Mending the World of Patriarchy

Genesis 1 is an account of the Creation, whereas Genesis 2-3 is an account of the creation of patriarchy--a remarkably truthful account.

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Adam is the only creature whose sexuality the text notes--that is, describes as male and female. This suggests a sexuality unlike that of the animals. Moreover in both 1:27 and a summary in 5:1-3, the mention of adam's maleness and femaleness is immediately followed by the proclamation of its divine image, as if our diverse sexualities and our kinship with God were linked. Rather than our sexualities being dissimilar to God or excluded from the divine image, they seem to point toward some element in the divine nature, some divine attribute--creativity or delight, perhaps, or the longing for an Other--for which our embodied sexuality is the metaphor.

Genesis 2 and 3 tell a darker tale. Here we learn why Adam is called adam. Multiple puns are evoked by the name: kinship with adamah (earth or soil) out of which adam is fashioned, association with the color red (adom) like the ruddy sunburnt skin of the worker and the red earth he was created to till, and resonance with blood (dam), the red life-fluid. Unlike in Genesis 1, however, in 2:7-3:20 the term adam refers to the man. The woman is never called adam but only ishah (woman), "for this one is taken from man" (2:23). Together they are ha-adam v'ishto, "the human and his woman," for the first man represents both the male particular and the generically human.

As the verb "built" (2:22) attests, the creation of woman differs from other creations. The dual adam of Genesis 1 is created (bara) by divine word, and the adam of Genesis 2 is fashioned or molded (yatzar) by a divine potter. The woman is constructed (barah) out of part of an existing creation. An afterthought, created when adam finds the animals unsatisfactory for mating, she is meant to be ezer k'negdo, literally "a helper over against him," that is, opposite him or corresponding to him. The serpent appleambiguity in the expression foreshadows an ambivalent relationship. Is she against him or for him? A challenger or an "other" who mirrors him and merges with him? Awakening, adam claims her as part of himself: "bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh" (2:23). He does not appear to recognize her otherness, nor does he address her. Her only recorded conversations are first with the snake, then with God. Finally, at the end of the chapter, adam names her as he previously named the animals. It does not occur to him to ask her what she calls herself.

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Rachel Adler

Rachel Adler, a feminist theologian, earned a Ph.D. in religion and social ethics from the University of Southern California jointly with Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles, where she now teaches.