Refuting The Book of Eden: Part 2 – Equality vs Suitability, Desire and Rule

Genesis 2:18, the helper

In between chapters focused on Genesis 3:16, Fleming takes some time to attempt an argument regarding Genesis 2:18. He argues it is translated wrong, offering this assessment.

Modern language versions of the Bible translate these two Hebrew words in confusing and contradictory ways. But there really is no cause for confusion. The two words in Genesis 2:18 are not that hard to translate. An ‘ezer kenegdo is someone who is equal, a counterpart, one who works together with another as they help each other through sharing their strengths.

Fleming (p. 35) Kindle edition

Before we get any further in his argument, let’s see how this phrase is translated in a modern and older translation, so we know what is being discussed.

Genesis 2:18 (NASB 1995)

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”

Genesis 2:18 (KJV)

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

The relevant words are noted here. Many modern readers of the King James often get this phrase wrong, thinking “help meet” is a certain title or role. What is actually going on is an older definition of “meet”. At the time the KJV was produced, the word “meet”, used as an adjective, meant something like “appropriate” or “corresponding”. One could render this “a helper who is meet for him”. In other words, when we understand the older language and what it means, we see that modern translations are saying exactly what the KJV said.

So that is how the “modern language versions” Fleming says are confusing translate the verse. How does Fleming arrive at his own translation, “a partner equal to him”? He does this by looking at the definitions of the two words individually. 

As for the Hebrew word ‘ezer: The majority of times it is used in the Bible, it is used to describe God. In Deuteronomy 33:7, God is the ‘ezer of Judah.

Fleming (p. 35) Kindle edition

As for the word kenegdo: This word creates a picture of two people facing each other. It can be translated as “vis-à-vis,” “conspicuously facing,” “corresponding to” or “equal to.”

Fleming (p. 35) Kindle edition

Do you see the difference between these two statements about Hebrew terms? Ezer certainly does refer often to the kind of help given by God. It is lofty. It is often tied to salvation. Of course, it also does refer to helpers that are not God and not necessarily lofty.

Ezekiel 12:14 (NASB 1995)

I will scatter to every wind all who are around him, his helpers (ezer) and all his troops; and I will draw out a sword after them.

This text refers to the servants of the king of Jerusalem as “helpers” using the same term. Now, of course I am not arguing that the woman was to be like these helpers, any more than I would argue that she is equal to God. My point is that it has a range of meaning, and Fleming is not wrong to say it refers often to God, though of course he ignores the references like this one where it refers to servants.

The biggest problem comes with the other term, though, kenegdo. In literally every translation I could find, the word is never rendered “equal to”. Nor could I find that definition in any Hebrew lexicon. The term is not uncommon, appearing around 150 times in Scripture. Of course, Fleming knows his preferred translation isn’t found in the Bible anywhere, and so cites Michael Rozenzweig, who he says has done some study on extra-biblical appearances of the term and prefers “equal to” (p. 35). 

Interesting that Fleming didn’t think it important to look into any extra-biblical sources on issabon, translated as “sorrow” and “pain”, when that only appears 3 times. Kenegdo appears around 150 times in the Bible. Why would a study done on extra-biblical sources be needed for this term and not issabon? Simple. It wouldn’t help the thesis. It isn’t about looking at all the data to understand the terms, especially one of the key terms to the key verse of the whole book. 

So we see that Fleming is aware of extra-biblical word-study to try to get a better understanding. But he only uses this kind of resource on a word with many many examples in the Bible, so that we can know it very well from there. Meanwhile, such study isn’t needed for the word that appears only 3 times and is of utmost importance to the thesis of his book. These are certainly unequal weights and measures.

So, is the argument convincing? Not in the slightest. Fleming found one person who thinks “equal to” instead of “suitable for” or “corresponding to” is a better translation. On the other hand, virtually every translation, created by teams of scholars, disagree with that assessment.

How on earth does Fleming overcome this obvious problem for his position? He doesn’t. Fleming doesn’t offer any further evidence concerning the text as to why we should agree with his unique translation. He certainly makes some emotional appeals, but no further evidence beyond agreeing with one person’s conclusions is offered. No wonder most of the book isn’t focused here. There is really no argument to be made based on the actual text of the Scriptures.

“Your desire will be for your husband”

The third primary argument Fleming makes is that we have also misunderstood the meaning of the last two statements of Genesis 3:16. This is somehow based on the conclusions of the arguments presented in order to change how we translate the first half of the verse. Before, we get too far, let’s look again at the verse.

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.”

Now, before we get into his arguments about the last two lines specifically, it is important to point out a few things about the book up to this point. The book has eight chapters. It isn’t terribly long to begin with. The majority of the first six chapters is focused on Genesis 3:16, line 1; arguing for the “and”, arguing for issabon being related to fieldwork, so that it is not related to pregnancy. One chapter within that part of the book is devoted to Genesis 2:18, which we addressed above. Chapter 7 is about what we will be discussing now, and chapter 8 is about verse 17 and what is said to the man.

Now, when you read the verse, which parts do you think would be the focus if you’re trying to show how a proper understanding of this verse allows you to reimagine the whole Bible regarding men and women? That is the thesis of the book, but it devotes most of its pages to one phrase that isn’t even about how men and women relate to one another. Then you have one chapter on Genesis 2:18, which does at least refer to that, and we saw that Fleming’s argument there was a whole exercise in special pleading, just making up a new definition for a word to suit his goals. Now we come to the singular chapter on what is actually about men and women together. 

One can only speculate as to why so much ink was spilled about what doesn’t seem to be the main point. If I had to guess, it would be that a somewhat plausible interpretation outside the traditional one could be built up there, and if the reader could be led along that path successfully, then the contents of the chapter we now will address would be more easily digested. As we have seen, however, the contents of the other chapters completely fall apart under the most basic scrutiny. Will we find anything different here? You can probably guess.

To begin, let us first examine what Fleming says in general regarding what comes after line 1.

Try to keep in mind the two actions God promised to take in Line 1 and then get ready for the next three lines God says to her in Hebrew. The two things God tells her about in Line 1 are (1) sorrowful-toil in fieldwork and (2) conception. In Lines 2, 3 and 4 God tells the woman about how things have turned out as the result of Satan’s attack on them and their disobedience. In these three Lines God instructs the woman.

Fleming (p. 95) Kindle edition

This is really the extent of what we have to introduce the chapter about the rest of verse 16. At no point does Fleming make any argument with a causal or linguistic link between what he has said about line 1 in six chapters and what he will now say about the rest of the verse. This is very important to note when he claimed at the beginning of the book that the alleged mistranslation of line 1 was a “pollution” that contaminated everything else in the Bible about men and women. If that were true, he ought to be able to show how it contaminates the next lines of the same verse. But he does not.

Instead, contrary to his own thesis, he draws a distinction between line 1 and the rest, saying that line 1 is about what God does, his actions. Lines 2-4 are then about God’s instructions about how the world will be going forward. No logical link is drawn between these lines and line 1. Notice what he says in the citation above. These instructions come as a result of the serpent’s temptation and their disobedience, not as a result of what God told the woman. 

Now, it seems counter-intuitive that Fleming would present something so opposed to his own thesis, but we have already seen why he does this. We have already addressed previously what he argues about line 2, because it is the line clearly parallel to line 1. Fleming wants to hide this, so he attempts to redefine eseb as just “effort” without pain, despite the biblical evidence, draw a hard distinction between “pregnancy” and “childbirth” in these two lines, and charge anyone who sees a clear example of Hebrew parallelism with making God “stutter”.

Having done all that, he has to continue to drive the wedge between line 1 and lines 2-4. And that is what this chapter does. Since I’ve already thoroughly addressed what he says about line 2, since it is really just meant to support his argument for his rendering of line 1, I will now turn to what he says about lines 3-4, the ones that actually say something relevant to men and women going forward. Does Fleming marshal just as much argumentation and discussion of Hebrew words and constructions and what various scholars say? Well, you already know the answer to that question. Not even this whole chapter is about these two lines.

In fact, his argument is so simple, and presented with so little explanation or evidence, that I can, in a couple short citations, give you everything substantive that he says on these lines. First, he summarizes what has been said and what he will argue for in these lines of this verse. Skipping what he says about line 1 as repetitive, here is what he says when he starts talking about the rest of the verse.

Then, God instructs the woman about what has happened, to her and to them, now that they are mortal and fallen. 

(Line 2) With effort you will bring forth children 

(Line 3) Your [loving] desire [is] to your husband 

(Line 4) But he [is rebelliously ruling over himself and] will rule over you.

Fleming (p. 97) Kindle edition, emphasis in original

You can see in the brackets the way he wants to frame these lines. Incidentally, he never again provides this interpretive rendering of line 4, nor does he argue anywhere for it. He does argue about the word “rule” as we will see, but all this extra stuff isn’t brought up again.

So let’s walk through the rest of this chapter. Introducing his thoughts on line 3, he says this.

What about Line 3 of Genesis 3:16? In Line 3, God looks into her heart. God instructs her on the state of her heart and contrasts it with the state of her husband’s heart. How much has changed for her in the paradise she lives in? Patiently, lovingly God instructs her on the state of her heart. Her affection is still for her husband. This is implied in just two Hebrew words. One is: “Your-desire” (teshuqah). And the other word is: “to-your-husband.” No verb is used here. When this happens in Hebrew, the verb “to be” or “is” is typically inserted in English. Her-desire “is.” What kind of “desire” is this? There is every reason to assume this is a healthy desire, as she had before the attack. And God says her desire “is” still the same.

Fleming (p. 98-99) Kindle edition

Now, I’m not going to spend too much time on his argument for the assumed linking verb when there is no verb, since that rendering is not unusual in translations and doesn’t really affect the argument. Nor will I argue strenuously against the idea that “desire” might still be normal affection for a husband. That is debated among scholars and doesn’t change much either way for the main thesis.

What I want to point out here is the shaky nature of Fleming’s argument. He is completely convinced that this “desire” must be considered non-sinful, and we will look at how he argues for that. For starters we see in the citation above that he believes “there is every reason to assume this is a healthy desire”. It seems from the citation that he thinks the linking verb “is” somehow means that what “is” is the same as what “was”. No argument is made for this, but it seems he is arguing against the rendering in many translations as “will be”, which might somehow imply a change. Now, I’m “steel-manning” his argument here. I’m adding thoughts that Fleming does not make explicit in order to make the argument stronger. The remainder of the section dealing with this line, which we will come to next, never goes into detail about what the implications are for “is” vs “will be”, but the conclusion is clear that Fleming wants to say that the desire here is no different than before the fall. 

The simple fact is that the alleged tense of a verb that isn’t actually in the text doesn’t amount to much. Remember, God also says “cursed is the ground” to Adam. The whole conversation is taking place after the fall, so very little interpretive weight can be placed on the alleged verb tenses.

So, what reason does Fleming give us for this “desire” being non-sinful? Like elsewhere, he sees a word that doesn’t appear much in Scripture, and looks to that. This time, however, he has a problem. It only appears two other times in the Bible, but they are not both what he would like. One is in Genesis 4:7, and the other in Song of Songs 7:10. In Song of Songs, it is certainly positive, speaking of the lover’s desire for his beloved. Genesis 4:7, not so much. In fact, let’s look at everything in this section, talking about “desire”, that Fleming has to say about Genesis 4:7.

Some have attempted to compare her “desire” in 3:16 to another desire depicted in the word picture in Genesis 4:7. But the verse in 4:7 is outside of the tightly constructed chiasm of which 3:16 is a part. It is outside of the passage of 2:4-3:24. The “desire” mentioned in Genesis 4 is only part of the next passage. What we learn from that occurrence is that the word “desire” (teshuqah) is not necessarily a term reserved for human affection because it is used in a non-sexual way in the account of Cain and Abel. … The word “desire” is not used for the man when God refers to him in Line 4 of Genesis 3:16. God’s evaluation of the woman’s heart will serve as a measuring point when the state of the man’s heart is compared to the loving desire of his wife.

Fleming (p. 99) Kindle edition

The quote above is unbroken except for a couple sentences where Fleming mentions the Song of Songs text. This is literally his entire argument concerning the presence of “desire” in Genesis 4:7. What follows this is a page or so of commentary about theologians, not the text itself, and how they interpret “desire” in some sinful way. I won’t bore you with those, as they aren’t about the text. After that, Fleming concludes:

Where did all these ideas come from! Remember, the two Hebrew words in Line 3 say simply: your-desire (is) to-your-husband. And the meaning is simple and straightforward. She has not turned against her husband. She still desires him.

Fleming (p. 100) Kindle edition

Before looking at Genesis 4:7 itself, I just want to point out the inconsistency in what Fleming says in this conclusion. He wants us to just go with the “simple and straightforward” text. But remember when he was telling us the real meaning of line 4 in the citation of page 97 above? Seems like lots of extra stuff being added there. And he can’t even help himself here in the same paragraph as where he tells us to go with the “simple and straightforward” meaning. He says “She has not turned against her husband”, This is not indicated in the text. If the desire of the woman in Genesis 3:16 is sinful or corrupted by the fall, then there is a sense in which it is “against” him, if not as an enemy, then in some other sense. Either way, what Fleming says about what the woman “has not” done is not found in the text. It doesn’t speak to anything she “has not” done. Secondly, he says “She still desires him.” Where does the text say “still”? That is Fleming’s own interpretation, not the text itself. Even when he thinks he is just taking the text at face-value, he is so swayed by his own ideas that he actually inserts them into the text as if they were there, condemning others for doing just that.

Ok, now let’s look closer at his actual argument. When you read through it, what do you find? Precious little positive evidence is presented for his view that this desire is positive and not sinful. What he does try to do is dismiss Genesis 4:7 as not being relevant. And notice a few things that speak to his dishonesty. Notice that he doesn’t cite the text. Also notice that the only things he says about the text are negations, things not true about the text. We don’t have any positive argumentation about what Genesis 4:7 means, only what it doesn’t mean.

At this point, I’m guessing that you, reading this, are getting a little frustrated. Unless you have Genesis 4:7 memorized or have looked it up on your own, you still haven’t even heard what the verse says. And that has been purposeful on my part. Because you see, Fleming never cites the text either. Not here, not anywhere. It is mentioned only three times in the book, always to dismiss its relevance to Genesis 3:16. This is similar to lines 2-4 of Genesis 3:16, that are frequently ignored, and only cited here, at the end of the book, because they have to be addressed at some point. This is not how it goes with verses that help his thesis. Song of Songs 7:10 is cited. Genesis 3:17 and 5:29 are cited, containing issabon. Why not Genesis 4:7? Let’s go ahead and reveal what Fleming is hiding in his book.

Genesis 4:7 (NASB 1995)

If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Why do you think Fleming would just want to dismiss this verse and not cite it? It’s pretty clear when you read it. We have “desire” and “master”. We have the same construction of “desire” and the object of desire, without the verb, as we have in 3:16. And both “desire” and “master” are the same words in the Hebrew as “desire” and “rule” in 3:16. Wow. So many links between these two verses. And of course, in 4:7, the desire of sin for Cain is not altogether righteous. Now, when we look at Fleming’s argument above for ignoring Genesis 4:7, do his reasons measure up to these links? Not just one word, but the two main terms, are the same. The construction is the same, The only thing different are the participants. With what we’ve seen so far, you can bet that if such a closely parallel verse existed that helped his case, he would point all these things out. So what does he use to overthrow all this? It falls outside of his chiasm. It goes against his interpretations of what God says to the man.

He does not, because he cannot, argue against this parallel from anything in the text. If he thinks something falling outside the chiasm means it can be ignored, why does he think the Song of Songs text can be used to define “desire” in Genesis? Why does he think Genesis 5:29 can be used to define “sorrowful toil” in Genesis 3:16? The double standard is so glaringly obvious that it is amazing anyone would put it in print. 

Now, as I said before, scholars still debate the issue. I’m not saying here that a negative, sinful sort of desire is the beyond debate. What I’m pointing out is that Fleming is willing to hide the verse entirely from his book in an attempt to convince you that the negative interpretation is beyond debate, and only corrupt theologians would say otherwise. What we see when we actually read the Bible is that it is Fleming who is corrupting the conversation around these texts. 

“He will rule over you”

We come, finally, to the final assault Fleming musters against the majority of scholarship on Genesis 3:16. He had to deal with this text at some point. Unlike any other statement in Genesis up to this point, this one speaks specifically of authority of the man over the woman, something Fleming cannot abide.

So, does he begin to get into some real scholarship at this point? No, of course not. In fact, like the previous line, this one receives very little analysis. The argument takes very little space. It is repeated in chapter 8, but with no new information. 

Briefly, before getting to the main point about “rule”, Fleming suggests that the passage is condemning the man because it says “rule over”, while God’s words to the woman say “desire is toward”

In Line 3 the preposition used for the woman is ‘to’ or ‘toward’—suggesting a relationship of equal partners. In Line 4 an aggressive adversarial verb is used along with the preposition “over.” The words “rule” and “over” stand in marked contrast to the affection of the noun and preposition attributed to the woman in the preceding line.

Fleming (p. 101) Kindle edition

This is an even further stretch than the last time Fleming inserted “equal” into the text of Genesis 2:18. The text never says any of this. It does not say anything about the heart of the man, nor does it carry “equality” in “toward”. Remember the parallel Fleming hid from the reader in Genesis 4:7? That is the same construction. Sin’s desire is for Cain, but he must master it. Is God saying that Cain and sin are rightful equals? Of course not. Even if we extend the personification of sin for the sake of argument, God is clearly telling Cain not to be ruled by sin but to rule it. Sin’s desire isn’t to “be equals” but rather to rule over us.

What we have here is just another speculative invention being forced onto the text. But now let’s get to the main argument he attempts to propose against the authority of man over woman found in the verse.

This verb for “rule” in Line 4 is not the same Hebrew verb that was used in Genesis 1, even though it looks the same for English readers because translations use the same English word for the two different Hebrew verbs. When God commanded the man and the woman to rule over the rest of creation in Genesis 1:28, the verb radah was used. This was a legitimate ruling, sometimes called the Creation Mandate. The humans were to be in charge of all creation. When the man’s prospective action in 3:16 is described, however, the verb mashal is used. This is the same verb that is used to describe the ugly ruling over perpetrated by the Philistines in Judges 14:4.

Fleming (p. 101) Kindle edition

Ok, this seems simple. Two different words for rule here. Clearly one is good and one is bad. Clearly the good one comes from Genesis 1:28, radah, and the bad one comes from Judges 14:4, mashal. I am thinking it’s odd that the bad kind of rule comes from Judges and not somewhere closer to the context. One wonders why that is. Maybe we’ll see. The author clearly thinks we won’t do any word study, as shown by his abuse of eseb in line 2 of 3:16. 

So let’s do that word study. What’s the first occurrence of mashal? Is it Judges 14? No, but you probably knew it wouldn’t be. Here’s the real first time it appears in the Bible.

Genesis 1:18 (NASB 1995)

and to govern (mashal) the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.

Yes, the lights in the heavens “mashal” the day and the night. Such tyrants they are.

The next occurrence is in 3:16, the one in question, and the next after that has been mentioned. Genesis 4:7. Yes, there is even more to draw a parallel with that verse and this than the author wants to admit.

Genesis 4:7 (NASB 1995)

If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master (mashal) it.

Interesting. Is mastering sin somehow unrighteous mastery? Of course not. This is a command from God. So not only does the term refer to righteous rulership, but also righteous rulership over something unrighteous. This really doesn’t fit what the author wants to say about Adam, so we might be beginning to see why Fleming jumped ahead all the way to Judges.

To round out Genesis, mashal is used of Abraham’s most trusted servant, who had rule over all his household in Genesis 24, of Joseph by his brothers in Genesis 37, of their disdain for him ruling over them when he shared his dreams. And finally of Joseph again in his actual rule over Pharaoh’s household due to his faithfulness. 

So in Genesis, this term is never ONCE used of actual unrighteous rule of one by another.

Throughout the rest of the Torah, the term more often than not just refers to some kind of authority without treating it as unrighteous, and in fact the same term is used in Deuteronomy 15, both for Israel ruling over other nations and for other nations ruling over Israel. 

In Judges, the term is used repeatedly for the judges of Israel, raised up by God, and doesn’t refer to the Philistines or anyone that can be charged with any wrongful rule until chapter 14. I wonder why the author chose to skip over so many other times this word was used.

And mashal is used frequently throughout the Old Testament, including of the rule of Solomon, whom God promised would have that rule, legitimately (1 Kings 4:21). And of course, it is used frequently of God’s own rule over the world (2 Chron. 20:6, Psalm 22:28, 66:7, 89:9, 103:19), and the Messiah (Micah 5:2).

Studying the use of mashal through the Old Testament shows that, the vast majority of the time, it is used in a positive or neutral way. Just like when he lied about the meaning of eseb, Fleming is lying to his readers about the meaning of mashal. Now it isn’t all positive. There is one clear case where it is used of unrighteous rule, because this rule is a judgment on Israel. Let’s take a look.

Isaiah 3:12 (NASB 1995)

O My people! Their oppressors are children,

And women rule (mashal) over them.

O My people! Those who guide you lead you astray

And confuse the direction of your paths.

I wonder why this verse wasn’t mentioned. And just to be clear, notice the two sets of parallel statements? “Their oppressors are children, and women rule over them”. This is a statement of judgment on Israel. This rule is likened to oppression. It couldn’t be clearer. But as always, when the verse doesn’t fit the preferred conclusion, it must not be quoted.

So what about “radah“? The good rulership term used of the man and woman having dominion over creation? How is it used elsewhere?

Well, it is forbidden of a master to “radah” with severity regarding his slaves (Leviticus 25:43,46,53). But how does one “righteously rule” with severity? Seems like a contradiction in terms.

It is used of those who hate Israel ruling over them as judgment (Leviticus 26:17) in the exact kind of situation as Judges 14 and Isaiah 3:12, where mashal was supposedly the bad kind of rule.

It is used of priests unrighteously ruling by their own authority (Jeremiah 5:31).

Also used many times in positive and neutral ways.

So, unsurprisingly, both terms for rule are found many times, sometimes referring to righteous rule and sometimes unrighteous. Fleming’s argument condemning the man’s rule in Genesis 3:16 is revealed as a simple lie. He is not concerned with truly understanding the text and sharing that understanding. Rather, he will twist the text to support his own preferred conclusions.

But surely there’s more to it, right? Surely he has something more to say than just dishonestly claiming his preferred definition. Sadly, this is it. This is all he has to say about the last statement of Genesis 3:16. Maybe he thinks the reader will be so overawed by so much time devoted to a different understanding of the earlier part of the verse that this mishandling of the text will be believed. 

This concludes what appear to be the main arguments of the book, but there are more arguments that can be more briefly addressed. There are more problems, too. We’ll pick those up in part 3.

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