Mary Versus Eve: Paternal Uncertainty and the Christian View of Women

Abstract

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.

References

  1. Arnesen, I. J. (2009). The romantic world of Puccini: A new critical appraisal of the operas. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Ashe, G. (1988). The virgin: Mary’s cult and the re-emergence of the Goddess. London: Arkana.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Baker, R. (2006). Sperm wars. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  4. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J. (2008). Social psychology and human nature. Belmont, CA: Thomson.

    Google Scholar 

  6. 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bloch, H. R. (1991). Medieval misogyny and the invention of Western romantic love. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Boccaccio, G. (1972). The Decameron (G. H. Mc William, Trans.). London: Penguin.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Boyce, P. (Ed.). (2001). Mary: The Virgin Mary in the life and writings of John Henry Newman. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

  10. Brown, N. M., & Amatea, E. S. (2000). Love and intimate relationships: Journeys of the heart. Philadelphia: Brunner and Mazel.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Buss, D. (2000). The dangerous passion. New York: The Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Buss, D. (2002). Human mate guarding. Neuroendocrinology Letters, 23(Suppl 4), 23–29.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Chapman, G., et al. (1979). Monty Python’s the Life of Brian, Monty Python Scrapbook. New York: Methuen.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Coon, D., & Mitterer, J. O. (2010). Introduction to psychology: Gateways to mind and behavior. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Davidson, R. M. (2009). Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament. Massachusetts: Peabody Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Dawkins, R. (2006). The selfish gene. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Ebb, F. (1975). Chicago. http://www.themusicallyrics.com/c/216-chicago-lyrics/1126-nowadays-hot-honey-rag.html.

  18. Elliot, A. J., & Covington, M. V. (2001). Approach and avoidance motivation. Educational Psychology Review, 13(2), 73–92.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Fisher, H. (1992). Anatomy of love: A natural history of mating, marriage, and why we stray. New York: Random House.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Freud, S. (1953–1964). In S James (Ed.), Standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth Press.

  21. Garber, R. L. R. (2003). Feminine figurae: Representations of gender in religious texts by medieval German women writers 1100–1375. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Garton, J. (1993). Norwegian women’s writing, 1850–1990. London: Athlone Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Hastings, R. (1975). Nature and reason in the Decameron. Manchester: University of Manchester Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Hays, H. R. (1964). The dangerous sex: The myth of feminine evil. New York: Putnams.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Holmberg, T. (2007). France: Penal Code of 1810. http://www.napoleon-series.org/research/government/france/penalcode/c_penalcode3b.html.

  27. Karlsen, C. F. (1987). The devil in the shape of a woman: Witchcraft in colonial New England. New York: W. W. Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Kerrigan, W. (1996). A theory of female coyness. Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 38.2, 209–214.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Lalumière, M. L., & Kelly, D. S. (2007). The view from the cuckold. Evolutionary Psychology, 5(2), 358–362.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Lüdemann, G. (1998). Virgin birth? The real story of Mary and her son Jesus (B. John, Trans.). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Larner, C. (1981). Enemies of God: The witch-hunt in Scotland. London: Chatto and Windus.

    Google Scholar 

  32. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Miller, R. A. (2007). The limits of bodily integrity: Abortion, adultery and rape legislation in a comparative process. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Mollon, P. (2002). Shame and jealousy: The hidden turmoils. London: Karnac Books.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Morrison, S. (2009). The accommodating serpent and God’s grace in Paradise Lost. Studies in English Literature, 49(1), 173–195.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Panas, H. (1977). The gospel according to Judas (E. H. Marc, Trans.). London: Hutchinson.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Ranke-Heinemann, U. (1990). Eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven: Women, sexuality and Catholic Church (H. Peter, Trans.). New York: Doubleday.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Riddley, M. (1996). The origins of virtue: Human instincts and the evolution of cooperation. London: Penguin Books.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Riddley, M. (2003). The red queen: Sex and evolution of human nature. New York: Harper Collins.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Schaberg, J. (1987). The illegitimacy of Jesus: A feminist theological interpretation of the infancy narratives. San Francisco: Harper and Row.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Schlichting, G. (1982). Ein Jüdisches Leben Jesu. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Symons, D. (1979). The evolution of human sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  43. 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.

  44. Westermann, C. (1994). Genesis 1–11: A continental commentary. Minneapolos: Fortress Press.

    Google Scholar 

  45. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  46. 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.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Wright, R. (1994). The moral animal: Evolutionary psychology and everyday life. New York: Vintage Books.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Vladimir Tumanov.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

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

Download citation

Keywords

  • Evolutionary psychology
  • History of religion
  • Paternal uncertainty
  • Misogyny
  • Virgin Mary
  • Eve
  • Church fathers
  • Madonna-Whore Dichotomy
  • Approach-avoidance conflict