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Adam and Eve: Caught in the Missionary Position

“To your man’s body, your belly will rise, for he shall be eager above you.” Genesis 3:16, as written by the original author, known only as J (for Jehovah). Compare this with the traditional version from the King James Bible: “And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Very different meaning, wouldn’t you say? A vivid description of the sexual act vs. women being submissive to men?

In order to understand Genesis, people must first understand the author and her intent. Yes, her, according to Harold Bloom in “The Book of J.” Biblical scholars believe the OT has several authors, just like the NT, and have named one of them “J.” J is the primary author of Genesis, but her writing was later edited or redacted by others. Bloom attempts to reconstruct J’s version by sorting through the various styles found in Genesis and by using David Rosenberg’s interpretation of Genesis as written by J

Bloom’s reasons for believing J is a woman are too long to include here, but here is his introduction of her: “For reasons I will expound, I am assuming that J lived at or nearby the court of Solomon’s son and successor, King Rehoboam of Judah…My further assumption is that J was not a professional scribe but rather an immensely sophisticated, highly placed member of the Solomonic elite, enlightened and ironic. But my primary surmise is that J was a woman, and that she wrote for her contemporaries as a woman, in friendly competition with her only strong rival among those contemporaries, the male author of the court history narrative in 2 Samuel.”

According to Bloom, J was a fiction writer. “…whether we speak of the Hebrew Bible or of the Old Testament, we are speaking of a work that takes as its original the writing of J….Yahweh, in the Book of J, is a literary character, just as Hamlet is. If the history of religion is the process of choosing forms of worship from poetic tales, in the West that history is even more extravagant: it is the worship, in greatly modified and revised forms, of an extraordinarily wayward an uncanny literary character, J’s Yahweh.”

Bloom continues, “The largest assumption of nearly all writers on the Bible is that it is a theological work, as well as historical and literary. J was no theologian, and rather deliberately not a historian….J tells stories, portrays theomorphic men and women, links myth to history, and implicitly utters the greatest of moral prophecies to post-Solomonic Judah and Israel. Yet J is something other than a storyteller, a creator of personalities (human and divine), a national historian and prophet, or even an ancestor of the moral fictions of Wordsworth, George Eliot, and Tolstoy. There is always the other side of J: uncanny, tricky, sublime, ironic, a visionary of incommensurates, and so the direct ancestor of Kafka, and of any writer, Jewish or Gentile, condemned to work in Kafka’s mode…….J’s cognitive power is unmatched among Western writers until Shakespeare, yet J, converted to the official uses of the rabbis, priest, ministers, and their scholarly servants, is made to wear black cloth, hardly appropriate garb for that ironic and sophisticated lady….”

Bloom discusses how J’s brilliance and intent were glossed over and hidden by later editors and redactors. They also changed the meaning of much of her work. Bloom does not champion women in his interpretation but much of it favors women, including J’s use of women as heros and men as fallible. (Her version of Yahweh is also fallible.) We’re all familiar with Judaic and Christian teachings about Eve, especially God ordering her to be submissive to Adam and being punished for causing the downfall of mankind.

Bloom’s concept is far different. Bloom views Eve as Adam’s equal, perhaps even as superior because she was the only creature in Eden to be made from an animated being rather than clay. J’s tale of Adam, Eve and the serpent does not contain any evil, per Bloom, only mistakes by Yahweh for leaving them vulnerable, then becoming jealous because they may have stumbled onto knowledge that would make them divine. “Let us begin by dismissing all Pauline and Augustinian interpretations that find here the vision of a fall, a vision that began in late Judaism in texts like 2 Esdras. J never speaks of a fall from a higher to a lower level of being. The man and the woman suffer terribly in J, but they are not degraded to a lesser level of being. J does not see their fate as a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ but as a seriocomic mishap for which they are only barely responsible. ‘When we were children, we were terribly punished for being children’ might be called the essence of J’s story.”

J was a monist. Per Harold Bloom, in The Book ofJ, “…denigration of the human is alien to J’s spirit. Adam is fashioned out of the adamah, or red clay, as a tribute to the earth, and so as a tribute to humankind. There is no “Fall” for J, as we are about to see, because for J there is nothing fallen about nature, earthly or human….There is for J no split between body and soul, between nature and mind.

For J, Eden was not a locale but a state of being. “….an earliness now forever forsaken….Paradise is always ‘there,’ and our knowing is ‘here,’ but our being is split off from our knowing and so it is possible that we still abide in Eden….The cost of remaining in Paradise fully was ‘not knowing good and bad,’ and here the difficulties of understanding J have been enormous, since so many thousand of exegetes have read J’s ironic narrative as a story of sin or crime and its appropriate (or incommensurate) punishment.”

J does not view the serpent as evil but playfully offering Wisdom to Eve (with Adam at her side and just as curious) “Again the normative misreading has reduced this issue to the knowledge or consciousness of sexuality, but J has too healthy a view of human sexuality for such a reduction to be relevant or interesting. Good and bad is no less than everything, freedom and the limits of freedom, self-knowledge, angelic, almost godlike. When you know yourself, you know your own nakedness, but the consequent shame has no sexual overtones, difficult as normative tradition has made this to acknowledge. To open one’s eyes is to see everything, all at once, and so to see oneself as others might see one.

Yahweh’s reaction is in line with this view. He is alarmed that Adam and Eve will become his equal by eating from a second tree: “‘Look,’ said Yaweh, ‘the earthling sees like one of us, knowing good and bad. And now he may blindly reach out his hand, grasp the Tree of Life as well, eat, and live forever.” This verse makes it clear we were created mortal, that being mortal is not a punishment or a fall from grace. Further verses make it clear the expulsion was to block their access to the Tree of Life, rather than to punish for sexual sins.

The Book of J is a lively read that is thought provoking. It is refreshing to read a new interpretation of Eden. It brings the reader back to the innocence Eden should evoke as Adam and Eve frolic in their new setting.

A complete reconstruction of J’s original version is included in the text.

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