In modern society, the Bible has been stigmatized by criticism as a male-centered book, which is not true. Such a [mis]conception is a consequence of misinterpretation and often also mistranslation.
In this essay the author – a straight male – intends to present women mentioned in the Scriptures as they were, vindicating them from the sinful characteristics with which the religious institutions have marked them following their prejudices instead of an impartial and accurate exegesis of the Bible text.
It is a matter of fact that the original design of the Creator was equality between man and woman and not subordination of the female partner; however, the circumstances of the ancient world have generated an inequality based primarily on physical strength: the oldest and unhappy human activity that is to wage war on the neighbor required that the male members of mankind take control of the situation, as they were the only ones who were suitable to perform this kind of physical effort. This need of survival and defence of the group raised the mightiest fighters to the level of rulers, leaving women aside from any participation in community life. War caused also a shortage of men, and the need of reproduction resulted in a subsequent institution based on male natural resources: since a woman can hardly give birth to more than one child in a year (unless she has twins) while a man can beget many, polygamy was the solution for both the group and the woman – the group would become stronger being more numerous; women, who outnumbered men, would not remain alone and without protection.
It was in this social context that the Bible was written. Now we should distinguish between the account of the facts, that cannot neglect this male-ruled reality, and the original design, which established harmony and equality in order to build a society enjoying righteousness and happiness, and that is the ultimate aim of Messianic restoration of Creation.
This situation of inequality resulted in sexual abuse and humiliation as the original purpose of sex was lost, as well as fertility became a religious matter that replaced the knowledge of the Creator. Therefore, most of the ancient peoples worshipped many deities, and many rituals involved sacred prostitution – which was common also in Canaan, Egypt and Babylon, lands where the books of the Hebrew Bible were written, and against which the Scriptures are absolutely clear.
Centuries later, on the opposite side to ancient paganism, Christianity reacted against sex as an evil thing and linked it with the doctrine of the original sin, which is not biblical, and created a guilty feeling about what the Creator intended to be a natural relationship between man and woman. However, the disadvantageous condition of women was kept, and judgment was even reinforced.
The original design is expressed in the account of the Creation reported in Genesis – either this report is believed as the truth of the facts or else is just considered as the “Myth of Creation”, and either Adam and Havah (Eve) are regarded as the actual forefathers of mankind or just mythological characters that represent the first human beings, the essence of the message cannot be misunderstood and even the unbeliever has to acknowledge that the author of the account conveyed a revolutionary idea of original equality between man and woman.
The First Woman: Adam, namely, Havah
This title may sound as a blasphemy for conservative religious and self-righteous people, however, it is biblical. Nevertheless, not even the feminist movement supporters have any reason to exult. I do not intend to say that Adam was a woman! Let us see what the Scriptures say about the first human being:
Elohim said, «Let
us make Adam in Our image, after Our likeness: and let them
have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the sky, and
over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing
that creeps on the earth». Elohim created Adam in His own image. In
Elohim's image He created him; male and female He created
This is a literal
rendition from the original Hebrew text. Unfortunately, English language has
not a proper translation for the Hebrew word “adam”, and in most versions it
is rendered as “man”, the same word that in English indicates a person of
male gender. Indeed, the equivalent of adam is “human being”,
“person”, rather than man. The Hebrew word for man – a male person – is
“ish” (Genesis 2:23).
There is a second
account of the formation (not creation) of the woman, from which the
male-centered misconceptions arise, mainly owing to a mistranslation by
which the lower status of the woman has been promoted as a biblical truth.
“So HaShem Elohim
caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his
sides and closed up the flesh in its place. He made the side, which HaShem
Elohim had taken from Adam, into a woman, and brought her to the man”.
Let us notice that
Elohim did not create the woman, she was already created. Elohim has simply
separated the original Adam into two beings, one of each gender. However,
the most common translations speak of a “rib”, term that is not used in the
original Hebrew text. The term at issue is “tzela”, which does not convey
the meaning of rib in biblical language. The correct translation is side, or
side-wall, the whole side of Adam, not just a single bone. The term tzela
implies an equality with the whole, a bearing wall. To one tzela
corresponds another equal tzela, in the same way as in a building to
each bearing wall corresponds another equally important bearing wall, on the
opposite side. Certainly a man can live without one or two ribs, but not
without half of his body… The Creator did not intend that the man would be
however independent from his “rib”, but that he would be incomplete without
her, and she without him, as one is the missing half of the other.
And HaShem Elohim
said: «It is not good that Adam should be alone; I will make him a helper
suitable for him».
The terms that here
have been rendered as “helper” and “suitable” are in the Hebrew text the
words “ezer k’negdo”, which convey a meaning of equality and not
subordination. The term “ezer”, that is usually translated as
“helper”, is applied to Elohim more than once, for example:
And HaShem Elohim said: «It is not good that Adam should be alone; I will make him a helper like him, equal to him, suitable for him, and opposite to him».
What does it mean? That the male Adam had in front of him a perfect complement, somebody who was what he was not, who was different in everything, not only in gender but also in mind, feelings and behavior. In this way, they can love each other, give each other, desire each other. The Creator has done this on purpose, so that both partners are interdependent from each other, one has what the other needs, and both are incomplete by themselves and may be complete only when they become one again.
Back to Genesis
2.22, about the formation of the woman, it says:
the Adam said: «This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she
shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man».
When the male Adam saw her, he recognized that she was part of his own body, composed with his bones and flesh. That is what the expression means in Hebrew. Then he called her “ishah”, because she was taken out of himself, who since that moment was the “ish”. They were the same person, now distinguished in male and female.
The fact that there are two parallel accounts of the formation of the woman has also generated a speculative interpretation, that is the Myth of Lilith, which considers the first female which was created in Genesis 1:27 as Adam’s first wife, whom he divorced, and so Elohim formed a second one, that one of Genesis 2:22, who is Havah. Such a theory is groundless and unworthy to be taken in consideration. Genesis 5:1-3 identifies the first woman who was called Adam in the day they were created as the mother of Seth, therefore, she was no other than Havah, not an alleged first partner. In fact, the Myth of Lilith was developed to justify the submission of woman, alleging that the first one, being created with Adam, was equal to him and so he rejected her, and therefore, the Creator made another to be subject to the man. It is a foolish legend that deserves no credit at all.
«Therefore a man
will leave his father and his mother, and will cleave to his wife, and they
will be one flesh»
It is evident that
the patriarchal society was not considered in Elohim’s original design: the
man, who already had a notion of “father and mother” even though he did not
have, acknowledged which was the natural rule: that the new couple live on
their own. None of them would belong to the other’s family, but they two
will become a new unity. In fact, what has actually happened along history
is the contrary to what the man said, as usually the woman was the one who
left her family and was joined not only with her husband, but also with the
family of him.
The first commandment that Adam received from Elohim was the following:
blessed them; and Elohim said to them: «Be fruitful, and multiply, and
replenish the earth».
long as Adam was one, he/she would have felt quite unable to accomplish this
precept, until the woman was built. As soon as he saw her, he understood
that “they will be one flesh”. This concept is self-understanding,
extremely clear: “one flesh” means sexual intercourse. They were already one
in spirit, as both have received the same breath of life, “nishmat hayyim”,
and became a living soul, “nefesh hayah” (Genesis 2:7), the day when
they were created. Now they had separate bodies, and it was the flesh that
had to become one again. This statement conveys a deep teaching: the couple
must first be one in spirit and soul, so that they can become one in the
the woman said to the serpent: «Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we
may eat; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden,
Elohim has said: “You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest
This passage is well known, and it is not our task in this essay to analyze it by its content. What we want to remark here is that the woman knew Elohim’s commandment regarding the tree of knowledge. Who told her about this rule? We cannot assert with certainty if the account of the chapter 2 of Genesis is ordered chronologically, but if it was, we read as follows:
commanded the Adam, saying, «Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;
but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it;
for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die». And HaShem Elohim
said: «It is not good that Adam should be alone; I will make him a helper
suitable for him».
The Bible says that Elohim told this commandment to Adam, before the woman was formed. But the woman heard it from Elohim’s voice, as she was Adam.
When the woman
saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes,
and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit
of it, and ate; and she gave some to her man with her, and he ate.
This is the great sin for which the woman is blamed. She caused the Fall. She was who brought disgrace in the man’s realm. That’s why the woman should be condemned to submission. Unfortunately, this is what most preachers assert, and they think to have biblical grounds! The Fall is seen under a negative view, but there are also positive consequences which are usually neglected: it was also in Elohim’s design that the Fall should happen. Let us notice that the tree is not called “the tree of the knowledge of evil”, but “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (good first). Before the Fall, evil was not known, and apparently everything was good. But there was not a real, complete knowledge of good either, not in all of its manifestations. How can ever the human being know what is forgiveness, mercy, grace, redemption, and other sublime expressions of the spirit and attributes of the Creator? They may be known only after evil has been done. Without the Fall, the human being would have remained like the angelic spirits, who cannot experience such manifestations, or like the animals. It was the Fall that enabled the human being to know that the Creator is Merciful, Forgiver, Redeemer, Saviour, Righteous. It was the Fall that enabled man to know the full dimension of love, which includes all these qualities, which cannot be manifested without a previous evil-doing. The Fall was the only way by which the human being was given the possibility to fully know the Creator. Therefore, as well as the first woman is blamed for having introduced evil in the world, she should be thanked for having granted us to gain access to the true knowledge of good and to the full dimension of love.
The eyes of both
of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked.
What does it mean?
That nakedness is evil? No, it is the guilty conscience of human being that
had caused the good to be seen as evil. Until that moment, they were in the
presence of Elohim in a holy state, and they were naked. When their
relationship with the Creator was broken after their disobedience, also the
relationship between man and woman was broken, and the physical organs that
accomplished their unity as one flesh had to be covered. They were no longer
one with their Creator nor with each other. They recognized this fact, and
felt unworthy to be still enjoying of the Creator’s blessing. It is clear
that it is not sex, but the broken relationship, the actual result of sin.
The man said,
«The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate».
Let us notice the difference: first, the man recognized the woman as “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh”, she was the other himself; and now, the man blamed the Creator for having given him “the woman to be with me”, as if she was brought to him from somewhere else, and then he blamed also the woman, “she gave me of the tree”. It is evident that their unity was broken, as the first consequence of their disobedience: Elohim became a stranger, One who has imposed on him to be with another stranger that has nothing to do with him! – The man forgot that before the woman was formed, he did not find any helper who was suitable for him.
To the woman He
said, «I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain you will
bring forth children. Your desire will be for your man, and he will rule
This is another Bible verse that is misinterpreted and used to justify the submission of woman. It is usually considered to be a curse on the woman, but actually, Elohim is announcing her the consequences of the Fall, not cursing her. Pain in childbirth is unavoidable. It is the second sentence that should be understood: Your desire will be for your man, and he will rule over you. This is a statement of difficult interpretation if one has not the whole picture in mind. It is not disconnected from the first one concerning childbirth, but is related with it: it has to do with the woman’s sexuality. We have seen that both partners perform a reciprocal giving and receiving, so that they complete each other: first, she is the receiver of the man’s seed, then she is the giver of a new life. Both activities have to do with her desire: to enjoy pleasure and to become mother. It happened that after the broken relationship, man had no longer regard for his wife’s pleasure, but only for his own. Since her sexual achievement depends on the man’s skill, therefore, her desire will be for her man (to please her), and he will rule over her (as he does so if he wants). This has been the actual situation for millennia: the woman became a sexual object of the man, to fulfill his pleasure leaving her unsatisfied. However, this is not what the Creator wanted. Unlike the overwhelming majority of world cultures, Judaism has proposed a solution to this problem according to the Scriptures, establishing that sex is not the man’s right but his duty, and is the woman’s basic right, called mitzvat onah, by which the man is required to grant his wife the achievement of pleasure rather than his own, and must also understand when she is wishing for it and accomplish her desire without waiting for her request. Sex is holy beyond the purpose of procreation, as an expression of complete unity, spiritual and physical, of the couple.
Adam called his
wife Havah, because she was the mother of all living.
It is only in this
moment that the woman is given a name by the man (the same thing he did
before with all the animals), who kept the original name Adam for himself –
or perhaps he remained unnamed, or had another proper name which is not
mentioned? Notice that Adam is always preceded by the article in the Hebrew
[The] Adam knew
Havah his wife.
The relationship between man and woman is restored. The verb “to know” here is yada’, meaning not only a physical knowledge, but a spiritual unity. This verb is related with the term da’at, that is the kind of wisdom more developed by the man – as binah is that of the woman – and in the Tree of Life is the knowledge emanated from the above, that conveys unity and connects the whole realm in perfect harmony.
Adam-Havah, the first woman, still bears the burden of the judgment of the whole world because of the sin for which she is blamed. She has been ousted from her status of equal half and all her female descendants have been subdued by the new rules, which Elohim did not establish, and which the Bible has not approved. Nevertheless, she must be credited for having brought a higher level of knowledge and understanding, and a deeper meaning of love and the features that emanate from love, as forgiveness, mercy, grace, redemption.