The other side

The other side

The way Paula Sohl sees it, a lot of people have had Eve wrong for centuries. And women have paid the price.

In the new book "Resurrecting Eve: Women of Faith Challenge the Fundamentalist Agenda" (White Cloud Press, $16.95,, Sohl, of Ashland, argues that it's time to "decriminalize" Eve. Instead of seeing the first woman in Genesis as a temptress and the agent of the introduction of sin and death into the world, Sohl says it's time to see her as a modern-day, mythic mentor.

Sohl, 47, co-wrote the book with Roberta Mary Pughe, a New Jersey psychotherapist. Sohl is a homemaker who has worked as a psychiatric occupational therapist. Although she is advancing a feminist critique of some Christian teachings — the book argues that "patriarchal dogma" stifles women's voices and spirits — she says she is a Christian. She is the mother of three teenagers and an elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland.

She says her lectures next week will address the history of thought about Eve in Western cultures and why Eve is important today. The book analyzes what the authors call fundamentalist systems from political, theological and psychological perspectives. Publisher's Weekly called it "an astute analysis of the Christian right's political attitude about 'a woman's place,' and an equally well-done reinterpretation of Eve."

"It's based on our personal journeys in conservative Christian homes," Sohl says of the book. "My research took me back to that text we allow to live so powerfully, this idea that it (the Fall of Man) was all Eve's fault."

She says there are two Eve stories in Genesis: the one in the first chapter of Genesis, in which God created male and female, and the one in the second and third chapters, in which God forbids eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the snake tempts Eve, who then seduces Adam, and both incur the wrath of God. When Sohl reads those accounts, she sees a brave woman who chooses consciousness over ignorance.

"She had the theological conversation and decided to choose wisdom," Sohl says. "That's usually a good thing in the Bible."

So if Eve is not a temptress responsible for the Fall and the loss of Eden, what is she?

"She's a model of courage," Sohl says. "One we can look to find strength to tell our own stories, to make our own choices and bring our men along to more consciousness."

Sohl says she was raised with the idea God was male, and that men needed to dominate the family and the world. It wasn't until her 20s that she began to believe Jesus was a feminist.

"In his contacts with women he treated them as equals in a society that wasn't used to it," she says. "When he quotes the Genesis story, it's in the way he acknowledges it. He holds up the idea of equality."

Sohl grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in the Christian Reformed Church, loving the extended family of a community of believers. She says it would have felt natural to her to become a minister, but the church had neither women ministers nor elders. The women of the congregation were expected to be ruled by their husbands.

"It was understood," she says.

She had three brothers, and she realized she wasn't taken as seriously for her intelligence as were the boys. When she started to fight with her parents, the family attended church-based "conflict workshops" that reinforced patriarchal authority, and she submitted to them.

"I was willing, rather than enter the conflict, to enter what was presented as God's way," she says.

In her 20s, Sohl married a man outside her church, a Presbyterian. When the couple had a daughter, Sohl tried to train her according to the concepts of Focus on the Family's James Dobson, who advocated women submitting to their husbands' authority, and spanking children for discipline.

"To feel the need to win these battles for control seemed really wrong," she says.

When her husband's work brought the family to Ashland in 1988, Sohl found that women seemed to have an equal voice in the Presbyterian church the family began attending. Between her new church and her children she began a new spiritual journey.

"My mom and I are able to have conversations about it," she says. "My dad and I can't talk about it. But we still love each other very much."

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478.

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