One of the overarching narratives of Western culture is the story of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. Although religious leaders and scholars revere the tale, it remains for women, a curse. Some people try to put a positive spin on the story of how Eve got herself and Adam expelled from the Garden of Eden by comparing her with Prometheus, in his longing for power. Yet it’s awfully hard not to see Eve as worse than Adam. She was the one who listened to the serpent in the first place; she was the first to disobey God’s command not to eat fruit from either of the two trees in the middle of the garden. Most important, Eve tempted Adam into being disobedient with her.
Among the most profoundly moving paintings in Renaissance art is Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (c. 1425). It depicts Adam and Eve walking out of the garden side-by-side, partners in misery. In the painting, they’re both nude, while in the Bible, they’re described as wearing skins. Eve holds her head high, but seems to be wailing pitifully. Her newly imposed modesty bids her awkwardly trying to cover her breasts and pudenda. Adam hangs his head in shame, covers his face with his hands, and doesn’t bother to cover up his genitals. When women hear a reference to the story of Adam and Eve, we often envision Massacio’s painting, or something approximating it.
Adam and Eve were basically equally disobedient to God. They were, after all, expelled as a couple, and they both lost their unselfconsciousness. But God left Adam in the catbird’s seat. Although Adam’s soul was—as was Eve’s—severely chastened (only Christianity, however, turns this into the “original sin” from which everybody born on Earth needs to be redeemed), his body wasn’t. Sure, he was told that from then on he’d have to sweat for his bread, but that only made him hunky. Adam wasn’t made to experience the same kind of shame at his nakedness as Eve was at hers (modesty in appearance became mostly women’s job), and he wasn’t condemned to suffering the same extreme pain in the procreation of the human race that women do. The story of Adam and Even tells women that their bodies are not only inherently shameful (think of the extreme fuss two of the three Abrahamic religions make over menstruation), but they’re also the root cause of men doing bad things.
Imagine for a moment, however, that the story of Adam and Eve ran something like this:
God placed a creature She made in Her own image in the Garden of Eden. Her name was Eve. When Eve found she was lonely, God took pity on her and used one of her ribs to make her a friend named Adam. Adam looked a lot like her, except he was bigger and stronger and, for some inexplicable reason, sported an odd protuberance that stuck out from between his legs, breaking the smoothness and harmony of form God had given Eve. God instructed both Eve and Adam not to eat any of the fruit from the two trees that were in the center of the garden. Otherwise, they were free to romp around the garden in an innocent, unerotic manner.
One day a serpent came along and said, “Hey, Adam, look here. I’ve got this fabulous idea for you. If you eat a piece of this apple, you’ll look at Eve in an entirely different way. You’ll experience a very pleasant urge that will enchance that useless protuberance of yours and make you want to put it to work rolling around in the grass with Eve. What do you say?”
Adam replied, “Nope. I enjoy blissfully romping around the garden with Eve in an unoro…enero..er, however you say it—unerotic—way. Besides, God said not to eat any fruit from that tree.” To which the serpent replied, “Suit yourself, but you don’t know the fantastic feelings you’ll experience if you eat this fruit and learn to look at Eve in a certain way.” Adam gave in and replied, “OK, come to think of it, it’s a little boring just romping around the garden in an unoro…enero…um, unerotic way, and rolling around in the grass with Eve sounds like a bit of fun.” At that point, Adam took a bite of a piece of the fruit that hung from one of the two trees in the center of the garden.
The fruit tasted so delicious that Adam ran to Eve and said, “Hey, Eve, try this fabulous fruit.” Striking one of those contrapposto poses Polykleitos made so famous, Adam looked so good that he tempted Eve to eat the fruit as well.
When God saw Adam and Eve running around in the garden playing Hide the Protuberance, She knew what they’d gone and done. She punished the serpent for tempting Adam by condemning it to an eternal life of crawling around in the dust. She punished Adam for in turn tempting Eve, by making men brutish and warlike. And she punished Eve for following Adam’s bidding by making women have to put up with men everlastingly proclaim that God put them in charge of things.Return to Top