The Anthropology of Adam and Eve

Kurt Dahlin April 27, 2006

There is an ongoing quest to discover the origins of gendered humanity and female inequality. The search often includes the examination of ancient creation myths for clues. Cosmology plays a large role in gender studies. Cosmology attempts to understand of the origin and structure of the universe. The earliest cultures used cosmological origin stories to support a cultural identity and legitimize rationale for behavior. Cosmological belief systems about the nature and structure of the supernatural world reflect and validate secular or cultural infrastructure. In other words, the secular tends to mirror the supernatural and vice versa. One cosmology that has been used to verify the moral correctness of male the Bible sets the beginnings of humanity in a religious context. superiority and female inferiority in Western culture is the creation story in Genesis. Noted feminist anthropologist Laura Klein states,

For example, the story of Adam and Eve in For believers, it explains why people look like they do and act like they do. These are innate and rightGod determined them. This narrative also explains what people should be like and thus establishes the tenets of morality (3).

 Klein asserts that the story of Adam and Eve is used to explain our lookand our actions and establishes what is considered innate and right, God determined and moral. There are various ways to interpret the story of Adam and Eve. Generally, the biblical account is used to subordinate and subject women. Klein points out, “Historically imbedded in these Old Testament religions, beginning with the story of the creation of humans itself, is a concept of male superiority that has been used to justify secular laws” (123). In this case cosmology has a direct impact on secular structure. Yet, what do the images recorded in Genesis really explain regarding gender? And what is actually innate and God determined? Does the OT creation story teach male superiority or is the primacy of men a deviation from the original plan? Is male supremacy a manmade tradition within monotheistic cosmologies: Judaism, Christianity and Islam? Anthropology can help answer the difficult and controversial question about the origin of gender inequality. I want to take knowledge of the past gleaned from anthropological studies and overlay it on the Genesis account to see what comes into focus concerning gender issues. We must begin by taking a closer look at Adam and Eve.


A closer look at Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden reveals an egalitarian foraging band in a lush garden setting. Yet a dramatic change occurs when the couple is sent out of the Garden of Eden. The transition from foraging to horticulture and pastoralism impacts the original egalitarian model in a negative way. The story of Adam and Eve clearly shows that the seeds of gender inequality were not planted by the hand of God. My contention is that the Genesis account explains the origin of gender asymmetry, gender stratification and the subordination of womenas contrary to the original divine plan.

The historical setting for the Adam and Eve story would be about 8,000-5,000 B.C. What was happening in the world at that time?

 Climate changes about 8,000 B.C. signal the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age and the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age era. Encarta states,

The end of the ice age brought fairly rapid environmental change in much of the world. With the warmer, post-glacial conditions…. Temperate forests spread in many parts of Europe and Asia.

Adam and Eve lived in a temperate, lush, abundant garden. No clothes were required by custom or cold weather. They were innocent in their nakedness. This warm and verdant symbol corresponds with the beginning of the historical period at the end of the last ice age.

By this time humans were anatomically modern. Prior to this there is not much evidence of culture. Archaeologists believe around 7,000 B.C. that the important and revolutionary innovation of farming developed in the New Stone Era along with the domestication of animals. Around 4,000 years B.C. people began to experiment in metallurgy, smelting metals from copper ore conducted in some parts of Eurasia, notably in Eastern Europe and the Near East. About 5,000 years ago, copper and tin ores were being smelted and alloyed in some regions, marking the dawn of the Bronze Age (Encarta).

It is roughly at this time period at the end of the last ice age that the story of Adam and Eve takes place in the Fertile Crescent. Adam and Eve represent the early idyllic foraging community that tended to be egalitarian, flexible, cooperative and innocent. Laura Klein wrote, “While the details of each society are unique, the general picture of foraging societies as based on individual worth and cooperation holds true…. The foraging way of life, even under pressure, seems to allow for an appreciation of individual worth” (67). This general picture of the foraging society corresponds exactly with the Bible story. Adam and Eve were both depicted as created by God and both of them were given an equal mandate to steward or manage the earth.

Gen 1:26-28

26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." NKJV

Adam and Eve lived in a fertile garden surrounded by vegetation with a foraging food gathering strategy. They were free, equal and blessed by nature with fruitful biological distinctives. They were provided by nature with an abundance of water and wild resources.

Gen 2:8-9

The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden,and there He put the man whom He had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. NKJV


Gen 2:15-17

15 Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." NKJV

Klein stated, “Ancestral foragers would have lived in the most hospitable climates and would not have worried about extreme temperatures, availability of water and scarcity of food” (67). The anthropological image matches closely with the Bible story and symbolizes the foraging communities at the end of the ice age.

There was no ownership, no war, no hierarchy, no metal tools and no private property in the Garden of Eden. The divine mandate was gender equality, cooperation, co-dominion, sharing and respect within the complementary biological gender differences. Eve had equal access to the garden produce. She was not inferior, subordinate, subjected, limited or restricted by gender from anything in the Garden.  The dominion mandate was given to both of them equally.  Adam did not own the Garden of Eden, any land or control the means or modes of production. There was no male dominance, gender asymmetry or stratification in the Garden. Klein wrote in reference to foraging communities, “Certainly there was no strong ideology of male or female dominance in the structure of these societies” (67). What went wrong? Something happened to the image of paradise according to the Genesis story.


All ancient cultures have a spiritual cosmology that includes a belief in evil spirits. In the Genesis chapter 3 the chief evil spirit came into the Garden to lie, deceive and disrupt the original goodness. Nature had determined specific biological differences for the survival of the species. However, all other behavior patterns were not predetermined but subject to choice and free will. The restriction to avoid the tree of the knowledge of good and evil establishes the principle of responsibility. The Bible story may explain why people look the way they do but it does not guarantee that their actions will be moral or right. The capacity to choose was innate but not the outcome of those choices. Their choices and actions were not predetermined. Adam and Eve disobeyed God, ate from the forbidden tree and were sent out of the Garden. Their behavior displeased God. It is at this crucial moment of moving from the Garden womb to horticulture and farming outside the Garden that the evil spiritual influence entered the world. It is obvious in the biblical record that Satan infected the nascent cultural shift. As pre-history ended and civilization emerged a great evil distorted the original gender plan. Laura Klein wrote, “If we take a Marist line, the seeds of gender inequality are found here. In the theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, this evolutionary stage introduces social inequality and all the pain that comes with this, to humanity” (71). Klein uses the word seeds to describe the inequality and pain that comes to plague humanity at this time. The biblical scenario agrees completely with the assessment of Klein, Marx and Engels on this point. However, the origin of social inequality and pain is not due to a God determined pattern.The Bible narrative explains what went wrong with the original divine plan. We also see whose hand sowed the seeds of inequality, oppression, pain and injustice in the cultural seedbed.


Gen 3:14-15

14 So the LORD God said to the serpent:

"Because you have done this,

You are cursed more than all cattle,

And more than every beast of the field;

On your belly you shall go,

And you shall eat dust

All the days of your life.

15 And I will put enmity

Between you and the woman,

And between your seed and her Seed;

He shall bruise your head,

And you shall bruise His heel." NKJV

The Lord God cursed the serpent to show that this turn of events was not a part of his predetermined plan. The serpent represents the cosmological forces of evil. God was not happy and did not approve or endorse of any of this distortion of the original creation. The serpent is responsible for the alteration of the original egalitarian system. The Bible also uses the wordseed to describe the entry point of enmity, hate or animosity that will be aligned against womankind by the serpent. The Bible is clear that the open hostility against women, which seeded itself into the foundation of Near Eastern culture, was demonic in origin. The emerging cultural structures that devalued and denigrated women were not the divine predetermined model but the result of choices influenced by the cosmic forces of evil.

As a general pattern gender asymmetry and stratification are a reflection of polytheistic cosmology. The devaluation, subordination and inferior position of women in the secular culture is a mirror of the devaluation of women in the cosmological or supernatural realm. Stratification has to do with social ranking, superiority, inferiority, authority over, class and status, power, prestige and wealth. Not only is female gender status negatively affected by the cosmological or supernatural beliefs but also the entire oppressive class system in city-state social structure.

Klein wrote,

The religious systems of stratified society share many characteristics with those of tribes, and even bands.  The relationships of individuals to the supernatural realm are generally intimate and personal (103).


In some stratified societies, however, the image of the supernatural is also stratified.  In other words, there are levels of deities and alliances of important deities that reflect the secular realities of the culture (103).


Overall, at this level, the supernatural is seen as supporting the social structure…. the place of gender in the supernatural realm, in all these cases, seems to reflect the understanding of gender in the secular society (103). 

The secular patterns of inequality correspond with the stratification in polytheistic cosmology. Inequality is the image and likeness of the supernatural. It is interesting that Laura Klein also understood the ideological shift in terms of seed. Klein wrote, “the seeds of inequality have clearly been planted, but not all have sprouted” (95). What would the seed of the serpent produce concerning gender when planted and sprouted in world culture?

In the Bible story the demonic seed entered the world system before civilization spread globally. Therefore, the entire cultural system was infected and defective and demonized. How would the demonic infection wound culture?

In Genesis 3:15 there is hostility predicted between the serpent and the woman. The hostility is not between the creator and women. Notice the hostility, enmity or war of the serpent is aimed at the woman not toward men. The serpent will use men and culture in the war against women. The Bible clearly shows that the pogrom in opposition to women was embedded in history at the beginning of civilization. How would this demonic agenda against women be worked out in world culture? What would the fruit look like from the evil tree?

Will women be:


Honored or dishonored

Exalted or despised

Protected or rejected

Included or excluded

Free or restricted, limited, bought and sold

Leaders or subordinated

Equal or inferior

Respected or abused

Life or death

Valued or devalued

First or last

Positive or negative

For or against

Rulers or subjected

Individuals or objects

Permitted or prohibited

Allowed or disallowed

Authorized or forbidden

Public or private

The negative reaction toward women is not innate, God determined, right or moral. The rise of polytheism, horticulture, pastoralism and simple agriculture during this historical period projected culture in the direction of gender asymmetry.

Gen 3:16

16 To the woman He said

"I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;

In pain you shall bring forth children;

Your desire shall be for your husband,

And he shall rule over you." NKJV

At this point in history as well as in the biblical narrative a considerable transition took place from subsistence foraging to farming, animal husbandry, metallurgy and city/state building. Women were considered losers in the cultural transition. The anthropological observation is “that the roles of women in horticultural and pastoral societies differed significantly from those of their foraging sisters” (Klein 71).

Gen 3:17-19

17 Then to Adam He said, "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it':


"Cursed is the ground for your sake;

In toil you shall eat of it

All the days of your life.

18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,

And you shall eat the herb of the field.

19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread

Till you return to the ground,

For out of it you were taken;

For dust you are,

And to dust you shall return." NKJV

Adam would transition from a nomadic food gathering strategy to farming. The sudden advent of agriculture and animal husbandry contributed to gender stratification. Men did the important jobs. Women’s work was diminished. Adam would do the heavy, sweaty work of clearing land, plowing and cultivation. Eve would have the normal domestic duties surrounding childbearing, nurture and rearing. The ability to control food supply would give way to semi-permanent living headquarters. This would also centralize family life. However, the shift from foraging to farming is not enough to explain the general worldwide pattern of the subordination of women. The Bible goes behind the scenes to reveal the cosmological forces aligned against women as evil not a moral good. Therefore, even with the new set of cultural circumstances outside the Garden, the original egalitarian mandate should continue for monotheists. Adam’s rule of Eve would not be a negative oppressive serpentine model. The interpretation of the Adam and Eve story through a cultural lens of inferiority and inequality is the wrong paradigm. Adam’s rule would be flexible, cooperative, complementary, egalitarian, generous and respectful. Adam would not follow the unbalanced agenda of the serpent. Klein wrote about the Bible narrative, “This particular origin story also sets a clear picture of the two sexes and the appropriate relationship between them” (3). However, the so-called “appropriate relationship” between the sexes and the cultural infrastructures put into place should not agree with the demonic agenda. The clear picture of the egalitarian creation model is always obscured and twisted in a negative and oppressive way. Gender stratification is not innate, it is not God determined and it is not right or moral. Classism, racism, sexism and ethnocentrism are the fruit of seeds planted by the cosmological forces of evil. If the interpretation of the Genesis story is used to oppress, devalue, exclude, limit and restrict women or anyone else for that matter—it is the wrong interpretation. The devaluation of women is fruit from the wrong tree.

At this point in the Bible story city building emerges along with animal domestication, the arts and metallurgy: bronze and iron and polygamy.

Gen 4:16-22

Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden. 17 And Cainknew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son — Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad begot Mehujael, and Mehujael begot Methushael, and Methushael begot Lamech.


19 Then Lamech took for himself two wives: the name of one was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah. 20 And Adah bore Jabal. He was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. 21 His brother's name was Jubal. He was the father of all those who play the harp and flute. 22 And as for Zillah, she also bore Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron. And the sister of Tubal-Cain was Naamah. NKJV

In the cultural transition from foraging egalitarianism to horticulturist, pastoralist, bronze and iron metallurgy and the development of city-states the role and position of women was drastically and negatively affected. The historically verifiable cultural shift at this time resulted in the devaluation and inferior status of women. According to the Bible story in Genesis the cause of the deprecation of women is firmly rooted in the demonic realm.

It would be an error for monotheists of all persuasions to adopt polytheistic cultural practices that reduce women to chattel, servants and inferior sex objects. It should be the goal of monotheists to maintain the original divine plan for humans prescribed by God in the Garden of Eden. Should monotheists boast that we treat women just like the Sumerians, Egyptians, Assyrians, the Hindus, Greeks and Romans? One reason for including this story in the Bible would be to show that the origin of the cultural shift against women was spiritually evil.

The development of the city-state led to a class society. The political machine protected the interests of the elite ruling class. With the emergence of the class system women’s status and rights declined and collapsed into inferiority as an ideology. Influential male leaders based on private property and the accumulation of wealth, power and prestige put cultural infrastructures into place. Women were excluded economically, politically, religiously and socially devalued. The first class struggle in history appears with the antagonism between men and women resulting in the oppression of women (Mascia 51). 

Mascia wrote, “Many researchers claim that materialist explanations cannot account for women’s secondary position to men in most societies, a circumstance that they argue exists regardless of a society’s underlying economic structures or whether classes exist or not” (67). Ultimately, anthropologists struggle to explain the universal origin of gender asymmetry (Klein 176). However, the biblical explanation exposes the gender inequality as a demonic cosmological war against women. Anthropologists have found a common cosmological factor that agrees with the creation story. For instance, Klein observes the Hawaiian chiefdom system was built on complex “differences in rank…supported by religious sanctions” (Klein 112). In the Hawaiian cosmology “women were perceived as inherently inferior. Women, as a category, were seen as profane as opposed to sacred, and individual women did not take part in important sacred ceremonies” (Klein 114). Laura Klein wrote, “Clearly a formal, male-dominated religion was powerful in Hawaiian culture, and few women were active participants in it. This religion imposed restrictions on the behavior of women….” (Klein 115). Klein adds, “Hawaiian culture was based on a… supernaturally sanctioned social hierarchy” (Klein 116).

In Swazi cosmology, “A spirit world reflected the social realities of the natural world ....  It can easily be said that the general trend in Swazi society was that men had authority over women” (Klein 111).

In summary Laura Klein discovered that in stratified cultures “inequality between people is institutionalized” (Klein 116). 

Frances Mascia wrote, “Researchers who claim that women everywhere are subordinate to men search for the factor all societies have in common that might explain this position” (16). The common cultural factor in the subordination of women is embedded in polytheistic cosmology.

The Adam and Eve story can be used to explain the origin of the cultural war against women. The Garden of Eden portrays Adam and Eve as an egalitarian foraging band in a lush garden setting. Yet a dramatic shift happened when the couple is sent out of the Garden of Eden. The transition from foraging to horticulture and pastoralism impacts the original egalitarian model in a negative way. The story of Adam and Eve clearly shows that the seeds of gender inequality were not planted by the hand of God. The Genesis account explains the origin of gender asymmetry, gender stratification and the subordination of women as contrary to the original divine plan. Those at odds with the seed of the serpent will defend the original gender plan of equality for women. The Bible picture is clear that both male and female are created in the image of God. There are some cultures that value women, women’s contribution to the community, life and the world. Those cultures that most closely reflect the Garden of Eden most closely reflect the original plan of the creator and the Bible. Monotheists should go back and contend for the original plan in the Garden of Eden.

APPENDIX: Reference Points from Encarta

The following excerpts are taken from an article titled The Stone Age inEncarta Reference Library 2003. The selected portions serve to set the historical background to the Bible story in Genesis.

Hominids associated with the Middle Paleolithic include Neandertals and other archaicHomo sapiens (Homo sapienspredating anatomically modern humans, who lived from about 200,000 to 35,000 years ago).

The Upper Paleolithic extends from approximately 40,000 years ago until the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago.


The most recent ice age period lasted from 1.6 million to 10,000 years ago, a period of glacial and warmer interglacial stages that is known as the Pleistocene Epoch. The Holocene Epoch began at the end of the ice age 10,000 years ago and continues to the present.


The end of the ice age brought fairly rapid environmental change in much of the worldWith the warmer, post-glacial conditions of the Holocene Epoch, ice sheets retreated and sea levels rose, inundating coastal areas worldwide. Temperate forests spread in many parts of Europe and Asia.


The Mesolithic (also known as the Epipaleolithic) extends from the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, until the period when farming became central to a peoples’ livelihood, which occurred at different times around the world.


Human fossils associated with the Upper Paleolithic, Paleo-Indian, and Later Stone Age are almost always those of anatomically modern humans, or Homo sapiens sapiens.


By the end of the Upper Paleolithic period and the end of the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, human populations had spread to every continent except Antarctica.


Paleolithic peoples were hunter-gatherers while Neolithic peoples were farmers.


As recently as 5,000 years ago all human societies on the face of the earth were essentially still living in the Stone Age.


During the Stone Age our ancestors went through many different stages of biological and cultural evolution. It was long after our lineage became anatomically modern that we began to experiment with new innovations such as metallurgy, heralding the end of the Stone Age.


Stone Age, period of human technological development characterized by the use of stone as the principal raw material for tools. In a given geographic region, the Stone Age normally predated the invention or spread of metalworking technology.


Broadly speaking, however, the Stone Age began roughly 2.5 million years ago, ended in some parts of the world 5,000 years ago.


The Mesolithic (also known as the Epipaleolithic) extends from the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, until the period when farming became central to a peoples’ livelihood, which occurred at different times around the world.


During the Mesolithic, human populations in many areas began to exploit a much wider range of foodstuffs, a pattern of exploitation known as broad spectrum economy. Intensively exploited foods included wild cereals, seeds and nuts, fruits, small game, fish, shellfish, aquatic mammals and birds, tortoises, and invertebrates such as snails. Dogs were domesticated in this period, probably for use in hunting

The development of broad spectrum economies in the post-glacial Mesolithic/Archaic period laid the foundations for the domestication of plants and animals, which in turn led to the rise of farming communities in some parts of the world. This development marked the beginning of the Neolithic.

 Farming originated at different times in different places—as early as about 9,000 years ago in some parts of the world. In some regions, farming arose through indigenous developments, and in others it spread from other areas. Most archaeologists believe that the development of farming in the Neolithic was one of the most important and revolutionary innovations in the history of the human species.



Humans produced metal tools and ornaments from beaten copper as early as 12,000 years ago in some parts of the world. By about 6,000 years ago, early experiments in metallurgy, particularly extracting metals from copper ore (smelting), were being conducted in some parts of Eurasia, notably in Eastern Europe and the Near East. By 5,000 years ago, copper and tin ores were being smelted and alloyed in some regions, marking the dawn of the Bronze Age.


In Eurasia and parts of Africa, the rise of metallurgical societies appears to coincide with the rise of the earliest state societies and civilizations, such as ancient Egypt, Sumer, Minoan Culture, Mycenae, and China.

Schick, Kathy and Nicholas Toth. Stone Age, Encarta Reference Library 2003).

Works Cited:

Klein, Laura. Men and Women in World Cultures. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2004.

Mascia-Lees, Frances and Nancy Johnson Black. Gender and Anthropology. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc., 2000.