Reflections on Genesis 2-3: (part 2) Concerning Sex

Another note on our hermeneutic, in these chapters as for the account of freedom and reason in the Garden story, looking at the same story to see what it says about sex and the relationship between sexes this story is largely descriptive not prescriptive. For much of the discussion in what follows I’d like to follow that tack. In Genesis (and Torah in general) the authors are not shy about tacking a definite lead-in when God is doing the commanding. That is lacking in these verses.

Our Topic

There may be normative data to extract from this text, but we should keep in mind this story is largely a realistic description of man and his nature. And I’d actually like to leave any interpretations of normative instruction from this text to the end. In the description given the texts points out the following:

distinct aspects of sexuality:

  1. the
    (animal) sex act

  2. it’s
    humanization via attraction and esteem

  3. and
    it’s deeper procreative meaning.

paralleled by aspects of erotic desire identified:

  1. need

  2. appreciative

  3. generative

(note although the story meets these aspects one at at time, in “real life” they are intertwined making life a tad more perplexing and complicated)

Sidelight of Mine: Contra-Patriarchy

It is a thesis of mine, and not the author (either of Genesis or our commentary) that against common wisdom these days, Genesis far from being a text supporting and establishing patriarchy instead it is a subversive text, undermining strict patriarchy, which was the norm at the time. That is to say, this text was written in a time where patriarchy was the rule and this text often describes that same, but very often inserts subversive ideas which serve to counter unadorned or oppressive patriarchy (patriarchy gone bad). This thesis begins here, and can be followed throughout Genesis.

Starting off: The Beauty Pageant

Man’s desire for partnership is begun with the encounter with the animals. Last week, we discussed how this sparked his dormant powers of reason. We also noted how, in the inability of these animals to provide the desired partnership this highlights what is lacking, exciting his latent desire.

While it might be argued by puritanical or innocent readers might argue that man might be seeking human company or a rational soul mate, a fellow namer-and-speaker with whom we might share our thoughts and speeches. But, as the story unfolds, the partnership sought and found is almost certainly sexual. This again, should give us confidence as we proceed in the perspicacity of our author, for any account of primordial and fundamental human nature must needs take eros into account.

Notes on Creation of ‘Ishah/Woman

It was not necessarily sexist. How can we see that? Man was created first is sometimes seen as support for the superiority of man. However,

  • Man’s origin was lower. Man was created from dust and breath, woman from bone near the heart of man.

  • Man in the process of woman’s creation is rendered less whole. Woman is whole, but man is left with a permanent (symbolic) wound signifying perhaps a deep unfulfillable desire. Man’s desire is a “conundrum” (after Kass), it wants and wants ardently, but it is unsure of what would fully satisfy it.

  • In contrast the woman, created from the rib, is presumably not deformed or lacking.

There is in fact gender asymmetry in the presentation. It might less indicate difference in status, than primordial differences in desires
and our natures.

First Comes Eros, Desire

And the main said,

This one at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, this one shall be called Woman [‘ishah] because from Man [‘ish] this one was taken.

The nature of his desire is pointed at in Adam’s description: “This one at last is bone of my bone”, not “You are bone of my bone”, indicates the objectivity of the desire. Speaking of bone/flesh does not indicate any sort of platonic desire. And possessive, “flesh of my flesh”.

On “Of one Flesh”

At this point, there is no consciousness of desire, because of the freedom/reason and the lack thereof mentioned last week.

What does “and the two shall become one flesh” tell us? Note again, this is not a commandment of God’s, it is descriptive, not normative or prescriptive.

Post Fall

On the temptation, and woman’s role. Recall, last week we noted that there is good which came of it. The tasting of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil leads to the maturation of man to more of his potential. And that it was woman who started this off, is against common commentary, not necessarily a bad thing. It is she who is open to conversation about looking past their base sexuality and desires looking towards wisdom and beauty and being open to new things. Perhaps precisely because her eros is less focussed and less carnal it can “grow wings and fly”. The man, speechlessly, followed the woman’s lead.

After maturation: Shame

Shame is the first thing which occurs after eating of the fruit. Erotic desire was the first thing which occurred on meeting, now shame on knowing good from bad (or caring about the same). How does awareness induce shame?

  • Halves not whole

  • awareness of our sexuality -> awareness of our mortality

  • the relationship between sex and shame, as indicated here is natural not puritanical or that sex is sinful or dirty.

Shame and sexual self-consciousness (mutually) changes the relationship of the sexes. With shame comes the romantic appreciative love.

Through courtship and flirtation, inspiration and seduction, a new dialectic is introduced into the dance: approval admiration, and regard require keeping lovers apart at the beholding distance, yet the original sexual instinct drives toward fusion. A new and genuine intimacy is born out of a delicate need to preserve and negotiate this distance and its closure.

This shame as well, is the spur to civilize. They sew and manufacture clothing. Modesty counterpart to shame comes into play. Kant wrote:

In the case of animals, sexual attraction is merely a matter of transient mostly periodic, impulse. But man soon discovered that for him this attraction can be prolonged and even increased by means of the imagination — a power which carries on its business, to be sure, the more moderately, but at once also the more constantly and uniformly, the more its object is removed from the senses. By means of the imagination, he discovered, the surfeit was avoided which goes with the satisfaction of mere animal desire. The fig leaf, then, was a far greater manifestation of reason than that shown in the earlier stage of development. For the one [i.e., desiring the forbidden fruit] shows merely a power to choose the extent to which to serve the impulse; but the other — rendering an inclination more inward and constant by removing its object from the senses — already reflects consciousness of a certain degree of mastery of reason over impulse. Refusal was the feat which brought about the passage from merely sensual to spiritual attractions, from mere animal desire gradually to love, and along with this from the feeling of the merely agreeable, to a taste for beauty, at first only for beauty in man, but at length for beauty in nature as well. [… short bit elided …]

This may be a small beginning. But if it gives a wholly new direction to thought, such a beginning is epoch-making. It is then more important than the whole immeasurable series of expansions of culture which subsequently spring from it.

It should also be noted that this idea of eros and its relation to shame/modesty is not reflected in Greek thought, wherein the gymnasium and ideas of beauty spring from the unadorned naked body.

Final Step: Procreation

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

Pain and dependency in childbearing lead to changes in the sexual relationship.

They desire shall be for thy husband and he shall rule over thee

What to make of this?

Recall -> descriptive not prescriptive. It is not “The Lord God commands” this, but a description or prediction of what shall be, not to say it is what should be. How does this (desire and rule of verse follow logically from childbirth and procreation?

How to gain man’s domesticity? By giving him the appearance of rule.

If woman is weaker (physically) and dependent when pregnant or nursing, her procreative powers give her unique powers in the household. Maternity is never in doubt, but paternity is. Legitimacy and the paternity of children depends on the marital chastity of the spouse.

No social order interested in its long term future can be indifferent to the need for responsible fatherhood.

Therefore the establishment of a human household requires limiting of male independence and female sexuality.

Man’s First Response!

What is man’s first response after God’s speech casting them out.

Golly, let’s name her Eve because she’s going to have children!”

His first response was positive, looking at this new revelation.

One’s child is good that it is one’s own, though it is good not because it is one’s own. Rather, one’s own children become one’s own share of that-good-which-is-children. Through children, male and female finally achieve some genuine unification (beyond mere sexual “union”, which fails to do so): the two become through sharing generous, not needy, love for this third being as good.

of their flesh -> their child.

Some possible Normative suggestions?

From Kass:

The primordial story of man and woman hints that, despite all the dangers that accompany the humanization of sexuality, it is complementarity — the heterosexual difference — and not just doubleness that may point the way to human flourishing altogether. Conscious love of the complementary other draws the soul outward and upward; in procreation, love, mindful of mortality, overflows generously into creativity, the child unifying the parents as sex or romance alone never can, and the desire to give not only life but a good way of life to their children opens both man and woman towards a concern for the true, the good, and the holy. Parental love of children may be the beginning of sanctification of life. Perhaps that is what God was thinking when He said that it is not good for the human being — neither for man or woman — to be alone. Perhaps this is why “male and female created He them”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One comment

  1. “The Logical Problem of Evil,” the first part in a promised six-part series on the problem of evil. How do people respond to the existence of evil? Does it mean that there is no God? 15. At Pseudo-Polymath, Mark Olson presents “Reflections on Genesis 2-3: (Part 2) Concerning Sex.” This is “Week 3 of my Bible study, which will be either four or five weeks total, in which we are reading Genesis with a philosophical hermeneutic, i.e., reading it as we might read Aristotle or Plato. This week, we return to Adam, Eve, the Garden and