Yesterday after the Liturgy, while having coffee with Silouan in the parish bookshop, I happened to notice in the postcard rack a reproduction of a 13th century image of Eve being lifted by Christ out of Adam’s sleeping body. Adam sleeps peacefully while Eve is wide awake. The right arm of Jesus suggests his power to create and also seems to be a sign of blessing, while his left arm grasps Eve's wrists in a gesture that reminds me of a midwife pulling a child from the womb. Jesus contemplates both Eve and Adam with a expression of wordless love.
This special moment recounted in the Book of Genesis was a much loved subject of Byzantine and medieval art. In churches, it is usually part of a cycle of images that begin with the creation of the cosmos and end with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. In all the creation scenes, Christ is the key figure. Though not yet incarnate, we see him as the man he was to become. The Church Fathers saw the Second Person of the Holy Trinity as the one especially involved the work of bringing matter into existence and shaping it into the vast array of life forms, with Adam and then Eve at the pinnacle of created beings.
While I found this illumination an especially fine version, just about any of the images that have to do with Adam and Eve fascinate me. Among the Primary Stories of the human race, there are few more primary than this: what many of our ancestors imagined the first human beings to be like. Remarkable, they saw Eve's creation as coming later than Adam's. Her being called into being is the final great event in the creation narrative.
Such a story has almost nothing to do with what, these days, we think of as history. In fact we know very little about the first human beings. Much that we think we know is speculative. But the Adam and Eve story is profound. It stresses an original oneness in Adam and Eve, the two of them mysteriously one being until the body of Eve is drawn out of the body of Adam.
Was Eve made from one of Adam’s rib? So the most familiar English translation of Genesis has it, but other translators say in fact that the key Hebrew word means “side” -- thus Eve was one side of Adam. She is his other half. Thus Adam’s maleness is coincident with his separation from Eve and her femaleness.
There is an ancient Jewish commentary which responds to the question: Why was there only one Adam and only one Eve? The answer is so that no human being can regard himself or herself as being of higher descent than anyone else. The basic fact about all human beings is that we are all belong to exactly the same family tree.
At the same time there is the elusive but compelling memory that has haunted the human mind of a primordial Eden: a paradise in which there was no war, indeed no enmity. The first murder occurs only after Adam and Eve have been expelled from Eden.
For Nancy and me at this particular moment, this image of Adam and Eve has another level of meaning. We are on the verge of a different sort of physical opening of our bodies to one another. A kidney that was Nancy’s will, in nine days, be in my body. Somehow this image seems to foresee such two-way traffic between the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve.
(Double-click on the image to see it in more detail. This blog entry has since been expanded into a short essay, "The Original Oneness of Adam and Eve."