The second legend of Creation by Yahweh speaks of Eve, woman of the patriarchal society, a temptress wholeads the whole humanity to its loss. In biblical times, snakes, sacred trees and women who supported the matrilineal tradition and were advised by a goddess in the form of a serpents, were symbolic manifestations of goddess spirituality. The allegoric meaning of these images was kept and served to hold women responsible for the expulsion of the humanity from paradise.
A female snake would be at the origin of all existence in many regions of the world, such as the Near East, the Middle East, Greece and Crete. This sacred snake was the incarnation of a goddess, symbolised fertility and growth as well as wisdom and prophecy. It was very important in the divine oracles.
The fruit of the tree of knowledge is another important connection between the story of Adam and Eve and the veneration of the goddess. The frescoes of the shrine of Knossos in Crete and those of Egyptian temples represent a fig tree placed next to the altar. One made communion with the goddess by eating the fruit of this tree which they called ‘’the flesh and the sap of the goddess.’’ This custom will be resumed by the Christians in communion by the bread and the wine, which are “the flesh and the blood of Jesus.”
The goddess had the knowledge of the good and evil and knew the secret of sexuality and reproduction of life. Consumption of the fruit of the goddess’ sacred tree meant obtaining all this knowledge. By forbidding access to the fruit of the tree of knowledge, god-Yahweh was rather forbidding the veneration of the goddess and acceptance of her matrilineal values. Hebrew prophets and chiefs were indeed trying to institute and justify the patrilineal system.
The myth of Adam and Eve, too, aimed at eliminating the veneration of the goddess. And here is how it acted:
1. The veneration of the goddess implies that a female has created the world, while the worshippers of Yahweh designate him, a male, as creator of the world. The fundamental claim of the paternal system of lineage is that a male is the creator, even if this male god is now more abstract, stated to be sexless as well.
2. In tales where a goddess has created the world, often man and woman are made from soil at the same time, while in the religion of Yahweh, it is essential to maintain that man was created first to be able to aspire to lineage by men.
3. In the religion of Yahweh, man is created in the image of his male god, while woman is drawn from man and, it must be said, from a small and insignificant part of him. This is the third attempt at demanding paternal system of descent. The fact that it is woman who gives birth would not disconcert the Levite priests who support that the male does not come from the female, but definitely the female from the male. The story of the birth of Athena from the head of her father, Zeus, serves a similar purpose. To present the patrilineal system as natural and fair, it is necessary to have people forget that women bring children into the world and to disavow or transform this truth. Thus, goddess Eve, mother of all the living beings (Hawwah meaning ‘’Mother of all blood relatives ‘’ in Hebrew), who had created not only the god Yahweh, but also Adam and had raised him on the throne as her son-husband, is consequently deprived of any capacity of creation, while being indebted for her life to the creative power of a male god and to a man’s left rib, both her ancient sons.
4. In the elaboration of their myth, the Levites made sure to add that Adam and Eve did not decide together to eat from the forbidden fruit. They made it very clear that it was woman who first, following the advice of the snake, ate of the fruit of the tree.
The choice of snake is certainly not random. In the ritual veneration of a goddess, the snake was the customary adviser of women, the symbol and even instrument of advices that the goddess gave to her priestesses and prophetesses. Therefore, it was important for the worshipers of Yahweh to show that the snake was the source of evil, and represented a disgrace and a danger. By declaring that women and snake have been the cause of the loss of all humanity, they took away from women the respect that they enjoyed as wise advisors and interpreters of divine will, to hate them more, to suspect them and finally subordinate them completely.
5. The myth of Creation tells us that woman became aware of her sexuality firstand led man in temptation, that therefore he shares with her the forbidden fruit, i.e., the sexual pleasure. This temptress Eve,defying the divine proscription, has certainly been the chosen image to discourage the Hebrew men from visiting the sacred women of temples, as succumbing to the temptation of these women implied acknowledging goddesses and more particularly membership of the children of such mothers in the matrilineal system. This myth spoke even more to the Hebrew women, to forbid them from following sexual customs of the ancient spirituality, which they continued to do, in spite of menaces and castigations of the Levite priests.
6. It was not sufficient that woman carried criticism for having eaten of the forbidden fruit and made Adam surrender to temptation. It was also necessary that the pain of childbearing be a proof that her action was a mistake. Yahweh says to Eve in the Old Testament:
‘’I shall multiply your suffering in delivery. You will give birth in pain.’’
So, the natural painsof delivery subsequently served the Levite priests to prove the omnipotence of their male godhead. This was the eternal punishment of women for having given to men such bad habits as sexual desires, a punishment obliging all women who would give birth to identify with Eve and to feel like offenders. And Yahweh continues:
‘’You will give birth in pain. But you will have desire for your husband.’’
The mostpowerful aspectof this story emerges whenYahweh stipulates that Eve will subsequently have desire only for her husband, which emphasises that paternal lineage is sanctified by religion – such lineage being possible only if one has a definite knowledge of the paternity. Yahweh ends his decree in these terms:
‘’You will have desire for your husband and he will rule over you.’’
Since then, the husband is authorized to dominate his wife, to reign over her, and the wife has nothing more to do than submitting obediently since she has shown a serious lack of judgment by listening to the snake goddessinstead of the male Yahweh.Finally, Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise, forced to work to live and following them, all humanity will subsequently live in misery.
Throughout the three thousand years of history of patriarchy, the misogynous myth of Adam and Eve greatly contributed to the presentation of feminine and masculine characters as well as the familial and social relations of men and women for many peoples. Assimilating women with Eve guaranteed their mental control; it also condemned and suppressed any tendency in them towards uprising, by equating such uprising with the original disobedience.
O’Brien, Mary. 1981. The Politics of Reproduction, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.
Stone, Merlin. 1976. When God Was a Woman, Harvest Books, New York.
Image: Rafael’s Adam and Eve, Ceiling pane, Vatican.