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The Androgynous Adam: Sex and Sexuality in the Garden

13th February 2011

Claude Mariottini, over at his eponymous blog, drew our attention to a couple recent books on the Bible and Sex, Michael Coogan’s God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says (New York: The Hachette Book Group, 2010; buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com) and Jennifer Wright Knust’s Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011; buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). I have not had a chance to examine either book, so I’m not going to say anything about them. I did, however, want to comment on Mariottini’s quick dismissal of Knust’s notion that the first human was androgynous and only later sexually differentiated. He notes:

Her premise is that the story of creation of the first human person in Genesis 1 was a case of androgyny, that is, that the first person was both male and female and had the genitals of both sexes. Then, in the creation story of Genesis 2, the sexes were separated and this separation created sexual desire in human beings. This desire drives man and woman to have sex so that they can become one again.

This view that God’s original plan for his creation was that a human person would have two sexes in one body is the creation of a fertile mind that finds no support in the Bible. Knust bases her view on ancient Jewish interpreters who were trying to explain why there are two creation stories in Genesis.

Knust’s interpretation is so radical that she reinterprets what the Bible says in order to present a modern view of sex and sexuality that is a complete departure from what the Bible has to say and teach.

The notion that the original human was androgynous (or something similar) isn’t a new idea, nor perhaps is it so radical. Rashi, a 10th century Jewish interpreter, suggested the first human was male on one side and female on the other and that God had simply divided the creature in half (compare the similar idea of Aristophanes, brought to Mariottini’s attention by David Reimer). Perhaps the most well know biblical scholar to champion a similar notion recently is Phyllis Trible, who presented this idea in her masterful, God and Rhetoric of Sexuality (Fortress, 1986; buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). Using rhetorical analysis and a close reading of the text, Trible argues that God created the first human without gender, “the adam” [human] was formed from “the adamah” [humus]. Rather than a man, “the adam” was an “earth creature”  (as an aside, there is a great play on words in the biblical text: “Yahweh Elohim formed the earthling from the earth” or “the human from the humus”).  Not until the woman is built from the side of the earth creature does the original human being acquire gender. Now Trible’s interpretation has some basis in the biblical text. Despite most modern translations, the use of “adam” in Genesis 2 is not a personal name. The biblical text does not have “Adam”, but rather “the adam” (‏האדם), i.e., the human, or the like. And it is only in Gen 2:23 (after the building of the woman) that text text refers to humanity as “male” and “female” (‏אישׁ and ‏אשׁה).

Now, that being said, I don’t agree with Trible’s interpretation. It’s just that I don’t feel like I can dismiss it out of hand. The biggest problem with her interpretation is that throughout the entire narrative, “the human” is referred to as “the-adam” (‏האדם), Even after the creation of the woman in 2:23, the creature is still referred to as “the-adam.” It is only later that the human male is unambiguously referred to as “Adam” (i.e., as a proper name; without the definite article). So I guess I don’t really disagree with Mariottini’s ultimate conclusion, though I’m not sure I would be too dogmatic. When it comes right down to it, I’m not sure we should press the biblical text too much in this regard. The point of the narrative is not to comment on the original sexuality of the human, but rather to celebrate the creation of the woman as a suitable counterpart for the man.Richardson, Flame of Yahweh

While we are talking about the Bible and sex, I should note another fairly recent publication on sex and the Bible:  Richard M. Davidson‘s Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Hendrickson, 2007; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com).  This almost 850 page volume is the most extensive discussions of sexuality in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible available. Compared to  Coogan and Knust, this work is quite conservative, though it will probably remain unchallenged for a while in terms of comprehensiveness.  (In case you are wondering, the title of the volume is derived from Davidson’s somewhat unique understanding of Song of Songs 8:6).

You should check it out.


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