The following entry is excerpted from Chapter 1, “Genesis’ Two Creation Accounts,” of my Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate: Being Honest to the Text, Its Author, and His Beliefs, pp. 1-63.
Ancient and modern readers alike have long recognized the differences between the seven-day creation account of Genesis 1:1-2:3 and the garden of Eden account of Genesis 2:4b-3:24. Even on stylistic grounds noticeable in an English translation, the first creation account is lofty, formulaic, structured, heaven-centered, and awe-inspiring with its image of a transcendent and impersonal creator deity who brings creation and order into existence by the mere force of his word. The second creation account, on the other hand, is informal and fable-like in its presentation, anthropologically oriented, earth-centered, dramatic, and theologically more poignant with its etiological tale describing how man, crafted from the clay of the earth and prompted by a talking serpent, fell from the presence of its creator, and as a result human suffering and toil befell the lot of mankind.
But the most notable differences, indeed contradictions, lie in their presentation of the order of creation and the manner through which man and woman come into existence. For instance, the first account describes how God creates—the Hebrew verb used is bara’—plants on the third day (1:11), then animals on the fifth and sixth days (1:20-24), and lastly male and female together in the image and likeness of the creator god (1:27), thus displaying how mankind is vastly different from the animals. The repeated emphasis is on a god who creates (bara’) by pronouncing the thing into existence, separating it out, and then claiming the goodness in the created thing and by extension in the created order of the world.
We find none of these features in the second creation account. Rather, we are now informed that Yahweh (here the deity’s name is specified) first forms or molds—the Hebrew verb is yatsar—man from the dust of the earth (2:7), then plants (2:9), and then so that the man should not be alone, Yahweh molds (yatsar) animals from the earth that are in essence similar to the man (2:18-19), but since man is unable to find a satisfactory companion among the animals, woman is built (banah) from the man’s rib (2:22). Thus in our first account plants and animals are created (bara’) before both male and female are created together in the image of the god(s), while in the latter account man is molded (yatsar) from the ground first, then plants and animals, and then, woman is built from the man’s rib as a response to the man’s inability to find a corresponding partner among the animals that the creator deity also molded (yatsar) from the ground.
Wordplay and puns are also unique to this second creation account, and help accentuate this account’s anthropological orientation and the views of its author. For instance, we are told that from the ground (’adamah) Yahweh molds the man (’adam), but no other beast formed from the ground (’adamah) has a name, that is a corresponding essence, similar to the man’s; only woman does: “This now is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. Accordingly she shall be called woman (’ishah) because from man (’ish) she was taken” (2:23). In the first account, male and female are created together in the image of the deity and his divine counsel (“let us make,” “in our image” (1:26)). But in the second account, the creation of man and woman is presented separately; and through the use of wordplay their essences, that is the created stuff from which each one was made, is highlighted: man (’adam) comes from the ground (’adamah), woman (’ishah) from man (’ish). We will see below that these two distinct perspectives and messages reveal how each one of our authors variously viewed, and thus uniquely composed a narrative about, the nature and origins of man and woman.
One of the most prominent and distinguishable differences between these two creation accounts, especially in the Hebrew, is the manner in which each creation account depicts the creator god. Genesis 1:1-2:3 refers to the deity with the Hebrew word for god (’elohim) in all thirty-five of its occurrences. The second account, in contrast, consistently refers to the deity by name, Yahweh.1 This is inline with the larger textual traditions from which these two creation accounts originated—the Priestly and Yahwist sources (see Introduction). In the Priestly textual tradition, the name Yahweh is not used nor is it known until it is revealed to Moses at Sinai (Gen 17:1; 28:3; 35:10; 48:3; Ex 6:2-3). Not so for the Yahwist tradition; it always uses the personal name Yahweh and contradictorily professes that the name Yahweh was known and invoked throughout the whole patriarchal era (#11). This is just one example of contradictory authorial agendas and theological perspectives between these two textual traditions. We will see lots more of this in forthcoming entries.
Along with the different terms for the creator god, both texts also portray their deity in strikingly different manners. In the first creation account God speaks things into existence. He is presented as majestic and utterly transcendent; he never interacts with his creation and stands completely outside of it. In the second creation account, by contrast, Yahweh is consistently portrayed in anthropomorphic terms and communicates and interacts directly with his creation (and often with himself in the form of interior monologues).2 Such anthropomorphism, that is presenting a deity in human terms, is visible throughout this creation account. Yahweh molds man from the dust of the earth, presumably with his hands (2:7),3 breathes into the man’s nostrils, plants a garden (2:8), takes and puts the man in the garden (2:15), commands the man (2:16), molds animals from the ground (2:19), builds a woman from the man’s rib (2:22), walks in the garden (3:8), calls and speaks to his creation (3:9, 13-14), makes garments of skin for the human pair (2:21), and lastly puts the human pair outside the garden (3:23). This type of anthropomorphism is never found in the first creation account’s portrait of God, and neither in the Priestly source of which this creation account was its opening statement. Rather it is a unique feature of the author of the second creation account.
In addition to the varying portraits of the creator deity, there are other differences that set these two accounts apart. Where one attempts to give an orderly explanation of the creation of the then known world via the word of an all-powerful transcendent deity, and in short is heaven-centered, the other attempts to answer questions of an anthropological nature, is earth-centered, and solely focuses on man’s creation, relationship, disobedience towards, and finally expulsion from a very personal and “human” deity, Yahweh. It might furthermore be said that the first creation myth, for reasons that will be explored below, moves from chaos to order, darkness to light, formlessness to form, within which there are repeated refrains where the god pronounces the inherit goodness in the created thing and, finally, blesses humanity—a humanity, moreover, that is both male and female and created in the image and likeness of their divine creator(s).
The second account, on the other hand, moves from an infertile, barren, and humanless landscape through the formation of man from this ground, his placement in a fertile and fecund garden, the formation of woman from the man’s rib, to finally their expulsion from the garden and (re)placement on a ground that has now become cursed (3:17, 4:11, 5:29). Unlike the former’s original state of creation which is represented as a surging watery abyss enveloped in darkness, the latter’s original state of creation depicts a waterless earth with no rain nor vegetation (Gen 2:5); it represents the dry, arid land of the geography of Palestine. The toil required for man (’adam) to work this hard, dry soil (’adamah) is a prominent theme in this story. In other words, it is an etiological tale which attempts to provide a rationale for man’s current lot, as perceived by its author and his culture—namely, how it came to be that ’adam must procure his livelihood by working the ’adamah, and at that a cursed ground. Thus contrary to the majestic and celebatory first creation account with its affirmed goodness and blessing, the latter account is a dramatic narrative with crisis and resolution in the form of punishment and curse. As professor David Carr astutely observed, in the former, humanity is created in the image and likeness of God and this is declared “good,” while in the latter humanity is punished specifically for yearning to be like his god and this is deemed a transgression.4
Noteworthy also is the fact that the first creation account emphasizes themes whose purpose and importance may be labeled as liturgical or cultic in nature, such as the importance of the Sabbath (2:3)—thus linking the cultic observance of the Sabbath to the created order of the world—and all festivals and rituals governed by the movement of the celestial luminaries, which serve as signs for these “fixed times” (1:14). In fact, there is a heightened emphasis on creation and the ritual observance of specific god-created holy days in this creation account. On the contrary, the second creation account displays no concern for these priestly matters, and emphasizes its own narrative themes, a sort of anthropological theology interested in such questions as man’s relationship to his god, to the ground, woman, obedience, and his lot in life.
All these differences (in theme, style, vocabulary, theology, presentation of the deity, worldview, emphasis, and purpose) and specific contradictions in the order and manner of creation point, irrefutably, to the fact that these two creation accounts were penned by two different authors, for two different purposes, and most likely at two different time periods and for two different audiences. It was only due to a later scribal endeavor which sought to preserve Israel’s sacred literature that these two creation accounts were placed side-by-side as they now appear in their current form.
Let us now take a closer look at each one of these creation accounts individually, being as honest as possible to the texts themselves, and that means attempting to understand them on their own terms and from within their own cultural contexts.
Genesis 1:1–2:3 on Its Own Terms and in Its Own Historical and Literary Context
Genesis 1:1-2:3’s depiction of the creation of the world was shaped by ancient Near Eastern cosmological perspectives and beliefs about the nature of the world and its origins. We saw this already in our discussion of Gen 1:1-2 (#1). This fact the text itself bears witness to regardless of the opinions and beliefs of readers living millennia after this text was written. In other words, a thorough, honest, and objective analysis of the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3 on its own terms and as a product of its own cultural and literary world reveals rather convincingly that its creation narrative was shaped by cultural and subjective perspectives, biases, and beliefs about the nature of the world that were unique to the cultures and peoples of the ancient Near East. It is not, in other words, a description of creation from the perspective of a supernatural deity residing outside the cosmos, nor is it inspired by such a point of reference. These are not subjective claims that I am making; rather they are the claims that the text itself—our object of study—advances when one reads and understands it on its own terms and from within its own cultural context.
Below, I reproduce in part my textual analysis of Genesis 1:3-28 from my Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate. Readers interested in a more detailed textual and cultural understanding of Genesis 1:1-2:3 should consult Chapter 1, “Genesis’ Two Creation Accounts,” (p. 1-42). My textual analysis of Genesis 2:4b-24 will also be reproduced below, where we will see specifically how this author’s beliefs and message about the creation and origin of man and woman radically contradict those of the author of Genesis 1.
Genesis 1:3-5—Day Is Light
Modern readers often express their perplexity at the fact that Genesis 1:3 presents the creation of light before the creation of the luminary that produces light, the sun, whose creation does not happen until day 4 (1:16). How can light be created or exist, it is often asked, before the sun was created?
The problem with this and similar questions is that they impose our knowledge about the cosmos, indeed an objective understanding about the workings of our solar system, onto this ancient text whose culture did not possess this type of knowledge. We know that the sun is the source of light for our solar system. But the ancient cultures and peoples that produced this creation account did not possess this knowledge and apparently held different ideas about the nature of their world. This fact the text itself bears witness to.
In other words, Genesis’ portrait of the creation of the world was not shaped by objective, scientific, or divinely-inspired knowledge about the world; rather, it was shaped by the perspectives, beliefs, and limited empirical understanding—or misunderstanding as the case may be—of the nature of the world and its workings as ancient man perceived it. Our goal should not be to impose modern truths onto this ancient document, nor attempt to harmonize the text with our modern scientific knowledge about the world. Rather, our task is to understand the text on its terms and as a product of its own unique cultural perspectives, and to be able to reproduce this understanding as faithfully and honestly as possible. In other words, we should allow the text to invite us into its ancient worldview and belief system, not impose ours onto the text.
Having said that, it would initially appear that the Israelite scribe who penned Genesis 1, and the larger cultural perspective from which he drew, did not see or understand the sun as the source of daylight. Indeed, as expressed in Genesis 1:15, the sun was understood as a light-emitting source, as was mistakenly the moon. But it appears that it was not seen as the source of daylight. The sun and the moon were created “to distinguish between the day and the night” not as the sources for day and night. This is a radically different idea from what we in fact know to be true. What was this author attempting to convey then?
There are basically three things that happen in Genesis 1:3–5. Following what our biblical author has presented so far in his composition of the creation of the world, we see that to this primeval state of darkness that spread out over an untamed watery abyss which covered a formless, vacuous piece of earth (1:2), light was added. “And God said, ‘Let there be light!’” Darkness need not have been created since it already existed. Second, the text informs us that God separates this newly created light from the primeval darkness, and lastly calls or identifies this light as “day,” and conversely darkness as “night.” “And there was evening and there was morning—one day.”
So over this watery untamed abyss of formless earth, alternating sequences of day and night now exist. This is significant because what the text presents the deity creating first is the day or daylight. In other words, the light that comes into existence is not called “the sun” but rather “day.” Day was essentially conceived of as light, as being composed of light. According to our ancient scribe, day by its very nature is light! Ancient peoples might have deduced this from the observation that even when the sun doesn’t appear or is hidden behind clouds, it is still daylight out. Thus, the separation and alternation between day and night, light and darkness, are set by an initial act of the creator deity and not by the sun. This is our author’s argument.
This idea is reinforced elsewhere in the text. There are only three places in Genesis 1 where God is presented creating something or calling it into existence and then immediately naming it. It’s instructive to look at these three occurrences together: (1) light is created and called “day”; (2) the firmament or domed expanse is created and called “the skies”; and (3) dry land is created or simply commanded to appear and is called “earth.” We notice that the name given to each of these elements expresses what it inherently or essentially is. What is earth? It is dry land. What is the sky? It is the domed expanse (raqi‘a) which God created to separate the waters below from those above. And finally, what is day? It is light. In other words our ancient author perceived day as essentially equivalent to light. So the source of day’s light, or daylight, was not seen as the sun, but rather it was conceived as the very essence of day itself, as God created it to be is our author’s point. This is very instructive for a proper understanding of how ancient Israelites viewed their world. Light, or more appropriately day, exists because God created it. The two are one and the same: as dry land is earth, and the domed expanse above is the sky, so too light is day.
The fact that this author presents the creation of day as the deity’s first creative act is not a coincidence. Certainly it immediately lends itself to the thematic and structural framework of what follows—five more days of creation and a seventh day of rest, where each day is a successive pattern of evening and morning. It must additionally be borne in mind that, contrary to our modern knowledge of the workings of the cosmos, the successive coming and going of evening and morning, night and day, were not defined by the appearance and disappearance of the sun; rather, as has already been demonstrated, and according to our author’s limited knowledge and culturally shaped beliefs, night and day, darkness and light, were separated and distinguished “elements” or spheres created by God himself. Thus as we previously saw in the case of Genesis 1:1-2 (#1), the author’s subjective and culturally defined perspectives and beliefs about the nature of his world are transferred to the god of his text, and this god is then presented creating the subjective world that our author perceived and experienced!
Second, the creation of day as God’s first act serves a larger purpose, one that has an immediate significance for this particular author and the priestly guild he represented.5 The fact that this author composed a creation account that revolved around days, that is, a creation account that embeds a calendar system directly into the creation of the world, is extremely significant. In essence, this priestly author has just presented us with an argument that declares that the calendar system, Sabbath, and Yahweh’s sacred festivals (i.e., “the fixed times” of 1:14) were all built into the very fabric of the cosmos by God at creation! The nonobservance of any of these god-created holy days, therefore, was inexcusable.6
Genesis 1:6-8—Life inside a Water Bubble
When ancient man looked up at the sky, what he perceived was akin to what he observed when looking out over the seas—an expanse of crystal-clear blue water. This observation was confirmed of course by the very fact that it rained. For where else did rain come from if not from the waters above the sky?
Similarly, when ancient Mediterranean peoples looked toward the horizon, what they saw was that the waters above eventually came into contact with the waters of the seas, that both the blue waters above and the blue waters below touched each other at the horizons. Thus, it was observed that the waters above, that is, the sky, had its starting point at the horizon where it came into contact with the waters below, and then arched far above like a dome and descended again to meet the waters below on the opposite horizon. According to these limited empirical observations then, ancient Mediterranean man, Israelites included, perceived their world as surrounded by two vast bodies of water, those above and those below, and that those waters which arched high above them like a dome were somehow held in place. This was the world which the ancient Israelites perceived and lived in. It was therefore only natural to ponder questions about its origin: How did the waters get above the sky and what holds them up there? How did they obtain their current domed shape? Where did they originate from? And what about the waters below? In short, how did this world come to be?
Genesis 1:6-8 was specifically written to answer these questions. In other words, what the god of this text is portrayed creating is the world as it was perceived and culturally defined by ancient Israelite scribes, the world which they saw from their limited empirical observations, not the world as it actually is! This fact the text itself bears witness to.
As we have already seen in our examination of Genesis 1:1-2 (#1) and 1:3-5, the same applies here: Genesis 1:6-8 is a subjective description and explanation from the viewpoint of its author and his culture of how the world as he perceived it, with its waters above and waters below, came into existence. It is a bottoms up approach. The author’s perspectives and culturally defined beliefs about the nature of his world are transferred to the god of his text who then creates the subjective world that this very author and his culture perceived and lived in. It is a creation account that matches its author’s culturally conditioned “truths” about the world. Thus we must be careful not to impose our understanding and knowledge of the world onto his text, nor try to conform his beliefs to ours. Rather we ought to strive to be honest to this ancient document and the beliefs and views of its author.
After creating daylight and separating it from primeval darkness, now night, our author then presents God taming and separating the primeval waters. “And God said, ‘Let there be a domed expanse (raqi‘a)7 in the center of the waters and let it separate the waters from the waters’” (Gen 1:6).
Once gain, the reason why the primordial waters needed to be separated is best explained by realizing that our author is working backwards, from what he perceives and has been culturally conditioned to believe about the nature of his world to the composition of a creation narrative that then explains the origins of the elements of his world as he perceived it through his culturally conditioned perspectives and beliefs. So Genesis 1:1-10 is not an account of the creation of the world in objective, scientific terms. Rather it is an account of the creation of a perception of the world as envisioned by ancient man. Since the ancient Israelites perceived and believed that there existed a vast body of water above the sky, held in check by the sky itself, our author therefore creates a narrative that explains the origin of these waters above the sky. In the end, the text legitimates the author’s culturally defined worldview by having God create it!
Thus in accord with his perceptions and beliefs about the world, our author presents God making (‘asah) this solid domed expanse (raqi‘a) in the middle of the primordial waters (mayim) in order to separate out the waters which are now above it from the waters now below it, effectively conforming to our Israelite scribe’s perception of his world. Finally, the text informs us: “And God called this domed expanse (raqi‘a) ‘skies’ (shamayim). And there was evening and there was morning—a second day” (Gen 1:8).
Since the Hebrew word for “skies” (shamayim) is composed of the letter shin plus the word for water, mayim—always in the plural, “waters”—it is quite possible that what came to be called the skies was a combination of the solid domed expanse or raqi‘a and the waters above it. For we are informed in v. 14 that the raqi‘a, where the luminaries are to be set, was part of the skies or shamayim: “let there be lights in the domed expanse of the skies.” And likewise in v. 20 we are informed that the birds are to fly in front of the domed expanse of the skies. If the skies are both the solid domed expanse and the waters above, which seems to be what is implied here, then the skies (shamayim) are nothing more than half of the untamed preexisting waters (mayim) and the crystalline-like domed expanse (raqi‘a), which now holds back these same waters.
Thus once again we observe that the creation account in Genesis 1 does not represent some scientific, objective, or divinely inspired account of the origins of the material world, but rather the creation of a world as perceived by ancient Israelites. It was precisely from these subjective, culturally conditioned beliefs that biblical scribes then proceeded to compose creation myths whose aim was to explain their observable world. In this instance, how did the waters above come to be formed and held in check? Genesis 1:1-8 responds by claiming that they were created through an act of separating them out from the initial watery abyss (tehom), and holding them above the sky through the creation of a solid
Finally, and again, the argument that our ancient Israelite scribe was interested in presenting was not where matter originated. Threatened on all sides, above and below, by the primordial waters, the Israelite scribe painted a portrait not of a creator deity who creates matter out of nothing, but of a creator deity who creates ordered life by (continuously) subduing, taming, and controlling the primordial forces and elements that existed prior to his creative act, and which still exert their force in the world. It is a creation that is forever being re-created as it were, that is, forever keeping at bay the primordial waters above and below.
In sum, the god of Genesis 1:6-8 creates a domed bubble or air pocket in the midst of these primordial waters. According to the text, then, God creates a finite space in the midst of, and encased from all sides by, these primeval waters. This is not some outlandish theological claim that I am making. Rather, as a biblical scholar I’m reproducing the claims of the text—a text which reveals the culturally defined beliefs, attitudes, and worldview of the ancient people that penned it.
Genesis 1:9-10—The Creation of the Material Substance Earth, Not the Planet
We are so habituated by what the English word “earth” means to us in our scientific postmodern world that we seldom stop to ask if that’s the same meaning intended in the Hebrew word ’erets.
When we read Genesis 1:1, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” we picture the origin of the atmosphere, space, solar systems, and galaxies. We think of the creation of the planet in our solar system named “Earth,” whose shape is an oblate spheroid or a rotationally symmetric ellipsoid. This mental picture is natural, because the English term “Earth” is the name of the planet in this solar system on which humans reside. But in Genesis 1 “earth” does not mean the planet Earth. Genesis reports the origin of the “heavens and earth” as such terms meant in the author’s time and within his worldview, which did not include a twenty-first century acquaintance with astronomy. What does “earth” mean in Genesis 1? The answer is provided in the text itself.8
It is rare to find such an accurately and succinctly put introduction to the textual problem at hand that I had to borrow this one to serve as my own introduction. This is quite shocking since it comes from a theologian in the Wesleyan tradition who has very different beliefs than myself. In fact it could be said we stand at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Nonetheless, this exemplifies something that I have repeatedly voiced here: that biblical scholarship proper is not about the reader’s beliefs or non-beliefs, not about finding our beliefs or scientific truths in these ancient documents, but about understanding and faithfully reproducing their beliefs. Dr. Winslow and I can agree on the point expressed above, because that the Hebrew ’erets did not and does not signify the planet Earth is a fact borne from reading the text on its own terms and in its own historical and literary contexts, regardless of the beliefs of its readers. This is what I have been advocating as the objective study of the Bible. It is the texts and the culturally conditioned beliefs expressed in them that are the object of our study—and not what later readers believe or are told to believe about these texts.
So then what does ’erets mean according to the ancient Israelite scribe that penned this text? What exactly does he portray God creating?
At the end of vv. 6-8 we are left with an image of two parted bodies of water, the waters above and the waters below, in the midst of which is a bowel-shaped pocket of air. This open space was created by the arched barrier (raqi‘a) which the creator deity made and set in place to keep the waters above from falling and rejoining the waters below (something that actually does happen in this writer’s flood narrative).9 This solid domed expanse is then called “the skies” (shamayim), so that in the end it is the sky itself which holds back the waters above, and these waters in return give the sky its blue color.
The text then turns to the waters below the skies. These waters are collected together and subdued to form “seas.” It is from this body of water that we are informed dry land (yabbashah) appears.
And God said, “Let the waters under the skies be gathered to one place and let the dry land be seen.” And it was so. And God called the dry land “earth” and he called the collection of waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:9–10)
There are several things to observe in these verses. First, we are informed that from the action of gathering the waters below the skies into tamed bodies of water, which are named “seas,” dry land can now emerge from the waters below and be seen. The Hebrew verb here is ra’ah, “to see,” and it is the same verb used in v. 10 when our author writes, “and God saw that it was good.” In v. 9, this verb appears in a passive imperative construction: “let be seen the dry land”—normally translated as “let the dry land appear.” The dry land, or earth proper (’erets), emerges from the collected waters below; it is commanded to appear, to become visible.
This narrative detail draws us back to v. 2, where yet to be created earth, that is dry land specifically, preexisted in a state of formlessness and desolation (tohu wabohu), itself immersed in the surging waters of the primeval deep (tehom). Again, it is best to understand “earth” in v. 2 as the material substance earth, which has as of yet not been formed, named, nor really created as dry habitable life-supporting land, earth proper. All this happens on day 3 in vv. 9-10. So, the preexisting formless and desolate material substance earth that was submerged in the watery deep of v. 2 only emerges as earth proper, that is, life-sustaining land, after the creator deity has subdued the primeval forces that threaten life—the untamed waters and darkness. This is yet another example of the creator god subduing the primeval elements rather than creating matter out of nothing. The waters recede and are tamed to expose, or create the conditions for, life-supporting dry earth—’erets proper.
Thus, far from presenting God creating Earth, a spherical planet orbiting a sun in one of many galaxies in infinite space (none of whose ideas existed to the author of this text), the text of Genesis 1 presents its god forming the substance earth, that is per our text dry, habitable, flat land which now rests on the waters below, and encasing it within a finite area of space, itself enclosed and defined by a solid domed expanse called the sky, which further functioned to hold back the primordial waters above it. In short, what the god of Genesis 1 creates is this:
In other words, our author’s presentation and imagination of how God created the material stuff of his world were shaped by his own subjective and culturally defined perceptions and beliefs about his world. These beliefs were deduced from what ancient man (mis)perceived on an empirical level: for example, rain fell from water which existed above the sky; whereas natural springs, deltas, and flooding led to the belief that the earth “floated” on and was supported by waters that existed below the earth, that is, below the dry ground beneath one’s feet.10 These beliefs, which for all intents and purposes functioned as “truths” for our author and his culture, were then legitimated by presenting the creator deity creating the world as the author himself perceived it to be! In the end, what the god of Genesis 1:1-10 creates miraculously conforms to ancient Near Eastern man’s perceptions and beliefs about the world, and not what we today know the world, and the larger cosmos, to be.
Genesis 1:14-19—Yahweh’s Eternal Festivals and the Creation of the Luminaries
The domed expanse or raqi‘a that was made in vv. 6-8 to separate and hold back the waters above is now populated with the luminaries: sun, moon, and the stars—with no awareness of the individual distances of each luminary from the earth nor their actual size and place in the solar system. Here they are presented as three-dimensional buttons embedded within or upon this solid domed expanse, above which were the primordial waters above.
Let there be lights in the domed expanse of the skies to separate between the day and the night, and let them be for signs, and for fixed times, and for days, and for years. (Gen 1:14)
Unlike modern man, ancient man constructed their calendars and measured the progression of time according to the celestial luminaries, predominantly the moon. The author of Genesis’ first creation account depicts this idea by having the creator deity specify that these luminaries were created for this specific purpose. Yet the most fascinating and certainly the most revealing element here in v. 14 is the claim that these luminaries function, in part, as celestial markers for mankind to identify specific “fixed times.” The Hebrew mo‘adim is often translated as “seasons.” But this translation does not capture the full semantic range implied in the word mo‘adim and completely misses, I would argue, this author’s subtle argument here.
A mo‘ed, the singular form, was not only a fixed or appointed time (i.e., a specific day set by the appearance or position of the moon), but it was equally a fixed meeting, congregation, or more significantly festival. So the author of this text is claiming that the god who created the habitable world also embedded into the very fabric of the sky luminaries for observing the festival dates, the mo‘adim, which mankind in general, but the Israelites specifically, were obliged to keep. Thus the luminaries were created in part so that mankind would know, observe, and keep Yahweh’s festivals, these mo‘adim.
What exactly are these “festival dates”? And why was this author interested in alluding to them in his creation account?
Out of the 160 times that the word mo‘ed appears in the Pentateuch, only 11 of them are from texts not written by the same priestly author who penned Genesis 1. This is no coincidence. The Aaronid priestly guild responsible for the composition of this once independent scroll, which scholars conveniently label the Priestly source,11 was inflexible about the observance of the cult and Yahweh’s mo‘adim. In fact, according to this priestly guild, and thus also the god of its text, the observance of the sacrificial cult, Yahweh’s festivals, and especially the Sabbath were all intimately woven into the very fabric of creation itself.12
These mo‘adim, “fixed times” or “festivals,” alluded to in Genesis 1:14 are specifically identified in Leviticus 23, a text penned by the very same author who wrote Genesis 1:1-2:3 (this goes for all of Leviticus)—our Aaronid priest.
And Yahweh spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them concerning Yahweh’s fixed times/festivals (mo‘adim) which you shall call holy assemblies: ‘These are my fixed times/festivals (mo‘adim).’” (Lev 23:1–2)
The chapter then continues by listing Yahweh’s “fixed times,” which were all conceived of as holy days to be observed eternally. These fixed times are fixed by the position of the moon:
• On the 14th day of the 1st new moon is Yahweh’s Passover—an “eternal law” according to this author and his Yahweh.
• On the 15th day of the 1st new moon is Yahweh’s Festival of Unleavened Bread—also an “eternal law.”
• On the day of the first harvest (this fixed time is not set by the moon) and 7 sabbatical weeks later on the 50th day is the Festival of Weeks, also proclaimed an “eternal law.”
• On the 1st day of the 7th new moon is the Horn Blast Holy Day.
• On the 10th day of the 7th new moon is the Day of Atonement/Purgation, also an “eternal law.”
• On the 15th day of the 7th new moon is the Festival of Booths, an “eternal law.”
These, then, are the “fixed times” (mo‘adim) to which Genesis 1:14 alludes. They refer to Yahweh’s festivals which were to be observed eternally on penalty of being excommunicated.
What this author has subtly done is to argue that there is no excuse for the nonobservance of these mo‘adim, of Yahweh’s festivals, given that the creator god himself created the luminaries so that mankind would know when these fixed times/festivals occurred and thus be able to observe them. In other words, according to the views and beliefs of the priest(s) who wrote Genesis 1:1-2:3, the inviolable obligation for all Israelites to observe Yahweh’s appointed holy days and festivals was directly woven into the very fabric of creation itself and indicated to mankind by way of the celestial luminaries which served as signs informing mankind when Yahweh’s fixed festivals were to be celebrated. There is no excuse for noncompliance. According to this author, and the god of his text, both the Torah (the book of Leviticus) and the world as the creator God created it bear witness to the eternal obligation of mankind to observe and keep Yahweh’s festivals.
It is easy to see how modern day Creationists, Fundamentalists, and Evangelicals who claim that they believe in the creation narrative of Genesis 1 are just being disingenuous toward this ancient text and the beliefs it expresses.13 The text does not validate nor support their claims. For the truth of the matter is that they do not in fact believe in the beliefs expressed in this text. A proper and correctly contextualized reading of the text itself convincingly demonstrates this point. Moreover, as we have seen with respect to the worldview expressed in Genesis 1:1-10, so too here: it is constructed on culturally shaped beliefs and perceptions about the world which were then transferred to the god of this text. This can be illustrated here in another way.
The fact that the moon is presented as “the lesser light” (1:16) when compared to the sun, “the greater light,” reflects subjective and culturally held perceptions and beliefs endemic to the ancient world. Since the sun’s light reflects off of the moon—a knowledge that our ancient biblical scribe did not possess—the moon was falsely perceived as producing its own light. This culturally conditioned “truth” was then transferred to the god of the priestly writer’s text so that our biblical scribe presents God’s creation of the moon as the creation of a light producing source, as he himself understood it! God now creates, not the moon per se, but how the moon was perceived by our biblical author and his culture. In other words, ancient texts do in fact represent the beliefs and perceptions of ancient peoples.
Genesis 1:20-28—Mankind, More than Just an Animal
Man is unlike any other animal of the earth. This truth was acknowledged and reflected upon by nearly every ancient culture. The Greek philosopher Plato proposed that man was divided between a lower animal part and an upper divine part, the immortal soul. He reasoned that man’s divine intellect and soul set him apart from the rest of the animals. Ancient Egyptians also accorded man with an immortal soul, which originated from the gods and returned to them upon death of the physical body. And creation myths from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia alike speak of the creation of man as part clay of the earth on the one hand, and part divine intelligence, divine blood, or divine breath on the other hand. Additionally, many of these same texts describe man as “the image of his creator god,” and kings and Pharaohs throughout the Levant, including those from Israel, were imagined to be the sons of their respective cultural deity. It is therefore not surprising that this fundamental “truth” about the nature of man, that he was somehow different from the animals and that a part of him at some essential level originated from the divine, was also to be expressed in Genesis 1.
This is in fact the message behind our author’s portrait of God’s creation of mankind “in his image.” But before we take a look at this, the creation of mankind must be seen in the framework our author intended his readers to see it—vis-à-vis the creation of the animals.
And God said, “Let the waters swarm with a swarm of living beings (nephesh hayah), and let fowl fly above the earth (’erets) in front of the domed expanse (raqi‘a) of the skies.” And God created (bara’) the great sea-serpents and all living beings (nephesh hayah) that swim with which the waters swarm by their kind, and every winged fowl by its kind. (Gen 1:20–21)
And God said: “Let the earth bring forth living beings (nephesh hayah) by their kind—beasts and reptiles—animals (hayat) of the earth by their kind.” And it was so. And God made (‘asah) the animals of the earth by their kind—the beasts by their kind and every reptile of the ground by its kind. (Gen 1:24–25)
The Hebrew nephesh denotes the life force that animates a living being or life in abstract terms—anything that has the breath of life in it: animals, humans, creatures. The adjective hayah basically means the same thing—living, alive. Thus “living beings” seems to best capture the intended sense here. This same phrase nephesh hayah also appears in the Yahwist creation account where, I will argue below, its use is significantly different from how it is used by the author of Genesis 1, and furthermore, when used to refer to both man (Gen 2:7) and the animals (Gen 2:19) violently contradicts the message of Genesis 1:24–27.
We must also strongly avoid and discourage the translation of nephesh as “soul.” The word “soul” especially conceived of as “immortal soul” is a concept of Greek philosophy and is unknown to the Hebrew Bible and its authors. The concept doesn’t emerge in Judaism until after Alexander the Great conquers the world at the end of the 4th century BCE, bringing with him Greek philosophical ideas into Judaism, and eventually into early Christianity. One clearly sees from its use in Genesis 1:20, 21, 24, and 30 that nephesh means life force, or that which has the breath of life in it, since “soul” is usually not a concept applied to fish, eels, worms, cattle, turkeys, bats, etc.
The point I wish to stress, no matter how one translates the expression nephesh hayah, is that it is never used in the creation of mankind, male and female, in Genesis 1:26–27. I am not saying that our author did not see mankind as a “living being”; of course he did. But I would argue that he consciously avoids using the expression in Genesis 1:26–27 because he is attempting to stress mankind’s utter difference from the nephesh hayah or the hayat (animals) of the earth.
And God said, “Let us make (‘asah) mankind (’adam) in our image and after our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the skies and over the beasts and over all the earth and over every reptile that crawls upon the earth.” And God created (bara’) mankind in his image; in the image of God he created (bara’) it; male and female he created (bara’) them. (Gen 1:26–27)
There are two important differences our author emphasizes in his presentation of God’s creation of the animals and of mankind, male and female.
First, the text stresses the inherent connection between the animals and the earth. This is emphasized by drawing our attention to God’s imperative that the earth should “bring forth” living creatures (nephesh hayah), and that the earth’s animals are somehow essentially connected to the earth. Then we are informed that the creator deity makes (‘asah) the animals of the earth (hayat ha’arets)—beasts and reptiles—by their kind. Mankind, in contrast, is not of the earth. The focal point in the narrative changes at this point.
From the perspective of the author of Genesis 1, and contradictory to the views of Genesis 2 (below), mankind is not to be envisioned as equal to or on a par with the animals of the earth. The earth does not “bring forth” mankind in this creation myth—again in contrast to the second creation account. Furthermore, and again contradictory to Genesis 2:18, the animals are not seen as man’s assistant helper (‘ezer) or counterpart (neged), but rather mankind is to rule over them. He is of a different essence than they—not so according to Genesis 2, as we shall momentarily see. In fact, I might be tempted to argue that according to the author of Genesis 1, mankind is not to be conceived of as an animal of the earth! This brings me to my second point.
The repeated refrain “by its kind” as a descriptive for the manner in which the fowl of the skies, the fish of the seas, and the animals of the earth are created or made is not only a rhetorical device. It serves a thematic purpose as well whose function is to highlight mankind’s utter difference to the animals, only this time with respect to the manner of how he/she is created. It is difficult to say what exactly our author intended by the expression “by its kind.” It would seem that the idea conveyed is that each life form was distinct, that a cow for example, or what a cow is, is distinctly defined “by its own kind.” At any event, the expression is used to convey how radically different this creation “by its kind” is to the creation of mankind. For unlike the living beings of the earth (hayat ha’arets), mankind is not created according to its own kind but rather in the image of the divine beings: “in our image and after our likeness.” That is to say, according to the author of this creation account, God made every living being of the earth—except that of mankind—according to its own kind. Mankind, however, was not created after its own kind, but rather in the image and likeness of God.
The ideas expressed by our author here are again not some divinely ordained and objective description of the origins of mankind. Rather, like everything else in this creation account, they are the expression of the views and beliefs of our author and his culture. It is our author who perceives mankind as radically different from the animals that populate the earth. And this difference causes him to compose a creation narrative wherein these differences are expressed. Unlike the living beings of the earth, each made according to their own kind, mankind, on the contrary, is created in the image and likeness of the divine beings! That seems to be our author’s message.
By way of concluding this section, I might encourage my readers to start thinking about how this later sixth-century BCE creation myth functioned in relationship to the earlier Yahwist account now preserved in Genesis 2:4b–3:24, which we will shortly look at. Following the work of my colleagues,14 it has been hypothesized that the Priestly writer was writing a creation narrative to replace or subvert the earlier eight-century BCE Yahwist creation account, but due to an unforeseen later editorial endeavor both accounts were preserved side-by-side. At any event, the point to mull over, to which we will return later, is that we can see the Priestly writer’s concerns here. For in the earlier Yahwist text, man, that is, the sole creation of Adam, is in no way distinguished from the animals of the earth. Even after he receives Yahweh’s breath, Adam is still made of the same essential material that the animals are made of, the ’adamah (the ground), and only still merely becomes what the animals themselves are referred to as—a nephesh hayah (Gen 2:7, 19). I would propose that this is just one of the specific concerns and disagreements that the Priestly writer had with this older tradition that he himself inherited. So what did he do? He rewrote it in accord with his own views and beliefs on the matter—rewriting mankind above and distinct from the animals of the earth, not equivalent to them!
Genesis 2:2-3—The Sabbath: Sacred Time Embedded in the Creation
And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had made; and he rested (shabat) on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all his work which God created and had made. (Gen 2:2–3)
On the seventh and last day of this creation account, our author not only presents the deity resting from his creative work, but more significantly consecrating and blessing the seventh day as holy. That is to say, the creator god creates and proclaims the last day of creation as a holy day of rest, a Sabbath—distinct from the previous six nonsacred or common days.
We should immediately notice that the 6th century Aaronid priest who composed this creation account has God make the seventh day, the day on which he rested from his work, holy. The Hebrew is a one word verb (qadash): “to consecrate,” “to sanctify,” or “to set apart as holy.” Although I have translated this verb as it commonly appears in the majority of English translations, “made (it) holy,” it might best be translated as “set (it) apart as holy” or “consecrated (it).” Indeed, the very fact that the text has the creator deity bless the seventh day and rest on it by extension “makes it holy.” The seventh day is holy specifically because God had rested on it and in that resting he “made” it holy.
We should also notice that although the creation of mankind is a climatic event in the Priestly writer’s creation account,15 it is not the climax of his narrative: the Sabbath is. The whole creation account moves toward and finds its resolution in the seventh day, which is additionally consecrated, blessed, and set apart as holy. In fact, the sole reason for having presented the process of creation in sequential days (day one, day two, day three, etc.) was to establish the fact that it was day seven that the creator deity set apart as holy. This was the initial framework upon which the priestly writer drafted his composition—a seven-day creation account that sanctified the Sabbath as a holy day of rest in its essence. It could not have been a one-day creation account as we find in the earlier Yahwist account (see below), or a three-day creation account. It needed to be a seven-day creation account that, from the perspective of the priests who composed this account, legitimated once and for all the sacredness of the seventh day, the creator God’s Sabbath, and thus also the absolute and unconditional eternal obligation—indeed an eternal covenant according to this same author (Exod 31:12-17)—to observe this day as holy, since the creator God established and consecrated it as holy in its essential nature when he rested from his creation. The creation narrative, in other words, was pre-designed to answer the why and the how of the seventh day’s holiness. The Sabbath now becomes, under the plume of this priest’s pen, an inherent part of the created world; the two are inseparable. The seventh day’s holiness is embedded right into the very fabric of creation itself! Thus, observing the Sabbath day as God himself did becomes not just a law to follow, but rather a god-created inherent structure of the world itself. Observing and keeping the Sabbath is therefore observing and keeping holy the inherent nature of the world as God created it and observed it himself! This is our priestly writer’s argument. This is his creationism.
Furthermore, as we saw with the creation of the luminaries for the purpose of being able to observe and thus keep Yahweh’s holy festivals, the same applies here: the Sabbath is to be observed precisely because the God of creation created the seventh day from the new moon and each consecutive seventh day until the next new moon as a holy, sacred day when he created the world. This is our author’s message. And it explains why the punishment for nonobservance was so severe. From the perspective of our author and his priestly guild, to blatantly neglect and not keep that which the creator God created at creation as a sacred, distinct, holy day was blasphemous pure and simply. The punishment? Swift and inviolable death.16
Thus according to the elite priestly guild that penned Genesis 1:1-2:3, the God of creation not only created the things of the visible world as it was perceived through the cultural lens of our ancient Israelite scribe, but he additionally created specific lunar dates and intervals of time as sacred and these holy days were embedded into his creation. That the seventh day was created and proclaimed as a consecrated holy day to be distinguished and observed on a weekly basis from the previous six non-sacred or common days was as much of an uncompromising fact inherent in the created world for our author as the skies or the sun above. Any violation of this created order, that is, what God himself created, was met with a swift death. Doing profane or common work on the Sabbath not only blasphemed the very day that the creator god created in its essence and nature as holy, but it also blasphemed the whole of creation, as well as the creator God himself who deemed and declared the seventh day holy to himself and to his people. That is what the priestly writer was getting at. One cannot neglect or breach an inherent, god-created law of the created world.
Modern so-called “readers” of these ancient texts, influenced by later interpretive frameworks, most notably those created centuries later by New Testament writers, regrettably miss our author’s point or simply toss it in the wastebin. The priests perceived their world and believed at an elemental and essential level that the seventh day from the new moon and each consecutive seventh day was categorically holy in its very nature, that God created it holy. This was a natural law, if you will, of the created world. This is why any and all non-observances were punishable by death. These, then, were the beliefs of the priests who penned Genesis 1:1-2:3. They are not ours, nor our culture’s beliefs. Neither does our way of life substantiate these beliefs in anyway. Creationists simply feign belief when they claim that they believe in and adhere to the priestly creation account of Genesis 1.
To put this in perspective, particularly for my Christian readers who have been influenced by interpretive frameworks and agendas created centuries after our priestly text was written, to say that one no longer needs to follow the Sabbath or that the Sabbath is now abolished would be analogous to claiming that we no longer need to obey the law of gravity! That the law of gravity has been rescinded. We are no longer obliged to follow it!
Of course this is a ridiculous thing to say. But this is precisely the point that the priestly writer was attempting to make: as we perceive the law of gravity to be an inherent part, even truth, about the nature of the world and all bodies in this world are subject to its law, so too this was how the priests who wrote the creation narrative in Genesis 1:1-2:3 perceived the Sabbath. For the priestly writer this holy day was essentially and inherently a part of the very fabric of the created world itself, just as the law of gravity is for us post-Newtonians. One cannot interpret it away, or abolish it, or say that it no longer needs to be observed—all interpretive agendas set by contradictory beliefs about the nature of the world held by later readers. Similarly, one cannot claim that the seas that the god of Genesis 1 created no longer need to be seas, or the sky no longer needs to hold back the waters above. One cannot change, in other words, the beliefs and perceptions of our ancient author, how he perceived his world. This is being disingenuous to this ancient text and the beliefs represented therein. Our goal, rather, is to enter into this ancient priest’s vision of his world and understand it—understand why he believed what he did and how he legitimated his beliefs. Being honest to his text and his beliefs, then, is realizing that they differ from our beliefs and scientific truths about the nature of the world.
In the end, then, ancient texts do in fact represent the views and beliefs of ancient peoples and cultures. I really shouldn’t have to argue for this. And learning about the literary conventions employed by the ancient scribes who wrote these texts, we also come to realize that their unique beliefs and worldviews were legitimated and presented as the beliefs and worldview of that particular culture’s deity. We see this throughout the literature of the ancient Near East, but especially in the biblical canon since it is in fact a collection of ancient texts spanning almost a thousand years. Even a close comparison of Genesis 1 and 2 reveals competing and contradictory mindsets and perceptions about the nature and origins of the world and of man and woman. And the differing beliefs and worldview that underlie the second creation myth were also presented and legitimated by placing them on Yahweh’s lips.
Genesis 2:4b–24 on Its Own Terms and in Its Own Historical and Literary Context
From the opening verses of the second creation account, or if my reader prefers right at Genesis 2:4b, we notice stark differences in the text’s tone, style, vocabulary, message, presentation, perspective, and thematic and theological emphases. More importantly, these differences should not be ignored or disingenuously interpreted away by imposing an exterior theological framework created centuries after these texts were written and by a readership that knew nothing about the authors of these texts, when they were written, why, for whom, etc. Rather these textual differences should be seen as a product of the text’s historical and literary context, and even embraced for what they are—the mark of a different scribal hand, a different textual tradition, a variant version of the same story.
Stories were as much a part of the ancient world as the television is for us today. People told and heard stories on a daily basis. It was part of their lifeblood. Stories defined a people’s identity, explained the origins of current political and religious institutions, and preserved traditional beliefs, worldviews, and customs.
Many stories in the ancient world enjoyed a long oral tradition before they were finally written down, and many of these same stories have their origin in older stories that were borrowed and modified from other or earlier peoples. Many of the stories now preserved in Genesis are modified versions of stories that existed in the cultures and traditions of Israel’s older contemporaries. Stories about the creation of the world, a cataclysmic universal flood, digging wells as land markers, the naming of important cultic sites, gods giving laws to their people, gods decreeing that their people build them temples and sanctuaries, and even stories about gods decreeing the possession of land to their people were all part of the cultural and literary matrix of the ancient Near East.17 In many cases alternative versions of these stories existed. A people living at one place and time might tell the story that they inherited from their forefathers or an earlier indigenous culture differently in order to suit the needs of their community or to better represent its changing views and beliefs.
The ancient Israelites were no exception. They told stories, retold stories, modified their stories, recited them at festivals, and eventually wrote them down, collected them, and codified them as scripture. The Bible as it has come down to us preserves numerous stories, and many of them are duplicates—that is, a traditional story that was told in one manner at one place and time, and told in a variant manner at another place and time. In the end, these different versions were written down by scribes and thenceforth became unalterable. Later, editors who collected Israel’s various stories preserved both versions of the story, even when, as we shall see, they contradicted one another, or a later story was written to replace an earlier version! In fact, doublets—two versions of the same story—have always served as good indicators for identifying the Bible’s different textual traditions or sources. Nearly all of the contradictory stories and even competing “histories” found in the Bible were created due to an editorial decision made by later scribes who deemed it important to preserve variant versions of ancient Israel’s stories.18
The two creation stories that open the book of Genesis are just that—variations on the same story. And these two versions of the creation story were written by two different scibes or guilds, to address different historical and/or religious concerns and perspectives, for two distinct historical audiences, and most likely influenced by two different versions of the creation story as it had already been told throughout the ancient Near East! We have already seen how the author of Genesis 1:1-2:3 borrowed themes and perspectives shared throughout the cultures of the ancient Near Eastern world, and modified them to suit his own beliefs and agenda. Furthermore, the story that starts at Genesis 2:4b proceeds as if the first creation account never occurred. This story never acknowledges, alludes to, shares, or builds upon any of the narrative, thematic, theological, or linguistic elements found in the creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3. To the contrary, as we will see, this second creation account actually negates many of the themes and claims found in the first creation account, and frankly this is because it was written separately, by a different scribe, and centuries before the creation account now occupying Genesis 1:1-2:3 was written. Despite these two stories’ thematic and stylistic differences, they were preserved on a single scroll by scribes living centuries after they were written precisely because they represented variant sacred traditions.
Genesis 2:4b—Observing Thematic and Stylistic Differences
There are several differences that are immediately noticeable in the opening verse (Gen 2:4b) of this second creation account. A literal translation runs: “In the day that god Yahweh made earth and skies…”
We immediately notice that the creator deity is now specified by name, Yahweh.19 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. Only the Yahwist text, in other words, affirms and acknowledges contrary to the other sources that the name Yahweh was known to, and frequently invoked by, the patriarchs prior to its revelation. 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).
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, and earth, that is dry land, emerged from the waters below on the third day. Furthermore, contrary to the claims of Genesis 2:4b-7, man was not created on any of the days on which 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)!
Additionally, 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 the temporal referent of Gen 2:4b 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!
In other words, the orderly, formulaic, and precise use of both language, themes, and the chronology of 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 imprecise, incorrect, or even abstract 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 were penned by a different scribe! Contrary to the first creation account with its temporal precision, the second creation account merely commenced: “In the day that god Yahweh made earth and skies…”
Finally, according to this second 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 formed man, then apparently plants, animals, and lastly woman. This radically contradicts all of Genesis 1:1-2:3 on thematic, stylistic, and even theological grounds! The subsequent creation of each one of these life forms in the second creation account—man, plants, animals, and woman—is chronologically dissimilar and utterly contradictory to the presentation, order, and most importantly manner in which the creation of each one of these life forms were presented in the first creation account. 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 the narrative of 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, one which commenced: “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 solid domed barrier or sky, 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 which brings something into existence by means of separating or dividing it out. 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 it also displays the mindset of a different author who conceived creation in different terms from those employed by 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 for this author.
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, or rather fabrication, 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 the deity’s creative act. More on this below.
Another stylistic difference noticeable in the Hebrew of verse 2:4b which 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 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.
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 skies and the earth” and “earth and skies”—which on its own might not mean anything, but together with the differences already reviewed above is a further indication of another author’s hand.
In sum, the Hebrew of Genesis 2:4b and in fact the Hebrew of all of the second creation account, evidences a more poetic style and tone, and has a more storyteller feeling to it. The Hebrew of Genesis 1:1-2:3, on the other hand, evidences the hand of an educated elite scribal guild. It is no surprise then to learn that the first creation account was written by a 6th century elite priestly guild at a time when Israel was a temple-state; while the second creation account was written by a secular scribe, a storyteller from the days of old. These different social groups are reflected in the style and tone of the Hebrew itself.
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 of 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 views and beliefs of their independent authors.
Genesis 2:5—Man and Rain: Prerequisites to the Creation of Plants
The differences so far illustrated in just the opening verse of the second creation account (Gen 2:4b) become more pronounced as we move through the narrative. Genesis 2:5-7, for example, evidences 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!
The portrait of male and female—note the difference in vocabulary—created together in the image of God and thus distinct from the earth and the animals of the earth 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.
Thematically Genesis 2:5-6 not only brings us back to a point in the assembled PJ 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, 11-12, 29-30, and for that matter the entire conclusion of the first creation account. Just look at these verses and observe what is being presented thematically and how this is being presented stylistically and linguistically.
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 [P])
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 [P])
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 [J])
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 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. 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 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 (below).
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 its own kind (vv. 11-12) in the first creation account. 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 purpose. Additionally, there is not a hint of interest in man’s relationship to the ground and its tilling, and in fact the first creation account goes out of its way to present man’s creation divorced from any relationship to the earth or its ground by presenting a portrait of him, and her, being created in God’s 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 empirical observations of their geographical reality—a fertile earth resting 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 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 below, which indeed did 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 interests 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 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. Furthermore, 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-existence of the plants is unique here as well, 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 writing about the plants’ creation upon the earth. The use of the verb “to grow” (tsamach) is also unique to the second 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 by extension man’s relationship to the produce of the field. Both thematically and otherwise this is a colossal difference from the claims of the author of Genesis 1:24-27.
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.20 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 more stylistic and thematic differences throughout the remainder of Genesis 2.
In sum, 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!
Genesis 2:6-7—Yahweh Molds an Earthling
Man’s creation, its chronological placement in the narrative, the manner through which he is created and the reason why, the fact that only a man in the singular is created, and the elemental material from which he is created are all vastly different from man’s (and woman’s) creation as it was presented in the first creation account. And as we saw in the case of the first creation account, so too here: this account of man’s creation was shaped by the cultural concerns, worldview, and beliefs of its author.
Man’s relationship to the ground is the central and predominant theme in this second creation account and it is presented in several ways. Right down to the creation of his very bones, man is defined in relationship to and in the same terms as the ground! This is not only vastly different from the views and beliefs of our first author, but completely negates and contradicts them. From the perspective of the culture that shaped our present author’s attitudes and perceptions about man, the creation of man could not have been drafted in any other way than by presenting him as a creature of the soil, a thing of the earth, an earthling in a very literal sense. This is brought out in several different ways.
First, verse 5 already foreshadows the conclusion of this etiological tale explaining how it came about that man must procure his livelihood by working the ground by initially referring to the absence of man in relationship to the absence of the earth’s produce. In other words, before the creation of man himself, the author of this text has already subtly suggested that the ground, its produce, and man are all intimately connected together.
Second, unlike the author of our first creation account, this author utilizes a new and different vocabulary word for speaking about the earth or the ground—in Hebrew ’adamah. Obviously the introduction of this term fits this author’s purpose in presenting man (’adam) as a product of the earth (’adamah). By contrast, of the 97 times that the term ’adamah appears in the Pentateuch alone, only 4 of these are found in the Priestly source! Moreover this author, the priest who penned Genesis 1, only uses the term as part of one unique expression, which we do indeed find in this author’s creation account as well as this same author’s flood narrative—“every creeping thing of the ground (ha’ adamah)” (Gen 1:25, 7:8, 9:2; Lev 20:25). Thus not only does our second author, the Yahwist, introduce a new vocabulary word into his narrative for the purpose of defining man’s essence, but he also employs this term in a different sense than that used and understood by our first author. Again such differences should not be neglected; they are more than differences of word choice. They reflect differences in cultural perspectives, views, and even ideologies.
Third, in drastically different terms and imagination, cultural context and perspective, the author of this creation account portrays the man, Adam, being formed or molded (yatsar) from the ground (’adamah). Again, this is not just a difference in word choice, but a complete about-face in cultural and religious perceptions and ideas from those presented in the first creation narrative. Not only is man (and woman) not formed, molded, or crafted in the first creation account and presumably by Yahweh’s hands, but the verb yatsar is never found in anything that the author of the first creation account, the Priestly writer, has ever written! It is an older term and one that was frequently used in the prophetic literature to speak of Yahweh as a potter who fashioned man, the clay of the earth, with his hands like a potter forms objects on his wheel (Is 45:9, 64:8; Jer 18:4-6)21. So both the word and what the word denotes are utterly absent in the first creation account.
Lastly, the very fact that the author of this second creation account, and only this author, depicts man (’adam) being molded from the ground (’adamah) represents this author’s unique views and beliefs—that man was not only created from the ground, but his very essence or being, is defined both linguistically and substantively by the very same term and material as the ground! Man is in essence and in language of the ground. This is more than a simple pun on words for our author. Rather it helps to define man as intricately and essentially of the ground. It explains, in fanciful terms, the origin behind this author’s cultural truth—why man must procure his livelihood by working the ground (’adamah), and at that a cursed ground (Gen 2:5, 15; 3:17, 23). There is more to be said here in regards to man’s relationship to the animals, which are also of the ground (’adamah).
In conclusion, none of these themes, ideas, and culturally formed beliefs about man, and only man, are presented in the first creation account nor the mind of its author. They are unique to the second creation account and the aims and views of this author only. In fact, the author of the first creation account distances the creation of man and woman from the earth, the animals of the earth, and the manner in which the animals of the earth are created by using a set of different vocabulary to describe man and woman’s creation: instead of “by its kind” and “and let the earth bring forth nephesh hayah,” the expression “in the image and likeness of God” is used and man and woman’s creation is removed from the earth and the animals of the earth. By contrast, the author of the second creation narrative explicitly and purposefully presents the fashioning of man (’adam), and only man, in relationship to the earth (’adamah), and in relationship to the fashioning of the animals. In other words, the later Priestly writer’s presentation of the creation of man and woman together, male and female in the image and likeness of the gods, and apart from any etiological understanding of man only as a thing of the earth and defined in essence as of the earth, is an explicit attempt to rewrite this older Yahiwst creation story.
Finally, and again, contradictory to the first creation narrative, the author of the second account has a very specific reason for not presenting the creation of woman with that of man. And this has to do with this author’s interest on etiology, wordplay, and how he or his culture perceived the essential natures of man and woman separately. For the fact is, for this author, that the origin of woman, unlike that of man (and his animal companions), is not of the soil! As we shall see, contrary to the author of Genesis 1:1-2:3, this author was writing an etiological tale with the express goal of representing and explaining the unique origins of man and woman, separately!
Genesis 2:18-20—Man and the Animals from the Ground, Woman from Man
In radically contradictory fashion to the creation of man (and woman) in the first creation account, when all is said and done in the second creation account, the substance from which man is made and that which he essentially becomes are shockingly no different than what is said about every other animal in this creation narrative.
And god Yahweh molded (yatsar) the man (ha’adam), clay from the ground (ha ’adamah), and blew into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being (nephesh hayah). (Gen 2:7 [J])
And god Yahweh molded (yatsar) from the ground (ha’adamah) every animal of the field and every fowl of the skies and brought them to the man (ha’adam) to see what he would call them. And whatsoever the man called every living being (nephesh hayah), that was its name. (Gen 2:19 [J])
In Genesis 2:4b-25, and only in this creation account, the essential nature of man, in both language and substance, is defined no differently than that of the animals. Both are molded (yatsar) by Yahweh from the ground (ha ’adamah), and both are defined as living beings (nephesh hayah). Even after Yahweh blows into man’s nostrils the breath of life, he still merely becomes no more than that which the animals are also defined as: a nephesh hayah!
Of course, our author purposefully created this connection and has a specific reason for doing so, as we shall momentarily see. But presently it needs to be stressed just how radically different and contradictory this image of man’s creation is from the Priestly writer’s image of man and woman’s creation together in the image and likeness of God.
The author of the first creation account purposefully crafts the creation of man and woman in opposing terms and image to that of the animals of the earth. Only the animals of the earth, each created “by their kind,” are referred to as nephesh hayah in this creation account. This author’s aim was to suggest that man and woman, unlike the beasts of the earth, were made in the image of the god(s) and are consequentially more than mere nephesh hayah, living beings made after their own kind! By stark contrast, in the second account this label, “a living being” (nephesh hayah), is seen as man’s crowning definition! And furthermore it does not distinguish him from the animals who are also nephesh hayah! This is a shocking negation of the views and perspective of the Priestly creation account, whose aims were to emphatically distinguish mankind’s essential substance and mode of creation from that of the animals of the earth—not so for the Yahwist’s creation account.
In fact, none of the first creation account’s themes—indeed arguments—are present in the second creation narrative, and on the contrary a set of opposite themes and arguments are made with reference to the creation of man, the animals, and lastly woman. It would do us well to listen to this author’s specific arguments and point of view, rather than subordinating them to the claims of the first creation account and thereby neglecting them all together. Thus, whereas the first creation myth presents the creation of man and woman in different terms and image to the creation of the animals of the earth, the second creation account, by contrast, purposefully designates man, and only man, and the animals no differently—a nephesh hayah formed of the ’adamah. Furthermore, man and the animals are depicted on the same plane: the animals are each presented as potentially suitable companions for the man. They are seen as man’s assistant helper (‘ezer) or counterpart (neged) in this and only this creation account.
Why then did the author of this creation myth present man and the animals in similar terms and essences, that is made of the same stuff? What was his message? And why didn’t he include woman at this point in his narrative?
It should readily be perceivable now that the Yahwist was quite the talented storyteller, and for the most part his stories, or those he himself inherited, were crafted to convey specific messages. We have already explored the rationale behind his presentation of man as substantively molded from the ground (Gen 2:6-7). This not only provided the Yahwist storyteller with a nice pun on words, ’adam from ’adamah, but also explained from his cultural perspective why man is intrinsically attached to working the ground in order to procure his livelihood. Thus the Yahwist’s stories have an etiological purpose, that is they explain the origins of current customs, worldviews, and beliefs.
The story about how god Yahweh fashioned animals from the ground, the same essence from which man was made, is also an etiological tale, whose conclusion is to be found in the story of the creation of woman and the material from which she was made. It is a fanciful story explaining how man finally ended up with a woman as his life’s companion and not an animal!
Genesis 2:18 specifically claims that god Yahweh molded the animals from the ground so that the man would not be alone, and so that he would have a counterpart (neged), a helper (‘ezer), that corresponded to his own being. Since man in both essence and name is of the ground, ’adam from ’adamah, it was only natural that a suitable counterpart for man be sought from the same essence. Thus Yahweh fashions the animals too from the ’adamah with the sole purpose of bringing them to the man so that he might recognize his own essence as it were among these potential suitors. We might again pause and note that this etiological story outright contradicts not only the order of the creation of the animals in the first creation account, but more significantly the manner and the reason for their creation as well! This narrative detail our author consciously created in order to construct a narrative explaining why man’s life-partner is not found among the animals of the same essence as himself, but rather in another being, not yet created—woman. This story ends by claiming that Yahweh could not fashion from the ground a fit companion for man. He must now fashion man’s companion not from the ’adamah, the substance from which man was created, but from man himself!
And god Yahweh caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man (ha’adam) and he slept. And he took one of his ribs and closed up flesh in its place. And god Yahweh built the rib which was taken from the man into a woman (’ishah) and brought her to the man. And the man said: “This now is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh. Accordingly she shall be called ‘woman’ (’ishah) because from man (’ish) she was taken. (Gen 2:21-24 [J])
The point behind the creation and naming of the animals in this second account is to give an account of woman’s creation, who contrary to the animals, is the perfect fit/companion for man. There is additionally not only wordplay going on in this account, but also the presentation of a culturally formed perspective that accentuates the essences from which man, animals, and woman were all created, and therefore how each one’s being defines them and their relationship to each other: man is essentially tied to and defined by the ground whence he was molded, ’adam from ’adamah, and woman is essentially tied to and defined in relation to man whence she was “built,” ’ishah from ’ish!
This was a consciously constructed narrative on this author’s part and it is a radically different cultural perspective and worldview than that presented in Gen 1:27, where male and female are both created together in the likeness and image of the divine. It may even be argued that the later 6th century BCE Priestly writer who wrote what is now the first creation account vehemently disagreed with this earlier portrait which essentially defined man as of the earth and woman as of man. So what did this educated priest do? He rewrote it. The message of the first creation account and its author is that man and women are essentially defined by the fact that they are both images and likenesses of the divine! These are radically contradictory and competing creation accounts of man and woman. Anyone seeking to harmonize these two different messages dilutes each one and neglects each author’s unique perspectives and beliefs, valuing their own modern beliefs above the individual and competing beliefs and perspectives of these two authors.
Finally, both accounts of the creation of man and woman serve as an etiological story explaining the origins of matrimony. This is more apparent in the second creation account. Why does man eventually marry woman? Our text responds by saying that it is because woman was substantially and essentially made from man’s flesh. “On account of this a man (’ish) shall leave his father and his mother and adhere to his woman/wife (’ishah), and they shall become one flesh”—that is, as they originally were and still are! The first creation account gives a radically different answer. It is because God created humanity (’adam) as both male (zakar) and female (neqebah) together!
As further textual support, the Priestly creation account of Genesis 1 exhibits a number of unique linguistic features and vocabulary choices that are only found in the Priestly source.
The Seven-Day Creation Account and the Rest of the Priestly Source: Stylistic and Thematic Parallels
The creation account now preserved in Genesis 1:1-2:3 shares numerous stylistic, thematic, and religious characteristics with the rest of the Priestly corpus. Many of these features are unique hallmarks of the Priestly writer and his guild and are found nowhere else in the Pentateuch. It’s time we looked at some of these features.22
On stylistic grounds, Genesis 1:1-2:3 displays the hand of a well-educated and meticulous writer. This is immediately apparent in this writer’s ritualistic attention to detailed expressions, language, and specific vocabulary that, as we shall see, are only found in the Priestly source. But even more impressionable is his repetitive and orderly style, which displays the mind of an individual who thinks in ritualistic terms: everything must have its proper place, order, and purpose. This pedantic and repetitive style comes across in this author’s interest in organization, genealogies, chronologies, and other stylistic features such as his use of chiasmas and redundant noun-verb combinations, such as those already present in Genesis 1: “swarming-creatures swarming” (sherets sharats), “flying-creatures flying” (‘oph ‘uph), “creeping-creatures creeping” (remes ramas), and “seed-sowing seed” (zara‘ zera‘). None of these stylistic features are found in the Yahwist creation account.
Additionally, this author’s use of formulaic repetitions, spatial and temporal organization patterns, lists, and genealogies are readily apparent in other passages penned by this same author. Take a close look at the ritualistically detailed and repetitive style employed in Exodus 25-31 and 35-40, or Leviticus 1-7, 11, 13-15, 18, 23, or Numbers 1-4, 7, 26, 28-29, 31, and 33. All of these passages were penned by the same priestly guild and its particular style is not found any where else in the Pentateuch. This is not the secular storyteller style of the Yahwist, filled with word puns, folklore etiologies, and place name etymologies. This is the style of an educated elite legalist, a priest. Furthermore, in every place where we find this style employed, we also find the same themes, religious concerns, ideology, and cultic worldview of the Priestly guild responsible for writing these and similar passages. In other words, it’s not just the style, the name of Israel’s god, or the specific religious beliefs and concerns that have enabled scholars to identify the Priestly source, but rather it is the convergence of all of these features together, over and over in dozens and dozens of passages throughout the Pentateuch.23
More specifically, there are a number of words and expressions found in Genesis 1:1-2:3 that only occur in the Priestly source. The Hebrew verb “to separate” or “to divide,” for example, which appears five times in the Priestly writer’s creation account, is found a total of seventeen times in the Priestly corpus, and conversely only five times in other non-P Pentateuchal sources. This word choice is significant in this corpus of literature since the primary task of the priests was to distinguish and divide between the pure and the impure, the sacred and profane, in matters of the cult, human activities, objects, bodily emissions, and even spatial and temporal borders. It reflects this priestly guild’s unique set of beliefs and worldview. Certain things by their very natures are to be kept separate.24
The word for dry land (yabbashah) is an identifiable Priestly marker. It is not only used in Genesis 1:9-10, but also in this priestly writer’s version of the crossing of the Sea of Reeds story—yes, there are two once separate versions—in Exodus 14 (see #120-122)25. This is revealing because the same story as recited by the earlier Yahwist uses the Hebrew harabah which also means “dry ground” in both his version of the Flood story and the crossing of the Sea of Reeds story. In other words, while J consistently uses harabah for “dry ground,” P uses yabbashah.
The noun miqweh, a “collection” (1:10), is unique to the Priestly source occurring once in Genesis and in only two other passages in the Pentateuch, both penned by P.
The Hebrew word translated as “by their kind,” which appears ten times in the Priestly creation account alone, appears another twenty times in the Pentateuch, sixteen of which are found in other P passages. Notably, the term finds itself employed in P’s dietary laws in Leviticus 11, and in only P’s version of the Flood narrative.26 More significantly we also only find in this author’s creation account and flood narrative the lengthier and uniquely P expressions “every creeping thing of the ground by their kind” (Gen 1:25; 6:20; 7:14), “the animals (of the earth) by their kind,” “the beasts by their kind,” and “birds by their kind.” These expressions are found nowhere else in the Bible, only in the Priestly source.
The Hebrew word for “lights” or “luminaries” in Genesis 1, ma’or, as opposed to the more frequent ’or, is a term unique to P and occurs fifteen times in the Pentateuch, all of them in passages identified as penned by P.
Raqi‘a, the “domed expanse,” is unique to P and other post-exilic texts, as with the expression tohu wabohu (# 1).
Out of the one hundred and sixty times that the word mo‘ed appears in the Pentateuch, only eleven of them are from non-P texts.
The noun sherets, “a swarm” or “swarming/creeping creatures,” employed once in Genesis (1:20) is found fourteen more times in the Pentateuch, thirteen of which come from P. And the longer expression employing the verb, “creeping-creatures creeping” (sherets sharats), is only found four other times, all of which come from other P passages: P’s flood (7:21) and P’s dietary laws (Lev 11:41–44).
Likewise for the noun remes, “creeping-creature.” It occurs three times in Genesis 1 and seven other places in the Pentateuch, all of them from P. Its verb form, ramas, occurs four times in Genesis 1 and ten other times in the Pentateuch, nine of which are from P. Moreover, the combined expression remes ramas is a unique Priestly innovation. It occurs once in Genesis (1:26) and four other times, all of which come from P. And as noted above, “every creeping-creature that creeps upon the earth” is an expression unique to P, occurring only here in Genesis, in P’s flood narrative, and in P’s dietary laws.
The word for serpent, tannin, occurs five times in the Pentateuch, four of which are from P. Significantly, P’s version of turning Moses’ rod into a serpent uses the same term, tannin (Exod 7:9–10), while the earlier Elohist version of the same story, now stitched together with the P text, uses the Hebrew nahash, “snake,” in the same context (Exod 4:3). See #92.
The word for “image” which appears three times in Genesis 1:26-27 only occurs three other places in the Pentateuch, all of which were penned by the same author. Additionally, the specific expression “created in the image of God” is unique to P, occurring here in Genesis 1:27 and in one other place, Genesis 9:6.
The expression “male and female” as opposed to “man and woman,” is also unique to the Priestly literature. In addition to appearing once in Genesis 1:27, it appears ten other times in the Pentateuch, nine of which come from P. On the contrary, the Yahwist tradition prefers to use “man and woman” in similar contexts, especially when referring to the animals being collected in the flood story (#14-18). That is, while J uses “man and woman,” P uses “male and female” exclusively and consistently.
The expression “be fruitful and multiply” occurs twelve times in the Pentateuch, all of them from P.
The verb “to subdue” is also unique to the Priestly literature and other post-exilic texts. And the verb “to have dominion over” occurs seven times in the Pentateuch, all from P.
The expression “bearing/sowing seed” (zara‘ zera‘) is also unique to P. It appears four times in Genesis 1 and only three other times, all of which are from P (Lev 11:37; 26:16; Num 5:28). In fact this redundant use of a verb and its noun—seed-sowing seed—is typical of the Priestly writer’s style as we have seen elsewhere.
The term used for “food” (’oklah) in Genesis 1:29 is not only unique to the Priestly literature, appearing seven times in the Pentateuch, all from P; but it is also distinguishable from J’s use of the word for “food”—ma’akal (Gen 2:9).
The verb “to consecrate” or “to make holy” obviously shares a unique place in any literature written by ancient priests. Out of the total seventy-five times this verb is used in the Pentateuch, sixty-three of them come from P.
And the Hebrew for “work,” mela’kah, is employed sixty-five times in the Pentateuch, fifty-six of which are found in other P passages.
These unique expressions and word choices reflect much more than just differences in style and language from the other Pentateuchal sources. Rather they reveal this author’s unique mindset, religious beliefs, education and social standing, and even ideology. Furthermore, the Priestly writer’s unique style and language is accompanied by a unique set of religious beliefs and themes only found in the Priestly source, some of which are already visible in Genesis 1:1-2:3.
The most prominent of these religious themes is undeniably this author’s uncompromising views about the Sabbath and its observance. All of the Pentateuch’s Sabbath laws, including the account of its consecration as a holy day by the creator deity at creation, were penned by the Priestly writer. For this author and the priestly guild he represented, the Sabbath was unconditionally part of the covenantal obligations of Yahweh’s people, which was intricately connected to the cult and firmly grounded in the creation of the world. And it was this same author who composed a creation narrative illustrating why nonobservance was punishable by death (Exod 31:12–17; 35:2; Num 15:32–36)—because God himself created the seventh day as holy at the world’s creation and even observed the Sabbath himself. Any nonobservance, therefore, was an affront to God and his creation.27
The Priestly writer’s adamant stance toward Sabbath observance rested on a much more profound and sacred view of the world. One quickly notices in this author’s creation account the repeated emphasis on those things by which means time is measured and kept, the importance of which is only revealed later in the Priestly literature. For instance, P’s creation account opens with the creation of light so that day can be measured, calculated, and separated from evening, and in fact so that the whole narrative progresses chronologically day by day leading to its climax in the seventh-day Sabbath observance. We are additionally informed that the luminaries and the sun and the moon were created “to divide the day and the night,” and more importantly to serve “as signs and for the fixed times, and for the days and years.” As we saw above, the expression “fixed times” or “appointed festivals” is unique to the Priestly literature. These festival times, fixed by the movement of the moon, are specifically enumerated in Leviticus 23. They are Yahweh’s “holy assemblies,” many of which are decreed as eternal laws.
Another thematic feature found in Genesis 1:1-2:3 that is shared with the rest of the Priestly literature is this author’s illustration that order and goodness come through an act of separating the primeval elements of the world and keeping them separated. The primeval waters are kept at bay through the creator deity’s creation of the sky—the solid domed expanse that keeps the waters above, above. Likewise the primeval waters below are also separated off and tamed through the creation of seas. This establishment of boundaries so that life may flourish is duplicated in the cult, where the central responsibility of the Aaronid priests was to distinguish between the pure and the impure, and to keep these spheres separate, or to reestablish their borders when breached. In terms of the legislation in the book of Leviticus, where the verb “to separate” is most pronounced, this act of separation entailed separating impure deeds, bodies, and even spaces from pure deeds, bodies, and spaces. Only through separating the pure from the impure could the boundaries and borders established at creation be maintained. This was the worldview that these priests lived in and endorsed.
We have now seen that being honest to the texts of Genesis 1:1-2:3 and 2:4b-24, their historical and literary contexts, and the beliefs and views expressed therein has revealed that these two creation narratives were penned by different authors—an elite educated priest of the 6th century BCE and a secular storyteller of an earlier century. Furthermore, both of these authors perceived and experienced their world, its nature, and its origin in radically different ways and thus produced radically different creation narratives. This conclusion, moreover, neither depends on the reader’s persuasions nor beliefs. It is drawn from an honest and objective reading of the texts and the beliefs and worldviews expressed therein. Neither is this conclusion influenced or prejudiced by later reader-oriented theological interpretive frameworks that dictate beforehand what these texts allegedly are and how they ought to be read. Rather, these conclusions were uniquely drawn from the texts, what they themselves reveal about their own compositional natures and the beliefs and worldviews of their authors. This is studying the texts objectively, on their terms, and independent of the subjective views and beliefs of later readers. In sum, the texts of Genesis1:1-2:3 and 2:4b-24 themselves reveal that the depiction of the origins of the world and of man and woman in both accounts were shaped by different and even contradictory cultural perspectives and beliefs about the nature of the world and of man and woman.
Each text also discloses that these differing authorial and cultural beliefs were legitimated by presenting them as the beliefs and views of the god of each one of these compositions. In other words, one of the literary techniques employed by ancient scribes was to place their beliefs, perceptions of the world, and even ideologies on the lips of God in the texts that they themselves composed. The god of their texts, in other words, is a literary creation. This observation is also drawn from being honest to what the texts themselves reveal about their own compositional nature and the literary conventions employed by ancient scribes in composing their texts.
The Redacted PJ Text
That the opening chapter of the Pentateuch is from the Priestly source is not a coincidence. Rather it is a carefully implemented interpretive decision on the part of the Priestly redactor. Since the Priestly text was written after the Yahwist, many critics see the Priestly source and its strategically placed passages as an attempt to correct, readjust, or impose a new interpretive framework onto the older Yahwist narrative. By placing P’s creation account before J’s, the redactor makes a theological assertion that God created a good cosmos and a morally upright and divine-like humanity. It is only later that J’s less-than-perfect image of the human race with its disobedient and violent nature emerges.
A further case can be made. There are good grounds for arguing that P’s creation account with its optimistic view of a godlike humanity, blessed and good, was intended as a refutation of or correction to J’s dismal portrait of a increasingly violent humanity (see forthcoming entires). In this case, the Priestly writer would have been involved in a program of reconceptualizing Israel’s prehistory in response to the concerns, ideas, and beliefs of his own cultural era and specific socio-historical setting. Thus, the Priestly writer might correctly be seen as writing a new creation of humanity that was meant to ‘correct’ and replace the older Yahwist tradition. Why? So that the primeval creation narrative offered up a poignant message of hope and goodness to the exilic community it was drafted for, and answered their needs and concerns (see #1), while on the other hand expressed the views and beliefs of the Priestly guild that penned this account.
The later editorial combination of these two textual traditions, however, produced something unforeseen to both authors. In the redacted PJ text as it now stands, the Yahwist account completely negates the main theological message of the Priestly writer—namely, that God made both male and female in his likeness and divorced from the creation of the animals of the earth. In other words, the Priestly creation text was written to replace and correct the image of man given in the Yahwist version. But because of a later redactional process that brought these two contradictory statements together, in an irony of sorts it is now the Yahwist text that has subverted the message of the Priestly writer. And this happens on numerous other occasions as we shall see.
Finally, what ever unique intentions, meanings, and purposes the J and P authors individually had in creating their creation accounts, they are gone. The combined PJ creation narrative now introduces unforeseen interpretive questions and meanings that neither the author of J nor P intended, one of which is the tendency among modern uninformed readers to harmonize these two accounts. This actually does disservice to both the J and P authors and their individual texts with their different meanings and purposes. It places the modern reader’s concerns and beliefs above those of the authors of these two once independent creation accounts. Unfortunately this will be a repeated observation that we will make throughout this book’s forthcoming entries.
- The divine name for Israel’s god, Yahweh (transliterated as yhwh), is rendered in the majority of English translations as LORD. This practice, which is misleading as well as misrepresentative of the Hebrew text, follows a late Judaic oral tradition of substituting the Hebrew adonai (LORD) for yhwh in the reading of the Torah, since later Judaism—centuries after these texts were actually composed—conceived the name as sacred and unspeakable. Modern translation practices have regrettably chosen to follow this later oral tradition rather than the actual Hebrew text! Here, we will be as honest to the Hebrew texts as possible. Thus everywhere your English translation has LORD in small caps, the Hebrew manuscript has Yahweh, or more precisely YHWH.↵
- See Gen 2:18; 3:22; 6:3; 8:21-22; 11:6-7; 18:17-19, etc.↵
- Cf. The image of Yahweh as a potter fashioning man with his hands (Is 64:8). See also Is 29:16 where yatsar is used to describe the act of forming man from clay, like a potter does.↵
- David Carr, Reading the Fractures of Genesis: Historical and Literary Approaches, 64. “Gen 1:1-2:3 depicts an omnipotent God creating a godlike humanity. In contrast, Gen 2:4b-3:24 depicts a God who can both fail (Gen 2:19-20) and succeed (Gen 2:21-23). Humanity is not godlike but is created out of earth and punished for acts leading to humanity’s being like God (Gen 3:1-24).”↵
- See Chapter 2, “The Seven-Day Creation Account and the Priestly Writer,” in my Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate, p. 64-101.↵
- See Chapter 3, “Creation and Sacred Time,” ibid, p. 102-116.↵
- My translation of raqi‘a as “a solid domed expanse” may seem alarming at first, but it is the clearest image available for expressing what the Hebrew invokes. The verb form of raqi‘a means “to beat out” or “to hammer out” and is attested with respect to hammering out metal plates or bowls (e.g., Exod 39:3; Jer 10:9), thus a domed or concaved shape. More specifically the verb raqa‘ is used in Job 37:18 to speak of Yahweh “hammering out thinly the firmament, hard like the reflective surface of poured metal.” And Psalm 19 further supports the idea that the raqi‘a was seen as a manifestation of Yahweh’s handiwork or craftsmanship (19:1). We should further note that both Genesis 1:6–8’s use of raqi‘a and Job 37:18’s use of raqa‘ conceptualize the sky as a hard or solid thinly hammered out metallic-like domed surface, likened to the reflective substance of poured metal. Other references to the domed shaped raqi‘a or sky occur in Isa 40:22 and Job 22:14, as well as Deut 4:32 and Prov 8:27–28 which both envision the skies touching the earth on each end. In addition to these, there are other biblical passages that also attempt to describe this raqi‘a. In Ezekiel 1:22, for example, the raqi‘a is described “like the sight of awe-inspiring crystal” or perhaps ice, and is strong enough to support Yahweh’s throne which rests upon it (Ezek 10:1; Exod 24:10). Likewise in Exodus 24:10 this raqi‘a is described “like a smooth-paved work of sapphire, and like the substance of the skies in regard to brightness.” And in Job 37:18, as we have already noted, it is spoken of as looking like a poured metallic mirror of some sort. All of these textual traditions support the view that the Israelites conceptualized the sky—that is the raqi‘a of Genesis 1—as a solid crystal or metallic-like domed expanse of a sapphire hue, no doubt reflecting the color of the waters above which this solid crystalline domed expanse supported. Additionally, the primeval waters are depicted as occupying the space above this raqi‘a or sky elsewhere in the Bible (e.g., Ps 148:4), and it was because of this solid barrier’s openings that the waters above pour down and flood the earth in the Priestly writer’s flood narrative (see Gen 7:11; 8:2). Indeed, rain, snow, and hail were all believed to be kept in storehouses above the raqi‘a which had “windows” to allow them in. And the birds of Gen 1:20 are said to fly in front of the raqi‘a in the open air, not in this solid domed expanse. (Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate, p. 22-23)↵
- Karen Strand Winslow, “Understanding Earth,” http://biologos.org/blog/understanding-earth, lines 1–10.↵
- This culturally conditioned cosmological perspective of the world is also found in this author’s flood story. Contrary to the Yahwist version of the flood story, where it rains for forty days and forty nights (Gen 7:4, 12), in the Priestly version the domed barrier which holds back the waters above is loosened to let those waters retake their original chaotic and untamed position (Gen 7:11; 8:2). It is a true undoing of creation from this author’s perspective. See Contradictions #14-18.↵
- This is a shared cosmological perspective that is evidenced across the ancient world. The Greek god Poseidon, for example, gets his epithet “the earth-shaker” precisely because ancient man rationalized that earthquakes were caused by the violent shifting of the waters that the earth rested upon.↵
- See Chapter 2, “The Seven-Day Creation Account and the Priestly Writer,” in my Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate, p. 64-101.↵
- See Chapter 3, “Creation and Sacred Time,” ibid, p. 102-116.↵
- For a fuller analysis and more textual support to this claim see my Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate: Being Honest to the Text, Its Author, and His Beliefs.↵
- See especially Carr, Reading the Fractures of Genesis.↵
- Again see Chapter 2, “The Seven-Day Creation Account and the Priestly Writer,” from my Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate.↵
- See Exod 31:12-17; 35:1-2; Num 15:32-36—all from the pen of the same author.↵
- See, for example: Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation (1951); Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East: Volume I. An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (1958); Brandon, Creation Legends of the Ancient Near East (1963); Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (1973); Coogan, Stories from Ancient Canaan (1978); Lance, The Old Testament and the Archaeologist (1981); Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (1990); Lemche, Prelude to Israel’s Past: Background and Beginnings of Israelite History and Identity (1996); Thompson, The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel (1999); Matthews & Benjamin, Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East (2006); Wright, Inventing God’s Law: How the Covenant Code of the Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi (2009).↵
- These contradictory stories and competing histories are the topic of my forthcoming, 1001 Stories that Biblical Scribes Told Differently.↵
- See above, fn. 1.↵
- For more of the first creation account’s unique features and vocabulary see below, and also Chapter 2, “The Seven-Day Creation Account and the Priestly Writer,” in my Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate.↵
- The idea of a creator deity fashioning man from the clay of the earth is a prominent theme in the literature of the ancient Near Eastern world. It is present in Canaanite literature, Akkadian, Egyptian, and of course Hebrew literature.↵
- Excerpted from my Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate, p. 71-76.↵
- See Friedman’s discussion of this in his Introduction to Bible with Sources Revealed.↵
- See my Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate, p. 92-96.↵
- Besides the Priestly and Yahwist versions of the Flood now stitched together in Genesis 6–9 (see #14-15), the Sea of Reeds tradition in Exodus 14 is another classic example of a later editorial combination of the once independent Yahwist and Priestly sources. Read the original Yahwist version where Yahweh drys the sea-bed by blowing back the sea all night with his breath in verses 19b, 20b, 21b, 24, 25b, 27b, 30-31; and the more commonly known Priestly version of Moses parting the sea with his rod in these verses: 21a, 21c-23, 26-27a, 28-29 (Friedman, Bible with Sources Revealed, 143-144). You’ll notice that both stories are continuous whole narratives on their own, each of which employs their own set of unique words and images. See Contradiction #120-122.↵
- The other four places where this term is found are in the similar dietary code in Deut 14.↵
- For a thought-provoking discussion of these ideas see Chapter 3, “Creation and Sacred Time,” in my Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate, pp. 102-116.↵