Part 1: The ‘Rib’
The Hebrew word that is translated as ‘Adam’ is actually a gender-neutral word that means ‘a creature of earth’. In other words, Adam was initially created neither Male nor Female.
The creature was placed in the Garden and given only one restriction – not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Adam lived a quiet, comfortable, and all but purposeless life in the Garden, tending the flora and distributing names to the animals. But God saw that Adam was alone with no emotional life, no tension, hardship or struggle. So God decided to put Adam to sleep and separate it into Male and Female in order to provide an emotionally meaningful life for humanity.
Here is an extremely important point: The Hebrew word tsela appears many times in the Bible. With one exception it is translated as ‘side’, typically referring to the side walls of important structures such as the Tabernacle. On one occasion only, here in Genesis, tsela is translated as ‘rib’.
This unique translation has had horrendous repercussions.
But if we give the word the same meaning that it has on every other occasion, the story makes more sense. God took one side of the creature and out of this he made Eve, the woman, and the other side became Adam, the man – where neither had existed before. The ‘One’ has become ‘Two’, and there is nothing in this description to indicate anything other than perfect equality.
The isolation of one human creature can now be replaced with a new form of wholeness that is attainable through love and erotic longing between two individuals.
One possible reason for the early translator’s choice of the word ‘rib’ in this one place is that by taking a rib God revealed the Heart of the creature, analogous to opening Pandora’s Box, thus bringing emotions (which are universally symbolized by the Feminine) into the realm of human life. Like Pandora’s story, this is where pain and difficulty enter the world, but also happiness and meaning, and only then do mortal beings become moral beings with the ability to make choices and mistakes, and thus to evolve and grow.
Even if we retain the word ‘rib’ as the translation of tsela, we see that this rib did not come from a previously created male, thereby suggesting some sort of primacy for the ‘man’. On the contrary, the rib came from a previously created earth creature of no gender.
And in fact, the Woman, Eve, in the story, was created before the Man!
Part 2: The ‘Fall’
Later in the story of Eden, the Bible says: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”
Notice here that Adam’s behavior in this story is completely passive. Throughout the scene, he is silent. The Serpent and Eve have their discussion, she decides to eat the fruit, she gives some to Adam, and he eats it too. That’s all! The story doesn’t say that Eve tempted Adam, and nothing in the narration or in his silence suggests that she did. There’s no indication he’s reluctant to eat the fruit, that his better judgment is overwhelmed by Eve’s treachery and deceit, or even that he thinks about it at all. He says nothing and he takes no initiative. It’s merely a passive act of acquiescence.
Socrates will later describe the human soul as composed of three parts – the Thoughts of the Mind, the Emotions of the Heart, and the Needs and Appetites of the Body. He shows how these parts are in a state of total chaos and disorder. To ‘perfect’ one’s soul means that each of these parts must perform its own proper task in a well-ordered harmony with the others.
In the story of the Garden, which is a parable of our inner life and the need to evolve and perfect our soul, Adam represents the Mind, Eve represents the Heart, and the Serpent represents the Body. (This is typical ancient mythological symbolism: males = mind, females = heart, animals = body). In their proper alignment, the Mind should be the Active principle that governs the soul. The Body should the Passive principle which supports the efforts of the Mind. And the Heart should be the Reconciling principle that protects and nurtures the soul under the guidance of the Mind.
But what happened in the Garden of Eden is that the appropriate ‘order’ became inverted. The serpent (the Body) interfered, took the active lead, and persuaded Eve (the Heart) to go along with its wishes. Adam (the Mind), silent and oblivious, passively joined in.
This was the real ‘sin’ that occurred in the Garden of Eden, and that recurs in each one of us. This is the ‘Original’ (in the sense of ‘fundamental’) sin – the sin of an inverted soul.
It takes very little imagination to see that this allegory provides a complete and accurate description of our contemporary life – the pop culture, the greed, the obscenity. The Body’s appetites are completely in charge of what we do, the Heart’s emotions fawn over these cravings, and the Mind (at least in the sense of genuine Wisdom) sits back silently and lets it all continue. ‘Original Sin’ is not “something an evil woman did a long time ago”. Quite the contrary, we are all committing this sin right now. It is high time we stopped blaming ‘Eve’.
When God returns to the Garden of Eden, his instructions are really quite simple. If the soul wants to evolve, the Serpent must crawl on its belly – in other words, the Body must be Passive and focus on the Earth. Adam must “earn his bread through the sweat of his face” – in other words, the Mind (the “face”) must make active efforts (“sweat”) and take control. And Eve must “obey” her husband.
But this last statement should never have been twisted into a sexist command about social and marital relations. It’s an inner symbol which simply means the Heart (in all of us) must be ruled by the intelligence of the Mind, not the cravings of the Body.