Barry Newman's Blog

April 5, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:49 pm

The comment about man and woman

This section of the Genesis account, as it is about to conclude, has a comment by the narrator – something which could strike us as a little odd.

In Israel normally a wife joined her husband’s family and became a member of his tribe though she often remained with her family in the early stages of the marriage with her husband making conjugal visits to her in her family home during that period (Walton, 178).  Presumably this is what the narrator is alluding to in making the comment about a man (ish) leaving his father and mother.  I suspect that with respect to this matter, the author/editor is not giving his hearers/readers any information with which they are not already familiar.

Probably the term, “for this reason” or “therefore”, while arising out of what the narrator has just recorded, should be understood to refer to why a man leaves his father and his mother.  He does so because he wishes to be joined to his wife, to become one flesh with her.  Undoubtedly sexual union is in mind.  However it is not clear that the author/editor intends for there to be any emphasis on pleasurable sex or sex leading to conception no matter how significant these matters might be in reality. It is also true that “the being joined together” and “the one flesh” notions have significant connotations that will be referred to later in Scripture, but in this narrative, I think the recognition that man and woman come together in a sexual act is predominantly in mind.

However, why does the author/editor make the comment at all and having made the comment returns then to the narrative? Making the reference to the man (adam) and his wife both being naked and yet not being ashamed and having reminded the hearers/readers of the social setting with which he and they are familiar, in which there is a type of embarrassment associated with a man and a woman being joined together, would seem to be a way of drawing attention to a certain innocence about this man and this woman at this point in time. The author/editor by referring to what occurs in his world at his time is reminding his hearers/readersof a custom that highlights the social sensitivity that surrounds the sexual act performed between a man and a woman.  By comparison he is then able to indicate that with the man and the woman in his narrative account, such sensitivity does not exist.  He has set the scene for the events of chapter 3 in which the situation will change. In a few words, the narrator has prepared the hearer/reader for recognising the sharp contrast between the world that they know and the world of this man and this woman.



  1. Hi (again) Barry,

    I think you’re following Walton a little too closely. First, the suggestion that the woman initially remained with her family is, I believe, conjecture based on an attempt to explain the present narrative and has little support outside of this (it certainly doesn’t accord with most accounts of marriage in the OT so it could not be described as normal or universal practice, and Walton offers no references to support the claim in either of his Genesis commentaries). Marriage in the ancient Near East was predominantly a patrilocal, patriarchal, and patrilineal affair. Furthermore, the explanation doesn’t adequately explain the narrative here since there is no mention of the husband and wife in Gen 2 returning to the man’s family. Walton’s explanation misses the primary significance of this passage in this regard!

    Second, although I agree that sexual union is on view, it is not the primary focus of the text. Many scholars agree that “one flesh” here is a form of the common kinship formula found throughout the OT (e.g. Gen 29:14; Judg 9:2; 2 Sam 5:1; 19:13–14; etc.; cf. Wenham, Genesis 1–15 70), an expression often used of brothers or other family members. Furthermore, all the language here is covenantal: forsake, cleave, “one flesh.” The term “cleave” nowhere else has any sexual connotations, but frequently speaks of covenant intimacy and loyalty (the term is used of clinging to another in affection and loyalty [without sexual overtones] in Gen 34:3; Ruth 1:14; 2Sam 20:2; 1Kgs 11:2. It is frequently used of Israel clinging to Yahweh, cf. Deut 10:20; 11:22; 13:5 [E. 4]; 30:20; Josh 22:5; 23:8; etc. Cf. E. S. Kalland, “דבק” in TWOT vol. 1, 177–178). “Forsake” is a strong term which often refers to breaking a covenant (e.g. Deut 12:19; 14:27; 29:24; Jer 1:16; 2:13, 17, 19; 5:7; 16:11; 17:13; 19:4; 22:9).

    Thus the text is saying that, in entering into marriage, the man “forsakes” the prior primary covenantal family relationship with his parents to establish a new covenantal relationship with his wife. In doing this a new family is established (i.e. “they become one flesh”). This language can apply to patrilocal marriages because it is about allegiance not geography.

    This speaks strongly into the text’s aNE context where wives were all too frequently placed lower on the list of priorities than parents. The author of Genesis emphatically affirms the priority of the marriage relationship over other kinship ties. This message continues to be relevant in the modern world.

    Comment by Martin Shields — April 6, 2011 @ 4:42 am | Reply

  2. Hi Martin,

    I hope people in addition to myself appreciate your comments. Your expertise is considerable and your references valuable. You may be right, the author may be highlighting the priority of the marriage relationship over other kinship ties. This would mean that having referred to how the man perceives the woman in relationship to himself he thinks it necessary to make this editorial comment.

    You are correct. I do lean on Walton a great deal. I use him as a springboard, often simply quoting him and then making use of that quote but some times disagreeing with him and suggesting something else.

    However, if Walton in this instance is wrong I have the problem of how I see both v. 24 and v. 25 as tied in with the rest of the account. V. 24 is undoubtedly attached to what has gone before. However what of v. 25? Unless it follows on from v. 24 it really sits out there on its own. One could still argue for its relevance, given what is going to eventuate but its insertion at this point strikes me as awkward. This awkwardness, for me, disappears if v. 25 is tied to v. 24 via a sexual reference. Now one could argue that the sexual reference is only “the one flesh” phrase but that phrase seems intimately connected with the earlier part of v. 24. Furthermore, though I did not refer to in the post I suspect that the “one flesh” phrase relates in part to the “taken from the man” phrase of v. 23. Walton’s perspective (though you are right he does not give the references for his claim) allows all three verses to be tied together, for me, fairly neatly. Earlier in ch. 2 the writer refers to geographical detrails that he suspects the hearer/reader will be unaware of. A mere suggestion – if Walton is correct at least as to the existence of the custom, even if he is wrong with respect to when and with whom it was a custom,it could be a reference to an early custom not carried out in Israel’s history or well known in the ANE. However both you and I would like to know – upon what does he base any part of his claim? By the way I don’t think that there being no reference to the husbanms and wife returning to the man’s family in Gen 2 is all that significant. In the analysis I have suggested it is immaterial.

    Anyway you may be right and I appreciate your interest.


    Comment by barrynewman — April 6, 2011 @ 7:54 am | Reply

  3. Hi Barry,

    Thanks for your response. Your concern about the consistency of the narrative is valid. I think the same applies to readings (such as Walton’s) which see the naming of the animals as primarily an exercise of dominion — an activity which detracts from the actual context completely. That’s why I think it makes far better sense to see the whole naming episode as primarily facilitating a search for the missing element of creation.

    With respect to verse 25, I’d make a couple of comments. First, I don’t want to exclude sexual union completely from what’s addressed here, although I want to somewhat diminish it against those who wish to make it the primary focus of the narrative.

    Second, and perhaps more significantly, I think it does tie in well with all that goes on if it is understood along the lines I suggest above. The search for the woman and her discovery, her construction from part of the man himself, and the declaration that with her a new family is forged, forsaking all prior committments all point to the degree of intimacy (not just sexual intimacy, although that too) that is building as the chapter progresses. Let me quote Hauser:

    The reference in v. 24 to being one flesh does not refer only to sexual relations (nor does it exclude them). In v. 25 the sexual overtones are more pronounced. Throughout the OT there is basically a reserved attitude towards nakedness, with it being presumed that one’s nakedness is, with only rare exception, to be shielded from the eyes of others. To expose someone’s nakedness was to lay them bare before the world, to make them open and vulnerable, in a most thoroughgoing sense (Gen 42:9, 12; Isaiah 20; Ezek 16:29, 39; 23:22–35; Hosea 2). It often means to expose one to shame (1 Sam 20:30; 2 Sam 10:4–5; Isa 47:3; Nah 3:5). Clearly, one’s nakedness was seen as a very personal thing, a key to one’s
    innermost self. It is for this reason that the phrase “to expose the nakedness of…” is often used to refer to sexual intercourse (Leviticus 18; 20), wherein two people open themselves to one another in the most complete way possible. Thus, in v. 25 man and his wife stand naked before one another, expose themselves completely to one another, and are not ashamed. Their vulnerability causes no anxiety, and their intimacy is complete. This sets the stage for ch. 3, where the intimacy is disrupted, as expressed in part through the urgent need of man and woman to cover up their nakedness.

    (Alan Hauser, “Genesis 2–3: The Theme of Intimacy and Alienation.”)

    Verses 18–25 highlight the intimacy of the relationship between the man and the woman over and above any they could have with the animals (which were rejected as companions), over and above even the relationships one has with his or her own family. It is the ultimate expression of intimacy before it is torn apart in chapter 3, where all relationships are damaged.

    Comment by Martin Shields — April 6, 2011 @ 2:14 pm | Reply

    • Hi Martin,

      Thanks for your input Hope you don’t mind but I won’t make a lengthy reply this time.


      Comment by barrynewman — April 6, 2011 @ 10:09 pm | Reply

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