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Midwest Jewish Studies Association - Shofar Book Reviews

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Soulmates: Resurrecting Eve, by Juliana Geran Pilon.  New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2012.  273 pp.  $34.95.

 

I was intrigued by Juliana Geran Pilon’s approach to the Eve and Adam story, through the scriptural trajectories of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, to argue for an egalitarian relationship between the genders. Unfortunately the project lacks the scholarship, rigor and cohesiveness to be useful. The tenor of the work is accurately signaled by its front matter: the first sentence of the Overview proclaims that “the story of Adam and Eve is the most influential cultural metaphor in history” (p. ix). Apparently the peoples for whom Jewish, Christian and Muslim scriptures are not normative are irrelevant: The existence of Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and practitioners of indigenous religions are not even acknowledged by the author in her zeal to construct a hegemonic paradigm. She is also unaware of the great diversity of interpretive practice within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, meaning that the Eve/Adam story does not hold the same weight for adherents to these scriptural traditions. In some places she reins in her rhetoric slightly to say that the garden story is the most influential in the Western world; the problem of overstatement remains.

              Her treatment of Islam and the Quran is particularly problematic. She introduces Islam in her Overview as “a new threat” emerging after the fall of the USSR. To be fair, it may be that she intends to address only those whom she calls “zealots” and does not mean the whole of the Muslim world, but she does not make that distinction (pp. ix–x). She also perpetuates the Western feminist xenophobia by claiming that the inferior status of women in Islam is “obvious,” with no attempt at nuance (p. x).

              Pilon’s treatment of the scriptures on which her claims are said to be based demonstrates the serious lack of scholarship involved in the project. Her citations are woefully insufficient and reveal a great ignorance of her primary subject matter. She quotes Torah (i.e., p. 19) and Quran (i.e., p. 22) without identifying the translation or edition of her source text. When she does annotate a Sura text, her entire citation is “The Koran, 49.” There is no indication of her source text, edition, or translation. (See endnote 24 on p. 25) When she does cite a specific edition of the Quran, she uses the abridged Quran by Thomas Cleary—without acknowledging that it is abridged—a sort of “Reader’s Digest” approach to the Quran, entirely unsuitable for scholarly writing. Likewise when she cites the Torah (on p. 19) she does not identify the translation she is quoting.

              Her work is seriously lacking in biblical and Quranic scholarship. While claiming the import of the Eve/Adam story, she does not engage the silence of the Hebrew Bible on that narrative after its composition until the Hellenistic period. The internal biblical record is silent on the narrative which is not quoted by the prophets or latter writings. However, in the Hellenistic period interest in Genesis blossomed with the production of new scriptural and pseudepigraphal works based on Genesis: Enoch, Jubilees, the Testament of Adam, and the Life of Adam and Eve. These works were likely canonical for Greek-speaking Jews and the community at Qumran on the Dead Sea, and Enoch and Jubilees remain so for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Pilon is silent on the existence and interpretation of these texts.

              Pilon does consult some contemporary biblical scholarship, minimally. While she argues against original sin and a fall from grace (pp. 50ff) she does so without exploring the source of those notions in the writings of Augustine, Milton, etc., rather presuming those notions are articulated in the biblical text or are its normative interpretation for all readers.

The volume might have worked well as a personal reflection. Instead it is offered as religious, even biblical studies and womens’ studies. The project lacks basic scholarly competence in biblical or Quranic studies, including knowledge of biblical and other Semitic languages, detailed knowledge of the hadith (which are mentioned but in second-hand citation, see p. 120), a general survey of the relevant rabbinic and patristic commentaries on the text and familiarity with contemporary scholarship in Muslim, Christian, and Jewish scriptures.

              I would not use this text as a scholar in my own work, neither would I permit my students to use it.

Wil Gafney

Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia