The stories about our origins are sometimes quite shocking. When the Lord God presents man with the woman he has just taken from his side, Adam exclaims, playing on the words, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. / She shall be called ‘woman’ (‘iššâ), for she was taken out of man (‘îš)” (Gen 2:23).
The reader shares Adam’s amazement that he has finally found “help to match him.” However, this first reaction cannot sustain even a superficial examination. First, one is surprised that Adam speaks of the woman in the third person singular: he speaks about her, but he does not speak to her. And if we read to the end of the account of the first human couple, we see that Adam does not once address his wife; and this is reciprocated. What does Adam see in the woman God presents to him? Nothing but his own reflection: “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” This may be called narcissism. It excludes difference, thus complementarity.
How can one be surprised then if Eve, when she gave birth to her first son, says, playing on the meaning of the name “Cain,” “I have acquired a man through the Lord.” This is one way to exclude Adam, her husband! Not surprisingly, the absence of engagement that characterizes the first couple is passed on to the next generation. In fact, according to the Hebrew text, there is no two-way dialogue between the two brothers Cain and Abel: “Cain spoke to his brother Abel. While they were in the country, Cain raised his hand against his brother Abel and killed him” (Gen 4:8). The Septuagint, the Greek translation, filled in what was thought to be a gap, by adding, “Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out’ and….” Abel dies without having said anything to his brother. He dies without having given life. He deserves his name “Abel,” hebel in Hebrew, meaning “breath,” “vapor,” “emptiness,” “inanity.”