Refuting The Book of Eden: Part 1 – Pain and Pregnancy

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Refuting The Book of Eden


Have translations of the Bible polluted our understanding of the story of the fall? Are traditional views of the headship of the husband based on a corruption of the text of Genesis 3? That is the contention of The Book of Eden by Bruce C. E. Fleming. The book centers around a supposed mistranslation of Genesis 3:16 that, according to Fleming, changes everything we think we know about the curses of the fall of man and how husbands and wives, and of course, men and women, should relate to one another.

When these chapters in Genesis are rightly understood, and we gain a true view of what God really said to the woman in Genesis 3:16, many New Testament passages can be reinvestigated. They too can be cleared away of the bias we find popping up in translations of, and commentary on, a number of key passages in the New Testament that look back to Genesis 2 and 3. 

Fleming, Bruce; Fleming, Joy; Hagemeyer, Joanne. The Book of Eden, Genesis 2-3: God Didn’t Curse Eve (or Adam) or Limit Woman in Any Way (The Eden Book Series 1) (p. 10). Kindle Edition.

Consider two things in the citation. First, that we can reinvestigate the New Testament passages based on a proper understanding of supposed mistranslation, and second, the subtitle of the book, which claims God did not “limit woman in any way”. From this we can see that the thesis of the book goes beyond merely correcting a translation error. The goal is to overturn the whole position that God created any sort of authority structure in marriage or anywhere else that is based on male and female. And this can be done when we adopt his interpretation of Genesis 3:16.

This series is a thorough refutation of Fleming’s arguments from the book. I will show how his arguments, from beginning to end, are inconsistent with any fair handling of the text, and even with himself at points. The book is a mess of dishonest handling of the Hebrew text, selectively favoring certain desired definitions of words, and ignoring common, well-known Hebrew constructions in favor of more complex and obscure constructions, more difficult for the average reader to understand, and thus more susceptible to abuse. Also, as we will see, the majority of the book is focused on issues that do not bear relevant relation to the New Testament passages that supposedly can all be reimagined because of the work in this book.

This series is presented in three parts. The first will focus on Fleming’s arguments to support his understanding of Genesis 3:16, line 1, the “pain in childbirth” contention. The second will address two other arguments. First, his reimagining of Genesis 2:18, the “help meet” verse. Second, his attempts to remove the problems the second statement said to the woman in 3:16, “in pain you will bring forth children”, creates for his thesis. Finally, part three will address some other concerns and problems in the book that don’t fall under these primary arguments Fleming is making.

Before we get into the detailed response, let me make two preliminary points. Throughout the book, Fleming repeatedly says that the contents of the book are based on the work of his wife, Dr. Joy Fleming. It is unclear how much of book is even his own contribution. Because it is cumbersome, I won’t be trying to refer to his wife’s work specifically, but will refer to all arguments and statements as the author’s. 

Secondly, the book has some strong copyright language that says, “No part of this book may be reproduced in any form unless written permission is granted from the author or publisher.” (p. 2) Of course, I will be citing and quoting the book extensively for the purpose of refutation. And of course, fair use laws protect a work like this, because of its purpose to critique and review the original work, from any claims of copyright violation. I simply want to make sure this paragraph is here to discourage the author or publisher from violating the fair use law in an attempt to suppress criticism. I don’t say this because I necessarily think the author would use such a low tactic rather than engaging with the criticism directly. But it does happen, and if it did it would only prove that the author does not believe his ideas can withstand fair criticism. These points made, let us begin to engage with the arguments themselves.

Fleming’s arguments

In this section, I will be addressing some of Fleming’s main arguments from the book. After that, I’ll discuss some of the problems the book has outside of the main arguments, as they are many.

On the whole, this book gives most of its focus to arguing for the author’s preferred reading of Genesis 3:16, line 1, the first statement God makes to the woman in the passage where He renders judgment for the events of the first sin, as well as his interpretation of that reading and its applications. Many arguments are made from the definitions of words as well as the structure of the language and grammar of the text. I will first look at these arguments in detail.

In addition to these arguments, Fleming also presents an unusual take on Genesis 2:18, the statement God makes about the woman before creating her, and that needs to be addressed. Also, he does spend some time discussing the statements God makes to the serpent and the man, as well as the rest of what He says to the woman. I will be giving special attention to his arguments about the remainder of Genesis 3:16, as this verse is really where the heart of the book’s thesis as a whole lies. Finally, I will address some of the other problems and arguments found in the book that do not fall within these primary arguments.

“And” not “in”

Let’s begin by looking at Genesis 3:16, and the foundation of Fleming’s contention that it is often mistranslated.

Genesis 3:16 (NASB 1995)

To the woman He said,

“I will greatly multiply

Your pain in childbirth,

In pain you will bring forth children;

Yet your desire will be for your husband,

And he will rule over you.”

Let’s read what Fleming thinks should be the translation of this verse and why. In one of the study guide sections we have this translation, which appears many times throughout the book:

Genesis 3:16 (Line 1) I will surely multiply (1) your sorrowful toil in fieldwork and (2) your conception.

Fleming (p. 25) Kindle edition 

Notice two things different here. First, the inserted numbers are to indicate that sorrowful toil and conception are two separate things. Second, the sorrowful toil is said to be “in fieldwork”. Fleming argues that the Hebrew grammar here means that the two terms rendered as “sorrowful toil” and “conception” or other terms in other translations, are connected with “and” and so should be seen as separate.

In Genesis 3:16, God says to the woman, I will greatly multiply two things. The Hebrew words for these are ‘itsabon and heron. ‘itsabon is linked to the man’s actions. God tells the woman you will have ‘itsabon. ‘itsabon means “sorrowful-toil.” At this point, God doesn’t tell her what will cause that to come to pass. God just says, You’re going to have ‘itsabon.

Fleming (p. 17) Kindle edition

We can see that the argument about what is wrong with other translations is that they relate these two Hebrew terms together, so that we get translations like “pain in childbirth”.  That is the first argument. The second is that the term that he renders as “sorrowful toil” is considered to be linked forward to the same term in verse 17, in which God tells Adam that he will work the ground in “sorrowful toil”. 

This Hebrew word ‘itsabon is used only three times in the Bible. It is not a general word that can be taken in various ways. It is only used in regard to the ground the Lord God curses. It is not used any other time in any other place to mean anything else except the sorrowful toil that will come from working the cursed ground doing fieldwork.

Fleming (p. 18) Kindle edition

Fleming’s main argument that issabon must refer to fieldwork comes from this, that it appears only three times in the Bible and “always” refers to fieldwork. Two times are right here in this context, Genesis 3:16-17. The other one is Genesis 5:29. Let’s look at that text

Genesis 5:29 (NASB 1995)

Now he called his name Noah, saying, “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil (issabon) of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed.”

So, it is argued, since Genesis 3:16 and 5:29 refer to toil in fieldwork, issabon must mean sorrowful toil in fieldwork, right? That is the argument. “It is only used in regard to the ground the Lord God curses”, as he said. Immediately we have our first problem. When a word appears very little in the biblical text, we are right to think that there is a connection between the occurrences, and there is. Both Genesis 3:17 and 5:29 are referring to the same thing, the curse of the ground. This does not, however, give us the warrant to attach that to the actual meaning of the word, or insist it carry exactly that meaning in every occurrence. Lexicons do not define the word with regard to the curse of the ground. “Sorrowful toil” is certainly within the range of terms that can be used to translate it, but nothing in the text specifically links it to fieldwork. In fact, some of the arguments Fleming attempts to marshal to prove that end up undermining this interpretation. But we’ll get to that.

Fleming does not cite any lexical or scholarly sources in order to argue that issabon in 3:16 refers to fieldwork as it does in 3:17. And this is curious. As we will see, he is aware of ways in which he could attempt to make that case. He could cite extra-biblical research on the term, as he does elsewhere, but he doesn’t do this. And in fact, there is good reason to suppose that issabon does relate to pregnancy, not fieldwork, just looking at this one line, before we even get to the surrounding context.

Old Testament Scholar John Walton argues that it should be connected with heyron, not later to the fieldwork.

One last note regarding syntax is that in the first line, “pains in childbearing”, is a hendiadys (two nouns joined by “and” but functioning as a single entity, e.g., American “assault and battery”- and thus conveys something like “conception anxiety.” From these observations we can conclude that the first half of verse 16 is an extended merism “two endpoints used to refer to everything in between, e.g., “soup to nuts”- referring to the anxiety that a woman will experience through the whole process from conception to birth. This includes anxiety about whether she will be able to conceive a child, anxiety that comes with all the physical discomfort of pregnancy, anxiety concerning the health of the child in the womb, and anxiety about whether she and the baby will survive the birth process.

Walton, John The NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2001), Kindle Location 4724, cited in “Pain and Childbirth in Genesis 3:16, Chris Matthiesen,

I offer this citation to primarily to show that Fleming’s assertion that the presence of “sorrowful toil” in both verse 16 and 17 does not prove that the sorrowful toil in both verses refers to the same thing. His is a perspective contradicted by scholars in the field.

Now, scholars don’t agree universally on much, and so merely disagreeing with them is no mark against one’s view. However, if Fleming wants to argue that the pain in view here is from fieldwork, he has to actually present an argument. What he does instead is attempt to dismiss the hendiadys construction as viable. Does Fleming do this with care, in the text? No, he does it with an anecdote about a meeting with an unnamed “Old Testament professor” about whether the construction in Genesis 3:16 is a hendiadys. And of course, we don’t get any of the back and forth, but just Fleming’s say-so on some disconnected phrases this professor said.

His comments, punctuated by long pauses as he reflected deeply, ran something like this: 

Here we have an example of a hendiadys – two things joined by ‘and’ to mean a different thing. … Yes, an example of a hendiadys. … Of course, this one doesn’t look like your ordinary hendiadys. The typical indicators are not present. … In fact, there is nothing in the grammar to indicate that the words in this verse should be combined as if there were a hendiadys present. The words ‘itsabon and heron could very well be read normally as two separate things with ‘and’ in between joining them. … But, even though this doesn’t look anything like a hendiadys and it could be correct to say there is no hendiadys here … we know that it is a hendiadys. 

“Thank you so very much, professor,” Joy said when the time came to a close.

Fleming (p. 83-84) Kindle edition

Wow, really sounds like this professor didn’t have any good reason for saying it’s a hendiadys construction. As you will see by the end of this series, prudence would demand we take Fleming’s account of this professors words with an entire handful of salt. 

So let’s see how implausible a hendiadys here is, shall we? First, if you just look up the definition, you will find it is a rather simple concept. It is the expression of one idea by means of two terms. “Come over and see me” isn’t expressing two unrelated things, but is saying “Come over to see me”. It’s a very common figure of speech.

But figures of speech vary from language to language. Was it a valid way of speaking in ancient  Hebrew and in Scripture? It seems so. In Genesis, we other examples that seem to follow this pattern of expressing one main idea with two words connected by “and”. 

Genesis 1:2 (NASB 1995)

The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

Genesis 4:12 (NASB 1995)

When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.”

Here we have a couple other examples from Genesis of the same construction, where there is one verb, and applies to two terms connected with “and”. When we think on it, these pairs of terms seem to be related to one another, lending support that “pain” and “conception” are similarly related. 

Ultimately, in my research, it seems that, though the majority of translators see an example of hendiadys in 3:16, and so translate the terms in a very natural way in which they relate, there is still some debate. For Fleming, though, there can be no debate. His thesis falls apart if this is hendiadys. So he cannot do as we have just done and look at the language and weigh the possibilities. He has to present it as if his rendering is somehow the “true” understanding no longer “polluted” by the bias of theologians.

And don’t forget that Fleming’s conclusions depend on more than just translating with “and”. He also has to show that the “sorrow” of Genesis 3:16 is the same as the “sorrow” of verse 17, unrelated to the rest of verse 16. So let’s take a look at that.

“In sorrow you will bring forth children”

Another way go track down definitions is to look at related terms. In Hebrew as in many other languages, words come in more than one form, increasing the pool of instances to help come to a more accurate range of meaning. This is so obvious that it would certainly be noticed if ignored, and so it isn’t. However, Fleming’s treatment of related terms is shallow to say the least.

Two other Hebrew words that sound similar to ‘itsabon are used in the context of Genesis 3. They are ‘ets which is the word for tree and ‘etsev which means effort. Neither one has to do with the specific heartbreaking sorrowful-toil of ‘itsabon that is used only these three times in the Bible and only when talking about working the ground God curses because of the man.

Fleming (p. 19) Kindle edition

Here we have a perfect example of the kind of fallacious reasoning found throughout the book. The author is doing three things wrong here. First, he is artificially limiting eseb to “effort”, without talking about any other times the term appears or other information to help define it. Second, he says it never refers to the specific kind of toil related to fieldwork that he has tried to attach as the sole definition of issabon. Third, he doesn’t say where this word appears, so the reader has no way of knowing the context. All of this obscures that this word, eseb, is in the very next line of the same verse he’s talking about, and clearly is connected with childbirth. 

Fleming does talk about it a bit more in the second to last chapter of the book, along with the rest of verse 16, but at no point does he correct the errors here. The third error is especially telling. When a true scholar is introducing terms into the discussion for the first time, even if it is to ultimately dismiss them as irrelevant to the thesis, he gives the same care to these terms as the ones he is focused on. The quick dismissal of eseb here leaves the reader with the impression that issabon is a special term with nothing related in the text. However, if he were to just put the terms where they go in the verse, any reader would know that this shallow dismissal is not sufficient to render eseb irrelevant. 

Genesis 3:16 (NASB 1995)

To the woman He said,

“I will greatly multiply

Your pain (issabon) in childbirth,

In pain (eseb) you will bring forth children;

Yet your desire will be for your husband,

And he will rule over you.”

Here at the beginning of the book, one would think from the way Fleming presents it that the word just appears in “Genesis 3” and means “effort”. As you can see, it is much more pertinent to his main argument than he lets on. 

Now, addressing the actual definition, we can dismiss outright Fleming’s statement about eseb being unrelated to fieldwork as simple special pleading. The limitation of issabon to fieldwork is shaky at best, and as we can see, it does not matter whether either term relates to fieldwork or not, but to pregnancy or childbirth. 

The first problem I noted is what we now turn to. Does eseb just mean effort, making it something unrelated to issabon? A quick search for the term in any concordance shows that it is simply false to claim that it just means “effort”. It appears seven times in Scripture. Once, in Jeremiah 22:28, it is usually translated as “idol” or “jar” or “vessel”. I won’t pretend to be an expert on translator choices here, and it is the only time it appears that way, so we’ll set it aside. Here are the other six times it appears.

Genesis 3:16 (NASB 1995)

To the woman He said,

“I will greatly multiply

Your pain in childbirth,

In pain (eseb) you will bring forth children;

Yet your desire will be for your husband,

And he will rule over you.”

Psalm 127:2 (NASB 1995)

It is vain for you to rise up early,

To retire late,

To eat the bread of painful labors (eseb);

For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

Proverbs 5:10 (NASB 1995)

And strangers will be filled with your strength

And your hard-earned goods (esebwill go to the house of an alien;

Proverbs 10:22 (NASB 1995)

It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich,

And He adds no sorrow (eseb) to it.

Proverbs 14:23 (NASB 1995)

In all labor (eseb) there is profit,

But mere talk leads only to poverty.

Proverbs 15:1 (NASB 1995)

A gentle answer turns away wrath,

But a harsh (eseb) word stirs up anger.

Some of these are very well known passages. Can you replace all of the bold-type words with “effort”? In some cases, yes. In others, clearly not. There are only two verses above where “effort” or “labor” is the clear meaning, Proverbs 5:10 and 14:23. However, in two of the verses above, eseb clearly cannot mean “effort”, Proverbs 10:22 and 15:1. To change 10:22 to “effort” would mean that God does not add “effort” when He makes one rich, which is clearly a false statement, especially in light of other proverbs about diligence and wealth. 15:1 is a reference to speech, but an “effort word” or even “word spoken with effort” again makes no sense there as something that would stir up anger. 

At this point we already have proof that the author’s contention is wrong that we can assume “effort” for Genesis 3:16 based on the word itself, but let’s look at the other two occurrences. Psalm 127:2 could grammatically work with “effort” and as you can see, the NASB renders it “painful labors”. The KJV, which incidentally does maintain the construction the author likes in line 1 of Genesis 3:16, “pain and conception”, simply renders Psalm 127:2 “sorrows”, not seeing labor or effort in it. So this verse is at least questionable grammatically. However, when we look at the prior verse, we see that these “sorrows” or “painful labors” are set as a comparison or parallel with simple effort, and two different Hebrew terms are used.

Psalm 127:1 (NASB 1995)

Unless the Lord builds the house,

They labor (amal) in vain who build it;

Unless the Lord guards the city,

The watchman keeps awake in vain.

2 It is vain for you to rise up early,

To retire late,

To eat the bread of painful labors (eseb);

For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

So, in context, if the psalmist had wanted to use the same idea of simple labor, he could easily have used the same word. The best understanding is thus related to pain and sorrow.

Finally, we come to the verse that is central to Fleming’s thesis. Does eseb in Genesis 3:16 mean only “effort” as Fleming claims, or does it speak of pain and sorrow, as virtually all translations render it? Let’s examine the argument Fleming makes for “effort” in the book.

I’ve already cited the first time the word is mentioned above. There, the author makes no argument for his rendering at all, simply claiming that it “means effort”. Does he ever go deeper into the other uses or any other information to support this assertion? He only mentions any other verses with the word one time, in a study guide section (p. 105), and does not acknowledge any of the texts above that cannot be rendered “effort”, hiding evidence against his preferred rendering. Aside from this, he does make one, very brief argument about why it just couldn’t be talking about pain or sorrow in childbirth.

Translations have gotten so caught up in their inventions that they make God seem to stutter, saying once in Line 2 and somehow back in Line 1 something about childbirth.

Fleming (p. 96) Kindle edition

Now, if you have any experience even reading the Old Testament, this statement should come as an enormous shock. Likely the most well-known figure of speech or construction in the Hebrew Bible is Hebrew parallelism. It’s all over the place. One cannot get through a psalm or proverb without seeing it. It’s all over the prophets. And of course, it’s all over Genesis, especially these early chapters, when God is speaking. As you read these, ask yourself, is God stuttering?

Genesis 1:26 (NASB 1995)

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Genesis 1:27 (NASB 1995)

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Genesis 3:14 (NASB 1995)

The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;

On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;

Genesis 3:17-19 (NASB 1995)

Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;

Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.

18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;

19 By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”

As you can see, this repetition is very common in Hebrew, and it is frankly appalling that someone would attempt to pass of as doctorate-level scholarship (numerous anecdotes refer to both Flemings’ doctoral work, becoming rather tedious in this writer’s opinion), such deceptive practices as attempting to convince the reader that Hebrew parallelism doesn’t exist. And notice above I have cited two passages from the very section that is the backbone of Fleming’s thesis, just before and just after verse 16, showing clear examples of parallelism at work. I doubt one could read one page of the Old Testament without stumbling over this type of construction, it is so common.

What makes this attempt to hide a common Hebrew construction so egregious is that the entire thesis of the book depends on other, much more obscure constructions—linchpin and chiasm—leaned on heavily in an attempt to further the thesis. We will discuss those as well, but I merely point out here that when an author is so attached to a thesis that he is willing to call the most common Hebrew construction, often found in words coming from the mouth of God, “stuttering”, one can be sure that the entire enterprise is based on dishonesty. And we will see that it is indeed.

So, when we look at the actual Hebrew of these two lines of verse 16, both in terms of the words themselves and the Hebrew constructions, so far, nothing Fleming has said has turned out to be true, outside of the existence of “and” where many modern translations say “in” or some equivalent. This fact alone does not establish his point, as many Hebrew scholars see the two terms as interrelated, and because, when combined with the obvious Hebrew parallelism, containing a word proven to mean sorrow, with verse 17, Fleming’s thesis just cannot get any traction.

And one more point will solidify this. Fleming never cites older or more literal renderings of Genesis 3:16, like the KJV or Young’s Literal Translation, because these do maintain the “and” structure he prefers. In fact, Fleming makes it a point to blame the “pollution” of the text on more popular modern translations

Here’s the way three of the most widespread versions have put it (and most of the others sound the same note). The way they word their mistranslation of the verse alters the meaning and makes it sound very different from the actual Hebrew text.

Fleming (p. 20) Kindle edition

He then cites the ESV, HCSB, and NASB. As we have seen, some do, and some don’t, have his preferred rendering. As you can see, he claims that other renderings are far from the actual Hebrew text.

As I was reading the early chapters and hearing his argument for his own reading, a question occurred to me that often occurs to me when addressing arguments from the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. What does the Septuagint say?

The Septuagint is a very important work. It is a translation of the Old Testament Hebrew into Greek. It was created about a generation or two before Christ. Why is it so important? Well, we can verify many of its readings, especially where it differs from the Hebrew, because the New Testament writers often quote from it in just those places. Add to this information that the Hebrew texts we have, while clearly very well preserved, are the Masoretic text, created almost a thousand years after Christ, and you begin to see the care with which we should always approach the text. Where the Hebrew and Greek Old Testament differ, do we go with the much more recent texts that are in the original language, or the much more ancient text that is a translation? 

That answer is going to necessarily vary quite a bit depending on the text in question. But I wanted to know, just so I had some idea, what the Septuagint said here, in these two lines of Genesis 3:16, to see how it compared to Fleming’s thesis. So here is a translation of the Septuagint, with some of the important Greek also noted.

Genesis 3:16 ( Septuagint translation)

And to the woman he said, 

I will greatly multiply thy pains (lype) and thy groanings (stenogmos); 

in pain (lype) thou shalt bring forth children, 

and thy submission shall be to thy husband, 

and he shall rule over thee.

Do you see the differences? At a time before the coming of Christ, the proper translation of this verse into Greek used the same word for pain, lype, in both lines, completely ignoring the supposed difference in meanings of issabon and eseb. So at least at that time, the Scriptures read by Jesus and the Apostles recognized the clear parallelism between these two lines, completely unaware of Fleming’s hypothesis that to do so would be “stuttering”. 

Second, instead of pregnancies or conceptions, we have “groanings” in line 1. The entire concept of pregnancy is pushed off until the next line. Now, unlike the words for pain, this isn’t a synonym or close approximation of “pregnancies”, unless groanings is to be taken as synonymous with pregnancy. If we do that, Fleming’s whole thesis is out the window, since he wants to keep all of that tied to fieldwork. This is one of those times when care is called for. The Septuagint is very ancient, and unless a discovery among the Dead Sea Scrolls gives us an older Hebrew for Genesis than we have, the Greek has older attestation than the Hebrew. Now, this doesn’t mean we know it’s the right rendering, but it cannot simply be dismissed. Of course, Fleming makes no reference at all to the Septuagint in the book. 

I would say there are a couple real possibilities here. One would be that, due to the clear parallelism and repeated reference to pain, the translator used a more colorful pain term for pregnancy, not worrying about the change since the parallel lines contain all the important information. Call it a different way of combining terms connected with “and” in the ancient world. Another possibility is that the Septuagint actually preserves an older reading of the Hebrew that didn’t use heyron for pregnancies, but actually had a term for groaning in the original. It is truly hard to know without much deeper study of the existing texts.

Fleming’s response to the Septuagint would likely just be to say it is an example of pollution in the text, but to do this, he has to prove that the Hebrew of the Masoretic text is certainly more trustworthy than the much older Septuagint. Now, since he has shown himself willing to simply make unsupported assertions, I would not be surprised if he did this as well.

What we do know from looking at the Septuagint is that the position contrary to Fleming’s goes back very far in history. And since we have seen that he ignores the existence of parallelism in the Hebrew text, parallelism not ignored by the Septuagint translators, we know that they are more trustworthy than he on the connection between line 1 and 2 of Genesis 3:16.

And one more thing I will point out regarding Fleming’s argument about line 2. The preceding is enough to seriously doubt his understanding, but in the later section of the book where he talks about this line, he contradicts what he has said earlier about line 1. I cite it here just as another example of the mess this book really is.

Then God wonderfully adds a good thing, I’m going to multiply your heron. I’m going to greatly multiply your pregnancies.

Fleming (p. 19) Kindle edition

The rest of Line 2 rushes to an additional piece of information that God reveals to the woman. She can still fulfill God’s creation mandate from Day Six recorded in Genesis 1 to “be fruitful and multiply.” She will bear more than one child. The plural word is used. She will have children! Thus far God has used a collective singular word in Line 1 of 3:16 and in 3:15 that can mean “just one” or possibly “a number of.” The “offspring” (zera‘) and the “pregnancy” (heron) referred to in 3:15 and Line 1 of 3:16 might have meant she would have just one child. But at the end of Line 2 in 3:16 God uses the word banim. It is the plural word for “children.” After her first born child she will bear more. She’ll have at least two children for sure. And likely more as God’s blessing is worked out and she bears children who will fill the earth!

Fleming (p. 98) Kindle edition

The first citation above is about line 1. The second says line 1 could be about a singular pregnancy, just because the word heyron is in the singular. Fleming seems to have forgotten about the word “multiply”. He is so focused on what he has to say about singular words while avoiding the greater context in order to pull lines 1 and 2 apart that he tricked himself. Sometimes it is hard to keep your story straight.

The chiasm and linchpin construction argument

Up to this point I’ve addressed what I see as Fleming’s best arguments for his preferred rendering and interpretation of Genesis 3:16 Line 1. As we have seen, those arguments weren’t so great. What they had going for them was simplicity. It’s simple to say that two terms are connected with “and”. It’s simple to say that another term in the next line means something else. Simple doesn’t mean true, but it helps. Now we dive into two more arguments, based on Hebrew constructions, that supposedly prove that the two terms in line 1, “sorrow” and “conception”, must be related to completely different concepts.

As already pointed out, Fleming is willing to pretend the most commonly encountered Hebrew construction 

A chiasm or chiastic structure is a literary device found in both the Old and New Testament where a series of words or ideas are presented, and then presented again in reverse order, sometimes with one idea in the center, emphasized by the structure around it. An example of a short chiasm is the words of Jesus in Mark 2:27: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The two terms, Sabbath and man, are repeated in reverse order. 

Fleming claims his wife discovered a chiasm in Genesis 2-3.

The very complex structure of Genesis chapters 2 and 3 was revealed by my wife, Dr. Joy Fleming, in her research. She discovered that Genesis chapters 2 through 3 contains a literary chiasm.

Fleming (p. 16) Kindle edition

I was able to find many sources discussing a chiasm in these verses, so it seems she was not the only one to see something there. But when I compare the common example cited with Fleming’s, something rather interesting comes out. The commonly cited chiasm in Genesis 2-3 goes from Genesis 2:15-3:24. Here is one way it is presented:

A. The man is placed in the garden of Eden. (2v15)

B. God commands the man. (v16)

C. The creation of woman. (v22)

D. The serpent tempts Eve. (3v1)

E. The first sin. (v6)

D’. The serpent is punished. (v14)

C’. The woman is punished. (v16)

B’. The man is punished. (v17-19)

A’. The man is driven out. (v24)

Let’s compare this with the way Fleming presents the relevant verses.

Genesis 2-3 is formed as a chiasm. Genesis 2:5-24 is the upward curve of God at work, and Genesis 3:1-24 is the downward curve of sin at work. Genesis 2:25 is at the summit. Compare the two sides of this chiasm. What do you see?        

a. Compare Genesis 2:5-15 with Genesis 3:8-24 (A and A’)        

b. Compare Genesis 2:16-17 with Genesis 3:6-7 (B and B’)         

c. Compare Genesis 2:18-24 with Genesis 3:1-5 (C and C’)        

d. How does Genesis 2:25 act as the summit? (D)

Fleming (p. 25) Kindle edition

The first thing we can see is that the first element of the chiasm is not just a word or phrase, but ten verses. And this is supposed to be matched up with 16 verses in chapter 3. Contrast with the other example above in which we are actually told what concepts are being matched up. At no point in the book does Fleming actually tell us how A and A’ are supposed to match. As you can see from the other chiasm, 2:15 is where the man is placed in the garden and 3:24 is where he is driven out, framing the structure, but Fleming’s chiasm puts everything found in D’, C’, and B’ in the other chiasm all in his version of A’. This shows, before we even look at any details, that there are definitely different ways different people see chiastic structures. And the more complex the structure, the more likely it is to be stretching credulity that it was intentional. 

There are a couple other observations I would make about what we see here and elsewhere in the book regarding this supposed chiasm. Nowhere in the book will you hear him making a case for the legitimacy of this chiastic structure. In fact you won’t even find a simple description, like the other example above, of just what is supposedly in the chiasm in question. That should be a huge red flag.

What we do get is a description of chiasm as a “rainbow” and that the center is the “summit” as you can see he refers to Genesis 2:25 in the cited section. Thus he sees this chiasm an ascent from the initial creation to the “summit”, followed by the descent from the influence of the serpent and the fall. One truly gets the impression that ascent/descent is the proper or definitional structure of chiasm. It is not.

I find it helpful to think of a chiastic pattern kind of like a rainbow. When we see part of a rainbow going up, even though we may not see the complete rainbow coming down on the other side we know what a rainbow is like. We’ve seen them before. And because we know that rainbows have the same colors on the way up and on the way down we can predict where the colors will end up because we know how rainbows are structured.

Fleming (p. 16) Kindle edition

Indeed, Genesis 2:25, the last positive statement about the man and woman before the entrance of the serpent, could be seen as a high point or final description before things take a turn, but that isn’t what establishes a chiasm. And the fact that Fleming never describes his case for why this truly is a chiasm is troubling. What exactly does he seen in these large spans of verses that is the true parallel? Indeed, I read what he cites as C and C’, and have no idea what he thinks the parallel is. One is the description of the creation of the woman. The other is the conversation she has with the serpent. The only parallel is the presence of the woman, but she’s present elsewhere as well. In fact, on page 56, Fleming asserts that, due to the plural pronouns in the serpent’s words, he must be talking to both the man and woman, not just the woman. He doesn’t seem to realize that this proposed chiasm cuts against that assertion. The fact that the text itself says the serpent spoke “to the woman” also cuts against it, but doesn’t help his inconsistency here. And again, other than the mere presence of the woman, it is difficult to know what he thinks the parallel for the chiasm actually is, especially since he never says.

Now, look in contrast at the other chiastic structure above. It skips verses in between the elements, but the elements are simple touch points within the overall text. Man is placed in the garden at the beginning and driven out at the end. In between, we have the introduction of the man, woman, and serpent, in that order, mirrored by the judgment statements of God to each later, in the opposite order. At the center is the sin itself. Not only does this chiasm present more elements, which strengthens it, as it is harder to multiply elements and have them still work, but it also presents very simple elements, explaining what each is.

All of this is to say that chiasm, as Fleming notes himself, can be very complicated. And as we look at the same overall passage, different interpreters can claim different chiastic structures. This alone doesn’t invalidate one or another chiasm, but it does mitigate strongly against is using a chiastic argument to attempt to overturn the translation and interpretation of one of the verses that happens to fall within that structure. Indeed, at best, if there is a central verse in a chiasm, it just means that the verse has special emphasis. It doesn’t necessarily tell us exactly how we should interpret it. And it certainly doesn’t tell us how to interpret one verse inside of a sixteen-verse long single element of the chiasm. And this is probably why he doesn’t get too much into the details. They don’t really help his case.

Now, what about this “linchpin” construction? This one is leaned on much more heavily to drive a conceptual wedge between “sorrow” and “pregnancy” in the first line of Genesis 3:16. 

My wife found another important pattern. It is the pattern in Genesis 3:15-17. This pattern links God’s words to the woman with God’s words to the man, and God’s words to the serpent. It is an interlocking crossover pattern, or a linchpin, centered in God’s words to the woman quoted in Genesis 3:16.

Fleming (p. 16) Kindle edition

Try as I might, I could not find a source for this supposed construction in this passage at all. That is not to say it doesn’t exist, or has never been discussed by scholars, but it is telling. This is something very obscure that we are being asked to lean on in order to supposedly understand the text properly. If it is a legitimate construction, it is virtually unknown by translators, since even those that maintain the “and” in the relevant statement don’t do what Fleming thinks we are all supposed to do. So the very existence of this construction here is suspect. But let’s see what he argues from it, how he uses it to try to separate the two terms in question.

If there was a recognizable special word pattern in Genesis chapter 2 in the first section of the upward curve of the passage, then we might expect to find a similar word pattern in the corresponding slope on the downhill side in Genesis chapter 3. Here’s the linchpin pattern in Genesis chapter 2:

(Approximation of graphic, Arrows connecting terms replaced with like-formatted text. Underlines original)

v. 7 formed the LORD God the man…

v. 8 planted the-LORD God

a garden toward-the-east in-Eden

There he-placed the man

which (he-had-) formed.

v. 9 caused-to-grow the-LORD God from-the-ground…

Fleming (p. 80) Kindle edition

I think this might explain a possible reason for the very long sections in what he claims are A and A’ in the chiasm. If it started at 2:15 like the other chiasm, this couldn’t be part of it. Now, what you see here are the connections between what is rendered in the graphic “formed” in verses 7 and 8, and “planted” and “caused-to-grow” in 8 and 9. So, two concepts, repeated in an alternating pattern. This isn’t the key verse, though, and Fleming claims this construction is also in 3:16. He takes his time presenting his case, how issabon in verse 16 is the second term, linked ahead to issabon in verse 17 when God is speaking to the man, while heyron is the term in the middle linked back to the term for seed in verse 15. Then, long after making this claim, he illustrates it with a similar graphic, which I will approximate here.

3:15 I will put enmity…between your seed and her seed

He shall bruise you on the head

And you shall bruise him on the heel

3:16 I will greatly multiply your toil and your conception

3:17 Cursed is the ground…in toil you shall eat of it…

Fleming (p. 84) Kindle edition

Now, before we examine the construction itself, we should see that this construction is something that Fleming thinks proves that “pain in conception” must be false.

From the text below, how does the word “sorrowful-toil” in Genesis 3:16 act in the same way (as outlined in question 2 above) with 3:17? How does the word “conception” in 3:16 act in the same way with 3:15?  This precise way of arranging these words did not happen by accident. It is one of the ways Hebrew is written out to deliver information in a memorable way.

Fleming (p. 88) Kindle edition

This is part of the study guide section, asking the reader to see the link between these concepts, just as was the case in Genesis 2:7-9. So Fleming is arguing that since the links go outside the sentence itself, conceptually, we cannot see the two terms linked together, as in the translation “pain in childbirth”. 

So, in answer to this argument, let me acknowledge that it is complicated. So don’t feel bad if you need to go over the preceding information to try to understand the argument. In a nutshell, we are supposed to see this ABAB pattern in repeated words or related words, and this is supposed to show that the middle two words are defined in light of the outside words. In Genesis 3:16, this means we absolutely cannot define “sorrow” and “pregnancy” in light of each other, and we must define “sorrow” in relation to verse 17 where it relates to fieldwork, and “pregnancy” in light of “seed” from verse 15. See the highlights? That’s the argument. Now, assuming everything we’ve said about this supposed “linchpin” construction is valid, does it work?

To get a running start, let’s look again at the previous example from Genesis 2, but not in the hyper-literal sort of text Fleming provides. Let’s just look at the three verses and see if we see the connections. I’ll highlight the relevant words again.

Genesis 2:7-9 (NASB 1995)

Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 8 The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So, everything look ok? I think so. Assuming this is a valid construction, we certainly see the same or similar terms arranged in this pattern. So far so good for Fleming. Things are about to get very bad, though. Let’s just do the same with Genesis 3:15-17, again highlighting the same or similar terms in the same way we did here.

Genesis 3:15-17 (NASB 1995)

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

16 To the woman He said,
“I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.”

17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;

Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.

Do you see the problem? Go back and look at Fleming’s citation of these verses, and how he connects the terms. The most glaring issue is that he completely omits most of verse 16, when it has clearly related terms, as well as omitting much of verse 17 to just focus on the word he want to connect. Also, though not omitted, “seed” happens twice in verse 15, but he only connects one of them.

Even on his own description of this “linchpin” construction, the actual passage doesn’t fit it at all. And he cannot escape by claiming there are different words for pain and bringing forth children in the next line of verse 16, since he has already defined this construction based on related words. They don’t have to be identical, and aren’t even in his own presentation of the construction. There’s just no way any of this works. 

Fleming knows this, which is why he tried to trick his readers when he drew the connections. Notice how, in his versions of both the Genesis 2 and 3 sections, he adds the ellipsis (…) where text has been removed from the quote? This is normal practice. But do you see where he did not place an ellipsis? In Genesis 3:16, for all the text he removed from verse 16 and 17, text that completely refutes his use of this construction here. Instead of ABAB, where the middle are defined in light of the outside, the actual structure of the relevant terms in the text are AABABAB. This isn’t even close to his supposed “linchpin” construction. 

But do you know what actually is there? A very simple Hebrew parallel construction. “Sorrow” and “pregnancy” are repeated slightly differently, with “pain” and “bring forth children”. It’s so simple and common anyone can see it, but Fleming is so committed to his mission that he is perfectly fine with hiding the text and lying about the definitions and elevating obscure, questionable Hebrew constructions, while ignoring the most common Hebrew construction of all.

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