THE STORY of Eve in the book of Genesis has had a more profoundly negative impact on women throughout history than any other biblical story. For at least 2,000 years it has been interpreted in patriarchal and even misogynist ways by male biblical scholars and theologians. {See box below.} Early Christian writers depicted Eve as subordinate and inferior to Adam -- because she was created after and from him -- and as weak, seductive and evil, the cause of Adam's disobedience. Not only was Eve regarded as "the mother of all living things" (the popular etymology derives her name, Havva, from the Hebrew word for life, hayyim), she was also held up as the paradigm for the evil inherent in all women -- except of course for Mary, the mother of Jesus, who later became the paradigm for idealized womanhood. These concepts formed the basis for later deprecatory patriarchal Christian theologies of woman. As early as I Timothy, for example, women are prohibited from speaking in the assembly ("let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness"), from teaching and from having authority over men -- all because Eve was formed after Adam and led him astray. In the second century, Tertullian taught that all women share the ignominy of Eve. Like Eve, all women are "the devil's gateway. . . the unsealer of that forbidden tree. . . the first deserter of the divine law" who destroyed "God's image, man." Because interpreters assumed Eve was inferior to Adam, they translated the Hebrew word 'ezer (Genesis 2:18) as "helper." Ambrose, a 4th-century bishop and one of the four great "doctors" of the Latin church, refers to Eve as a procreative "helper for the purpose of generating human nature" and concludes that "this then is the way in which a woman is a good helper of less importance." Thomas Aquinas significantly extended the argument in the 13th century, claiming that women were defective by nature: "Misbegotten males" born female because of some defect in the active force or maternal disposition, or because of some external force such as a moist south wind. The consequence of such thinking can be seen in works like the Malleus Maleficarum ("Hammer Against Witches"). This 15th-century document, which draws heavily on Genesis 3, provided the Inquisition its principal theological justification for persecuting women as witches. In the decades following its publication, thousands of women were executed. The themes of inferiority, evil and seductiveness continued to be emphasized in the writings of Luther, Calvin and Knox and remain disturbingly prominent in the 20th century in places as diverse as papal encyclicals and TV fundamentalist preaching. The consequences for women of our day can be devastating. There are still men who appeal to Genesis 2-3 to justify their right to "discipline" physically a wife who is not properly subordinate. And there are some battered women who continue to accept such abuse because they think it is a husband's divinely sanctioned "right and duty." Old Words, New Meaning Until quite recently the traditional interpretation of Genesis 2-3 went virtually unchallenged. But now many women find such patriarchal and misogynist views unacceptable. Some choose to reject both the interpretations and the biblical account itself. Others believe that the Eve story can be recovered from patriarchy through feminist analysis and interpretation. Theirs has been a long -- and so far generally unsuccessful -- effort. An early pioneer in that effort was Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), who after years of political struggle came to appreciate the role of religion in the oppression of women. In 1895 she published the "Woman's Bible," containing a reinterpretation of the story of Eve and Adam that directly challenged the traditional reading. "It is amazing," she wrote, "that any set of men ever claimed that the dogma of the inferiority of woman is here set forth. The conduct of Eve from the beginning to the end is so superior to that of Adam." Unfortunately, male biblical scholars and feminists alike largely ignored her pioneering efforts. The traditional Christian image of Eve was not seriously reexamined until the rise of feminist theology in the 1960s. The most extensive such reinterpretation was undertaken in the 1970s by Phyllis Trible of Union Theological Seminary. She readily conceded that the Bible is largely a "man's book," but she argued that the problem with the Eve story was not the text itself but the centuries of accrued sexist context that had grown up around it. Freed from that context, she believes, the story has a liberating essence for women. According to Trible, none of the traditional patriarchal claims is altogether accurate, most are simply not present in the text and some actually violate the rhetoric of the biblical account. For example, patriarchal interpreters claim that woman is inferior because she is created last (Genesis 2:22). But these same interpreters never argue that humans are inferior to animals because they were created later (Genesis 1:27). On the contrary, they regard the final creative act in Genesis 1 as the pinnacle of Creation. If this later-is-better principle were applied consistently, the creation of the woman in Genesis 2 would be seen as the crowning achievement. She also addressed the fact that the serpent speaks only to Eve. Church fathers interpreted this to mean that woman is morally weaker than man and thus an easier prey; that woman is simpleminded, gullible, untrustworthy; or that she is more sexual and her sexuality is used by the serpent to ruin the man. Trible pointed out that all this is mere speculation: The text itself does not say why the serpent speaks to the woman. Why not speculate instead that the serpent questions her because she is the more intelligent of the two? Or because she has a better understanding of the divine command? Or because she is more independent? By contrast, it could be said that the man is silent, passive, bland and belly-oriented; that he thinks with his stomach and not his brain. Likewise, Eve's "temptation" of Adam is not actually present in Genesis but has been read into the text by commentators. In her own analysis of Genesis 2-3, Trible focused on stylistic and rhetorical devices used by the biblical author, producing many fresh insights. For example, she found a symmetrical pattern in the story. The creation of woman last is part of that symmetry: Woman completes the creative process begun with the creation of ha-'adam in Genesis 2:7 (variously translated as "man," "the man" or "Adam"; ha is the definite article). This 'adam need not necessarily be thought of as male. Rather, she argued, the Hebrew text presents us with a word-play: ha-'adam ("earth creature") is created from the earth, ha-'adamah. This earth creature remains basically sexless until the differentiation of female from male occurs in Genesis 2:21-23. Only with the advent of sexuality does the term ha-'adam acquire the secondary meaning of "male"; but even then it is an ambiguous term. When the woman is created, it is as an 'ezer k-negdo -- an expression which does not have the pejorative sense carried by the English "helper" or "helpmate." The sense of 'ezer is expressed better by the phrase "a companion corresponding to it." The implied relation is beneficial and does not connote inferiority. In fact, the same Hebrew word is used to describe God (see Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:7; Psalm 33:20); but in these instances translators prefer "help," not "helper," to avoid the perjorative sense. Trible argues that k-negdo conveys the idea of mutuality and equality and that translations must reflect that sense. She also attacked the notion that Adam is superior because he "names" the female ("She shall be called woman") in Genesis 2:23 just as he had previously named the other creatures in the Garden of Eden. Trible shows that the naming formula used in the latter case is not employed in Genesis 2:23. Moreover, she argues, Adam's specific naming (and implied domination) of Eve -- after the Fall -- is actually a consequence and symbol of sinfulness. Can Scripture Be Saved? Trible's approach typifies the reformist effort to find a recoverable core in biblical traditions. The counterparts of the reformists are the "revolutionaries" or "rejectionists" -- feminists who maintain that the core biblical symbols of Judaism and Christianity are irreformably male. The large majority of feminist biblical scholars hold the reformist position and have remained within the Jewish and Christian traditions. These scholars generally feel that Genesis 2-3 is one text which can be reclaimed as a story with a strongly positive message of sexual equality. Most would agree with Trible that the traditional negative view of Eve can be overturned. Trible's Eve is not the simpleminded, gullible female who deviously seduces the male to sin but an "intelligent, informed, perceptive. . . theologian, ethicist, hermeneut and rabbi" who speaks with "clarity and authority" and who acts independently but without deception. So far, however, feminist re-readings have not changed the way the Eve-Adam story is generally understood; and they have been almost entirely ignored by mainstream biblical scholarship. In addition, a particularly serious challenge to feminist reform efforts has recently come from structuralist studies of the Genesis account. Structuralists investigate systems of relationships that are presumed to lie below the surface of a text (the level investigated by rhetorical critics such as Trible). Thus they cannot be apprehended directly. Scholars use various analytical techniques to discover abstract structures which produce meaning and which operate at the unconscious or subconscious level in authors' and readers' minds. The earliest structural study of the Eve-Adam story was undertaken by the British anthropologist Sir Edmund Leach in 1961. Leach began by claiming that binary oppositions are intrinsic to human thought. For example, objects are either alive or not alive; human beings are either male or not male. Leach argued that the rational categories which form a binary opposition in Genesis 2 are "man" (i.e., ha-'adam, which Leach assumed is male) and "animal." None of the animals can overcome Adam's loneliness. So the woman serves as the anomalous/abnormal "other" introduced to mediate this opposition, and thus belongs to a paradigmatic set that consists of the "creeping things" in Genesis 1 and the serpent in Genesis 3. Members of this set belong to the "confused category" of mediator that lies between the rational categories "man" and "animal." Leach's study, of course, predated the reformist movement. But subsequent structural analyses have usually ignored the work of feminist exegetes such as Trible and reached the familiar androcentric conclusions. A notable exception among structuralist studies of Genesis 2-3 is the work done by David Jobling of St. Andrew's College in Saskatchewan. Jobling is sympathetic to feminist concerns, gives serious consideration to Trible's work and would even like to be able to agree. But his analysis will not let him. There is, first, a practical problem: In such a patriarchal culture as ancient Israel, who would have composed a feminist story? And if it is a feminist story, how could it have been accepted as a basic myth of human origins? Jobling concludes instead that the Eve-Adam story is "male mythology striving to deal with the complexity of social life and in particular with women." This analysis, he says, permits us to see in the story the effects of a fundamentally sexist mindset tying itself in knots trying to account for women and femaleness in a way that both makes sense and supports patriarchal assumptions. Feminists, he suggests, should neither reject the Bible as wholly patriarchal nor deny that it is wholly patriarchal. They should accept the Bible as wholly patriarchal and, through the effective use of deconstruction, expose it as an effort of a bad conscience trying to make sense of patriarchy. A Matter of Faith Much depends, of course, on what is meant by "accept." If Jobling merely means that feminists should accept the challenge to expose the patriarchy of the bible as an academic, intellectual exercise, then he is unquestionably correct. But if he is suggesting that it be accepted by feminists as a spiritual resource, his argument is problematic. His own analysis suggests that centuries of misogynistic interpretations are impregnably rooted in a text which effectively communicates patriarchal values at a subconscious level. Jobling's work therefore has intensified, not reduced, the dilemma facing feminists who want to stay within the biblical faith traditions. The time has come to confront the problem of the Bible more directly, to ask why mainline biblical scholarship has remained so blind to the work of feminist scholars and has continued to maintain and emphasize the patriarchal dimensions of stories such as Genesis 2-3. We have to listen more sensitively to women who have suffered throughout history as a consequence of those attitudes and texts. Finally, and most important, we have to look more honestly and directly at what it means to call "sacred" such non-reformable biblical texts as the story of Adam and Eve. Pamela Milne is an associate professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Windsor (Ontario).