Saturday, April 23, 2011

A feminist interpretation of the Creation story

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Feminist theologians have uncovered for us the antifeminist features of the current account of the creation of Eve (Genesis 1:18-25) and the Fall (Gen 3:1-19), which have reinforced prejudice against women in the culture. According to this account, woman was formed from a rib of Adam who, upon seeing her, exclaims: "This one is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones, and she shall be called Woman (Hebrew: isha) because she was taken from Man (ish); that's why the man leave his father and mother to join his woman, and the two shall become one flesh." (2:23-25)

The original meaning intended to show the unity between man and woman, but the anteriority of Adam and the formation of woman from his rib was interpreted as male superiority.

The story of the Fall also sounds anti-feminist: "The woman saw that the tree was good for food... she took the fruit and ate it; she gave it to her husband and he ate it. Immediately their eyes were opened and they realized they were naked." (Gen 3:6-7). The woman is considered here to be the weaker sex, for it was she who fell into temptation and, from there, seduced the man. This, then, is the reason for her historical subjugation, now ideologically justified: "you shall be under the power of your husband and he shall rule over you." (Gen 3:16)

But there is a more radical reading, presented, among others, by two feminist theologians: Riane Eisler (Sacred Pleasure, Sex Myth and the Politics of the Body, 1995) and Françoise Gange (Les Dieux menteurs, 1997), which I will summarize here. These authors start from the historical fact that there was a matriarchal age before the patriarchal one. According to them, the story of original sin was introduced in the interests of patriarchy as part of blaming women in order to seize power from them and consolidate the rule of man. The sacred rites and symbols of matriarchy have been demonized and retro-projected to the origins in the form of a primordial account, with the intention of completely deleting the traits of the female account. The current account of original sin attempts to eliminate the four fundamental symbols of matriarchy.

The first symbol that is attacked is woman herself who, in the matriarchal culture, represented the sacred sex, generator of life. As such, she symbolized the Great Mother, and now becomes the great seducer.

Second, the symbol of the serpent, which represented divine wisdom that is always renewed as the skin of the snake is renewed, is deconstructed.

Third, the tree of life, considered one of the main symbols of life, gestated by women, is disfigured and now under prohibition: "Do not eat or touch its fruit." (3:3)

Fourth, the symbolic nature of sexuality, considered sacred as it allowed access to ecstasy and mystical knowledge, and was represented by the man-woman relationship, is distorted.

What does the current account of original sin do? It totally reverses the deep and true meaning of those symbols. It desacralizes them, it demonizes them, and it transforms what was a blessing into a curse.

The woman is eternally cursed, turned into an inferior being, a seductress of man who "will master her" (Gen 3:16). Her power to give life will be occur with pain. (Gen 3:16)

The snake, in addition to being cursed, becomes the radical enemy of woman, who will crush its head, but it will bite her heel. (Gen 3:15)

The tree of life and wisdom falls under the sign of the forbidden. Earlier, in the matriarchal culture, eating from the tree of life was imbuing oneself with wisdom. Now, eating of it means lethal danger. (Gen 3:3)

The sacred bond between man and woman is replaced by the marriage bond, with man taking the place as head and woman as the dominated one. (Gen 3:16)

In this story as it is in Genesis, a thorough deconstruction of the previous sacred feminine story operates. We are all, rightly or wrongly, held hostage by this Adamic, antifeminist and guilt-assigning story.

Why write about this? To reinforce the work of feminist theologians who show us how deep the roots of domination of women are. By rescuing the more archaic feminist narrative, they seek to propose a more original and positive alternative, in which a new relationship with life, with gender, power, the sacred and sexuality, is displayed.

1 comment:

  1. I think this "theologian" TOTALLY forgot about JESUS. There's no need for us women to remeber or "cherish" the old, obscure, dead and pagan matriarchal ritualisms. The passage of the original sin has forever been misinterpreted. What the Holy Spirit is telling us women is this: in the begginning, God made Men and Women EQUAL - that's what the rib means: it's a simbol that shows us that men and women are equal, that women are their pair, not their slave nor their queen - Eve means mother of the living. Since Eve has sinned, she (and Adam) has fallen into what we call the original sin. She became the mother of the "living dead", since, as romans 6:23 says "the wages of sin is death". BUT, with Christ's redemption on the Cross, His mother, Mary, became the mother of the church. Since church means "assembly of the believers" - and the believers are the saints, who washed their clothes on the blood of the Lamb (revelation 7:14) - Mary is the mother of the living, of the saints, the new Eve. This means that, while it is true that the original sin of Eve has made us women inferior in comparison to men, it's also true that Jesus' death and resurection and the figure of Mary as the 1º among the saints has put us in the place we once had and lost. If the Bible doesn't show you that Eve was the 1º sinner, how will it show you that Mary was the 1º Saint? Eve had to sin 1º so that then Mary would be the 1º among the saints, the 1º woman to take back that seat of equality, of dignity that women had lost. So see, there's no need for us christians to revive all that false religion, all that religiosity, all that dead, disgusting ritualism. With Jesus, us women take the seat next to the men back.