Monday, June 15, 2009

The Misunderstanding in the Garden of Adam and Eve

Deborah Voorhees
131 Cedar Crest
Nogal, NM 88321
575.354.3217
Deborah.voorhees1961@gmail.com

The Misunderstanding in the Garden of Adam and Eve

For centuries those in the Christian and Judeo religious communities have clung to the belief that evil lurked in the Garden of Eden; if this concept is to be believed than the root of all evil—of man’s downfall—would be knowledge; yet, such a belief cannot stand up to reason. Surely man is not expected to accept as true that science, math, and the written word are sinful. This would mean that every invention from the creation of the wheel to the automobile to the spaceship has been an immoral act, and that every medical marvel from vaccines to antibiotics to organ transplants is equally wicked in the eyes of God. Schools would be bastions of hell, not institutions that foster man’s desire and search for progress and enlightenment.
Blame for man’s downfall, more often than not, has been cast most heavily on Eve. If one accepts the fact that knowledge is not the root of evil than one has to consider that Eve didn’t sin but rather brought a crucial element to the development of mankind—an element so crucial as to make her an equal to Adam. With this view religious clergy, particularly the early fathers of the Catholic Church, would have had to acknowledge that women are responsible for bringing mankind’s second greatest gift—knowledge (the first being life)—and they could not deny woman’s rightful place alongside of men as religious leaders. This begs the question: Why would such a pivotal contribution be viewed negatively?
Intellectual writers and poets have tackled the question of Eve’s “sin” for centuries. Even Milton, who adheres to the Bible’s most traditional translation and believed his writings were Godly inspired, offers evidence against his own theory. In "Paradise Lost," Milton refers to the tree of knowledge as the Mother of Science and depicts an Eve who uses reason and logic to eloquently argue with Adam that Eden cannot truly be paradise if fear exists: “Let us not then suspect our happie State Left so imperfet by the Maker wise, As not secure to single or combin'd. Fraile is our happiness, if this be so And Eden were no Eden thus expos'd.” (Milton, Book IX, 337-341)
Milton’s intention was to prove “ingrateful” Eve’s inferiority to Adam, but if blind faith is taken out of the equation, Eve transforms into an intellectual woman questioning a legitimate point. A perfect Garden of Eden never existed. Perfection surely can’t exist where evil threatens to bring shame and death. One of mankind’s early feminists, Aemilia Lanier, passionately defends women in her "Eve’s Apology in Defence of Women," when she argues the absurdness of vilifying Eve when “Men will boast of Knowledge, which he tooke from Eves faire hand, as from a learned Booke.”
Over the centuries many liberal-minded scholars, writers and religious clergy such as the Cathars and the Gnostics have openly challenged what has become the traditional interpretation of the biblical creationist story. While these debates at their worst have been volatile, most scholars and clergy—on both sides of the argument—will at least begrudgingly agree that the Bible has been translated and rewritten so many times it’s impossible with 100 percent accuracy to decipher its original intent. Considering this fact coupled with even the briefest examination of the early church’s bloody history—from the Crusades to the Inquisition—raises serious questions. Could the Book of Genesis been intentionally distorted to satisfy man’s voracious desire to control women? If so, the question remains why have men felt compelled to dominate? Evidence suggests that it might hinge on early man’s deep-rooted fear of the female sex, fear of woman’s intuition, fear of woman’s sensuality, fear of woman’s ability to manipulate man through his desires, fear of woman’s healing abilities (midwives and healers), fear of woman’s ability to deliver life. What better way to vilify Eve—all of womankind—than to make her the barer of sin.
Evidence of early man’s fear of women is seen throughout history—long before the early Catholic fathers. In Senaca’ Tragedies, VIII it states “No might of the flames or the swollen winds, no deadly weapon, is so much to be feared as the lust and hatred of a woman who has been divorced from the marriage bed.” The Roman philosopher and politician Cato says “When a woman weeps she weaves snares. And again: When a woman weeps, she labours to deceive a man.” In Greek mythology, Pandora, like Eve, is believed to have brought sin into the world when she opens the forbidden box that releases all the evil, disease, and corruption. The Greek Sirens lure mariners to their death with their exquisite songs. The ancient Sumero-Babylonian Ishtar is an evil woman who destroys her lovers. In medieval Europe the Succubus, a female demon, fornicates with men in their sleep to steal their semen and at times to even steal their mortal bodies and immortal souls. Ancient Jewish folklore tells of the temptress Lilith, who seduces men to create a demon race (some scholars have argued that Lilith was Adam’s first wife). Second century A.D. Christian religious writer, Quintus Tertullian, writes to women that “You are an Eve…you are the devil's gateway.” (Catholic Encyclopedia online)
In medieval Europe, independent women, who lived outside the patriarchal society, were most likely to become victims of the witch trials. The most conservative executions by hangings and burnings are approximately 40,000 to 50,000 (only 20 to 25 percent were men). Steven Katz wrote in The Holocaust in Historical Context: Holocaust and Mass Death before the Modern Age, “Women are anathematized and cast as witches because of the enduring grotesque fears they generate in respect of their putative abilities to control men and thereby coerce, for their own ends, male-dominated Christian society.” (Katz)
Perhaps one of the most compelling arguments for the early church fathers’ fear of women lies in the widely referenced handbook, the "Malleus Maleficarum," which was once used to identify and prosecute witches in medieval courts. In the early 1300s the Roman Catholic Church brought witchcraft under the Inquisition’s jurisdiction. Pope Innocent VIII commissioned two Dominican inquisitors, Kramer and Sprenger, to compose the "Maleficarum." The misogynistic writings declare that “All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman. What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colours!” (Sprenger)
In part women were targeted as “witches” because they had a stronger connection to Paganism, where their voices had a place in religious life. Christianity had little to offer except the accusation of Original Sin. In the Encyclopedia Mythica, Ilil Arbel writes that the founding church fathers “considered (women) weak, stupid, faithless, and hardly above beasts of burden. They had no rights, no protection, no dignity. In almost every way, they were slaves. The strong women of the Old Religion, the priestess, the Witch, the teacher, the healer, became the enemy of all that was sacred. How could they accept Christianity? Diana's cult remained so widespread, that the Church viewed her as an arch rival.” (Arbel)
This fear of Diana permeated the emerging Catholic Church, which resorted to demonizing the goddess as the “Queen of the Witches.” Paganists saw this as bastardization of their Diana, who was their Queen of heaven, huntress, goddess of wise female healers, as well as a benevolent nurturer and the provider for all creatures, slaves, and plebeians. Meanwhile the Old Testament decreed “that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed.” (ACTS, 19:27) This vilification of Diana spread to all women, starting with Eve. In the Bible women are depicted as temptresses who lead men into adultery, a crime that the God of the Old Testament openly condones the burning and stoning to death of whores. (Ezek 16:50) Of course, in the church’s early days adultery didn’t necessarily mean a woman had voluntary sexual relations with a man. Simply being alone with a man or being rape could strike down this accusation. The Bible also instructs men to only marry virgins; divorced women or widows are considered unclean as “a menstruous woman.” (Ezek 18:6) The very idea that a woman’s menstruation cycle—a natural part of preparing the womb for later conception and birth—would be seen as unclean would seem preposterous to those worshippers of the matriarchal Diana. Women and men from the Old Religion worshipped a woman’s body because of her ability to carry and deliver life. This is hardly the case with the New Religion. Worse yet, the Old Testament at least tacitly condones violence against the female offspring of Eve. No God steps in to punish Lavite and a fieldman who offer Lavite’s concubine and the fieldman’s daughter, almost as a ritual sacrifice, to the men of a village just to save themselves from harm. While the women are raped and beaten throughout the night, Lavite and the fieldman enjoy food and drink. The next morning Levite finds his concubine dead. (Judges, 19) He shows no more remorse than a one might for a calf slaughtered.
Other early Christian doctrines have often rationalized the harsh treatment of women because of Eve’s Original Sin. In Friar Cherubino’s "Rules of Marriage" he advices “When you see your wife commit an offense, don't rush at her with insults and violent blows. Scold her sharply, bully and terrify her. And if this still doesn't work...take up a stick and beat her soundly, for it is better to punish the body and correct the soul than to damage the soul and spare the body...Then readily beat her, not in rage but out of charity and concern for her soul, so that the beating will redound to your merit and her good.” (Cherubino)
Of course, not all early Christian religions believed in Eve’s guilt. Many splinter sects of Christianity such as the Gnostics revered women’s contributions to mankind and viewed Eve with admiration. In the Gnostic Church women had active roles in religious life. As priests they taught, ministered and performed baptisms and exorcisms. In fact, the Gnostics creationist story varied widely from the Old Testament’s version. Eve, the teacher, is sent to raise the soulless Adam so that he can become light’s vessel. When Adam first sees his mate he says: "You will be called 'mother of the living', because you are the one who gave me life." (Gnostics) Not surprisingly the “fallen daughter’s of Eve” clashed head on with the early church fathers’ lust for power and dominance. Diversity in Christianity wasn’t an option for these leaders. The removal of women from religious power became an important element to conquer paganism and the splintered Christian sects because women were the most resistant to the New Roman Catholic Church.
During the Inquisitions, the church armed its vast armies to slaughter thousands and thousands of “heretics.” Among the vilified were the Gnostics, whose teachings were open to Paganists and Christians, male and female. (Grant) In the Gnostic manuscripts found in the last century, God informed John in the scriptures of Thomas: “I am the Father, I am the Mother, I am the Son.” This clearly suggests that women should be at the center of the faith’s soul, a position that would at least be equal to men. Gnostics agreed; hence the clash. Further angering the early Catholic leaders, the Gnostics preached that the Old Testament’s deity was not the True God, but an evil Demiurge who deceived mankind to trap souls to the impure earthly matter, causing humans to be exiled from their “divine home” in the Light. (Grant) Gnostic priests and priestesses believed in a loving deity incapable of the envy and wrath the “false god” demonstrates in the Old Testament. In "Gnosticism: A Sourcebook of Heretical Writings from the Early Christian Period" Robert M. Grant wrote, “Gnosticism placed primary value on the feminine qualities of receptivity, intuitive perception, visionary experience and the art of healing. It was a teaching of love, selflessness, harmony and communion… This divine current was perceived as the feminine, healing and nurturing energy of God’s Holy Spirit.” (Grant)
Even within the King James’ version of Genesis, certain passages closely align with the Gnostic version of the creation story. After Adam has eaten from the tree of knowledge, God says, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” (Genesis 3:22) And Adam calls to his wife Eve because “she was the mother of all living.” (Genesis 3:20) Both passages are in the Gnostic scriptures and hardly seem to fit with God’s earlier cries of damnation when he sentences the Devil, Eve, and Adam to a life of toil and pain. Also similar to the Gnostics was the Cathars, another splintered Christian sect that believed in the equality of men and women. Although, the Catholic Church never acknowledged them as Christians, the Cathars had many followers and sympathizers because they lived in true poverty as the “bejeweled-Catholic clergy” claimed was the righteous way to exist. Townspeople, including many Catholics, saw this hypocrisy as ample reason to throw stones at their own religious leaders. (Katz) Not surprisingly, the Cathars soon found themselves an enemy in the church’s sacred war, “The Crusades.” Perhaps the Cathars greatest sin was the refusal to pay its tithes to the church. As far as the issue of Eve’s sin, the Cathars believed that godly souls chose to join physical matter: hence giving up the heavenly for physical incarnations. The souls would reincarnate from earthly matter to spiritual light and back again until the souls could rejoin God.
This all leads back to the perhaps the unanswerable question: What is God’s intended message in the Book of Genesis? Was Eve a wonton temptress who brought down man as many church leaders, even today, protest or a woman of intellect who gave the gift of knowledge and life to Adam and mankind?
On a strictly intellectually basis, knowledge cannot be blamed for man’s downfall. Clearly, intellect is the foundation of our very existence. It separates us from the mindless eukaryote that transforms at the will of evolution. Even Dante, who writes of internal damnation in his epic
"Inferno," understands that knowledge is essential to mankind. “Consider your origins: you were not made to live as brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge.” (Dante) Ironically, the very woman who brought his coveted “virtue and knowledge” to mankind he has cast her into hell’s limbo for all of eternity, an odd choice for the woman who saved us from living as brutes.
True, knowledge often brings sorrow and pain, but joy cannot rejoice without experiencing pain; light cannot illuminate without darkness, one cannot embrace life without embracing death. As Kahil Gibran wrote in The Prophet, “For life and death are one, even as the river and sea are one.” (Gibran 80) The same holds true for good and evil. The knowledge of good cannot be complete without the comprehension of evil. Mankind must be a free-willed spirit with the capacity to choose to walk in the light or in the dark. Otherwise, knowledge in of itself would have no more meaning and depth than the flat pages of an encyclopedia: all facts and citations, no passion.




Works Cited
Arbel, Ilil. "Witchcraft." Encyclopedia Mythica. 19 Sept. 2008 .
Barbara Ehrenreich, Deirdre English. Witches, Midwives, and Nurses. New York City: Feminist Press, 1970.
Cherubino, Friar. Rules of Marriage. 1400.
Ellis, Barbara. "Some Observations About Hawthorne's Women." Women in Literacy and Life Assembly (1993): Vol. 2 .
Gibran, Kahil. The Prophet. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.
Grant, Robert M. Gnosticism: A Sourcebook of Heretical Writings from the Early Christian Period. New York, 1961.
Hoeller, Stephen A. "The Genesis Factor." The Quest; reprinted in archives of Gnostic Society (1977).
Katz, Steven. The Holocaust in Historical Context: The Holocaust and Mass Death Before the Modern Age. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 1994.
King James Bible. New York: University Press, Oxford, 1903.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost (Book IX). Hanover: John Milton's Reading Room at Dartmouth College, 1674.
Sprenger, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob. Malleus Maleficarum. Wiscata Lovelace , 1928.

Deborah Voorhees
131 Cedar Crest
Nogal, NM 88321
575.354.3217
Deborah.voorhees1961@gmail.com

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