Saturday, 4 November 2017

An egalitarian interpretation of the woman's curse

The first 3 chapters of Genesis profoundly impact on the rest of Scripture. Many discussions of other passages of Scripture hinge on what Genesis means. Previously I have written on the curse placed on the woman in Eden. The conclusion was that the curse could mean
  1. Your desire is against your husband [curse] but he is to lead you [right action]; or
  2. Your desire will be against your husband [curse] and he will dominate you [curse].
With the first seeming more likely.

This is based on the parallel between the phraseology in Genesis 3 and 4.
To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pain in conception;
in pain you shall bear children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3)
And Yahweh said to Cain,
“Why are you angry, and why is your face fallen?
If you do well will I not accept you?
But if you do not do well,
sin is crouching at the door.
And its desire is for you,
but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4)
Others have pointed to the use of "desire" in Canticles.
I belong to my beloved,
and he desires me!
This is a positive use of the term desire, though desire need not be intrinsically positive. The context can show whether a term is positive or negative, as seen by the use in Genesis 4. But if "desire" is being used in a positive sense in Genesis 3, how can we make sense of it?

If the passage should be translated, "Your desire will be toward your husband", then the curse is in him ruling over her in a way that was not intended. Taking a cue from Canticles: the man desires his wife. It may be prior to the Fall that man desired his wife much in the way that Solomon desires the Shullamite. Canticles is an example of the pre-Fall situation. God created man to desire his wife and a wife to desire her husband. The curse is then the change in attitude of the man from desiring his wife to dominating his wife, all while she maintains her desire.
“I will greatly increase your pain in conception;
in pain you shall bear children.
Your desire will [continue to] be for your husband,
and he [will no longer desire you but instead he] shall rule over you.
This interpretation is more egalitarian.

Although this interpretation is worth contemplating, there are a couple of potential difficulties.
  1. The curse on the woman is God forming a sinful attitude in the man.
  2. Men seem to desire women generally, and sexual desire in a man for his wife may be greater than her sexual desire.
The first is of some concern as it could suggest that sin in more of a male problem. It is not uncommon in the modern West to blame men for their failings as being intrinsic to them, and to excuse women for their failings as being reactions to sinful situations extrinsic to them. While external factors do come into play, externalising our failures and not acknowledging them as our sin is unbiblical. Also, by making the problem one of a husband's domineering attitude it may imply that difficulties within marriage are predominantly due to husbands.

The second is not so much concerning but rather it does not seem to match reality. Men often (though not always) sexually desire their wives more than the other way around. To resolve this one could argue for a desire of women to be cared and protected. This may be true but it removes the connection to Canticles which has a strong romantic and sexual overlay.

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