In the beginning, Eve: Eve our mother, our daughter, our niece, our sister, our friend, our committed partner, our grandmother. Eva, la madre de la humanidad, and, as a mother she does not only give birth but also nurtures, encourages, demands of us, today, this morning. Eve asks us:
And today, I want you to promise yourselves that you are going to spend the day today looking for what you can say yes to. What is new to you? What challenges you? What can you say sí to?
Within this framework let us now turn to a study of scriptures, to a study of the texts in Genesis that refer to Eve.
When I took the introductory seminary course on the Bible I was surprised by the fact that only in the very last class of the semester did we turn to the story of creation. In reality, my professor, a well-known scholar, was simply making a very important point.2 She wanted to point out that the stories of creation we find in the Bible were not written at the beginning of the history of the people of Israel. The accounts of creation found in Genesis in reality are a "looking back" to the origins of Israel by the Israelites themselves. These stories are an attempt by the Israelites to ground their lives and their reality in Yahweh, their God. These stories are not an objective view of what happened at the beginning. The stories of creation, in chapters 1 and 2 respectively, are different. Each one has its own particularities because they were written by different groups of people within the nation of Israel and for different purposes.
As we all well know, there is great variety in the Bible and whenever we confront its text we come away enlightened and puzzled, consoled and disturbed, embraced and challenged: the Bible is indeed a two-edged sword. One of the things that we often tend to ignore when we approach the Bible is ourselves-each individual reader. What are our questions? What is our worldview? What are our values? What is our understanding of right and wrong?
So, during the days of this Quadrennial Assembly, I want to suggest that we use our time together to find out about how we approach the Bible. Through what lens do we read the Bible? We all come to the reading of the Bible with a history, with our idiosyncrasies, with our ideologies. The Bible does not speak in only one way. The Bible speaks to you, and to you, and to you, and to me. And the Bible does not speak the same to different ones of us.
Today a passage from the Bible might say something to you that it will not say tomorrow, not because the Bible changes but because you change, I change. We understand the Bible from the perspective of our contemporary world. At the same time, today we often view our world in light of our understanding of the Bible.
On this, the first full day of the assembly, we look at Eve, or rather, we look at how we look at Eve. When we read the stories of Eve, what do we want to know? Why do we read the story of creation, the story of Eve? What do we see? Who is Eve for us? What does she say to us today?
In Genesis, chapter 1, verse 27, we read that Eve was made in the image and likeness of God. The decision to create Eve was not a light decision, a spur-of-the-moment decision on God's part. In verse 26, the text reads, "And God said: 'Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness.'"3
Let us consider two points here. First, the "us" in this verse is an indication of deliberation on God's part. It is the only place in this account where God speaks directly, and that points to the importance of what is being said in this verse, of the action that it announces. Second, we need to look at the fact that the creature that God creates after this deliberation, this creature is modeled after God. Eve is created to be like God, to resemble God. This is something she shares with Adam and with no other creature.
The phrase "image of God" is the guiding metaphor in this text. So we ask, what is created in God's image? The answer yields the second element of the metaphor, bringing the metaphor to life: male and female are created in the image and likeness of God.
In this account there is no derivative sense concerning the creation of woman. What makes us think woman was an afterthought? This erroneous sense comes from rendering the Hebrew word ha¯-´a¯dam, from translating this word by the English word man. But look carefully at Genesis 1:26 and you will see that translating ha¯-´a¯dam with the word humankind fits better. Why would God say "let us make man," and then make male and female beings? The text says, "let us make ha¯-´a¯dam," humankind, and then makes clear that there are two kinds of humans: "male and female (za¯ka¯r ûn eqeba) God created them."4
Why my insistence on all of this? Because we need to be very clear about the fact that in our woman-ness we image God. Because we are images of God not only in what we share with men: intellect, will, intelligence, soul. We also image God in our bodies. So if we as women are made in the image God, then God can indeed be imaged as woman as much as God is imaged as man.
Our images of God are based on us, on our world, on what we think. We are part of the metaphors through which we try to understand God. And, from the very beginning, in a very deliberate way, the stories of creation include woman-ness as a good metaphor for thinking about God precisely because we are created in God's image: our woman-ness is the image of God.
And what about the general understanding that Eve was a temptress? Was she a temptress? Did Eve introduce sin into human history? To answer this question we have to look at the second story of creation: Genesis 2:25-3:7. Here are a few pointers for an in-depth reading of this story of creation.
Today we look at Eve. We are women who like her are made in God's image and women who like her are thought to be secondary, derivative. Today we look at Eve as women who are considered less capable than men to lead in society, in our churches. We, women who struggle to bring about justice and peace for ourselves and our sisters, we must look at Eve. We look at her and try to discover in the biblical texts about her the hidden meanings, meanings obscured by the patriarchal world in which the text was written, the patriarchal worlds in which the text has been read throughout the ages, the patriarchal world in which we live today.
And Eve teaches us the goodness of our woman-ness, the goodness of our women bodies.
And because she was created in the image and likeness of God, because of that, we know that we can use ourselves, our woman-ness, as a metaphor for God. "Mother" is as good a metaphor for God as "father" is; and do not let anyone tell you differently. The woman searching for the lost coin in the Gospel is as good a metaphor for God as the shepherd looking for the lost sheep; and do not let anyone tell you differently. And a wise woman, Sophia, is as good a metaphor for God as a wise man with a white beard is; and do not let anyone tell you differently.
Why? Why are "mother," and the woman searching for the lost coin, and the wise woman, why are they good metaphors for God? Because Eve was created in God's image and like her, you and I, Eve's daughters, are created—body and soul—in the image of God.
1I am referring here to the challenging presentation of Dr. Emile Townes the first evening of the assembly.
2My professor was Phyllis Trible, Baldwin Professor of Sacred Literature, Union Theological Seminary, New York.
3This is the translation used by Dr. Trible. See Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978), 13.