Matriarchy Before the Fall

What if the world was originally created as a matriarchy?
(*cue dramatic gasp*)

John Howard Yoder often explored this possibility by laying out the following pieces of evidence [discussed in Nugent's The Politics of Jesus, 26-28]:

[1] The Word “Helper”
Yoder claims that the connotation of subordination which “helper” has in English is not present with the Hebrew word. The other 5 times the word appears in the Pentateuch it always refers to God. It appears that Eve is the crown of creation, who fills in a gap in the original creation. The point seems to be that the man is dependent on the woman (not vice versa). The man was called to leave his family and build his life around his wife (Gen. 2:24). The Edenic culture depended on what Ancient Israelites would have seems as women’s duties (gardening and gathering) as opposed to men’s duties (hunting and fighting).

2) The Role of Eve in the “Fall”
If the evidence above is accepted as portraying Eve in a unique leadership role (pre-Fall), it then causes one to read the narrative of the fall in a different light. Interestingly, the serpent approaches Eve, not Adam. What if this is not because she is weak and easily deceived, but because she was seen as the natural decision-maker? After Eve’s choice, Adam eats what is set before him without any hesitation.

3) The Curses as Reversals
The curses that come because of the Fall are a reversal of things as they were in the prelapsarian state (animal roles are reversed, joy of birth is overcome with pain and death, those given charge over creation are now its slaves, life-giving ground now receives death, etc). Among all these reversals, it is noteworthy that a matriarchal structure gives way to a patriarchal lordship. This in fact leads Yoder to an interesting interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 as he sees Jesus’ redemptive work as restoring the dignity of women (for another post, perhaps).

I’m not sure I’m completely convinced by Yoder, but it’s an interesting alternative reading.

What do you think?
Do you agree that the world was structured as a matriarchy
before sin entered in and brought death?


4 thoughts on “Matriarchy Before the Fall

  1. I’d like to believe the pre-fall world was structured with no one “dominating” the other. The concept of domination of one over the other seems to be an unfortunately necessary work-around in an imperfect world where some sort of hierarchy is needed to keep order.

  2. The idea seems needlessly complex. If this concept were true, I would expect to see more evidence of it or allusion to it in the Law and Prophesy. If we read about the creative order being restored (the lion and lamb), wouldn’t we expect to read about a restoration of the creative order between man and woman? I am also curious how Yoder integrates 1 Corinthians 11:7-12 into his theory.

    I agree with Matt, that one gender dominating over the other is most likely a consequence of the Fall, and it seems to me that passages such as Matthew 22:30 would support this view.

  3. Very interesting concept. I’m not convinced, as you are not, but I’m interested in the processes by which this guy has come to his conclusion, and at the very least, it reinforces the understanding that they were equal in the Garden.

  4. Hi Mike, I’ve mused over some of these things too.

    The Hebrew word ezer, translated as “helper” in Genesis 2:18 & 20, is used in other OT verses in the context of rescue. My Hebrew is poor, but I believe that the word ezer is used 21 times in the OT: twice it is used in the context of the first woman, 3 times it is used in a military context, 16 times it is used in reference to God as helper. (If my info or maths is incorrect I hope someone will point out my error.)

    The Septuagint has the word boēthos in Genesis 2:18 & 20. Perschbacher (1990) gives the meaning of the verb boētheō as “to run to the aid of those who cry out for help . . . “

    More on this here:

    I’ve also mused over whether the serpent may have spoken to the woman because she seemed to be the one with more clout in her relationship with the first man. As you say, “Adam eats what is set before him without any hesitation.” However, I believe that in the prelapsarian state, humans ruled animals (Gen. 1:26-28), not each other, so the issue of leadership and authority in the relationship of the first couple is irrelevant.

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