Mistrusting Eve

While in California, Sam and I were able to sneak off on a date to Murphys where we ritually go wine tasting, visit friends and peruse the local bookstore. Unexpectedly, I came across The Bible According to Mark Twain and knew immediately that I had to buy it. I was not aware of Mark Twain’s fascination with the biblical narrative and especially with Adam and Eve. Most interpretations I’ve read on the first chapters of Genesis have been from biblical scholars. But here was someone who would have a wild imagination in regards to the “first humans” and might have something interesting to say.

The Garden Story has dominated the western world for centuries. Subtle references are continuously made even in pop culture, such as Cardi B’s question “why is the best fruit always forbidden” in her recent song “Girls Like You.” The movie Ex Machina is a modern retelling of the creation account with some dark twists (for example, the Eve-like character chooses to leave the garden instead of being forced out while the man is trapped in a hell-like paradise…intriguing). And most of us have some sort of Apple device in our homes where we daily look at a bitten apple. Books are still being published on the subject, like the Harvard literature professor, Stephen Greenblatt’s recent work The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve that traces the reception of Adam and Eve through western history.

Eve by far gets most of the attention and not in a good way. She is a major example for women not to follow as the still popular books The Bad Girls of the Bible and Eve in Exile argue. Both these works are written by women for women and portray Eve as the anti-type of the “godly” woman. But Twain and Greenblatt tell a different story. They view the Garden Story not as fact but myth which allows Adam and Eve to be seen in a different light. Twain wrote two dairies on these characters, Adam’s Diary and Eve’s Diary, and his accounts are fascinating and hilarious. He portrays Eve as intensely curious and in a good way. Eden is described as a lonely paradise playing off of Genesis 2:18 “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Once Adam and Eve are together, their intensity for knowledge only increases and they yearn to know the meaning of the words “Good”, “Evil”, “Life” and “Death.” For Eve, the logical conclusion to gaining more knowledge could only be found in eating from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” So she went after what she desired. Twain puts Eve’s thoughts into words after eating the forbidden fruit:

They drove us from the Garden with their swords of flame…And what had we done? We meant no harm. We were ignorant, and did as any other children might do. We could not know it was wrong to disobey the command, for the words were strange to us and we did not understand them…If we had been given the Moral Sense first–ah, that would have been fairer, that would have been kinder: then we should be to blame if we disobeyed (Eve’s Diary, 67).

Eve’s Dairy jumps forward in time with an interesting conclusion to what their expulsion from the Garden was like, “It is three months. We were ignorant then, we are rich in learning, now–ah, how rich!” Is Twain indicating that it was right for Eve to eat the fruit? I think so. He uses Eve’s actions to show how having a sense of right and wrong, pleasure and suffering, life and death are some of the needed qualities that make us human. What are we without them?

In Adam’s Diary, Twain emphasizes the intrinsic need for human companionship by Adam choosing to leave paradise with Eve instead of remaining in it alone:

After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her. At first I thought she talked too much; but now I should be sorry to have that voice fall silent and pass out of my life. Blessed be the sorrow that brought us near together and taught me to know the goodness of her heart and the sweetness of her spirit (16).

Twain concludes Eve’s Diary in a similar way: “The Garden is lost, but I have found him, and am content” (31); and Adam declares at Eve’s gravesite, “Wheresoever she was, there was Eden” (33). With these two diaries, Twain took the normative perception of the Garden Story and flipped it on it’s head, especially in regards to Eve. She isn’t depicted as weak or deceitful. Also, the desire to return to the Garden is gone.

Which brings me to Stephen Greenblatt’s recent work, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve. Greenblatt impressively traces the variety of ways that Adam and Eve have been received throughout the western ages with an emphasis on how the biblical story has been used as a strong excuse for misogyny. His book is laced with plenty of terrible quotes about Eve and women from revered church fathers and he isn’t exaggerating. For instance,

And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve?…You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. (122, quoting Tertullian on women’s apparel)

Are women really this terrible? Clearly not. But Eve has been used for centuries to stereotype women as deceitful, susceptible to temptation, and promiscuous causing women to be wary of themselves and one another.

The stories we believe have a powerful influence over our lives. Therefore, how Eve’s story is told makes all the difference. What the Garden story provides is an explanation for why the world isn’t a paradise and Eve is used as the catalyst for that reality. The fruit needed to be eaten and Eve was willing to take the risk. Maybe Eve is no longer to blame for everything afterall…

5 thoughts on “Mistrusting Eve

  1. McCall,

    As my sweet natured, brave, beautiful, young cousin you hopefully know how much I love you and the precious family God has given you. Out of that love, I want to express how concerned I am for you based on the content in your blog, especially in this post. Of course, to our human, finite minds, stories like the Genesis account and much of the Bible is nonsensical but Scripture tells us that “the wisdom of this world is folly with God” 1 Corinthians 3:19. The root issue of my concern is that you are placing your human understanding above God’s revealed Word. Our job as Christians is to let God’s Word speak for itself, for He is God and we are not. Romans 9:20 “But who are you oh man to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this”? I implore you to remember the simple truth of the gospel, the childlike faith God gave you at first. If Eve was justified in her decision and God was actually in the wrong, what are you saying about the Christian faith? You are saying that it is a sham. You are saying that God’s Word cannot be trusted. But in reality McCall, we are the ones who can’t be trusted! Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can understand it?” And Proverbs 3:5-6 warns us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding.” Either God’s Word is true or it is not. We may not pick out the parts we like and reject the parts we don’t. The fact that you have observed misogyny in the church is inexcusable but please don’t question the One Who made women just because of some idiot men who abuse God’s Word for their own advantage. Let God’s Word speak for itself – use your writing gift to draw out what God’s Word already says for it is sufficient! 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” If you are questioning the preservation of Scripture check out this article:
    https://www.challies.com/articles/has-the-bible-been-preserved-for-us-today/

    Proverbs 30:5 “Every word of God proves true. He is a refuge to all who put their trust in Him.” Lean into Him thru your doubts McCall and find answers to your questions as you exegete the Scripture. You are gifted and I love you dearly!

    Erika

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    • Thank you Erika for taking time to read my post and responding thoughtfully. I am aware of the differences in our views of scripture which is why you would be concerned. My view used to be narrow as well and I can see that in some of your responses. You say that I am placing my human understanding above God’s. Well, I believe that the Bible was written by humans and that humans continue to interpret it for each new generation. No one can truly allow “God’s word to speak for itself” as you say, for biases will always play a part. I am questioning certain interpretations that I have personally seen as harmful to others. You may be able to view things as black or white but I cannot. I have received countless feedback from people who can relate and have appreciated what I’ve shared. I’ve found great comfort in voicing my “doubts” with others and my desire is for others to experience the same encouragement. Unfortunately, most of these conversations take place privately on account of the possible judgment they might receive from their conservative settings. As our world becomes more global and pluralistic, Evangelicals are desperately clinging to certainty. But what happens when certainties are challenged and life becomes overwhelming? Do you just hold on to what you believed in the past or do you make room for doubts and questions? Eugene Peterson once told me “You know what the problem is with Evangelicals? They know too much.” I have arrived at a peaceful place in my faith where my questions and the questions of others in regards to God, Scripture, and Christianity no longer scare me. We are all on a journey and I want to take that seriously; not rigid, confining and somewhat exclusive views of the Bible.

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      • McCall, thanks for responding. I really appreciate you taking time to explain to me further about how you view these things. I still (of course!) love and respect you very much and I pray at our next family gathering we can have big hugs and enjoy our time together. I certainly believe it’s good to have doubts. Doubts should drive us further into the Bible because that is where we will be able to see the thoughts of God. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” Romans 10:17. I’m sorry that some “conservatives” as you say make certain people feel like they can’t express their doubts. That is not in accordance with the way 1 Corinthians 13 instructs us to love one another. There are many people who claim to be followers of Christ but who, Scripture says, are actually not. I’m sorry for anyone in my camp who has been rude in their responses to you and others who doubt the doctrine of inerrancy. But please know, my camp is not with conservative, right-wing, republican folk. All I claim to be is a follower of Jesus Christ. This God revealed Himself to us thru a book, the Bible. He preserved His Word that we would know Him and “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:9. Our book isn’t just a book. It is the very Word of God. It’s caused wars and it’s brought healing. It’s been burned by some and treasured by many. Why? This book is the very Word of God. “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” Hebrews 4:12. I think it’s admirable McCall that you are open and honest about your doubts, but I pray that as you continue on this journey you’ll be careful not to shut out the possibility of God preserving His Word as His gift to you, to me, to humanity. He is more than capable and He is good.
        https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/the-inerrancy-of-the-bible/

        Lastly McCall, I pray that you feel your primary citizenship is not here. Words like globalization and pluralism are political terms. I hope you don’t feel threatened by the world hating the foundation of our faith. I hope you don’t feel you have to fit a worldly philosophy into Christianity to make it more palatable to people. I hope you don’t feel you have to doubt the inerrancy of Scripture to preserve the intrinsic value of women. You don’t and you shouldn’t.

        I truly love you McCall and I pray you can still love me too! It’s good to have dialogue over these things and I’m so thankful we live in a place where we are allowed that privilege!

        May both of us, together, have our eyes on Jesus and may we both together remember Colossians 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”

        May we know nothing except “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” 1 Corinthians 2:2.

        I love you cousin!

        Erika

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      • Thank you again Erika and I do look forward to our next time together. And of course I still love you! It is good to have dialogue and open conversation in a way that is loving and considerate so I appreciate your thoughts.

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