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In the Book of Genesis, Eve is neither a sexual seductress nor a deceiver of Adam. Michelangelo’s painting, like the Genesis account, portrays Adam as complicit in the Temptation and the Fall: Adam is present as the serpent converses with Eve; Eve does not tempt him to partake of the fruit; and Adam reaches for the serpent, highlighting his knowing participation in sin. Yet Michelangelo adds a few curious details that suggest he was also familiar with other versions of the story: The serpent has a woman’s face and breasts, and Eve points at herself with a crude sexual hand gesture.
As author Susan L. Greiner points out, Eve’s long-standing reputation as a temptress derives not from the Hebrew Bible but from the extrabiblical texts known as pseudepigrapha, which date as early as the second century B.C. “By blending the original Genesis account with the noncanonical seduction stories,” Greiner writes, “authors and artists turned sex into a sin and Eve into a sexual temptress, the ancestress of witchery, the root of evil and the cause of the Fall.”