The Pandora-Eve Motif in Rabbinic Literature

Download The Pandora-Eve Motif in Rabbinic Literature

Post on 16-Dec-2016




1 download


  • Harvard Divinity School

    The Pandora-Eve Motif in Rabbinic LiteratureAuthor(s): Samuel Tobias LachsSource: The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Jul., 1974), pp. 341-345Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Harvard Divinity SchoolStable URL: .Accessed: 10/10/2013 06:07

    Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .


    JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact


    Cambridge University Press and Harvard Divinity School are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserveand extend access to The Harvard Theological Review.

    This content downloaded from on Thu, 10 Oct 2013 06:07:23 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

  • HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 67 (1974), 341-345.



    Greek myths have enjoyed wide and enthusiastic audiences throughout the ages. Long after the cults which were dependent upon them had disappeared, the myths lived on to instruct and even to amuse young and old as they became an integral part of the traditions of Western man. Of all these myths none has been more popular than that of Pandora and the so-called "box" which bears her name.1

    The most popular version of the myth is the one found in Hesiod,2 which can be summarized as follows: After Prometheus had stolen the heavenly fire and had given it to mortals, Zeus punished him by chaining him to a mountain, where an eagle tore at his liver by day; it grew back every night so that the torture might be repeated the following day.3 But Zeus was not satisfied with this; he wanted more revenge. He commanded Hephaestus to fashion a woman out of clay and ordered the gods to bestow upon her choicest gifts. Hephaestus gave her a human voice, Aphrodite gave her beauty and the power of seduction, Athene taught her needlework, and Hermes gave her cunning and the art of flattery. She became the first woman, and the most beautiful one, Pandora (all-giving or all-gifted). She was, however, also by the will of Zeus, made deceitful and mischievous, the first of a line of such women. Zeus then sent her to Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus, to become his wife. Epimetheus was warned by his brother not to accept any gift from Zeus, but he did not heed this advice and he married Pandora. Epimetheus had in his house a jar containing all kinds of miseries - Old Age, Labor, and Sickness. Pandora, out of curiosity, opened the jar and released all the evils contained therein. Hope, how-

    1 Cf. STITH THOMPSON, Motif Index of Folk-Literature: C32I Tabu: Looking into box (Pandora); C915.I: Troubles escape when forbidden casket is opened. The literature on Pandora is extensive. For the classical material see: PAULY- WISSOWA, Realencyclopadie der klassischen Al Itertumswissenschaft, XVIII, 3 (1949), cols. 529ff. Also, J. E. HARRISON, Pandora's Box, in Journal of Hellenic Studies XX (1900), 99ff. For a comprehensive study of the myth primarily as a motif in art, see DORA and ERWIN PANOFSKY, Pandora's Box, The Changing Aspects of a Mythical Symbol [Harper Torchbook] (New York, 1965).

    2 HESIOD, Works and Days 11. 57-101; Theogony 11. 570-90. 30On the Prometheus myth and its influence on the 1Midrash see: A. JELLINEK,

    Einleitung, in Bet ha-Midrasch V (Jerusalem, 1938), 48; L. GINZBERG, Legends of the Jews V (Phila., 1909), II2-13, note 104.

    This content downloaded from on Thu, 10 Oct 2013 06:07:23 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


    ever, remained under the rim of the jar, and fortunately the lid was shut before it escaped.4

    The Church Fathers recognized the striking parallel between this myth and the Genesis story of Eve.5 Tertullian, for example, mentions Pandora twice." In the more important instance he compares her with Eve: "If there really was a Pandora whom Hesiod mentions as the first woman, hers was the first head the Graces crowned, for she received gifts from all (the gods), hence called Pandora. To us, however, Moses, a prophet shepherd not a poetic shepherd, describes the first woman Eve as being more naturally encircled with leaves about the middle than with flowers about the temples. Therefore there was no Pandora." 7

    This story was well known and often quoted especially by preachers who compared her to the biblical Eve. One should, therefore, not be surprised to find Pandora appearing as a parallel to Eve in rabbinic literature. The familiarity of the Rabbis with Greek wisdom is amply attested to in their writings.8 The Pandora-Eve motif appears in rab- binic literature in seven passages which can be classified into five recensions, each with some defect. The best reading is the following:

    "His glory is above the heavens (Ps. I13.4) This can be understood by a parable. To what can this be compared? To a king who married a woman to his servant and they gave lier charge over silver, gold, precious stones and pearls. He said to her, 'Behold, everything is given over into your hands except for this jar which is filled with scorpions.' An old woman came to her to borrow some vinegar. She said to her, 'How is the king treating you?' 'In a fine manner,' she replied, 'but I am disturbed about one jar which is filled with scorpions.' She said to her, 'All of his jewelry is contained therein and he wants to marry another woman and give it to her.' Immediately she put her hand into

    'According to a later story (BABRIUS, Fabulae Aesopeae 58) the jar contained not evils but blessings which would have been preserved for mankind had they not been lost out of curiosity by man himself by the opening of the jar. For further parallels among other peoples see: J. FRAZER, Pausanias ii 320.

    SGen. 2-3. Cf. ORIGEN, Contra Celsum IV; GREGORY of Nazianzus, Adverswu mulieres se nimis ornantes 11. 155ff.

    6 TERTULLIAN, Adversus Valentinianos XII, "Hesiodi Pandora." 7 Idem, De corona militis VII: "Si fuit aliqua Pandora quam quam primam

    foeminarum memorat Hesiodus, hoc primum caput coronatum est a Charitibus, cum ab omnibus muneraretur, unde Pandora. Nobis vero Moyses, propheticus, non poeticus pastor, principem foeminam Evam facilius pudenda foliis, quam tempora floribus, incinctam describit. Nulla ergo Pandora."

    8 Cf. S. LIEBERMAN, Greek in Jewish Palestine (New York, 1942), Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York, 1950). In the latter work (p. 136, note 86) LIEBER- MAN calls attention to the Pandora-Eve motif. Cf. also M. STEINSCHNEIDER, Hamazkir XIV, 84-85.

    This content downloaded from on Thu, 10 Oct 2013 06:07:23 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


    the jar and the scorpions bit her. Similarly, the king is the Holy One blessed be He, the man and the woman are Adam and Eve, and the borrower of the vinegar is the serpent. At that time the Holy One blessed be He caused His Shekinah to ascend to the heavens as it is stated, the Lord is gone up amidst shouting (ibid. 47.6)." 9

    Close examination shows that this and the other versions summarized in note 9 are essentially the same and are based on the Pandora myth applied to Adam and Eve. The details of the myth have been altered to fit either the biblical account or the several homilies. The main points of similarity are these: In the Bible, God warns Adam not to eat of the fruit of the tree; in the Pandora myth, Prometheus warns his brother Epimetheus not to accept any gifts from Zeus.o0 Eve, the first woman, is called "the mother of all life"; Pandora, also the first woman, is created out of clay, and, it is said, "from her is the race of woman and female kind." I" Eve, tempted by the serpent, causes her own and her husband's banishment and brings ills upon mankind, while Pandora, prompted by curiosity, brings misfortunes upon herself, her husband, and all mortals.12

    All versions of the rabbinic parable suffer from textual difficulties and problems of content. Aside from the lacunae in some texts there are four main difficulties: a) the confusion of the dramatis personae,

    9 Midrash Hallel in JELLINEK's BHM V, 90. The other versions are: Aboth de Rabbi Nathan, ed. S. Schechter (New York, 1945), II, ch. I, p. 7, in the name of Rabbi (Judah the Prince), in which the king is Adam. It concludes with Gen. 3.1, Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field. Ibid., I, ch. i, p. 6, in the name of R. Simeon. Here only one scorpion is mentioned, together with "figs and nuts" in the jar. This version omits the borrowing of the vinegar. The text concludes, "This is what Adam was like when the Holy One blessed be He said to him, 'of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die' (ibid. 2.16-17). When he ate of it, he was banished, confirming what is said, but man does not abide in honor but he is like the beasts that perish (Ps. 49-13)." Cf. the same version in Yalkut ha-Makiri to Ps. 49, ed. S. Buber (Berdychev, 1899), 270, which contains a slight variant - "figs, nuts and pome- granates." See on the relationship of the texts, L. FINKELSTEIN, Mabo le Mesektot Abot we Abot d'Rabbi Natan [Hebrew] (New York, 1950), 117. Genesis Rabba, ed. J. Theodor (Berlin, 1912), 179-80, in the name of R. Levi. It is based on Gen. 3.10-I1 and concludes with ibid. 3.11. The husband is described as a Habar (snake charmer ?), and the jar contains snakes and scorpions. This passage is also cited in Yalkut Shimoni, I, 28. Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer (Warsaw, 1853), ch. 13, p. 32. Here the jar contains scorpions. The distinctive features are that Adam is the king, and an old man, not an old woman, is the borrower of the vinegar. The passage ends with Ps. 36.13: There the workers of iniquity have fallen.

    10 Gen. 2.16-17. HESIOD, Works and Days 11. 85-86. n' Gen. 3.20. HESIOD, Theogony 1. 590. 12 Works and Days 11. 90-95.

    This content downloaded from on Thu, 10 Oct 2013 06:07:23 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


    b) the meaning of "borrowing vinegar," c) the identification of the serpent as an "old woman" or as an "old man," and d) the container and its contents.

    The version which contains the correct dramatis personae is Midrash Hallel, in which God is the king, Adam is the servant, Eve is given in marriage by the king, and the serpent is the old woman. But even here there is a confusion between the king and Adam at the beginning of the passage. This midrash is late and undoubtedly does not represent the original rabbinic version. The author used the earlier sources, but recognizing the confusion in them, rearranged the characters to fit the biblical narrative and to reflect the Pandora myth. The attempts by the commentators to the various versions to justify the identification of Adam as the king are fanciful and forced.'3 In the final analysis it must be God, the king, who warns man about things forbidden.

    The intriguing element of the parable is the identification of the serpent as an (old) woman or old man, in either case borrowing vine- gar.'4 We suggest that the reading "vinegar" is not correct in any of the passages and that all attempts by the commentators to justify it are mere homiletical exercises.' The correct reading appears to be hamez, "yeast", which through an error in pointing became home;, "vinegar." This suggestion is supported by several variants to the Gen.R. version. In fact, one of these variants, se'or, "yeast," removes any doubt resulting from the pointing of h-m-.166 But why yeast rather than vinegar? It is because the serpent in the biblical story is the "beguiler"; 17 and the yezer hara, the evil inclination, is compared in rabbinic literature to "the yeast in the dough." 's Yeast is asked for, and the woman succumbs.

    The correct identification of the serpent in the parable is as an "old woman," not as an "old man." The simplest explanation for this is that it is more natural for a woman to come to borrow something and to

    13 For example, LURIA to PRE explains it on the basis of Ps. 8.7: "You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands."

    14 All versions have "an (old) woman" or "old man" borrowing vinegar except ARN I, which is defective.

    5 Cf. Pseudo-RASHI to Gen.R., loc. cit., who suggests that it was "hot water for kneading" but then rejects this in favor of "vinegar," comparing it to "the sour grapes" of Ezek. 18.2 and Jer. 31.29. The commentary Matnot Kehunah ad loc. connects it with the verse in Prov. 10.26: "As vinegar to the teeth and as smoke to the eyes." LURIA to PRE, loc. cit., comments that the poor used to dip their bread in vinegar and cites as proof ARN, ch. 20, where it is stated that he who lacks everything means that he does not even have vinegar (for his bread).

    16 See THEODOR, variae lectiones ad loc. 7 Gen. 3.13. s TJ Ber. 7d; TB Ber. 17a; Leviticus Rabba 13; Zohar, Gen., p. 182.

    This content downloaded from on Thu, 10 Oct 2013 06:07:23 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


    chat than for a man. On the psychological level the old woman could be the wife's alter-ego, but this may well be reading into the parable. The reading "old man" is most likely due to the fact that the author felt that the serpent required a masculine figure in view of the sexual overtones given to the relationship between Eve and the serpent in rabbinic sources.19

    Finally a word about the jar and its contents. In both Hesiod's version of the Pandora myth and the rabbinic parallel, the jar belonged to someone else.20 This jar (7r-og in Greek and dolium in Latin), not a box, was a large earthenware container used to preserve wine or oil and aptly rendered by habit in Hebrew.21 Judging from the versions of the parable, the original content of the jar was a scorpion or scorpions. In at least one other reference in the sources, scorpions (and snakes) are placed in a container and bring punishment on evildoers.22 The inclusion of snakes with scorpions in Gen.R. may be one instance of frequent citing these two together as noxious and dangerous creatures.23 Moreover, a homily on sin in the Garden would naturally include snakes. In ARN I figs and nuts were placed in the jar, and in the parallel passage pomegranates as well. These would provide food for the creatures or, if the wife shook the jar, the sound of jewels inside.

    We have seen how Pandora has been transferred from Greek myth- ology to rabbinic literature as the Eve figure. The details of the myth are clearly altered and adapted to accommodate the new setting, but the basic motifs which make up the original myth have been retained. An awareness of both of these elements clarifies obscurities and helps in emending corruptions which have come into the rabbinic texts.


    "sSee S. T. LACHS, Serpent Folklore in Rabbinic Literature, in Jewish Social Studies XXVII (1965), 181-83.

    20 See PAULY-WISSOWA, op. cit., col. 534ff. PANOFSKY, op. cit., 8, note Io. 'Cf. S. KRAUSS, Talmudische Archiiologie (Leipzig, 1911), II, 236, 273, 275,

    290. 22 See Alphabetum Siracidis, ed. M. Steinschneider (Berlin, 1858), Version II,

    p. 2ia, where both snakes and scorpions were placed in a container to prove a point and to punish adversaries.

    2 Cf. TB Ber. 33a, Gen.R. 84 et al.

    This content downloaded from on Thu, 10 Oct 2013 06:07:23 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

    Article Contentsp. [341]p. 342p. 343p. 344p. 345

    Issue Table of ContentsThe Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Jul., 1974), pp. 195-350Front MatterPseudo-Jerome in the Commentary of Andrew of St. Victor on Samuel [pp. 195-253]Archaic Chronologies and the Textual History of the Old Testament [pp. 255-263]The Ugaritic and Biblical Rephaim [pp. 265-274]The "Grace of the Absurd"; Form and Concept in W. H. Auden's "For the Time Being" [pp. 275-288]Coleridge's Reputation as a Religious Thinker: 1816-1972 [pp. 289-320]"Holy Name": A Reading of "Paradise Lost" [pp. 321-339]Notes and ObservationsThe Pandora-Eve Motif in Rabbinic Literature [pp. 341-345]

    Books Received [pp. 347-349]Back Matter