Barry Newman's Blog

April 3, 2011

Science and Genesis 2: 4b – 3: 24 (part XXI)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 11:16 pm

The man and the woman

None of the creatures were found to be a “suitable helper”.  Walton comments that neither the combination of two Hebrew words translated, “suitable helper”, nor the second word is to be found elsewhere in the Old Testament (p. 176). The second word is a compound word made up of two prepositions.  Apparently, the first part of the second word relates to the idea of “comparison” and the second part of the second word relates to the notion of “opposite”.  Opposites by their nature belong to the same category.  “Day time” and “night time” belong to the category of periods of a 24 hour day and together they make up a complete 24 hour day.  “Up” and “down” are opposites lying at opposite ends of the spectrum of vertical direction. The “helper” being described in the text is one who by comparison belongs to the same category as the man – both are of mankind. (Gen 1: 26, 27 and 5: 5 use “a man” generically, and referring to both male and female, “a man” in these verses is a reference to “mankind”).  But the helper being looked for is not just different from the man but opposite to the man – each at the other end of the bi-polar parameter of mankind.  Walton thinks that the two words taken together could be translated “partner” or “counterpart”, the former emphasises the helper notion, while the latter reflects the compound word.  He would opt for the word, “counterpartner” if it existed (p. 177).  I opt for, “helper-counterpart” or “counterpart-helper”.

Yahweh Elohim now acts again.  He causes the man to fall into a deep sleep, presumably so that he does not feel the pain of what he is about to do, removes some piece of him, closes up the area affected and then fashions what he has taken from the man into a woman.  He then presents the woman to the man.  In part, what God does has the character of an operation carried out on a patient. While the man is unconscious, God removes a part of the body and concludes the operation with the closing of the wound.  Unlike any modern medical procedure however, Yahweh Elohim then moulds what he has taken from the man into another human being, but a different human being, one that is at the other end of the human dimension from the man – a woman.

What is meant by “one of the man’s ribs”? Walton comments that the Hebrew word translated “rib” is not used elsewhere in the Old Testament anatomically but rather it refers to the sides of some object, such as a building or a room.  He notes that there is an Akkadian cognate with a similar semantic range that is used anatomically but it refers not only to bone but flesh and muscle as well (p. 177).  The suggestion here then is that what God removes from the man is a decent sized chunk and having done so, he closes up the flesh.  Perhaps the picture being conveyed is that, being made from a large portion of the man, she is like the man, she shares his humanity.  There is probably no intention that we should imagine that the man is now however substantially changed.

How does God “create” the woman?  Walton points out some oddities (p. 177).  The Hebrew word involved is one that refers to something being built and any direct object of the word refers to what is being built.  Thus the Hebrew here could be read to indicate that the chunk from man is being built, rather than the woman. He further points out that a preposition precedes the word for woman and so she becomes the indirect object.  With this understanding the text reads, God built the “chunk” for the woman. Walton suggests that the sense of the text could be – “Then the Lord God built up the side he had taken from the man for (the purpose of making) a woman” (p. 178).  And just as the creatures were brought to the man so now the woman is brought to the man.

Whereas with respect to the creatures the man gives no sign that a “helper-counterpart” has been found”, he now exclaims, “Ah, now, here I have what is needed, bone and flesh from my bone and flesh (something just like me?)” but recognising the woman to be different and in a play on words, he further states, “For (this reason?), this shall be called woman (Hebrew: ishah) because this has been taken out of man (ish)”.  She will be a helper because she is like me.  But she is not the same as me so she needs to be thought of differently – she is a counterpart to me. The text does not say that what he called her was her name (as was the case when the creatures were brought before him). His reference to her being called woman is probably to be thought of as an indication of his way of thinking about her, rather than his giving her a name.

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