Open just about any Christian Bible and in the first few chapters you’ll be introduced to the characters Adam and Eve. Open a Hebrew Bible, on the other the other hand, and you’ll met Adam and Chavah. A rose called by any other name may smell sweet, but Eve is not as sweet as Chavah. The differences require a little digging into history; symbolism archeology, if you like.
The full story of Adam and Eve can be found here: Genesis 1-3
Eve in English vs Chavah in Hebrew
In English, Eve’s etymology comes from the word evening, thus symbolises the impending darkness of the night. So too, Christian interpretations of Eve tend towards viewing her as a femme fatale who is responsible for Adam (the perfect male) falling into the darkness of sin.
The Jewish name Chavah literally means the mother of all life, which brings with it positive associations of nurturing, creativity, and the joy of living. When Chavah is united with her husband, Adam (humankind), the symbolic embodiment of the two represents human experience, for everyone whether they are male, female, or other.
Why the difference? Essentially, Christianity focuses on the physical while Judaism focuses on the metaphysical.
Christian Traditions of Adam and Eve
Historically, Christianity has taught that Adam and Eve were real people. In 1950 Pope Pius XII reiterated this belief and boldly stated: “the sources of revealed truth” support the doctrine of “original sin” which began in the garden of Eden “from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam”.
The idea of “original sin” stipulates that humans have a natural inclination to disobey God as evidenced by Adam and Eve. The doctrine was introduced into Christianity in the second century by the Church Father Irenaeus. It continued to be developed for centuries, thus in the 1200s, St Thomas Aquinas intensified attitudes of Eve’s role in the disobedience by drawing parallels between her and women’s so-called inferiority in general.
Essentially, because a woman ate an apple offered by a talking snake (which one must presume was also real if Adam and Eve were), then encouraged her partner to do the same, all generations have suffered ever since. The solution offered by Christian doctrines is Jesus:
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. Corinthians 15:22
Just as Christ is described as being the New Adam, Mary is identified as the New Eve, albeit there are no clear Bible verses to say this.
Over the centuries, some Christian mystics who have attempted to suggest Adam and Eve are allegorical (like the Gnostics) have been declared heretics, excommunicated, faced inquisition trials, and subjected to forms of suppression.
Feminists have long argued that viewing women in the extremes of Eve – an evil woman who corrupted her man – and Mary – a virgin who dutifully followers instructions – is a construct of a patriarchal society, not God’s will.
In relatively recent history it would appear that God has heard the feminist message too, and has responded through Pope Francis. In a 2013 speech he shocked his audience by saying Adam and Eve were literary devices (like hell). Equally surprisingly were his comments: “We must recognise that religious truth evolves and changes. Truth is not absolute or set in stone.” While I’m not entirely sure what he meant by truth can change, I’ll take his words as being sentiments that indicate the Church is taking a few good first steps away from its patriarchal history.
Eve in Psychoanalysis – Carl Jung
Carl Jung is founder of the theory of so-called universal symbolism and collective consciousness. He viewed ancient stories as being representative of psychological truths and attempted to prove this theory by comparing ancient texts. I have a certain amount of respect for Jung’s research (even though he once agreed with Freud that young children were capable of seducing adults into having sexual relationships with them). Overall, his research is impressive considering he conducted it without the aid of the internet.
Jung had many things to say on the topic of Adam and Eve, as an example:
… substance and matter divides into four, corresponding to the four elements […] From the mixing of the four parts there arose the devil, the “archon of this Aeon,” and the psyche of this world. […] God unfolds himself in the world in the form of syzygies (paired opposites), such as heaven/earth, day/night, male/female, etc. The last term of the first series is the Adam/Eve syzygy.Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 2): Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, page 254
In my humble opinion, the above quote is typical of Jung blending half-truths with confirmation biases. The idea that “God” and the “psyche of this world” can be defined through polarities completely overlooks the capacity for limitless creativity that any Creator-Being and the creative functions of human mind can achieve; the making of symbolic references in mythology and folklore is a creative process, not a dogmatic process that is limited to syzygies of paired opposites.
Jung’s dichotomous approach to defining God’s role in the world is erroneous because it neglects the messy grey areas of being human. Despite this oversight, Jung’s recognition of the role the four elements played in ancient belief systems is commendable because this a point that many other researchers miss. Moreover, references to the four elements can be seen in the story of Adam and Eve, even though the main characters are not polarities.
Eve in Psychoanalysis – Jordan Peterson
As I’ve said before, the problem with Jungian psychoanalysis isn’t so much what he said, but how his theories have been interpreted and oversimplified by others. Jordan Peterson, who is sometimes referred to as a guardian of patriarchy and the stupid man’s smart person, is a classic example of someone who has failed to integrate principles of ancient theology into the reading of Biblical symbolism. For example, Peterson suggests that Eve, as a psychological archetype of real women, demonstrates a feminine disposition of making men feel self conscious:
“Now, no clear-seeing, conscious woman is going to tolerate an unawakened man. So, Eve immediately shares the fruit with Adam. That makes him self-conscious. Women have been making men self-conscious since the beginning of time. They do this primarily by rejecting them—but they also do it by shaming them, if men do not take responsibility”Jordan Peterson
This insight is absolutely genius … if one ignores the fact that it can also be said that clear-seeing, conscious men can and do make unawakened women feel self conscious … and they have done so since the beginning of time … likewise men reject and shame women who do not take responsibility (for their behaviour, words, emotions, and so forth.)
Peterson, like Jung, uses confirmation biases. He views everything through the syzygies of opposites; chaos and order, masculinity and femininity. In a nutshell, his arguments are straw men.
While Adam is often denigrated, it is Eve who usually cops the most flack. From patriarchs, psychoanalysts, and clergy, her symbolism (as a real or mythological figure) is not favourable. Feminist attempts to revaluate the narrative have generated some smoke but not put out the fire.
Potentially, the most powerful counter arguments to the demoralising depictions of Adam and Eve, may come from Islamic scholars of the Dark Ages.
Adam and Eve in Islam
Sachiko Murata, author of The Tao of Islam, has extensively explored Muslim traditions of Adam and Eve as they are presented in the Koran. Murata’s research extends far back into Islamic history, with particular emphasis on Sufic mysticism. One of her references is the fourteenth century Persian, Mahmud Kashani, who eloquently describes Adam as being a representative of Universal Spirit and Eve a representative Universal Soul:
"Just as Adam's existence in the visible world is the locus of manifestation for the form of the Spirit in the unseen world, so also Eve's existence in the visible world is the locus of the manifestation for the form of the Soul in the unseen world."
This archetypal approach to understanding human psychology in an ancient narrative continues with the explanation that the marriage between Adam and Eve is symbolic of the whole human race:
... the existence of Adam and Eve is a transcription of the existence of the Spirit and the Soul. Moreover, in each human individual another transcription has been coped from the transcription of Adam and Eve's existence, ie., through the marriage of the particular spirit and the particular soul, the birth of the heart from these two.
Murata notes that other Islamic scholars have said similar sentiments only they have used the terms “Intelligence” and “Soul”, for Adam and Eve respectively.
The original language of Genesis is Hebrew, and Hebrew is a gendered language in which all objects and concepts are referred to as being either male or female irrespective of features. Unlike some other gendered languages (Greek, German, and Italian), it does not have any neutral nouns. Missing this point could lead to misunderstanding Biblical imagery as being polarised by syzygies when it is only the language that is polarised, not the actual symbolism or ideas that are being expressed.
Adam, as a noun that is symbolic of Spirit, is potentially as masculine as a sock, house, or information. Likewise, Eve, as a noun that is symbolic of Soul, is potentially as feminine as a frying pan, notebook, or truth.
The Jewish Chavah
If only Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten that apple then humankind will have been saved from sin!
Alas, according to Hebrew traditions recorded in the Torah, the poisoned fruit that gave humans knowledge of good and evil is thought of as a fig, not an apple. It only became an apple in Christianity because the Romans, when translating the Bible during the fourth century, decided to “improve” it by adding a little pun: malus in Latin is a homophone that means both apple and evil. (The Word of God cannot escape literary codes and conventions.)
The change from Chavah to Eve, and fig to apple, signify deeper issues of how the original story of Adam and Eve has been modified when it transitioned from Judaism to Christianity.
The Jewish faith has both an oral and a written tradition. Orthodox Jews who follow the written version are prone to believing literal interpretations of Adam and Chavah, thus may adhere to similar assumptions that are in mainstream Christianity. In contrast, oral Torah traditions explain the narrative through a system more like the Sufic Islamics. Or more precisely, since Judaism came first, it is fairer to say, Islamic (and Christian) mysticism correlate with the oral traditions of Judaism.
Jewish Soul Theory
To understand how the symbolism of Adam and Chavah, it is useful to keep in mind the spiritual constitution of humans as described by Kabbalah:
- Nefesh, Breath or material principle of vitality/life, the lowest level of consciousness
- Ruach, Divine Spirit/Wind – vitality / with strong emotions
- Neshama, Breath/conscious life or Godliness, the conceptual grasp of the intellect
- Chaya, Life, Divine Energy, an aspect of the soul
- Yechida, Singularity, Oneness, Holy One, corresponds to the level of soul called Adam Kadmon
Genesis as an Allegory
Overall, the Book of Genesis can easily be understood as being an allegory of the spiritual evolution of humans before anyone was physically incarnated on the earth. Direct references to Jews interpreting Adam and Chavah as Spirit and Soul like in Sufism are scarce. Nevertheless, by going through the Bible verses, the theory can be substantiated. (Disclaimer: I’m not Jewish so my humble apologies in advance to my Jewish friends for any transgressions).
It begins in chapter 1 when we are told God created humans (in a spiritual dimension):
And God said, Let us make Adam^ in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. God created Adam in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Genesis 1:26-27 ^ Adam is generally translated as "man" or "mankind" in English versions.
The above quote is indicative of humans of any gender being created in a spiritual dimension prior to being created in the physical. Additionally, it could be read as God being both male and female, therefore, humans are also both genders. A third explanation is that the passage is alluring to Adam’s first wife, Lilith, but I’m going to skim over this point in favour of focusing on Adam and Chavah.
Regardless of precise interpretation, the quote can be recognised as having inferences to the theory of the four elements of earth, water, wind, and fire. The first three are somewhat obvious: “the fish of the sea” (water), “the foul of the earth” (wind), and “the cattle” and “every creeping thing” upon the earth (earth). The fourth element, fire, is not so obvious. Arguable, by following the Jewish consideration of asking what is not said?, it can be implied that “Adam” is the representative of fire.
Fire is the most complex of the elements. It alludes to warmth, light and, like the sun, supports growth and life. Hence, “Adam” having “domination” over all other elements is a subtle signifier of this element.
In the next part of the story, we are told “Adam” is placed in a garden surrounded by rivers and is told to work and take care of this place:
A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
The verse, once again, alludes to the elements. The most obvious being the element of water noted by the naming four rivers*. The element of earth is also presented by the commentary on gold, aromatic resin (a substance that flows from plants), and onyx (precious stone). If Adam is symbolic of fire, then the only element missing is wind.
In chapter 2 of Genesis we see the next step in the creation process whereby “Adam” is created a second time, on this occasion he is formed from dust, therefore suggesting a blending of the elements earth and fire.
Then the Lord God formed Adam^ from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. Genesis 2:7-8 ^ Representative of all humans, not only males.
The components of a human become a little more challenging to interpret at this point. In addition to references to some of the elements, God’s breath of life is another piece that needs to be added to the puzzle. At the simplest level, this breath of life may be interpreted as the element of wind, although it could also be nefesh. Adam’s state of being in oneness with G0d he may also be viewed as being imbued with yechida. Thus, the simple theology of the four elements is complicated by other spiritual components.
The story then progresses to the creation of a woman who is made from the Adam:
Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib (or other part of the body) he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” Genesis 2:22-23
It is important to note at this point in the narrative the “woman” is not Chavah. Rather, she is part of Adam that has domination over the elements of earth, water, wind, and fire, just like he does. By default she may also be considered as being endowed with nefesh and yechida. Arguably, her differences may be viewed as being the expressions of Ruach and Chaya, and she may be viewed as having an alignment with wind. Inadvertently she shares all her qualities with Adam, like he shares his qualities to her, as noted by them described as one flesh, ie., one body in a spiritual dimension:
That is why Adam^ leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Genesis 2:24 ^ translated into English as "man"
The equality of the first man (Adam) and woman is emphasised by mystic schools of thoughts that suppose the man and woman described in Genesis are Universal Spirit and a Universal Soul. The union of Spirit and Soul is like two sides of the one coin, not polar opposites.
A crude analogy of Spirit making Soul is that of it being like the process of a kombucha scoby making kombucha brew. The kombucha scoby (Spirit) needs to be put in a different environment, one with water and sugar (the garden of Eden), in order to produce kombucha brew (Soul). A kombucha scoby contains all the same elements as a kombucha drink, and vice versa, but the two are different. Similarly, Universal Spirit and Universal Soul are the same, yet different. To say that a kombucha scoby is the polar opposite of kombucha brew is illogical, likewise it is illogical to say Spirit and Soul are polar opposites, they are to some degree exactly the same thing, only in different forms and each form compliments the other.
Back in the garden of Eden: the harmony of Spirit and Soul is interrupted by an intruding force, a snake who encourages them to eat from a forbidden tree:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened. Genesis 3:1-7
Several points can be taken from the above passage:
- the serpent was created by God
- the temptation of the serpent is for Adam and Woman is to be like God
- while it appears that serpent is only talking to the Woman, by this stage in the story she is one flesh with Adam, hence both aspects are present.
- Adam does not stop the Woman from eating the fruit
- Adam willingly followers the serpents temptation in his own right
Metaphorically, the story illustrates Adam and Woman being given free will, “the knowing of good and evil”. Despite the whole drama being set up by God, He curses all three of them, the serpent, Adam, and the Woman.
The tale appears brutal and harsh, however, as a result of these events, the Woman becomes Chavah, the mother of all living things:
Adam named his wife Chavah^, because she would become the mother of all the living. Genesis 3:20 ^ Eve in English translations
To reiterate: it is only through eating the forbidden fruit that the woman becomes Chavah, without the knowledge of good and evil she is not the mother of all living things. The same cannot said about Adam. In Genesis 2:15 were were told that Adam’s role in God’s plan was to look after the plants in the garden of Eden. This caretaker obligation does not change, only he is now cursed with having to manage the good and bad of all living things (Genesis 3:17-19).
It is made clear that all of these events take place in a spiritual dimension in the next passage when garments of skin are made for Adam and Chavah:
The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. Genesis 3:21
The symbolism of Adam and Chavah as being metaphorical depictions of Universal Spirit and Soul illustrate a threefold nature of humans: body, soul, and spirit. Or as it is more commonly expressed in contemporary speech: body, soul, and mind (remembering: some scholars call the Universal Spirit, “Intellect”).
When God told Chavah “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16), it is indicative of humans (any gender) desiring to have their mind (intellectual spirit) rule over their soul (creativity impulses). It is not appropriate to reduce these concepts to order and chaos. Rather, it is more apt to view the functioning of the creative soul as desiring the aid of its partner, the intellect, to guide its limitless potential. If it were not to do so, the human experience may be likened to living in permanent state of psychosis.
Jewish cultures are far less likely to demonise real women based upon to the allegory of Adam and Chavah. While she is understood to be a protagonist, without her the “life” as we know it on earth would not exist.
Conformational biases, in which sexists and misogynist values are projected onto the story of Adam and Eve/Chavah have can have far reaching ramifications. It is also interesting to note that Christianity has a tradition of insisting humans only have one soul (more about this at a latter date), therefore, identifying Jewish theories of multiple souls in the Book of Genesis is hindered.
Over the centuries, mystics (from Christianity and Islam) who have attempted to challenge the status quo have been called heretics, brought before inquisition panels, and severely persecuted by other means.
And why has there not been more discussions about Jewish theology? Perhaps it is because they too have an extensive history of being persecuted.
The use of characters to personifications theological concepts in a narrative is not unique to Judaism. The Greeks used a similar strategy in their epic poetry about Zeus, Hera, Persephone, and Hades. Once this storytelling strategy is recognised, it appears odd when interpreters miss the underlying meanings that are being expressed because they don’t understand the symbolism.
* It may be noted that the rivers are earthly locations – Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates; the latter two still exist today and it is speculated that the former two were equally familiar to the writers of Genesis. This may be viewed as a normal storytelling device. Later in the Hebrew Bible, a location in Jerusalem called Gehinnom is symbolically referred to as an abode for the wicked when they are deceased. Therefore, following this line of thinking, it is reasonable to deduct that the rivers of Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates were also nonfiction.
Crispe, Sara Esther. “Chavah: Mother of All Life.” The Jewish Woman.org, www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/335943/jewish/Chavah-Mother-of-All-Life.htm.
Dolansky, Shawna. “The Immortal Myth of Adam and Eve – TheTorah.com.” Www.thetorah.com, 2015, www.thetorah.com/article/the-immortal-myth-of-adam-and-eve.
Mortenson, Terry. “In-Depth Look at Translation of Hebrew Word Adam.” Answers in Genesis, 2006, answersingenesis.org/adam-and-eve/in-depth-look-at-translation-of-hebrew-word-adam/. Accessed 11 Mar. 2023.
Murata, Sachiko. Masculine Feminine Complementarity in the Spiritual Psychology of Islam. 1989, www.academia.edu/27941952/Masculine_Feminine_Complementarity_in_the_Spiritual_Psychology_of_Islam.
My Jewish Learning. “The Written Torah and the Oral Torah.” My Jewish Learning, www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-formation-of-the-oral-torah/.