In the modern West, the very notion that men and women have different and complimentary natures is taken as outdated at best and bigoted at worst. But the great texts of the Western tradition, beginning with the Hebrew Bible, have long offered deep wisdom on this very issue. In “Man and Woman: An Old Story,” Dr. Leon Kass engages in a close, philosophical reading of the Book of Genesis’s account of the creation and fall of Adam and Eve. In doing so, he exposes the foolishness of regarding sexual differences as mere social constructions and uncovers the deepest truths about man, woman, and human sexuality.
The early chapters of Genesis (after the first one) present an account of human beginnings largely in temporal sequence, seemingly as an unfolding account of early human history. But—and this is probably the most important principle of my “method” of reading—I am convinced that the temporal account is also and more importantly a vehicle for conveying something atemporal and permanent about human life in the world. The narrative teaches about human beginnings in two other senses: first, it presents a universal anthropology (and even an ontology), showing the elements—the psychic and social beginnings—of human life as human, possibly true for all times and places. The first man and the first woman, and their descendants, are prototypically—and not just ancestrally—human. Second, because the anthropological account has a moral-political intention, the stories introduce us to human life in all its moral ambiguity; we are meant to learn which human elements cause what sorts of moral or political trouble and why. In this sense, the early chapters of Genesis begin the moral education of the reader.
The story of the Garden of Eden is, of course, not just about man and woman; on the contrary, their tale is overarched by a much larger theme: man’s disobedience, the loss of innocence and the emergence of human freedom and moral self-consciousness, the loss of Eden and our entrance upon a burdened and painful mortal existence. Much of what I do here abstracts from these very important considerations. Yet I believe I include enough of the context to show why those massive themes are in fact intimately tied to the story of sex.