Monday, April 30, 2007

Genesis 3:16-20

16 To the woman he said,
"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you."

17 To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,'
"Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.

18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.

19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return."

20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

Whew! Now I'm dealing with some famous words indeed.

From the standpoint of modern evolutionary biology, we now believe that the reason childbirth is so difficult for humans is because we evolved these big brains, giving our babies big heads that don't fit through the birth canal. So it's not exactly a curse. It can definitely be a drag for women, but it's the price we pay for being human -- not for disobeying God, but for being what we are.

As for the second part of God's curse upon Eve, fuggedaboutit. In the first place, it seems to be based on an inaccurate premise. Most people agree that the male sex drive is more difficult to control than the female, and that in male dominated societies, it is often the case that the one source of power available to many women is their ability to manipulate men through sexual attraction. So this is a very lame excuse for patriarchy. It's pretty obvious to me that this is just a male fantasy. The author is saying, "Hey, you know you want it. And I'm the boss around here."

The curse upon Adam is more plausible at least. In fact, modern views of prehistory suggest that pre-agricultural peoples -- hunter-gatherers -- indeed enjoyed more leisure than later agriculturalists. What this means is not that the writer knew about the neolithic -- obviously he didn't, because he imagined a secret garden somewhere in Anatolia rather than an African Savannah - but rather that people of his age experienced life as full of toil.

I'm sure it was. As for the dust to dust thing, it's a reference to the earlier passage in which Adam is formed from the dust of the ground, not a reference to the nitrogen cycle. But this is one more example of how it is often possible to read modern knowledge and ideas back onto these vague allegories. I think it's important to remember that what we see in these words is probably nothing like what people saw in them 3,000 years ago.

Finally, according to my annotated New International Version, Eve probably means "life," not to be confused with the English homophone.