In this episode I explore the myth in Genesis 2 about the creation of man and woman from the androgynous figure of Adam. This ancient teaching, which is found in various spiritual traditions including early Judaism, taught that the original human was non-binary. The original condition of humankind was nondual. This primal androgyne is split in half, and two separate beings are created – a man and a woman. I explore what this has to say about nonduality and gender identity.
In this episode I continue to explore the myths contained in the second chapter of the Book of Genesis as expressions of nonduality. These stories are rich repositories of spiritual truth. Too often people either take these stories literally as history or they reject them as fables. They are neither fact nor fiction. They are profound spiritual stories that describe original nonduality and the origin of duality.
Last episode we looked that the second creation story and what it had to say about the creation of humankind. Humankind is represented by the androgynous figure of HaAdam or Adam. I call Adam androgynous because originally Adam is both male and female. At this point in the story Adam has not been divided into male and female. There is an analogous figure in Hinduism, the primal human called Purusha. It is not an exact parallel to Adam but there are enough similarities that we can say that both Adam and Purusha are pointing to the same truth of original human nonduality.
In the Hindu account everything is made out of Purusha as a primeval sacrifice. In Genesis everything was not made from Adam, but Adam was made first. Adam is the firstborn of creation, as Christ is later called “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Only after Adam were all the other animals made, according to Genesis 2. Then Adam named them, which is a dualistic activity. When you name something you are separating and distinguishing it from yourself and from other things. So this naming is in a sense the creation of duality.
When it comes to human duality, the primeval human was originally both male and female. Yahweh had to separate the female from the male to create woman. In the Genesis story they are even tied together etymologically. It says, “she shall be called Woman, isha, because she was taken out of Man, ish.” The traditional translation of the story says that Yahweh put Adam under anesthesia and then took a rib and from it made the female.
A lot of commentary has been done on this act of creation. Much of says that male is superior to female because Adam came first. The Pauline epistle First Timothy (which most scholars think was not written by the apostle) uses this story as a reason to subjugate women to men in the church. He says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman who was deceived and fell into transgression.…”
The church has gone downhill ever since by following this pseudo-Pauline writing. But when we look at what Genesis actually says, we see that this is not true. The original human contained both male and female, and only later was separated into ish and isha, man and woman.
Even the translation of that woman was made from a rib is doubtful. The Hebrew word used here for rib is normally translated side. Only here in this story is it ever translated rib. It is elsewhere translated either side or sometimes chamber. Like a heart has two upper chambers and to lower chambers, so does the primordial human have two chambers. If we translate it side instead of rib, then it says that God took one of the sides – not one of the ribs - of the human, which makes a lot more sense. So the original human is pictured as having two sides – one male and one female. We can picture God dividing the original androgynous human into two.
So this story is the birth of human duality, male and female from an original nondual human. This is not some new idea. It is found in many spiritual traditions around the world, including early Judaism. This is how the creation story was interpreted in midrashes in rabbinic literature known as the Genesis Rabbah, written between 300-500 AD. These rabbis thought a verse from Psalms offered insight into the creation of humankind, where it says ’You have formed me before and behind’ (Psalms 139:5). They said this means that Adam in Genesis 1 was actually a hermaphrodite with two faces.
They see evidence for this also in the wording of the creation story in Genesis 1 where it says: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The alternation of the singular and the plural in this verse led them to believe that the divine image contained both male and female and that the original human was both male and female. Then in Genesis 2 this primal androgyne is split in half, and two separate beings are created – a man and a woman.
Of course this is not what happened literally, historically or scientifically. We know enough about evolution to know how humans evolved. There was not really a human being with two faces – half male and half female. It is myth. Just like the story of Adam and Eve is a myth. It is symbolic. But it is not a myth any more crazy than a talking snake and magical trees, which many Christian take literally.
Of course you won’t hear this interpretation of an androgynous Adam from your local neighborhood evangelical pulpit or bible study. This is the ancient teaching that taught that the original condition of humankind was nondual. That the original human was non-binary.
If taken seriously this would be an affirmation of non-binary and transgender people, which would open up a discussion of gender identity. But that is a discussion that evangelicalism does not want to have. That is why evangelicals insist the Bible teaches that humans were created male and female from the very beginning, even though this story clearly says that distinction came later.
The spiritual point of this second creation story of humankind’s origin is that there was a primordial nonduality. It is pictured differently in Chapter 2 than it is in Genesis 1, but both accounts are making the same point. Nonduality is the original condition of humanity. Even the male and female were one in spirit. They felt no separation. It says in the closing verse of this chapter “the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” The Garden of Eden in Genesis 2 is the symbol of what we call nondual awareness, which was a sense of union with each other and with God. It was paradise.
The following chapter – genesis 3 - then speaks of how that changed - the fall of humankind from this nondual consciousness and into dualistic thinking with all its consequences. That story is theologically known as the Fall. It has the fascinating symbols of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Tree of Life, and the Serpent. We will explore that next time.