Notes on Genesis (xxii)

‘Let us make him a help appropriate to him.’ (Gen 2:18)

With  these words a period of activity on the part of God that culminates in the creation of the woman is introduced. While translations into English generally follow the Hebrew and provide for the opening ‘I will make’, the Greek text of the Septuagint goes for a first person plural subjunctive present, giving the verb in exactly the same solemn form in which it is used at Gen 1:26. The help that will be made will be one appropriate to the already created male, nicely rendered in the Authorized Version ‘an help meet for him’ (there is no suggestion in these words of ‘help mate’.) But it is the word ‘help’ that causes problems here, for it may suggest that the one that is to be made, ultimately the woman, is to be thought of as an off-sider subject to a degree of subordination to the male. But we learn from Robert Alter’s commentary on the Hebrew that ”’Help” is too weak because it suggests a merely auxiliary function’; rather, there is a connotation of ‘active intervention on behalf of someone.’ This is certainly true of the word used in the Greek here for help, boethos. The word is elsewhere applied to God, hardly to be seen as a subordinate (Ex 18:4). ‘Yet he helped the poor man out of his poverty.’ (Ps 106:41) ‘O Lord my strength, my help and my refuge in the day of evils.’ (Jer 16:19.) But the clinching argument for not seeing any implication of inferiority in the description of the woman as a help of the man is surely a passage in Sirach: ‘He who gains a wife gets the best possession, a helper like himself (!) and a pillar of support.’ (Sir 36:24) Hence the passage doesn’t quite mean what a quick reading may suggest.

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