Adam and Eve and Lilith
If I had an opportunity to change one issue related to women and how they experience Christianity, I would go to the past and start with Adam. I believe that the entire concept of modern gender roles and female status in religion as well as in their social life would be different if Adam initially was a feminist. Moreover, this new alternative theology would be impossible to exist without discussing Adam’s interactions with the opposite sex. In this paper the feminine gender will be represented by Eve and Lilith.
Most of us know a famous Biblical story about Adam and Eve, the first people on earth created by God to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (The Holy Bible, KJV). Also, many heard about a woman named Lilith who on the basis of some legends was Adam’s first wife, given to him before Eve.
According to the legends, Lilith is a Mesopotamian night demon, and in the same quality she is mentioned in the book of Isaiah, King James Version. The idea of Lilith as Adam’s wife first appeared in the medieval times. The myth tells that she was created from clay (or from fire, in some interpretations) as well as Adam; therefore she claimed they are equal as were created in the same way. Lilith became, to some extent, a symbol of feminism, because refused to submit to a man. After she had escaped, God gave Adam more appeaseable wife who was created from Adam’s rib and agreed to help him in everything and follow him everywhere.
We are not going to focus our attention on whether Lilith and Eve ever met or not, how demonic Lilith was, or about her later incarnations. Let’s talk about what would happen if Adam was supportive to the feminism philosophy from the very beginning, or at least followed the principles of gender equality.
Let’s start with the very first reference on human creation in the Bible, saying that
“God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them” (The Hole Bible, KJV).
The word ‘man’ here can be interpreted as a human in general. Now, we have two humans created as equal entities. They have obvious physical, as well as emotional and spiritual differences directly related to their earthly predestination as future father and mother, but nothing says that one is better or higher than another.
Since Adam was a first man, he definitely had enough power and authority to influence everything around him, even the power to change things, as long as with his mortal life he received a gift of free agency. Moreover, by receiving the assignment from God to be in charge of the earth, he should have definitely shared those responsibilities with his wife. This idea finds its roots in feminism, because we all understand that the one who receives more knowledge and more rights definitely become having wider range of duties. Obviously, sharing responsibilities leads to redistribution and rearrangements of our daily burdens from one person’s shoulders, making it twice easier to carry.
Adam, like any other male believer, was commanded by God “to leave his father and his mother, and… cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (The Holy Bible, KJV). The word ‘cleave’ sounds great because points at Adam’s commitment to support his spouse in everything as well as she agreed to do the same for him as was said above. Thus, we have equal rights for men and women, with equal opportunities and equal portion of responsibilities towards each other as well as towards the society.
It is so unfortunate that such simple principles of equality and mutual service stated in the very beginning of the scriptures as primary commandments given by God to humanity are often misunderstood or ignored in many religions. We are not going to talk about Middle Ages when a woman was considered evil for only being a woman. Neither will we discuss celibate and other extreme examples of male attempts to demonstrate how much they don’t need women. Instead, we keep our focus on Adam’s times and will continue forming our theology according to the knowledge that Adam had already had, trying to foresee the consequences of his feminist behaviour.
Talking about Adam’s wife we can go further and imagine that God took the best from Eve and Lilith, and then integrated them into the unified whole. Independence of Lilith together with submissiveness and tenderness of Eve would make a great combination. They both represent two sides of the feminine nature mistakenly separated into opposites. One is independent, confident and strong, the other is soft, submissive and appeaseable. In history, the traditional patriarchal cultures were mostly dominating; they promoted those opposites to keep their control over women. Consciously or unconsciously, they were teaching how bad it was for a woman to be bold, smart and decisive. On the contrary, a submissive, weak, dependent woman was good in the eyes of men, including church leaders, and, obviously, good in the eyes of God.
For this reason, we can unify personalities of both Adam’s wives, namely those of their qualities which are complementary to each other. This new wonderful woman becomes a true cоmpаnion to man and his mаsculinity, a woman who is complete in her femininity, the one who is independent and devoted, strong and tender, dignified and humble.
Now we come to the concept of a perfect family where the couple raises their children as equal partners with God as the third part, the one who guides and inspires them. As a man and a woman, they both have different qualities essential for fulfilling their predestined roles although with time the round of their duties was becoming more and more vague. They don’t quit fulfilling them; they stand by each other making such duties available to both partners. However, in many cases following patterns established by God is not such an awful thing to do as long as it is agreed in the couple by mutual consent.
The Bible contains many stories where the woman’s role is strictly framed (e.g. Abraham’s family) as well as those where woman is praised and admired by nations (e.g. the story of Esther whose courage saved great number people). Nevertheless, remembering how many times the Bible was re-written and thinking about numerous transformations initiated by human that this book has endured, we can still adhere to the point that God’s initial purpose was to create two bodies with the divine spirits inside who are equal and complete one another.
All further misinterpretations occurred due to our human imperfections, and particularly because of false traditions of male dominion. For example, Joan Borysenko writes that in male-dominated religions “God is a jealous, punitive white Anglo-Saxon male with a long beard and a longer arm lacks appeal for many contemporary women” (Borysenko, 2001). It is true, for many women the look of God and the personal perception of him are absolutely different.
Now let’s back to the very beginning of the word of God given to both men and women. In the book of Genesis we read that
“God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing and creepeth upon the earth.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them” (The Holy Bible, King James Version).
Again, in these verses, by saying ‘man’ God means ‘human’, and he immediately creates the two ones distinguishing them as “male and female”. Furthermore, we can assume that Eve, being the one who ate the forbidden fruit, did it for their good, because without eating it and learning how to make love those two people could in no way keep God’s another commandment, “to multiply and replenish the earth”. Eve makes the right choice and comes to Adam saying that she is going to be separated from the presence of God.
At this moment Adam acted as a feminist following his wife who, according to the word of God, had to be cast out of Eden and live into the scary imperfect world since then. What a brave woman she is! As for Adam, it also took lots of courage to “cleave to his wife to be one flesh”. This concept sounds unusual comparing to the common interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve’s fall, but this is a real belief in the one of contemporary churches.
Along with the Biblical application of our new theology discussed above, it actually does not really fit into certain feminist theologies. We have to agree with Joan Borysenko that
“some of today’s women theologians are trying to re-create a women’s oral tradition exploring and reimagining biblical stories from a woman’s prospective” (Borysenko, 2001).
This story about Adam and Eve and Lilith has interesting interpretations received from the famous contemporary feminists Judith Plaskow and Helen Umansky. They, of course, do not base their approaches on the point that Adam was a feminist. Plaskow, in her book “The Coming of Lilith”, retells the legend pointing at Adam’s and Lilith’s creation in equal conditions, and Adam’s refusal to accept it. Then she writes about Eve that
“though she occasionally sensed capacities within herself that remained undeveloped, was basically satisfied with the role of Adam’s wife and helper” (Plaskow, 2005).
According to Plaskow, while God and Adam were strengthening their male ties more and more, Eve was left alone. She suddenly realized that “she was a woman like herself” and started climbing an apple tree where met Lilith. They became friends and after that “God and Adam were expectant and afraid the day Eve and Lilith returned to the garden, bursting with possibilities, ready to rebuild it together” (Plaskow, 2005). The writer pictures Eve independent from Adam and God, claiming that her power is formidable.
Ellen Umansky finds this story an excellent example of the transformation from Jewish myth into something totally different. Unlike Plaskow, she does not accept the Lilith’s demonic origin and suggests that this fact was made up by Adam to prevent Eve from meeting his ex-wife and befriending with her. Umansky accepts the traditional assumption of Eve’s creation from the rib of Adam but rejects the idea that Eve had accepted and was satisfied with her role (Umansky, 2005).
In the last century feminism became a part of Christianity. Since then, all scriptures, ordinances and beliefs were reconsidered from this perspective. New opportunities were opened to females expanding the horizons of their service to God. The possibility to participate in church leadership and to perform ordinances is truly a remarkable thing. The traditional vision was changes, for example, in relation to marriage, abortions, and, of course, on sharing church positions with females.
The very idea that Adam was a feminist leads us to the conclusion that he did not really need two wives. By having only one, by treating her as she deserves through allowing her to make her own choices, and – what is more important – by establishing this pattern for all the next generation until the present time, a great difference would be made. It means that “Adams” who live in the 21st century would respect women’s right to serve God at their full capacity and to apply their talents and spirituality. They would remember about the equality of genders and their interdependence. Social discrimination would not even be an issue as well as racism, sexual harassments and other violations of human rights.
Talking about the acceptance of the doctrine we just formed, the traditional church would definitely be against it. That is one of the reasons why people in general and women in particular choose to join other churches that are more open to new ideas and more flexible and adaptive to both male and female needs. Those churches pay now more attention to the woman’s role in the congregation than ever before.
To sum up, if Adam was a feminist, this world would look a lot different today. Modern Adam would support his wife not only financially, but also spiritually and emotionally remembering how important the unity is for a couple. He would tell her she needs a good education; she needs to develop her talents and natural skills given to her by God.
The key point is that he would give her freedom to act, to feel, and to choose. She can apply her skills and knowledge by making a good career, apply her spiritual gifts by serving at church in different qualities, and/or apply her other talents by doing her home duties, raising children, having hobbies, etc. , and these all should be up to her. She is the one who chooses how to built her life, who chooses the way for herself while her husband is ready to provide his support anytime she needs. At the same time she still remains his loving devoted wife as she always was.
Borysenko, J. (2001). A Woman’s Journey to God. Riverhead Trade
Umansky, E. (2005). Creating a Jewish Feminist Theology. Plaskow and Christ, Weaving
Plaskow, J. (2005). The Coming of Lilith: Toward a Feminist Theology. Plaskow and Christ, Womanspirit
The Holy Bible (King James Version)