Monday, April 7, 2008

A revolutionary feminist theology in Genesis 3:16

Everyone knows the Adam and Eve story. Eve temps Adam to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and he does, and so God curses them and expels them from the garden. God curses Adam and Eve differently, giving Eve pain in childbirth and forcing Adam to toil for his food.

But the verse in which Eve is cursed, Gen 3:16, holds a possibly revolutionary idea. From the King James Version:
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy
conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire
shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
This an many other verses elsewhere in the Bible combine to create a theological idea of female submission to rightful male dominance domestically and politically. The highlighted portion especially is used, since it is God's decree to humankind.

But is that the end of it? No, if it was I wouldn't be writing this post.

These curses are punishments that diminish humanity in retaliation for disobedience. If, as a plain reading of this verse suggests, male rule over women is a punishment, then total sexual equality would be the Edenic ideal. The other punishments on humanity, while impossible to undo in the past, have come to be less problematic in recent years. No longer must men physically toil to obtain food. An epidural during childbirth can alleviate the pain. If the undoing of these parts of the curse by technology are acceptable, as the whole world seems to think, then why is the most pervasive part of the curse accepted as normative, the way things should be.

The curses established a new order, but did not make that order good. Women's pain was not good, it was punishment. You could easily argue that male rule over women was not meant to be good, but rather punishment as well. Certain types of discourse, such as feminist critical theory (which evaluates gender inequalities) can be considered technologies of ideas. If physical technologies allow humanity to undo parts of the curse, why not employ idea-technologies to fully undo the curse?

Opponents of this view would obviously quote the next verse in refutation (Gen 3:17)
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of
thy wife
, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee,
saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in
sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Since God criticizes Adam for listening to his wife, they argue, it shows male dominance to be correct. But you could easily argue that God criticizes Adam not for listening to Eve in general but rather in this one specific disobedience. If the clause "and hast eaten of the tree" is connected to the highlighted clause, as proponents of this theory would argue, then Adam's mistake is not listening to women but disobeying God.

So, at the end of it, male and female equality are affirmed but disobedience to God is prohibited in strongest terms. And who says feminists have to be atheist lesbians?


Anonymous said...

I try not to take bible verse too seriously since it's almost all metaphoric, and I believe a human construct rooted in human psychological need with a large dose of wishful thinking thrown in. The question of whether or not such verse is "inspired as from God" aside, that part of your blog I find interesting is how men especially (and in particular the clergy) have used certain precepts of bible teachings to maintain their exalted status over women. This reinforcement of what appears to be a biological pre-disposition men have for dominant behavior with their female counterparts, serves no real purpose in the modern world and alienates women unnecessarily. So the question of what the bible says or doesn’t say about the relationship between men and women is I hope rendered academic as applied to our conception of ethical and moral conduct in the real world.

Anonymous said...

You write -- no longer must man toil for food, an epidural during childbirth can alleviate pain...well, men AND women still do toil for food,although perhaps not out in the field in the hot sun all day long as in days of yore, ok i'll buy that

an epidural during childbirth...well, there are still usually hours of painful contractions until many women get to that epidural, or if they are attempting natural childbirth finally give in to the epidural because of the pain

are these two "curses" equal to men and women

the pain of childbirth fades in memory, else why would women go on to have a second or third child;
but even with technology at hand
that pain is quite powerful and real for much of the process

a question: do women have the exalted status, not in biblical verse, of course, but in stamina and fortitude. that, of course, depends upon who is answering. i, for one, would be interested in our blogging scholars' findings of passages and stories in the bible that support and herald a view of women's exalted strength. and do the women's male counterparts ever acknowledge that strength in these biblical passages. just wondering?

Anonymous said...

You didn't pay enough attention to the part of the sentence that transitioned the idea behind the statements following it from being punishments to a statement of fact. The statement 'your desire shall be to your husband' transitions the flow of the sentence (for lack of a better term) to a statement of fact rather than a punishment or a curse. The fact that she will desire her husband sexually is not a punishment (or a commandment, for that matter), it is a statement of fact, as is the following statement '... and he shall rule over her'. There are other places in the New Testament in which women are commanded to recognize their husbands as having authority over them. The Bible also commands men to love their wives and not to be harsh with them.

Anonymous said...

P.S. i know my grammar in the above posting was terrible.. its after 2AM, and i'm exhuasted

Anonymous said...

question: does the concept of divinely ordained male and female roles derive from the curse or created order? 1 Cor. 11:8 offers an interesting perspective...just a question, no agenda, I struggle w/ this issue in God's Word also.

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Anonymous said...

This crony philosophy is at the root of all Mankind’s – emphasis on Mankind’s – woes! There is nothing wrong with the mainstream-male-dominated interpretation. Michelangelo – a man of course – enlightens and reminds us of this obvious fact in one of his most outstanding and inspiring pieces, The Forbidden Fruit (aka. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.)

Here is the link for your convenience:

As you can clearly see, the moment Eve transgresses from giving Adam falatio – notice this classical sexual position which goes to show Michelangelo’s fine taste and craftsmanship – and reaches for the infamous tainted fruit of knowledge, she inevitably casts Mankind out of Eden. Sodomy was once sacred. This is what God originally intended; no surprise given his enigmatic tendencies. What a clever guy. Yet women, foolish to think they could handle knowledge, cast the whole of Mankind into misery when all this time we men could have been getting our dicks wet.

Michelangelo’s canonical piece explains this surely obvious fact with such eloquent brevity and simplicity that any woman could grasp it with little effort especially if they are doing what they were intended to do, sucking dick.

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Anonymous said...

i'm reading the bible for the first time, and when i came upon this passage i was instantly enraged (i'm very much a feminist). reading your article has made me feel better, but i still find it unfortunate how so many men throughout the ages have used verses such as these to justify oppression of women, other races, and even christians with slightly differing interpretations of scripture :(

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