I want to return to the deeply puzzling question: why does Genesis treat the woman’s desire for her man (Gen. 3:16) so differently from the man’s joy in the woman (Gen. 2:23)? Why does the one come after the first disobedience, and the other before—as if a woman’s sexual desire is a punishment?

“Your desire shall be for your husband,” God tells the woman (Gen. 3:16), in the second of three speeches addressed, in order, to the serpent, the woman, and the man (Gen. 3:14-19). I am thinking the first clue to the puzzle is the many things God does not say in this second speech, at the center of the three.

You might think God would mention what the woman has done—but he doesn’t. This is particularly striking, in that his first words to her took the form of a classic formula of accusation: “What is this that you have done?” (Gen. 3:13; cf. similarly Gen. 4:10, 29:25, 31:26, as well as 1 Sam. 13:11 and Jonah 1:10). She says, “The serpent deceived me and I ate,” which evidently is saying enough, because God proceeds to condemn the serpent without giving him a chance to speak, and begins by repeating the accusation formula in declarative rather than interrogative mode: “Because you have done this . . . ” As we listen to God’s speeches, it appears that it is the serpent who has done some deed that needs to be punished. What the woman did does not seem to be the issue.

Another thing God does not mention when he speaks to the woman is a curse. The speeches to both the serpent and the man begin with a sentence having the structure: “Because you . . . cursed . . . ” In the serpent’s case, it is: “Because you have done this, cursed are you . . . ” In Adam’s case, the curse seems to miss him and fall on the ground instead: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and eaten from the tree . . . cursed is the ground because of you . . . ” In something close to a pun, the curse falls not on Adam but on the adamah , Hebrew for the ground. Humanity is not cursed because of Adam’s sin.

The only time God mentions anything the woman did is at the beginning of his speech to the man. Her role in the evil is not that she ate the fruit, but that her husband obeyed her voice when he should have obeyed the voice of God. It is only in this speech that we learn that she spoke to her husband about the fruit. Adam certainly wasn’t letting on: he talks as if she just gave him the fruit and he ate, as if his own thoughts and desires had nothing to do with it . God doesn’t let him get away with this craven avoidance of responsibility.

What God doesn’t let the woman get away with is talking as if her husband were not there. Whereas the man had overstated the role of the woman (“the woman . . . gave me to eat from the tree”) the woman had understated the role of the man , indeed passed over it entirely (“the serpent deceived me and I ate”).

So the man is held responsible for obeying his wife instead of God, and the woman’s life is transformed so that she cannot avoid the reality of her man. That seems to be an initial step toward understanding this puzzle. In both speeches God is correcting something that had gone wrong between the one human being and the other.

The man had blamed God for giving him this other (“the woman you gave to be with me”) while the woman had spoken as if she had no other like herself to deal with. In their opposite ways, each had stepped away from the goodness that God had given them in the other. So I’m thinking the thread to follow in unraveling this puzzle is how divine justice aims to restore the good they had both, in their different ways, repudiated.

More thoughts on this tomorrow. For there is obviously more to say about God’s speeches to the man and the woman.

More on: Genesis, Sex

Articles by Phillip Cary

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