Less Obnoxious Interpretations of Adam and Eve

Posted by on December 28, 2013 in Sacred Texts | 14 comments

Adam and EveLet’s talk about Adam and Eve. So, God created Adam first because he was the most important. Then God realized Adam would need an assistant, so he created Eve expressly for this purpose. He made her from Adam’s rib because she was kind of an afterthought and He was out of other materials. God told Adam and Eve not to eat a certain fruit but Eve was naughty and disobeyed God. Then she peer-pressured Adam into sinning as well. They were both kicked out of their garden for this bad behavior but since Eve started the whole thing, she was cursed with some extra punishments, including having Adam rule over her forever after. Like Eve, modern wives are also expected to let their husbands rule over them.

In a few weeks, we will start studying the book of Genesis in Sunday School. I have never had a Sunday School lesson about Eve and Adam that was quite as bad as my opening paragraph to this post. However, it is not uncommon for something to be said during an Eve and Adam discussion that hurts my feminist ears.

This time around, I am prepared. I have collected a list of less obnoxious, and sometimes even empowering, ways to interpret the Eve and Adam story.

I do not presume to know if any of these interpretations are correct. I almost don’t care. Frankly, I am incredulous about the value of using a story about two specific cave people to regulate all modern male/female relationships. Yet, some of these less obnoxious interpretations do demonstrate that the Eve and Adam story can be interpreted with insight relevant to modern life. At the least, a classroom comment about any of these less obnoxious ideas could be used to derail an Adam and Eve discussion headed in an ugly direction.

Less Obnoxious Interpretation Further Reading
The creation story describes a progression to increasingly more complex organisms.  Eve was created last because the female human body is the most complex organism. Daughters of God by Gordon B.Hinckley
An helpmeet is an equal. Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners by Bruce C. Hafen Helpmate Vs. Help Meet by Frank PelletThe Curse of Eve by Zenaida
The creation of Eve from Adam’s rib is a symbol of men and women walking side by side as equal partners. Lessons from Eve by Russell M. Nelson
God gave Adam and Eve two conflicting commandments in order to allow them to make their own choice.  Eve was the first to recognize that leaving the garden, raising a family and learning to distinguish good from evil was more important than avoiding the fruit. Moses 5:112 Nephi 2:22-25What It Means to Be a Daughter of God by James E. FaustThe Great Plan of Happiness by Dallin H.Oaks

If I Taught the Fall of Eve and Adam by Nat Kelly

Adam was commanded to rule with Eve, together as partners, rather than rule over her. Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners by Bruce C. HafenEqual Partnership in Marriage by Valerie Hudson and Richard Miller
The curse of Eve is a description of some of the natural consequences of life in a fallen world; it is not proscriptive of how women should be treated. Issues in Contemporary Mormon Feminism by Lynn Matthews AndersonThe Curse of Eve by Zenaida

Related posts:

14 Comments

  1. Thanks for these thoughts. I had forgotten we’d be starting the new year with Adam and Eve. I was just heaving a giant sigh of relief to at last be leaving behind the upsetting discussions about the Family Proclamation, the priesthood etc. D&C has some beautiful passages, but women are pretty much completely absent and as per usual we skated over all parts of our history that are conventionally considered to be problematic (polygamy….) while practically wallowing in other parts that make me unhappy and uncomfortable. I was relieved to be headed into Old Testament because the whole thing is so weird and rich and interesting. I forgot that it starts with a bang (not, of course, a big bang). Maybe I’ll be super busy making photocopies in the library for the next few weeks.

  2. I have to frame the story like you have, or I am left very unhappy. The thing is, though, that we are explicitly instructed that Adam is Lord over Eve and we are to act as them…

    My sister recommended that I just chalk such horrifying thoughts up to fallen culture based on the biological differences between males and females, and that’s the best I’ve got.

    • Are you taking about the temple? My take on the temple is that it is wholly symbolic– i.e. the male plays the symbolic part of the “bridegroom”, i.e. Christ, and the female takes the symbolic place of the bride, i.e. the Church. Hence, the church (NOT women) are commanded to follow Christ, the enactment is symbolic, ergo, Iam not doctrinally required to be lead by my husband for some religious culturalism left over from Victorian/Edwardian backwash.

    • The temple ceremony is sexist and should be changed.

      That said, when at the temple, I am told to “act” as Eve, I think of it as acting out her story, like a play, and that the instructions in this little play are not instructions for me, but for the part I am playing.

      That does not make it okay that the script in this play is sexist but it does make me feel free not to be bound to apply its sexism to my own real life.

  3. I’m looking forward to the OT. I don’t think Sunday School in my ward will be anti-evolution or anti-female, so I guess I’m lucky that way. I do expect most people to talk about the text in a way that assumes Adam & Eve were real, actual people. Since I’m not certain they were, I’ll keep my mouth shut.

    I just wish the Church would stop portraying them as caucasian. Cause if they were real, they couldn’t have been white. Or located in Missouri.

  4. Hallelujah, April! It’s so nice to have these concrete literary resources to refer to. And amen. I’m tired of hearing the garden myth told in the traditional way that subjugates Eve. Like you, I’ve found other ways to interpret that story that feel more true to my understanding of the gospel.

    I suspect the vast majority of my fellow ward members see the Genesis story similarly to me or you or Emily. So, why we don’t have discussions about all those interpretations and possibilities? What holds us so firmly to stale, lifeless stories (and interpretations) about rich and varied possibilities within a living religion? I don’t know. But I like this post. Thanks. And Happy New Year!

    • May I offer something else to the conversation? I wrote some of my perspectives on this subject last year for our friends at Rational Faiths. The post includes a non-caucasian image of Adam and Eve, which I love. Artist: Moya Johnson.

      http://rationalfaiths.com/toward-a-more-perfect-union/

      • Thank you Melody! That essay is lovely.

  5. Great stuff, April! I love that you’ve planned ahead and compiled these. I’m only disappointed that I’m in primary and won’t get to use them. Although perhaps it’s better to not hear the sexist stuff in the first place.

    Also, this line of yours made me *laugh* because it’s so true:

    “Frankly, I am incredulous about the value of using a story about two specific cave people to regulate all modern male/female relationships.”

    Amen. It’s absurd.

  6. I love this idea.

    One note if I may- I know you said you almost don’t care if any of the interpretations are correct, but in the case of “help meet” and Bruce Hafen’s interpretation of the word…well, let’s just say his Hebrew isn’t all that sharp. Have a look at the post linked below, as well as the comments for a bit of illumination on the subject.

    http://www.withoutend.org/oops/

  7. despair on/

    Thank you for this list of patriarchy-approved quotes that lure women into the temple where they can be permanently invalidated and subjugated.

    despair off/

    I understand the drive to find ways to not fly into the fire. Thanks for trying.

    • Mungadungadin, this comment is unkind. However, I can tell you feel passionate about exposing the sexism in the text, especially when that text is included in the temple ceremonies. Exposing sexism is an important and valid goal. However, it is not the only valid goal, even among feminist scriptorians. Providing alternate interpretations that will do a better job of nourishing us spiritually is also a valid goal, in my opinion.

  8. So, if we were created in order, (most important to least important), does that mean the animals and plants are more important than humans?

    • Yep. It’s a dumb argument.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>