Creation and Construction
Adam and Eve is a creation myth. More than that, it is considered to be a sacred story. A myth is created to explain or create order. A sacred story is written to define life and relationships. When a myth is perceived as sacred by a community, it becomes truth. The truth.
Lilith, in Jewish myth, was the first wife of Adam. She, according to the Midrash, was created in the Genesis 1 narrative where males and females were created together. Lilith believed that she and Adam were created equal. One day, Adam, to assert his power over her, insisted that she be beneath Adam during sexual intercourse. She resisted, because she believed they were equal, and escaped from him. Adam, both angry and lonely, asked God to send out three angels to bring her back. They found her in the Red Sea but she did not want to go back to Adam. In response, the angels threatened her that hundreds of her children will die everyday. The myth ends with how Lilith is the spirit that causes infants to die everyday.
Mebuyan is a Manobo-Bagobo mythical goddess of the underworld. In the myth, she is ordered to follow her brother in a realm which was his domain. Mebuyan refused to follow him and instead created an underworld where she did not have to submit to the power of her brother. She wanted to created an alternative world all her own. If I remember correctly, in the myth, she declares that every time a grain falls before it is ripe, an infant dies. And when they die, she will take them to her underworld and nurture them with her own breasts. Mebuyan is not depicted as a woman with two breasts. She has many. And she will feed infants who need her milk even if they are not her own. She, like Lilith, is said to be the reason why infants and children die young.
Woman on Top and Woman Below
There are several similarities in the myths of Lilith and Mebuyan. Both are female. Both have powerful male counterparts who wish to dominate over them. Both resist and escape. Both their stories are explicit about their sexuality: how Lilith did not want to be beneath Adam during sexual intercourse and how Mebuyan had many breasts to feed the infants who came to her in her underworld. Finally, both were demonized at the end of the narratives.
Christian texts and interpretations for centuries have identified women as the source of sin. Women’s bodies are central in their being in ways that men are not. When a woman is beautiful, she is a source of temptation to men. When a woman is barren, she is cursed by God. When she is no longer a virgin and unmarried, she dishonors God and must be punished with death. Men’s bodies do not define them. This sexual dualism defines women as the source of evil or evil itself. It has cultivated misogyny, the hatred of women, and erotophobia, the fear of sexuality itself. Consequently, these alienates women from their own bodies and promote envy among females, while perpetrating both women and men’s fear of their own sexuality.
Lilith and Mebuyan have been interpreted as sources of sin and evil. More importantly, it is when they resist the structures and systems created by men that they are considered sinful. It is when women want to be on top, refusing to be dominated, that they are placed by the storyteller in realms below. As if that is the only place for women.
Escaping and Creating Edens
Eden is a construct. It has been interpreted as a source of truth for centuries even when there are un-truths in it. Feminist theologians have pointed out how Eve being created from Adam’s rib is a direct inversion of reality. Everyday, women give birth to bring forth new life. Men do not. In the narrative, God says that anyone who eats of the fruit from the tree of life will die. Adam and Eve eat but do not die. That was not true.
Riane Eisler, in her book ‘the Chalice and the Blade,’ tells of a time when religious plurality was the norm and goddess worship was celebrated. Their rituals included the serpent and the tree. The serpent is a symbol of wisdom and healing and in the images of the goddess, it was often placed beside the goddess as she was considered to be the source of the same. The tree is their altar where they present their offerings. Eisler further argues that the Creation account of Adam and Eve was constructed to demonize the goddess, the serpent and the tree of life.
Sin can also be a construct. If God created humanity for love, intimacy and companionship, why is it that in the creation account of Adam and Eve, God denies them both the most tempting fruit from the tree of life, wisdom and eternal life. Should humanity choose obedience over wisdom, sacrifice over wholeneness, hunger over fullness? Why is God depicted as one who gives life but also denies it; creates abundance but deprives others of experiencing it? At the end of the narrative, Adam and Eve were sent out of Eden.
In the myths about Lilith and Mebuyan, women have been constructed and interpreted as embodying sin and disobedience. Eve, likewise, bears the blame of the ‘fall of humanity.’ However, feminist readings have argued that all three women embody resistance from domination, the power to transform their situation and the gift of creating new creations or Edens to experience life. The Garden of Eden was a place where Adam and Eve encountered and experienced God. God created Eden for them and other creatures. But there is life beyond Eden. The beauty of the story is, God did not remain in Eden, as well. God journeyed with humanity beyond Eden. Perhaps, then, no sin can separate us from the love of God.
July 5, 2012
Loyola School of Theology