‘I have created a man with the Lord’. So says Eve with the conception of her first child.
Or at least, that’s one way we can translate the Hebrew text of Genesis 4:1. In this verse, Eve claims considerable creative power and places herself alongside God in the making of new life. But pride comes before a fall. The man Eve has created is Cain, the child who will go on to murder her second son, Abel.
This detail has been lost in translation for many interpreters of Eve’s experience of motherhood in Genesis 4. For others, the influence she as a mother had over the moral character of her children, and thus subsequent generations of humanity, remained a concern.
In these vividly coloured panels from the Ashburnham Pentateuch we encounter domestic scenes the artist has imagined in the lives of the Bible’s first couple. Interestingly, Eve is represented twice, on both occasions seated beneath a bower, with a child in her lap. The green register includes some Latin text incorporated into the image which makes it clear that here Eve has her son Cain with her, suggesting that perhaps the damaged scene in the orange register would have originally depicted the first mother with Abel.
Further details from within the image support this reading—particularly noticeable is the difference in dress between the two scenes. In the lower image of Eve with Cain, she is clothed in ornate garments by comparison with the more sombre outfit above. This has led some to wonder whether the artist has here judged Eve against the standard of motherhood found in 1 Timothy 2:12, where women are apparently exhorted to be modest mothers if they are to achieve salvation. So, Eve the mother of Cain the murderous son is presented as materialistic and vain in her rich attire, while Eve the mother of Abel the innocent victim appears more subdued and humble. Perhaps, then, this artist held Eve responsible not only for the first sin in the Garden, but also for the sin that was waiting at the door for Cain.
Bokovoy, David E. 2013. ‘Did Eve Acquire, Create, or Procreate with Yahweh? A Grammatical and Contextual Reassessment Of qnh in Genesis 4:1’, Vetus Testamentum, 63.1: 19–35
Pardes, Ilana. 1992. Countertraditions in the Bible: A Feminist Approach (Cambridge: Harvard University)
Verkerk, Dorothy. 2004. Early Medieval Bible Illumination and the Ashburnham Pentateuch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
16To the woman he said,
“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
4 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” 2And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground.