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The differences so far illustrated in just the opening verse of the second creation account (Gen 2:4b) become even more dramatic as we move through the narrative. Genesis 2:5-7, for example, evidence a dramatic shift in emphasis, thematic material, message, vocabulary, and style.
By way of introduction it might be said that the perspective adopted in these opening verses and indeed throughout this entire creation narrative is an agricultural one, focusing on man’s relationship to the ground and to the vegetation of that ground. Already in verses 5-7 there is a heightened emphasis on plants as agricultural produce, their fields, the rain required for growing that produce, and man for cultivating or tilling these fields and its vegetation.
Man, in other words, is essentially defined in relation to the ground whence he was made, and specifically in relation to tilling the ground to produce his livelihood (2:5; 2:15; 3:23). By contrast, woman is essentially defined in relation to man, whence she was made! In other words, the portrait of male and female—note the difference in vocabulary—being created together in the image of the god(s) and thus distinct from the earth and the animals of the earth (Gen 1:24-27) is not only absent from this second narrative but it was not even a conceivable idea to its author. His message and focus are radically different and lie elsewhere. As is my custom here, I shall attempt to be as honest as possible to his message and beliefs—not ours or those of later readers.
Thematically Genesis 2:5-6 not only brings us back to a point in the assembled narrative prior to the creation of plants, animals, and man—which in and of itself contradicts the creation narrative of Genesis 1:1-2:3 in its entirety—but its opening setting specifically negates Genesis 1:9-10, 1:11-12, 1:29-30, and for that matter the entire conclusion of the first creation account. Look at these verses.
And God said: “Let the earth bring forth plants, vegetation (‘eseb) yielding seed, fruit trees producing fruit of its own kind whose seed is in it, upon the earth.” And it was so. And the earth brought forth plants, vegetation yielding seed of its own kind, and trees producing fruit whose seed was in it of its own kind. And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:11-12)
And God said: “Behold! I have given you all vegetation (‘eseb) yielding seed which is on the face of all the earth and all the trees in which there is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it will be for food.” (Gen 1:29)
In the day that god Yahweh made earth and skies, and all produce of the field had not yet been in the earth and all vegetation (‘eseb) of the field had not yet grown, for god Yahweh had not caused it to rain upon the earth and no man yet existed to till the ground… (Gen 2:4b-5)
When read one after the other, each creation account not only evidences noticeable differences in narrative quality, tone, and style but also in its thematic presentation of earth, the creation of plants and of mankind, and most importantly the rationale behind that creation.
First, after having already created all of the earth’s plants, vegetation, and fruit producing trees, and decreeing them as food for all of mankind and the animals of the earth alike, the story that begins at Genesis 2:4b-5 proceeds as if none of these things have yet happened. In fact, the story and its author display no knowledge of the preceding narrative and of the fact that all of the earth’s vegetation had already been brought into existence according to this account—frankly because this first creation account had not yet been written! Rather verses 5-7, as with all of Genesis 2-3, were written independently of Genesis 1:1-2:3, and centuries earlier. In short, this is the beginning of a new and radically different creation story, that furthermore is making contradictory claims about the earth and the creation of plants, man, the animals, and lastly woman.
Second, its focus is radically different as well. Unlike the first creation account, this story stresses a reason why god Yahweh has not yet created plants—because there is no water yet available, in the form of rain, to give the plants what they require in order for them to grow and because man has not yet been created in order to till the ground so that the vegetation may produce food. These are revealing details and are completely absent in the first creation narrative. According to this narrative with its culturally conditioned agricultural perspective, Yahweh has not yet caused the earth to produce plants and vegetation (contra Gen 1:11-12, 29-30) because he has not yet created a means to water these plants and vegetation, nor the means through which their ground is to be tilled. What is implied in these opening verses is that Yahweh cannot create plants and vegetation yet because neither rain nor man have yet been created.
In other words, the author of this creation account is making a poignant agricultural statement: rain, or water in general, and man are needed for any vegetation to grow. Their existence serves as a prerequisite to the creation of the plants! In this creation account’s perspective, we must of necessity move immediately from the creation of earth and skies (2:4b) to the creation of man (2:7), because according to this author’s view plants cannot be created prior to man. There are other implicit reasons for this as well which we shall explore in forthcoming posts.
Third, what is implied in all of this is that we have an earth that is in a very different state of existence than the earth created in Gen 1:9-10. In this second account the earth is dry, barren, and initially lacking moisture (but see v. 6). In the previous account it is inherently moist and fecund emerging as it does from the waters below. From the perspective of the author who penned the first creation account, earth emerges from the waters below, is inherently fecund, and immediately generates on God’s command plants, fruit-bearing trees, and all forms of seed-bearing vegetation! That’s radically different from what we have here in this account.
Furthermore, there is no creation of man between the earth’s appearing (v. 9) and its generation of all the earth’s plants, trees, and vegetation each after their own kind (vv. 11-12). Man is simply not seen as the prerequisite to the creation of plants in this creation account; it was written to accommodate a different perspective and goal. Additionally, there is not a hint of interest in man’s relationship to the ground and its tilling, and in fact this creation account goes out of its way to present man’s creation divorced from any relationship to the earth or its ground (see Gen 1:24-27 and forthcoming on Gen 2:18-20) by presenting a portrait of him, and her, being created in the gods’ image and likeness.
Thus, contrary to the elite priestly scribe who penned Genesis 1:1-2:3 under the influence of the intellectual literary traditions of Mesopotamia, which were themselves shaped by the geographical realities of the empirical observation of a fertile earth upon the delta regions, the perspective represented by the author who penned Genesis 2:4b-25 was born from the hard realities of the Canaanite landscape, where its dry, hard ground needed the rains—and thus Yahweh as storm god—to fertilize its produce. This is illustrated in verse 6 with the mention of a mist which comes up from the earth. In this account, the earth doesn’t emerge from the waters below as in the first creation account, but is presented as dry and barren at its creation and needing to be moistured by the rains above or the mist and springs which bubble up from the earth and which populate the Canaanite landscape. So our perspective, that is the author’s subjective perspective and cultural biases, have radically changed, and these changes cause us to have a radically different depiction of the creation of earth, plants, and as we will see, man and woman.
Stylistically, there are also a number of differences that clearly indicate the mark of a different scribe with a different writing style and emphasis. These differences highlight our author’s interest and even cultural perspectives and beliefs, and are already evident in verses 5-7. They may be categorized as: interest in etiologies, etymologies, wordplay and puns, a storyteller style of narration, more poetic sentence syntax and tone, and the use of new and/or different vocabulary. Specifically, and uniquely looking at verse 5 alone:
- the use of the word field (sadeh), which is not found in the first creation myth when speaking of the creation of the plants nor of earth is used here to convey this author’s interest in the produce of the field, that is agriculture. It is a marked feature of this second creation account. All of the earth’s plants are referred to in relation to the field. It represents a secular, agricultural perspective and interest.
- the use of the term field foreshadows this author’s interest in man as an agent for tilling these fields and as essentially defined vis-à-vis these produce producing fields.
- the use of the expression ba’aretz, “in the earth,” when referring to the creation or non-creation of the plants is unique here, and represents a different syntax and more poetic style than the more erudite and formulaic style employed by the author of the first creation account. By contrast, the first creation account repeatedly employs al ha’aretz, “upon the earth” when referencing the same.
- the use of the verb “to grow” (tsamach) is also unique to this creation account and once again accentuates this author’s interest on the produce of the field, the rain, and the manpower required to grow it.
- finally, a new but most significant word is introduced in this second creation account when referring to the earth, ha ’adamah. This not only introduces this author’s first among many puns and etiologies, but it is employed here to once again accentuate this author’s central argument in his creation story—that man (’adam) is intricately attached to and essentially defined by the ground (’adamah), from which he was fashioned. It is an etiological tale meant to provide, in fanciful storyteller fashion, the origin of man and of man’s relationship to the produce of the field and to the ground. Both thematically and otherwise this is a colossal difference and stark contradiction from the claims of the author of Genesis 1:24-27. I will spend more time with this on tomorrow’s post.
All of these stylistic differences—and I’ve only noted them for verse 5 here—are unique and characteristic of the second creation account alone. Conversely, the expressions and vocabulary found in Genesis 1:11-12—“vegetation yielding seed,” “fruit trees producing fruit of its own kind,” “seed of its own kind,” and “trees producing fruit whose seed was in it” —are unique to this creation account alone, and reflect this author’s erudite and formulaic style and thematic interests.
These differences should not be neglected or interpreted away in willy-nilly fashion. Rather they should be embraced and understood. We could continue along these lines noting many many more stylistic and thematic differences throughout the remainder of Genesis 2.
Perhaps I will leave off here and continue tomorrow with verses 6-7, where our prerequisites—man and rain—are created so that the plants, or now a garden, can be planted.
In conclusion, we start to perceive that each creation myth was shaped by a variety of different factors. The first proceeds with a formulaic and ritualistic rigor, thematically and linguistically, presenting the creation of the then visible world in an order and fashion that is easily perceivable. Here in Genesis 2, on the other hand, the creation of man and then plants follows a rationale set by this author and his agriculturally oriented cultural worldview. Creation does not proceed on any spatially or temporally ordered grounds as our first account does, but rather on etiological and thematic grounds with an eye toward linguistic wordplay and etymologies. It’s a secular storyteller’s creation account, not that of an elite priestly guild!