EVE: The History of an Idea by John A. Phillips

EVE: The History of an Idea

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From dethroned goddess, to ""helper fit for man,"" to gullible victim of the serpent and seducer of Adam, to devil's gateway, and on and on--through Jewish, Christian, Gnostic, and Muslim tradition, the Enlightenment, romanticism, and psychoanalysis: a richly documented, fast-moving feminist survey leading to the inevitable conclusion that they done her wrong. Phillips, who has taught religion at various places, most recently the U. of California, Santa Cruz, has no trouble pointing out the misogynous intent of the Yahwist creation story (as opposed to the more egalitarian Priestly version); of rabbinical and patristic literature (the Church Fathers often linked Eve to Pandora); of Luther (who wrote that ""The woman. . . is like a nail driven into the wall. She sits at home""); of Milton (whose Eve is, if anything, more of a sexual caricature than Phillips claims); etc. Ultimately Phillips argues that, despite ingenious revisionist readings by liberal theologians, the Bible suffers from incurable masculine bias. This conviction has led some feminists to advocate Goddess-worship as an alternative to the Judeo-Christian God; but Phillips ably demonstrates how problematical such revived paganism is (e.g., it threatens to become ""ideologized"" self-glorification) and suggests that proponents of feminist religion talk with the radical ""death of God"" theologians--a conversation that might prove dispiritingly brief. Phillips writes for serious but not specialized readers; his wide-ranging scholarship can generally be trusted (one exception is a speculative passage on the etymology of ""virgin"" and the connection between virgins and cult prostitutes); and he avoids partisan preaching, though he might have been kinder to thinkers like Schiller (who saw the Fall as a victory for humanity but ignored Eve) and Roheim (whose sexualization of the Fall enriched our understanding of it, however one-sided his theory of primal incest). Too short and schematic to be a really major study, but a stimulating and persuasive essay.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row