Editor’s Note: The following is an Old Testament KnoWhy[i] for Gospel Doctrine Lesson 4:“Because of My Transgression My Eyes Are Opened” (Moses 4; 5:1–15; 6:48-62) (JBOTL04A). See the link to the video supplement to this lesson at the end of the article under “Further Reading.”
Cover image: Jan Breughel, the Elder, ca. 1568-1625: The Garden of Eden, 1612. Brueghel masterfully fills the foreground of the scene with the abundance, happiness, and beauty of newly created life, and then skillfully draws our eyes toward the two tiny figures in the background ominously reaching for the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.
Question: The scriptures say that Eve was “beguiled” by Satan when she partook of the forbidden fruit. But Latter-day Saints believe she made the right choice. How can both statements be true?
Summary: Some people paint Eve in a negative light, blaming her for bringing sin into the world. This is not the view of the Latter-day Saints. We emphasize her wisdom and perceptiveness, and see her actions in the Garden of Eden as a positive step forward in the divine plan. We teach that she did not commit a sin in taking the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and honor her lifelong faithfulness. However, a few have taken this view to an unreasonable extreme, arguing that, for various reasons, she was not actually “beguiled” by Satan in her decision to eat the forbidden fruit.[ii] On the one hand, some believe that Satan was entirely truthful when he spoke to Eve. On the other hand, others teach or imply that regardless of what Satan did or said, Eve made the right choice with full understanding of the situation. These beliefs are based on honest intent, but are all mistaken. Scripture exposes how Satan used a series of clever tactics to mislead Eve, how God’s wisdom prevailed, and how Eve became a symbol of Wisdom itself.
We will begin this essay by discussing two questions:
- Was Satan entirely truthful in what he told Eve?
- Was Eve actually deceived by him?
Addressing these questions will prepare us to understand Satan’s tactics and God’s countermeasures.
Was Satan entirely truthful? In Moses 4:10-11, Satan makes two claims to Eve in order to convince her to eat the forbidden fruit: 1. “ye shall not surely die”; and 2. “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Since, in Moses 4:28, God agrees with Satan’s second claim by saying that after taking of the fruit Adam and Eve have “become as one of us to know good and evil,” its truthfulness is not in question. However, some have erroneously argued that Satan’s first claim was also true.
There is no doubt that the literal word-by-word translation of the Hebrew given in a footnote of the LDS edition of the Bible (“Dying, ye shall not die”) can be confusing. For example, in an otherwise insightful commentary on the story of Adam and Eve, Alonzo Gaskill has argued mistakenly that Satan’s meaning was that in “physically dying you will not die (i.e., permanently die).”[iii] In this erroneous interpretation of the Hebrew, Satan was entirely truthful in telling Eve that if she ate the consequence of death would only be temporary. However, in Hebrew the repetition of the verb in a phrase like “Dying, ye shall not die” is always used as a way of making the negation (“not”) stronger. In other words, it changes the meaning “you shall not die” to something like “you shall surely not die” or “you shall absolutely not die.”[iv] For this reason, Satan’s statement is nothing more than deception pure and simple.
Satan mixed truth with falsehood, as he is often wont to do. This is consistent with Brigham Young’s conclusion that Satan told Eve “many truths and some lies”[v] or, as Hyrum Andrus expressed it: “a big lie and … a half-truth.”[vi] The Book of Mormon more than once prefaces discussions of Adam and Eve’s transgression by the statement that the Devil is “the father of all lies”[vii]—implying that the two concepts are closely linked. Perhaps the most telling of these passages is 2 Nephi 2:18. Here the word “wherefore” seems to function as an explicit logical connective between the first clause that describes who Satan is and the second clause that tells what he said: “the devil, who is the father of all lies, wherefore [for this reason] he said: Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but shall be as God, knowing good and evil.”[viii]
Was Eve actually deceived by Satan? James T. Summerhays[ix] has summarized the thoughtful views of Vivian McConkie Adams — and, indirectly, those of Beverly Campbell.[x] While none of these authors disagree with the statement of scripture that Satan “sought… to beguile Eve,”[xi] all three argue that the Adversary did not succeed in deceiving her.[xii] More specifically, they conclude, mistakenly, that in Eve’s statement that she was beguiled she “is not saying she was tricked.” Unfortunately, none of the four mistaken reasons given for this conclusion stand up under closer scrutiny:
- Mistaken Reason 1: Unsophisticated Bible translators have missed the richness of the meaning of “beguile” in Hebrew. It is claimed that the Hebrew word translated “beguiled” suggests “a deep internal process; [Eve] weighed, pondered, and reflected upon the ramifications of partaking of the fruit before she did so.”[xiii] That much seems possible. Indeed, the multifaceted nature of Eve’s experience is witnessed by the text of Moses 4:12 itself.[xiv] However, the suggestion that Satan’s words led Eve to reflect carefully does not by itself do away with the fact that his deception ultimately influenced her choice. Not only the King James Version but also virtually all modern Bible translations accept “deceived” the primary meaning of the Hebrew word translated within the King James Version phrase as “The serpent beguiled” Whatever else might of gone through the mind of Eve while she made her decision, she herself realized and admitted with admirable honesty that the reason she had eaten the forbidden fruit was because she had been deceived by Satan’s falsehood.
- Mistaken Reason 2: According to the prophet Lehi, Eve was “enticed,” [xv] which means, it is claimed, “she wanted [the forbidden fruit]; she chose it over the other.” However, this argument fails to make the point — it is just as easy to be enticed by evil as by good, which is exactly the point Lehi is making (“enticed by the one or the other”). We cannot take the fact that Eve chose to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge as proof that she was not, at least in part, deceived by Satan in the reasons for her choice. Indeed, the word “entice” is sometimes used in the Book of Mormon to describe Satan’s general role as a tempter.[xvi]
- Mistaken Reason 3: Citing Moses 4:12, it is mistakenly argued that the Tree of Knowledge “was a good tree. … Eve saw, the record says, not merely wondered or believed or hoped that the tree was good.” In contrast to this view, Bible scholar Nahum Sarna recognizes that Eve’s evaluation of the tree is not a simple statement of truth. To the contrary, he sees “irony in the formulation that she ‘saw that it was good.”[xvii] Note also that nothing is said in scripture about Eve having weighed the valid considerations that might have come to bear on her choice (such as the importance of the experience of mortality and the joy of having children) had she completely understood the situation before she took of the forbidden fruit. Instead, we are told in the book of Moses that, upon hearing Satan’s enticing and deceitful words, Eve looked and “the tree … became pleasant to the eyes.”[xviii] According to the eminent Bible scholars Robert Alter and Nahum Sarna, the corresponding Hebrew words in Genesis describe a strong intensity of desire fueled by appetite.[xix] This ultimately resulted in the subordination of God’s law to the appeal of the senses. Elder James E. Talmage agreed, teaching that Eve “was captivated by” [xx] the “sophistries, half-truths and infamous falsehoods”[xxi] of Satan and, “being eager to possess the advantages pictured by [him], she disobeyed the command of the Lord.”[xxii] Of course, although Elder Talmage recognized that Satan beguiled Eve, he in no way implied that Eve chose evil — because “she knew it not.”[xxiii] He rightfully portrays Adam and Eve as having played their parts perfectly in accordance with the Father’s original plan.
- Mistaken Reason 4: The Hebrew word for “saw” has a direct relationship to the “Hebrew word ro’eh, which means seer or vision. Thus, it is suggested that Eve “may have received seeric revelation from God as part of her tutoring in the garden.” To make this argument is to suggest, by way of analogy, that because “see” and “seer” are related in English, any statements about “seeing” can be taken as evidence for divine vision. But this is clearly false — everyone that “sees” is not a “seer”! In addition, if Eve had actually seen a vision before she made her choice, it seems likely that a better Hebrew root than ro’eh — the one that is used exclusively in the Old Testament for “seer” and “seeing in vision” — would have been used. Of greatest importance is that one of the main points of the story is to contrast Adam and Eve’s limited view of things before the Fall to the greater discernment they manifested afterward — for example, recognizing Satan for who he is.[xxiv] Of course, it is possible that Eve may have had some degree of prior insight into the positive consequences of her choice.[xxv] And it is evident that her understanding was relatively complete after she had eaten.[xxvi] However, to argue that she received a complete understanding of the situation through “seeric revelation” on the basis of what is available in the Hebrew text of Genesis is not persuasive.
The explicit declaration of scripture is that “Satan … sought to beguile Eve.”[xxvii] Ancient and modern Hebrew scholars agree that the primary meaning of “beguile” is to “deceive.” The actions of Adam and Eve in making the fig leaf aprons and hiding from God witness their doubtful state of mind following the transgression. Why not accept Eve’s own straightforward explanation of what happened? In the admirable candor and simplicity of her confession, she both admitted the deception and rightfully laid blame on Satan — the only one who actually deserved it: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.”
Satan’s strategy for confusion and deception. The serpent is described as “subtle.”[xxviii] The Hebrew term behind the word means shrewd, cunning, and crafty, but not wise.[xxix] “Subtle,” in this context, also has to do with the ability to make something appear one way when it is actually another. Thus, it is not in the least out of character later for Satan both to disguise his identity and to distort the true nature of a situation in order to deceive.[xxx]
At the moment of temptation, Satan deliberately tried to confuse Eve. The Devil — and the scripture reader — know that there are two trees in the midst of the Garden, but only one of them was visible at the time to Eve.[xxxi] Moreover, as Margaret Barker explains:
…he made the two trees seem identical: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would open her eyes, and she would be like God, knowing both good and evil. Almost the same was true of the Tree of Life, for Wisdom opened the eyes of those who ate her fruit, and as they became wise, they became divine.[xxxii]
A second theme of confusion stems from Satan’s efforts to mask his identity. Of great significance here is the fact that the serpent is a frequently used representation of Christ and his life-giving power,[xxxiii] as shown, for example, in this depiction of Moses holding up the brazen serpent. Moreover, the most glorious group of angels, the seraphim, were pictured anciently as fiery winged serpents that surrounded the throne of God.[xxxiv] The idea that Satan appeared as one of the seraphim gives new meaning to the statement of Nephi that the “being who beguiled our first parents … transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light.”[xxxv]
In temple contexts, the essential function of the seraphim was similar to the role of the cherubim at the entrance of the Garden of Eden:[xxxvi] they were to be sentinels or “keep[ers] [of] the way,”[xxxvii] guarding the portals of the heavenly temple against unauthorized entry, governing subsequent access to increasingly secure compartments, and ultimately assisting in the determination of the fitness of worshipers to enter God’s presence.[xxxviii] Thus Jesus, as the greatest of all the seraphim[xxxix] and the innermost “keeper of the gate,”[xl] could literally and legitimately assert: “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”[xli]Thus, in the context of the temptation of Eve, Richard D. Draper, S. Kent Brown, and Michael D. Rhodes conclude that Satan “has effectively come as the Messiah, offering a promise that only the Messiah can offer, for it is the Messiah who will control the powers of life and death and can promise life, not Satan.”[xliv] Not only has the Devil come in guise of the Holy One, he seems to have deliberately appeared, without authorization, at a very sacred place in the Garden of Eden.[xlv] If it is true, as Ephrem the Syrian believed, that the Tree of Knowledge symbolized “the veil for the sanctuary,”[xlvi] then Satan has positioned himself, in the extreme of sacrilegious effrontery, as the very “keeper of the gate.”[xlvii] Thus, in the apt words of Catherine Thomas, Eve was induced to take the fruit “from the wrong hand, having listened to the wrong voice.”[xlviii]
Hugh Nibley succinctly summed up the situation: “Satan disobeyed orders when he revealed certain secrets to Adam and Eve, not because they were not known and done in other worlds, but because he was not authorized in that time and place to convey them.”[xlix] Although Satan had “given the fruit to Adam and Eve, it was not his prerogative to do so—regardless of what had been done in other worlds. (When the time comes for such fruit, it will be given us legitimately.)”[l]
Once she was empowered by newly acquired insight about the reasons why it had been necessary in God’s plan to eat the forbidden fruit, Eve wisely, heroically, and compassionately took the initiative to approach her companion. Though Eve had been the one deceived, Hugh Nibley observed that she also became the first to understand what must be done to prevent a separation from Adam and to secure the future of their family:[li]
After Eve had eaten the fruit and Satan had won his round, the two were now drastically separated, for they were of different natures. But Eve, who in ancient lore is the one who outwits the serpent and trips him up with his own smartness, defeated this trick by a clever argument. First, she asked Adam if he intended to keep all of God’s commandments. Of course he did! All of them? Naturally! And what, pray, was the first and foremost of those commandments? Was it not to multiply and replenish the earth, the universal commandment given to all God’s creatures? And how could they keep that commandment if they were separated? It had undeniable priority over the commandment not to eat the fruit. So Adam could only admit that she was right and go along: “I see that it must be so,” he said, but it was she who made him see it. This is much more than a smart way of winning her point, however. It is the clear declaration that man and woman were put on the earth to stay together and have a family — that is their first obligation and must supersede everything else.
Latter-day Saints should rightfully honor Eve while also recognizing Satan as the cunning Tempter that he is. Though she was once deceived, Eve’s innate perceptiveness, increased by her experience, led to her becoming a symbol of Wisdom itself (Sophia). While briefly successful, Satan’s strategy to destroy the couple’s happiness was no match for the greatness of God’s wisdom and love. Eve’s forthright and intelligent initiative was a decisive blow to the Adversary.
For more explanation on the connection between the story of the Fall and the Israelite temple, see the video supplement to this lesson: “The Tree of Knowledge as the Veil of the Sanctuary.” The video can be seen on the Interpreter Foundation YouTube channel (https://youtu.be/LfIs9YKYrZE) or the FairMormon YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-B1FeOcTZ8). Also available for download at www.TempleThemes.net (https://www.templethemes.net/media/videos/180113-Tree%20of%20Knowledge%20as%20the%20Veil.m4v). If the video plays when you left-click it, right-click within the video and select the “Save video as …” menu option to download it.
For more detailed analysis of Adam and Eve’s transgression and its consequences, see J. M. Bradshaw, et al., Mormonism’s Satan. See also J. M. Bradshaw, Moses Temple Themes (2014), pp. 61–157. The book is available for purchase in print at Amazon.com and the book and the article are available as free pdf downloads at www.TempleThemes.net.
For a verse-by-verse commentary on Moses 4 (Genesis 3), see J. M. Bradshaw, God’s Image 1, pp. 82–212. The book is available for purchase in print at Amazon.com and as a free pdf download at www.TempleThemes.net.
For a scripture roundtable video from The Interpreter Foundation on the subject of Gospel Doctrine lesson 4, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRBRQNoegTY.
Book of Mormon Central KnoWhy #316, “Why Did Nephi Say That Serpents Could Fly?” (https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-did-nephi-say-serpents-could-fly) is an excellent introduction to the symbolism behind the “fiery, flying serpents” in the story of Moses. The symbolism of serpents as seraphim is an important element in understanding the story of the Fall. See J. M. Bradshaw, et al., By the Blood Ye Are Sanctified, pp. 128-129 for a discussion of how this same interpretation illuminates the meaning of Jesus’ reference to Moses and the brazen serpent in John 3:14.
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[i] Used with permission of Book of Mormon Central. See https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/reference-knowhy.
[ii] See, e.g., V. M. Adams, Eve; V. M. Adams, Eve (2010); B. Campbell, Eve; C. F. Olson, Women; A. L. Gaskill, Savior and Serpent; J. T. Summerhays, Wisdom; V. H. Cassler, Two Trees.
[iii] A. L. Gaskill, Savior and Serpent, p. 79. Gaskill cites the literal rendering of Hebrew into English given in a footnote of the LDS edition of the Bible at Genesis 3:4a (“Dying, ye shall not die”), a Gnostic account (“With death you shall not die, ” from The Reality of the Rulers, 90:4-5, as cited in E. Pagels, Adam, p. 67), and Irenaeus (“Ye shall not die by death,” from Irenaeus, Heresies, 5:23:1, p. 551), among others, to support the phrasing of his translation. However, while it is true that the literal wording of each of these sources parallels the Hebrew of Genesis, the crucial point is that none of them support the meaning that Gaskill attempts to read into the phrase. In Hebrew, the kind of repetition that occurs within these phrases always signals intensification.
[iv] See, e.g., B. L. Bandstra, Genesis 1-11, pp. 174-175; U. Cassuto, Adam to Noah, pp. 143-144.
[v] Brigham Young, December 1844, reported in E. England, Laub, p. 28.
[vi] H. L. Andrus, Doctrinal (Rev.), p. 156-157.
[vii] 2 Nephi 2:18; Ether 8:25. See also 2 Nephi 9:9: “the father of lies.”
[viii] See also 2 Nephi 9:9 (“the father of lies… who beguiled our first parents”); Ether 8:25 (“the father of all lies; even that same liar who beguiled our first parents”). Additional references to the incident include Mosiah 16:3 (“that old serpent that did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall”); and D&C 29:41 (“the devil tempted Adam, and he partook of the forbidden fruit and transgressed the commandment”).
[ix] J. T. Summerhays, Wisdom.
[x] V. M. Adams, Eve; V. M. Adams, Eve (2010); B. Campbell, Eve, pp. 71-73; B. Campbell, Eve.
[xi] Moses 4:6.
[xii] In 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul speaks of how “the serpent beguiled Eve through his craftiness.” The following is a sampling of LDS sources that conclude that Eve was deceived: B. Young, 15 June 1862, p. 305; O. Pratt, 18 July 1880, p. 288; G. Q. Cannon, Truth, 1:24; B. H. Roberts, The Truth, p. 350; J. B. Wirthlin, Without Guile, p. 80; B. R. McConkie, Eve, p. 63; J. F. McConkie et al., Revelations, p. 221; B. R. McConkie, New Witness, p. 86; S. E. Robinson, Book of Adam, p. 133; J. E. Talmage, Articles (1984), pp. 59, 63; O. Pratt, 18 July 1880, pp. 288-289; O. F. Whitney, Thoughts, 12, pp. 284-285. This same view is not uncommonly held by non-LDS exegetes (e.g., V. P. Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, pp. 182-184). Thanks to Matthew B. Brown for assistance in locating references.
[xiii] N. Aschkenasy, Woman, p. 127. Compare B. Campbell, Eve, p. 71.
[xiv] See, e.g., J. M. Bradshaw, God’s Image 1, pp. 255-256.
[xv] 2 Nephi 2:15–16. Note that the use of the term “beguile” would have been impossible here, since phrasing of the verse required the same word to be used for good and evil desire.
[xvi] 2 Nephi 9:39 (“the enticings of that cunning one”); Helaman 7:16 (“the enticing of him who is seeking to hurl away your souls”); Moroni 7:12 (“the devil… inviteth and enticeth to sin”). The sole exception is Helaman 6:26 (“that same being who did entice our first parents”).
[xvii] N. M. Sarna, Genesis, p. 25; cf. J. H. Sailhamer, Genesis, pp. 26-27.
[xviii] Moses 4:12. Compare R. Alter, Five Books, p. 28 n. 2 comely.
[xix] Ibid., p. 24; N. M. Sarna, Genesis, p. 25.
[xx] J. E. Talmage, Articles (1984), p. 59.
[xxi] J. E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, p. 18.
[xxii] J. E. Talmage, Articles (1984), p. 59.
[xxiii] Ibid., p. 59.
[xxiv] See J. M. Bradshaw, God’s Image 1, pp. 257-258.
[xxv] See, e.g., J. R. Holland, Christ, pp. 202-205; J. A. Widtsoe, Evidences, pp. 193-194; B. H. Roberts, The Truth, p. 343, see also pp. lxii-lxiv; E. W. Tullidge, Women, pp. 198-199. While each of these sources imply that Eve had some insight into the ultimately positive consequences of her choice, none of them directly take issue with the idea that Eve was also, to a greater or lesser degree, “beguiled” or “deceived.”
[xxvi] See, e.g., D. H. Oaks, Plan, p. 73. Note that the ellipsis in the excerpt of Elder Oaks’ talk included in C. F. Olson, Women, p. 12 might give the erroneous impression to a reader that Elder Oaks was affirming Eve’s understanding of the necessity of the Fall prior to rather than after the transgression in Eden. In doing research for this chapter, I have encountered other instances where the textual ambiguity or failure to provide appropriate context may similarly mislead. Olson rightfully warns of the widespread, and too often deliberate, tactic of “taking out of context something a believer has said [and] looking at the selected phrase from a different perspective than the speaker intended” (ibid., pp. 11, 13).
[xxvii] Moses 4:6.
[xxviii] Moses 4:5.
[xxix] V. P. Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, pp. 187-188.
[xxx] See below; also Moses 1:19; D&C 50:2-3; 52:14; 128:20; 129:8; cf. G. A. Anderson et al., Synopsis, 44:1-2a, p. 51E; R. Giorgi, Anges, pp. 85-88.
[xxxi] T. N. D. Mettinger, Eden, pp. 34-41. See also J. M. Bradshaw, Tree of Knowledge.
[xxxii] M. Barker, Wisdom, p. 2.
[xxxiii] Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-15; 2 Nephi 25:20; Alma 33:19; Helaman 8:14-15. See also J. M. Bradshaw, God’s Image 1, pp. 247-248. For a comprehensive study of the ambivalent symbolism of the serpent, see J. H. Charlesworth, Serpent.
[xxxiv] K. R. Joines, Winged Serpents; J. H. Charlesworth, Serpent, pp. 444-445, see also pp. 30, 87, 220, 258, 332, 426.
[xxxv] 2 Nephi 9:9.
[xxxvi] See Genesis 3:24 and G. W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1, p. 296 n. 7.
[xxxvii] Genesis 3:24; Moses 4:31. See J. M. Bradshaw, God’s Image 1, Moses 4:31-e, p. 282.
[xxxviii] D&C 132:19; D. W. Parry, Garden, p. 139; B. Young, 6 April 1853 – B, p. 31. See also J. Gee, Keeper.
[xxxix] On Jesus as the “better of all the seraphim,” see Hebrews 1:3–8, where He is described as the greatest of the divine attendants of the Father — specifically as the “brightness of [God’s] glory, and the express image of his person,” sitting nearer to the throne than any of the seraphim, i.e., “on the right hand of the Majesty on high,” and, in explicit terms, as having been “made so much better than the angels” (see vv. 3–4).
[xl] 2 Nephi 9:41. Regarding the significance of the location that is “innermost” to the throne of God and the general symbolism of the sacred center, see J. M. Bradshaw, Tree of Knowledge, pp. 50–52. For more on Jesus Christ as the “keeper of the gate” in this sense and Satan’s deception in presenting himself as a glorious serpent (i.e., as Jesus Christ, the most glorious of the seraphim), see ibid., pp. 54–56.
[xli] John 14:6.
[xlii] In Israelite temples, the high priest changed his clothing as he moved to areas of the temple that reflected differing degrees of sacredness (G. A. Anderson, Perfection, p. 122). These changes in clothing mirror details of the nakedness and clothing worn by Adam and Eve in different parts of their garden sanctuary (J. M. Bradshaw, God’s Image 1, pp. 234-240).
[xliii] https://meridianmag.wpengine.com/what-can-the-architecture-of-israelite-temples-teach-us-about-creation-and-the-garden-of-eden/ (8 January 2018).
[xliv] R. D. Draper et al., Commentary, p. 43. See John 5:25-26; 2 Nephi 9:3-26.
[xlv] Ibid., pp. 42, 150-151.
[xlvi] Ephrem the Syrian, Paradise, 3:5, p. 92.
[xlvii] 2 Nephi 9:41. This, then, becomes a type for the scene to which Paul alludes in his description of events that were to precede the second coming of Christ: “for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, italics mine).
[xlviii] M. C. Thomas, Women, p. 53.
[xlix] H. W. Nibley, Return, p. 63.
[l] H. W. Nibley, Gifts, p. 92.
[li] H. W. Nibley, Patriarchy, pp. 88-89.