The Bible story of Eve is set in mythic pre-history, the world of beginnings, of unfolding creation. It deals with a time outside time, a moment that lasted an immeasurable eon, as the world became what it is.
The creation stories in Genesis 1-3 grew out of a society quite different to our own. There were two separate ways of life, co-existing with each other:
nomadic life, where people traveled with their cattle, moving from pasture to pasture as the seasons changed and periods of drought and plenty occurred
settled agriculture – farms and crops provided a relatively stable existence, and villages and towns gradually appeared.
Nomadic life was precarious but relatively free and easy.
Agriculture was more secure but it meant back-breaking labor and problems such as individual land ownership, hygiene and sanitation, not to mention the stress of living with neighbors.
Agriculture gradually won out…
People chose the system that best suited the climate and fertility of their land, but agriculture gradually won out over nomadic life, because it was more secure and could support a larger population.
The struggle between these two ways of life is mirrored in the stories of the Garden of Eden, in Eve’s choice of the apple, and particularly in the fight between Cain and Abel.
Women’s Lives in this Era
The following story is a re-working of the Genesis story – as it could have happened. The story picks up on the main themes in the story:
God as creator, and humans made in God’s image (The creativity of God and humans)
The introduction of agriculture (Eve and the apple, woman as an agent of change)
Fertility religions (the Serpent)
Conflict between farmers and nomadic herders (Cain and Abel)
Warfare (the murder of Abel)
The development of clothing as covering rather than decoration (fig leaves)
Living in cities (leaving the Garden of Eden)
This is the story of primal woman. Eve is Every woman, who initially lives in a hunter-gatherer society.
She and the other tribal women are responsible for gathering fruits, seeds and roots, which form the bulk of her tribe’s diet. The men hunt for meat, the main source of protein. As a fruit- and root-gatherer, she noticed that plants re-grow in the same area year after year, springing up where seeds have spilt.
It occurs to her that planting left-over seed each year instead of harvesting random plants would be better, more reliable. She has this knowledge in the back of her mind, but does nothing about it.
Vulture waits for a dying child
During a terrible drought, many of her tribe die. This spurs her into action.
She persuades the other women to help her plant seed on a regular basis, as an experiment. The system works, and the women decide to plant more seeds.
She tells her husband about this and persuades him it is a good idea.
It brings great changes to all of them. They have a more reliable food source, are less likely to die during droughts, and can feed more children. Their numbers grow, and they become stronger than other tribes in the area.
But there are disadvantages too. Now, instead of wandering freely, they must be at particular locations each season for some very intensive work. They must be better organized now, since someone must be responsible for seeing that they are in the right area at the right season. A hierarchy of responsibility develops.
Water was a constant preoccupation with ancient people, since they depended on rain for their crops. The Gilgamesh account of the Flood shows their fear of the unpredictable nature of rainfall. Too much water could be just as dangerous as too little.
Growing crops becomes women’s work, since men must now concentrate on warfare to defend their area of land. Now that her tribe is only partly nomadic, people begin building more durable shelters whenever they stop in one place. Villages appear, then towns, then cities, with all their accompanying problems.
They realize there are good seasons and bad ones, and they wonder how they can control Nature. The wind and the rain and the sun seem capricious. What is to be done? The earth is like a great mother to them, giving them everything they need to survive, and water is necessary if their crops are to grow. So it seems that the earth and the rain from the sky are like wife and husband, acting together to produce new life. When people begin to have a little control of Nature, they want more.
Cain kills Abel
Violence (Cain kills Abel) seems to be an intrinsic part of human life
There are quarrels between two of the woman’s sons, one who promotes farming, and the other who longs for the old nomadic ways. They see their mother’s innovation as a mixed blessing. One of her sons kills the other in an angry, violent fight. Their quarrel is repeated in the wider world – tribes no longer trust their neighbours, and violence often occurs.
Because of the new system’s efficiency, there are more people to feed. Groups of them must move to other areas, with colder climates. This means clothing for warmth rather than decoration, one more task for the women. The groups that move out to form new colonies lose touch with the main group, and eventually develop new words and ways of speaking. It becomes difficult for people from different groups to communicate, and eventually they speak different languages, making communication impossible.
Eve as Every woman wonders if the changes were a good thing. There is more stability, more security but less freedom, less leisure, and a lot more work. The Garden is gone. She has gambled with God, and she is not sure whether she lost or won.
Aboriginal woman with her sleeping child
‘Eat the fruit’ said the serpent. ‘Why not?’ Eve was intrigued. The fruit would make her wise, she thought. So she took one piece from the Tree of Knowledge, ate it and offered some to Adam. He ate it too.
Cain and Abel are the sons of Adam and Eve, who commit the first sin. Cain murders Abel, the second sin. Now people have sinned against God and against each other. At the heart of the story is a new idea: lawlessness is contrary to the will of God, and when it happens the good will suffer as well as the wicked.