potential and limitation. Adonay Elohim says,
    I will certainly increase your physical effort ('issabon) and your conception (heron)
    With labor ('esev) you shall bear sons/children;
    Your desire (teshuga) shall be for your man ('ish)
    but he will rule (mshl) over you (3.16). (51)
Each parallel verse relates to the previous one and expands the thought, giving movement to the narrative. The woman's critical potential and power will be that of her sexual power to produce life, with its accompanying sexual desire for her man, and her contribution of physical labor ('issabon; not pain) to the subsistence activities of the group. But in the rural, agrarian context indicated in 3.17-19 (52) her limitation will be: (1) increased labor/effort, including the labor ('esev) of childbirth, accompanied by its inherent pain, and the general physical labor ('issabon) required because of increased childbirth; and (2) the rule/control (mshl) of the man. Although, from a feminist's point of view, it would be nice to rewrite the text, excluding the concept of male 'rule', the text must be analyzed as it stands. In the Hebrew Bible mshl is used to express a range of ideas from God's control over the natural world and humanity (e.g. Ps. 22.28; 89.9), to an individual's self-control (Prov. 16.32).

    Most importantly, the text only speaks of ruling the woman's sexual desire, not her entire life, so this is not generalized, oppressive male domination. But why is it necessary to rule or control the woman's sexual power? First, the woman's sexual power exists dynamically in the tension between life and death, so her power can produce either life or death (particularly in the ancient world, where the mortality rate for childbirth is high). So it must be used with great care and respect, not casually. Secondly, within a predominantly group-oriented society the group/ household is the primary source of identity and support, so general group and household boundaries are strong and [105] essential. The woman's power builds the group, both the household and in turn the society of Israel, so it must be confined within the boundaries of the group /household.

    What is the nature of the control? As Carol Meyers has pointed out, because of depopulation problems (due to endemic disease, high infant and adolescent mortality, high mortality rate of women in the childbearing years, and warfare), (53) her life-producing power must increase to meet the demands of social need. To guarantee the survival of the household and the nation, Adonay Elohim increases conception (3.16a). The increased birthrate entails added labor/effort on her part in all areas of life and, most of all, added risk to her life. The result is reluctance on the part of females to enter the risk-prone activity of childbirth, despite the fact that conception is a blessing.

    Female reluctance is overcome by a combination of the woman's own passion and the rule or control (mshl) of the man, voicing the social need of increased birthrate for the sake of household and national survival (Meyers 1988: 112-21). In addition, the male control (mshl) channels female sexual desire within the boundaries of the household. Control of the woman's sexual desire is a type of family and societal boundary which restricts her sexual power to a controlled arena that benefits the group /household, not foreigners/ outside groups. If her sexual power is uncontrolled and extends beyond the boundaries of her household or Israel, she has the potential of 'building the house' of another group, which is threatening to the existence of the family and Israel. It is an issue of control of a dangerous yet critically essential power that impacts on the family and society as a whole, not an issue of the submissiveness and inferiority of women. Both kinds of control manage female sexual power for the good of the overall needs of the group, not individual male ego gratification. There is a big difference between controlling the woman's sexuality for the sake of the well-being of the group as a whole (group-oriented thinking), and controlling the woman's sexuality for the sake of individual, male ego gratification (individual-oriented thinking). And, equally important, [106] male 'rule/control' is set within the context of realization of the tension between potential and limitation. Potential cannot be unlimited, and limitation cannot destroy potential. Male control/ limitation of female sexuality cannot eliminate or radically restrict female potential; female potential has to contribute to the general well-being of the group.

    In 3.17-19a the man learns the reality of male adult life: potential and limitation. Adonay Elohim says,
    Cursed/limited ('arura) is the ground ('adama) in regard to you.
    With physical effort ('issabon) you shall eat all the days of your life.
    Wild thorns and thistles she shall bring forth for you as you eat the cultivated grains
    ('esev) of the field.
    By the sweat of your face you shall eat food.

The ground has both potential of producing edible plants, and the limitation/curse of producing inedible plants. This last limitation should not come as a surprise, since Adonay Elohim creates the wild and cultivated plants in the beginning (2.5). The 'adam's critical potential and power will be that of producing cultivated, edible plants from the ground to sustain the increased population produced by the woman. But in a rural, agrarian context, his limitation will be the increased physical effort ('issabon) that food production for the enlarged household requires, particularly when the ground also produces wild thorns and thistles (54). It is important to keep in mind that when the man 'rules' the woman's sexuality, and she produces more children to build the household, this increases the demand for his physical labor as well. So his 'rule' of the woman (voicing the need for more children within his household) cannot exceed his capacity to sustain the life she produces. And although it is not mentioned in the text but probably assumed, Carol Meyers points out that the conversion of raw plants, grown and harvested by the man, into edible food, along with its distribution, is under the control of the woman (e.g. 1 Sam. 8.11-13; [107] Meyers 1988: 145-48). Without women, the physical effort of men does not sustain life.

    From the point of view of the text, control or limitation of the central potential or power of men and women is not completely in their own hands-control of the woman's potential comes from labor and the man ('isha/'ish) and control of the man's potential comes from labor and the ground ('adam/'adama) It is another way of saying that human craving for excessive or unlimited control over life is not healthy or realistic. The myth stresses that life is lived in the tension of oppositional forces, that potential is in tension with limitation, that control is in tension with lack of control. Gen. 1.28 grants human beings the ability to manage or control the earth and its potential, but this privilege does not include excessive, pathological control that undermines the earth's potential. I have already applied this principle to male 'control' of female sexuality.

    In the traditional interpretation, the sections on the woman and man (3.16-19) (55) are considered 'curses' or 'punishments' for sin.  In my interpretation the limitations articulated in these sections are the normal limitations of life (as perceived by a group-oriented society), the reality of life created and ordained by God in the beginning that humans must become aware of when they mature. It is important to note that the limitation always stands in tension with the potential. There is no onesided movement, from pure potential to pure limitation, as commentators have often assumed. The reality of life is that the structure of the universe, and life in general, are based on the principle of a tension between oppositional forces. Gen. 2.4b3.24 is a myth that helps people accept and cope with the reality of life as God created it-not a picture of fallen life caused by human sin.

    One of the objections to eliminating the idea of 'curse' or 'punishment' from these sections is the phrase, 'ki you did this', which introduces the discourse with the snake (3.14) and the 'adam (3.17). ki can be translated in the causal sense ('because'), which would indicate a change from the previous state or, [108] simply, as an introduction to direct narration (e.g. Gen. 21.30; 29.33; similar to the Greek hoti [Lk. 4.21]), in which case it is untranslated. In either case what is suggested is a change in awareness, caused by the beginning of adolescent maturation. 'You did this'-that is, you began to mature - so now you must become aware of the reality of life. Life is not just pure potential, as children assume. Life is a constant dynamic of potential and limitation-certainly a concern of society during the founding and duration of the monarchy.

3. High/Superior and Low/Inferior
    The third bundle of oppositional forces is high/superior and low/ inferior. Adonay Elohim creates the heavens (high) and the earth (low); the rain falls from above (high) and the subterranean water rises up from below (low); Adonay Elohim .creates the human from the breath of life of Adonay Elohim (high) and the clay/dust of the ground (low). Adonay Elohim creates the birds of the heavens (high) and the animals of the fields/plains (low). The snake is simultaneously the wisest, most superior (high) and the lowest, most inferior of the animals. In dealing with these natural high and low issues, the myth forms a paradigm for superior and inferior social status and political relations: nature is used to justify social and political superiority and inferioritycertainly a concern of the royal monarchy, with its social stratification and functioning in the international political arena.

4. Wild/Uncontrolled and Cultivated/Controlled
    The fourth bundle of oppositional forces is wild/uncontrolled and cultivated /controlled. When Adonay Elohim creates the heavens and earth, the wild/natural/uncontrolled vegetation (siah) of the field/plains (which also includes wild and inedible thorns and thistles; 3.18), and the cultivated/ controlled vegetation or grains ('esev of the field/plains) have not yet sprouted, because there is no rain and no 'adam to cultivate/ serve the 'adama (2.5). It is important to note that only in regard to the cultivation and control by humans is wild vegetation (thorns and thistles) problematic. The uncontrolled (unchanneled) subterranean water ('ed) contrasts with the controlled water of the River of Eden. The 'adam gives names to all the domesticated [109]
beasts/cattle (behema; owned and used by humans) and all the wild animals (hayyat) of the field/plain (2.20). The two major elements in the maturation process are the snake, which is a wild animal and the Tree of Knowledge, which is a cultivated plant. This suggests that maturation happens naturally, and with some human control or effort.

    The issue in the controlled /uncontrolled bundle is human control-and lack of control-over life. Nature forms the paradigm for human beings. This is probably the hardest lesson in the myth: the ability to control and accept lack of control over life and the arbitrariness of death. It is particularly difficult in modern society, where human beings have created sophisticated illusions of control over life/death (technology, for example).

    These are the important oppositional forces, the 'knowing good and bad', that the man and woman must become aware of when they begin to mature by eating of the Tree of Mature Knowledge, and begin to experience life as God created it from the beginning. Eating of the Tree of Mature Knowledge means learning to discern and accept both poles of the essential binary forces of life, which allows them to relate to life and, most of all, to God on a mature level. As long as commentators perpetuate the idea that limitation, pain, and death are punishment imposed on all of creation for human sin (an extremely egocentered presumption), human beings will neither accept life as God created it nor accept the Creator.

    One of the subtle points the myth makes is that humans tend to make the oppositional forces absolute `good' or absolute 'bad'. But in reality sometimes a force is good and sometimes it is bad. For example, unity is good when it characterizes the bond between men and women, but it is bad when it characterizes a human without community. Interestingly, the text never says that the 'adam returning to the original unity with the 'adama (death) is bad: Death is presented neutrally, not as punishment, but as part of the natural cycle of unity and separation of life.


[110] l. Pressing Issues

1. Why Is it the Woman who Interacts with the Snake? (56)
    Since the myth deals with the process of maturation, then perhaps it is because women mature earlier than men. In any society that takes note of human nature this is an easy phenomenon to observe. The fact that the woman matures first is verified in the myth by the fact that she receives her name hawwa (Eve/Life), which is only used of sexually mature women, before they leave the garden, whereas the word 'add m is not used as a proper name for the man until after they have left the garden, when the man has matured enough to become a parent (4.1).

    In addition, Cheryl Exum, in studying the concept of 'mother in Israel' in Genesis, Exodus and Judges, has observed that,

A striking paradox emerges in these stories of mothers: Whereas the important events in Israelite tradition are experienced by men, they are often set in motion and determined by women... Though frequently ignored in the larger story of Israel's journey toward the promise, the matriarchs act at strategic points that move the plot, and thus the promise, in the proper direction toward its fulfillment (Exum 1985: 76).
In Gen. 2.4b-3.24 the woman acts at a strategic point that moves the plot in the proper direction: maturation and the fulfillment of the potential of life producing and life sustaining. Maturation is set in motion by the woman.

    Finally, the snake symbolizes recurring life and wisdom, and the woman (hawwa/Life), the mother of the living, is related to recurring life and seeks wisdom, giving the snake and the woman a natural tie. Within Israelite tradition, wisdom is personified as a woman (Proverbs 1-9; see Camp 1981, 1985). It is interesting to observe that in giving the woman the title hawwa, the mother of all living', the woman supplants the snake (Aramaic hiwya) as a symbol of recurring life.

[111] 2. Does the Woman Seduce the Man?
    Does the woman 'seduce' the man, as some traditional interpretations imply, thereby making her responsible for bringing sin into the world? (57) The language gives no indication of seduction: 'She took (lqh) from its fruit and she ate ('kl) and gave (ntn) also to her 'ish with her and he ate ('kl)' (3.6b). As Trible observes, in the conversation with God the 'adam does not indicate that the woman 'tempted' or 'seduced' him, but that she 'gave' (ntn) him the fruit, in the same way that Adonay Elohim 'gave' (ntn) him the woman. No one is arguing that God 'tempted' or 'seduced' the 'adam by giving him the woman. In addition, the Hebrew Bible does not speak negatively about 'seduction' by one's wife, which leads to the production of life and the continued life of the household/nation. This has a positive value in Israelite society.
Only 'seduction' by foreign or strange women, which leads to the production of life for another group, has a negative value in that society (58).  It is only within predominantly individual-oriented societies with overpopulation problems that sexuality and women, with their natural power to produce children, can be devalued, because survival depends on limiting population. In a group-oriented society with depopulation problems that is unthinkable. But there is a tendency to interpret the Genesis myth, and the entire Hebrew Bible, from a modern perspective, without taking the different cultural factors into account.

3. Gender Equality, Value and Control
    In light of the potential and limitation articulated for the man and woman, the question of gender equality in this text (not the entire Hebrew Bible) is interesting to address. The myth speaks from a patriarchal perspective, but patriarchal societies do not have universal shape, as is generally assumed. Cross-cultural studies show that there are significant differences between patriarchal perspectives in predominantly group-oriented societies, and [112] patriarchal perspectives in predominantly individual-oriented societies. Often in predominantly group-oriented agrarian societies, men and women share mutually in the tasks of survival (life-producing and food-producing) and, consequently, the status of women is high. In the Genesis text the role of the man is that of being a life-sustaining farmer and parent, and the role of the woman is that of being a life-producing wife/mother and worker. Clearly the myth does not try to define the full scope of either men's or women's roles within Israelite society, but reduces them to their essence for survival. Each has potential and limitation: female production of life is controlled by the male, and male production of food is limited by the uncontrolled aspects of nature. As such, there is a semblance of equality of roles. Each contributes significantly to, and is critical for, the survival of the group. This should indicate that the status of women reflected in the text is reasonably high.  The woman functions not as an appendage to the man but as an individual contributing her critical share.

    But the answer to the question of equality cannot be determined until the value of the woman is understood. Does male rule of the woman's reproductive power imply the devaluation
of the woman? Is she only a 'second sex'? Hardly! She has the power to produce life; it is an awesome and dangerous power, but absolutely critical for survival! The woman's power is a
direct, inherent power. The man's power to sustain life by producing food is an indirect one; it is a power inherent in the ground that the man 'cultivates', and into which he pours his labor. There is no new human life without women's productive and human life cannot be sustained without men's productive power. The text indicates a mutually dependent relationship and mutual valuation. In modern society, where over-population is the norm and salvation is not symbolized in terms of generations of progeny, the inherent potential/power of women is devalued. This devaluation should not be read into the Genesis myth.

    It is in the light of this value and semblance of equality that the phrase 'I will make for him a 'ezer kenegdo' (2.18b) should be read. An 'ezer is a 'helper', an individual or group who delivers
[113] from a predicament of danger or need (59). The word 'ezer carries no connotations of superiority or inferiority built into it. For example, when a suzerain helps a vassal, the suzerain remains politically superior. When a vassal helps a suzerain, the vassal remains inferior. It is the cultural context that determines superiority and inferiority, not the act of helping (60). kenegdo is the remainder of an earlier more frequent idiom (Koehler and Baumgartner 1951: 591), meaning 'as his counterpart' or 'partner'. This term signifies a reciprocal relationship-equality yet difference. It denotes a beneficial relationship of mutual assistance-she produces life and the 'adam sustains life.   Inferior or superior social status is not indicated by the phrase. Their equality and difference is verified in 2.23, where the woman is described by the 'adam as 'Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'isha because from 'ish she is taken'.

    A related issue is that of the creation of the animals, who are also intended as 'ezer kenegdo. Are the animals Adonay Elohim's mistake? Is Adonay Elohim experimenting with creation? I do  not think so. The animals are an important stage in the 'adam's  development. As a child, the 'adam has the first experience of differentiation of self from others with the animals. It is an  experience that stimulates the 'adam's intellectual capacity touse language for communication, and to order or differentiate one animal from another and from the self. Like many children,   the 'adam learns 'relationship' with the animals (61) because they are nefish hayya like the 'adama. The animals 'help' the 'adam begin to mature. The snake helps the humans make their major transition into adult life. This early relationship and mutual tie with the animals (including the snake) will become a beneficial relationship for the 'adam as an adult. The animals as 'ezer kenegdo will deliver the 'adam from a predicament of need, in [114] that the 'adam will form a partnership with them in the production and protection (the snake) of food.

    There are two final issues in regard to the control of the woman. Many commentators have suggested that naming is controlling. In the initial stages of the maturation process the 'adam, as a child, differentiates himself first from the animals by naming them and then sexually from the woman by naming her. The primary function of the child's naming both the animals and the woman ('isha) is an expression of awareness of increasing differentiation and development of linguistic ability, not male supremacy and control on the part of a child. When the 'adam names the woman 'Eve/Life, mother of all living', he gives her an honorific title that describes her critical power and high status. Again, control is not the primary issue here.

    One of the most common arguments for the inequality of women stems from the fact that the woman is created last and created from the man, which in some traditional interpretations makes her secondary, dependent/derived and inferior. It is interesting that the man is not considered secondary, dependent/derived and inferior to the ground because he comes into being after the creation of the earth and is created from it. Both wordplays ('adam/'adama and 'isha/'ish) are used to establish intimacy yet separation, not superiority and inferiority. In addition, as many scholars have pointed out, in Genesis 1 humans are created last and are considered the culmination of creation. Why is the same thing not assumed in Gen. 2.4b-3.24? In fact, if the text is examined carefully, it is evident that the wordplays determine the order of creation, not a concept of superiority and inferiority.

4. Image of God and the Relationship between Humanity and God
    The image of God portrayed in the myth is that of a parent. The role of mother, father or parent is not uncommon among the gods and goddesses of the ancient Near East. In the myth Adonay Elohim (62) incorporates the male parenting role of [115] 'planting/ cultivating' the childhood world of the garden, and 'protecting' it until the children are mature enough to leave it. And Adonay Elohim incorporates the female parenting role of creating life. The familiar scene of a parent teaching the children about life (cf. Prov.1-9) is .depicted in 3.16-19, as Adonay Elohim teaches the 'adam and the woman about life. The text claims Adonay Elohim as the paradigm for the parent of the patriarchal family, thus strengthening the claim of locating the authority structure for wisdom in the patriarchal family.

    When the humans are matured, they will have the ability to discriminate the oppositional forces of life (mature knowledge), the ability to cultivate/serve the earth, the procreative power to produce life, and the role of cultivating/serving and protecting the childhood world of the garden. In that respect they will become like their parent God. Consequently, in 3.22a Adonay Elohim says, 'Now the 'adam has become one of us, knowing good and bad'. In other words, the humans have become adults, with adult knowledge and adult roles-they follow the image of God portrayed in the myth. And, of course, as long as the humans continue breathing they will always retain their original affinity with their parent-the breath of life from God (e.g. Gen. 7.22; Job 32.8; 33.4; 34.14-15).

    By the end of the myth the humans have become maturing adults. And now, in case he sends forth his hand and takes also from the Tree of Life and eats and lives continuously, Adonay Elohim sends the 'adam forth from the garden to cultivate the 'adama from which he is taken (3.22b-23). For adults, eating of the Tree of Life or the Tree of Immature Knowledge of Life means a lack of awareness of oppositional forces, an immature knowledge of life, a return to childhood. For adults it is a regression, a denial of reality, a denial of God's creation. God is decisive about preventing this [116] regression in adults; God places cherubim and a revolving flaming sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life (3.24). They are sent forth, not because of jealousy (Trible 1978: 136) on the part of Adonay Elohim over their knowing good and bad, but because they are mature enough to leave the childhood world. 

    The maturing relationship between the parent Adonay Elohim and the humans is essential to observe. It is not until the humans have begun to mature and are beginning to have the capacity of a mature understanding of life, that Adonay Elohim relates to them through direct dialogue, in which both parties speak (3.9-13). Rather than being 'sin and fall', maturation is the beginning of an interactive relationship between God and humans. There is a growing out of an immature, childlike dependence on God in which the humans are passive-that kind of dependence is unrealistic for adults. There is a growing out of a childlike understanding and expectation of life and God. Knowledge is necessary for a realistic relationship with God. The mature relationship, though left ambiguous, is a mutually inclusive dynamic based on independence/separation (freedom), yet also dependence on and unity with creation and God.


m. Conclusion
    The evidence demonstrates that the myth is about growing out of the childhood world of the garden (infancy [2.7-9], childhood [2.16-20], adolescence [2.21-3.12], early adulthood [3.13-21]), (63) and into the adult world that Adonay Elohim created to be populated and cultivated by mature human beings (3.22-24). It is about finding identity, which does not come from within the individual alone (individual-orientation), but within the context of the community (group-orientation), including the earth and the animals. It is about coming to grips with the inherent oppositional forces of life created by God in the beginning, and about coping with death as a natural and essential part of life. It [117] is about maturation. It is a myth that reinforces the values and concerns of monarchical society, which considers the monarchy to be God's intended goal for a mature Israel.