The name given to the first woman by the first man (Gen. 3.20). The Bible interprets this name to mean “the mother of all living,” both because Eve is, through her sons, the female ancestor of the entire human race and because the name sounds similar to the Hebrew word for “living being.” The wordplay is probably etymologically incorrect, and later rabbinic tradition proposed a connection with the Aramaic word for “serpent.” The actual linguistic derivation of the name remains uncertain.

According to the account in Genesis 2–3, the woman is created to be a companion corresponding to (not originally subordinate to) the man. Because the two of them eat the forbidden fruit (see Fall, The), the man is destined to toil as a farmer in fields of thorns and thistles, and the woman is destined to suffer pain in childbearing. It is in the aftermath of these divine pronouncements that the man names the woman as he had earlier named the animals, thus indicating dominion over her.

Both Jewish tradition and the New Testament offer a very negative view of Eve, presenting her as representative of the alleged weaknesses of women. Paul feared that the Corinthian Christians would be led astray from Christ as Eve was deceived by the serpent (2 Cor. 11.3). In 1 Timothy 2.13–15, Eve's deception by the serpent and also her creation subsequent to the man are cited as reasons that women must keep silent in church (cf. 1 Cor. 14.34–35) and hold no authority over men. Early Christian theologians contrasted Eve's sinfulness with the perfection of the “new Eve,” Mary, the mother of Jesus.

This traditional emphasis on the gullibility of Eve and her tendency toward sin is one possible interpretation of the Genesis narrative; it is not, however, inherent in the text of the narrative itself. Genesis 3 gives no indication why the serpent addressed the woman and even indicates that the man and the woman were together when the serpent spoke. It has been suggested that the serpent might have addressed the woman as provider of food or as theological thinker, not as the more gullible of the couple, and that the woman's addition to the divine prohibition about the fruit (“we may not touch it”) represents not a lie, but a desirable exaggeration meant to make sure that the basic command would not be broken. The man and the woman together discover their nakedness, together make fig leaf garments, and together hide from the deity. Both are destined to a life of pain (neither is cursed) because of their actions, and together they are expelled from the garden. Thus, once the reader sets aside the portrait of Eve based on later traditions, the great skill of the Genesis narrator in presenting a character open to diverse interpretation becomes apparent.

See also Adam; Eden, The Garden of; Genesis, The Book of; Lilith; Women


Katharine Doob Sakenfeld