The Androgyny of the First Human

Tyler F. Williams at Codex: Biblical Studies Blogspot, wrote a post, “The Androgynous Adam: Sex and Sexuality in the Garden” in which he commented on my review of Jennifer Wright Knust’s book Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011).

Tyler’s main issue was my “quick dismissal of Knust’s notion that the first human was androgynous and only later sexually differentiated.”

Tyler wrote: “The notion that the original human was androgynous (or something similar) isn’t a new idea, nor perhaps is it so radical. Rashi, a 10th century Jewish interpreter, suggested the first human was male on one side and female on the other and that God had simply divided the creature in half .”

Tyler also quoted Phyllis Trible and her book God and Rhetoric of Sexuality (Minneapolis: Fortress Oress, 1986), who also deals with the issue of androgyny. Tyler wrote:

Trible argues that God created the first human without gender, “the adam” [human] was formed from “the adamah” [humus]. Rather than a man, “the adam” was an “earth creature” (as an aside, there is a great play on words in the biblical text: “Yahweh Elohim formed the earthling from the earth” or “the human from the humus”). Not until the woman is built from the side of the earth creature does the original human being acquire gender.

Now Trible’s interpretation has some basis in the biblical text. Despite most modern translations, the use of “adam” in Genesis 2 is not a personal name. The biblical text does not have “Adam”, but rather “the adam”(הָֽאָדָם) , i.e., the human, or the like. And it is only in Gen 2:23 (after the building of the woman) that text text [sic] refers to humanity as “male” and “female”(איש and אשה).

Tyler concluded: “I don’t agree with Trible’s interpretation.” He also said: “So I guess I don’t really disagree with Mariottini’s ultimate conclusion.”

I am glad Tyler does not agree with Trible. The issue is: why would God create a being that was both male and female and had the genitals of both sexes?

The biblical text is clear: “And God created man (אֶת־הָֽאָדָם) in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27). The word “man”(הָֽאָדָם) is followed by a plural pronoun, “them.” Contrary to what Tyler wrote, that “it is only in Gen 2:23 (after the building of the woman) that[the] text refers to humanity as ‘male’ and ‘female’(איש and אשה).” Genesis 1:27 already presupposes that the “man” (הָֽאָדָם) was “male and female.”

The plural pronoun “them” does not presuppose a person with two sexes, but two different beings, a male and a female. God blessed the male and the female (הָֽאָדָם), and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).

In is clear that the Hebrew word “man” (הָֽאָדָם) includes both male and female. In Genesis 6:7 the word “man” (הָֽאָדָם) includes both male and female: “So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man (הָֽאָדָם) whom I have created from the face of the ground.’”

Thus, the view that the first person was both male and female and had the genitals of both sexes is contrary to the teachings of the Bible, notwithstanding what Rashi wrote and how Trible interpreted the text.

Many years ago, while I was in seminary, I remember reading a passage in the Babylonian Talmud in which a Rabbi concluded that Saul had two faces. I do not remember the exact place where this information is found in the Talmud, but I believe that no one takes seriously the view that Saul had two faces nor the view that the first person was both male and female.

I am glad that Tyler does not disagree with me either.

Read Also:

The Bible and Sex

What the Bible Doesn’t Say About Sex


The Androgyny of the First Human

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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2 Responses to The Androgyny of the First Human

  1. Joseph says:

    >It is not fair to critique the androgynous human interpretation à la Trible by citing Genesis 1 since androgyny is identified as a unique feature of Genesis 2. Trible investigates both Genesis creation texts in two separate chapters of her book, and she very much celebrates the presence of the feminine in Genesis 1-clearly inconsequential to her analysis of Genesis 2 where she emphasizes temporary androgyny.


  2. >Joseph,I just think the concept of androgyny is only a forceful attempt at explaining Genesis 2. The concept of God creating a person with both sexes is the result of reading too much into the text.Claude Mariottini


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