MOTHER OF ALL LIVING
(Detail of the Ghent Alterpiece)
Jan Van Eyck
The Biblical title of Eve, "Mother of All Living," was a translation of Kali Ma's title Jaganmata. She was also known in India as Jiva or Ieva, the Creatress of all manifested forms.(1) In Assyrian scriptures she was entitled Mother-Womb, Creatress of Destiny, who made male and female human beings out of clay, "in pairs she completed them."(2) The first of the bible's two creation myths gives this Assyrian version, significantly changing "she" to "he" (Genesis 1:27).
Side point: One of her Tantric names was Adita Eva: "the Very Beginning."(3) In northern Babylonia, Eve was known as "the divine Lady of Eden," or "Goddess of the Tree of Life."(4) Assyrians called her Nin-Eveh, "Holy Lady Eve," after whom their capital city was named.
The original Eve had no spouse except the serpent, a living phallus she created for her own sexual pleasure.(5) Some ancient peoples regarded the Goddess and her serpent as their first parents.(6) Sacred icons showed the Goddess giving life to a man, while her serpent coiled around the apple tree behind her.(7) Deliberate misinterpretation of such icons produced ideas for revised creation myths like the one in Genesis. Some Jewish traditions of the first century B.C., however, identified Yahweh (Jehovah) with the serpent deity who accompanied the Mother in her garden.(8) Sometimes she was Eve, sometimes her name was given as Nahemah, Naama, or Namrael, who gave birth to Eve and Adam without the help of any male, even the serpent. (9)
Because Jehovah arrogantly pretended to be the sole Creator, Eve was obliged to punish him, according to Gnostic scriptures. Though the Mother of All Living existed before everything, the God forgot she had made him and had given him some of her creative power. "He was even ignorant of his own Mother…. It was because he was foolish and ignorant of his Mother that he said, `I am God; there is none beside me.'" Gnostic texts often who the creator reprimanded and punished for his arrogance by a feminine power greater and older than himself. (10)
Side point: Eve was one of the common Middle-Eastern names of superior feminine power. To the Hittites, she was Hawwah, "Life."(11) To the Persians, she was Hvov, "the Earth."(12) Aramaeans called her Hawah, "Mother of All Living."(13) In Anatolia she was Hebat or Hepat, with a Greek derivative Hebe, "Virgin Mother Earth," with the same relationship to the Great Goddess Hera as Kore-Persephone to Demeter, and Hebe may have been an eponymous ancestress of "Hebrews." A semitic roots of her names was hay, a matrilineal kinship group, once considered the "life" of every tribe by direct descent from the Creatress.(14) The names of Eve, the Serpent, and "Life" are still derived from the same root in Arabic.(15)
The secret of God's "Name of power," the Tetragrammaton, was the three-quarters of it invoked not God, but Eve. YHWH, yod-he-vau-he, from the Hebrew root HWH, meaning both "life" and "woman"—in Latin letters, E-V-E.16 With the addition of an I (yod), it amounted to the Goddess's invocation of her own name as the Word of creation, a common idea in Egypt and other ancient lands. (17)
Gnostic scriptures said Adam was created by the power of Eve's word, not God's. She said, "Adam, live! Rise up upon the earth!" As soon as she spoke the word, her word became reality. Adam rose up and open his eyes. "When he saw her, he said, `You will be called "the mother of the living," because you are the one who gave me life.'"(18)
Adam's name meant he was formed of clay moistened with blood, the female magic of adamah or "bloody clay."(19) He didn't produce the Mother of All Living from his rib; in earlier Mesopotamian stories, he was produced from hers. (See Birth-giving, Male.) His Babylonian predecessor Adapa (or Adamu) was deprived of eternal life not by the Goddess, but by a hostile God.
The biblical idea was a reversal of older myths in which the Goddess brought forth a primal ancestor, then made him her made—the ubiquitous, archetypal divine-incest relationship traceable in every mythology. The reversal was not even original with biblical authors. It was evolved by Aryan patriarchs who called Brahma the primal male ancestor. They claimed their god brought forth the Mother of All Living from his own body, then mated with her, so she gave birth to the rest of the universe.(20) In the Hebraic version, a wombless God made his offspring with his hands, and the actual birth-giving was left to Adam. The bible as revised by patriarchal scribes said nothing about a divine birth-giving, since the scribes were determined to separate the concepts of "deity" and "mother" insofar as possible.
Gnostic scriptures however reverted to the older tradition and said Eve not only created Adam and obtained his admission to heaven; she was the very soul within him, as Shakti was the soul of every Hindu god and yogi. Adam couldn't live without "power from the Mother," so she descended to earth as "the Good Spirit, the Thought of Light called by him `Life' (Hawwa)." She entered into Adam as his guiding spirit of conscience: "It is she who works at the creature, exerts herself on him, sets him in his own perfect temple, enlightens him on the origin of his deficiency, and shows him his (way of) ascent." Through her, Adam was able to rise above the ignorance imposed on him by the male God. (21)
By this Gnostic route came the Midrashic assertion that Adam and Eve were originally androgynous, like Shiva and his Shakti. She dwelt in him, and he in her; they were two souls united in one body, which God later tore apart, depriving them of their bliss of union. Cabalists took up the idea and said the paradise of Eden can be regained only when the two sexes are once more united; even God must be united with his female counterpart, the heavenly Eve called Shekina. (22)
Another Gnostic version of the story made God a true villain, who cursed Adam and Eve and expelled them from paradise out of jealousy of their happiness. He also lusted after the Virgin Eve, raped her, and begot her sons Jahveh and Elohim, whose other names were Cain and Abel. Here was one of several myths that made Eve the mother not only of Adam, but also of Jehovah, and of all the elements as well. The myths went on to say the first of Eve's offspring ruled the male elements of fire and air; the second ruled the female elements earth and water.(23)
Like her prototype Kali Jaganmata, Eve brought forth death as well as life—that is, she brought forth all living forms, all of which were subject to death for the very reason that they were alive. Under patriarchal systems of belief, the fact that every living thing is doomed to die was blamed on the Mother who gave it a finite life.
Instead of blaming God for casting Adam out of the paradise where he might have lived forever, the patriarchs blamed Eve for bringing this about. The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach said evil began with Woman (Eve): "because of her we all die."(24) Fathers of the Christian church said Eve conceived by the serpent and brought forth Death. The seeds of all women already existed in Eve, St. John Chrysostom maintained, so that in her sin "the whole female race transgressed." (25)
The Book of Enoch said God created death to punish all humanity for Eve's sin, but many patriarchal thinkers hesitated to blame God even indirectly. The prevalent opinion was that when Eve disobeyed the deity, death somehow just happened.(26) St. Paul blamed only Eve, absolving Adam from guilt for the apple-eating incident: "Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression" (1 Timothy 2:14). A church council announced in 418 A.D. that it was heresy to say death was a natural necessity rather than the result of Eve's disobedience. (27)
This was the real origin of the church fathers' fear and hatred of women, which expanded into a sexist attitude that permeated all of western society: Woman was identified with Death. Her countervailing responsibility for birth was taken away, and the creation of life was laid to the credit of the Father-god, whose priests claimed he could remove the curse of death. As every woman was understood to be an emanation of Eve, Tertullian said to Everywoman:
And do you not know that you are an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age; the guilt must of necessarily live too. You are the devil's gateway… the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert—that is, death, even the Son of God had to die. (28)
Medieval theologians said Adam was forgivers. Christ descended into hell and rescued Adam along with other biblical patriarchs. He escorted Adam into heaven, saying, "Peace be to thee and to all the just among they sons."(29) But for Eve there was no forgiveness. No peace was offered to her or her daughters. Presumably, they were left behind in hell. Christian theologians espoused the same theory as Persian patriarchs, that heaven was closed to all women except those who were submissive and worshipped their husbands as gods.(30) Even modern theologians naively blame human death on the Edenic sin. Rahner said, "Man's death is the demonstration of the fact that he has fallen away from God… Death is guilt made visible."(31) Theologians have not yet dealt with the question of what "guilt" causes death among non-human creatures.
Actually, churches depend for their very existence on the orthodox myth of Eve. "Take the snake, the fruit-tree, and the woman from the tableau, and we have no fall, no frowning Judge, no Inferno, no everlasting punishment—hence no need of a Savior. Thus the bottom falls out of the whole Christian theology."(32)
Equally destructive to Christian theology would be restoration of books arbitrarily excluded from the canon, such as the Apocalypse of Adam, in which Adam stated that he and Eve were created together but she was his superior. She brought with her "a glory which she had seen in the aeon from which we had come forth. She taught me a word of knowledge…. And we resembled the great eternal angels, for we were higher than the God who had created us."(33)
Some of these once-sacred books made Eve superior to both Adam and the creator. It was she, not God, who gave Adam his soul and brought him to life. It was she, not God, who gave Adam his soul and brought him to life. It was she, not God, who cast down the evil deities from heaven and made them demons. And she, as the eternal female Power, would eventually judge the God she created, find him guilty ofinjustice, and destroy him. (34)
As an allegory, this might reflect a social truth. Fragile constructs of the collective mind, gods are easily destroyed by those who ignore them. Early Gnostic documents show that most women of the ancient world were disposed to ignore the God who was said to have cursed their sex and their descendents forever. Had one of the other versions of the Eve myth prevailed over canonical version, sexual behavior patterns in western civilization almost certainly would have evolved along very different lines. Christianity managed to project man's fear of death onto woman, not to respect her as Kali the Destroyer was respected, but to hate her.
The uncanonical scriptures were no more and no less creditable than the canonical ones. Their picture of Eve as God's stern mother, the defender of mankind against a tyrannical demon-deity, had more adherents in the early Christian centuries than the pictures that is now familiar. One of Christianity's best-kept secrets was that the Mother of All Living was the Creatress who chastised God.
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2. Neumann, G.M., 136. Neumann, Erich. The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963.
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February 15, 2006