Eve deserves a longer name. In the old days, when royalty or noblemen distinguished themselves, they were given names that described great feats or personality traits that set them apart. Military leaders and political strategists were often remembered the most: William the Conqueror, Ivan the Terrible, and Catherine the Great.
Others were remembered for their particular virtues: Philip the Bold, Charles the Affable, Edward the Eloquent, William the Wise, and Louis the Good.
Sometimes royalty were remembered by appellations that were not so flattering: there was Ethelred the Unready, Charles the Bald, Vasili the Cross-eyed, Ivailo the Cabbage, and John George the Beer-Jug.
In the gospel tradition both ancient and modern, we use this naming practice, although with a little more reverence: there is Joseph the Seer and Brigham the Lion of the Lord. Jesus affectionately called his two disciples James and John the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17).
Oftentimes names are given to describe true doctrines. The scriptural name-titles of Jesus Christ have deep doctrinal meanings: Savior, Redeemer, Advocate, and Joint-Heir, just to name a few. Speaking of names that accurately describe true doctrine, there is a longer descriptive name that is appropriate for Eve. This name has a basis in scriptural tradition and more accurately describes the real doctrine of Eve-a doctrine that has been lost over the centuries.
In the Christian world today, Eve’s name is associated with sin. The traditional story of Eve goes like this: The serpent, Satan, hissed and whispered subtle lies to Eve; and Eve, being something akin to a gullible child or even a fool, listened to the serpent’s persuasive, evil doctrine and partook of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in direct contradiction to God. Thus sin was introduced into the world, and the curse of sin was passed onto Eve’s posterity. Augustine and other early Christian thinkers promulgated this theology of original sin. In a nutshell it said, “Man is cursed by original sin, and Eve is the Original Sinner.”
Nearly every culture and intellectual tradition, from Catholic original sin to the Greek tale of Pandora’s box, has a foundational story that in effect says, “The first woman ruined everything.” This paradigm is so ubiquitous and omnipresent in how institutions and societies function today, that Latter-day Saints need a thorough education on interpreting and explaining the Eve story, so they will be ready to defend her true name.
For instance, in Genesis 3:13 Eve admits, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” But in looking at the original Hebrew meaning and restoration scripture, it is plain that Eve is not saying she was tricked. Hebrew scholar Nehama Aschkenasy points out that the original Hebrew word that was translated as beguiled is a rare verb that has rich and connotative meanings. Beguile suggests Eve underwent a deep internal process; she weighed, pondered, and reflected upon the ramifications of partaking of the fruit before she did so.1 The King James translators, themselves inheritors of the original sin cultural bias, used the word almost exclusively to mean deceived. They did not capture the original richness of the word.
A second witness to the original meaning of beguile is given by the prophet Lehi, who makes commentary on the Adam and Eve story from a record much earlier than anything the King James translators had to work with-namely, the brass plates. Lehi explains that Eve was enticed by the tree of knowledge of good and evil that stood in opposition to the tree of life (2 Nephi 2:15-16). In other words, she wanted it; she chose it over the other. And it was a good tree, not inherently evil in any way. Notice all the positive terms in Genesis 3:6-“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat.”
Eve saw, the record says, not merely wondered or believed or hoped that the tree was good. A scholar on the story of Eve, Vivian McConkie Adams, explains that “the word saw in this verse comes from the Hebrew word ra’ah, which has direct relation and root to the Hebrew word ro’eh, which means seer or vision.”2 Such word play, which is common in Hebrew, suggests that Eve had a prophetic spirit and may have received seeric revelation from God as part of her tutoring in the garden.
Whatever the source of her insight, Eve wisely discerned that God had given her commandments that stood in opposition to each other. She considered and weighed a deeper paradox: If she ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge, she would be transgressing God’s word, but if she did not, she could not learn of good and evil; she could not pass through sorrow; she could not bear posterity.
Eve, who rightly may be seen as a wise prophetess and seer, came to realize that all those things-the knowledge of good and evil, the sorrow of probation, the ability to bear children-were necessary to receiving the wisdom of, and becoming like, the Gods (2 Nephi 2:22-24; Gen. 3:22). So she ate of the fruit and, technically speaking, transgressed God’s word. But in reality, she had reached into the mind of God. She saw, after partaking, that he had intended for her to eat of the forbidden fruit all along (Moses 5:11).
Adam Follows Eve’s Wisdom
Here, then, is an appropriate longer name for the first woman: Eve the Wise. Margaret Barker, a scholar who has much to say about feminine wisdom, thoroughly documents that the early post-exilic Israelites were not monotheists but understood Elohim to be both male and female; they understood that there was not only a Father but a divine Mother as well, and the Israelites called her name Wisdom. This Mother was involved in the creation of the world and in the creation of Adam and Eve.3 This mother-figure aligns with Joseph Smith’s translation of Abraham, which gives obvious allusion to the male and female (plural) creators: “So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them” (Abr. 4:27).
How apropos that the divine woman, called Wisdom, created a daughter in her image, Eve the Wise. Eve followed the divine female pattern by partaking of the tree of knowledge. The tree itself is a very female symbol, one of giving life. Eve again followed the pattern of her wise female parent and became “the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20).
How interesting that in the early Hebrew tradition their particular symbol of wisdom is strongly associated with the female and not the male. In looking at the story of the Fall, Eve’s wisdom puts her one step ahead of Adam on more than one occasion. When God commands Adam not to partake of the tree of knowledge, he simply takes God’s word at face value and goes about his way enjoying the delights of the garden.
But Eve’s instinct as a woman and intuition as a mother gives her insight into things nuanced and hidden-things the man does not at first see. She detects things beyond the surface and sees the inner core of truth.
When Eve partakes of the fruit, she must explain to Adam that because she has partaken, she will be cast out of the garden, and he will be left alone. How are they to keep God’s greater commandments to remain together and multiply and replenish the earth if Adam will not partake also? Reflecting on this, Adam sees the wisdom of her counsel and follows her. She leads the way and gives the fruit “unto her husband with her, and he did eat” (Moses 4:12).
Now, this pattern of a wise woman showing the man the true path presents a seeming contradiction when God explains the conditions of the fall to Eve: “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Moses 4:22). Here is where the paradigm of original sin and Pandora’s box wreak great havoc. Many men will interpret this verse as license to disregard the woman’s wisdom and to subjugate her desires to his.
The original Hebrew meaning of mashal (rule) is “to have” or “to have dominion,” but it also means “to liken,” “to resemble,” and “to become like.”4 This intimates that Adam’s ruling meant he presided only under principles of unity and equality, and that he was to strive to “resemble” the virtues of Eve and thus “become like” her. President Gordon B. Hinckley further explained that Adam’s “ruling over” Eve as stated in Genesis means “to responsibly provide for, to protect, to strengthen and shield [his] wife.” President Spencer W. Kimball quipped: “We have heard of men who have said to their wives, ‘I hold the priesthood and you’ve got to do what I say.’ Such a man should be tried for his membership.”5
President Kimball also took some exception with modern interpretations of the wording in Genesis: “I have a question about the word rule. It gives the wrong impression. I would prefer to use the word preside because that’s what he does. A righteous husband presides over his wife and family.”6
But even the softer meaning of mashal and President Kimball’s phrase “presides over his wife” can be taken the wrong way. “Presides over” implies leadership, and the world’s understanding of leadership is dead wrong and diametrically opposed to Christ’s concept of leadership. As he so often does, Christ turns our natural understanding on its head.
When James and John ask if they can be greatest among the disciples in the kingdom of heaven, Christ tells them that they do not understand what they are asking. He explains true greatness and true leadership: “Jesus called his disciples and said to them, You know that those who are recognized as rulers among the gentiles lord it over them, and their superiors act like tyrants over them. That is not the way it should be among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to everyone” (Mark 10:42-45; NIV).
It is as if God is saying here, “Sorry, Adam, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to place you at the head of the woman, which of course means you are the servant of the woman and a doulos-a slave to the woman.” In fact, Christ goes on to give the same concept about his own station in life: “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many people” (Mark 10:45; NIV).
When men are given a priesthood stewardship to preside, they often suppose that they have authority over others. But scripture implies that they should “suppose” nothing: “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen” (D&C 121:39-40). Likewise, it seems few men understand the true pattern associated with the name of Eve.
As it turns out, Eve does have a longer name-many longer names. She is “our glorious Mother Eve” (D&C 138:39) and “the mother of all living.” Her name is Wisdom. She is Eve the Seer, Eve the Visionary, Eve the Intuitive, Eve the Discerner, and Eve the Archetype for Women.
Because the men preside over the Church and over the family, they are to serve and in many ways to slave for the women. Like Adam, they are to hearken carefully to the counsel of women, for they will come to know, like Adam came to know, that women possesses a certain kind of wisdom and power that men need in order to gain eternal life.
Men, try it-put yourself in the lower position as Christ said. Hang on her words. Treat her like a subject would his queen. You will find that, though it may not seem intuitive, such a path will in reality give you a place of greater honor and greater equality with her. This is the pattern Christ set out; this is the pattern of the Adam and Eve story; this is the pattern found in Eve’s many names.
For a new and much more in-depth treatment of the story of Eve, download Our Glorious Mother Eve by Vivian McConkie Adams. Thanks to Sister Adams for many of the insights found in this essay.
1 Nehama Aschkenasy, Woman at the Window: Biblical Tales of Oppression and Escape (Wayne State University Press, 1998), 127.
2 Vivian McConkie Adams to author, Jan. 5, 2010; see also NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries, entries 7200 and 7203.
3 Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: The Study of Israel’s Second God (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), 48-67.
4 Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, entries 4910-11.
James T. Summerhays and Kimberly Webb Reid, “Is It a Question of Power?” http://www.meridianmagazine.com.
6 Spencer W. Kimball, “The Blessings and Responsibilities of Womanhood,” Ensign (March 1976): 72.