In archaeological excavations, female figurines have turned up. They could depict mother goddesses. The most famous one is the Venus of Willendorf from around 23,000 BC. In ancient cultures, mother goddesses represented fertility. Women give birth, and early humans may not have understood fatherhood and believed that women create life. The ability of women to produce offspring could have been the essence of mother goddess worship. Virgin births are the miracle of the mother goddess. One of the best-known mother goddesses was Isis in ancient Egypt.
Women can be sure that their children are their own, but for men, this is different. When the fathers of children are unknown, families are matrilineal, which means that family lines depend on motherhood. The worship of mother goddesses may have disappeared because men desired to control women and their sexuality. The transition from hunting-gathering to agriculture may have played a role in this development.
Hunter-gatherers were wanderers. They had fewer territorial conflicts than farmers because population density was low, and their disputes were less intense because hunter-gatherers had no property and could move on.1 That changed with the advent of agriculture. Farmers had to defend their property and family. Otherwise, they would starve and lose their offspring. Men are willing to protect women and children they consider their own. Men can also walk out when they doubt their fatherhood. That may have given them a position of power, so patriarchy emerged.
The Garden of Eden was in Mesopotamia. The biblical story probably was an ancient Mesopotamian myth that Jewish scribes tailored to their theological agenda. The Jews had been exiled to Babylon when their priests compiled their scriptures. In the original tale, Eve probably was Adam’s mother. That makes more sense than Eve coming from Adam’s rib. She is the Mother of All the Living (Genesis 3:20), and we are the woman’s offspring (Genesis 3:15). Elsewhere in the Bible, a child is called the father’s offspring, so this is noteworthy. Eve apparently gave birth without the intervention of a man, a virgin birth.
Eve is the mythical mother of humanity. Scientific evidence suggests that everyone descends from one woman called Mitochondrial Eve. This universe could be a simulation created by an advanced humanoid civilisation to entertain a post-human individual we call God. And so it may be part of the script. In other words, in the real world, all humans may not descend from one woman.
The purpose of the man was to be a companion for the woman and perhaps to fulfil her desires. The Bible says that God created the woman as a mate for the man (Genesis 2:18), but the tale only mentions the woman’s desire for her husband (Genesis 3:16). In the original story, Eve may have desired a mate and then gave birth to Adam. Eve probably was the leading character in the original tale as she discussed eating the fruit with the serpent and made Adam eat from it (Genesis 3:1-6).
A man left his father and mother and became united with his wife (Genesis 2:24). In patrilineal and patriarchal societies, women join their husband’s families. And so, Paradise might have been matrilineal or even matriarchal. The title Mother of all the Living refers to the mother goddess,2 but nothing suggests that Eve was a goddess in the original tale. It remains unclear who created the woman, but it could be the Mesopotamian gods.
The Fall reflects the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. The life of hunter-gatherers was more agreeable than the plight of farmers who came later on. The Agricultural Revolution was a curse for humanity.1 The Garden of Eden provided for everything. Eve and Adam were naked (Genesis 2:25) like hunter-gatherers in the jungle today. Adam was banished from the garden to work the ground and condemned to a life of toil (Genesis 3:17-19). Women had to obey their husbands from then on (Genesis 3:16).
Any explanation of the Fall is speculative, but the following plausibly elucidates the main elements. In ancient cultures, people worshipped snakes for their wisdom or knowledge. Hence, the serpent may have given counsel to Eve. The tree of knowledge relates to the sacred tree, which may explain why it was forbidden to eat from it. The prominent role of Eve may reflect the part women played in shifting from gathering to planting crops that condemned men to a life of property and warfare.
Farmers have to protect their crops from thieves. Otherwise, they face starvation. Perhaps, Cain murdered Abel because Abel’s flocks ate Cain’s crops, so he had only meagre offerings for the gods, while Abel could please the gods by offering well-nourished animals. The first murder happened just after the Fall and was a conflict between a cattle herder and a crop planter. Knowledge of agriculture and animal husbandry did not work out well. And so, Paradise was lost.
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The Jewish deity Yahweh and the Arabian deity Allah were male, even though many people now speculate that God has no gender. Yahweh and Allah had a wife and children before monotheism took over. Allah was at first the supreme deity of Mecca, but the owner of the universe appropriated this title. Jews and Muslims do not see God as a Father as Christians do. There are, however, a few references to God as a father and a mother in the Hebrew Bible. Christianity explicitly attributes gender to God because God’s relationship with Jesus made it explicit. Christians are born of God. Hence, God could be a Mother. There is no Father in the Hebrew Bible, but Eve is the Mother of All the Living.
The Quran mentions the creation of Adam extensively but says little about how Eve came into existence. At one point, it states that God created Eve out of Adam’s soul. The Quran further claims that Jesus was created like Adam from dust. The Quran corroborates the virgin birth story of Jesus. It opens up the possibility that the Virgin Eve gave birth to Adam. The account of the Fall in the Quran differs from Genesis. In the Quran, there is no serpent, and Eve did not make Adam eat from the tree. The Quran claims that Adam listened to the voice of Satan. It further tells that Adam and Eve repented and that God forgave them. The historical context of the original story, the curse of the Agricultural Revolution caused by women, is lost in the Quran. On the other hand, casting the blame on Adam rather than Eve may have been early Christian teaching.
The first Christians may have believed that Eve was God and the Mother of all the Living, that Mary Magdalene was Eve, and that Jesus was Adam. And Eve did not come from Adam’s rib but that Adam was born as Eve’s son so Adam, and, therefore, Jesus were the Son of God. Humanity descends from Eve so we are God’s children (John 1:13). Tribes exist by the idea that they share common ancestors. Usually, these ancestors are mythical people who lived long ago. The myth of Eve and Adam has the potential to turn all of humanity into a single tribe. And, God’s plan may work like so. Paul of Tarsus may have realised that this message was meant for humankind rather than Jews alone.
Latest revision: 22 July 2022
Featured image: Eve in the Garden Of Eden. Henri Rousseau (1906-1910). Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.
Other images: Venus of Willendorf. Don Hitchcock (2008). Wikimedia Commons.
1. A Brief History Of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari (2014). Harvil Secker.
2. Asherah – Wikipedia [link]: Some scholars have found an early link between Asherah and Eve, based upon the coincidence of their common title as “the mother of all living” in Genesis 3:20 through the identification with the Hurrian mother goddess Hebat. Asherah was also given the title Chawat from which the name Hawwah in Aramaic and the biblical name Eve are derived.