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Who Was Eve Really and What Really Happened in the Garden?

Eve is probably the most famous female biblical character.  She emerges full blown in all kinds of post-Hebrew Bible literature.  Early Judaism and early Christianity give her an identity, and the tradition carries her forward from that

 So my question is: are the later images of her in Jewish and Christian literature, how faithful are they to what the Hebrew text tells us about her?  And it’s really shocking at the disconnect.  And I’ll give you one example that actually has nothing to do with Eve directly.  If you think about the fruit in the garden, nine times out of ten people will say, “Oh, it was an apple.”

Hello, there’s no apple in the text itself.  It simple says fruit.  But it’s an example of how from Milton on or medieval art on we read back into the text what ideas people in later times have about that text.  So feminist biblical scholarship tries to get back to see what’s in the text itself.  There’s no mention of sin in that story, although later tradition has Eve connected with sin.  There’s no seduction in that story, although Eve the temptress certainly is a prominent theme later on.

And we can see if we get rid of all that overlay of tradition, we can see Eve is a dynamic figure.  She has more spoken lines than does the other figure in the garden, also known as Adam sometimes.  So that may have something to do with the ability of women to express things verbally.  She’s the one who provides food.  Food is an important aspect for the ancient Israelites, where they’re going to get it.  And the word food and eat appears over and over in the story.

This is not a story about sin.  This is a story about human or Israelite concern about food and the assurance that even though they will leave the garden and go into a difficult world, it shows that their concern for food will certainly go with them.  This is in many ways an ideological story.  It’s explaining to people who live in a difficult environment—not us in the 21st century with all our material comforts—but the people in the highlands of ancient Palestine.  Why is life so darn difficult? 

  • meyers-carol

    Carol Meyers is the Mary Grace Wilson Emerita Professor of Religion at Duke University. An archaeologist as well as a biblical scholar with a special interest in gender in the biblical world, she has served as a consultant for many media productions dealing with the Bible. Her hundreds of publications include: commentaries on Exodus and on several biblical prophets; an edited reference work, Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament (Eerdmans, 2000); and Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context (Oxford University Press, 2013).