Plural Problems (1)

Now the man named his wife [a]Eve, because she was the mother of all the living  Genesis 3:20 NASB

Eve – But of course he did not name her “Eve.”  I’m sorry, but the footnote in the NASB (“Genesis 3:20 I.e., living; or life”) is absolutely no help whatsoever.  “Eve” is not her name.  That word comes from the Greek Εὕα.  The Hebrew is ḥāwwâ(h).  We would write it like this: Havvah.  The NASB footnote not only removes the actual Hebrew name, it also assumes that the explanation offered in the verse is the meaning of the name.  Accordingly, most English translations adopt “Eve” because “she was the mother of all the living.”  But notice the range of meanings for this particle:

כִי () as though, as, because that, but, certainly, except, for, surely, since, that, then, when, etc. . . . In Hebrew is used in four ways: to introduce an objective clause especially after verbs of seeing, saying, etc. and translated “that”; to introduce a temporal clause and translated “when” (some of these are almost conditional clauses, thus making “if” appropriate); to introduce a causal clause, “because, for, since”; and with ʾim to express the reason why some case might not occur “except, but rather.” In all four usages introduces a given which is the result of some other fact or action or will influence some other fact or action. Some would add an asseverative usage giving emphasis to what follows.[1]

a primitive particle (the full form of the prepositional prefix) indicating causal relations of all kinds, antecedent or consequent; (by implication) very widely used as a relative conjunction or adverb (as below); often largely modified by other particles annexed:–and, + (forasmuch, inasmuch, where-)as, assured(-ly), + but, certainly, doubtless, + else, even, + except, for, how, (because, in, so, than) that, + nevertheless, now, rightly, seeing, since, surely, then, therefore, + (al- )though, + till, truly, + until, when, whether, while, whom, yea, yet.[2]

Are we to assume that Adam names her because of her future procreative function, and that her name reflects this function?  Or can express some other relationship to the name?  Apparently Adam names her when he first encounters her and realizes she is ontologically his equal (Genesis 2:23).  Now he seems to name her again.  Why?  Questions like these raise issues about the etymology of this name.  TWOT suggests that the root of the Hebrew word is from an “unused” word.  The only occurrences of this same word in other biblical texts are found in Job and Psalms and in the Elephantine Aramaic papyri, and in the Genesis Apocryphon,[3] where the word means “to show, to tell, to make known.”

But what if this name is also a play on words, just like ʾiššâ is a play on the word ʾšh (ishsha and ish for “woman” and “man” in Genesis 2:23)?  The man, Adam, unable to forgive the woman whom he once called “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”—ishsha from ish—now makes another play on words that sounds the same but has a very different meaning. She is not avvah, spelled with a Chet, but rather havvah spelled with an Aleph, and meaning “desire.”  She saw that the fruit of the Tree was a “delight” to the eyes (the word used in Genesis 3:6) and now her name reflects that same mistake.  Adam’s naming reminds her of her sin.

There are other intimations of this naming word-play humiliation.  Nahum Sarna writes:

Eve  Hebrew avvah, which seems to be an archaic form of ayyah, could mean “living thing,” life personified.  This is how the Septuagint understood it when it rendered the name here Zōḗ.  The vocalization suggests an intensive form, so that “propagator of life” is also a possible meaning.  There might, in addition, be a word play involved, for Aramaic avya means a serpent, as noted in Genesis Rabba 20:11; 22:2.  In the Sifre inscription, (1.A.31), the word for serpent is actually written vvh.[4]

I find the parallel between Genesis 2:23 and Genesis 3:20 compelling.  When Adam names the animals, they become what he names them.  When he names the woman in Genesis 2:23, he becomes what he names her.  You will notice that Adam names her ʾiššâ in the process of changing his name to  ʾšh.  That essential word-play substantiates that his self-understanding is altered because of her existence.  He is no longer “Adam.”  He is now ʾšh, a creature of mutual relationship.  But when he provides the second name, also a play on words, it is no longer a name of mutual relationship.  It is now a name in the same category as the naming of the animals, a name designating inferiority and submission just as the animals’ names represent creatures that serve him.  Adam’s second naming marks her as something that serves, named for the serpent who destroyed the mutual relationship.

Now let’s reconsider the usual translation:

Now the man named his wife avvah [meaning “serpent’], because she was the mother of all the living

 וַיִּקְרָא הָאָדָם שֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ, חַוָּה:  כִּי הִוא הָיְתָה, אֵם כָּל-חָי

First, we should notice that the opening verb (קָרָא (qārāʾ) is a waw-consecutive + imperfect.  The tense is actually future (he will call) converted to the past with the prefixed vav.  It seems to me that this is important.  It suggests that the name incorporates the past assessment, the present naming, and the future assumption.  Adam’s designation summarizes hisview of her.  It is remarkably different than the first time he “calls” her in Genesis 2:23, “she shall be called woman.”  The verb is the same, but the tense in Genesis 2:23 is yiqtol imperfect, as if Adam is designating the ontological status of this creation.  She is equal in essence.  Her name word-play confirms this assessment.  There is no past to refer to.  She begins here, with this name that implies equality and continuance.  She is as uncompleted as he, both about to embark on the journey of becoming.

But in Genesis 3:20, something has changed.  It is as if Adam, now aware of his disobedient status, reassesses the name he gave to the woman.  He looks back, considers the original designation, experiences his present condition and projects the woman’s future function with a new name, now delivered as a performative utterance in the waw-consecutive + imperfect.  I would suggest that we should read this (amplified) as, “The man proclaimed his wife avvah,” in the sense that he is foretelling how he will relate to her and how she must relate to him.  This is no longer mutual becoming.  This is commanding.  This is an imperfect verb, a continuing, incomplete action.  It cannot mean that he “called,” as if it were a one-time event.  It means that whatever designation he gives will be the way he will continue to relate to her.  Genesis 2:23 is ontological.  It is who she is.  Genesis 3:20 is performative.  It is who she will be to him.

Tomorrow we’ll be ready to answer, “Why is there no plural form of ʾiššâ and ʾšh?

Topical Index: man, woman, ʾiššâ, ʾšh, qārāʾ, name, call, , Genesis 2:23, Genesis 3:20

[1] Oswalt, J. N. (1999). 976 כִי. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., pp. 437–438). Chicago: Moody Press.


[3] Yamauchi, E. (1999). 618 חָוָה. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 267). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] Nahum Sarna, Genesis: JPS Torah Commentary, p. 29.

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Richard Bridgan

Admittedly, this may not appeal to the general interests of those seeking a “morning devotional,” but I find what is conveyed here ‘essential’ insight. Thank you, Skip, for taking the risk of sharing it here and committing to the significant labor required to do so. Israel’s testimony as a record of witness is amazingly crafted (indeed, it is even as the Apostle Paul proclaimed to Timothy, “all Scripture is inspired by God, and profitable…).”