Male and Female he created them.
According to the first creation account in Genesis it is suggested that man and woman were created at the same time, contrasting with the second account in chapter two where Eve is created after Adam from his rib. To reconcile this seeming contradiction, some ancient Rabbis suggested that God originally created an androgynous or hermaphrodite being with two heads, one male and one female, attached to the back. However, this made things understandably difficult and so God split them into two separate beings, which is what Eve’s splitting from Adam in Genesis 2 is actually referring to. Genesis Rabbah and Leviticus Rabbah are two collections of midrash which comment on this unusual interpretation, the former using a passage from Psalms to justify it:
“’You have formed me before and behind’ (Psalms 139:5)… R. Jeremiah b. Leazar said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the first ‘adam, He created it with both male and female sexual organs, as it is written, ‘Male and female He created them, and He called their name ‘adam.’ (Genesis Rabbah 8:1)
Rabbi Samuel b. Nahman said: At the time that the Holy One, Blessed Be He created Man, He created him as an Androgynos.
Resh Lakish said that at the time that [Adam] was created, he was made with two faces, and [God] sliced him and gave him two backs, a female one and a male one, as it says And He took from his sides, as it says, And to the side of the Tabernacle. (Leviticus Rabbah 12:2)
Some rabbis objected to this exegesis, noting that Genesis 2:21 tells of how God took one of the man’s ribs to create the woman. To this, the following explanation is given:
“’He took one of his ribs (mi-tzalotav)’… [‘One of his ribs’ means] one of his sides, as you read [in an analogy from the similar use of the same word elsewhere], ‘And for the other side wall (tsela`) of the Tabernacle’ (Exodus 26:20).”
The rebuttal being made here, in other words, is that the phrase used to describe woman’s creation from man’s rib – mi-tzalotav – actually means an entire side of his body because the word “tsela`” in it is used in the book of Exodus to refer to one side of the holy Tabernacle. Rather clever if you ask me!
But what was it that caused rabbis and Jewish scholars such as these to support such a seemingly heretical interpretation? Why not adopt a simpler answer to the scriptural contradiction like the one accepted by Rashi which continues to be the leading explanation today – that the first chapter of Genesis was an overview of creation while the second chapter went into the details – ? It’s possible that their exegesis was influenced by Greek sources, namely Plato’s Symposium and the Speech of Aristophanes, which use the Greek word androgynos employed in Nahman’s Midrash.
The tradition of Adam and Eve’s androgynous nature appears to date all the way back to the first centuries CE, as it is also found in ancient pseudepigrapha such as The Apocalypse of Adam (1st-4th century CE) of the Nag Hammadi library. In the story, Adam tells Seth of how they came into existence:
When God had created me out of the earth, along with Eve, your mother, I went about with her in a glory which she had seen in the aeon from which we had come forth. She taught me a word of knowledge of the eternal God. And we resembled the great eternal angels, for we were higher than the god who had created us and the powers with him, whom we did not know. Then God, the ruler of the aeons and the powers, divided us in wrath. Then we became two aeons. And the glory in our heart(s) left us, me and your mother Eve, along with the first knowledge that breathed within us.
Aside from Adam and Eve originating together as an androgynous being, it’s also interesting to note the clear Gnostic teaching in this text, namely that they were created not from the biblical God of the Bible but rather the higher eternal God – making them more powerful than the evil, subcreator god who is ignorant of the deities that preceded him. In anger, the inferior god of the Bible divides Adam and Eve to make them two beings, thus removing the divine knowledge that had been breathed into them by the eternal God. The theme of God having to diminish Adam’s power shortly after creating him is also found in midrashic literature as discussed in the next Deleted Scenes.
Sources and Further Reading
- A great scholarly article on the origins of the androgynous Adam tradition
- Book: Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism by Howard Schwartz
- Book: Portraits of Adam in Early Judaism by John R. Levison
 Schwartz, Howard. Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism (p. 138-139).
Primary sources: B. Eruvin 18a; B. Berakhot 61a; B. Ketubot 8a; Genesis Rabbah. 8:1, 8:10; Leviticus Rabbah 14:1; Avot de-Rabbi Nathan 1:8; Midrash Tehillim 139:5; Shoher Tov 139:5; Maharsha on Genesis 1:27; Zohar 3:44b; Zohar Hadash 55c-d; Likutei Moharan 1:108.