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Adam knew Eve his wife, but do we?

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Eve: A Biography By Pamela Norris New York University Press

The very brief account of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis has evoked centuries' worth of embellishment, commentary, and debate. In "Eve: A Biography," Pamela Norris traces those voices that recall, rework, and develop Eve's story in such diverse sources as ancient myths, religious commentary, paintings, poetry, folk tales, and romance novels.

In the retelling of these stories, Norris weaves a rich assortment of images and texts into theme-based chapters with one narrative leading seamlessly into another. Her prose is both scholarly and poetic.

While in one sense, the book is an exposition of the various ways that the Adam and Eve myth has been evoked throughout history, in a much larger sense, it is the history of women's roles in Western culture. It surveys plots in which women are walled-in virgins, fallen seductresses, obedient helpmates, and burdened child-bearers.

It also stresses the ways that the story of Eve has been used throughout history to justify blaming and punishing females for bringing evil and death into the world. The view of Eve as untrustworthy and sinful vindicated men who oppressed and subjugated her daughters.

Norris traces how Eve's reputation worsens over time. In early Jewish tradition, the view of Eve is rather positive with primary emphasis placed on Eve's role as Adam's wife and "the mother of all living." Eve's reputation is soon influenced, however, by the related stories of Pandora and Psyche. Because of her female curiosity, Eve is held responsible for letting evil loose on the world.

Within early Christianity, there is an increasing emphasis on asceticism and on the relationship between sin and Eve's sexuality. As Norris puts it, Eve as sinful temptress became "responsible for all suffering and mortality, and eventually even for the sacrifice of God's son, Jesus Christ." A negative view of Eve influences some Christian views of women and sex to this day.

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