Friday, 24 August 2012

The woman Eve, so good Adam named her twice

Recently I have been putting together some thoughts on the first three chapters of Genesis for a short course at our local churches.
One of the things we dealt with yesterday was the ‘naming’ of the woman in Genesis 2:23,
“This time it is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh;
this then shall be called ‘woman’,
for ‘from “man”’ was she taken this time.”
First, let’s deal with the translation of this verse. The above is my own concoction from comparing the Hebrew text with a number of English translations. The term translated ‘now’ (“this is now”) by the NIV indicates elsewhere an occurrence in a sequence (Gen 18:32; 29:34,35, etc). The reference is back to the previous ‘attempts’ to find a suitable companion for the man, “But for Adam no suitable helper was found” (2:20b).
Most English translations then opt for ‘she’ in the second line: “she shall be called ‘woman’” (NIV, ESV, ASV etc). However, the Hebrew is a masculine singular. I must admit to puzzling over the fact that it is a masculine, not feminine, singular since the reference is ostensibly to a feminine object. If anyone can help me out, I’d be grateful.
There are, however, three occurences of ‘this’ in the three lines. It is the first word of the first two lines and the last word of the last line. Young’s Literal Translation takes it that the reference of the ‘calling’ is back to the action referred to in the first line: “This is the proper step! ... for this it is called ‘Woman’ ...”. And whilst the translation may be awkward, it seems to me to have some merit. Thus I wonder whether the verb should not be taken as referring to the first of these, hence my suggestion “this then”, which tries to encompass both the woman and the action.
Punctuation is, of course, additional to the Hebrew text, but the inverted commas are put in to highlight the special nature of the words ‘woman’ (Heb ishshah), and ‘man’ (Heb ish) — the woman being literally a ‘from-man’ being. For both words, this is their first occurrence in the text, and thus it may be suggested we have here two ‘namings’.
But there are some who would question whether we have any naming at all. One such is Ian Paul, in what has become quite a popular work in some evangelical circles. For Paul this is a particularly important issue, since it might have bearing on the egalitarian-complementarian debate:
... it might be argued that the adam’s earlier naming of the animals emphasizes his authority over them (2:19-20), and that when God brings the woman to him (at which point we can truly speak of man and woman) he also names her. However, there is an important distinction between the two events. (Paul, Ian. Women and Authority: The Key Biblical Texts. Cambridge: Grove Books, 2011, 7)
Thus he continues,
The man grants each animal a name, using a naming formula ‘its name shall be called ...’ and none of these is a suitable helper. But in 2:23, instead of granting the woman a name, he recognizes who she is as ‘woman,’ as one taken from ‘man’; the Hebrew phrase is quite different: ‘of this one it will be said “woman.”’
There are a number of comments which can be made in response, however, both to Paul’s detailed remarks and to the overall suggestion.
First, we may note, but must reject (as in fact Paul himself rejects it in the same work, see page 6), any flirtation with the idea that what God originally creates should be understood as an andorgynous being — an ‘adam’ of indeterminate gender, rather than a man. Phylis Trible is a particular advocate of this in her book God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. The idea, however, finds no real support in the text. Not least, we may note the remark in 2:22: “and he (God) brought her to the man (Heb ha adam). There is no change in Adam’s being (beyond the loss of a rib).
Secondly, despite Paul’s assertion above, there is actually no use of a ‘naming formula’ anything like “its name shall be called ...” earlier in the text. Where the animals are named, 2:19 reads, “And he brought them to the man (ha adam) to see what he would call it, and everything which he, the man, called each living creature, that was its name.”
In fact, the earliest (and indeed strictly speaking the only) use of the precise formula, “his name shall be called” that I can find in the Old Testament is the rather Pythonesque Deuteronomy 25:10: “And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed.” (ASV)
We do, however, have earlier instances of ‘calling’ something by a name:
“God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’” (1:5, NIV)
“God called the expanse ‘sky.’” (1:8, NIV)
“God called the dry ground ‘land,’ and the gathered waters he called ‘seas.’” (1:10, NIV)
In each case, the verb ‘to call’ is in the ‘qal’, active (perfect or imperfect), case: “he called”.
By comparison, in 2:23 the verb is in the ‘niphal’ case, indicating a passive or reflexive voice: “it (or she) shall be called”.
As we have seen above, Paul argues that this is “quite different” from the namings that have gone before, having the sense of identifying, rather than imparting, the name. Rather than the traditional “she shall be called” of most English versions, the meaning is, as he puts it, “‘of this one it will be said “woman.”’” Adam is not ‘naming’ the woman, but recognizing what she would be known as.
A comparison with other uses of the verb in this form shows that there could, in other circumstances, be some support for this conclusion. Thus we find the following:
“No longer will you be called Abram ...” (Gen 17:5, NIV)
“... you will no longer be called Jacob ...” (Gen 35:10, NIV)
“... the prophet of today used to be called a seer.” (1 Sam 9:9, NIV)
The niphal ‘shall be called’ is clearly not the same as the qal ‘he called’. Yet it is overstating things to deny that the former can in any sense be used with reference to naming. Consider Isaiah 1:26:
“I will restore your judges as in days of old, your counsellors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.” (NIV)
Or again Isaiah 62:4:
“No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. (62:4, NIV)
In these instances at least, the qal form of qārā comprises what might be called a ‘pronunciation formula’: “You will be known as ...” And it is hard to deny, certainly in the case of what God says, that such pronunciations are authoritative.
Moreover, when we come back to Adam in Genesis 2, God delegates the task of naming to the man: “He brought them to the man to see what he would name them ...” (2:19). This is particularly significant when we recall that all the earlier instances of naming were acts of God himself.
The pronouncement of Adam in 2:23, therefore, could be seen as no less ‘authoritative’ than those pronouncements of God we have observed in Isaiah: “This then shall be called woman” is comparable to “You will be called the City of Righteousness” or “You will be called Hephzibah”.
We might also add that since Adam is the only person around at this point in time, the obvious implication is that this 'being known as' begins with him. He is not picking up on what others are saying! In effect, therefore, his, "This then shall be called ...," is the same as, "I will call ...". (We might also add, by way of completeness, and contra Paul's suggestion above, the text does not tell us what he said regarding the animals. Does this not mean that, for all we know, he could have said of each animal, "This shall be called ..."?)
In any case, there are two other features of the narrative that need to be taken into account. The first is the clear parallel between 2:19 and 2:22. In 2:19 we read that God formed (Heb yātsar) the animals from the ground and brought (Heb bō’) them to the man, followed by a naming. In 2:22, God builds (Heb bānāh) the woman and similarly brings (Heb bō’) her to the man. Our natural expectation is that a naming will again follow — this is, after all, the climax of the hunt for the ‘suitable helper’ that began in 2:18.
To deny that 2:23 is a naming would not only go against the obvious flow of the narrative, but would indeed leave an unresolved tension.
Furthermore, we have noted the occurrence of previous, undisputed namings, in chapters 1 and 2. In chapter 1 God names five things in the natural world. In chapter 2, the act of naming is handed on to the man. The giving of names to the animals is thus a sixth naming act. Taking this line, the pronouncement regarding the woman in 2:23 is the seventh — and therefore the ‘perfecting’ or ‘completing’ — act of naming. At this point the tension introduced by the ‘not good’ pronouncement of 2:18 (in contrast to the seven ‘goods’ of chapter 1) is finally resolved.
For those who are still troubled by the fact that this is a naming at all, we would repeat our observation that it is, strictly speaking, a ‘double’ act — both ‘woman’ and ‘man’ are used here for the first time. However, we regard it as indisputably, and indeed in the flow of the narrative importantly, a naming.
That brings us to the second naming of the woman, in Genesis 3:20: “And he called, Adam, the name of his wife ‘Eve’ ...” Many, including Ian Paul himself, interpret this negatively. Thus regarding God’s words to the woman in Genesis 3:16 (“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”, NIV) he writes,
It is immediately apparent that this is no longer the harmonious equality of Genesis 1-2, and indeed the man immediately expresses his rule by naming the woman Eve, this time using a phrase similar to the naming formula used for the animals. (Ibid, 8 — note once again the reference to a 'naming formula' and see the comments above)
For Paul as for others, this is an act of, in his words, ‘domination’. In our view, however, this is a serious misreading of the text.
To begin with, contra what Paul writes above, the words of 3:20 obviously do not follow “immediately” on the words of 3:16. What intervenes after 3:16 is significant to our reading of 3:20, in particular the words at the end of 3:19: “for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
It is these words, not the words of 3:16, which should control our reading of the text of 3:20. (In any case 3:16 is patent of a different interpretation from the one assumed by Paul — see Susan Foh, ‘What is the Woman’s Desire’, Westminster Theological Journal 37 (1974/75) 376-83. Paul lists this in his references, but seems to take no account of her conclusions.)
The text has brought us to the final pronouncement of the ‘curse’ God warned would follow on disobedience in 2:17: “when you eat of it, you will surely die” (NIV). It is then that Adam names his wife ‘Eve’, “because she would become the mother of all the living” (3:20b, NIV).
This is surely not an act of domination but a prophetic expression of hope! I have often commented, when teaching on this passage, that there are any number of names a man might have been tempted to call a woman in such circumstances. Indeed, history is repleat with readings of the text that would suggest some ripe examples.
Adam had earlier blamed Eve and God between them for his own sin and downfall: “The woman you put here with me — she gave me some fruit from the tree ...” (3:12). Now he has been told that he (and by implication all his descendants) will die. Yet immediately (to use Paul’s phrase) he calls the woman chavāh, ‘Eve’, for she will become the ‘mother of all the chay (living)’.
Rather than being a ‘domineering’ act in keeping with a certain (though in my view false) interpretation of 3:16, this is not only an extraordinary insight but an act of both repentance (necessary to the change of heart towards the woman) and grace (since she has not actually done anything to deserve this). Adam recognizes, and in giving the name openly acknowledges, that the solution to the problem of death lies not with him but, ultimately, with the woman. What God has said to the serpent will indeed be true:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. (Gen 3:15, NIV)
This is rightly called the protoevangelium — the ‘first gospel’ — and it is expressed in Eve’s name. What Adam sees is the good that will come via her, something so good he names her twice.
John Richardson
24 August 2012

PS: for those who might not get it, the title reference is to New York, N.Y, the city that, as the song has it, is 'so good, they named it twice'.
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  1. Maybe said this before...

    At one point I subscribed to Susan Foh's interpretation of 'desire for husband...rule over you'. Now, I am not so convinced (nothing to do with egalitarian leanings, I remain patriarchal). I simply note the parallel with Adam/Serpent. What seem to be in focus are the painful consequences of the fall they will experience rather than any sinful skewing of their natures.

    I wonder too if sinful skewing of their natures is appropriate at this point in Genesis. A define hardening such as this may be too early in the narrative and open God to criticism.

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  3. Perhaps it is the beauty of a religion heavily reliant on a large – and sometimes conflicting - mass of Scripture, that you can get it to say whatever you want it to say. Salafi - and many other flavours of – Muslims and various branches of Judaism likewise spend ages pawing over this or that verse of scripture, getting it to say whatever needs to be said for the political and social present. I find it curious that much is made of a few sentences of a Bronze Age folk tale – that from the syntax and parsing a phrase here and a phrase there, we are to find some common sense logic for the ordering of the world. The presumption is, of course, that the story is a record of factual events, tho’ none of us, even those of us who claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit – that supposed enabler of a Dictaphone -like memory – can remember verbatim the events and conversations of yesterday, let alone a detailed monologue or set of events – investigate a crime and you’ll see just what a poor recorder the memory is! Moreover, as any serious student of history can attest, history is often told to suit the needs of a particular political present rather than any real concern with actual events.

    What I find difficult – and I am writing here not to be clever, or objectionable, but to express my very real difficulty in looking at the Bible in the manner you have done in the above post – is that there seems to be a certain degree of cherry picking, when it comes to what the Bible says. At present (in the West at least) the vogue seems to be for passages from Scripture that validate of a right of centre, often reactionary, world view. A quarter of a century ago, when I spent four years among the pews of a conservative Evangelical church, the bias was towards preaching a mildly left-wing social gospel (muted of course – women and poufs still had to know their place!). Then there was a reaction against Thatcherism. Whatever there was some species of ‘Contrarian’ politics, fuelled by a cherry picking of the Bible for its mention of social justice and a bias to the poor.

    Now, twenty-five years on, we have seen a swing to the right among the pews of England – particularly in those churches of a conservative hue. So it seems no surprise, to me at least, that Scripture likewise is marshalled into providing evidence to support such a view. Obviously, my academic interest is more sociological than theological, but I think it is possible to provide evidence for this shift. How and why this happens is what interests me. Yet this academic interest aside, I think what your own method of Biblical exegesis reveals is my lack of belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible – and I suspect this is the main reason why neither you nor I can understand each other’s worldview.

    As an aside, re: the fact ‘woman’ is rendered as masculine singular in Hebrew mentioned in the above; I have puzzled over the fact the word ‘virgin’ – parthenos – is likewise a masculine singular in Greek. Do you think this denotes in ancient cultures that women were seen as the possession of men?

    Re-posted as there was a crucial typo needed correcting!

  4. Peter, I feel obliged to say to you, when you write of "a few sentences of a Bronze Age folk tale", that you need to have the Spirit to hear the Spirit. Nothing I say will every persuade you, or anyone else, of the living voice of God in his written word, other than the experience of hearing that voice speaking to oneself.

    All the rest, as they say, is indeed commentary.

  5. BTW I think you'll find parthenos is normally taken as a second declension feminine: ἡ παρθένος.

  6. John- to somehow claim that you have the spirit and Peter does not reminds me of other arguments in the New Testament and the Church ever since. None of them are very edifying.
    Your two recent posts about Eve provide an interpretation - one amongst others. I read them both and was left with one overwhelming question afterwards: so what?

    Andrew Godsall

  7. Has this thread gone dead?

    Andrew, your last comment is bizarre.

    1st, it's bizarre because of some of your claims to how the church "listens" to the Spirit, meaning that the rest of us have mis-heard him, as indead has the best part of global/historical Christianity... a big claim. Either that or the Spirit is very unclear, or bit of both. The Apostles & early church couldn't hear him, but now, some in synod etc. can.

    2nd, actually Peter is openly rejecting God's normal means of revelation, his word about himself. It seems, from the what Jesus does on the road to Emmaus, Paul's prayer in Eph 1, etc, we need our hearts open to see him in Scripture. A very basic starting point at least, must be that God is there and through the Bible we can know him/about him.

    What Peter was doing, openly (which is fine & straight forward), is rejecting revealed religion. John's saying, we've got very different starting points.

    Now, you can dismiss that as a load of tummy rot. But that's fairly basic historic Christianity, isn't it? & to assume any tricky bits, the problem is with us, not the text.


  8. just had a quick look at the gender issue of the nifal - I suspect it is an idiom in that there doesn't appear to be an occurrence of 3fs nifal for קרא in the MT. We find a potentially similar construction in Isa. 1:26 with an implied feminine subject. The lamed preposition seems to be what determines the subject so I suspect this would be translated rather woodenly as 'it shall be called/said regarding X "Y" , or, in better English 'X shall be called Y'
    Otherwise I enjoyed the article and found it stimulating. Thanks John.

  9. Thanks Ben. I'm having a bit of trouble with the Hebrew search setup on my version of Logos so I couldn't have done that if I'd tried! What software did you use?

  10. Heresy!! Shouldn't that be a Bible FAITH man??? NOTHING you say is worth listening to! You are so WRONG.

    Sorry, for a moment there I thought I was posting in the comments section of a blog.

  11. I'm confused by this:

    "Most English translations then opt for ‘she’ in the second line: “she shall be called ‘woman’” (NIV, ESV, ASV etc). However, the Hebrew is a masculine singular. I must admit to puzzling over the fact that it is a masculine, not feminine, singular since the reference is ostensibly to a feminine object. If anyone can help me out, I’d be grateful."

    Surely the "she" renders זאת, the feminine form of the demonstrative pronoun זה? What is the masculine singular to which you refer? Or am I missing something?

  12. Martin, thanks. I've gone back and looked again and I think at the time I was seeing complications where there probably aren't any. The 'she' indeed is the 'zath' ("she"). My confusion related to the verb which is יִקָּרֵא (yiqare), which is a masculine singular. However, Alastair Haines has written in the Facebook thread that, 'The passive verb for being named is masculine as you noted, but as in impersonal passive it would be "it" rather than "he". Hence, I take it, what Adam said was, "It will be called womankind".'

    That would seem to cover it, I think

  13. For the benefit of those reading this, it is worth point out that I think John misreads me here, and doesn't answer the question I pose.

    Does the phrase 'She shall be called woman' imply an authoritative act of naming of the woman by the man? I argue it does not, since it bears no resemblance to naming acts which might be interpreted this way. I don't think John offers any evidence that it does.

    Given the strong sense of equality in the phrase 'suitable helper', it is clear than Gen 2 does not set out a gender hierarchy, unlike Gen 3, which I think does.