Likewise, other passages create more problems than they solve from a modern perspective: "Why did Rachel remove the teraphim, the sacred images, when she left her father's house? Why Rachel and not Leah, the eldest? Teubal, though, points out that if these events are viewed in terms of the fundamental humanity of the individuals involved, their actions and motives becomes more clear to modern observers. "These episodes, and many others in the Genesis texts, are bewildering only if they are seen as occurring in a patriarchal society." Notwithstanding the high regard that women were almost universally provided in terms of their supportive counsel and motherly devotions, these attributes did not carry with them any sense of social authority in a patriarchal society, but were rather confined to the homes of the individuals involved. According to Teubal, "The vivid stories depicting Sarah's removal of Ishmael from the line of inheritance, Rebekah's triumph over Esau, and Rachel's appropriation of the teraphim despite Laban's agitated effort to retrieve them clearly show the effort by fathers and husbands to gain control of a non-patriarchal system existing at the time." Similarly, the matriarchs in Genesis are portrayed as being fully cognizant of the erosion of their rights as kinswomen. The picture of the women as headstrong and emotional suggests a later explanatory slant by the redactors who were compelled to deal with strongly non-patriarchal traditions in a patriarchal society.
In these so-called patriarchal narratives, the family's descent is traced through the mother; however, matrilineal descent has not generally been taken into account by scholars who were trying to justify the marriage of Sarah and Abram. Here again, there is some evidence of succession by the youngest (ultimogeniture) identified in Genesis in the narratives as well as the genealogies that can be drawn from them. For instance, the famous lists of "begettings" were originally compiled by priestly scribes in an effort to change the pattern and trace the descent of the Hebrews exclusively through the male line.
Male Influences on Linguistic Interpretations. According to William E. Phipps, the earliest of the biblical writers-based some of their language on those of people who lived in Western Asia long before the Hebrew patriarchs. These subtleties in language differences may have helped contribute to much of the difficulty modern readers may have in understanding how the specific form of Genesis evolved and ended up the way it did today. While much of the biblical text has been interpreted and reinterpreted over the years in a "Bible by committee fashion," the vast majority of what these committees used as a basis for their interpretation was the product of the early Semitic cultures. Phipps reports that these early biblical writers used "lh," which is the root for the name of deity in several Semitic cultures. For instance, this form resulted in the well-known Allah (alilah, the-God) of the Quran; likewise, in the Hebrew Bible, El refers occasionally to the deity worshiped by the Israelites. However, in the Old Testament, there is a clear preference shown for "Elohim," a composite term for deity that Phipps suggests may have been developed through merging El with Eloah (-ah is a feminine suffix) and adding a plural (-im) ending.
Walther Eichrodt explains that the plural term "Elohim" was employed by these early writers "to express the higher unity subsuming the individual gods and combining in one concept the whole pantheon." Therefore, the term "Elohim" suggests the inherent essence of individual male and female deities who had been incorporated into a single divine entity. In this regard, Elohim is used in the Holy Bible about 2,500 times to communicate the unified totality of the godhead, and the term is therefore ordinary accompanied by a singular verb. "Serving as the generic term for deity, Elohim could have provided either a female or a male reference. As a result, the Israelites called goddess Ashtoreth (Astarte) an elohim of the Canaanites."
Recognizing the androgynous components of the name Elohim may also help contemporary readers to better understand the difficult Genesis 1 passage that relates the story of human creation. There, Elohim announces, "Let us make humanity in our image, after our likeness"; thereafter, text states, "Elohim created humanity male and female in the divine image." Here, Phipps suggests that the pronouns "us" and "our" may be leftovers of an earlier form of polytheism. Apparently both genders had been incorporated into the divine form of this name because the human sexes were both reflected in the image of Elohim. Since this form of the deity is considered to be inclusive of the favorable personal attributes that are found in both sexes, it would be as faithful to the Genesis affirmation to say that "God made woman in her own image as to say God made man in his own image."
Male interpreters of the Bible had tended to overlook the important features concerning the feminine and the divine name until feminist publications emerged in the 19th century that pointed out these inconsistencies. For instance, Elizabeth Stanton used her experiences and research over the course of a lifetime of feminist efforts by gathering scholarly women to assist her with a new interpretation in a book which they entitled, The Woman's Bible. Concerning the image of God passage in Genesis 1, Stanton reported:
It is evident from the language that there was consultation in the Godhead, and that the masculine and feminine elements were equally represented.... The masculine and feminine elements, exactly equal and balancing each other, are as essential to the maintenance of the equilibrium of the universe as positive and negative electricity, the centripetal and centrifugal forces, the laws of attraction which bind together all we know of this planet whereon we dwell and of the system in which we revolve.
The liturgy concerning Genesis 1-3 is central to the discussion about how men and women have been regarded through the ages because it was largely through this vehicle that the theological implications of Adam and Eve have been perpetuated.
According to Anderson, Jews and Christians have frequently read the Genesis narrative not as a history of one-time events, but rather as the beginning of a complete story within salvific history that has influenced Christians and Jews alike down to the present day. "For the Jews, Eden foretells the revelation of the law at Sinai and the redemption of Israel. For the Christians, the 'happy fault' of the first humans was the start of humankind's redemption through Christ's atonement. Just as Christ was the second Adam, Mary became the second Eve." Clearly, the treatment of the women of Genesis 1-3 has served as the basis for the respective roles men and women have been assigned over the years, but modern women have been reluctant to accept this biblical interpretation across the board since it is inherently male biased and is fully blown of patriarchal whim.
The research showed that the manner in which women were portrayed in the Old Testament in general, and in Genesis 1-3 in particular, have played a key role in shaping the respective roles of men and women throughout the Western world to the present day. On the one hand, "Within the framework of the Old Testament, these stories are a bridge between pre-history and history, between legend and fact." On the other hand, they provide modern readers with a fascinating glimpse into how and why men and women have been relegated to assigned roles within a cultural framework, and just what is required to challenges and overcome these powerful authoritative sources.
Bacon, Benjamin Wisner. 1892. The Genesis of Genesis. Hartford, CT: The student publishing co.
Bruno, J.E. 1973. God as Woman, Woman as God. New York: Paulist. In Phipps, 1989.
Eichrodt, Walther. 1961. Theology of the Old Testament. Philadelphia: Westminster.
Headlam, Walter. 1934. "Prometheus and the Garden of Eden," Classical Quarterly 28, pp. 63- 7. In Phipps, 1989.
Orlinsky, Harry M. 1968. Ancient Israel.
Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Phipps, William E. 1989. Genesis and Gender: Biblical Myths of Sexuality and Their Cultural Impact. New York: Praeger Publishers.
Renna, Thomas. 2003. Gary A. Anderson. The Genesis of Perfection: Adam and Eve in Jewish and Christian Imagination. Utopian Studies, Volume 14, Issue 1, p. 149.
Seters, John Van. 1992. Prologue to History: The Yahwist as Historian in Genesis. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press.
Stanton, Elizabeth (ed.). 1895. The Woman's Bible. New York: European Pub. Co. In Phipps, 1989.
Teubal, Savina J. 1984. Sarah the Priestess: The First Matriarch of Genesis. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.
The Holy Bible, King James Version. 2004. Online Text: Blue Letter Bible. Available: http://www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/Gen/Gen001.html.
Zornberg, Avivah Gottlieb. 1995. Genesis: The Beginning of Desire. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
John Van Seters. 1992. Prologue to History: The Yahwist as Historian in Genesis, p. 2.
Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg. 1995. Genesis: The Beginning of Desire, p. 3.
Benjamin Wisner Bacon. 1892. The Genesis of Genesis, p. 51.