My Bible study group has a guy who believes that the Bible is the perfect word of God. It also has a guy who thinks that the Bible is filled with some good stuff but also with lots of contradictions and mistakes. We have just begun Genesis and the two sides are already fighting. Help!
— H, from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Dear H, tell the “Bible is perfect guy” that he needs to open his eyes to the clear and obvious contradictions in the biblical text, and tell the “Bible is a mess” guy that he needs to open his eyes to the words of God that are shining through the words of people.
Let me show you.
In Genesis 1:27 we read, ”So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” The man and woman are not named and both are created at the same time out of the same red earth.
In Genesis 2:7 the first man, who is now named Adam, was created alone, “And the Lord God formed the man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” After unsuccessfully auditioning the animals as possible partners for Adam (another problem for another day) we read, ”The Lord God . . . took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.”
In the first two chapters of Genesis we have two stories that do not fit together. In the first account, the man and the woman are created together as equals in the image of God, and in the second account the woman is created derivatively from the man’s rib.
For the “Bible is a mess” people, which includes most academic scholars of the Bible, the solution to this textual conflict is simple. There are two stories because there are two authors who had their contradictory stories crudely pasted together by a priestly editor years later.
The solution of the “Bible is perfect” people cannot slice and dice the Bible that way, so they came up with what to me are much more interesting and spiritually insightful solutions to the two accounts. In the case of Jewish interpreters of the Bible, who were the rabbis of the first two centuries, they taught that the two different stories are actually the stories of the creation of two different women. Eve was the woman created from Adam’s rib (the text makes that clear) but the woman who was created in chapter one was a separate woman named Lilith. Unfortunately, so the story goes, Lilith and Adam immediately began to quarrel about who should be the boss.
“Lilith said to Adam, ‘We were created equal since we were created from the same earth.’ There was no understanding between them, and then when Lilith saw that Adam was trying to force himself on her, she uttered the name of God and disappeared into the air. The man stood in prayer before his creator and said, ‘O Master of the Universe, the woman you gave to me has fled from me!’ Immediately, the Holy One Blessed be He dispatched three angels, Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof (note from Gellman: I think they now have a law firm in Manhattan) to go after Lilith and bring her back to Adam. Said the Holy One Blessed be He, ‘If she wishes to return, it is good, but if not then 100 of her demon children will die every day.’ The angels went after her and finally overtook her in the midst of the Red Sea. She was riding on the great waves that were in time to drown the Egyptians. They told her of God’s word yet she refused to return to the man.”
To this day, there is a superstition among some Jews to tie a red ribbon on the crib of a newborn baby to protect the child against the predations of the red-haired demon witch, Lilith. In addition to being an infanticidal demon, Lilith is also a seductress of men sleeping alone in a house.
Lilith is the result of trying to make the Bible whole, but in her comparison to Eve we see a way of making the religious view of women whole. Both parts of the image of women, the seductress and the mother must be sanctified. Religions with just one story about women cannot long endure.
Lilith must be invited back from the Red Sea.
Tell THAT to your Bible group.