Shamhat to Eve

More “I had to write it so I might as well post it.”

One of the discussion questions in the lit course was:
The role of women in Gilgamesh or rather the process of civilizing Enkidu. Do you see any similarities between Eve and the harlot in Gilgamesh?

All the other answers were VERY misogynistic, portraying both women as evil temptresses. How could I resist? No, it isn’t as well-organized or stated as I would prefer, but believe me—it’s far more extensive than most of the answers the professor DID like.

Most mainstream Biblical scholars believe that Shamhat was transformed into Eve, much as Utnapishtim was the source for Noah. There are certainly many similarities.

I find it interesting to note that in Hebrew, Eve is “Hawwaw.” “Hewya” is the Aramaic word for serpent, whereas “hawa” means “to instruct.” “Hayya” is interpreted as “life-bearer.” The serpent was a symbol of fertility and renewal closely associated with various goddesses well before the Hebrews rose as a cultural group. The serpent was not associated with evil until the Christian church began its campaign to stamp out the worship of pre-Christian deities. In fact, the serpent is often cast as a bringer of knowledge, magic, and power similar to Prometheus.

Adam was given the company of all animals but did not find a suitable companion among them. Likewise, Enkidu lived with beasts, but he did not find a mate among them. Enkidu and Adam were without equals until Shamhat and Eve came into their lives.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and that the tree was delightful to look at, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and she also gave to her husband with her; and he did eat.” Note that Adam ate the fruit of his own free will, so that he, too, was initiated into the “knowledge of good and evil.”

Note also that the text does not state that Eve used force, deception, or seduction to convince Adam to partake of the fruit, contrary to misogynists who use this passage to blame women for “original sin.” Indeed, rather than acknowledging his own culpability, Adam tries to blame Eve for his choice, hoping to redirect god’s wrath, much like a naughty child will attempt to shift blame to a sibling.

Shamhat was a sacred prostitute from the temple of Ishtar. When she was told of the wild man, Enkidu, she went with the trapper to meet Enkidu. Sacred prostitutes embodied Ishtar, the goddess of love and fertility. In laying with Enkidu, Shamhat initiated him into the worship of Ishtar. She went on to teach him most of what he would need to know to live with men, rather than with animals.

The story of Shamhat and Enkidu can also be seen as an assertion of the power of civilization over nature. Throughout history, women have been credited with being the civilizing influence in men’s lives. Their need to have a safe place in which to bear and raise their children gives them the incentive to settle in one place. Eve’s act brought Adam from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the Garden to a more settled life, farming and raising herd beasts.

It is notable that after Eve shared the fruit with Adam, he saw that he was “naked.” That term translated as “naked” was “eyrom.” Eyrom is used in scripture to speak of nudity, not as a shameful thing, but as a state of being unprotected. Adam realized that he had no shelter or clothing to protect him from the elements and that he needed that protection.

The Garden of Eden can be seen as a nursery of sorts, a place where humans were wholly dependent on god for all things. As children leave the nursery to explore life as independent beings, Adam and Eve’s departure from Eden is progress toward their own independence. Eating the fruit was an initiation of sorts, just as Shamhat initiated Enkidu into life as a civilized man.

In Genesis, the serpent says to Eve, “…in the day that you eat of it, your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be like gods…” Similarly, Shamhat says to Enkidu, “When I look at you you have become like a god.”

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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