The Virgin Mary and Eve constitute two opposite sexual poles in the way Christian discourse has approached women since the time of the church fathers. This stems from a predicament faced by the human male throughout hominid evolution, namely, paternal uncertainty. Because the male is potentially always at risk of unwittingly raising the offspring of another male, two (often complementary) male sexual strategies have evolved to counter this genetic threat: mate guarding and promiscuity. The Virgin Mary is the mythological expression of the mate guarding strategy. Mary is an eternal virgin, symbolically allaying all fear of paternal uncertainty. Mary makes it possible for the male psyche to have its reproductive cake and eat it too: she gives birth (so reproduction takes place) and yet requires no mate guarding effort or jealousy. Eve, the inventor of female sexuality, is repeatedly viewed by the church fathers, e.g., Augustine and Origen, as Mary’s opposite. Thus, Eve becomes the embodiment of the whore: both attractive in the context of the promiscuity strategy and repulsive in terms of paternal uncertainty: “Death by Eve, life by Mary” (St. Jerome). The Mary-Eve dichotomy has given a conceptual basis to what is known in psychology as the Madonna-Whore Dichotomy: the tendency to categorize women in terms of two polar opposites. This paper will explore the way mythology reflects biology, i.e., human psychological traits that have evolved over millennia.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Arnesen, I. J. (2009). The romantic world of Puccini: A new critical appraisal of the operas. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company.
Ashe, G. (1988). The virgin: Mary’s cult and the re-emergence of the Goddess. London: Arkana.
Baker, R. (2006). Sperm wars. New York: Basic Books.
Barsht, K. A. (2000). Defining the face: Observations on Dostoevsky’s creative process. In C. Kelly & S. Lovell (Eds.), Russian literature, modernism and the visual arts (pp. 23–57). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J. (2008). Social psychology and human nature. Belmont, CA: Thomson.
Bellis, M. A., Hughes, K., Hughes, S., & Ashton, J. R. (2005). Measuring paternal discrepancy and its public health consequences. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 59, 749–754.
Bloch, H. R. (1991). Medieval misogyny and the invention of Western romantic love. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Boccaccio, G. (1972). The Decameron (G. H. Mc William, Trans.). London: Penguin.
Boyce, P. (Ed.). (2001). Mary: The Virgin Mary in the life and writings of John Henry Newman. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Brown, N. M., & Amatea, E. S. (2000). Love and intimate relationships: Journeys of the heart. Philadelphia: Brunner and Mazel.
Buss, D. (2000). The dangerous passion. New York: The Free Press.
Buss, D. (2002). Human mate guarding. Neuroendocrinology Letters, 23(Suppl 4), 23–29.
Chapman, G., et al. (1979). Monty Python’s the Life of Brian, Monty Python Scrapbook. New York: Methuen.
Coon, D., & Mitterer, J. O. (2010). Introduction to psychology: Gateways to mind and behavior. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Davidson, R. M. (2009). Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament. Massachusetts: Peabody Publishing.
Dawkins, R. (2006). The selfish gene. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ebb, F. (1975). Chicago. http://www.themusicallyrics.com/c/216-chicago-lyrics/1126-nowadays-hot-honey-rag.html.
Elliot, A. J., & Covington, M. V. (2001). Approach and avoidance motivation. Educational Psychology Review, 13(2), 73–92.
Fisher, H. (1992). Anatomy of love: A natural history of mating, marriage, and why we stray. New York: Random House.
Freud, S. (1953–1964). In S James (Ed.), Standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth Press.
Garber, R. L. R. (2003). Feminine figurae: Representations of gender in religious texts by medieval German women writers 1100–1375. London: Routledge.
Garton, J. (1993). Norwegian women’s writing, 1850–1990. London: Athlone Press.
Gerard, H. B., & Ruben, O. (1987). The dynamics of opinion formation. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 20). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Hastings, R. (1975). Nature and reason in the Decameron. Manchester: University of Manchester Press.
Hays, H. R. (1964). The dangerous sex: The myth of feminine evil. New York: Putnams.
Holmberg, T. (2007). France: Penal Code of 1810. http://www.napoleon-series.org/research/government/france/penalcode/c_penalcode3b.html.
Karlsen, C. F. (1987). The devil in the shape of a woman: Witchcraft in colonial New England. New York: W. W. Norton.
Kerrigan, W. (1996). A theory of female coyness. Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 38.2, 209–214.
Lalumière, M. L., & Kelly, D. S. (2007). The view from the cuckold. Evolutionary Psychology, 5(2), 358–362.
Lüdemann, G. (1998). Virgin birth? The real story of Mary and her son Jesus (B. John, Trans.). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International.
Larner, C. (1981). Enemies of God: The witch-hunt in Scotland. London: Chatto and Windus.
Marsh, R. J. (1998). An image of their own: Feminism, revisionism and Russian culture. In M. Rosalind (Ed.), Women and Russian culture: Projections and self-perceptions (pp. 2–41). New York: Berghahn Books.
Miller, R. A. (2007). The limits of bodily integrity: Abortion, adultery and rape legislation in a comparative process. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing.
Mollon, P. (2002). Shame and jealousy: The hidden turmoils. London: Karnac Books.
Morrison, S. (2009). The accommodating serpent and God’s grace in Paradise Lost. Studies in English Literature, 49(1), 173–195.
Panas, H. (1977). The gospel according to Judas (E. H. Marc, Trans.). London: Hutchinson.
Ranke-Heinemann, U. (1990). Eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven: Women, sexuality and Catholic Church (H. Peter, Trans.). New York: Doubleday.
Riddley, M. (1996). The origins of virtue: Human instincts and the evolution of cooperation. London: Penguin Books.
Riddley, M. (2003). The red queen: Sex and evolution of human nature. New York: Harper Collins.
Schaberg, J. (1987). The illegitimacy of Jesus: A feminist theological interpretation of the infancy narratives. San Francisco: Harper and Row.
Schlichting, G. (1982). Ein Jüdisches Leben Jesu. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr.
Symons, D. (1979). The evolution of human sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press.
Tertullian. (1885–1896). On the apparel of women. Sydney Thelwall Transl. In A. Roberts & J. Donaldson (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene fathers (Vol. 4). New York: The Christian Literature Publishing Company.
Westermann, C. (1994). Genesis 1–11: A continental commentary. Minneapolos: Fortress Press.
Wilson, M., & Martin, D. (1992). The man who mistook his wife for a chattel. In J. H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind. Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture (pp. 289–322). New York: Oxford University Press.
Wohlrab-Sahr, M., Julika, R., et al. (2000). Religion: Soziale Ordnung: Geschlechterordnung. Zur Bedeutung der Unterscheidung von Reinheit und Unreinheit im religiösen Kontext. In I. Lukatus (Ed.), Religion und Geschlechterverhältnis (pp. 279–298). Opaden: Leske + Budrich.
Wright, R. (1994). The moral animal: Evolutionary psychology and everyday life. New York: Vintage Books.
About this article
Cite this article
Tumanov, V. Mary Versus Eve: Paternal Uncertainty and the Christian View of Women. Neophilologus 95, 507 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11061-011-9253-5
- Evolutionary psychology
- History of religion
- Paternal uncertainty
- Virgin Mary
- Church fathers
- Madonna-Whore Dichotomy
- Approach-avoidance conflict