Monday, March 22, 2010

Thinking about Eve

Yesterday in church we had a lesson about the fall of Adam, and it led into a lengthy discussion about Eve. I've been thinking about her ever since, and wanted to share some of my thoughts. I'm not trying to make new points here per se, just sharing some of the things I've been pondering.

First of all, for those of my readers who are not LDS, I will briefly mention that we do not believe in the teaching of original sin. We believe that each person is held accountable for what they do, but not for anything that anyone else does. So Eve's choice in Eden had consequences for her, but does not bring punishment (or need for redemption) to anyone else. We also believe that her choice was a necessary thing, but I will get to that later.

While in the garden, Eve was named "the mother of all living" and Adam was named "many." So the actual bearing of children is not prerequisite to motherhood or fatherhood--they are innate parts of us, which we may or may not realize (carry out), but it is still part of who we are.

Eve bore many children. I cannot imagine the pain she felt when Cain murdered Abel, but she did not give up. I imagine that watching her eldest son make such horrible choices was disheartening in the least--it's hard for me to watch one of my little boys disobey or tell a lie or hit his brother (I feel like some degree of failure every time, wondering how it is that they still do those things when I'm trying so hard to teach them right). But Eve persevered, and she went on to bare Seth (after the murder) and taught and raised him and he became a righteous prophet.

When Eve says that the serpent beguiled her, we typically understand that to mean that he "deceived" her. However, the word beguile has a broader meaning than that. It can also mean to distract someone, or to engage their interest. We must also keep in mind that our English scriptures were translated from other languages, and that verbs differ from one language to another and that it can be difficult to transfer exact meanings. One woman in class yesterday shared something she had read about the Hebrew verb that was translated to 'beguile,' and that the original verb carries more depth than the translation, including implications of careful thought and an intentional choice. I have always believed that the translators of the Bible did their best, but I've also always believed that men are imperfect and that some errors are inevitable (which is why I'm grateful for personal revelation and modern prophets).
Without question the serpent lied to Eve when he told her that eating the fruit would not bring death, however he also told truth when he said that it would make her wise, understanding good an evil as God does. I don't think Eve was a pushover by any stretch. While in Eden both Adam and Eve were in an innocent, childlike state. They could not have children, and therefore could not fulfill God's command to multiply and replenish the earth. Eve, though childlike in her understanding, realized that their two commandments (to multiply, and to not eat the fruit) were in conflict, and that one must be broken. I believe that, when presented with the fact that eating the fruit would bring knowledge, she realized that knowledge was necessary in order to progress (to move beyond their stasis in the garden), and so she made a choice. She had to disobey one commandment in order to keep the other, so she made a choice between one good thing and another. She sacrificed a good thing in order to have a better one. We all face choices between things that are good and things that are better--I like to think that Eve is a good example to us of being willing to make those choices, even when they are hard, and even when they require some sacrifice.

Finally, some thoughts on the "punishment" of Eve.
Generations of Christians were taught that women suffered in childbirth as punishment for Eve's actions. I can understand how that caught on in a religion that believed that we were as guilty as she, but with the understanding that we are not accountable for anyone else's actions, we also are not punished for them. In other words, I do not believe that bearing children (neither birthing nor raising them) is a punishment, and certainly not a punishment for something that someone else did. I also don't believe that bringing forth children 'in sorrow' specifically means that labor is supposed to be painful. If labor were supposed to be terrible, then it would be that way for women of all cultures, but it doesn't take long to realize that western (Christian) culture views birth quite differently from, say, the Vietnamese woman who squats beside the rice field to deliver her baby, then returns to work; or Sacajawea who delivered her son along the trail while traveling with Lewis & Clark; or dozens of other indigenous cultures where birthing is a rite of passage but not a trial by fire.
To more fully illustrate my point, I've copied over just what it does say in scripture about this.
Genesis 3:16-17:
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Moses 4:22-25:
Unto the woman, I, the Lord God, said: I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
And unto Adam, I, the Lord God, said: Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the fruit of the tree of which I commanded thee, saying—Thou shalt not eat of it, cursed shall be the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.
Thorns also, and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herb of the field.
By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, until thou shalt return unto the ground

2 Nephi 2:11, 22-25:
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. [No] life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility...
And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden
of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.
And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.
But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
My thoughts:
The footnotes indicate that Eve's 'multiplication' refers to the growth of pregnancy. So 'greatly multiply' (to my mind) indicates many children. That's not a punishment, that's a fulfillment of the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.
The footnotes cross-reference 'sorrow' with 'pain' and 'suffering,' not just in reference to Eve, but to Adam as well. Because it applies to both of them, I don't think it is specifically talking about labor, but rather about living life outside the garden (having to till the earth for example), and also about raising children. When Cain murdered Abel, I'm sure that these parents felt sorrow, pain, and suffering. A certain amount of sorrow is par for the course when raising children; that doesn't mean that it's a punishment, it's just a natural part of the process. I think Gods words to them here were more by way of information than condemnation. As Nephi teaches (via the words of his father), without sorrow we could not understand joy, and God wants us to be happy, therefore, He must also allow us pain.
In re-reading these references, I noted again that God says the ground will be cursed "for thy sake." God could have made it easy to till the earth and raise food, He could have made food grow spontaneously, but He knew that there is value in hard work, therefore He gave us the blessing of cursing the ground.
Finally, in regard to the part about being ruled over by her husband: God's world is a world of order. There is a simple patriarchal hierarchy, and while it is never appropriate for a man to dominate or abuse his wife, still it is his role to preside. So in telling Eve to submit to her husband, God was laying out the plan He'd always had for families, not punishing Eve.

In conclusion, as a daughter of Eve, and one who could never have been born without her transgression. I am grateful for Eve and the choice she made.


Mallory said...

Every time I go to the temple, I leave thinking about Eve and her choices. I often think that Adam and Eve were physically able to have children in the Garden of Eden, but their innocence prevented it. After Eve partook of the fruit, she told Adam that it was a commandment to have children. She understood it then. But, she also knew that she would be cast out of the Garden and would be separated from Adam, therefore unable to have children. So, she convinced Adam to partake, so they could be together, (which Adam understood and complied with, because God had previously told him that is was "not good for man to be alone".)

I know that isn't how a lot of people understand it. And I'm not even sure if it's really how it was for them in the Garden. I just know that God doesn't give us any commandments that we cannot they HAD to have been able to have children while living in the Garden of Eden, they just didn't figure it out before Eve ate the fruit and would be cast out.

The gospel according to Mallory, I guess. But, I sure do love Eve!

Cheryl said...

God did not give Adam and Eve contradictory commandments. Joseph Fielding Smith taught that God told them "I forbid you to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge if you want to stay in the Garden of Eden." (That is not an exact quote, but you can find it in *Doctrines of Salvation*.) So Eve and Adam made the choice to leave the Garden in exchange for gaining knowledge. That's why it is called a transgression--they disobeyed a rule with a consequence.

BonnieKaye said...

Mallory's comment was super interesting as I've always had a hard time understanding how God could give contradicting commandments. Something to think about and ponder. In the end I know God's plan is perfect even if I don't fully understand it right now.

Great post Jenni.

Janeen said...

Very intriguing and thought provoking. I have been told that women suffer from childbirth because of what Eve did and that never sat well with me. This makes a lot more sense.

sara said...

Our book club just read Eve and the Choice Made in Eden. It makes a lot of these same points and presents them clearly, uses prophets quotes and scripture as well as the original Hebrew words and their definitions.

Nemmer said...

If you haven't read "Eve and the Choice Made in Eden" you should! The author's points are very much in harmony with what you wrote here, Jenni. I think you'd like it, as it expounds on these thoughts and explains them a bit more.

Khourt said...

I loved reading this post. I dont know how I missed it before, but alas I just wanted to share some of my comments I had while reading it so sorry if its a big lengthy...

You wrote this:

Without question the serpent lied to Eve when he told her that eating the fruit would not bring death

Indeed she would have a mortal death by eating the fruit.. But did the serpent really lie? By eating the fruit she was given a chance at Eternal Life.. and well trading mortal death for eternal life isnt all that bad..

Even in Eden I believe Heavenly Father spoke with Eve and she knew what she must do (eat the fruit) ir order to fulfil the plan.

One of my favourite Scriptures (and one I learned early on when the Missionaries were teachig me) is one you quote "Adam fell that men might be and men are that they might have joy".. I think 2 Nephi describes it well.. Without any of the opposition we would not be here and we certainly would not know joy.. We would not be able to fully understand the blessing of Eternal life without first experiecing what we have on this earth. And I am thankful for that

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