Saturday, October 22, 2016

Know Your Bible: Biblical Femmes Fatales - Episode One: Eve


In this series of posts I will outline examples in biblical literature of the femme fatale, defined as a woman whose mysterious and seductive qualities ensnare males into dangerous and deadly lapses of judgement. But I will expand it to include, as well, biblical stories in which women directly kill for various motives.

We begin with the all-time classic archetypal Femme Fatale. The one who reportedly brought death itself into the world.

Adam and Eve, by Julius Paulsen
1. Eve

She has to be on this list because she has been blamed for the Fall of Man by theologians throughout the centuries. And it is not surprising that a patriarchal society would seek to blame all ills on a woman. But the actual biblical text indicates that this treatment is far from fair. At the base of it, Genesis 3 is simply an etiology for why snakes don't have legs and people wear clothes. And Adam fully shares culpability in the event.

The Original Text

Eve Tempted, by John Stanhope
The serpent in Genesis 3 asked Eve if they were allowed to eat of any of the fruit in the Garden of Eden. Eve told the serpent that they could eat of any fruit, with the exception of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They had previously been told that "on the day you eat of it, you will surely die ( ביום אכלך ממנו מות תמות )" (Gen 2:17).

The serpent told Eve that this was not true. He said that the reason God did not want them to eat of that fruit was that when they ate of it, Adam and Eve themselves would become like gods, knowing good and evil.

The text then states:

"She took some of its fruit and ate it. And she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it." (Gen 3:6)

Notice, the text implies that Adam was standing right beside her the whole time! If he was so virtuous, why was he not protesting this violation of the single command God had given them?

Anyway, the text goes on to say, "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves." (Gen 3:7)

God interrogates them and learns what has happened. Adam blames Eve.

God had given him Eve as a helpmate suitable for him ( עזר כנגדו ) (Gen 2:18). And when he saw her, he declared that she was "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" ( עצם מעצמי ובשר מבשרי ) (Gen 2:23).

The Fall of Man, by Peter Paul Rubens
But now he throws her under the bus and says, "The woman whom you put here with me--she gave me fruit from the tree and so I ate it." (Gen 3:12)

He's half implying that it's God's fault as well for putting her here in the first place!

Eve blames the serpent (Gen 3:12-13). God accepts no excuses. He curses the serpent to be a legless animal that must ever after crawl on its belly (Gen 3:14). He punishes Eve by declaring that she shall have now greater pain in childbearing (Gen 3:16). He punishes Adam by declaring that ever after he shall toil to raise food amidst thorns and thistles. And by the sweat of his brow shall he get bread to eat (Gen 3:18-19).

And the threat that they would die because of eating that fruit is realized:

"Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken. For you are dirt, and unto dirt you shall return." (Gen 3:19)

The Rehabilitation of "The Woman"

The Church came to view the Virgin Mary as an Anti-Eve. An example of this is found in the writings of St. Irenaeus of Lyon, who wrote:

For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith. (Against Heresies 3.22.4)

And so, despite the still somewhat patriarchal character of the historical Church (the Catholic and Orthodox Communions), we sing praises to Mary that far and away undo any denigration of our archetypal Mother Eve.

We sing to Mary every Sunday:

More Honorable than the Cherubim. And beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim. Without defilement you gave birth to God the Word. True Birth-Giver of God, we magnify you!

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