Adam & Eve: biblical unity of male and female across millennia

The creation of humans in the biblical book Genesis represents belief in the unity of male and female. That unity is represented in the ambiguous linguistic status and use of Adam. Adam in ancient Hebrew means a person made from earth. Adam was not simply a proper male name. God created Adam man, “he created him, male and female he created them,” and God expelled him-them from the Garden of Eden.[1] The unity of male and female is represented in Genesis’s poetic structure of Adam’s enveloping love for “this one,” a power like oneself alongside of oneself.[2]

The biblical unity of male and female was an innovative understanding of humans. Sex differences have always been obvious to anyone with common sense.  The biblical account pushed sex beyond common sense to an abstract idea of person, but kept that abstract idea connected to the biology of human reproduction. The innovative result was male and female persons.

The biblical unity of male and female supports similar representations of male and female. Like a contemporary sex symbol, a marble figure carved on an island in the Aegean Sea about 4250 years ago leaves no doubt as to the figure’s sex. In stark contrast, Adam and Eve in the Genesis poem of the Junius manuscript (made in England about 930-960 GC) look remarkably androgynous. That representation plausibly relates to the biblical unity of male and female in the Genesis source text.

A male sense of female beauty has evolved biologically to emphasize indications of fertility. Adam and the narrator in the Junius manuscript repeatedly describe Eve’s physical beauty: Eve is “shaped shiningly {sceone gesceapene},”the most shining of women, / of wives most bright {idesa scenost, / wifa wlitegost}.”[3] The male sense of female beauty in England about 1100 years ago almost surely had important commonalities with the male sense of female beauty near Greece about 4250 years ago, as well as with the male sense of female beauty anywhere in the world today. The peculiar visual representation of Adam and Eve in the Junius manuscript makes sense within the biblical marriage of sex to persons.

Within Genesis, men and women are equally persons of God’s creation. To Jews, Christians, and Muslims, sex differences are a sign of women and men being made for each other.

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[1] Genesis 1:27, 3:24 (God “drove out the man”). Images of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden always show Adam and Eve being expelled. In the fourth century, Jerome of Stridon explicitly recognized the Adam meant man and woman:

Let us read the beginning of Genesis, and we will find Adam, that is man, so declared to be both male and female.

{ Legamus principium Geneseos, et inveniemus Adam, hoc est hominem, tam virum quam feminam nuncupari. }

Adversus Jovinianum 1.29, Latin text from Patrologiae Latinae 23, p. 262, my English translation. Cf. Genesis 1:27.

[2] Genesis 2:23.

[3] Junius Manuscript (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Junius 11, also known at the Caedmon poems) vv. 549, 626b-627a, English translation from Oldrieve (2010), Old Saxon text from Krapp (1931) and Vickrey (2015) pp. 105, 97. For a freely available online translation of the whole manuscript, Kennedy (1916). The Caedmon poem treats Genesis consistent with Christian orthodoxy. Vickrey (2015).

[images] (1) The marble female figure is Early Cycladic II, Chaladriania type, ca. 2300-2200 BGC and is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York (accession 1977.187.11). The Met advances art education and culture in part by allowing visitors to photograph items on display in the museum. (2) Adam and Eve in Junius Manuscript. Oxford University’s Bodleian Library has made a digital image of the Junius manuscript (MS. Junius 11) available on the web. Making this important artifact of human cultural heritage written more than a millennium ago accessible world-wide is commendable and wonderful. Universities and libraries are commonly thought to seek to promote education and universal access to informative and cultural work. Oxford University’s Bodleian Library website for the Junius manuscript includes, however, an elaborate and restrictive statement of copyright over the digital reproductions of that manuscript. Wikipedia, which has quickly become an enormously influential educational institution, includes reproductions of images from the Junius manuscript. The official position of the Wikimedia Foundation is that “faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain, and that claims to the contrary represent an assault on the very concept of a public domain.” I have transformed an image from the Bodleian’s reproduction for the non-commercial, critical, and educational use above.


Oldrieve, Susan. 2010. “Genesis B: Introduction and Translation.” Department of English, Baldwin Wallace College, Department of English. Online.

Kennedy, Charles W. 1916. The Caedmon Poems, translated into English prose. London: Routledge. (alternate presentation)

Krapp, George Philip, ed. 1931. The Junius Manuscript. London: George Routledge.

Vickrey, John F. 2015. Genesis B and the Comedic Imperative. Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Press.

One thought on “Adam & Eve: biblical unity of male and female across millennia”

  1. “The biblical account pushed sex beyond common sense to an abstract idea of person, but kept that abstract idea connected to the biology of human reproduction. The innovative result was male and female persons.”

    This abstract idea extends back across evolution to its first representation as the novel cell types required for sexual reproduction in yeasts. A common sense approach via current molecular biology moves us forward with a scientific approach to Creation via the evolution of sexual reproduction. As you know, there is a series of events required that no longer fit with what is believed by many to be a step-wise process of evolution. Geneticists from Yale, for example, have mentioned the fallacy of step-wise evolution in conjunction with evidence for the interactions among 1532 genes required before we can get from sexual reproduction in yeasts to sexual reproduction in placental mammals. Clearly, however, there are many other interactions among many other genes in many other species that are involved in their example. Perhaps now that the hard sciences are taking a closer look at what social scientists have learned about the evolution of sexual reproduction (e.g., nothing; they just think it automagically happened), more dialogue will follow between neuroscientists and social scientists and we may begin to better understand the evolution of human behavior.

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