Did Eve Fall or Was She Pushed?

Susan L. Greiner

Bible Review August, 1999

In the 1500s, a witch-hunting craze spread throughout Europe. Hundreds of thousands of women were accused of sorcery, tortured and executed. The witch craze, as it was known, was spurred by the publication of a guide to the identification--and elimination--of witches. Written for the Roman Catholic Church, this influential manual, called Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer Against Witches), traced the roots of witchery back to the first woman:

For though the devil tempted Eve to sin, yet Eve seduced Adam. And as the sin of Eve would not have brought death to our soul and body unless the sin had afterwards passed on to Adam, to which he was tempted by Eve, not by the devil, therefore she is more bitter than death.(1)

While the church was actively condemning Eve as the seductive ancestress of all witches, artists, too, were depicting her as a temptress, with a distinctly sexual appeal. In Albrecht Dürer's 1504 engraving "Adam and Eve," or "The Fall of Man," a subtle smile plays across Eve's face as she gently and willingly removes the fruit from the serpent's mouth. Standing beside her, Adam extends one hand toward Eve's genital area. His fingers are bent into what Dürer's contemporaries would have immediately recognized as a crude gesture (commonly referred to as the "fig," or fico) that was meant to represent female genitalia and denoted sexual intercourse. In Michelangelo's fresco of the "Temptation and Expulsion," painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in 1510 and 1511, Eve herself makes the same vulgar gesture as she points at herself.

     But why is Eve routinely portrayed as an evil temptress and the source of sin? In the Book of Genesis, Eve is not a seductress. She neither deceives Adam nor coerces him into eating the fruit. The word "sin" is never applied to Eve; indeed, it does not even appear in the Creation account. Further, in the Bible, the Fall is not sexual in nature.

     Eve's "bad" reputation, as we shall see, comes not from the Hebrew Bible, but from the extrabiblical texts known as pseudepigrapha.* Although seldom read today, these documents have had a tremendous impact on how Eve--and women in general--have been viewed for the past 20 centuries, whether in the New Testament, in Renaissance paintings or in modern culture.

The story of the Creation of the first man and woman is told twice in the Bible.** In Genesis 1:26-28, God creates male and female at the same time and as equals:

And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth."

No gender roles are assigned to the man and woman, who receive the same instructions: "Be fruitful and multiply." Their sexual relations have no negative connotations. Rather, they are dictated by God.

     A sexual relationship is similarly promoted in the second account of Creation: Man and woman, Genesis 2:24 dictates, should "become one flesh." Here too, sexuality is not an evil, but a divine command.

     As Bible scholar Phyllis Trible has noted, the first woman eats the fruit only after making a reasoned decision based on her conversation with the serpent: "God knows," the serpent tells Eve, "that as soon as you eat of it [the tree] your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know good and bad" (Genesis 3:5).(2) After careful consideration of the serpent's words, Eve plucks the fruit from the tree and shares it with Adam, who has been present throughout her conversation with the serpent: "When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate" (Genesis 3:6). Although God has explicitly prohibited Adam from eating from the tree (Genesis 2:16-17), the first man does so freely, without question or comment. Eve does not need to convince him.

     The pseudepigrapha, however, cast Eve in a very different light.

     The term "pseudepigrapha" refers to a group of Jewish writings, dating from about the second century B.C. to the second century A.D., that did not make it into the canonical Hebrew Bible. Among the books are apocalypses, histories, psalters and Wisdom texts that are falsely attributed to Adam, Moses, Enoch, Ezra, Jeremiah, Solomon and other figures who, in biblical terms, lived long before the texts were composed: thus their designation as "pseudepigrapha," a Greek term meaning "falsely inscribed."

    Two pseudepigraphic texts dating from the first century A.D. recount the lives of the first couple following their expulsion from the Garden--a Greek text known as the Apocalypse of Moses*** and a Latin text called the Life of Adam and Eve (Vita Adae et Evae). Both texts share much material, including lengthy accounts of Adam's death, indicating that they derive from a common tradition.

    In the Greek Apocalypse of Moses, Adam, on his deathbed, asks Eve to tell their descendants about the Fall.(3)

     "Listen, all my children and my children's children, and I will tell you how our enemy deceived us," Eve begins her account of how the Fall resulted from a sexual relationship between herself and the tempter (Apocalypse of Moses 15-21). According to Eve, it all started when the devil approached the serpent and convinced him that Adam should be kicked out of Paradise just as they had been thrown out of heaven:

The devil said to [the serpent], "I hear that you are wiser than all the beasts; so I came to observe you. I found you greater than all the beasts, and they associated with you; but yet you are prostrated to the very least. Why do you eat of the weeds of Adam and not of the fruit of Paradise? Rise and come and let us make him to be cast out of Paradise through his wife, just as we were cast out through him."

With this speech, the devil convinces the serpent to use Eve to deceive Adam.

     The serpent suspends himself from the Garden wall and waits for Eve. Speaking through the mouth of the serpent, the devil initiates a cat-and-mouse game with Eve: "You do well," the serpent-devil tells Eve when she enters the Garden, "but you do not eat of every plant." Eve responds, "Yes, we eat from every plant except one only, which is in the midst of Paradise, concerning which God commanded us not to eat of it, else you shall most surely die."

     "I am grieved over you," the serpent replies, "that you are like animals. For I do not want you to be ignorant; but rise, come and eat, and observe the fruit of the tree." Eve backs off: "I fear lest God be angry with me, just as he told us." But the serpent presses her: "Fear not; for at the very time you eat, your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil. But since God knew this, that you would be like him, he begrudged you and said, 'Do not eat of it.' But come to the plant and see its great glory." Partially convinced, Eve admits, "It is pleasing to consider with the eyes"; yet she remains frightened. The serpent urges her: "Come, I will give it to you. Follow me."

     As Eve follows the serpent to the tree, he turns to her and craftily says, "I have changed my mind and will not allow you to eat ... Swear to me that you are giving it also to your husband." Eve vows, "by the throne of the Lord and the cherubim and the tree of life," to share the fruit with Adam."

     As Eve recounts these events to her children years later, she notes that the serpent said these things, "wishing in the end to entice and ruin me." Nevertheless, in the Garden Eve "bent the branch toward the earth, took of the fruit and ate."

     When Eve's eyes are thus "opened," she realizes that she is naked, and she weeps--both because she has been betrayed and because she has sworn an oath to give the fruit to Adam.

     "Adam, Adam, where are you," she calls out. "Rise, come to me and I will show you a great mystery."

     Eve later recalls, "When he came, I opened my mouth and the devil was speaking, and I began to admonish him, saying, 'Come, my lord Adam, listen to me and eat of the fruit of the tree of which God told us not to eat from it, and you shall be as God ... Do not fear; for as soon as you eat, you shall know good and evil.' " Eve admits that she quickly persuaded him.

     As soon as he eats, Adam cries out, "O evil woman! Why have you wrought destruction among us?"

     After the Fall, God admonishes the couple. Eve does not mention that she has been deceived, but instead cries out for mercy, promising that she "will turn no more to the sin of the flesh" (Apocalypse of Moses 25.4).

     The Genesis story has been greatly altered: In the Apocalypse of Moses, Eve does not make a rational decision based on careful consideration of the serpent's words. Rather, the serpent clearly deceives Eve. Further, Adam is not present during the serpent's conversation with Eve, and he does not eat freely from the tree. He is beguiled by Eve, who wittingly betrays him. The devil--never mentioned in the Hebrew Bible--has been introduced to the story. Here he speaks through the serpent and, after she has eaten the fruit, through Eve.(4) The devil-serpent claims he is using Eve to deceive Adam. His motive: revenge for having himself been thrown out of heaven. Finally, the Fall has become a sin, and the sin is sexual: Eve describes eating the fruit as a "sin of the flesh."

     As biblical scholar Phyllis Bird of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary has noted, although "sexuality is a social endowment essential to community and to personal fulfillment ... it [could] also [be] subject to perversion and abuse."(5) The pseudepigraphical literature clearly played into the motif of perversion and abuse.

     The Latin text of the Life of Adam and Eve goes even further, with Eve assuming full responsibility for the Fall. At Adam's deathbed, she confesses that her husband is dying solely because of the act she committed: "O Lord, my God, transfer his [Adam's] pain to me, since it is I who has sinned" (Life of Adam and Eve 35.3). Here Adam is completely innocent. Eve alone has introduced mortality to the world.(6)

     The shift in the portrayal of Eve from Genesis to these two lives of Adam and Eve is paralleled in the increasingly negative view toward women in general in the pseudepigrapha. By perversely rewriting biblical stories, the pseudepigrapha regularly denigrate women, portraying them as temptresses and seductresses and the source of all evil.

     The pseudepigraphic First Book of Enoch combines the account of the Fall with the story of the sons of God and the daughters of men, in Genesis 6. Dating from about the second century B.C., this text is attributed to the seventh descendant of Adam and Eve, of whom Genesis 5:24 mysteriously writes: "Enoch walked with God. Then he vanished because God took him." The three pseudepigraphic books of Enoch are thought to have been written to explain just what Enoch saw when God "took him."

     First Enoch devotes five chapters to the brief passage in Genesis 6, which begins: "When men began to increase on earth and daughters were born to them, the divine beings saw how beautiful the daughters of men were and took wives from among those that pleased them ... It was then, and later too, that the Nephilim appeared on earth" (Genesis 6:1-2,4). The Genesis narrative is short and unambiguous: No sin is involved, and no blame is placed on either the women or the angels.

     First Enoch, however, elaborates on the divine beings' attraction to the daughters of men--and finds fault with these earthly women. The sons of God (called angels in Enoch) do not just admire the daughters of men, they "desire" them--so much that they swear an oath to take the women and have children by them. But by having sexual intercourse with the women, the angels thereby "defiled themselves" (1 Enoch 9.9).

     Their offspring are monstrous: "The women became pregnant and gave birth to great giants [the Nephilim] whose heights were three hundred cubits. These (giants) consumed the produce of all the people until the people detested feeding them. So the giants turned against (the people) in order to eat them. And they began to sin against the birds, wild beasts, reptiles and fish. And their flesh was devoured the one by the other, and they drank blood"
(1 Enoch 7.2-6).

     In return for sex, the angels reveal "every kind of sin" to women, including corruption, adultery, oppression, alchemy, warfare, astrology and incantations (1 Enoch 9.9). The writer proclaims this to be the origin of sin and deems the women responsible. No mention is made of the fact that the two hundred angels descended to earth and physically attacked the women--indeed, raped them--without provocation. Clearly, sex is no longer viewed as a good commanded by the Creator. And the blame for it falls on the women.

     In the Bible the daughters of men are "beautiful" but not seductresses; in 1 Enoch they are "desirable" and the originators of sin, but even here they are not explicitly characterized as temptresses. The pseudepigraphic Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, however, goes one step further.

     Dating from the second century B.C., each of these 12 texts, attributed to Jacob's 12 sons, are styled after Jacob's deathbed speech in Genesis 49. The Testaments of Judah, Dan and Benjamin include warnings against sexual promiscuity. In the Testament of Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob and Leah offers his own sons some "fatherly" advice regarding women:

Women are evil, my children, and by reason of their lacking authority or power over man, they scheme treacherously how they might entice him to themselves by means of their looks. And whomever they cannot enchant by their appearance they conquer by a stratagem. Indeed, the angel of the Lord told me and instructed me that women are more easily overcome by the spirit of promiscuity than are men. They contrive in their hearts against men, then by decking themselves out they lead men's mind astray, by a look they implant their poison, and finally in the act itself they take them captive. For a woman is not able to coerce a man overtly, but by a harlot's manner she accomplishes her villainy ... For it was thus that they [women] charmed the Watchers [the angels or sons of God], who were before the Flood. As they continued looking at the women, they were filled with desire for them and perpetrated the act in their minds ... Since the women's minds were filled with lust for these apparitions, they gave birth to giants.

Testament of Reuben 5

     Forgotten in all this, of course, is the fact that the daughters of men never approached the sons of God or expressed any desire for them.

     Reuben also warns his sons "to guard [themselves] against sexual promiscuity" and "to protect [their] senses from women" because "women are an incurable disease ... and an eternal disgrace" (Testament of Reuben 6.1-3). As evidence, Reuben recounts how he lusted after his own father's maidservant Bilhah and raped her when she was sleeping in a drunken stupor (Testament of Reuben 3.11-15). And he is telling his sons to beware the dangers of women?

     Throughout these stories, we see a clear shift in the portrayal of women and sexual relations. The archetypal woman has gone from merely eating the fruit in the Garden to being held responsible for introducing sin to the world. From Genesis to the Book of Enoch to the Testament of Reuben, the story of the daughters of men and the sons of God becomes more overtly sexual: Whereas sex is not an issue in Genesis, the author of the Book of Enoch describes the sons of God lusting after the daughters of men, who entice the angels with their beauty. The Testament of Reuben inverts the story, declaring that the daughters of men lusted after the sons of God. In these two texts, then, the daughters are held responsible for luring the angels or lusting after them--two views entirely foreign to the Hebrew Bible account. It is this changing perception of women that caused Eve's story to be rewritten.

     But why? Were the writers trying to justify female subjection in a patriarchal society, or were they trying to explain the sex drive? Bible scholar Bernard Prusak suggests that the pseudepigraphic literature "explained ... the existence of evil ... and thereby also gave both a theological explanation and the justification for maintaining the cultural facts of male dominance and female subservience."(7)

     Whatever its origin, the negativism of the pseudepigraphic literature was shared by, and expanded on, by early Christian writers. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul blatantly states: "I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray" (2 Corinthians 11:3). The author of 1 Timothy writes that because of woman's role in "the fall," she is to remain silent in church and be submissive to men. "Adam was not deceived," the author writes, "but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (1 Timothy 2:14). Eve's "deception" and her complete culpability as the sole transgressor are not found in the Hebrew Bible, however. Both elements derive from the Apocalypse of Moses.

     It is no surprise that the early church fathers continued to blame Eve. In the writings of Irenaeus, the second-century A.D. bishop of Lyons, the devil-serpent uses Eve to attack Adam. In Against Heresies (Adversus Haereses), Irenaeus claims that Eve was "deceived by Satan hidden within the serpent and play[ed] right into Satan's hand by leading Adam into sin."(8) Irenaeus, like the author of the Apocalypse of Moses, sees Adam as a pawn in the devil's duel with God. In both texts, the devil disguises himself as a serpent to trick Eve; Adam, the innocent victim, sins solely because of Eve's treachery.

     By blending the original Genesis account with the noncanonical seduction stories, later authors and artists turned sex into a sin and Eve into a sexual temptress, the ancestress of witchery, the root of evil and the cause of the Fall. As almost any Renaissance painting of Eve will confirm, the most familiar portrait of Eve is not the image of the first woman of the Hebrew Bible, but the corrupted figure from the pseudepigrapha.

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1 Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum, trans. Montague Summers (London: Pushkin Press, 1951), p. 47.

2 Phyllis Trible, "Depatriarchalizing in Biblical Interpretation," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 40:1 (1973), p. 40.

3 All quotations from the pseudepigrapha are based on the translations found in James Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983).

4 D.R. Schultz ("The Origin of Sin in Irenaeus and Jewish Pseudepigraphical Literature," Vigiliae christianae 32 [1978], p. 184) suggested that the identification of the serpent with the devil first appeared "in the late Jewish literature [that is, the pseudepigrapha] and then passed on to the New Testament." Further, Schultz writes, "the New Testament simply makes the identification of Satan and the serpent, with no explanation concerning the instrumentality of the serpent." He concludes that the use of the serpent as the devil's instrument is "almost certainly derived from pseudepigraphical sources."

5 Phyllis Bird, "Images of Women in the Old Testament," in Religion and Sexism, ed. Rosemary Radford Ruether (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974), p. 47.

6 John Milton may have been familiar with this pseudepigraphic book. In Paradise Lost, Milton has Eve begging to be allowed to work by herself in the Garden.

7 Bernard Prusak, "Women: Seductive Siren and Source of Sin? Pseudepigraphical Myth and Christian Origins," in Ruether, Religion and Sexism, p. 97.

8 Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 3.16.6; 3.23.1-2; 5.21.1-2; 4.40.1; and Proof 32.