Plural Problems (2)

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

Because – What did we learn yesterday?  We learned that Genesis 2:23 recounts that Adam projects the woman’s function with a name, a name that intimately connects her existence to his own, ʾiššâ and ʾšh.  Subsequently, after the punishment they receive for breaking the single commandment, 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.  He makes her into Havvah.  The narrator provides a reason, translated as “because she was the mother of all the living,” but this isn’t what the name means.  It’s what the narrator wants the reader to think about the name.  And the English translation underscores this reading by translating as “because.”  But what if it means something else?

It seems to me important that the first instance of this word is in Genesis 1:4 (“God saw that the light was good;”).  is translated “that,” as per the notation in TWOT above (“introduce an objective clause especially after verbs of seeing, saying, etc.”).  The verb qārāʾ (call) seems to fall into this same category.  If this is the case, then should not be translated as if it is an explanation for the prior action (e.g., he called her this because of that), but rather as a description of the subsequent condition.  But we can’t determine the proper English translation of until we understand the subsequent clause “the mother of all living.”  Here the issue is the verbal form of hāyâ, “to be.”  Should we think of this as a static state (she is) or as a progressive condition (she will become)?  Should we read “she was” as if that state has been fully determined, or should we read it as “she will become” as if this is a condition yet to be fulfilled?  The verb is a Qal perfect, a simple completed action, but the context denies this.  The woman has not had a child.  In fact, to this point there is no indication that procreation is expected of her.  This is the first time in the biblical text that we are informed that she will produce offspring.  Therefore, it seems unlikely to me that we should translate the verb as “was.”  She “will become” the mother of all living, but at this point that is only a future projection, not a completed fact.

Oddly, the form of the verb says otherwise.  It suggests that her role in procreation is a fait accompli.  Why is the verb a Qal perfect?  I suggest that the verb expresses Adam’s view; that Adam now sees her in this one role, the child producer.  This is a significant and substantial alteration from the original naming.  She is no longer his equal.  She is now his means of propagation.  Translated without contextual enhancement, we read: “The man designated her avvah she was the mother of all living,” but the context forces us to reconsider the verbal form, jarring us into recognizing that something is wrong with this picture.  What’s wrong is Adam.  His view dominates, and it is domination that comes forth in these incongruent words.

Christian expositors seem to miss this point.  For example:

The origin of woman is explained in Gen 2:23, 24. She is depicted as the physical counterpart of man, deserving of his unswerving loyalty. It is in this context (vv. 24–25) that the word is first used in the sense of “mate” or “wife.”[1]

Notice that Mccomiskey’s view is that the woman is the “physical” counterpart of man.  This is much too little.  She is the ontological counterpart, like him in all his relational aspects, human and divine.  She is his psychological and spiritual counterpart, his mirror-image of self-awareness, his essential reflection of what it means to be human.  When Adam renames her, he rejects this critical role.  He reduces her to a baby-making machine.

The end of our verse uses the same verb (ḥāyâ) in the derivative ḥay, “living.”  Clearly the verse cannot mean that the woman is the source of all living.  She is the mother of all human life, and in this case, from Adam’s point of view, this is all that matters.  She will produce a line from him, a progeny with his name.  He has been cast into the role of serf of the earth, destined to toil and eventually die, but through her he will live on in the children she will bear—his children.  She has become the means for him to triumph over God’s divine punishment.

Now, perhaps, we’re ready to translate .  She isn’t named because she will be the mother of all subsequent human beings.  She is named avvah in order to accomplish two things for Adam.  The first is to put her in her place; to force her to constantly remember her failure by carrying a name that reminds her of the one who seduced her, the serpent.  This is a name of humiliation.  The second is to reduce her role to rescuing Adam from his punishment by letting him live through the children she will bear.  This is a name of production.  Both of these dismiss any consideration of her, who she is, who she might be, who she wishes to be.  This is Adam’s game entirely, and as we see, it soon backfires (Genesis 4:1).  How should we translate ?  Perhaps like this:

Now the man designated his wife avvah [meaning “serpent’], as though she will be the mother of all the living human beings.

Of course, there really isn’t any way to capture all we have discussed in a single-word translation.  But we can try.

And now on to the oddity of the plurals that don’t exist.

Topical Index: woman, avvah, ʾiššâ, Genesis 3:20

[1] Mccomiskey, T. E. (1999). 137 אנשׁ. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 59). Chicago: Moody Press.

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Richard Bridgan

“Now we’re talkin’” (Both rhetorically and contextually… a giant step closer to the theological context of Israel’s testimony) Great job, Skip!

Paula Vander Poel

Rather explains man’s opinion and treatment of women in Biblical times….even to present in some cases. Thank you.