Most people in the Judeo-Christian world are familiar with the tale of Eve. God put Adam and Eve in Eden, a paradise in which they would never want for anything, never struggle or suffer, and have all their needs taken care of (it’s the best Welfare plan one can imagine). But then Eve ruined it all by becoming tricked by Satan, who disguised himself as a snake, and tempted Eve to eat the fruit (apple) of knowledge. After that, Eve subsequently tempted her husband, Adam, to also eat the apple.
Since then, Judeo-Christian folk have blamed Eve, and by proxy the entire female gender for the fault of humanity inheriting original sin. Women are seen as more easily tempted by evil than men are. They are seen as evil temptresses to the menfolk, who must be constrained and controlled lest they lure men to sin.
(Interestingly, in Islam, the story is different. Eve and Adam were both tempted at the same time.)
But anyways, getting back to my point.
An example of this attitude of Eve blaming is quite abundant in the history of Western Literature.
In 1924, one JHR wrote an article entitled, “The Ugliness of Women.” JHR argues in his column that “in every woman born there is a seed of terrible, unmentionable evil: evil such as man—a simple creature for all his passions and lusts—could never dream of in the most horrible of nightmares, could never conceive in imagination.”
“No doubt,” he writes, “the evil growth is derived from Eve, who certainly did or thought something wicked beyond words.”
Much earlier, Tertullian, a prolific Christian writer (155-240 CE) in the Roman province of Carthage, was just one of many to expand upon the biblical account of Eve to further denigrate women:
And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die…Woman, you are the gate to hell.
However, is this castigation of the entire female gender, and Eve herself really fair?
When you think about it, Eve (a simple being without knowledge) was tempted by Satan, the Lord and Master of all Evil. Expecting her to resist such trickery is a tall order. Whereas her husband was simply tempted by her. Who really made the bigger mistake?
Also, is it possible that the Judeo-Christian tale of Eve in Eden is a subversion of an older tale that might have placed Eve (or whoever the original female character was) in a better light?
EVE’S ASSOCIATION WITH ASHERAH, A SEMITIC TREE GODDESS
Look into the mother goddess Asherah, she was the consort of the God Yahweh, Yahweh which is the Hebrew name of God in the bible. At this point you might be saying, “Yahweh didn’t have a wife.” But in earlier, pagan times, he did. This role gave her high status in the Ugaritic pantheon (a Canaanite religion, an ancient Semitic religion of the people in the ancient Levant.) However, in Deuteronomy 12, Yahweh demands the destruction of her shrines to maintain the purity of his worship (that’s one brutal divorce).
What is interesting is that Asherah is associated with groves and trees. The association with Asherah in the Hebrew Bible with trees is very strong.
For example, she is found under trees (1K 14:23; 2K 17:10) and is made of wood by human beings (1K 14:15, 2K 16:3-4). Trees described as being an asherah or part of an asherah include grapevines, pomegranates, walnuts, myrtles, and willows (Danby:1933:90,176).
Some scholars have found an early link between Asherah and Eve, based upon the coincidence of their common title as “the mother of all living” in Genesis 3:20through the identification with the Hurrian mother goddess Hebat.
Asherah poles, which were sacred trees or poles, are mentioned many times in the Hebrew Bible. The Asherah pole was prohibited by the Deuteronomic Code which commanded “You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lord your God.”
In the story of Adam and Eve, the fact that Eve procures wisdom from a tree is twisted into a tale of the “downfall” of mankind. But perhaps in the Pre-Israelite, Ugaritic religion, Asherah was seen as a source of wisdom (in a positive way). And when the monotheistic and more patriarchal religion of the Israelites developed, perhaps the tale was subverted in order to paint the divine feminine as a villain, rather than a hero, as she may originally have been.
THE TALE OF EDEN MAY DERIVE FROM SUMERIAN MYTH
Enki, one of the early gods of the Sumerians, was believed to have lived in a place near an aquifer, which was called the “Sweet Waters God.” He lived in Dilmun, “the pure clean and bright land of the living, the garden of the Great Gods and Earthly paradise” which was located eastward in Eden.
Ninhursag was a female goddess. In the story, she feels the waters of Enki within her and asks him to tend to her earthly body and provide waters for it. He responds willingly and creates waters and streams which allow great vegetation to grow. She leaves for the winter to prepare for the spring and all it brings to the earth.
I won’t get into the whole story, but it eventually involves Enki eating some seeds, one of which is a “tree plant.” He becomes sick and complains of a rib pain. Ninhursag responds with the incantation “to the goddess Ninti, the Lady of the Rib and the One who makes Live, I have given birth for you to set your rib free.” The Sumerian word “ti” means both “rib” and “life.” In Genesis, the word Eve means life but the Hebrew word for rib is different, thus missing the pun in the Sumerian version.
In the ancient, Pre-Israelite, pagan religions of the Middle East, female goddesses were associated with life and wisdom. It is my belief that the story of Eve captured in the bible intentionally subverted the power women once had in the region, in order to paint Eve as a villain. But even if she is a villain, she gave the gift of knowledge to mankind, and I, for one, am quite thankful for that gift.
The Garden of Eden (Faithless Feminist)
On journey to Eden, Bruce Feiler discovers the Creation of Man is really an egalitarian tale (Times of Israel)
God’s Wife Edited Out of the Bible — Almost (Seeker)
The Gods and Goddesses of Canaan (The Met)
Archaeologists Discover: God’s Wife? (Haaretz)
Did God Have a Wife (NBC News)
Asherah on Wikipedia
Asherah Pole on Wikipedia
Yahweh’s Divorce from the Goddess Asherah (Mythology Matters)