Blaming Eve Alone

I became a follower of Jesus in the mid 1970s and my first Bible was the Revised Standard Version (RSV). In fact my first two Bibles were RSVs. When my second RSV was worn out from use I began using other English translations, first the NASB and now the NIV 2011, as my main Bibles.

I still recall reading Genesis 3 for the first time in the NASB and learning that the man was with the woman while she was being deceived by the serpent (Gen. 3:6). I wondered why this piece of critical information had previously escaped my attention. Now I know why. The RSV simply leaves out, and doesn’t translate, the Hebrew prepositional phrase עמה  (pronounced immah) which means “with her.” The RSV is not the only translation guilty of this omission.

In the Winter 2013 edition of the Journal of Biblical Literature is an article written by Julie Faith Parker entitled, “Blaming Eve Alone: Translation, Omission, and Implications of עמה in Genesis 3:6b”.[1] In this article Parker examines the grammar of עמה and the inclusion, or exclusion, of the word in the Vulgate and in English translations. Her article addresses an important issue because, as Parker puts it, “Bibles that do not mention that Adam was ‘with her’ facilitate interpretations that excuse the man and condemn the woman.” The following is a summary of Julie Parker’s article. I have used her chapter headings.

I. Eve’s Assumed Guilt

There is a widespread belief that the woman was, and is, solely guilty for the downfall of mankind. Parker demonstrates this with a few quotations from ancient Jewish and early Christian writers, and, in footnotes, with quotations from modern scholars who have investigated attitudes towards Eve. One of the quotations Parker gives is from Ben Sirach: “From a woman was sin’s beginning, and because of her, we all die” (Sir 25:24). Another quotation is from Tertullian: “You are the one who opened the door to the Devil. You are the one who first plucked the fruit of the forbidden tree, you are the first who deserted the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not strong enough to attack. All too easily you destroyed the image of God, namely, man” (Cult. fem. 1.1). Parker also quotes 1 Timothy 2:13-14 and adds, “The Christian canonization of such misogynist interpretation has guaranteed its place in exegetical history.” While I have an interpretation of these Bible verses that is not misogynistic,[2] these verses in 1 Timothy have been used by many others to assert that women are morally inferior and more gullible than men.[3]

It is more difficult to put all the blame on the woman, and see her as innately defective, when we understand that the man was there with her while the serpent was speaking and that the man ate the forbidden fruit with her. Some interpretations and readings, however, presume that the man was absent when the deception took place and explicitly state this. These readings include John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, the apocryphal Life of Adam and Eve, and 2 Enoch.

II. The Significance of עמה

In chapter II Parker writes about the grammar and significance of עמה. But she first points out another important clue from the text which indicates that the man was present when the serpent spoke.

Parker notes that in the Hebrew text of the conversation between the serpent and the woman both speakers consistently use plural verbs that can be translated as: v. 1b: “you [pl.] shall not eat”; v. 2b: “we may eat”; v. 3a: “you [pl.] shall not eat,” and “you [pl.] shall not touch”; v. 3b: “lest you [pl.] die”; v. 4b: “you [pl.] will not die”; v. 5a: “you [pl.] eat”; v. 5b: “you [pl.] will be”).  She adds, “This repeated use of Hebrew plural verbs could create the impression that Adam is beside Eve throughout this scene. In modern English, however, the plurality is lost with the second person pronoun ‘you,’ which obviously can indicate one or more.”

Despite the use of plural verbs, Parker acknowledges that “Adam is never directly mentioned, addressed, consulted, or acknowledged in any way in Genesis 3 until Eve gives him the fruit in v. 6b.” However she believes that the use of  עמה (“with her”) “resolves any lingering ambiguity about the man being with the woman when she eats.”

Parker refers to several Hebrew grammars and grammarians which comment on עמה in Genesis 3:6. For example, “Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar cites this phrase as an example of a preposition qualifying a noun appositionally and interprets לְאִישָׁהּ עִמָּהּ in Gen 3:6 as ‘her husband who was with her’ (GKC §131t).” There is a consensus among grammarians as to the meaning of the phrase, and “commentators spanning centuries affirm the significance of עמה in Gen 3:6b”, but, at the same time, commentators deny its plain meaning. For example, Calvin, in his commentary on Genesis, “finds the text’s translation straightforward and recognizes the significant role of עמה. Nonetheless, he dismisses Adam’s presence as ‘by no means credible’.” 

Parker mentions other commentators who, while agreeing with the meaning of “with her”, suggest that this should be understood differently. They pose the question, “If Adam really was ‘with her’ why didn’t he do something to stop the situation?” These commentators understand that if Adam was with Eve, did nothing to intervene, and ate the fruit at the same time as Eve, then he is equally culpable. Few commentators seem willing to take the text at face value and accept that Adam was present while the serpent was speaking. Parker notes that “commentators who expound on Eve’s solitude and sin are legion.”

Parker makes another important observation in that all ancient manuscripts and translations of Genesis 3:6 include “with her”. Moreover the Septuagint and the Samaritan traditions pluralise the final verb “and they ate”. This presents a scenario where the couple act together.

III. Translation that do not convey עמה

Parker begins this chapter with: “Jerome’s Latin translation, the Vulgate, dates from the late fourth to the early fifth century C.E. and is the first source to refrain from relaying that Adam was ‘with her’. Jerome renders Genesis 3:6b as: deditque viro suo qui comedit “she gave to her husband who ate”. Jerome worked from both the Hebrew and Greek Old Testaments  which include “with her”, so his decision to leave it out of his Latin translation appears deliberate. Parker makes some comments here about the observations of Jane Barr on Jerome’s translation, and she includes this quotation from Barr: “whenever Jerome approached a passage where women were involved his usual objectivity deserted him, and his translation became less precise, and, not infrequently, biased.”[4]

Jerome’s translation of Genesis 3:16b is given as another example of his gender bias.  Parker gives the Hebrew, the Greek (LXX), the Old Latin, and Jerome’s version – along with their English translations – of Genesis 3:16b. Instead of “your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you” or “your turning will be to your husband . . .”, Jerome has increased the force and scope of this verse with his translation of et sub viri potestate eris et ipse dominabitur tui, “you will be under the power of men and he will rule over you”. Parker notes that, “In addition to altering the story for subsequent commentaries, Jerome’s translation sets a precedent that continues to the present.”

Parker lists fifty English translations of Genesis 3:6b, ranging from Wycliffe’s and Tyndale’s translations to several contemporary translations published this century. The Bibles were a random collection which include those of evangelical, Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic publishers. Parker observes that over one-third of the Bibles on the list do not specify that the man was “with her”. This omission is a problem as scholars and ministers may rely on inadequate translations for their commentaries, preaching and pastoral work, and subsequent translators may be influenced by incorrect translations and perpetuate errors. Conversely, Parker also gives examples of English translations which go beyond the original text in order to emphasise and draw attention to the man’s presence in Genesis 3:6b.

IV Omission of עמה in the RSV and NJPS

In chapter IV, Parker focuses on the translations of Genesis 3:6b in the Revised Standard Version and in the 2000 edition of the Tanakh published by the Jerusalem Publishing Society (NJPS).[5] Both these translations “explicitly aim for formal equivalence translations. As their own writings testify, these biblical scholars seek to adhere closely to the original languages and to correct earlier translations.” Considering their clearly stated aims, the omission of “with her” in Genesis 3:6b is concerning.

The Old Testament in the RSV is primarily translated from the Masoretic Hebrew Text, and it follows and revises the English translation of the Authorised Version (1901). The NJPS Tanakh is translated from the Leningrad Codex of the Hebrew Old Testament, and revises the earlier 1917 edition of the Tanakh known as JPS (as it was published by the Jerusalem Publishing Society.) Both the Masoretic Text and the Leningrad Codex include עמה in Genesis 3:6b, and the Authorised Version includes “with her”.

Parker gives information about the translation teams of the RSV and NJPS in chapter IV, and she provides two images of notes made by the RSV translators during the translation process which indicate that the decision to omit “with her” was deliberate. But I found the following paragraph especially interesting as it shows how עמה is used elsewhere in the Old Testament, and that it is usually translated and included in the RSV and NJPS, Genesis 3:6b being an exception.

Nearly every other time that עמה appears in the Masoretic Text referring to a female character, the translators of the RSV and NJPS convey it in English. The RSV consistently translates עמה as “with her” and the NJPS usually agrees. In Ruth 1:7, the NJPS stresses proximity by rendering עמה as “accompanied by.” In 1 Kings 3:17, both the RSV and NJPS seek to clarify the Hebrew עִמָּהּ, בַּבָּיִת by translating, “while she was in the house.” 1 Kings 17:20 also invites some translational license as מִתְגּוֹרֵר עִמָּהּ becomes “with whom I sojourn” (RSV) and “whose guest I am” (NJPS). Yet in all these verses, עמה is translated into English with some suggestion of togetherness. The only other instance besides Gen 3:6 where either of these translations refrains from conveying עמה in English is the NJPS translation of Exod 18:6b: וְאִשְׁתְּךָ–וּשְׁנֵי בָנֶיהָ, עִמָּהּ “with your wife and her two sons.” Although the NJPS does not translate עמה as “with her,” the idea of accompaniment has already been conveyed by the first “with” of the clause. The NJPS translators appear to find “with her” redundant in Exod 18:6b—and in Gen 3:6b. However, in the latter verse “with her” offers crucial information.”

V. Conclusion

Jerome and the translators of the RSV appear to have omitted “with her” intentionally, other translators may have left it out unintentionally. Either way, there is meaning and clarity in this short phrase that is lost when omitted. The man was indeed “with her” in Genesis 3:6. We are given the woman’s excuse for eating the forbidden fruit: she was deceived (Gen. 3:13).  We are not given the man’s excuse, but this in no way justifies that all the blame be placed on the woman alone.

Parker concludes her article with, “Blaming Eve alone brings considerable consequences not only for understanding Genesis 3:6, but also for generating ideas about women. The case of עמה in this verse shows why scholars who translate biblical texts must do so fully and accurately. Translators should beware of imposing androcentric biases and should guard against linguistic choices that skew the text against women.”

Julie Parker’s article is important because it highlights that the woman was not alone during the deception and the eating of the forbidden fruit, and that the man and the woman may well have acted together. It is also important because it exposes a long running gender bias among Bible translators and commentators who sometimes use their words to adversely increase the force and scope of Bible verses that are then used to suppress and oppress women.

Parker comments that her “academic discourse remains largely beyond the purview of most people who know the story of Adam and Eve”. My hope is that this summary of her important investigation and findings gain a wider audience beyond academia. I strongly recommend this well researched and well argued article which can be read here.


Endnotes

[1] JBL 132, no. 4 (2013): 729–747.

[2] I suggest that the intent of 1 Timothy 2:13-14 has been misunderstood and misapplied.  More on this here and here.

[3] For example, in commenting about 1 Timothy 2:12ff, Donald Guthrie writes, “. . . Paul is concerned primarily with the inadvisability of women teachers, and he may have in mind the greater aptitude of the weaker sex to be led astray.” The Pastoral Epistles, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1957, 1984), 77. This incorrect, low view of the abilities of women continues among too many Christians.  The qualities of discernment and astuteness are not tied to the masculine gender.

[4] Jane Barr, “The Vulgate Genesis and St. Jerome’s Attitude to Women,” in Papers Presented to the Eighth International Conference on Patristic Studies Held at Oxford, 1979 (ed. Elizabeth A. Livingstone; StPatr 17; Oxford: Pergamon, 1982), 269.

With thanks to Bob MacDonald who pointed out Julie Parker’s article to me. Bob blogs at Dust.  (This post of his relates to Blaming Eve Alone.)
Image: Extract from Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach 1472-1553 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


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