Hutchins, Zachary M. Discovering Eve Through the Eyes of Jonathan Edwards Faculty Mentor: Steven C. Walker, English Eve’s name jumped out at me as I squinted on the fifth floor of the library. Hmm…I wonder what an Orthodox Calvinist preacher from New England has to say about Eve. I did not know at the time how remarkable my discovery was, that I had picked up the one volume of Jonathan Edwards’s twenty-two volume collected works which provides an in- depth commentary on Eve. Still, I was intrigued, so I checked out several of the ponderous tomes and rode my bicycle home. I discovered that Edwards wrote in an extremely complimentary fashion about the world’s first woman within the pages of his private notebooks. He implies that Eve is not connected to the sins of all mankind in any way, and Edwards even hints that God might have prompted her fall in order to “convince [her] not to depend on [herself,] but alone on God” (Miscellany 674). Edwards implies that the forbidden fruit brought Eve to a spiritual “awakening” and “the ordinances and duties of religion that God has appointed” (Blank Bible Note on Gen. 3:7-8). While Edwards acknowledges that Eve sins, he defends her vigorously from historical contemporary theological opinion. Edwards’s contentions are unusual because he disagrees with the individual many regard as his theological predecessor, Calvin. Calvin’s commentary on Timothy refers to Eve as an audiumentum inferius or lesser helpmeet (DeBoer 242), a twist on Eve’s role that Edwards reverses. Instead of focusing on Eve’s role as a helpmeet for Adam, Edwards points out Adam’s imperfect state, mentioning multiple times that “Adam was not complete till he had obtained his Eve” (Note 235; see also Miscellany 702). Edwards’s thought on Eve represents, as far as I was able to determine, his only significant disagreement with Calvin, but his disagreements with New England generally were much more common. Puritan theology held that Eve seduced Adam, not that she offered him a literal piece of fruit. Their beliefs identified Eve as someone “unable […] to practice sexual discipline” (Hambleton xiii). Edwards does not hold with this view, and in hypothesizing about the impetus for Adam’s transgression, he describes a very real “tree exceeding pleasant to the taste” (Miscellany 374) from which Adam and Eve literally eat. Eve’s physical act of consumption was her sin—not an immoral liaison with Satan. Having discovered these unusual views in Edwards’s private notebooks—a relatively untapped resource—I prepared my research for presentation. When I contacted the College English Association, they asked me to present a paper at their 36th annual conference in Indianapolis. At that venue, my research was received very favorably and an audience member offered to publish my work in a journal for which she serves as an editor. Her offer flattered me, but after further consultation with Steve Walker, I decided to submit my article to several journals that specialize in Early American Literature, venues that might offer both BYU and myself greater recognition. I am currently in the final stages of revising a twenty-five page version of the paper that I presented for the CEA, and I anticipate its publication within the next year. My ORCA grant has made it possible for me to uncover one of Eve’s first American defenders, and I look forward to making Jonathan Edwards’s extraordinary private views into public knowledge.
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