I'm reading The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter. He translates Genesis 1:27 as:

And God created the human in his image,
   in the image of God He created him,
    male and female He created them.

In the footnotes, Alter says:

In the middle clause of this verse, "him," as in the Hebrew, is grammatically but not anatomically masculine. Feminist critics have raise the question as to whether here and in the second account of human origins, in chapter 2, 'adam is to be imagined as sexually undifferentiated until the fashioning of woman, though that proposal leads to a certain dizzying paradoxes in the following story.

Immediately after this short poem, God commands humanity to "be fruitful and multiply", which would be difficult without a woman. Still, there are examples in nature of self-fertilization so it does not seem out of the question that a single human could have accomplished this task on their own, if God allowed it. Of course, this would be somewhat different from other mythology which envisions a merging of genders rather than a split.

Chapter 2 describes God fashioning Adam from the earth and then fashioning every type of animal and bird from the soil in hopes of finding a sustainer (to use Alter's translation). When none of those creatures will do, God performs surgery on Adam to remove a rib and uses that material to construct Eve. While it certainly changes the way I imagine this story playing out if Adam was androgynous before Eve, I don't see the paradoxes Alter suggests.

Does the text of Genesis rule out a theory that, at least before Eve, Adam was not specifically and anatomically male?

  • 1
    Immediately after this short poem” it does not follow a poetic genre. What poem are reading because it sure can’t be found anywhere in Genesis 1 Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 19:12
  • If you take away any poetic overtones, read it as written, v26 says God made man or we would read in modern English, HUMANS in His image (image - Hebraism - a representative) and in His likeness. For it says “Let THEM (humanity)” rule over... In that context of humanity v27 follows and says God made humans in His image, He started with HIM (Adam) and male and female created He THEM (all humanity) only two sexes. The them is not referencing Adam but humans. ALL whether males or females will represent God on earth as God is represented in heaven. For Adam is not the only one made in God’s image. Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 19:25
  • @NihilSineDeo: Alter comments on other parts of Genesis that sections fit the Hebrew form of poetry and he sets those lines in verse. In this case, the three parallel versets are clearly evident even in translation. But that seems to be beside the point. (Your second comment seems to be the start of an answer, so I'll wait to address it. ;-) Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 19:30
  • @JonEricson I posted an answer below. I have a number of scholarly articles if you would like to see them I can email them to you.
    – S. Broberg
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 1:18

6 Answers 6


Does the text of Genesis rule out a theory that at least before Eve, Adam was not specifically and anatomically male?

There is a long tradition within Judaism, of reading the creation narrative and seeing the creation of humanity as a combination of male/female (androgynous). JEREMIAH BEN ELEAZAR is only one in a line of many. This idea is also found in other ANE thinking and confirmed archaeologically.

In recent years, the argument was taken up by feminist writer Phyllis Trible.

There are ambiguities in the scripture which is why we have seen more than 2000 years of disagreement from those who spoke the original Hebrew language. It is a matter of interpreting what is meant by an ambiguous text.

For instance -

Bereishit Rabbah 8:1 -

Said R’ Yirmiyah ben Elazar: In the hour when the Holy One created the first human, He created him [as] an androgyne/androgynous, as it is said, “male and female He created them”.

Here is an article that summarizes the argument nicely:

Reisenberger, Azila Talit. 1993. “The Creation of Adam as Hermaphrodite--and Its Implications for Feminist Theology.” Judaism 42 (4): 447.

As is usual in a Jewish interpretation, she surveys the different interpretations throughout the ages, but mainly leaves it open for you to decide.

She also mentions that many Jewish thinkers - like Philo - interpreted the story allegorically as the perfect picture of humanity is male/female. You need both sides to get an accurate depiction of humanity.

Another article surveys many of the archaeological finds from the near east:

Ziffer, Irit. "The First Adam, Androgyny, and the ʿAin Ghazal Two-headed Busts in Context." Israel Exploration Journal 57, no. 2 (2007): 129-52.

Here is a quote from Irit Ziffer regarding ANE thinking about early humanity:

"Historically speaking, androgyny symbolizes the perfect human being: female attributes cast into a male vessel...[from Third Dynasty of Ur - a statue of a king] This image expresses the king's perfection: not the robust, masculine bearded hero, but a more 'feminine' figure that incorporates male and female characteristics, thereby symbolizing humanity in its entirety" (pg. 140)

The article details out many more examples and notes that Philo and that a number of the Sages from the Midrashic and Talmudic period agreed.

My thought is that before we allow the arrogance of history to throw these ancient interpreters under the bus maybe we should provide an allowance that they didn't come up with this in only first-order thinking. We should examine it ourselves before we throw it away.

  • I'm obviously intrigued by these interpretations. I'm wondering if you have more detail why the hermaphrodite theory might be preferred over the idea that humanity is collectively perfected with male individuals and female individuals together. Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 21:09
  • @JonEricson Good question. It is clearly thinking that emanates out of the ANE. Gen 1-3 are not as clear as many would like to make it out to be. Obviously, the primordial state of humanity was different in the beginning b/c God gives them skin in 3:21. What were they prior to that? There is a lot of speculation. There must be something to the theory if it was repeated throughout Rabbinic writings and not left on the cutting room floor. I revised my answer and included a quote above from Irit Ziffer.
    – S. Broberg
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 17:04

Having just read gen 1:27 in the Hebrew, I cannot see how someone could draw the stated conclusion without both eisegesis and textual strangulation. I observe the following about the three clauses of Gen 1:27 -

  • And God created human [= mankind masc. singular] in his image,
  • in the image of God He created him [= 3rd person masc. singular],
  • male [= masc. singular] and female [= fem. singular] He created them [3rd person masc. plural].

While the "mankind/human" in the first clause is masculine, that is precisely as one would expect for a noun like "humankind" indicating the genesis of the human race in Adam.

Indeed the very next verse we have:

  • And God blessed them [= plural] said to them [= plural], be fruitful and multiply ...

Thus, in this first creation account of Gen 1, we have the creation of two people, male and female who are told to multiply.

The more detailed record in the second creation account of Gen 2:4f provides greater insights from which we learn:

  • Adam (v20) and God (v18) recognize his loneliness and that he needed a partner
  • Eve is created from Adam's side (V21, 22)

I am at a loss to understand how or why anyone might draw such unwarranted conclusions about an initially hermaphrodite Adam! Such a conclusion has escaped the notice of 2000 years of Bible interpreters warranting a good deal on suspicion.

  • To be fair, Robert Alter dismissed the idea in the very footnote I quoted. He wasn't introducing it, but rather noting that others ("feminist critics") had proposed it. Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 20:33
  • I did find an interpreter from the second century who suggested "that Adam was created with two faces, one of a man and one of a woman, and that God afterward cleft them asunder". So I don't think it's quite that easily dismissable. Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 20:48
  • @Dottard There is no neuter in Hebrew. There is a 'neuter-in-concept,' of course (changing in your translation the sun being 'he' to 'it' because grammatical gender has nothing to do with sex). Adam/Ha'adam is masculine. In the context of "mankind" the object pointer with waw (אתו) means "it." Here it represents the collective, hence the natural shift to "them." Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 20:53
  • @JonEricson - fascinating reference that from its own description has little to do with the Genesis account. Many thanks.
    – Dottard
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 21:05
  • @JonEricson here is another Rabbinic reference: steinsaltz.org/daf/berakhot61
    – S. Broberg
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 1:25

No, for a few reasons I can think of.

(1) God said, "It is not good for man to be alone" (2:18). Unless we take God to be suggesting that he made a mistaken in making Adam without a partner, and did not rather create man without a partner only to show that he is more than the animals (2:20), this means man and woman was the original intention in creating Adam.

(2) The text says nothing about Adam being changed in the creation of Eve, but only that Eve was taken from his side (2:22).

(3) The "him" in 1:27 answers to "mankind," not to Adam alone, even as the plural "them" in 1:27b evinces.

  • I'm not sure what you are getting at with #1. The problem of why God created Adam alone exists whether he is male or not. Personally I appreciate the unique partnership of marriage, but it's not clear that was the only solution to the problem. (It's a little tricky to comment on because I feel there's an assumption about God's nature being left out of this answer.) Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 19:58
  • It could not be a "problem" if it was intentional, as indeed I think it quite clearly is shown to have been, based on the text. Also, that there are other conceivable solutions is irrelevant: only what the solution was is relevant, since it alone tells us about God's interpretation of the problem, namely that a male without a female like the other animals, is incomplete and this is not yet "good" — since what made Adam good was having female counterpart. Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 20:14

No, as @SolaGratia so properly stated above, no mention is made of an alteration of the flesh of Adam. God's plan in verse 26 was no secret--no debacle--no failed attempt to "get it right. God, who "made" the plan in verse 26, began carying it out by using the very distinct process of *"creating" man and naming them, "Adam", according to Gen 1:27, KJV:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (My emphasis)

The word, "created" is used only three times in the creation narrative, 1) on day-one at a time that there was no heaven and earth; 2) on day-five--life at a time when there was no living creature on earth; 3)on day six at a time that there were no complex spirits that were both in God's image and after His complex likeness.

This creative act made no mention of a flesh, bone, and blood physical man. How could it have been any other way? Did God have a physical flesh, blood, and bone physical body at that time? Of course not. God is Spirit. Therefore, that is what God created. God's spirit is a single plurality of facets, faces, paniym (H6440), presences, or persons. Therefore, that is what God created--in "our "imageand after "our" likeness. Yet the plan was also to have "them" inhabit" the earth. Accordingly, Isaiah 43:1 declares:

But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.

And Isaiah 43:7, also:

Even every one that is called by my name: for I have "created" him for my glory, I have 'formed" him; yea, I have "made" him.

And, among many other such illustrations, Isaiah 45:15 further explains:

For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else. (My emphasis)

The "heaven and the earth" (a joint object of the preposition, created) was created on day-one (without form, and void--vanity--invisible--like gaseous matter), but later "made" and "formed" on distinctly different days following that creation project. Why did He physically alter that day-one invisible vain matter? Because He created it in faith, not in vain, as He declared above by the prophet, and as the Hebrew Fathers very much understood--even in the first century, according to Hebrews 11:3:

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

The LORD does not have a stammering problem. If He says that he created and made it in the same sentence, or that he also formed it, He means exactly what He says. He did all those things.

**How important is the difference between "created", "made", and "formed"? Created (Strongs H1254) means to bring forth out of nothing. Artists are often reckoned as being creative, but never when their artifact is something that has been already accomplished. Moses's book of beginnings clearly distinguishes between the three words. Never, in the entire Scripture does the LORD say that He "formed" bodies of liquid waters. Nowhere does He say that He created "woman." Nowhere does He say that He created "Eve." The woman, and Eve always are attributed to bein "made" and "formed". But Adam, the created spirit, was also thereafter, made, and formed according to the plan in verse 26. He existed (only for a short period of time) on that very day he was created, as a male and female--a spiritual duality awaiting to become the "things hoped for", but not yet visible as being the evidence of things "not yet seen"--a man and a woman.

Genesis, Chapter two is primarily charged with describing the making and forming of the man, first, then the forming of the of the woman, as 1 Timothy 2:13 demands, according to that very Jewish Rabbi, Paul:

For Adam was first formed, then Eve.

Notice that, in Scripture, when in Christ, the man and the woman are treated without respect to their being male or female, according to Galatians 3: 28, though while on this earth, they are to be husband and wife:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Certainly, this is looking forward to our being neither married, nor given in marriage in the resurrection, as we see in Matthew 22:30:

For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.

So we will be individual unconnected spirits (as by marriage)--like the angels--but with our resurrected bodies. But Adam began as a "man", and Eve was made a "woman", not a "wohermaphrodite"

  • I might be misunderstanding, but is this answer suggesting that Adam was created as a spirit (male and female) in chapter one and his (male) body formed in chapter two? If so, that's a different "no" than what I understand from Sola Gratia's answer. Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 22:17
  • Adam was not ‘created’ in chapter 1 - ‘man’ was.
    – Dave
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 1:16
  • @JonErickson Perhaps it might be a different no, however, the point from that answer quoted as, "(2) The text says nothing about Adam being changed in the creation of Eve, but only that Eve was taken from his side (2:22)", was indeed incorporated into my answer, and I gave credit source. Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 1:18
  • @Dave Gen 5:1-2 deals especially with the creating of man, and He called their name "Adam." --- C'mon man The reference to being "made" like God has no fleshy relevence. Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 1:24
  • @Bill Porter - ‘Man’ [both male and female] were given bodies in chapter 2. [the name] Adam refers to the ‘earth’[dust] that ‘mans’ bodies’ were formed out from. Your point that they are both ‘Adam’ is correct. Two things (1) ‘man’ in chapter 1 was not Adam. (2) Adam (here) refers to the ‘body’.
    – Dave
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 1:48

Many interpreters have pointed out that Genesis 1 and 2 are separate creation accounts. In the first, God speaks a word and creation proceeds from that. In the second, God gets his hands dirty and forms his creation out of the soil. Let's look at Genesis 1 first.

In the previous 5 days, God separates:

  1. Light from darkness.
  2. Water above and water below.
  3. Land and seas.
  4. Day from night.
  5. Creatures in the water from creatures in the sky. (The word "separate" isn't used here, but there is a parallel idea.)

On the sixth day he created creatures on the land "each according to its kind". Finally he created humankind. Now it is possible to read the Genesis 1:27 as God creating a species where each individual contains both male and female attributes. It would still fit into the theme of separation because the beasts are created "according to their kind" and humanity is created "in the image of God".

The NET Bible footnotes argue against that reading:

The Hebrew word is אָדָם (ʾadam), which can sometimes refer to man, as opposed to woman. The term refers here to humankind, comprised of male and female. The singular is clearly collective (see the plural verb, “[that] they may rule” in v. 26b) and the referent is defined specifically as “male and female” in v. 27. Usage elsewhere in Gen 1-11 supports this as well. In 5:2 we read: “Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and called their name ‘humankind’ (אָדָם).” The noun also refers to humankind in 6:1, 5-7 and in 9:5-6.—NET Bible footnote #48 on Genesis 1:26

In addition, the following verses give God's first words to humanity to "Be fruitful and multiply!" It seems unlikely that the ancient understanding of fertility would contemplate self-fertilization. Genesis as a whole is obsessed with the difficulty of reproduction and demonstrates both male and female sexes have responsibly to follow the commandment. Given the culture of the ancient Hebrews, the burden is on interpretations that introduce the hermaphrodite concept.

Now Genesis 2 could be a more detailed description of the sixth day or an entirely separate account. Unlike the first account, God seems to use an iterative process to produce humankind. He creates the man, then he creates animals and birds for the man to name and finally, when none of them served the purpose, God took a part of the man to use to form a woman. The story has an element of drama as we wait for the proper helper/companion/sustainer to be found. The suspense of the story comes from knowing that the man needs a woman, not another type of creature. The man needs someone who can help him be fruitful and multiply.

I don't know if there's a way to rule out an interpretation of the first person as a hermaphrodite grammatically, but it would cause many problems thematically. Genesis, at least in the form passed down to us, is obsessed with the drama of reproduction. For instance, the story of Isaac gains weight because we know the struggle of Abraham and Sara to conceive a son. It also seems a concept brought in from other cultures rather than a concept familiar to the ancient Hebrews.


I will note, in addition to what is said above, that in Genesis 2, we may read that the woman was made from an entire side, not a rib, of the man. The word tsela, which is translated as rib, is often used to describe the entire side. There is really no other place that it is translated as "rib." I recommend chasing that word through the concordance and seeing for yourself.

This tsela is also related to the verb tsala (same root as the tsela) which is how Jacob limps away from his wrestling match in Genesis 32:31. Here this represents "favoring a side" not "his ribs hurt."

Also, Adam says "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh." Not "look what you made from my bone!" There is also an ontological union that then pervades the text, starting in Genesis 2:24 where a man is married to "cling to his wife to become one flesh" in order to return to the primordial undivided state. There is a sense here that the "point" of marriage is not to be fruitful and multiply but to return to a state of ontological union with your "other half."

It's also interesting to note that the pronouns "ish" and "ishshah" do not appear in the text until after the split.

There is a related myth as well from Plato's symposium about the Androgyne precursor humans that Apollo split in half and sewed up at the bellybutton. And there is a general sense, in Jacob/Israel, that he was "completed" after fathering the Hebrew people, and being renamed into Israel, the bride of God for the prophets. There is a kind of gender union in this as an ideal.

Also, possibly anachronistic, but the star of David consists of the upward pointing triangle and the downward pointing triangle which represent the lingam (masculine) and yoni (feminine) respectively. They are interwoven to create the six-pointed star. There was a similar matching between masculine (menorah) and feminine (bread table) sides of the design of the temple.

In general, I think it is a solid read with ancient support that man was created as androgyne. The "rib" translation is relatively recent. The septuagint also has a word that is ambiguously "side" (as in side of beef) to describe what was taken from Adam. Rib is not a slam dunk.

There is additionally a parallel with the second day of creation in Genesis 1 where the masculine waters are tied back to reveal the feminine earth which was certainly not a small bit brought out and grown into a full thing... It was contained in the primordial waters.

Note that masculine gendered objects can have masculine and feminine parts within them as in groups that had men and women were referenced using masculine pronouns (even if there was only one woman - this is true, for example, in spanish too today). So that Adam was referred to using masculine pronouns does not mean that he was purely male. He could have easily contained male and female parts.

  • Are you contending that before "the woman" was taken out Adam, Adam's flesh and bone contained the "seed of the woman"? If so, how could the LORD use that "seed of the woman" to bypass the man's inherent contamination of each of his wife's children with sin. As far as the express usage of the words of Moses directs us, the seed of the woman was not made of Adam--especially of a sinful Adam, because Adam had not sinned at that time. It is clear that the formation of the "seed of the woman" was a new thing, formed after Adam had been formed--"For Adam was first formed, then Eve." Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 18:41

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