Selective Reading of Scripture

It probably comes as no surprise that the author(s) of the second creation account in Genesis 2 and the story of the Fall of humanity in Genesis 3 were men. 4,000 years ago, it was primarily men in the Semitic culture who would have received any training in reading or writing. However, I recently heard it presented that we can infer this distinctively masculine character of authorship on entirely separate grounds. “From whose side is the rib taken?” the audience was asked. Even more pointedly was the question proposed, “Who gets blamed for the Fall?” A woman sitting next to me retorted, “Oh that figures.” Clearly since “the woman” (אשה 'ishshah) in Genesis is described as a secondary derivative of the man and takes the rap for swiping the fruit of the “tree that is in the middle of the garden” (Gen 3:2), this passage must have been written by a man, right?

 

Let’s not jump to that conclusion just yet. As it happened, the presenter made use of the first creation story from Genesis 1 (especially vv. 26-31) in order to provide a contrasting comparison in which the equal dignity of woman is upheld. Ironically, the presenter failed to mention that this passage too would have been written by men, for the first reasons I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Yet no virtue or merit was awarded our anonymous author(s) for this work, at least not inasmuch as he is male. We were only advised to disregard the second creation account in favor of the first.


There are two implications of this conclusion with which I take issue: first, the implication that men, solely in virtue of their gender, are predisposed to blame women (at least in writing) for all the ills of society or to subordinate them; second, and more significant, is the rationalization that suggests that we are better off minimizing or disregarding any part of Sacred Scripture on account of a perceived negative bias or character flaw in the author.

 

With regard to the broad gender stereotype, we might concede that what the presenter was really trying to say was that unequal social norms in ancient Semitic culture imbued the passage with a leading role for “the man” and a subordinate role for “the woman.” While these details could be examined in the light of legitimate historical criticism (an analysis of scripture which takes into account the milieu(s) of the author and the receiving community in interpreting the intended message), they in themselves are not the message. Nor can we expect much better from a role reversal if examples of modern feminist contextualism continue to find monsters in empty closets: reverse sexism is itself sexism. What then is the message? Or more precisely, whose message is it?


We segue now into my second concern: lying at the heart of the presentation’s repudiation of chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis is a reduction of the text to an expression of the gender bias of the author. It refuses to acknowledge that God works through imperfect humanity to express his perfect revelation. In rejecting any portion of scripture, we become pseudo-Marcionists, and deny the reality of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church who is guided by the Holy Spirit and has confirmed through the canon of scriptures that they indeed are “inspired by God and [are] useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” so that we “who belong to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (cf. 2 Tim 3:16) It is truly Christ who presents himself to us in the bible. While the presence of God dwelling in our fellow Christians may well provide theodicy enough to cause doubt, we must nonetheless persevere in examining each verse, each phrase, trusting that the Holy Spirit will come to our aid and teach us. To throw in the towel is like stopping the dig before reaching the pearl of great price. Or as St. Jerome has said, “Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.”