There are several differences that are immediately noticeable in the opening verse (Gen 2:4b) of this second creation account. A literal translation would run: “In the day that god Yahweh made earth and skies…”
We immediately notice that the creator deity is now specified by name, Yahweh. This feature is unique to both this creation account and the textual tradition to which it belongs, unceremoniously named the Yahwist. This source (J) earns its name because its author consistently uses the name of Israel’s deity, Yahweh, throughout his composition. Even though the divine name appears approximately 1,800 times in the Pentateuch alone, the other Pentateuchal sources (Elohist, Deuteronomist, and Priestly) restrain from using the name Yahweh prior to its revelation to Moses in Exodus (#87). Only the Yahwist text, in other words, affirms and acknowledges contrary to the other sources (#11) that the name Yahweh was known to, and frequently invoked by, the patriarchs prior to its revelation. Indeed, it is for this reason that the Yahwist tradition does not narrate a revelation of the divine name. According to this tradition, it was known right from the first generation of mortals (Gen 4:26).
As previously discussed (Genesis’ 2 Creation Accounts), the specific use of the god of Israel’s name throughout this textual tradition is really the least significant of the differences between the first creation account’s portrait of God and that of the second account. More dramatic is the stark anthropomorphism that this scribe uses in presenting Yahweh. In Genesis 2:4b-3:24 Yahweh is depicted forming man from the dust of the earth, breathing into the man’s nostrils, planting a garden, placing the man in the garden, forming animals from the ground, building a woman from the man’s rib, walking in the garden, speaking to his creation, and finally making skins of garments for the human pair. This type of anthropomorphism, that is presenting a deity in human terms, is only found in the Yahwist source and for the most part attests to its antiquity.
This textual tradition’s anthropomorphic portrait of the deity goes even further than this. This author often depicts Yahweh talking to himself, repenting, relenting, grieving, and raging with anger on numerable incidences (#167). He often talks face-to-face with the patriarchs, walks side-by-side with them, and even eats with Abraham on one occasion.
More surprisingly, this tradition displays no indication that this conception of the god was problematic. Certainly, the anthropomorphism of the Yahwist source becomes problematic for later scribes, who either blatantly disagreed with this author’s portrait of Israel’s god or understood the godhead on a higher theological plane (Conflicting Portraits of Israel’s God). It has been argued, for example, that one of the reasons for the writing of the first creation account, the Priestly creation account, which was written a couple of centuries after the Yahwist version, was to rectify or replace the anthropomorphic depiction of Yahweh in the older account, now the second creation account, with a more majestic, impersonal, and less anthropomorphic portrait of the god. Generally speaking, the Priestly source rarely if ever presents Yahweh in the anthropomorphic manner adopted by our earlier Yahwist scribe.
Another immediately observable point of conflict between the opening statement of this second creation account and Genesis 1:1-2:3 is the time referent “in the day.” For in the first creation account, God does not create the earth and the skies on the same day. In fact, the first creation account tells us that the skies, the domed barrier or raqi‘a, was created on the second day (Gen 1:6-8), and that the earth, that is dry land, appeared from the waters below on the third day (Gen 1:9-10). Furthermore, contrary to the claims of Genesis 2:4b-7, according to the first creation account man was not created on any of the days wherein the earth and the skies were created. According to the first creation account, the days on which God created the earth (day 3) and the skies (day 2) come and go without the creation of man (day 6)!
It would be incorrect to regard the temporal referent “in the day” in Genesis 2:4b as a general abstract statement, particularly if one falsely assumed similar authorship for these two creation accounts. For not only does this time referent, “in the day,” clash with the previous account’s symmetry and chronology, but more significantly this inaccurate temporal referent does not reflect the same precision and formulaic presentation of the chronology of creation so emphatically and carefully laid out throughout Genesis 1:1-2:3. This is because the same author did not write this verse, Genesis 2:4b! Contrary to the fist creation account with its temporal precision, this earlier creation account, now the second of the two, merely commenced: “In the day that god Yahweh made earth and skies…” and with no knowledge of the first creation account, which was actually written centuries after.
In other words, the orderly, formulaic, and precise use of both language, themes, and the chronology of creation so carefully and ritualistically accentuated throughout the entirety of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is simply abandoned and negated—when erroneously assuming the same author—by the imprecise and incorrect temporal reference of verse 2:4b, concerning which day(s) god Yahweh created “earth and skies.” Again, this is because verse 2:4b and the story that follows was penned by a different scribe!
Finally, according to this creation account, earth, the skies, man, plants, animals, and lastly woman were all created on one day, “in the day that god Yahweh made earth and skies,” he also created man, then apparently plants, animals, and lastly woman. This radically contradicts all of Genesis 1:1-2:3!
Additionally, the subsequent creation of each one of these things—man, plants, animals, and woman—is chronologically dissimilar and utterly contradictory to the presentation, order, and manner in which the creation of each one of these life forms is presented in the first creation account. We will look at this more closely.
In sum, these differences are not the mark of the same author. But rather a textual indication that another whole creation narrative begins here, one that furthermore commences by claiming contrary to Genesis 1:1-2:3 that neither man, vegetation, nor animals have yet been created! Genesis 2:4b therefore sets the scene, both thematically and stylistically, for a second creation account: “In the day that god Yahweh made earth and skies…”
Besides differences in the treatment of thematic material, Genesis 2:4b also reveals the hand of a different author on stylistic and linguistic grounds. The verb choice of 2:4b evidences the mindset of a different author. In this verse, the author chooses the general verb “to make,” in Hebrew ’asah. Although we find the verb ’asah also employed in the first creation account, and specifically in reference to the making of the firmament, the verb of choice for the author of the first creation account in expressing God’s creative act is bara’, “to create.” In fact this is the verb this author consciously chooses for his opening verse: “In the beginning when God created (bara’) the skies and the earth…”
Its meaning, moreover, is quite different from that of ’asah, which simply means to make. Bara’ denotes a creative act by means of separating or dividing. Thus in the first creation account, the creator deity creates (bara’) earth by separating it out from the waters below and converting it into dry habitable land, and the skies by separating the original primordial water mass into two. Thus, the use of the verb ’asah in Gen 2:4b not only marks a linguistic difference, but more so it displays the mindset of a different author who conceived creation in different terms from that of the author of the first creation account. Simply put, the author of Genesis 1:1 would not have used—I would argue consciously avoided using—’asah for his opening statement. It would have been an ill-conceived choice.
Conversely, the author of Genesis 2:4b-25 never uses the verb bara’! This especially holds true for this author’s presentation of the creation, formation rather, of man. Again, this is not just a difference in verb choice, but a larger difference revealing how each one of our authors conceived and imagined God’s creative act.
Another stylistic difference noticeable in the Hebrew of verse 2:4b that also evidences the mark of a different scribal hand is the absence of the Hebrew particle ’eth which is an untranslated particle used after a verb to mark a direct object in the accusative case. It is not translated in English since its purpose is just to indicate the direct object. Thus Genesis 1:1 in the Hebrew is: bara’ ’elohim ’eth hashamayim we’eth ha’aretz—literally, “God created the skies and the earth.” The two ’eth’s are not translated; they serve merely to mark the direct object of the verb: “the skies” (ha shamayim) and “the earth” (ha ’aretz). But Genesis 2:4b is quite different.
Along with its different verb choice, both the tone and style of the Hebrew of 2:4b is drastically different from its counterpart in verse 1:1. In the Hebrew of 2:4b not only is ’eth not employed, but neither is the demonstrative article ha, “the.” Here is the Hebrew of Genesis 2:4b: ‘asôt yahweh ’elohim ’eretz weshamayim—literally, “God Yahweh made earth and skies.” The conscious choice to avoid the use of ’eth in Genesis 2:4b, and the article ha, most likely reflects this author’s desire to express a more poetic, even archaic, style; ’eth is rarely used in poetry. Conversely, the author who penned Genesis 1:1 does not, and would not have, written his Hebrew in this manner, that is without using the direct object marker ’eth, and without the use of the demonstrative article, ha.
There is also the added difference that the order is inverted between these two verses—“the heavens and the earth” and “earth and heavens”—which on its own might not mean anything, but together with the differences reviewed above is a further indication of another author’s hand.
The textual data is overwhelming thus far and we’ve only looked at the first five words of Genesis 2:4b-3:24’s story! The data convincingly demonstrate, and will further corroborate, that this creation account, a second account, was written by a different author, whose Hebrew, vocabulary, portrait of Israel’s deity, and conception and ideas about the creation of the world and mankind were all vastly different from, and in many cases contrary to, those of the author who penned the first creation account.
People who try to harmonize these differences away are just not being honest to the texts and their individual authors, and more severely have placed their own beliefs about the texts above the texts themselves, what they themselves say, and the beliefs of their independent authors.