Who Crushes Satan’s Head in Genesis 3:15? (Mary or Jesus?)

Genesis 3:15 is the called the Proto-Evangelium (or “First-Gospel”). In this passage, God promises to defeat Satan through the operation of “the woman” and “her seed.” Tradition identifies the “the woman” as the Blessed Virgin Mary and “the seed” as our Lord Jesus Christ.

Historically, there has been a debate over how to translate this verse and render it from the Hebrew. The debate centers on whether God says “he” shall crush Satan’s head or whether “she” shall crush Satan’s head.

Now, it doesn’t much matter since either reading is orthodox and true. Christ crushes the head of Satan absolutely, and Mary crushes the head of Satan by virtue of her role as the Mother of God and New Eve.

For Catholics, the “she” reading is the traditional reading of the Latin Vulgate and it is important because it highlights the importance of “the woman” (i.e. Mary) in human salvation. In other words, the “she shall crush” reading supports the Catholic argument that Mary’s role as Mother of God makes her Mediatrix and her role as New Eve makes her Coredemptrix.

The obvious solution to this problem is simply to look at the original Hebrew. But that is where the problem begins. The medieval Hebrew Masoretic manuscripts read “he shall crush.” (However, there are two Hebrew manuscripts that read “she shall crush.”) However, there is good reason to doubt the majority Hebrew reading of “he shall crush.”

Our three best Jewish witnesses to Gen 3:15 interpret the passage as “she shall crush.” These are Philo Judaeus, Josephus the roman historian, and Moses Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish philosopher. Philo argues that the Hebrew parallel poetry of Gen 3:15 demands the reading of “she shall crush.” Josephus, also writing in Greek, describes the passage for us as reading “she shall crush.” Then last of all, Maimonides also states that Gen 3:15 teaches that the woman shall crush the head of the serpent.

So then, these three great Jewish scholars testify to the traditional Catholic reading of the Latin Vulgate. Why are the Hebrew manuscripts that we have today different from these ancient Jewish witnesses. The answer is that the Masoretic manuscript tradition has been corrupted – something claimed by the both the Eastern and Western Fathers throughout the centuries.

Even though I have previously used “he shall crush” in my first book and on this blog, I’m going to revert to the traditional reading of Gen 3:15 from herein out: “she shall crush your head.”

“I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel” (Gen 3:15).

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

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  • Douglas Beaumont

    What about the LXX?

  • Jason Molitor

    On my Miraculous Medal “She” is also crushing the serpent upon the earth. If this was indeed part of the original vision that Saint Catherine Laboure saw (as I believe) then it appears that a private revelation is confirming the use of “She” in Geneis 3:15.

    Has anyone read or seen if the serpent is indeed on an original Miraculous Medal? Is there talk of it in a recounting of the apparition?

    Oh Mary Conceived without Sin, Pray for us to have recourse to thee!

  • jdn717

    good article. And what about the LXX that douglas is talking about?

  • Kevin

    I am a new Catholic, and I am wanting to believe that the translation of Gen. 3:15 is correct, but I own the complete works of Flavius Josephus (in English) and nowhere does Josephus render the words, “she shall crush,” nor does he say “the woman should inflict wounds on his head,” as quoted in “The Crucified Rabbi.” I have researched online and the only reference I can find to this second quote is in the book “The Blessed Virgin Mary in England: A Mary-catechism with Pilgrimage to Her Holy Saints,” by Brother Anthony Josemaria. On page 362 Cornelius A. Lapide is quoted referencing Book 1 Chapter 3 of [Eusebius’ quotes of] Josephus as translated by Rufinus, which is where the quote from “The Crucified Rabbi” appears to come from. Thus, what we have is a fourth-hand “quote”. Yet, in “The Crucified Rabbi,” The reference given for the quote is Book 1 Chapter 1 of Josephus’ Antiquities. Dr. Marshall, I respect you as a teacher, but I challenge you to find the actual quote by Josephus within the body of text, not as quoted by someone else (Obviously an English translation is acceptable), and to reference it! Thanks.

  • Chang-Keol Yoo

    Interesting article! but tell me the names of the two Hebrew manuscripts that read “she will crush”.