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Reviewed by:
  • Adam and Eve in the Protestant Reformation
  • Merry Wiesner-Hanks
Kathleen M. Crowther . Adam and Eve in the Protestant Reformation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010. xii + 293 pp. Ill. $85.00 (978-0-521-19236-1).

This fascinating study analyzes ways in which the story of Adam and Eve served to create a distinctive Lutheran identity in sixteenth-century Germany. In making her argument, the author uses sources that one would expect, such as sermons, theological treatises, devotional works, and biblical commentaries, but also a wide range of other types of textual and visual sources, including plays, poems, illustrated medical and anatomical treatises, midwifery manuals, herbals, natural histories, woodcuts, engravings, and broadsides. These effectively support her assertion that the consequences of the fall were understood to be physical as well as spiritual; postlapsarian Adam and Eve—and all humans who came after them—were different in their bodies and bodily processes as well as in their souls. The biblical account was linked to ideas about human nature and salvation, but also to ideas about reproduction, the social order, gender roles, and the natural world. Readers of this journal will be particularly interested in the ways in which [End Page 502] Crowther uses medical and anatomical literature in her analysis. She highlights the links between genres rather than their separation and organizes her study topically.

Crowther begins with medieval "Adam books," widely known retellings and expansions of the Adam and Eve story that provided preachers and their hearers with details about life after the fall beyond the sketchy story contained in Genesis. In these books, Adam and Eve, and their descendents, are active in assisting in their own salvation, and the Virgin Mary serves as a co-redeemer. By contrast, Lutheran pastors and playwrights developed a view in which humans are more passive, and Christ is the sole redeemer. The author notes continuities as well as changes, however, and also discusses post-Reformation Catholic interpretations, which are often neglected in studies of the Reformation. Not surprisingly, a stress on Eve's weakness can be found among both Catholics and Lutherans, though this is mitigated somewhat in Lutheran works by a portrayal of Eve as a role model for all believers, accepting of her passivity before Christ.

Lutheran medical works are also more positive about Eve than one might expect, given the stress on a hierarchical gender order that is so central a part of the Protestant Reformation. Yes, they mention Eve's punishment when discussing the reproducing body, but they also view women in labor as parallel to Christ. Procreation is linked to the fall, but also to redemption. Crowther presents a series of fascinating single-sheet flap anatomies that show layers of organs in male and female bodies understood to be Adam and Eve, noting the ways in which the sexes are described as distinct in these, and women's reproductive organs are seen as positive. In terms of the history of medicine, her evidence thus adds to the mounting criticism of Thomas Laqueur's still-influential notion of a "one-sex" model as the dominant understanding of the body in early modern Europe. In terms of the history of the Reformation, Crowther makes these medical works an important part of religious culture, essential to the Lutheran elevation of marriage. She similarly integrates Lutheran writing on the natural world into the stream of religious discourse. Lutheran authors read animals and plants as pointing toward the truth of Lutheran teachings, although they did have some doubts about the best approach to the book of nature.

The book is very successful in tracing the ways in which Adam and Eve worked in the creation of a Lutheran identity as distinct from Catholicism; despite jacket copy that promises a comparison to Calvinism, this is limited to one paragraph. But that could be Crowther's next book. My only other criticism concerns illustrations. The book has fifteen, but because so much of the argument relies on visual evidence, Cambridge University Press would have been well advised to allow a few more. Readers who have access to The German Single-Leaf Woodcut might want to have it at hand to see even...


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pp. 502-503
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