Genesis 2:4b — “In the day that god Yahweh made earth and skies”

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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.

12 thoughts on “Genesis 2:4b — “In the day that god Yahweh made earth and skies”

  1. arachnophilia,

    Thanks for your comments. OK, I’d be inclined to accept your assessment of בְּיוֹם.

    Yet, and ironically, this actually strengthens the argument of different authorship between Genesis 1:1-2:3 and 2:4b-25. That is, the temporal referent “in the day” 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. The orderly, formulaic, and precise use of both language and temporal chronology of the creation so ritualistically accentuated throughout the entirety of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is simply abandoned and negated—when erroneously assuming the same author—by the author’s wording in Gen 2:4b.

    1. No. The Contradictions In the Bible.com Book will be done sometime this year. I am thinking about trying my hands at self-publishing this one. It will be Volume I: The Torah — a massive 300,000 word book! More OT (Torah) vs NT contradictions too….

  2. A tiny quibble.

    From the third paragraph: “and finally making skins of garments for the human pair.”

    Shouldn’t that be: “garments of skins”, rather than “skins of garments”?

    And a question: Do you have any idea when you might publish your book?

    1. Joe,

      Thanks for pointing that out. This particular book project against Creationists’ claims about Genesis 1, now titled Did the God of Genesis Create Our World? is finished, and I am now seeking a publisher. It should see the light of day by summer, with any luck! Now, I’m working on editing through the contents of this website for another book.

  3. > So, for example, what I would consider a fair, impartial, and objective method is to look at other places in the Hebrew Bible, and particularly in the J source, where the author uses the expression בְּיוֹם and determine contextually if there are any textual grounds for concluding that the expression was used in an abstract sense, “at the time,” and build a case from there.

    here’s an example from only a few verses later:

    כִּי, בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְךָ מִמֶּנּוּ–מוֹת תָּמוּת.

    and in the next chapter:

    כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְכֶם מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנִפְקְחוּ עֵינֵיכֶם; וִהְיִיתֶם, כֵּאלֹהִים, יֹדְעֵי, טוֹב וָרָע

    you can probably find some examples that aren’t so wrapped up in hotly debate theological issues as well, but you requested examples from J and these were easy to find off the top of my head. note that modern scholarly translations tend to translate this idiom as “when”. it’s not an abstract use, but it’s not a literal day either. it’s a temporal linking of the independent clause to the subordinate clause, no more and no less. so J begins, really, “when yahweh [god] made earth and heaven…” as an opening to the story, and not so much saying that yahweh literally made everything in a day. similarly, the man won’t die “at some point on the same day”, or “900 years in the future”, but WHEN he eats from the tree. and their eyes won’t be opened “later that day” or “eventually”, but WHEN they eat.

    but this construction is a common way to begin things. it gives a temporal setting for the story; kind of a “once upon a time”. note that P’s genealogy in genesis 5 begins in precisely the same way, and P’s creation account in genesis 1 begins similarly with a subordinate temporal marker (“when god began to create…” in good translations). note also that the word “god” in genesis 2-3 is probably the work of a redactor. J typically just calls him “yahweh”. it was probably added so it was clear that genesis 1 and genesis 2 were talking about the same guy.

    i don’t intend, btw, to defend the idea that the two creation stories aren’t separate accounts. they clearly are. i just think this is an overly literal reading in this specific case, and does not accurately represent the flavor of the original.

  4. Thanks Steven, I’ve enjoyed reading your posts. You’ve compiled a remarkable amount of information here, and I think it can be helpful.

    I grew up in a Christian School/and Home , and I remember seeing some of the textual differences you elucidate here–and I often felt as if I was the only person in the room at my church actually “reading” the Bible, while everyone was reading “into” the text. To be sure they did so in often profound ways–spiritualizing it, seeing it as a metaphor for themselves and their relationship with God; but always at the expense of the text itself–which could ironically run quite contrary to their spiritual conclusions.

    So few Christians I know actually even read the Bible. It occurs to me that one way to deal with a creationist is to sit them down and get them to actually read it and comprehend its meaning. I can’t think of a better place to start than Genesis 1 and 2. Your work here is greatly appreciated!

    Thanks Again

    1. Thanks for the kind words Eric, and welcome. I know I have a few Christians here with similar backgrounds, and who have also come to the realization as you put it—“so few Christians actually read the Bible.” Or indeed they do by imposing later theological constructs onto the texts and in turn merely end up reading those centuries later theological constructs as the text!

      I’m busy writing up the next post, Genesis 2:5-7. Should be out soon. Cheers.

  5. In the day…I’ve always read that to mean “at the time,” not taking it as a single day, but as a general statement of a passage of time. Sort of like “in Abraham Lincoln’s day.” I’ve also always considered chapter 2 to be a more detailed version of the creation account, where Gen 1 is an overview of all creation, while Gen 2 focuses on Man and his place in the garden. Of course, I probably only think that because it’s the explanation I’ve heard over the years. But “in the day”…can that just be a phrase meaning “at the time”?

    also, I just read Genesis 1 and 2, and really “got” what you’ve been saying. I saw the differences easily. In fact, one can easily imagine the Genesis 2 story being told by a master storyteller to the tribes as their work day finished and they gathered for a meal or something. It’s clear that the depiction of God in the first chapter is a hands off kinda deity, whereas YWH does dig in and get his hands dirty.

    I like how this way of reading the creation story opens up my imagination. what must it have been like to hear this story told? to repeat it as a bedtime story or around the family table. Fascinating.

    thanks again. I’m enjoying this a lot.

    1. Hi Heidi, thanks for your contributions!

      The Hebrew is literally “in the day” (בְּיוֹם), and the word for day, yom, is the same word used throughout Genesis 1:1-2:3 where yom clearly means a day. Your question is not irrelevant though, and it’s a good question. But we would have to pursue an answer to that question through the texts themselves, and their authors, and certainly not through any modern apologetic agenda. So, for example, what I would consider a fair, impartial, and objective method is to look at other places in the Hebrew Bible, and particularly in the J source, where the author uses the expression בְּיוֹם and determine contextually if there are any textual grounds for concluding that the expression was used in an abstract sense, “at the time,” and build a case from there. Even if we did find textual grounds for this understanding, which is quite possible, it doesn’t necessarily count as “proof” of single authorship between Gen 1 and 2. In fact, I would argue that it’s further textual evidence of the real fact of the matter: that we have two independent authors. In this case, one who uses the Hebrew yom with systematic and formulaic precision and a with a precise literal meaning, and another who doesn’t.

      I’m vaguely familiar with the apologetic which attempts to understand Genesis 2 as a sub-story of the larger Genesis 1. But again such apologetics are placing their beliefs about the text above what the texts themselves actually say and do not say, and thus in the end are negligent of the very texts themselves, their authors, and these authors’ beliefs. Furthermore, the aim of such apologetics is to “get the text” to align with the modern reader’s beliefs and/or beliefs about the text. So the fact is that, even if author 2 is using “in the day” abstractly, such “interpretations” don’t actually confront the text on stylistic, thematic, or linguistic grounds, which if they did this textual datum along with others would only reconfirm what the texts themselves are claiming on their own: that they’re penned by 2 different authors. As you’re aware of, becoming more aware of, when reading and understanding these texts on their own unique terms and in their own literary and historical contexts it becomes clear that they are rather competing creation stories.

      Also, as you noticed, the Yahwist is and was a storyteller, and an exceptional one and that. Not only is this tradition more poetic, story-like, and dramatic, but most of it, we surmise, existed as oral traditions before it was written down. The Priestly source, on the other hand, was originally a written text and written by an elite educated guild of priests. So we would expect to see that each texts’ differing styles and vocabulary reflect each of their authors’ education level, position in society, and even cultural interests.

      I plain to post sections on Gen 2:5-7, 2:8-17, 2:18-20, and 2:21-24. I hope to demonstrate, again with the text, that not only can’t Genesis 2 be harmonized into Genesis 1 without doing severe damage and injustices to the text and outright neglecting the messages of their authors, but the text of Genesis 2 on thematic grounds irrefutably negates many of the claims and arguments advanced by the author of Genesis 1, and on stylistic and linguistic grounds employs a completely different set of vocabulary, grammar, and poetic syntax—all absent from the first creation account.

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