Rochester novelist explores the life of the Bible's first woman

Elissa Elliott
In her new novel, Rochester-based novelist Elissa Elliott offers a fictionalized account of the Bible's first woman, Eve.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

"Eve" tells the story of Adam and Eve's life after they were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, until shortly after their son Cain murders his brother Abel. Elliott tells the story of what led Cain to do it through the voices of Eve and her three daughters.

Elliott's Eve is a heartsick mother who struggles to have faith in God. The family has its biggest fights over whether he exists. One of her daughters has a romance with Cain and another is sold into slavery. All of the family is struggling with the discovery of a city where people believe in multiple gods.

I asked Elliott whether she was trying to write a book that has so much contemporary resonance.

She said she was. She wanted the book to be a mirror for her readers. "You write down to the raw emotions of human experience, and if you do that it will resonate with your readers," she said.

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Elliott explained that lust, passion and belief don't change over time. She pointed to Cain killing Abel. To her mind, that isn't as far fetched as it immediately seems.

"(Readers) may not go murder someone, but they have hated someone with all of the passion in their body," she said.

Elliott refers to God in her book as Elohim. Her characters in the book often use the word personally, as though they were saying someone's first name. The word is Hebrew, and it is expresses the concept of divinity, but it's exact translation is trickier. Elliott said Elohim is translated sometimes as the plural of God, and sometimes the singular.

Elliott said she chose to use the word Elohim instead of God, because she wanted the reader to experience the concept of God in a new way. "I wanted to make it a little removed from what we know as 'god,' so we're able to think about God in a more refreshing way," she said.

The idea for the book came from Elliott's agent, she said, but it spoke to her immediately. She said most stories in the Bible are told from a man's perspective, and she wanted to redeem Eve.

In addition, Elliott also has a deep history with Christianity.

Her family, she said, is conservative Christian, and she has since moved away from that. After writing the book, she said, she could almost see herself as agnostic.

"There are so many questions now about how our Bible came to be, how the creation story came to be... So what do you do with all of that," she asked. "How much of that is just stories?"

She said writing the book made her feel closer to God, but it also made her unclear about what to do with organized religion because, "all of that is man-made."

God, she said, seems much different to her now. She said she has thought a lot about how God may have been misconstrued and misunderstood by humans. She said, perhaps, God is really just a wonderful being who, "we've used him a lot like a butler."

That question is part of what she will explore in her next novel.

At the conclusion of "Eve" Elliott's Eve comes to terms with living on Earth, let's go of the Garden and has faith in God's silence.