Stories about the creation of the cosmos and the physical world address existential questions about the origins of the universe and humanity. To varying degrees, all creation accounts provide visions about why the world is the way that it is. Because of this, creation stories have a particular importance for understanding perceptions about gender relations in the ancient world. Certainly, the biblical accounts of creation, especially the Garden of Eden story in Genesis 2:4B–3, have had an enormous influence on Western civilization’s views of patriarchal hierarchy and women’s subordination. However, the Garden of Eden story is only one creation story among others in the Bible, and there were many other ideas of creation in the ancient Near East.

Creation accounts generally fall into two main categories: cosmologies, which are primarily concerned with the origins of the cosmos and of deities, though the creation of the physical world and human beings is often included; and primeval histories, which begin with the creation of humanity (Frymer-Kensky, 2006, p. 5). Creation accounts are categorized as literary texts, or belles-lettres, written with considerable literary skill and artistry. Modern readers do not have access to the original intent and purpose of these works, though at some level these stories must have resonated with ancient audiences. An especially important consideration for gendered perspectives on these texts is that creation stories, like all literary texts, were probably written by male scribes, an elite group of literate specialists in chiefly illiterate societies. Moreover, the intended audience for these texts was probably also men. Thus, ancient Near Eastern literature was “androcentric,” meaning that it tended to focus on men; and this social context inevitably affected the perspectives on gender presented in any text, including creation stories. The discussion of ancient Near Eastern creation accounts offered in this article is merely a sampling of the main creation stories and not meant to be exhaustive.

Mesopotamia.

Mesopotamian texts are recorded in two languages: Sumerian and Akkadian. In several Mesopotamian creation accounts, the god Enki (Sumerian) or Ea (Akkadian), god of fresh waters but also wisdom and craftsmanship, plays an important role. In the Sumerian myth of Enki and Ninmah (ETCSL 1.1.2), Enki devises a plan to create human beings to toil in place of the gods. Enki’s mother, Namma, kneads clay, and birth goddesses pinch off pieces of the clay and bring human beings into existence with the assistance of the goddess Ninmah and several other goddesses. After the creation of humanity, the divine beings celebrate by having a feast. While drinking beer at the celebration, Ninmah brags that it is her will that determines the fate of the human beings. Enki responds by challenging Ninmah to create seven beings for which Enki cannot determine a fate. Ninmah complies and creates seven beings, each with a different defect, but Enki finds a purpose for them all. Enki then commands Ninmah to pour semen into a woman’s womb and to find a purpose for the being that is born. This being is a pitiful creature that cannot do anything for itself, perhaps the first human fetus (Jacobsen, 1987, p. 156). Ninmah cannot find a purpose for the creature, and Enki is declared the victor of the contest. In this account, even though the physical act of creating human beings is brought about by goddesses, it is Enki who devises the plan and who is ultimately given credit. The contest between Enki and Ninmah highlights Enki’s importance over the birth goddesses. Nevertheless, the text places the physical responsibility for creation chiefly with goddesses, which reflects women’s roles in childbirth.

The Sumerian myth of Enki and Ninhursag (ETCSL 1.1.1) recounts the creation of several goddesses during the primordial time. In this text, Enki is not the mastermind behind creation but physically creates through sexual reproduction. Enki has a daughter with his wife Ninhursag but then creates several goddesses by impregnating successive generations of his daughters when they come to the riverbank. After four generations, Enki’s daughter Uttu is advised by her mother not to go to the riverbank, so Enki comes to her house bringing gifts. Enki has sex with Uttu but her mother removes the semen, and though the text is fragmentary at this point, it seems that she puts Enki’s semen in the ground, from which it becomes plants. Enki then eats the plants and becomes very ill. Though Ninhursag has cursed Enki, she ultimately cures him. For each part of Enki’s body that is in pain, Ninhursag creates another deity and decrees a fate for it. In this text, Enki represents male sexual energy as the source of creation (Leick, 1994, p. 21), though certainly the goddesses play a role by giving birth. However, by eating the plants that grew from his semen, it is possible that Enki is pregnant (Alster, 1978, p. 19) but he cannot give birth without help from a goddess.

Like the Sumerian myth of Enki and Ninmah, the Akkadian Atrahasis story also attributes the purpose of the creation of humanity as toiling for the gods. At the beginning of the text the worker gods rebel, and Ea (the Akkadian version of Enki) suggests the creation of humankind to work in place of the gods. Ea also devises the way in which human beings will be made. Humanity is created by the midwife of the gods, who mixes clay with the blood of a slain god “who had rationality.” To this mixture the gods add spit. The midwife goddess pinches off fourteen pieces of clay, seven male and seven female. The rest of the story focuses on the primeval flood that destroys all humanity except for Atrahasis. The birth goddess has an elevated role in this myth, which emphasizes and praises her efforts. However, once again the god Ea is the one with the plan. In this account, male and female humans are created simultaneously and in reproductive pairs (Asher-Greve, 2002, p. 13). Moreover, the plan to curb human overpopulation at the end of the story involves creating two alternate types of females who do not bear children, an etiology for celibate priestesses and women who cannot have children (Frymer-Kensky, 2006, p. 8).

The Babylonian Epic of Creation, Enūma eliš, accounts for the creation of the cosmos, the elevation of the god Marduk, and the creation of humanity (Lambert, 2013). The gods and goddesses are created by the intermingling of salt water, the mother Tiamat, and fresh water, the father Apsu, and several successive generations of deities are born. However, all of these younger gods create noise and Apsu plots to destroy them so that he can rest. When the gods discover his plan, Ea kills Apsu. Later, Tiamat decides to destroy the gods. Marduk fights Tiamat, who is personified as a dragon, and defeats her. He splits her body into two parts and creates the heavens and the earth. Marduk is elevated to the top of the Mesopotamian pantheon, creates humankind from the blood of the rebel god who incited Tiamat, and imposes upon human beings the toil of the gods. In this story, the primordial mother is demonized and killed, with her body becoming the physical world. The killer of the mother goddess is then elevated as supreme deity of the divine pantheon in a gathering of male gods. Unlike other Mesopotamian creation accounts, goddesses play no role in the creation of the physical world or even of humankind (Dalley, 1989, p. 228). Indeed, with the exception of the goddess Inana/Ishtar, goddesses generally have more limited roles and importance in Mesopotamian religion in the later second and first millennia (Frymer-Kensky, 1992).

Egypt.

In ancient Egypt, creation was strongly connected to reproductive sexuality. According to ancient Egyptian literature, gender is presupposed within creation, and even when creation stems from a single source it is the result of the presence of both male and female within that source (Troy, 1997, p. 239). Nun, “the Father of the Gods,” is the dark and limitless waters. Though technically a male deity, as the primordial waters he is not highly gendered as masculine and could even be seen as androgynous (Troy, p. 239).

The first Egyptian deity to create, the god Atum, is specifically gendered as male. Atum generates himself spontaneously within Nun, and he creates brother–sister/husband–wife pair Shu and Tefnut by masturbating into his own mouth and then spitting out the god and goddess:

I became effective in my heart,I surveyed with my face.I made every form alone,Without having sneezed Shu,Without having spat Tefnut,Without another having evolved and acted with me.I surveyed in my heart by myselfAnd the evolutions of evolutions became many,In the evolutions of childrenAnd in the evolutions of their childrenI am the one who acted as husband with my fist:I copulated with my hand,I let fall into my own mouth,I sneezed Shu and spat Tefnut.

(Hallo and Younger, Context of Scripture 1997, 1.9: 14–15)

This creative act emphasizes male fertility, both physically and also mentally, since Atum plans his creation. However, feminine attributes are present in this creation since the hand of the god is interpreted as his consort and the eye of the god, gendered as female, plays an important role (Troy, 1997, p. 243). Shu and Tefnut are the first male–female gendered pair, and through sexual reproduction they bear the god Geb and the goddess Nut, earth and sky, respectively. Geb and Nut complete the creation of the physical world.

Geb and Nut have four children, the gods Osiris and Seth and the goddesses Isis and Nephthys, and this generation of gods is associated with social institutions such as kingship. Osiris and Isis demonstrate some gender ambiguity, with Isis as the active member of the pair, compensating for the passivity of her dead husband. Therefore, even specifically gendered deities could demonstrate both masculine and feminine characteristics. Osiris and Isis have a son Horus, a god specifically associated with kings. Pharaoh was thought to be his earthly manifestation. Seth and Nephthys, on the other hand, conform to specific gender roles but do not reproduce (Troy, 1997, p. 248).

Other goddesses also had important roles for the physical world. Nut, the sky goddess envisioned as a river flowing east to west, is also the mother of the sun god Re, who traveled through Nut’s body every night to be reborn in the morning. The temple at Esna has preserved a late-period text in which creation comes from the goddess Neith/Mehetweret, also the mother of Re, who is the personification of the flood waters (Troy, 1997, pp. 253–257). In this text, a female deity is given a role similar to that of the male god Nun in other texts.

Israel.

The Hebrew Bible contains two separate creation accounts: Genesis 1:1—2:4A, the seven-day creation of the physical world and the Sabbath, and Genesis 2:4B—3, the Garden of Eden story. For the sake of simplicity, I refer to the first text as Genesis 1 and the second as Genesis 2—3. Though these creation stories have often been conflated, scholarly consensus has long regarded them as disparate traditions, with Genesis 1 thought to be later than the Eden story of Genesis 2—3.

Genesis 1:1—2:4a.

This account comprises the creation of the cosmos and the physical world from a formless void, culminating in the creation of human beings. Creation proceeds as a highly ordered, planned event carried out by an omnipotent, if somewhat distant, deity, called ’Elohim in this text. After the creation of the physical world, the final living creatures, land animals and humans, are formed on the sixth day. The creation of human beings is recounted in Genesis 1:26–28:

"And God said, “Let us make humanity in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” So God created humanity in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.”"

Notably, God creates men and women at the same time as the culmination of the physical world (God’s final act is resting on the seventh day, resulting in the institution of the Sabbath). Male/female gender distinctions exist from the moment of humanity’s creation, but both genders are made in the image of God. Moreover, both genders are given dominion over the natural world and commanded to procreate. Thus, reproductive sexuality is emphasized from the outset of humanity’s existence (Stone, 2000, pp. 59–62).

By comparison to the Garden of Eden story (discussed later), Genesis 1 appears to demonstrate an equalized view of gender relations. No gender hierarchy is mentioned in this creation account—both genders are created simultaneously and share dominion over the earth as well as the responsibility of sexual reproduction. However, caution should be exercised when interpreting Genesis 1 as an emblem of gender equality. More likely, the creation account in Genesis 1 simply recognizes gender dimorphism as an essential feature of humanity. However, such recognition does not necessarily include gender equality from a social or legal standpoint (Clines, 1990, pp. 41–44; Meyers, 2012, p. 74; Shectman, 2009, pp. 130–134). In other words, Genesis 1 is concerned with biology rather than with social relationships (Bird, 1981, p. 155; Bird, 1997, p. 146).

Proverbs 8:22–31.

The biblical book of Proverbs is chiefly composed of instruction literature, with the speaker as the “father” and the audience the “son” being addressed. However, one section of Proverbs describes the presence of wisdom at the creation of the cosmos. In this text, Wisdom, personified as feminine, is speaking:

Yahweh created me at the beginning of His courseAs the first of His works of old.In the distant past I was fashioned,At the beginning, at the origin of earthThere was still no deep when I was brought forth,No springs rich in water;Before [the foundation of] the mountains were sunk,Before the hills I was born.He had not made the earth and fields,Or the world’s first clumps of clay.I was there when He set the heavens into place;When He fixed the horizon upon the deep;When he made the heavens above firm,And the fountains of the deep gushed forth;When He assigned the sea its limits,So that its waters never transgress His command;When He fixed the foundations of the earth,I was with Him as a confidant,A source of delight every day,Rejoicing before Him at all times,Rejoicing in His inhabited world,Finding delight with humankind.

In the Hebrew Bible, Yahweh is characteristically a male deity, though occasionally he is given feminine characteristics, such as being both father and mother (Deut 32:18; Isa 42:14, 46:3–4). In this text, wisdom, personified as female, is envisioned as present before the creation of the cosmos and as a companion to Yahweh. The text elevates a concept associated with the feminine as the first creation, a suitable feminine pairing with a masculine deity. However, Wisdom does not participate in the act of creation itself.

Genesis 2:4b—3.

Perhaps more than any other biblical text, the creation account in Genesis 2—3 has impacted views of gender relations. Interpretations of the Garden of Eden story have often been highly detrimental for women, and this text has been used to support arguments for women’s inferiority, weakness, and subordination to men as well as views of women as deceptive temptresses who lead righteous men astray. The main arguments about gender relations tend to coalesce around three passages: the creation of the woman (Gen 2:18–24), the blame attributed to the woman in eating the fruit from the forbidden tree (Gen 3:1–7), and God’s pronouncement to the woman (Gen 3:16).

Rather than a creation of the cosmos, Genesis 2—3 focuses on the creation of humanity and their lineage and is an etiological folk tale, an explanation of how things came to be (Frymer-Kensky, 2006, p. 5; Meyers, 2012, p. 67). Indeed, when the story begins, God (here called Yahweh ’Elohim) has already created heaven and earth. The first action of the story is the creation of a human being, hā’ādām in Hebrew, from the dust of the earth and the breath of the deity (Gen 2:7). Though the characters in this tale are often referred to as Adam and Eve, they are not actually given these proper names until the end of the story for Eve (Gen 3:20) and even later for Adam (Gen 4:25). With the term hā’ādām used to designate the human being, the story engages in word play with the Hebrew word for “earth,” hā’ădāmâ, the raw material used to make the human. An English rendering of this pun would be earthling/earth or human/humus (Meyers, 2012, p. 71; Trible, 1978, p. 77). As Hebrew is a gendered language, it is apparent that hā’ādām is a masculine noun. However, it has been suggested that the gender of the noun does not necessarily correlate to male gender and that the original “earthling” in Genesis 2 should be understood as androgynous since there is as yet no sexually differentiated human being (Bal, 1987, 113–114; Knust, 2011, pp. 51–53; Meyers, p. 72; Trible, p. 80;). Although this is certainly logical, against such an interpretation it has been pointed out that the original hā’ādām remains associated with the man after the woman is created, culminating in the name of the man as “Adam” (Clines, 1990; Gardner, 1990; Jobling, 1978; Lanser, 1988; Milne, 1989).

A key issue in the creation of woman is her designated purpose. Yahweh ’Elohim decides, “It is not good for the earthling to be by itself [i.e., the only one of its kind]. I will make a suitable partner for it” (Gen 2:18). On the basis of traditional translations “helper” or “helpmate,” it has long been argued that women were created to be assistants to men. However, this view of “helper” has been criticized by feminist scholars, who particularly note the Hebrew term’s association with Yahweh (Bal, 1987, p. 115; Meyers, 2012, p. 73; Trible, 1978, p. 90). Although this argument is a helpful corrective against misogynist interpretations, the verse likely refers to Yahweh creating a corresponding pair and does not relate to gender equality in social or legal terms (Meyers, 2012, p. 73).

After Yahweh ’Elohim forms the woman, he brings her to the earthling, now clearly the man. The man exclaims, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh! This one shall be called ‘Wo-man,’ for from Man was she taken.” The man names the woman, just as he also names the animals. In the word for “woman,” there is another example of world play between a created object and its raw material. In this case “wo-man” (Hebrew ’îššâ) is formed from man (Hebrew ’îš). After the man names the woman, the text inserts what is possibly an etiological saying, “Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh.” This statement reflects the opposite situation of Israelite marriage, where typically the woman left her household at marriage and lived with her husband’s family. However, the passage understands (hetero-)sexual unions as representing the original unity of men and women at creation and sexual companionship as more important than biological family ties. Genesis 2 ends by noting that the man and woman were naked in the garden but felt no shame. Though sexually differentiated, humans do not yet possess awareness of sexuality.

This situation changes when the man and the woman, convinced by the “crafty” serpent, eat fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent does not represent Satan in Genesis, but this association emerges among later interpreters. In the ancient Near East snakes could symbolize wisdom but also immortality since they shed their skin (Carr, 2003, pp. 45–46). The serpent engages the woman in dialogue and gives assurance that eating the tree’s fruit will not cause death.

"When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked; and they sewed together fig leaves and made loincloths for themselves." (Gen 3:6–7)

As the Hebrew makes clear, the man is with the woman for the entire discussion with the snake. Therefore, the woman is not deceptive, nor is she a temptress. It is not clear why the woman talks to the snake instead of talking to the man. It has been used as a traditional argument for woman’s weakness or even inclination for evil, but there is no indication of this in the biblical text. In fact, the woman appears intelligent and perceptive (Fewell and Gunn, 1993, p. 30–31; Niditch, 2012, p. 31; Trible, 1978, p. 110). Perhaps the reason could be that wisdom was envisioned as feminine, and the forbidden tree is connected to wisdom and understanding (Meyers, 1988, p. 91). Whatever the case, the man and woman do not die—the serpent is right about this—but instead become cognizant of their nakedness (Carr, 2003, p. 46; Niditch, 2012 p. 31). What the man and woman gain from eating of the tree is awareness of their sexuality (Simkins, 1998, pp. 47–48).

When Yahweh discovers that the humans have eaten from the forbidden tree, he makes pronouncements against the serpent, the woman, and the man. The man and the serpent are both explicitly cursed, but the woman is not. Moreover, Yahweh’s pronouncement against the woman is considerably shorter than the others. However, it is perhaps the most troubling verse for gender relations in the entire Hebrew Bible (Meyers, 1988, p. 95):

I will make great your toil and many your pregnancies;With hardship shall you bear children.Yet, you shall desire your manAnd he shall overrule you.

(Gen 3:16)

The man’s curse is that the ground he must till will be hard and cause him much toil until he finally returns to the earth when he dies. Both punishments return to the original creation puns—the man was created from earth and his punishment connects to the earth; woman was created from man, and her punishment affects her relationship with the man, especially her role in sexual reproduction. Carol Meyers has argued that Yahweh’s pronouncement upon the woman reflects the dangers that were associated with pregnancy and childbirth in ancient Israel (and other premodern societies) and that the man’s “rule” over the woman refers to overcoming female reluctance to sexual reproduction (Meyers, 1988, pp. 99–121; Meyers, 2012). However, the story also represents an idealized image of gender relations in the garden, demonstrating recognition, however implicit, that gender relations in ancient Israel were not what they were originally meant to be.

Adam and Eve in later traditions.

The story of the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden and their expulsion from paradise after eating the forbidden fruit has inspired various opinions and retellings for millennia (Meyers, 2012, pp. 60–65; Stewart, 2012). However, the rest of the Hebrew Bible makes no allusion to the story of the Garden of Eden. References to Adam and Eve begin to appear only in the third century B.C.E. and later, when Genesis 2–3 was part of the canon of Hebrew scriptures. These interpretations often tell us more about contemporary perspectives than the meaning of the biblical text itself.

Several references to Adam and Eve appear in Apocryphal texts. The earliest is the third century B.C.E. book Tobit, which refers to Adam and Eve in a marriage prayer: “You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve as a helper and support” (Tob 8:6). The early second-century B.C.E. book of Sirach (also known as Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus) makes possibly the earliest connection between women, sin, and death (Kvam et al., 1999, p. 49): “From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die” (Sir 25:24). The first-century C.E. texts 2 Esdras 3:20–26 and 2 Baruch 48:42–47 both focus primarily on Adam’s responsibility in the expulsion from Eden.

The New Testament also alludes to the Garden of Eden story, particularly among the Pauline and deutero-Pauline letters. In 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 and Romans 5:12 Paul compares sin and death coming into the world through Adam to the reconciliation and life through Christ, with no mention of Eve in these texts. Paul briefly mentions the serpent deceiving Eve by his cunning in 2 Corinthians 11:3. However, several references to Genesis 2—3 are used to support arguments for the subordination of women. In 1 Corinthians 11:7–12 Paul instructs women to veil themselves but asserts that a man should not have his head veiled “since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man.” The deutero-Pauline letters contain examples of similar perspectives. The first letter to Timothy relates women’s subordination to men’s authority to the Garden of Eden story in Genesis 2—3, stating, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty” (1 Tim 2:12–15). Ephesians 5:21—6:9 quotes Genesis 2:24 about a man leaving his father and mother and joining his wife in one flesh and applies it to women’s subordination to their husbands.

One example in the synoptic gospels could also be an indirect reference to Eden. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is questioned by the Sadducees regarding the bonds of marriage after the resurrection. The Sadducees intend to outwit Jesus by giving an example of a woman who had married seven brothers through the custom of levirate marriage and asking Jesus whose wife she would be in the resurrection. “Jesus said to them, ‘Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mark 12:24–25). Early Christianity’s vision of the kingdom of God is a return to an Eden-like state, but with the divine qualities of such an existence enhanced. With the end of marriage, the key institution of post-Eden reality, there comes also the potential end of gender hierarchy, as evidenced by the important roles held by women in the early church (Niditch, 1985, p. 95).

Although early Jewish and Christian texts demonstrate some variety of interpretations regarding Eve’s status and blame for expulsion from the Garden, the view of Eve becomes increasingly negative. One popular work circulating in the first centuries C.E. was the pseudepigraphical Life of Adam and Eve, also called the Apocalypse of Moses. This retelling depicts an Eve ridden with guilt who claims that “all sin has come about through me” (Apoc. Mos. 32:3), though in the Apocalypse of Moses Eve also gives her own account of what happened in Eden and this section gives a more sympathetic view toward her (Arbel, 2012; Kvam et al., 1999, pp. 42–43; Levison, 1978, p. 150). Early church fathers such as Tertullian and Augustine viewed Eve as inferior and responsible for introducing sin into the world. Christian tradition in particular focused on the idea of “original sin” and the notion of a “fall,” and theologians became especially fixated on the figure of Eve. With the serpent playing an increasingly satanic and phallic role, Eve became the antithesis of the Virgin Mary (Stewart, 2012). One of the most influential interpretations of Genesis 2–3 in the English-speaking world has been John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, which treats Eve as clearly inferior to Adam (e.g., Paradise Lost 10:150–151). As the result of this interpretative history, Eve came to represent all women’s inferiority and weakness, on the one hand, and danger and deception on the other, especially regarding female sexuality. Though not monolithic, arguments for women’s subordination based on Genesis 2—3 have persisted for over two millennia.

Genesis 2—3 has also been important for modern biblical scholarship, especially with the rise of feminism. Almost since its inception, feminist thinking has made use of the Bible. Since the Bible is seen by many as a sacred text, it therefore provides support for patriarchy and authorization for women’s oppression, and this is especially the case with Genesis 2—3. First-wave feminists encountered arguments of women’s inferiority based on Genesis 2—3 as an obstacle in getting the vote. During the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, some feminists advocated rejecting Genesis 2—3 as harmful to women. However, biblical scholar Phyllis Trible and literary critic Mieke Bal argued that the original text was not as misogynistic as traditional interpretations of it but was instead a positive text for women and gender equality (Bal, 1987; Trible, 1978). Trible’s work especially has been influential within biblical scholarship, though many of her arguments have been critiqued and her view of Genesis 2—3 as a proto-feminist text is regarded as positivistic, even by scholars with sympathetic aims (Clines, 1990; Gardner, 1990; Jobling, 1978; Lanser, 1988; Milne, 1989). Another major figure in recent interpretations of Genesis 2—3 is Carol Meyers, who has provided a historical interpretation of Genesis 2—3 based on archaeology and socio-anthropology of women’s lives in Iron Age Israel (1988; 2012). Other recent scholarship has interpreted Genesis 2—3 as a wisdom text or a coming-of-age tale (Carr, 2003, pp. 45–46). Moreover, the binary division of gender as well as the presentation of heterosexuality as normative in Genesis 2—3 has also been discussed (Stone, 2000, pp. 62–68).

Looking to an ancient text such as Genesis 2—3 for answers to modern ethical debates surrounding gender equality is bound to yield an inadequate return. Living thousands of years ago, the writers of these stories were unaware of these issues. However, scholars can continue to utilize varieties of interpretive tools to understand better conceptions of gender in the Bible and the ancient Near Eastern world.

[See also DEITY, subentries on ANCIENT NEAR EAST AND HEBREW BIBLE; EDUCATION, subentries on ANCIENT NEAR EAST and HEBREW BIBLE; IMAGERY, GENDERED, subentry WISDOM LITERATURE; and MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE, subentry HEBREW BIBLE.]

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Erin E. Fleming