"What's In a Name: The Earth Creature and the Woman
The Earth Creature and The Woman
A Sermon for Northminster Church
Preached by Rev. Jillian Hankamer
August 7, 2022
Genesis 2: 7-8 & 18-24
This morning begins what will be a five-week services about names. What we call God. What God calls Herself. What God calls us. Specifically, we begin this morning with the creation story from Genesis and my official dubbing of each of you as honorary seminary students in my unofficial, one-day-only Old Testament class. There are no tests, and we’ll all have lunch after.
As your professor, my first duty is to make sure everyone knows that there are two unique creation stories in Genesis. My second duty is to explain that despite this text’s second-place position it is actually the older of the two creation stories. Scholars agree Genesis 2 dates from the Davidic period when Israel was a sovereign nation while Genesis 1“is actually from the exilic period [while the Israelites are] in Babylon.”
You must also keep in mind through our time together that Genesis is not a history book. Or a science book. Or a book about God’s definition of gender roles. Genesis is, as Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney says so well, “poetry in prose, a theological accounting of how things that were seen, known and imagined came to be. The text is replete with puns, double-entendres, and multiple readings.” In short, Genesis is one people group’s explanation of how creation and humanity came to be on this planet.
Now we’ve reached the participation portion of our class. If you’re going to study the Old Testament understanding some biblical Hebrew is a must. I’d like for you repeat after me. הָֽאֲדָמָֽה/ha-adama. This is the word for “earth” or “ground” and we’re focusing this word because of its relationship with the next Hebrew word you’re going to learn; וְאָדָ֣ם/adam. Can everyone say that? Good. As you can hear this is clever bit of word play as adam comes from ha-adama. An English equivalent is that “human” comes from the Latin “humus,” so scholars talk about humans coming from the humus. In addition, this understanding of the playfulness of the Hebrew in these verses is a moment for us to rethink what we’ve been taught about gender from this story. It’s a chance for us to understand that using the word “he” or “him” to describe adam isn’t accurate as at this point because ha-adam has no gender.
As Dr. Phyllis Trible explains in her classic book God And The Rhetoric Of Sexuality, the adam is best understood not as a man but as an “earth creature” for it “is neither a particular person nor the typical person but rather the creature from the earth (ha-adama)...” With the exception of nostrils into which God breathes, the physical details of the earth creature’s body are sparse, but most importantly the earth creature is gender-neutral. As Dr. Trible explains, “...the earth creature is not the male; it is not “the first man”...Instead, the earth creature here is precisely and only the human being, so far sexually undifferentiated.”
Sexuality and gender do not become part of the story until after the woman is created which necessitates our second Hebrew lesson for the day. Repeat after me, אִישׁ/is. Well done. Now, אִשָּׁ֔ה/issa is Hebrew for man or husband. Issa is woman or wife and neither word appears in the Genesis texts until after the woman is created. As Trible says, “The new creature, built from the material of ha-adam, is female, receiving her identity in a word that is altogether new to the story, the word issa.” Before the woman the earth creature is alone and androgenous, but in the creation of this partner the earth creature not only speaks for the first time but self-identifies his own gender after acknowledging the woman’s.
And let’s be very clear here, the earth creature does not name the woman as it does the rest of Yahew’s creation for the word issa “is not a name [but a] common noun...it designates gender; it does not specify person.” Add to that the awareness that the word issa/woman appears first from the mouth of the omniscient narrator not from the earth creature, and it’s clear that ha-adam, God’s first creation, is not the one determining who the woman is.
And let’s talk for a moment about that pesky rib that’s so often used to put women in our place. The word there is הַצֵּלָ֛ע/tzela and it can mean “rib,” but it also means “boards,” “chambers,” and in 15 other places in scripture “side.” This is significant because rather than thinking about a rib being taken out of adam, it’s more accurate to think of a side being removed from adam. Again, as Wil Gafney notes, “The transformation God performs is akin to cellular mitosis; one is divided into two.” Or as the earth creature says, woman is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Both are built from God’s raw materials, both owe their origin to the Creator, both are unique, one-of-a-kind creations by a God who delights in the very process of creating.
“Adam was masculine, strong, capable. He must have been a handsome spectacle as he stood there, clean fresh, pure from the hand of God.” So begins William W. Orr’s 1950 book Plain Talk about Love and Sex for Christian Young People. Orr continues,
“Possibly six feet tall, muscular body, square shoulders, deep chest, prominent chin, with perhaps a dimple in it. Every inch and man’s man. Eve must have loved him so much it hurt. And Eve. What a vision of perfect delight she must have been. Her skin soft and lovely, her hair long and silky. I’m sure her form was feminine to the core. She must have had delicately formed hands and dainty feet. Her eyes were blue as the skies above, and her lips shame the redness of the rose. Surely, the admiration of her husband must have been nearly worship. Here’s the beginning of God’s sex plan. Manly men and womanly women.”
“Manly men and womanly women;” this kind of language and theology continues to be preached from pulpits and drives book sales all over the world. Both are the result of not taking the time to study the Genesis text, of not paying attention to its word play, and poetry. Such an understanding is a lazy, self-indulgent reading of a text that is complex and layered. It’s dangerous rhetoric that twists a beautiful story of God’s playfulness and joy in creation into a commentary on gender roles that not only doesn’t exist in the text, but that continues to name women as second-class citizens and ignores the existence of the LGBTQ community at best.
My friends, this creation story is just that - a story about God crafting life from breath and dust. It’s not about gender roles. It’s not a convenient way to tell women we’re inferior to men and that we should spend our time submitting to our husbands. If anything, “woman is the culmination of creation,” made by God to be the earth creature’s equal.
Gentlemen, this is not a story that seeks to define you by your “manliness” or that requires you to be stoic and emotionless lest you be called a “sissy” or get told to “man up.” The representation of masculinity presented in this story is all about mutuality and being most apparent in relationship with a partner.
Finally, this is not a binary story naming men at one end and women at the other but a story that embraces a spectrum, a story in which androgyny exists and through which our gender-fluid and gender non-conforming siblings can see themselves in God’s first creation who embodies both genders.
And the Good News this morning is that no matter what name we use for God’s creation, at its core this creation story is about relationships and the end of loneliness. Perhaps it’s because God herself was lonely before creation. After all, what good is it to be omnipotent and all-powerful if you have no one to share your life with? So, God gave life to an earth creature and then a woman a love story began - not just between them but between God and her creation. It’s a love story that continues to this day and God is just as interested in being in a relationship with us, just as interested in our finding partners and friends so that we are not alone, just as interested in being our God as she was in the beginning. What’s in a name? The devotion of our Creator and God who has loved us since our very first breath. Class dismissed.