(Warning: this post departs from the usual serious meditative art and scripture and instead veers off somewhat into the whimsical.)
Today’s challenge from WordPress Daily Post is to pick up the nearest book, find the third complete sentence on page 82, and work it into a posting. Fun, right? Except that I had to cheat a little since the sentence in the book nearest to me was:
“The assistance khoregoi ‘bought’ in this way will have been of two principal kinds: that of men who were choral professionals, probably not composers of music, poetry or dance themselves, but skilled in their execution and in the difficult business of forging good order, discipline, and the much sought-after grace of choral eukosmia.” (The Athenian Institution of the Khoregia, Peter Wilson)
Yeahhhh…I don’t think so. Try again:
“The word for ‘create’ is the same as the word used in the Bible for the creative power of God (Gen 14:19, 22) and in extrabiblical texts for the creativity of Semitic mother goddesses.” (Women in Scripture, Carol Meyers, ed.)
Now this I can work with! The sentence comes from the entry for Eve, so my next challenge was to choose from the abundance of images of Eve, which proved to be a knotty challenge indeed. Why, you ask? Well, firstly, I’m not a biblical literalist so I don’t ‘believe’ that Adam and Eve actually existed or that Eve was created from the rib of Adam! Secondly, I’m a feminist (yes, I used the F-word!), so I find the whole story of Eve as promulgated in our culture to be problematic, you know, the whole apple thing and the way it has been used for centuries to justify patriarchal notions of male dominance. So although there are several famous images of Eve, such as her creation from the sleeping Adam in the Sistine Chapel:
Or Eve being tempted by the serpent to eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil (LOVE the uber-creepy standing serpent and the strategically placed flower in this one!):
And the subsequent banishment from the Garden by Chagall, (whose whimsical style makes it seem far less tragic than it should be, I mean, c’mon, they’re riding a rooster!)
Though I deeply appreciate the beauty of all these images, none of them seemed quite right. After all, prior to the well known text about the creation of Eve from the rib of Adam, in Gen 1:27 we read:
God created mankind in his image;
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Many people, regretfully, are unaware of this passage since it doesn’t get as much press. After creating both men and women, God tells them to be fruitful and multiply, looks around at all he has made, pronounces it “very good” and then takes a nap. Then a different narrative suddenly begins about the creation of Adam. The attentive reader could be excused for feeling a bit confused at this point: “Wait, what?” Well, back in the 19th century, scholars, (German, of course, they are always so brilliant and tidy) noticed this and many other double stories and inconsistencies in the the first five books of the Old Testament. Through close textual analysis they were able to determine several different strands written by different authors and they proceeded to tease them apart. This is called the Documentary Hypothesis and it is widely accepted among the majority of biblical scholars who aren’t biblical literalists. There are various competing theories for how the various strands (with the exciting names of J, E, D, and P) came to be combined later on in Israel’s history, which I won’t bore you with here. If you are just dying to know, I recommend Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliott Friedman.
So now we know that woman was an equal creation with man by God (as if we didn’t know that already!). But what about that pesky story of the apple? Carol Myers points out that the text never says that Eve tempted Adam; she simply hands him the fruit and they both eat of it, though they had been warned not to do so. God didn’t actually curse them for it, either, he curses the serpent and the ground. And that whole concept of the Fall was a later Christian interpretation (think Augustine) of this whole episode.
Feminist (yes, I used the F-word again!) interpretations of the story emphasize that Eve’s conversation with the serpent is the first sign of intelligent human speech. And Eve is attracted to the idea that the fruit will make one wise, making her the first seeker of knowledge and wisdom; one could even press this and say she was the instigator of all human culture. She is also the first to provide food. Her name, Eve, comes from a root meaning “to live” and she is mother of all the living, an archetypal female role. In the opening sentences of the subsequent story of Cain and Abel, Eve “created a man together with the Lord”, a phrase whose meaning is decidedly ambiguous. Biblical women “bear children”, they do not “create a man.” So it seems there were differing views of women (by men) that made their way into these early texts. I choose to embrace the more positive strands and interpretations of Eve. So which work of art should I select to exemplify this culture-bearing earth mother? I’m going to step away from the paintings by the great masters and choose something that seems more in keeping with this view. I give you this modern earth sculpture of Eve, the Mother of us all. Enjoy!
For a brief take on feminist scholarship and poetry on the reclaimed views of Eve, read this nice little essay: http://www.crosscurrents.org/Cornell0404.htm