Read Mark 10:2-16
The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, "Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?" They were testing him. He said to them in reply, "What did... Read More…
Meet Sister Camilla Burns
Camilla Burns, SNDdeN is a Professor at Trinity Washington University. Prior to that she taught at Liverpool Hope University. Read More…
Everybody knows the story of the origin of Adam and Eve (Gen 2:4-24) and everybody has fixed ideas about it. Familiarity breeds stereotypes, mistakes and in this case misogyny. Our first reading today proclaims male superiority and female inferiority for woman as the rib of man (2:21-22) and taken out of man (2: 23). The woman has a derivative, not an autonomous existence. Man names woman (2:23) and thus has power over her. Man leaves his father’s family in order to set up through his wife another patriarchal unit (2:24).
Through the groundbreaking work of Phyllis Trible (God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1978), scholarship has accepted a new understanding of this text which I share today. The significant words that change the interpretation are in transliterated Hebrew: Adam (ha-adam) and Earth (ha-adamah). By close inspection, you can see that the word for Adam is imbedded in the word for Earth. We have traditionally translated ha-adam as Adam because that is what it sounds like in Hebrew. In English it is translated as man. The prefix ha is a definite article and is neither a particular person nor the typical person but rather the creature from the earth – the earth creature. Life began with the oneness of the earth out of which God formed the earth creature (2:7), trees (2:9), animals and birds (2:19).
So we read: “God formed the earth creature, dust from the earth, and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life (2:7).” Our reading today begins with the end of the account where “God said, ‘It is not good for the earth creature to be alone I will make for it a companion corresponding to it. And God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the earth creature and, while it slept, took one of its ribs and closed up flesh at that spot. …and the earth creature said: this, finally, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. This shall be called woman (ishshah) because from (ish) was taken this. The earth creature is now a man (ish) and a woman (ishshah).”
Up until this point, all of the material for creation came from the earth (ha-adamah). Now the material is from the earth creature which causes it to change character. The making of the sexes is intrinsic. This act alters the very flesh of the earth creature: from one come two. After this the earth creature is no longer identical with its past and for the first time has a new name and employs direct discourse. The new creature produced from its rib is female, receiving the name ishshah (woman). The earth creature also as a new identity of ish (man). The division of the earth creature has produced male and female.
The earth creature describes the woman as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (2:23). These words speak unity and equality. “His sexuality depends on her even as hers depends upon him. For both of them sexuality originates in the one flesh of humanity” (Trible, p. 99).
In these times when cosmology has awakened us to the fundamental unity of the cosmos this translation puts us in the trajectory of the oneness of all creation. It is congruent with our common origin in the primordial Flaring Forth of the energies from which the entire universe is derived.
The Genesis reading and Gospel are “bookends” of the story of humanity. The Genesis story describes the sanctity of one becoming two. Jesus reverences the sanctity of their union in marriage when the two become one, “they are no longer two, but one flesh.”