Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Near Myth

Written by: on January 25, 2023

Abigail Favale’s book, The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory, is somewhat appropriately named. On one had the subtitle indicate that this book explores the origins of gender from a uniquely Christian perspective. On the other hand, it is clear that this book was written for an evangelical, rightwing, conservative etc. audience.

Favale sets the stage early in the book by discussing two opposing paradigms: The gender paradigm and the Genesis paradigm. She writes, “The gender paradigm affirms a radically constructivist view of reality, then ratifies it as truth, demanding that others assent to its veracity and adopt its language […] We do not receive meaning from God or our bodies or the world–we impose it.”[1]

Favale makes this point arguing that if an individual thinks they are a woman, but their body is a man’s body, then the mind must bend the body to its identity. In the Genesis paradigm God creates reality, and human language constructs reality.[2] However, in the gender paradigm humans are the creators and constructor of our reality. Essentially, she’s writing that gender identity is an act of the human will, and not something that originates from beyond the human or societal plane.

I can see where she’s going here as she pulls heavily from classical feminist theory, but she has to cut the human body in two in order to make her point. Her mind-body dichotomy is baffling to be frankly. She seems to get away with it by scapegoating feminism, but the distinction seems to come entirely from her own theory. She elevates the body over the mind, and argues that gender identify should come from one’s body and not one’s mind. I can’t help but think of this scene from The (American) Office (start at 1:10, end at 1:30 for a good laugh).

The other foundational issue I have with Favale’s work is her interpretation of Genesis. She does Genesis justice by a) categorizing its literary genre as myth, and b) not pitting Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 as contradictory, but complementary. She writes:

“Ancient cosmologies must not be read as literal history or science. To do so imposes a modern mindset on premodern texts and obscures the truth the stories seek to disclose […] If these texts are instead read as divinely revealed poetry and allegory–as true myth–a fuller picture of God, reality, and the human person emerges.”[3]

I’m fully on board at this point, but then she goes on the interpret Genesis 2 as a literal/scientific/modern event; as though this myth is describing an actual historical event where God created an actual man with a penis and no uterus, and an actual woman with a vagina and a uterus!

Joseph Campbell defined myth as an organization of symbolic images, which metaphorically communicate the possibilities of the human experience and fulfillment within a given culture. [4] Favale tips her cap to the mythological nature of Genesis, while asserting a literal interpretation of a gender/sex binary.

Her book is well written, but it poses a philosophical perspective that simply upholds common Evangelical assumptions. The foundational cracks in her premise are visible, particularly around Genesis and the mind-body split. The gaslighting and potential harm she could cause in the trans community is worth noting. Fortunately, her book seems to bounce off an echo chamber of conservative Catholics and Evangelicals who laud her as an academic to support the perspectives of DeSantis and Abbot.

On a personal note, Abigail Favale once found my George Fox Employee ID after I lost it in a coffee shop parking lot. She sought me out and returned it, and we had a delightful exchange.


[1] Abigail Favale, The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory (Ignatius Press, 2022). 30.

[2] Genesis 2:18-20. NIV.

[3] Favale. 37

[4] Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor, ed. Eugene Kennedy (New World Library, 2013). 1.

About the Author

Michael Simmons

- Tennessee --> Oregon - Father to David and Bina, Partner to Liz - Portland Seminary Admissions Counselor - Spiritual Director - Companioning Center Leadership Team - Deep Water Board Member - Ordained Elder, FMC - Aspiring Jungian Theologian

15 responses to “A Near Myth”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:


    Thank you for processing this book in an enlightening way. While we continue to read books that reinforce most conservative Evangelical ideals, do you think it would be more beneficial to read academic works from an alternative perspective, giving students well-researched work to challenge their worldviews and assumptions?

    • Lol! I suppose some reading that brings an alternative perspective would be helpful. 🙂

      • mm Nicole Richardson says:

        How would reading books on a subject from different perspectives inform the “global perspectives” dynamic of our journey?

        • I Yeah, I mean there are cultures who don’t even fit within the “Gender paradigm” but allow room for cultural perspectives on gender that are outside of the gender binary. A quick Google search will lead to many examples of cultures that have a “third gender” (Thailand, Polynesia, Melanesia, Native America, western Africa). Evangelical perspectives like Favale’s read a Western perceptive back into an ancient mythology. She seems to be unconscious of this.

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Michael, I’m glad you got your school ID back – haha. You interact with Favale’s interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. She calls those chapter a “true myth.” Would you agree with that or do you view it another way? If so, what part are true and in what way? If not, what do those two chapters tell us?

    • Yeah I think that’s what I’m incredibly confused by in her working out. She speaks of Genesis as true myth and advocates for a not historical interpretation of teh creation myth. But a few pages later, she refers to the creation of human in Gen. 2 as an “origin story”. If Genesis is myth, then what is conveying is not an origin as much as it’s describing the constant state of new life coming into the world. God breathing life into the first human isn’t meant to be taken literally, but symbolically.

      One of my favorite quotes is from Joseph Campbell I believe: “Myths are a series of lies meant to reveal the truth.” In other words, myths are a series of metaphors meant to enlighten and awaken us to mystery.

  3. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Michael, thank you for insightful perspective on Favale. Could you further enlighten me by explain more about what you see as potential “gaslighting” for the trans community?

    • Yeah I mean, the whole book is a massive gaslighting of real people’s experience. She eisegesis the trans experience through highlighting stories that prove her point. It’s not based on data, but on anecdotal examples.

      She also says on page 37 that the Genesis accounts cannot be view through a scientific lens, but then proceeds to build her entire argument on biology…

  4. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Michael: Your embedding of The Office episode nearly derailed my dedicated study time, but it was a good laugh as promised.

    As you process through Favale’s myth vs literal interpretation of Genesis, I’m interested to know more about your own framework towards scripture in terms of how you identify what is myth and what ought to be taken literal, if anything.

    • Yeah, one of my favorite quotes, I believe from Joseph Campbell is, “Myths are a series of lies, meant to reveal the truth.” Myths aren’t concerned with fact or fiction, nor are they about historical accuracy. Myths are actually dripping with symbol and metaphor meant to reveal the very reality of the human experience. It doesn’t meant that the events in any myth don’t have historical correlates, but historicity isn’t the point.

      When it comes to any sacred text, to grasp a literal meaning is to miss the deeper meaning the text is trying to convey (37). That’s why I’m so confused by Favale’s premiss – she supports a mythic interpretation of Genesis, but then builds her argument of biology…

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    Hey there, Michael. I would love to chat more about this post off-line.

    Going off what really commented on, I’m wondering, from your perspective, what relevance does Genesis one and two have an understanding humanity, and our world?

    • I think a key voice on this for me is Lisa Sharon Harper’s book The Very Good Gospel where she focuses on the very goodness (tov me’od) of all creation. Jospeh Campbell, who’s a mythologist, has so much to say about Genesis by comparing it to historical myths like the Enuma Elish. Ultimately, I think Genesis has incredible significance for understanding the process of initiation from birth, life, death, and resurrection, and any literal interpretation sucks the life the myth offers.

      Favale’s work frustrates me because she acknowledge all this, and still builds her hermeneutic on a biological perspective.

  6. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hi Michael…thank you for your thoughtful post and replies to our colleagues above…I have so many questions for you…much to discuss. When it comes to myth as you discuss from Campbell, how would he discuss the shift in language from ādām to isha/ish as Ch. 2 unfolds? What would he say the invitation of symbolism is here? How do you understand it?

    I also wondered about the mind/body split given Favale’s discussion of the inner/outer rupture that comes with the fall (I found that a helpful discussion) and then her emphasis almost solely on biology in later chapters…and then her return to ‘integration’ in her closing chapter. It left me wondering about how any of us experience integration this side of heaven in our inner/outer ruptures, and particularly I was thinking of a conversation I recently had with a trans seminary student who shared how deeply at peace she is now with her body and herself and with God (versus her experience while a man). I wrote more about this in a reply to I think Eric in my blog post. How do you see this issue of integration now vs. in the time yet to come (which Favale refers to as a return to the Garden but scripture describes as a City…I also wonder what those difference in images might mean for our understanding and praxis on these challenging issues and conversations today)?

    • Well everything I’ve read about Gen 1 and 2 shows that Gen 2 is older, and closer to “true myth”. Gen one is more of a priestly account meant to uphold the cultural status quo, while Gen 2 aligns with many creation myths of the time, like Enuma Elish.

      I think they can be read entirely separate with separate intents, and an entirely separate set of symbols.

      So many thoughts to your second question. I align with Favale’s “return to the garden” image. I wrote quite a bit about the Genesis and Gospel of John connections from a myth/Campbellian perspective in year one of the program. I see the Genesis, Gospel, Return to Garden as the grand hero’s journey and process of initiation. But I think Favale undercuts herself by emphasizing biology to the exclusion of the mind. One of the underlying assumptions of her book centers on original sin, so I’m not sure how to move forward in a discussion with her. lol

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