When I was in college, I read a feminist scholar’s exegesis of Genesis 1-3 for a class I was taking. I’ve read this scholar a few times since, and have always found her to be a gifted exegete with the kind of literary acumen I’ve been discussing over the past few weeks. She tends to unpack the text in a way that helps you appreciate its literary artistry and see dimensions you might previously have missed. Unfortunately, she also self-consciously reinterprets these texts from the standpoint of her own ideology. Rather than merely correcting sexist or misogynist distortions of the text, she unapologetically seems to distort the text in the opposite direction.
For example, many traditional interpretations of Genesis 2-3 have vilified Eve (and women in general) while excusing Adam (and men in general). This scholar rightly corrects these distortions, but then goes on to vilify Adam and make Eve out to be something of a heroine. I would argue that the text condemns both Adam and Eve as complicit in the fall.
Because this scholar sometimes sets aside her undeniable exegetical skill to push her ideological agenda, I find reading her to be something of an uneven experience. One moment I am impressed with her insight into the text, and the next I am dismayed by her willingness to read into the text a viewpoint which strikes me as clearly foreign to it.
My point in telling you all this is not to critique this scholar’s exegetical methods, but to relate how reading her work back in college taught me a valuable lesson about biblical exegesis: namely, to watch out for blind spots.
As I was working my way through this scholar’s commentary on Genesis 1-3, I was surprised when I came to Genesis 3:6, which says that Eve gave the forbidden fruit to her husband “who was with her” and he ate. She made much of this phrase, using it to vilify Adam and to make Eve out to be some kind of Promethean figure. While I found her interpretation to go way beyond what could legitimately be derived from the text, I could not deny that I had always missed the fact that Adam was present with Eve during the serpent’s dialogue with her. The idea that Adam was standing quietly by during this whole episode was undeniably damning, yet I had never heard anyone even mention it before. Strangest of all, I already knew the text said “with her,” yet somehow, I had always pictured Adam being absent during the actual temptation.
I’m not sure why that is. I think my familiarity with the King James reading (“she … gave also unto her husband with her”) might have had something to do with it. Somehow, that magisterial phrasing made it sound like the text was saying “with her” in some general sense of living with her in the garden rather than in the specific sense of being present with her at the time of the temptation. My understanding may also have been colored by extra-biblical depictions like Hollywood movies I had seen or Milton’s Paradise Lost, all of which show Adam as having been some distance away from Eve during her conversation with the serpent. Whatever the reason, I had always glossed over that phrase without fully accounting for it. I had a blind spot where that passage was concerned.
Even in an age of relative biblical illiteracy, the Bible is remarkably familiar to most of us. Its narratives are woven into the fabric of Western culture, its phrases are echoed in our idioms and clichés, the people it describes populate our artwork and movies. We all have preconceived notions and assumptions we bring to the Scriptures, and those can blind us to aspects of the text which don’t fit our preconceptions. To overcome these blind spots, we need help to see the text with fresh eyes. In a series of upcoming posts, I’ll discuss Bible study methods you can use to overcome your own blind spots.