Rev. Jessica Palys
So in the beginning, God hovered over the waters of chaos, creating heaven and earth, and pronounced it good. God created things to fly in the sky and swim in the sea, and then living creatures of all kinds on the earth, and called that good. God then made humankind in their image, commanded they be fruitful and multiply, and called that good. And then God said it was not good for man to be alone, and so God created ‘woman’ from Adam’s rib and called that good. Then God created the snake, who spoke to Eve in the garden, and called that good. And…wait. That’s not exactly right…
I remember the day that I learned there were 2 full and distinct creation stories in Genesis that, in the words of Elizabeth Cady Stanton in The Woman’s Bible,
“The first account dignifies woman as an important factor in the creation, equal in power and glory with the man. The second makes her a mere afterthought. The world in good running order without her. The only reason for her advent being the solitude of man.” […] “It is fair to infer that the second version, which is found in some form in the different religions of all nations, is a mere allegory, symbolizing some mysterious conception of a highly imaginative editor.”
I remember how tempting it was to resolve to ignore that second one, the one that’s been used over the centuries to craft the doctrine of original sin, to paint all women as ultimate temptresses, and to clobber the LGBT community with obnoxious proof-texting about the first family being a man and a woman, no exceptions - when in fact in just one chapter back is full of contradictions and a God who is plural and genderless.
And yet, I find I can’t just resolve to ignore the second creation story, because there is redeeming beauty to be found in this passage, a passage that has parallels in just about every ancient aboriginal society, when we look closely at the language and translations. First of all, what we colloquially refer to as Adam refers to the word adamah; the deity sculpted ha-adam, “the human” out of ha-adamah, “the earth.” The original wording tells us adam was not a man, but an earthling, and sex was not determined until there was a partner created.
And that brings up the second important translation; “I will create him a helper as his partner.” The word ‘partner’, so often inferred to be subordinate or subservient or simply second to the first created earthling, is no such thing. The Hebrew word used here for partner, Ezer Kenegno, is a word used elsewhere in the bible for God. And in the original language, God did not pull a rib but rather took a tsela, a ‘side’ of the earthling and built a second earthing from one half of ha adam. God made a partner not subordinate, or less than, but someone in God’s image who would be an equal partner for the earthling, someone who can help the way God helps the earthling - with company and support.