‘Ēzer and Exodus
The opening chapters of Genesis lay the foundations for a biblically shaped faith. They serve as the overture, not merely as a brilliant and artistic opening movement in itself, but as a means of introducing and focusing the key themes of the grand story to follow. With Genesis 1-3 in particular, the beguiling simplicity of the biblical text continues to invite exegetical work and theological reflection on its import for the church today. This essay revisits one of the interpretive cruxes of the creation account, namely, the description of the first woman as an ‘ēzer kěnegdô, “a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18 NIV). 1
As God moves to fulfill his purposes on earth, he mobilizes the ‘ēzer, the weaker one, the smaller one, yet the unexpectedly wise, resourceful, compassionate one, to defy the strong of this world.
Much important work has been done on this text since biblical scholarship has become increasingly sensitized to gender issues. I will only briefly rehearse this work and try to build on it. But I hope to show that there is a larger biblical context which adds to the meaning of Genesis 2:18. My point, specifically, is that the ‘ēzer kěnegdô should be read within literary and theological horizons that include Exodus so that the predominance of active and rescuing women in the opening chapters of Exodus becomes a paradigm of God’s creational purposes. 2
How shall we translate the key Hebrew words, ‘ēzer kěnegdô? Almost four centuries have passed since the translators of the KJV gave us the classic rendering of this verse: “And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” As meet fell out of use as an adjective (meaning “suitable, fitting”), the phrase was unconsciously but significantly reshaped, becoming “an helpmate” for the man. Such a transformation presumed and defended a view of the first woman, and thus of every woman, that emphasized her ancillary and inferior nature. Phyllis Trible helpfully outlined the key elements of such a “misogynous reading.” 3 Modern interpreters, male and female, have rightly taken issue with this reading and its influence in distorting male-female relationships.
How, then, is the word ‘ēzer to be best translated and interpreted? Most commentaries point rightly to the biblical use of the ‘zr word group: verb ‘āzar “to help,” masc. noun ‘ēzer “helper,” fem. noun ‘ezrâ, ‘ezrāt “help.” 4 When these words are examined in context throughout the Old Testament (OT), the “help” provided is seen to be overwhelmingly divine in source and nature. In its 22 appearances, 5 the noun ‘ēzer is applied almost exclusively to God; one example has even been carried over into English usage: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up . . . and named it Eben-‘ēzer [i.e., “stone of help”]; for he said, “Thus far the LORD has helped us” (1 Sam. 7:12). The sole exceptions to this divine usage are Isa. 30:5 (applied to Egypt), and Ezek. 12:14 (applied to Israel), both with a negative use (i.e., these nations are unable to provide help), and then our current study, in Genesis 2:18 and 20. The fem. noun appears seven times, 6 always applied negatively to human agents.
The verb ‘āzar, appearing approximately 80 times, is sometimes used positively with a human subject (e.g., Josh. 1:14; 2 Sam. 8:5); in these cases, it generally refers to a military action. It is just as often used negatively with a human subject (Isa. 63:5; Jer. 47:4)—no (earthly) help is to be found. But by far the most common subject of the verb “to help” is, again, God, who appears as the “one who helps” many times in both the Prophets and the Writings (especially the Psalms). 7
Several implications flow from this basic linguistic data: “help” does not come from a position of inferiority. A “helper” is not (or is not necessarily) a subordinate. Rather, the one being helped is normally the one who is in the weaker or more needy position. Secondly, the “help” that is provided is regularly active, effective, and divinely empowered. Thus, the word “help, helper” should only be used if it can provide a similar nuance of meaning and avoid the idea of subordination, of being an add-on. Many interpreters doubt that it can escape the gravitational tug of its hierarchical connotations.
The second word in the Hebrew phrase, kĕnegdô, also poses a bit of a puzzle, since this is the only place in the OT using this particular configuration. It is an unusual compound prepositional phrase, literally “like opposite him” (i.e., to the ’ādām, the human). 8 Certainly it conveys a basic idea of correspondence and complementarity. Taken together, however, the two Hebrew words ‘ēzer kĕnegdô continue to challenge the translator: “a helper as his partner” (NRSV), “a fitting helper for him” (NJPS), or “a helper matching him.” 9 Alternatively, avoiding the unwelcome nuances of the word “helper,” Trible proposed “a companion corresponding to itself.” She notes that the pairing of ‘ēzer (with its overtones of power) with kĕnegdô “tempers this connotation of superiority to specify identity, mutuality, and equality.” 10 In a similar vein, Carol Meyers, in her insightful study of this passage, suggests “suitable counterpart.” 11 Thus kĕnegdô specifies quite precisely the nature of the correspondence between the female and the male as nonhierarchical.
The translations of Trible and Meyers do communicate something significant about the ‘ēzer kĕnegdô. Yet there seems to be something missing in the notion of “companion, counterpart.” For one, these renderings miss the active role that the ‘ēzer plays: a companion simply is; while a helper does. They lose the specific punch of the ‘ēzer as one who supplies what cannot be done for oneself—a “rescuer,” a sign that the situation or task (whatever that might be) is greater than any one individual. Thus, Robert Alter suggests “a sustainer beside him.” 12
More importantly, they force us to back up a step or two and to ask a larger question: What is the “helper” supposed to help with? What is it about the ’ādām “human being” that needs help? The most obvious clue is found in v. 18a. The Lord states that “it is not good for the ’ādām to be alone.” A psychological interpretation of this statement brings us the idea of “companionship”: the problem is loneliness, solitude. 13 But such a focus on inner psychodynamics in the biblical text is likely misplaced, a projection of modern Western categories onto the ancient Near Eastern texts.
In context, I suggest that God’s statement “it is not good . . .” is more likely task-oriented, directed at socioeconomic concerns. It is not good to be alone because the divinely given task of tilling and keeping the garden (Gen. 2:15) is too big for one person alone. And if we enlarge the horizons of the divine mandate to include Genesis 1, we see that the task is quite impossible for one alone. God blesses and utters the creation mandate, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (1:28b). Humankind—again, ’ādām—simply cannot multiply unless both male and female cooperate in the most basic and intimate of ways. And here we see, finally, that the socioeconomic interpretation extends to a theological interpretation: the divine work of creation is not complete until humankind exists as male and female: exists communally, as embodied and complementary aspects of the image of God.
We are still left with a bit of a puzzle. In the probing words of a well-known title by David Clines, “What does Eve do to help?” 14 His answer, in effect, is that she has babies. Clines does not like this answer. There is theological warrant for seeing this as true “help” indeed; yet even with the miracle of human procreation as a dim mirror of divine creation, it does seem something of an anticlimax. The grand and active expectations that are set up with the provocative word ‘ēzer seem to have vanished from the story. 15 Much of Clines’ article is insightful, even if (or when) he concludes that Genesis 1-3 is “irredeemably androcentric.” (Others continue to challenge his interpretation; cf. Reuven Kimelman’s response on both linguistic and literary grounds. 16) Thus, the question, “What does Eve do to help?” is appropriate; but, contrary to Clines, the answer may not be found within Gen. 2-3.
The Genesis creation stories are paradigmatic: they not only describe what happened then, once-for-all, they give a theological perspective on what happens now, regularly. They are rooted in the real-life experiences of the world of the teller and hearers. Tales of origins are told because they are parables of existence. Thus there is a sense in which Eve means every woman and every mother. 17 Perhaps we need to pay closer attention to the larger contours of the biblical text to see what Woman does. I suggest, therefore, that Genesis 2 needs to be read within a larger context, and this larger context yields further significance for the description of the human ‘ēzer.
EXODUS AS A CONTINUATION OF GENESIS
My thesis is that Exodus furnishes us with a greater context to discern the import of ‘ēzer. This argument depends significantly on the literary and theological continuity of Genesis with Exodus. Fortunately, there is much evidence to suggest that these two books, in their canonical form, have been significantly shaped and polished by each other. In fact, David Dorsey has recently suggested that we not interpret Genesis and Exodus (and the rest of the Hexateuch) as separate “books” (or scrolls), but as subdivisions of one original “Book of the Law.” 18 In any case, there are a number of pointed and intentional literary and theological links between these books, as many commentators demonstrate. Here is an overview of the most important literary cues which connect Genesis (and the Primeval History, Gen. 1-11, in particular) with the Book of Exodus.
The opening words of Exodus provide a verbatim echo of Genesis at several points. The complete phrase, “And these are the names of the sons of Israel who went into Egypt” (six words in Hebrew), is taken from Gen. 46:8. The phrase, “And these are the names of X,” occurs twice more: Gen. 25:13 (“sons of Ishmael”) and Gen. 36:40 (“chiefs of Esau”). The phrase also parallels the important structuring refrain of Genesis, “And these are the tôlĕdōt generations/descendants,” six times. 19 Notably, this opening phrase of Exodus occurs instead of wahî “and it happened,” the word which commonly begins Hebrew narrative (and which, indeed, is the first word of eight OT books). 20 This explicit echo of Genesis signals a resumption of the patriarchal narratives, which in turn stand in continuity with the Primeval History. This is, therefore, the first thread in a deep and abiding bond, narrative and theological, between Genesis and Exodus. 21 The story of God’s activity in rescuing his people is based on the covenant relationship already established in Genesis (cf. Exod. 2:24).
The population explosion of the Israelites in Egypt is described in terms of the divine blessing of creation:
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful [pĕrû] and multiply [rĕbû], and fill the earth [mil’û ’et-hā’āreş] and subdue it.” (Gen. 1:28; 9:1)
But the Israelites were fruitful [pārû] and prolific; they multiplied [yirbû] and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled [timmālē’ hā’āreş] with them. (Exod. 1:7)
Thus the Exodus story should be interpreted as an event in continuity with the original creation narrative: a challenge to, and partial restoration of, the original divine purpose for humankind.
The birth of the boy child in Exodus 2 contains an explicit echo of the creation story: “The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him” (Exod. 2:2). This reads, literally, “when she saw him, that he was good (kî-tôb hû’).” This is the repeated refrain of Genesis 1, God’s daily pronouncement over the original work of creation. As a hyphenated phrase, it appears six times in Genesis 1, once in Genesis 26:7 (but in the fem. form, referring to Rebekah), and this once in Exodus; these are all its occurrences in the Torah. 22 This echo of Genesis 1 establishes another link with both God’s creative power and the fact that it is about to be exercised in and around this newborn child.
The baby is placed in a “basket” (Exod. 2:3, 5). The word is tēbâ and appears in only one other section of the OT: Genesis 6-9, where it is normally translated as “ark.” It is to be distinguished from the other “ark” named in the OT, namely the ark (‘ārôn) of the covenant. The linkage between Moses’ basket and Noah’s boat is powerfully suggestive of a unique and divinely guided vessel of salvation.
Less explicit, but thematically in line with the previous literary cues, is the mention of water as the starting point for God’s creative activity: the Spirit hovers over waters (Gen. 1:2), and the deliverer (Moses) is drawn “from the waters” (Exod. 2:10). This literary linkage becomes explicit in the crossing of the sea. The overview of this event provided in Exodus chapter 14 contains a notable concentration of allusions to Genesis 1:
And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground. (Exod. 14:20b-22a, emph. added) 23
When taken together, the cumulative effect of these literary cues is a profound theological message: Yahweh’s arising to save his people from Egypt is construed significantly in terms that call to mind the opening chapters of Genesis. The divine rescue is a work of re-creation and is intended to be read with that specific and theologically loaded backdrop. This lends plausibility to the thesis that other themes might connect the early chapters of Genesis with the Exodus story. One of these, I propose, is the theme of the role of woman as ‘ēzer in Exodus.
‘ĒZER AND EXODUS
When we turn to the opening chapters of Exodus, we are immediately struck by the number of women prominent in the text. 24 The parallels with Genesis are telling. Similar to the attention, unique in ancient Near Eastern creation stories, that Genesis 2 pays to the creation of woman, so Exodus draws attention to key women involved in the story of Moses. In addition, just as the immediate context of Genesis 1-3 suggests that procreation is central to the task of the ‘ēzer, so too the stories of Exodus 1-2 revolve around the realities of birthing and motherhood.
The midwives Shiphrah and Puah (Exod. 1:15-21). These women are creative, resourceful, and indeed humorous. They “feared God” and thus disobeyed the decree of the Pharaoh. If ever the Scripture provides a model for respectful civil disobedience in response to evil, these two women are it. They turn the Egyptian bias against the Hebrews on its head, using racial distinctions to excuse the Hebrews. 25 Furthermore, their answer to Pharaoh is something he cannot debate, since it deals with the private and exclusively maternal matter of birthing. Finally, it is noteworthy that these two women are named while many others, including two kings of Egypt, and the family members of Moses, are not. They are given the dignity of personal identity. The words of Jesus come to mind: “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her” (Mark 14:9).
The Levite woman (Exod. 2:1; later named Jochebed, 6:20). She looks on her son as God looked upon creation, “that it/he was good,” and is moved to defy the king of Egypt. Again, she is resourceful in disobeying the word of Pharaoh. Indeed, she can be seen as obeying the letter of the law, since the boy was to have been consigned to the Nile (1:22); and she does so, except that she uses a reed basket as well to preserve his life. We are given no indication as to her motivation; her action appears simply and tersely as her only means to save the child’s life.
The baby’s sister (Exod. 2:4; usually assumed to be Miriam, named in 15:20). She appears unannounced in the text, and indeed, v. 2 would normally lead us to assume the boy was the firstborn of the family. We do not know if she was instructed by her mother in the plan that she proposes. But significantly, she functions as her helpless brother’s keeper. She boldly—and bravely, given the Egyptian attitude toward the Hebrews—approaches the bathing princess and offers to find a wet nurse for the child. By means of this girl’s ingenuity, Moses’ life is saved. The child is reunited for a time with his birth mother, who must have provided both nourishment and the nurture which laid the foundation for his sense of Hebrew identity (cf. 2:11 26). And, in a delightfully ironic twist, the mother is actually paid for her maternal labor out of the Egyptian royal coffers!
The daughter of Pharaoh (Exod. 2:5). She is accompanied by “attendants” (specified in the Hebrew na‘ārôt as female), and one particular maid (’āmâ) who is sent to fetch the basket from the reeds. This scene is marked by the princess’s response of compassion (2:6) to the infant’s cries, and by the life-affirming (and God-honoring) decision to let the boy live, clearly contrary to her father’s decree. She superintends his nurture and apparently adopts him as her own. Her maternal action will thus ironically undermine her father’s heir, the Pharaoh of the Exodus. In a final stroke of wit, the narrator of the story has the princess speak the language of the slaves her father seeks to eliminate. She uses the Hebrew tongue to name him—thus the irony of the pun about “drawing out” (2:10)—despite the fact that “Moses” is almost certainly an Egyptian name. 27
The presence of women in the Exodus story does not end here, although it is no longer nearly as pronounced. Two more pertinent references are found in chapters 3-4.
Zipporah. After Moses’ flight to Midian, a generation in the wilderness, and an encounter with Yahweh at Sinai, he returns to Egypt with his wife Zipporah and their sons. On the way, “the LORD met him and tried to kill him” (Exod. 4:24-26). This bizarre and unsettling encounter remains an exegetical puzzle. But what is clear is that Zipporah is the one who knows what to do. She is the woman who again saves Moses’ life. And she does so by undertaking a ritual action that elsewhere in the Scriptures is always performed by a man: she circumcises her son. 28 In the presence of grave threat (seemingly mandated not by the enemy, but by God himself!), her quick thinking and initiative permits the divine plan to move ahead.
The “plundering” of Egypt. As the Israelites leave the land of their bondage, they ask for, and receive, clothing and treasures from the Egyptians (Exod. 12:35-36), an event which is also described in terms of military conquest, as “plundering.” Indeed, God had foretold this to Moses during their encounter at the burning bush. Once again, it is noteworthy that God specifies that it is the women who will do the asking (3:22). Peter Enns suggests that this emphasizes the decisive victory of the Hebrew slaves over the might of Egypt, since the women represent the physically weaker, those not expected to have the strength to despoil their former masters. 29
The concentration of female characters in Exod. 1-4 is remarkable. The focus on women dealing specifically with the maternal realities of bearing and rearing children in Exodus 1-2 is quite striking. Their wit, ingenuity, compassion, and strength of character to stand up to the death-dealing decrees of Pharaoh is noteworthy. Their varied responses all serve to help the helpless. As Alice Bellis summarizes,
the most important story in the Hebrew Bible begins with women determining events. It begins with God using the weak and lowly to overcome the strong. It begins with women who act courageously, defying oppression. It begins with women who are life-affirming, women who are wise and resourceful in tough situations. Without these women, there would be no Moses to liberate the Hebrews from bondage. 30
This insight has been echoed by many contemporary commentators. But what has not yet been made clear by interpreters is this: in saving the life of the boy Moses, these women demonstrate the strength and effectiveness that is properly associated with God as divine rescuer for his people. In other words, within the larger contours of the Torah’s narrative, these women function as true ‘ēzer.
This pattern fits what we see in the overall scheme of the biblical narrative. Genesis 1-2 outline the world according to God’s original intention—a world that is good, fruitful, bathed in divine blessing. Genesis 3-11 outline the erosion of the divine blessing in human history. These chapters portray a swelling rebellion against God that ruptures all relationships: spiritual, marital, familial, and environmental. Throughout the stories of Genesis, one of the key theological motifs is that God chooses the less powerful through whom to work. This means that the one who has less privilege, less authority, less access to publicly acknowledged means of influence in a given cultural setting—this is the one on whom God’s choice rests. In Genesis, this pattern is represented most commonly by God’s choice of the younger son: Abel over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over his brothers. But this pattern is also seen in the choice of Abram and Sarai, a barren couple well beyond the time of childbearing. I suggest that we see the roots of this pattern already in Genesis 2, with the description of the first woman as an ‘ēzer kĕnegdô.
This does not imply any essential inferiority; kĕnegdô rules that out, as does the Genesis 1 description of male and female together as the “image of God” (Gen. 1:28). Rather, this acknowledges that within the fallen cultural and social systems of the biblical period, women were certainly less powerful in the public sphere of socioreligious life. 31 And in terms of physical build, the human race, like many higher mammals, exhibits a basic sexual dimorphism, i.e., the female is on average built smaller and less physically powerful.
Thus, the description of the woman as ‘ēzer is the first biblical statement of the divine principle, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27). True, the ‘ēzer is the companion who, with her husband, carries out the divine mandate to be fruitful and multiply. But this is an insufficient understanding. More importantly, the ‘ēzer is the one who, weak in the world’s eyes, defies the world’s rebel emperors and, because she fears God and chooses life, is an instrument of salvation through which the world might again receive divine blessing.
Exodus itself contains several more hints of this literary and theological linkage. First is the density of words from the word group hay (translated variously as “life, living, let live, vigorous”) in Exodus 1:16-22; these words occur five times in this paragraph, and then only three times more in the entire book (in chapters 19, 22, 33). This word family is significant, for it provides an allusive literary echo of the name “Eve” (hawwâ), defined as “mother of all hay” (“living”; Gen. 3:20). 32 Just as the promised conflict of Genesis 3:15 signals that the human story is not over yet (despite the threat of imminent death handed out in Gen. 2:17), so the presence of life-giving females in Exodus 1-2 signals that God’s plan of an ‘ēzer for humankind (’ādām) is being recreated, revitalized, for the sake of Israel and, through them, for the world.
Secondly, the divine role of God’s dramatic rescue of Israel out of Egypt is enshrined with the word ‘ēzer. For this is the name of Moses’ second son: Eliezer, “my God is help.” The elder son, Gershom, had been named in Exodus 2:22, and this younger son was implied in 4:20. We only find out the younger son’s name in chapter 18 verse 4; but if he held this name earlier, prior to the crossing of the sea, it would be appropriate as a reference to Moses’ miraculous deliverance as a child. As such, it would recognize the active, divine power at work guarding him by means of the various women who conspired to “deliver [him] from the sword of Pharaoh” (Exod. 18:4). Aaron, too, found the Exodus experience of divine “help” so powerful that he memorialized it in the name of his son, who succeeded him as high priest: Eleazar (Exod. 6:23), “God has helped.” Both brothers found that the word ‘ēzer was just the word they needed to capture the dramatic, divine rescue of their people.
When the narratives of Genesis and Exodus are read together, the message is provocative: as God moves to fulfill his purposes on earth, he mobilizes the ‘ēzer, the weaker one, the smaller one, yet the unexpectedly wise, resourceful, compassionate one, to defy the strong of this world. While this trajectory takes shape in myriad ways throughout the Scriptures, the theme of the woman as ‘ēzer is indeed carried forward in a powerful way. For one of the last glimpses of these Exodus women is of them dancing and singing on the far shore of the sea under the leadership of Miriam: “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea” (Exod. 15:20-21).
Centuries later, the gospel presents to us another Miriam, singing another song of triumph and upset: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:52). Luke captures the spirit of Exodus in his opening two chapters, showing that women—Elizabeth, Mary, Anna—are being mobilized. Yahweh is on the move. When our Lord is crucified, the women are there; the men have fled. When our Lord is raised, the women are there; eventually they persuade the men. All of this follows on the pattern rooted in Genesis and highlighted by Exodus: the presence and activity of women in the story of salvation signals a particular divine grace, the fundamental gift of an ‘ēzer to humanity. This gift, when given, should never go unthanked—or unused.
The final chapter of this biblical motif, I wish to point out, is found in the Pauline letters. Paul provides a profound meditation on the place of the ‘ēzer in his world and in ours: for the mystery of the ‘ēzer is, ultimately, that of the church in the world. The woman, the “bride” of Genesis 2:24, points forward to the church (Eph. 5:32). This bride is, humanly speaking, weak and powerless, but it is the one whom God is mobilizing to show divine wisdom to “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). This ‘ēzer is the body of weakness that God has clothed with his own armor (Eph. 6:10-17), that she might demonstrate this great mystery, and hope: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
- All Scripture quotations are NRSV unless otherwise noted. For the reader unfamiliar with Hebrew, ‘ēzer rhymes with “laser.”
- This point dawned on me as I have been teaching a college course on Genesis and Exodus. It was something of a moment of discovery as the interpretive connection between these two critical passages suggested itself. And thus, with deep gratitude to the teacher and mentor who taught me years ago of the importance of the “aha! experience,” my professor at both Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and later at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, it is my honor to dedicate this small study to Allen Guenther.
- Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, Overtures to Biblical Theology (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1978), 73.
- We should also note the philological work of Freedman in outlining the “prehistory” of this word group: R. David Freedman, “Woman, a Power Equal to Man: Translation of Woman as a ‘Fit Helpmate’ for Man Is Questioned,” Biblical Archaeology Review 9, no. 1 (1983). He shows that the Hebrew root ‘zr derives from two distinct roots, “to save” (‘zr) and “to be strong” (ģzr) which eventually merged (first in written form, then in pronunciation) into the one biblical Hebrew form. The meanings of these two often coalesced into the single sense of “help,” yet in some texts, one or the other of the two original senses are still discernible.
- Gen. 2:18, 20; Exod. 18:4; Deut. 33:7, 26, 29; 1 Sam. 7:12; Isa. 30:5; Ezek. 12:14; Hos. 13:9; Pss. 20:3 (MT); 33:20; 70:6 (MT); 89:20 (MT); 115:9, 10, 11; 121:1, 2; 124:8; 146:5; Dan. 11:34.
- Judg. 5:23 (2x); Isa. 10:3; 20:6; 31:1-2; Jer. 37:7.
- The verb appears only twice in the Torah: in Joseph’s blessing (Gen. 49:25) and Moses’ song (Deut. 32:38). Both of these have a markedly military orientation.
- The translation of the word ’ādām raises its own issues. It is most commonly translated “man.” This, however, preempts the text’s apparent emphasis that the creature is somehow prior to gender distinction or differentiation, just as in Gen. 1:27, the ’ādām is first created and then specified to be “male and female.” Throughout Gen. 2, the narrative plays on the pair of words ’ādām and ’ādāmâ (ground, soil, earth). The word pair human/humus is probably the closest we can come to reproducing this wordplay in English, even when humus is a much more specific and technical word than are soil and earth. But this works better than another word pair that has been suggested: earthling, earth-creature/earth (cf. E. A. Speiser, Genesis, Anchor Bible [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964], 16; Trible, 80).
- Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word, 1987), 68.
- Trible, Rhetoric, 90.
- Carol Meyers, Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 85.
- Robert Alter, Genesis: Translation and Commentary (New York: Norton, 1996), 9.
- Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, trans. John H. Marks, Old Testament Library (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1961), 80.
- David J. A. Clines, What Does Eve Do to Help? And Other Readerly Questions to the Old Testament, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 94 (Sheffield: JSOT, 1990).
- The “grand and active expectations” are likely the same whether we view this text as early (with other prophetic and hymnic texts responding to its notion of woman as ‘ēzer), or late (with a view to preexisting texts and traditions which use the word family to describe God’s powerful deeds of rescue).
- Reuven Kimelman, “The Seduction of Eve and Feminist Readings of the Garden of Eden,” Women in Judaism 1, no. 2 (1998) [on-line journal], accessed 23 December 2005.
- Meyers, Discovering Eve, 3.
- David A. Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis-Malachi (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999), 47-48.
- Gen. 10:1; 11:27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9.
- Josh., Judg., 1 Sam., 2 Sam., Ezek., Jonah, Ruth, and Esth. begin with wahî. Four more books use the same grammatical construction (“waw-relative” or “waw-conversive”) but with a different verb: Lev., Num., 2 Kings, 2 Chron.
- Cf. John Durham, Exodus, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), 3; Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation (Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1991), 24-25.
- As a hyphenated (maqqeph) phrase: Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25. Its appearance in the rest of the Hebrew Bible is minimal: once in the Prophets (Jer. 33:11), and 19 times in the Writings (14 in the Psalms). Written without a maqqeph, it occurs five more times in the Torah; three times more in the Prophets (1 Sam. 29:9; Hos. 2:9; 4:13), and several more times in the Writings.
- The allusions are marked by the following words: darkness (hōšek Gen. 1:2 and passim); lit (’ôr, cf. Gen. 1:15; night (layĕla, Gen. 1:5); sea (yam, Gen. 1:10); wind (rûah, Gen. 1:2); waters (mayim, Gen. 1:2 and passim); dry ground (yabbĕšâ, which occurs in Genesis only in 1:9-10; cf. also the “dry land” hārābâ, used in connection with the Flood narrative in Gen. 7:22, and synonymous with yabbĕšâ, Josh. 4:18, 22).
- The commentaries of Fretheim and Propp are among those which pay close attention to the prominence of the women in the story: Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation (Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1991), 31-39; William H. C. Propp, Exodus 1-18, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1998), 153. J. Cheryl Exum, “ ‘You Shall Let Every Daughter Live’: A Study of Exodus 1:8–2:10,” Semeia 28 (1983), remains an insightful and pivotal treatment of this text.
- Renita Weems, “The Hebrew Women Are Not Like the Egyptian Women: The Ideology of Race, Gender and Sexual Reproduction in Exodus 1,” Semeia 59 (1992): 30.
- Nahum Sarna, Exodus, JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 10.
- Durham, Exodus, 17.
- Irene Nowell, Women in the Old Testament (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1997), 57.
- Peter Enns, Exodus, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 108.
- Alice Bellis, Helpmates, Harlots, and Heroes: Women’s Stories in the Hebrew Bible (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 101.
- Carol Meyers provides a careful and nuanced study of the balance of power and authority in ancient Israelite culture. Building on social scientific and ethnographic research, she suggests that there was a social equilibrium based on an interdependence of men’s and women’s roles in ancient Israelite culture. Male authority is balanced by female power; official male hierarchy is balanced by unofficially recognized, but very real, interdependence (Meyers, Discovering Eve, 169).
- George A. F. Knight, Theology as Narration: A Commentary on the Book of Exodus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), 6.