Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

The Genesis of Gender Transgression

Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

The Genesis of Gender Transgression

Article excerpt

"Then He ASKED: 'Who told you that you are naked?'" (Genesis 3.11). It is an odd question, odd for more than one reason: "Who!" Who, indeed, given Eden's sparse population, might have told Adam that he was naked? And what of the obviating premise that knowledge of one's own nakedness requires an informant?

9The Lord God called out to the man and said to him, "Where are you?"10 He replied, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid."11 Then He asked, "Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat of the tree from which I had forbidden you to eat?"1

The question "Who told you that you were naked?" glides so quickly into the second half of the verse, that classically parental rhetorical followup - "Did you do what I forbade you from doing?" - that neither we, nor Adam, initially pause over the question of "who," which hardly seems meaningful under the circumstances. After Adam naively, awkwardly, indirectly, and guiltily responds to God's opening question ("where are you?"), we appreciate that the inquisition, structured like the closing argument of a confident detective rapidly firing questions (Where ... ? Who ... ? Did you ...?), is calculated simply to back the poor culprit into a corner and force a confession.

The question "Who told you that you were naked?" apparently represents God calling Adam on his self-consciousness, the way that specialized knowledge can be evidence of transgression. ("Who told you the price of cigarettes?" Pause. "Have you been smoking?") Adam will, significantly, revisit the question of "who?" but, here, self-awareness is the smoking gun that signals Adam's having had a particular, and particularly revealing, kind of experience. Adam's self-revelation actually comes earlier still, in the instant of God's opening gambit, "Where are you?" Since God would presumably have some advantage in games of hide and seek, Adam also treated this question as rhetorical, evidenced in his having felt no need to supply his coordinates (third tree to the left of garden center). Scared and ashamed, the naked creature cannot actually hide. Adam's sputtering response ("Uh. I heard you, was scared because I was naked, and hid") is the verbal excess that bespeaks anxiety. After first blush (indeed), any words will only verify the transgression. Because the mere intention to hide from God is enough for a conviction, God has Adam nailed at hello. Thus, this first mythic effort at self-concealment turns out to be the first self-revelation, revelatory of sin.

While it is the psychic exposure and not the nakedness that is damning, we accept that from Adam's (new) point of view, nakedness feels like the problem. The confusion of sin with self-consciousness manifests in the classic dream of showing up in school without any clothes on, public nakedness remaining the persistent metaphor, in our cultural psyche, for vulnerability. Beneath the Freudian truth that attempted concealment is revealing resides the deeper paradox that nakedness is the sign of both innocence and guilt. This contradiction is evident in the two separate rationales for Adam's self-concealment: first, he is hiding from God because he feels guilty for having sinned, and second, he is hiding in an attempt to conceal the nakedness of his own body, apparently ashamed less by the threatened exposure of his transgression than by his exposed parts. The two, separate embarrassments (one for being caught in the bad behavior of having broken a cardinal rule and one for having been caught with no clothes on when company walked through the door) fuse in this origin story. In the logic of Adam's unconscious, with which the reader identifies, having sinned and feeling naked amount to the same thing. But of course, the opposite is the case: nakedness had been the condition of innocence. The resolution to the conundrum is that until they transgressed, nakedness (body consciousness, self-consciousness, and mutual consciousness) had not existed for Adam and Eve. …

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