Creating Stories, Creating Bodies (Genesis 1-2, Part 2)

Wednesday, January 5, 2022


Works Cited:

Episode Outline (not a direct transcript, but close)

While Part One focused on the creation of the earth, Part Two, this episode, focuses on the creation of human bodies.

Before we begin, we want to mention now and often going forward that the bible contains stories about Black and Brown bodies. Even though our traditional LDS artwork almost exclusively features white people, the Bible is made of stories about Black and Brown bodies.

I (Channing) noticed in preparing for this episode that it was difficult to stay with the text. My mind immediately wanted to jump to the fall and offer a different kind of feminist interpretation, but I was really intentional about staying with only the portions of text assigned. 

This means that in this episode, we will be examining the story of the creation of human bodies mostly through the lens of gender and sex. We will be exploring ideas that may be new or challenging, but I invite you to stick with it, stick with us, and stick with the text. Let’s dive in!

Who created human bodies?

The creation of humans begins in the later part of Genesis 1, starting in v26. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

The Abraham account adds more detail to this, saying, “And the Gods took counsel among themselves and said, Let us go down and form man in our image, after our likeness…”

The Moses account also has another difference, saying, “And I God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and it was so.”

The primary differences between these verses are who is doing the creating. In the Genesis account, there is one artisan God. In the Abrahamic account, there is a counsel of an unknown number of gods, and in the Moses account there is God and Jesus. So just to be clear, even in the Mormon tradition, we don’t actually really know who created the earth and human bodies.

Bodies made in the image of a masculine God

In these verses a couple of things are asserted or established. 1. Humankind is made in the image of God. We’ll go more into depth on this in a moment. 2. Humankind, specifically men, is given dominion over the earth. We see this even more clearly and huMANkind becomes even more male-centric in verse Genesis1: 27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Genesis already has assumed God is a man. In this sense, men and women are created in the image of a man.

The Moses Account gets a little more problematic, because the assumed gender of God becomes more solidified. 2:27 says, “And I God, created man in mine own image, and in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them.” In this version, God is not only assumed to be a man, but is assured to be through the masculinity of Jesus.

The “normal” centering of men 

I want to focus for a moment on the concept of “men” being normative. In a patriarchal structure, men are valued over women. Men and certain traits of masculinity are seen as more important and impactful than other genders or traits that are either gendered as “feminine” or do not support the certain brand of masculinity society values most. Because men are more valued, they appear more in society. They hold more positions in quantity and more prominent positions of power, their stories and experiences are centered in film, books, myths, religion, and media. A person is more likely to watch a show or read a story or hear a biography about a man and his experience than they are to experience a character of another gender. 

Because of the prevalence and frequency of the cis-male centered experience, our brains unconsciously anticipate and encourage the centering of men. It is not a choice made consciously, but a consequence of the human urge to notice and trust patterns. This creates an illusion of normativity. Men and masculinity is normative in a patriarchal society - it is expected to be played out again and again in every sphere.

Because it is unconscious and influences our understanding of the world, the masculine norm also shows up in the way we read and interpret scripture. If man or men are the assumed norm then a person reading or even writing the text likely would have, in the presence of ambiguity and the absence of an explicitly stated gender assignment, assumed Adam’s gender, just like they assume the exclusive maleness of God, whether or not there was a theological or experiential basis for the assumption. The pattern of dominant masculinity is not necessarily inherent in the Godhead or in Adam, but is applied to these concepts by humans, like paint is applied to a canvas, in order to create an image, or pattern, that matches current world views.

Also, its important to note that “man” even as reference to man-kind, is assumed to be the expected, not necessarily accurate, catch-all term for all genders. This is what it means when I say that maleness is normative. It is the expected and “appropriate” gender reference when talking about humans in a wide and general sense. 

An example of the masculine norm shows up in one of the prompts in the CFM for this week’s chapters. In response to the question, “Why is it important to know that we were created in God’s image? How does it affect the way we feel about ourselves, others, and God?”The manual suggests, “If you have small children, you might want to read together and play a simple game: Show a picture that depicts Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and ask family members to take turns pointing to a part of Heavenly Father’s or Jesus’s body. Then the other family members could point to that same part on their bodies.”

If you are a cis-gender man, I imagine this exercise would be pretty straightforward If, like Elise and I, you are not a cis-gender man, this exercise will likely raise some eyebrows. I’ve yet to see a Mormon depiction of a God with breasts or a vulva, or a pregnant womb. This exercise only operates as intended under an assumed masculine-normative standard.

In contrast, we find ourselves liking the Abrahamic account the best for this verse. 4:27 reads, “So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them.” It seems like word play, or a form of word substitution from prior verses, but I like the ambiguity of the gender of the Gods in these verses. There still is normative maleness in the creation of man and MANkind, but the gender of the Gods is never mentioned, leaving room for genders other than male.

The creation of the body of Adam 

What is striking to me about this part of the text is in all three narratives that man AND woman were referenced, or arguably “created” in Genesis 1:27, prior to the rib-then-Eve event. Genesis 1:28 reads, “And God blessed them.” 

I have a few thoughts about this verse. I just mentioned that its interesting that man AND woman were created in verse 27, and this is reiterated again in verse 28 when God blesses THEM. But our traditional Mormon understanding is that at this point, only one human body has been made - a male human body. 

The following reading arose from my close reading of the text. I was excited about the idea and wanted to check my interpretation against academic scholarship, but was unable to find research or scholarship I could quote on the episode to back it up. I spoke with a friend of mine who has more experience and knowledge in this area than I do, and they said that there was a strong possibility that scholarship on the topic does not exist or has not been released to the public yet. But I share it on the podcast because the reading arose directly from the text, and I hope that it inspires others to continue research and study into the topic.

I believe there is a textual precedent potential here for an interpretation of Adam as an intersex, ambiguously-sexed, or non-binary being based on the use of “them” pronouns and references to multiple sexes simultaneously present in a single body. 

An interpretation of this kind could also imply that if Adam was an intersex, ambigously-sexed, or non-binary being who was made in the image of God, then it would follow that God is an intersex, ambiguously-sexed, or non-binary being.

I do need to note here that pronouns in other languages do not work the same way as in English, so the translation into english of a “them” pronoun could be the product of translation and not necessarily inherent in the original text. Someone more knowledgeable in Hebrew, Greek, and English languages and the process of translation will be more qualified than I am to make that assertion.

However, I believe the possibility of an intersex or ambigulously-sexed being is still possible without the presence of a “them” pronoun in the text based on the textual evidence of multiple sexes simultaneously present in the single body of Adam.

This interpretation of the text  would require further research and scholarship centered on the intersex and non-binary experience, and as a cisgendered person I am therefore not the right person to do a full analysis on this topic. However, I’m putting it out there in case it helps or inspires someone to take this idea and run with it. If you do, please return and report.

The body’s dual, paradoxical kinship

The parts of the text that do stay consistent to our traditional understanding are twofold:

First, the relationship of the human body to the earth through its elements of creation. Genesis 2:7 (and the other accounts are consistent to this point) reads “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.” The human body, according to this narrative, is made directly from the elements of the earth. This is more than implied kinship of the earth, like the kind we talked about in the prior episode when referencing the generations of creation, but actually seems to solidify that familial, generational kinship with the corporeal, embodied, mortal, elements. Dust is earth and air. Dust was solid rock before it came into contact with the transformative forces of fire, wind, and water. So to say then that we are children of the earth is both textually and biologically supported and sound.

But Earth is only part of our somatic makeup. The second consistency we find in the text is the origin of the spirit. Genesis 2:7 continues, “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” The Moses & Abrahamic account are identical in this case and are not quoted. In this verses, we are to understand the soul’s origin as breath, specifically the breath of God. 

The Hebrew word used for the breath of God is ruach (roo-akh), which is the word for spirit, breath or wind. 

Quick tangent for those who are looking for a link to Heavenly Mother/Feminine Divine: A few years ago I was listening to the A Thoughtful Faith podcast with Gina Colvin, and she was interviewing Rachel Hunt-Steenblik, author of Mother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother and contributor to the BYU studies essay “A Mother There”. In the episode, Hunt-Steenblik provided a list of symbols and imagery of The Feminine Divine, or Heavenly Mother. On this list are mountains, trees, birds, oil, the tree of life, the menorah, Ashera, and Ruach - the hebrew word for spirit, breath, or wind.

Its interesting to me that while the gender of God is assumed to be a man, the animating, enlivening, ensouling force is a word with specific ties to a heavenly mother.

For us, we are less intrigued by the gender of ruach, or animating life force, than I am by the God-spirit-breath concept itself. An infusion of other-than-earthly-matter into the created body by an other-worldly being illustrates that the human body is not only kin to earth, but kin to God as well, because within the earthy body is the breath, spirit, life-force of God. The body is the site of kinship with both the earth and with God. It is the meeting place of the mortal and the divine. Mind blowing. This is endlessly fascinating to me, and I’m not sure I will ever completely wrap my brain around it.

The Creation & Sex and Gender

But as much as I personally want to keep this creation gender and sex ambiguous, the text continually wraps them both in, forcing the reader to confront both gender and sex.

Moses 3:7 reads, “And I, the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” We’ve covered that part, so far. The verse continues, “And man became a living soul, the first flesh upon the earth, the first man also.”

Remember that up until this very moment in creation, God said, of the singular body named Adam in Genesis 1:27 “male and female were created in the image of God,” In this verse, both sexes were present in the singular Adam form or body. But, in Moses 3:7, Adam is given a gender.

It feels important to quickly illustrate the distinction between gender and sex. These definitions are simple and are not adequately nuanced because of time and limitations of the episode, but they are a start. In general, a person’s sex is assigned to them based on the appearance of their external reproductive organs. Gender is different from sex in that gender is a concept communicated to others and self through performance. Gender and sex may or may not match.

What is interesting here is that Adam’s gender assignment happens at the moment of the infusion of soul-breath. And an even closer reading of the text reveals that there is no explicit textual evidence that God assigns Adam’s gender in any of the three accounts. In the absence of evidence, assumptions are made that God assigns Adam’s gender, but other assumptions could be equally true. An equally possible and valid argument could be made based on context clues of the verses surrounding the gender assignment of Adam, that Adam assigned his own gender to himself once his spirit was breathed into him. 

So, according to all three accounts, one of two things happened. These two possibilities seem to me to be mutually exclusive.

Either both man and woman were created prior to the rib-Eve event in separate bodies, and Genesis is not only out of order (which wouldn’t be unusual - the writing and editing process of scripture is rarely linear) but is also incorrect in that Eve wasn’t created from the rib of Adam, but contemporary to him.

OR Adam is both/neither/more than male and female in one body. 

Again, make of this what you will, but even in the LDS tradition, its clear based on the text that our clear-cut story about the creation of gendered bodies isn’t as certain as we thought it was.

This is funny to me because we sure do make a lot of truth claims in LDS rhetoric about the eternity of gender & sex that may or may not be supported by canonized text. 

The creation of Eve

Now that the body of Adam is ensouled and definitively gendered, God places Adam in the garden of Eden with the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There’s some mention of certain rivers and stones, and the commandment to Adam saying “Of every tree of the garden thou must freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

Then after Adam names all the creatures of the earth, God says in Gen 2:18 “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an helpmeet for him.” So, “The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept and he took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh thereof. And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, me he a woman, and brought her unto the man.”

Beverly Campell: Eve and the Choice Made in Eden “According to biblical scholar David Freedman, the Hebrew word translated into English as “help” is ezer. This word is a combination of two roots, one meaning “to rescue”, “to save,” and the other meaning “to be strong.” The concept of help-meet, meet understood and defined as complementary to, equal to, corresponding to. So together, helpmeet is understood as a strength and saving force equally and directly corresponding to the strength of its partner. Eve, strength and saving force equal to Adam. Campbell suggests the alternative reading of Genesis 2:18 “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a companion of strength and power who has a saving power and is equal with him.”

I appreciate this interpretation of help meet because it is a radically different way of viewing Eve's purpose and relationship with Adam. It helps us to twist free of the narrative popular in broader Christianity that Eve was created to be subservient to Adam. I want to celebrate this reading and I want to honor it for all the goodness it has done for me, for Eve, and for all the women who have been affected by misguided and harmful tellings of her story. 

But - and I say this “but” with a sinking sadness in my body - I’m still not certain that this interpretation of Eve twists us entirely free from the patriarchal grip, for two reasons.

First, that Eve, whatever her purpose, was created by a man through a man. In verse 23, Adam says, “This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” (As an interesting side-note, I want to point out that though Adam’s gender assignment is unclear, the text makes it explicit that Adam assigns Eve’s gender at her “birth” or creation. Don’t have time to dive in, but its interesting to see who assigns who in the text.)

Wo-man, of man. A masculine deity and a masculine human is the birthplace of biblical womanhood. It can be argued that Eve’s creation is derivative. That woman is a derivation of/from man. This reminds me again, of the philosophies of Plato, that women are beings who were first created as men but become other-than-men. 

Second, the language in Genesis 2 concerning Eve is not the language of self-determination. In Verse 22, Eve was “brought unto the man.” In verse 20, God makes an helpmeet for Adam.” For, meaning, in consideration of, in the interest of, Adam. According to the Genesis narrative, Eve was not created in her own right. Her origin was not independent of Adam. If one believes the precedent that Genesis 1 sets out, that the Word creates, Eve was thought, then formed into being, only when considered in relationship to Adam. According to the Genesis 2 account, Eve’s conceptualization occurred only when the need for her presence was made evident in relationship to a man.

Rhetoric of Complementarianism

This perceived “need”, or absence of a necessary opposite, is rooted in complementarianism, which is the belief that men and women complete one another through opposite but equal qualities based on perceived innate characteristics defined by their genders.

I do not think the complementarian approach to Adam and Eve is  helpful or healthy, because it implies that men and women are not complete beings without one another. A complementarian reading is supported by the text and certainly the narrative supported by the church, but it does not align with my values and belief of original goodness and wholeness contained within one Self.

Complementarian readings of the text also do not account for masculine privilege. Equality is implied but never achieved because both parties are always completing one another - they are always in service to the wholeness of the other, giving pieces of their pizza to complete the others while expecting their pizza slices in return. Maybe in another societal framework complementarianism might work, but in a patriarchal structure, the scales are always tipped in favor of men. Even if complementarianism was healthy or capital t true - as the church and, strangely enough, many new age systems of belief assert - there can be no true complementarianism in a patriarchal structure. Until all human experience is valued equally, regardless of gender, a complementarian relationship model is an unattainable, wavering mirage.

Taylor Petrey’s book “Tabernacles of Clay,” has a fascinating segment on the historical development of benevolent patriarchal attitudes within the LDS church in both a grassroots and top-down institutional response to second wave feminism in the 1960s 70s, specifically the ERA. Highly recommend it.

Queer interpretations of the creation of human bodies

So far in the episode we have focused almost entirely on the cisheteronormative interpretation of the creation of bodies, but I wanted to share some other perspectives that I think offer additional pathways for interpretation.

I loved this quote from Blaire Ostler’s book, “An Introduction to Queer Mormon Theology.” She writes,

“I was first introduced to queerness of procreation in Mormon theology by Taylor Petrey, a professor of religious studies and women’s studies at Kalamazoo College. In his essay “Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology,” Petrey illuminates a precedent for queer procreation in Mormon theology. As Petrey points out, godly creation is far queerer than we have previously imagined. In the creation of Adam and Eve, there is no account of cisgender, heterosexual copulation being a necessary means of reproduction. He writes,

“Both spiritual and material formation takes place without any sexual union. Furthermore, males alone perform the creation of Adam’s body. Even Eve is “reproduced” from a male body with the help of other males. The Lord penetrates the body of Adam and creates Eve.” 

Ostler continues, “In the story outlined in scripture, the creation of a woman was produced by three men: God the father, Jesus Christ, and Adam. It could be the case that Heavenly Mother was involved in the creative process, but there was no direct account of it written in scripture, nor is her role explicitly stated in the LDS temple ritual.”

Ostler also argues that even if HM had participated in the creation of Adam and Eve, Eve’s creation from the rib of Adam was queer. She writes, “If Adam and Eve share the same karyotype (chromosomes), that could make Adam a trans man and Eve a cis woman. Although the inverse could also be true. Adam could be thought of as a cis man, making Eve a trans woman.” “In either case,” she continues, “the creation of a woman from a man’s body comes with biologically queer implications and considerations.”

I am both excited and challenged by this interpretation of the creation of bodies in Genesis 1 and 2. They are new ideas to me, and I do notice some resistance! However, I am most drawn to a God who is a Stranger, who is a surprise and an enigma and a puzzle to me, who is queer to me, and this means I choose to leave the door open to the possibility of a God not like myself, and let in a creation story which I do not fully understand.

Narratives of Marriage

I wanted to include this queer interpretation of the creation narrative because the CFM manual chooses such a strange focus for this week’s study. Among the three main focuses of this week’s study is headlined with the statement, “Marriage between a man and woman is ordained of God.”

But the me that spent hours studying and looking at the text to find a THEM, a man and woman in one being called Adam, feels that the cisheteronormative claim that marriage is ordained between a man and a woman is suuuuuper thin if we were to entertain the possibility that Adam might not have always been a male.

And then with Ostler’s illustration of the queerness of the Genesis creation account, again, I look at the statement of “Marriage between a man and woman is ordained of God,” and then lay it over the Genesis account, it reads more like, “Marriage between a man who is either not a male, or is a trans man and a potentially trans woman is ordained of God.”

Then, if we zoom out just a lil’bit, we remember that all of this marriage stuff is happening before the fall. Adam and Eve are still “innocent” in the sense that they do not know they are naked, or in other words, do not yet know to be ashamed of their nakedness, which is a topic we’ll cover later.

In an LDS context, this state of innocence implies the lack of a sexual relationship. When the text is read in linear order, marriage occurs before Adam and Eve’s sexual debut. What this implies to me is that marriage, not sex, is the focus of Adam and Eve’s relationship, at least prior to the fall.

If procreation was not the purpose of marriage, what was? ‘m not entirely sure, but I do think that current LDS rhetoric conflates marriage and procreation. The two are used nearly interchangeably, as if one implies the other. But the text does not use them interchangeably. Marriage is separated from procreation by the Fall.

Read directly from the text itself, marriage can be understood as a type of relationship and not a necessary precedent of procreation. So, if we read Genesis literally, the “first” marriage, or deity-validated relationship of this particular kind, was  between a man who is either not a male, or is a trans man, and a potentially trans woman

Further, there is no mention in the text of the actual marriage ceremony. No words from God that say, “okay now, Adam, cis-gender man, do you take Eve, cis-gender woman, to be your copulation accomplice?” There is no explicit “ordination,” no word from God’s mouth even validating Adam and Eve’s marriage relationship in certain, recorded terms. God’s acceptance or recognition of this relationship is implied and assumed, but never explicitly made.

The assertion that Genesis 1&2 and the supporting Moses and Abraham accounts irrefutably PROVE that marriage between man and woman only is the one ordained by God is a truth claim that is never made in, nay, not even supported by, the canonized text of Mormon tradition.

There will be some who quote the 8th article of faith back to me and say, “we believe the bible as far as it is translated correctly, and this interpretation is the product of faulty text…” Well, Joseph Smith “translated” the texts of Moses and Abraham and they say the exact same thing.

There will be some that say that I am mincing words and grasping for ethereal language straws, but language is not benign. It holds creative power, and shapes our understanding of who we are and our place and purpose in the world. Language can reveal and obscure, can hurt and heal. In the same way, the narrative of the creation of gendered bodies in Genesis 2 can be both poison and antidote depending on the interpretation, or the story we tell about it.


Holy Smokes, these two chapters have started the OT out with some really big and difficult topics to wrestle with. In this episode, we have discussed the creation of human bodies in the last few verses in Genesis 1. We’ve explored the implications problems with all bodies being made in the image of an exclusively male deity, the presence of the masculine-normative pattern in patriarchal society which shapes our assumptions about the gender of God and Adam, what the text says about the sex and gender of Adam, the process and implications of the ensoul-ing or enlivening of the body of Adam, Adam and Eve’s gender assignments, a feminist critique of the complementarian explanation of the creation of Eve, and a queer interpretation of the marriage between Adam and Eve. Its a lot.

The question we have now is the “what do we do with this?”

There are infinite options. Start where you feel called. Learn about the difference between sex and gender. Consciously pay attention to the male-normative patterns that show up in and influence your life. Inform yourself about the intersex, non-binary, and trans experiences Re-examine your assumptions about the story you think you know about the creation of human bodies and relationship models. What happens when you notice the similarities and differences between artistic renderings of God’s body and your body, or God’s body and other bodies? What feelings, sensations, thoughts, emotions come to you during this exercise? Try to imagine what this experience would be like if you were in a different body. Continue your own textual analysis and see what discoveries you make. You might find that our interpretation is incorrect, or simply different.

Going forward on the podcast, we want to make sure we say often that we offer ONE way, not THE way to interpret the text. You’ll notice that other individuals who are engaged in similarly situated work will have different and probably even contradicting things to say about these chapters. This does not make us right and them wrong, or their interpretation right and ours wrong. It makes them different, and you must decide which interpretations inspire healing, challenge, growth, and love for you, the 2022 you reading the text right here, right now.

If you feel challenged by this episode, or part one of this episode, GOOD. Me too! I also hope that you feel excited by the possibilities a new interpretation can provide. My relationship with the Divine is woven through with threads of surprise. I enjoy the challenge, the unexpected, the deconstruction and the support in rebuilding, and the repeat repeat repeat of the process of raveling and unraveling.

To wrap up this episode, I want to share a story in the Celtic tradition of the Old Woman at the End of the World. She is a weaver, and she spends her days creating a beautiful tapestry made from the threads of the experiences, the loves, the wonder, the breath, the sorrows, the loss, the joys and delights of all the individuals and communities of the world. She weaves them all together in the company of her enemy, the crow, who waits for the opportune moment when she turns away to put on a cup of tea or rub her hands to undo the tapestry. For the crow knows that if the weaving were ever to be finished, the world would come to an end. And the Old Woman, returning to her tapestry in pieces, does not fret or sorrow. She turns to the crow as one would to a mischievous friend, gives him a knowing look, and begins a new tapestry - a new pattern, completely unlike the old one, yet… with all the same threads. The first last, the last first, wefting love through the warp of wisdom and time.

And so it is for me, and my faith, and my God, a tapestry never completed. Sometimes God is the weaver. Sometimes God is the crow, but it is always together we picture and create the story of the world, my world, our world, inextricably connected in perpetual love.

Friends, thanks so much for joining us today for another episode of The Faithful Feminists podcast. We know your time and space is sacred, and we are grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we’d love it if you’d leave us a loving rating on iTunes and Spotify so other seekers can find us.

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