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 a proud Mommy & Mémé, professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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