Holy Cross College, Bury
A Levels in Religious Studies, Law and French
Degree aspiration: Philosophy and Theology
If Augustine were alive to read Phylis Trible and Katie Edwards interpret Genesis 2-3, would he favour either interpretation over the other?
Trible (1973) and Edwards (2012), analysing the subject from a feminist stance, promptly contrast the inherited prejudices of Augustine (O’Meara, J. 1984) and would expect to be castigated by him. Trible’s egalitarian reading, perceiving man and woman as equals after the transgression, establishes the rationale behind this belief. However, the significance Edwards places on deciphering scripture as initially intended develops inferences frequently depicted in the works of Augustine. As a result, the figurative interpretation of events, including the creation of man alongside the Fall, indicates the reasoning that would be favoured by him whilst inevitably stimulating conflicting ideas.
Beginning with Genesis 2, the egalitarian exegesis conveyed by Trible (1973), induced by concerns for the prevalent hostility feminists evince towards the Bible, notably contrasts the patriarchal narrative constructed in Edwards’ work (2012). The forming of man demonstrates this precisely. Trible contributes the anomalous theory, deeming ‘adham to be androgynous, until the differentiation of gender in v21-23. Her argument proves consistent as, upon review (1995), she affirms ‘adham as “the earth creature”, finding no indication to male-superiority. Edwards (2012) established fault from this ; ‘adham is repeated after the splitting of the sexes which indicates the ‘earth creature’ was male to begin with. Furthermore, supported by the work of Susan Lanser (1987), Edwards highlights the necessity of understanding context and making inferences. Despite a contemporary fixation of equity, it is evident that the initial audience would have read ‘adham to be male. If Augustine were alive to read the contrasting interpretations, he would favour the latter. Augustine believed that readers should decide for themselves (Greenblatt, S. The New Yorker, 2017) and would thus be expected to adopt the inferences taken by Edwards. Equally, considering the role of society, Augustine expressed the prejudices of his time (O’Meara, J. 1984) due to his inheritance of a literary and philosophical view from Hellenistic Roman tradition. Consequently, Augustine didn’t find it necessary to explain the biblical reasons behind his creation.
The concept of woman, on the other hand, proves to create continuous dispute regarding the intended purpose of her existence. Augustine (O’Meara, J. 1984) predictably remarks woman’s duty to beget children for she is “merely man’s helpmate.” (De La Torre, M. 2007) Similarities to the work of Edwards (2012) can be established here also as her reference to Clines (1990) indicates that woman was created as a ‘secondary, subordinate position.’ Moreover, Kimelman’s analysis (1996) states woman to be designed with the sole intention of curing the loneliness encountered by ‘adham; giving weight to the one-dimensional purpose of helping with procreation. As Trible (1973) was reading to appropriate instead of reject, she implied a beneficial relationship that doesn’t signify inferiority. With reference to Biblical examples of ‘helper’ (2:18) being used in diverse scenarios, including its pertinence to Deity, Trible concludes that woman is the ‘helper’ equal to man. The perspective that woman being created second indicates subordination is equally repudiated as, fundamentally, she is the climax. Trible depicts woman to be the culmination, not the afterthought. As she believed male and female genders occurred concurrently, as man had no part in making woman (v21-23), Trible argued that they are counterparts as both have the same creator in which neither are judged. Augustine (Barrett L.C. Bible Odyssey, 2019) would compellingly credit this reasoning as he maintained the goodness of the human body; woman was created in the image of God as much as man. Therefore, she possesses spiritual equality with ‘adham and her creation from a rib emphasises humanity being one and the same flesh (O’Meara, J. 1984). However, it is evident that his overall judgement would favour the argument given by Edwards (2012). For instance, in certain texts, Augustine (Barrett L.C. Bible Odyssey, 2019) does demonstrate the view of woman being ontologically inferior to man, for she is less rational. As Edwards acknowledges woman’s silence, as opposed to being arguably over-ambitious in removing hostility from Genesis, it is clear that the patriarchal argument constructed in Edwards’ work would be favoured by Augustine.
The sovereignty leitmotif strikingly transposes in Genesis 3; Eve’s newly-found dominance, Edwards construes (2012), licenses contemporary exploitation of the figure. She displays prehension to Eve’s perpetuation; traditional interpretations show woman’s involvement in the transgression episode to have been greater than man’s. Trible (1973) contrastingly analyses woman’s presence to show a noteworthy initiative that further destabilises patriarchal exegesis. The serpent is captivated by the authentic essence of woman which exegetes are shown through her solitary decision. The woman is intelligent, sensitive and ingenious. Nevertheless, Trible contrasts her egalitarian beliefs with the work of Ricoeur (1969) who bluntly remarks woman to represent “the point of weakness.” Moreover, McKenzie (1954) aligns this perspective with Eve’s “sexual attraction”, holding the latter to have corrupted both sexes. This standpoint is additionally considered by Edwards; female sexuality can be closely linked to fruit, both connoting sensuality and desire. In reference to interpretation, Augustine (Barrett L.C. Bible Odyssey, 2019) would endorse Edwards anew, as in his early works, he too correlated Eve with carnal lust; resulting in a lack of rationality. He links sex to the narrative of desire (Walsh, C 2000): an inference shared by Edwards. Augustine (Smith, R. The Catholic World Report, 2017) alternatively emerged a sense of compassion for the weakness Eve shows, as he found her foolishness a result of the Devil’s deceit. Contrastingly, Adam appears flippant and merely listens to his wife, creating the crucial moment of the Fall; the deliberate deception. Both Trible and Edwards interpret Adam’s passivity, opposing the authoritative decision-maker found a chapter prior, a subtle mechanism to remove man’s culpability. The findings of copious feminists, including Edwards (2012), openly denotes that Adam could have asserted solicitude. If this wasn’t feasible, the task of diverting the man and undercutting the patriarchy still appears too simplistic. Augustine (O’Meara, J 1984) would protest this assertion as his contextual reading; inevitably sympathetic towards man, proclaiming that Adam followed Eve out his of love and inability to disappoint her. However, Augustine (Pecknold, C. The Journal of Scriptural Reading, 2004) understood that a literal reading of Genesis 3 would produce an unbearable hierarchy between man and woman, indicating subtle support to equitable readings such as Trible’s and Edwards’. Supporting Augustine’s intent not to to vilify Eve (Pecknold, C. The Journal of Scriptural Reading, 2004), Edwards proves that the former censurable depiction of her became non-existent in the Western world. She credibly cites that, in popular culture, Eve is frequently used as an efficacious message of self-empowerment for young women. This characterisation mirrors Trible’s (1973) central belief of what Eve represented in Genesis 3. Demonstrating Eve’s social dominance, Adam is seldom present within modern advertisements; the spectator replaces him. Therefore, when in view, Adam will be displayed with licensed withdrawal, illustrating passiveness contrasting powerfulness. This allures women as through the emphasis on the sexual nature of Eve’s transgression, popular culture designed a postfeminist heroine. Consequently, Eve’s role in the transgression episode prevails as advertisers can explore and exploit contemporary heterosexual gender roles and the distribution of power in sexual relations (2012). The sensuality of Eve, arguably lust, contrasts the rationality of Trible’s depicted heroine. As a result, Edwards’ contextual inferences prove more complimentary to Augustine’s interpretation (Walsh, C 2000).
Subsequent to the transgression, Edwards’ judgement on penitence (2012) identifies precisely with the guilt-induced exegesis given by Augustine (Walsh, C 2000). She attributes cogency to his depiction and shares the inferences conveyed (regarding v7). The proceeding verses, according to Augustine (Smither, E.L 2014), shows the Deity pronouncing judgement through questions designed to entirely expose pride and sin. Humanity’s continuous strife with the Devil is epitomised through this. Therefore, the later degradation of woman, Augustine commented (Smither, E.L 2014), must be taken figuratively. As a former Manichee, before concluding that Manichaeism was in many ways no better than superstition, Augustine (Chaffey, T. Answers in Genesis, 2011) reaffirmed that a literal interpretation would authorise ludicrous illustrations of God. Trible (1973) develops this mutual perspective through belief that literal readings limits both the creatures and the story. Alternatively, Trible found Genesis 3 to establish comparable attributes and onuses of the sexes. Upon the questioning of man, arising first as prohibition went directly to him, he doesn’t blame the woman. Trible recognises yet another missed opportunity in branding the woman a temptress. The culpable tempter, the serpent, is cursed through mandates which Trible illuminates the hazard in misinterpreting. She maintains the judgements given to man and woman as purely descriptions. Accordingly, proclamations such as man shall rule over his wife castigate male supremacy for perverting creation. Edwards (2012) is apologetically doubtful towards Trible’s egalitarian reading as the Deity’s punishments appear to only reinforce the gender-assigned roles further. With reference to Clines (1990), Edwards stresses that Adam’s pain in farming, contrasting Eve’s with sexual functions, explicitly proves God to primarily consider woman as a child-bearing creature. Furthermore, the burden God places on Eve is chiefly emphasised through proceeding man’s punishment with ‘because you have obeyed the voice of your wife.’ The newly-provided information seemingly blames woman as the instigator of the transgression; unsurprisingly resulting in readers blaming her ever since. Hence, through connoting danger from authoritative women, the encoded message of the text is that they need to be subjugated and controlled by men. Augustine (Barrett L.C. Bible Odyssey, 2019) had proposed in his early works, that gender differentiation was the result of the Fall. He may challenge the feminist in overlooking Eve’s part in the transgression and focusing solely on the consequences it brought. Man and woman were made imago dei and it is after the Fall where Eve suffers and loses her Edenic equality (Barrett L.C. Bible Odyssey, 2019). As a result, it would be fallacious to scrutinise the Deity when, instead, we can use the characters to learn about primal responsibility (Pecknold, C. The Journal of Scriptural Reading, 2004). For instance, Augustine (Wold, B 2016) deduced that Adam’s sin led to a fallen state of all humanity. He believed (Greenblatt, S. The New Yorker, 2017) that in choosing to sin, because he couldn’t endure being severed from his sole companion, Adam’s offspring now inherit sin and death at birth. Augustine’s work concerning being “seminally present” appears flawed and contradictory to scripture, notably Revelation 20:11-15. This passage informs Christians that they will be judged for the execution of their own acts (Oakes, J. Evidence for Christianity, 2011). Trible (1973) shared this individual and autonomous outlook and correlated it to the need of advancement from the culture of the original setting of Genesis. She encouraged moving beyond labels encountered in the Bible to limit oppression, despite the view adhered by traditional theologians like Augustine (O’Meara, J. 1984). Due to his inherited social ideologies, Augustine would further conflict with Trible’s perspective as he saw man’s superiority as the fault of woman. Moreover, if Augustine read the works of both scholars, Edwards’ reasoning behind Genesis legitimising male supremacy would be in accordance with Augustine’s personal standpoint (O’Meara, J. 1984).
To conclude, if Augustine were alive to read the interpretations of both academics, he would favour Edwards’ assertions’ (2012) over Trible’s (1973). The contextual objective behind a scholars exegesis proves to patently bias their final assertions: Trible’s consistent egalitarian reading, overlooking explicit inequities expressed towards woman; Edwards’ angle on feminism, for her focus on the patriarchal narrative proved foreseeable; and Augustine’s social prejudices (O’Meara, J. 1984), repeatedly conflicting the work of Trible. Augustine, and Edwards, would hold Trible to have read selectively in finding a portrayal of equity in Genesis 2-3. Contrastingly, they inferred that the Bible does condemn woman, thus devising a gender hierarchy. Augustine (Ortlund, G. Henry Center, 2017) expressed the common view, shared by both scholars, that a literal reading of this text would constitute irrational denotations. Alternatively, a figurative evaluation is favourable to educate Christians on themes like responsibility (Pecknold, C. The Journal of Scriptural Reading, 2004). This appears modernistic as Trible (1973), sixteen centuries later, reinforced the remark through asserting society to surpass Biblical settings in order to flourish. However, as Augustine (O’Meara, J. 1984) conveyed prejudice himself, he may still conflict this outlook to an extent. On that account, it is conclusive that upon reading both understandings, Augustine would favour Edwards’ figuratively inferred reading (2012) that does identify a gender hierarchy.
-Trible, P. (1973) Eve and Adam: Genesis 2-3 Reread. Andover Newton quarterly 13: Rochester, N.Y.
-Edwards, K. (2012) Admen and Eve: The Bible in Contemporary Advertising. Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd.
-Trible, P. (1995) Not a Jot, Not a Tittle: Genesis 2-3 after Twenty Years.
-Lanser, S. (1988) ‘(Feminist) criticism in the garden: inferring Genesis 2-3’, Semeia, 41, pp. 67-84.
-Greenblatt, S. The New Yorker (2017) How St Augustine invented sex. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/06/19/how-st-augustine-invented-sex
-O’Meara, J. (1984) ‘Saint Augustine's Understanding of the Creation and Fall’, The Maynooth Review, 10, pp. 52-62.
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-Ortlund, Gavin. “Did Augustine Read Genesis 1 Literally?” Henry Center. 2017.
-Pecknold, Chad. “Augustine On What Adam and Eve Signify: A Brief Response to Steve Kepnes.” The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning. 2004.
-Ricœur, Paul. The Symbolism of Evil. Boston: Beacon Press. 1969.
-Sanlon, Peter. “Augustine’s Literal Adam.” The Gospel Coalition. 2011.
-Smith, Randall. “St. Augustine’s Wisdom: Adam, Eve, Christ, and the Church.” The Catholic World Report. 2017.
-Smither, Edward. “Augustine on redemption in Genesis 1-3.” Scielo. 2014.
-Trible, Phyllis. Eve and Adam: Genesis 2-3 Reread. New York: Andover Newton Quarterly, 1973.
-Trible, Phyllis. “Not a Jot, Not a Tittle: Genesis 2-3 after Twenty Years.” 1995.
-Walsh, Carey. “Exquisite Desire: Religion, the Erotic and the Song of Songs.” Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2000.
-Wold, Benjamin. “Genesis 2–3 in Early Christian Tradition.” Dead Sea Discoveries. 2016. Pp. 329-346.