5 Questions for Mike Rugnetta about the Genesis Creation Story

I’ve followed and appreciated from “day 1” what Crash Course has done to educate people. Anyone with neutral net access can get entertaining, thought-provoking introductions to various subjects, getting a quick survey of topics.

The downside, of course, is that these speedy courses can reduce or misrepresent complex and nuanced understandings of the world.

While I’ve enjoyed Mike Rugnetta’s initial treatment of Crash Course Mythology, which carefully defines what myth is (not just fiction) and it’s implications, I have to take issue with the 5th and latest installment, “Social Orders and Creation Stories.”

Granted, the episodes aren’t written by Rugnetta alone, but my questions address him as presenter. The video description reads, “We’re going to look today at stories from around the world that establish or amplify the idea that the errors of women have brought bad things into the world.” Not interpretations of stories, but stories.

Understanding what myths say and mean to different people is important to represent, and I think that even typically liberal audiences agree with that. Remember the criticism of the film Moana?

As a member of the Christian community, I was troubled to see Crash Course give a very cursory treatment to an origin story that is rich with meaning and has been given numerous interpretations by both Christian and non-Christian communities. Although Rugnetta mentioned in passing that the focus was on the second of three accounts of creation in Genesis, the video proceeded giving each of the myths a singular interpretation. If this is only one third of the layers of the Genesis creation account, what do the other layers have to say about the the role of woman in the story?

I cannot speak for the Japanese and Greek myths, but as a long-time Christian who has received an education in Biblical studies and completed Masters degree work in comparative mythology, I propose 5 questions to Mike Rugnetta and the Crash Course developers in order to challenge their treatment of the Genesis Creation myth:

  1. Are you sure woman being “taken out of man” doesn’t mean they’re equals?
    Woman is taken out of the same substance, the same form, as man. “Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” means of the same physical nature, not subtracted or reduced. They become one flesh, not a higher flesh and a lower flesh. How is that a justification for men being superior to women?While “Isha” (woman) is taken out of the word “ish,” this does not address their proper names, Adam and Eve. Adam means “human” (but also “red dirt”) and Eve means “mother of all living.” So, while Adam is made from dust, Eve is taken from him post-dust, after he has God’s breath, and when Eve is named the mother of all life, it is as if she is being crowned queen of creation. They have a shared dominion.
    This is also implied by the fact that woman was taken out of man’s middle, and that which protects his inner core. He is not taken out of his head or foot, to make woman above or below him, as Matthew Henry points out in his commentary, but from his side. She is from under his arm and near to his heart. She flanks him.
  2. If man naming something only represents his authority over it, why does God create Eve as a companion, and not a subject?
    God allows man to name the animals. He also names woman, but rather than name her after her difference from him or other animals, Adam names her in direct relation to him. She is from the same flesh and bone as him. As Adam names the animals, he certainly sees (as the narrative of Noah points out) that these creatures all exist “two by two” and have mates. Where is his mate? Where is his like kind? None of these creatures are suitable to him precisely because they are not his equal.
    When Adam first names Eve, he only describes her categorically. It’s as if the naming is incomplete. It is not until the end of the inclusio of this account that male and female are both renamed Adam and Eve. If both are renamed, then it must not be Adam doing the naming.
  3. Why did you not explore the meaning of the Hebrew word ezer kenegdo?
    While some English interpretations of the phrase render it “help meet,” indicating women as a diminutive assistant, scholars often prefer other renderings of the two roots ezer (to be strong) and kenegdo (to save). Other renderings of the phrase reveal woman as a correspondence, or a counter strength, to man. Woman is the other half of man, comparable to him and meeting him where he is weak and incomplete.Even more so, since the word ezer is often associated with Yahweh in his relation to man, woman plays a role in redeeming man in a way that is sometimes spiritually superior to him. This can be reflected in the Proverbs’ characterization of wisdom as female, the Gospel account of women being the first to spread the news of resurrection, and the Pauline teaching that wise elders should have wives. The narrative indicates that woman was created as something sacred to be held up against man, like a mirror opposite.

    “Neged, a related word which means “against”, was one of the first words I learned in Hebrew. I thought it was very strange that God would create a companion for Adam that was “against” him! Later, I learned that kenegdo could also mean “in front of” or “opposite.” This still didn’t help much. Finally I heard it explained as being “exactly corresponding to,” like when you look at yourself in a mirror.”-Diana Webb

    Based on this understanding of language, Beverly Campbell translates Genesis 2:18 in this way: “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a companion of strength and power who has a saving power and is equal with him.”

  4. Why simplify the dynamics of temptation and sin?
    Consider that Adam was given the commandment not to eat of the tree of “Acquaintance with Good and Evil,” and should have communicated it to his comparative other. He was also not with her, indicating that the two should be joined to prevent sin from entering. Although one way to interpret the story is that we’re all punished because a man listened to a woman, I believe a better fitting interpretation is that we suffer in relationships because the couple God made for one another failed to work together as a couple. Adam failed to lead; Eve failed to advise.While Eve sinned first, it took a lot of work for her to give in. Eve deeply considers the temptation, and has to be assaulted on 3 fronts (“the three lusts” as Christian tradition calls them), directly by the serpent. Adam just gives in because a woman told him to. We could just as easily say that Adam is portrayed as the spiritually weak one. He gives in to sin when all it takes is a woman. The sin of Eve required the full cunning of the tempter. (When Paul writes to Timothy that Eve was deceived first, and not Adam, he was combating various teachings that elevated women above men in disservice to a teaching that was egalitarian, but also gave deference to males in leadership.)

    Again, the failure is on both their parts, and this is why the Lord gives them a shared curse, and their individual curses are related to their failures to correspond to one another and fulfill their garden responsibilities. The Creator even dishes out the serpent’s consequence before Eve’s (which the video fails to mention), opposing the order in which Adam and Eve assign blame. Conversely, the Creator seems here to object Adam’s claim that his sin is just Eve’s fault.

  5. Why be reductive about the complexities of free will, fate, choice, and consequence in the garden, without even mentioning the promise of redemption through woman?
    Different denominations debate this heavy stuff by mining Genesis, and part of schism comes from not combining the narratives and looking at them as layers.The Crash Course video identifies the woman as the one at fault, completely leaving out the serpent, who is strongly implied to be the Adversary (Devil) or his servant. Eve’s choice was not deliberate, but persuaded of her without her equal counter strength, rendering her own counter strength negative. Her role is to advise Adam, but her advice is corrupted. Adam’s silence during Eve’s temptation is also indicative of his moral failure, and part of why his consequence is so manifold. Though they are both cursed with mortality, Adam is the one verbally assigned the burden of toil and death, while Eve is blessed with mothering life, though the blessing will now be a painful ordeal.It can be argued that the results of their mistakes equalize one to the other. Childbirth hurts. Farming is grueling. Marriage is a battle. Death is inevitable. That’s life, and it can all be redemptive. Is God meting out strictly punitive measures, or is he  delivering natural consequences of the reality of their choices? While man plays the role of leader in the pair, their brokenness results in a history of man taking advantage of that role by subjugating woman. In Christianity, this historical imbalance is moved toward rectification, reestablishing the equal dynamic of love and respect, while yet maintaining that the male plays the role of leader.

    The text is not clear on the degree to which all of these curses are the consequences of one sin versus the consequences of humanity’s sin in general. Religious scholars debate whether Adam and Eve’s sin made us sinful or was indicative of how sinful we are. A cursory reading of Genesis 2, without examining the rest of the Torah or Gospels, should not bring a definitive answer.
    Look also to the Messianic blessing out of the seed of woman, who is given the role of the keeper of the savior of mankind, in essence. She gives life and nurtures the children of men, is the only one between the two who conceives and bears the heirs of the promise, and is the chosen one to birth the Messiah. It is out of woman, and not man, that the seed will come which stand between tempter and tempted, and will bruise the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). And if redemption is meant to come out of all of these curses through woman, then even if man’s authoritative relationship to woman is a result of sin, redemption provides the view that a male-centered social dynamic is not ideal, but a human tendency for society to organize itself as a result of the pain of brokenness, and that the seed of woman will provide a means by which love and respect will be brought back into not only the marriage relationship, but all of the earth.

    I see no reason to view woman as a villain in the Genesis creation myth. If anything, she’s a hero, as flawed as her opposite equal. While the dynamic of leadership in Jewish and Christian homes may upset many modern feminists, you have to jump through numerous hermeneutical hoops to go as far as to claim that the Genesis creation account lays all the blame of evil on woman.


3 responses to “5 Questions for Mike Rugnetta about the Genesis Creation Story

  1. Thanks for posting this! You really brought out some really good stuff. I especially love #5!

    On a minor note: I don’t believe Paul was combating Gnosticism because Gnosticism did not exist in his day.

    • Thanks for asking. I don’t think it could be called proto-gnostic either. I don’t think Gnosticism was known for being feminist or the like. I don’t think Paul was combating anything specific. It appears he is just clarifying specific aspects of the church’s gender roles based on the Creation and the Fall.

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