Humble beginnings: a rib and an apple
Today I thought we’d talk a bit about one of the more maligned women in history. Well; history might be pushing it a bit, as we don’t know for sure this lady existed. Many would instead argue they know for sure she most definitely didn’t exist – woman did not spring from a male rib. Too right; if we had, men would have walked the world with more ribs on one side than on the other, which does not seem to be the case.
By now, I’m thinking most of you, dear readers, have worked out that today we’ll be talking about Eve, the lady who gave the fig leaf a face.
As per the creationists among us, our heroine was brought forth as the pinnacle of God’s creative efforts. Seeing as God first made Adam, then made Eve, it stands to reason Eve was the better, improved version – except, of course, that He used Adam’s rib.
Now, we all know the basic story line, don’t we? God creates the Earth, the sun, the stars and the skies. He goes a bit wild and crazy in the zoological department, and as to insects, well clearly God has a fondness for things that creep and crawl, that buzz and sting and flutter about. Or maybe He likes it that they don’t talk. Or think. They simply are, in difference to the far more vocal and independent creations He chose to put at the top of His little evolutionary pyramid.
One could argue that in creating man, God showed lack of judgement – or maybe we are testament to His faith – in us. Why else give us free will, lead us constantly into temptation, pollute our souls with the seven deadly sins, and gift us with sufficient intellect to question His existence. Not that all of us do, mind you. Many are the men and women through the dust-lined road of time who have fought and died on His behalf, professing with their dying breath that God exists.
As a little aside, when God in Genesis 1 creates Adam, the name denominates mankind rather than a specific dude. In Genesis 2, however, God moulds Adam the man from the earth and breathes life into him. It is this Adam who is gifted with Eve, lest he become too lonely playing with himself.
I am sure Eve was less than happy about all the insects. I am not all that sure she was too thrilled at having been created as a replacement. Yup, folks, that was what she was – at least according to the apocryphal texts. As per Jewish tradition, God made both a man and a woman at the same time, from the same earth, but this spirited young lady named Lilith had no intention whatsoever of being Adam’s help-meet. No, Lilith was the world’s first feminist and refused to either sleep or serve under Adam, and when he tried to tame her, she upped and left.
Instead, Adam got Eve. The First Woman was not the first woman – she was the Number Two Wife, no doubt making Adam hope that this female would be somewhat more acquiescent to his demands. Lilith, meanwhile, was enjoying herself enormously with the demons, producing an endless stream of baby demons. But to judge from Michelangelo, Adam was quite the hunky guy, so maybe Eve was happy enough with her lot in life. I wonder if Adam was, or if he dreamed of wild Lilith and her flowing black hair.
Now God may be a misogynist – or even an invention, an expression of wishful thinking along the lines that all of us like the idea that there’s someone out there, “Someone to watch over me” as Judy Garland sang very many years ago. But to give Him his due, He didn’t stint when it came to the Garden of Eden, creating a veritable paradise for Adam and Eve to live in and be fruitful in. He turned them loose with a fond smile – and only one admonishment. “Don’t touch the apples, children,” He said, pointing at the Tree of Knowledge. Clearly, God lacked parenting experience. Those more jaded among us know that whatever you tell a kid not to do, is probably the first thing he will do, given a chance.
Adam and Eve, however, had enough to take in – at least initially. They strolled through meadows and forests, they picked daisies and wove them into garlands (of course they did!), they held hands and progressed from that to other things, they swam in the lakes, climbed the trees, rolled in the mud, played with the baby lions – but at no time did they approach the Tree of Knowledge. After all, God had said “no”.
The tree, however, was always on their minds, a little teaser that now and then had them taking a couple of steps in its direction before remembering it was out of bounds. Eve would pick an apple from another tree and bite into it, eyes stuck on the perfect, Christmas-red apples that hung from the Tree of Knowledge. She bet those apples tasted sweeter, were crunchier and jucier. Adam would pick an apple and eat it while watching Eve, considering just what he would do to her after their meal. men are, at times, rather singleminded…
One could have thought God would have made it difficult to reach his precious tree. Like put up an electrical fence around it, or something. Instead, the tree just stood there, a perfect tree in a perfect world. From having detoured around it, Eve began to walk that much closer, wondring just what knowledge the tree could impart. That’s the thing with us women, we are naturally curious. (Men are just as curious, but prefer to send out their women to pick up the gossip rather than to be seen listening avidly)
One day, she was standing close enough to touch the tree, when out of nowhere, she heard a voice.
“Great apples,” the voice said.
“I wouln’t know,” Eve replied.
“Duh.” The voice slithered closer, and to her surprise, Eve realised she was conversing a serpent with legs (as per Genesis, okay?) “Wouldn’t you want to know?”
“How they taste?” Eve asked, confused. By now, she’d sampled her way through all the other apple trees in paradise, and she didn’t really think one apple would be that awesome. The serpent rolled its eyes, cleft tongue darting out repeatedly.
“No,” it said, “wouldn’t you want to know everything?”
Hmm. Eve mulled that over. Would she? She thought of Adam and the dreamy look on his face when he woke in the mornings and reached for her, something like disappointment flitting over his features when he properly woke. Did she want to know what he dreamed? Unfortunately for mankind, Eve was the jealous type, so she decided she wanted to know, thank you very much, not stopping to consider that she might regret her choice.
The serpent undulated in happy figures of eight, weaving itself round her legs, up her legs, round her waist, and it was a very nice serpent, despite its legs, not at all cold and slimy, but warm and smooth to the touch. Gently, it urged Eve closer and closer to the tree, whispering that once she’d eaten, she would know as much as God, and why should a dude with a lot of hair and a matching beard call all the shots, huh?
“Why not a pretty lady like you instead?” it hissed, and Eve definitely thought it was onto something here. Besides, she really, really wanted to know what Adam dreamed about each night. She rached for the closest apple. It fell, ripe and round, into her hand.
“Yummy, yummy,” the serpent said, caressing her hips with his coils “And you know what they say, don’t you? An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
“Never mind. Once you’ve eaten it, you’ll get to know everything about doctors.” It snickered.”Good one,” it said to itself, attempting a high-five with its stunted little forelegs.
The moment she bit into the fruit, she was overwhelmed by the sensation that this was a bad, bad idea. But it was too late for regrets, and the apple was delicious, even more so because it was forbidden.The world around her changed. The trees, hitherto so permanent in their bright green foliage, acquired a hue of gold, and what was that, a leaf drifting to the ground? “Death,” the serpent hissed. “As of now, you and all your kind is mortal. There’s a price to everything dear Eve, and you aint seen nothing yet.”
“Death?” She watched the leave shrivel. she raised her hand to her face, and the skin was no longer quite as radiant. “You’ll grow old and wrinkled,” the serpent informed her, and she knew it was speaking the truth. “But him, your Adam, he will remain as he is, and he won’t want you when your body sags.” It laughed. “Best feed him some of that apple, hey? Old men lose their eyesight, you know.”
Yes, she did know. She knew everything now.
“You wish.” The serpent coiled itself tighter around her. “He will be pissed off, and you will be punished.”
“Why me?” she asked. “Why not you?”
“You’re the woman, soon enough you’ll be the seductress that tempts Adam to taste. Cherchez la femme, as the French say.”
Eve didn’t understand. But she did know it was right; she would tempt Adam, she had to, making them both equally guilty in the eyes of God.
That dear people, is not how things worked out. God called a little meeting – not because he didn’t know what had gobe down (being omnipotent and all-seeing has its advantages) but because he wanted to hear what they had to say.
Adam blamed Eve. She’d played the “do it if you want to get laid” card, and being a man, he’d gone along with it.
“Did you?” God asked Eve. She squirmed and concentrated on adjusting her new figleaf. With knowledge had come a desire for more modesty.
“So what?” she finally replied. “I just took a leaf out of Lysistrate’s book.” God pinched His nose, thinking it had been a very stupid thing to do, to encapsulate all knowledge in one tree and its fruits.
“And just so you know,” Eve went on, “the serpent tricked me!”
“That would presume you didn’t know you were disobeying me,” God said.
“Umm…” Eve looked contrite.
God pronounced judgement. The serpent got off real easy, losing only his stunted legs. Mind you, he wasn’t too happy about it, objecting loudly at having to drag his beautiful shimmering coils through the dust. Adam and Eve were banished.
“Eh, what?” Adam said, looking quite panicked. He knew for a fact things were pretty dismal out there, having peeked now and then.
“You heard.” God made a shooing motion with his hand. “Off you go, use all that new knowledge you’ve got to build a new life somewhere else. Good luck with that, by the way.”
“But this is her fault, not mine! Send her off!”
“Afraid I can’t do that. You know, what God has joined together, let no man put asunder and all that.” God looked at Eve. “But she will be further punished.”
Eve quaked, standing very quiet as God told her that from this day forth, woman was condemned to give birth in pain and to always live under the dominion of man. Fortunately, since then us ladies seem to have crawled out from under the male thumb, but the having babies part is still very far from being a walk in the park.
One can only imagine just how strained relations betwen Adam and Eve were after these events. And life outside of Paradise was tough, even more so when the babies came. Plus there was the whole mess with Cain and Abel, showing neither Adam nor Eve had much of a role model in the parenting department. That’s what you get when you mould people out of clay – or a rib.
Over the centuries, Eve has been portrayed as the ultimate seductress, the woman who brought Original Sin into the world. It was Eve’s example that had early Christian Church fathers conclude that women were indeed a weaker vessel, much more prone to sin and spiritual mischief than men. Women had to be kept on a short leash, their evient carnality controlled by their male betters. (Or exploited. Quite often exploited, one suspects) Women were called such fun things as “the devil’s gateway” or the “sting of the scorpion”, and collectively women were blamed for having brought death into the world, thereby indirectly causing Jesus’ death. (I know, a HUGE mental leap)
Eve’s transgression formed the theological base used by such nasties as Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger to promulgate the theory that witches were mostly female, as expressed in the Mallus Maleficarum. Over time, our legged serpent evolved into being Satan himself, coming down to tempt that lustful creature, woman, to sin. Rarely did anyone stop to consider that Eve’s behaviour was that of a person willing to step beyond boundaries and explore the unknown. Where Adam was happy to sit about all day and just enjoy his perfect status quo, Eve longed for change, for evolution. Makes me think that if it hadn’t been for Eve, we would have been a very, very dull bunch. Makes me think Eve would have fitted right in with us today, ever curious, ever open for new possibilities, new insights. Just saying…
These days, few of us have a portrait of Adam and Eve on our walls, and even less do we refer to them as our ancestors. After all, many of us are far more comfortable identifying a long dead half-ape, half- human lady nick-named Lucy as our progenitor rather than admit to maybe – maybe – believing God had a finger in the pie. An apple pie, of course.