― Friedrich Nietzsche
And we’re off! But already I have questions. For instance, what was God doing before he created the heavens and the earth? In St. Augustine’s day the running joke was that “he was preparing hell for those who ponder into [such] mysteries.”
It should be noted that these informal reviews are meant to supplement a reading of the Bible itself, which I highly encourage for a fuller understanding. You can access the designated chapter online (NRSV) by clicking the number above.
Here’s what God’s calendar looks like for the week:
- Day 1: Heavens, earth, light, day, night
- Day 2: Sky, water above the sky, water below the sky, heaven
- Day 3: Earth, seas, vegetation, seed-bearing plants, fruit trees
- Day 4: Sun, moon, stars
- Day 5: Creepy Birds and Sea-monsters
- Day 6: Creepy beasts, Man
- Day 7: Siesta
(1:1) Some baseball fans translate this verse, “in the big-inning…” Ha. Comedy.
(1:1-25) Creating a universe without outsourcing is pretty impressive on its own, but what’s really astounding is the order in which God does it. Not only does he manage to create the heavens and the earth in the dark, he creates light before the stars, and vegetation before solar photosynthesis. Guy’s got skill.
Overall, God seems satisfied with each aspect of his creation. Light? “Good.” Waters? “Good.” Plants? “Good.” Tree kangaroos? “Adorable.” Interesting enough, God finds something “good” about every day except the second day. To make up for it, he says it twice on the third day.
(1:26) When it comes time to create humankind (Heb. adam) God makes both man and woman at the same time, in “our image.” He then grants them dominion over all the animals of the earth, but alas forgot to include viruses, bacteria, and other microbes on that list.
(2:1-3) When day seven rolls around the Almighty is pooped and decides to rest, thus declaring it holy. By doing so he establishes the Sabbath, the day of rest for his people (Exodus 20:8-11). Since scripture says that God rested rather than “ceased creation,” perhaps on the 8th day he got back on his feet and created other things, like black holes.
(2:4) Here begins the second creation account in Genesis, which differs significantly from that of the first in a number of ways (see scholarly notes below). For starters, the order in which God creates things conflict:
- Plants (1:11)
- Animals (1:20-24)
- Man & Woman (1:26)
- Man (2:7)
- Plants (2:9)
- Animals (2:18-20)
- Woman (2:21)
(2:7) Adam is created from earth (Heb. adamah) and given the breath of life through his nostrils…which is where we get CPR from.
(2:15-17) God then places him in the garden of Eden “to till it and keep it”, which would seem to suggest that the only reason why man was created in the first places was because the Almighty was too lazy to water his own flowers. Adam is then commanded that he may freely eat from every tree of the garden with the exception of the tree of knowledge of good and evil – for on the day that he eats of it he shall die.
(2:18-19) When Adam becomes so lonely that he begins drawing faces on the trees and talking to them God figures he could use “a helper as his partner” and so forms for him “every animals of the field and every bird of the air.”
Ever see a particular animal and wonder what was going on in God’s head when he created it? The common question of why God would create an array of bizarre creatures in our animal kingdom is answered when we learn that he brought them before Adam to get a kick out of what he would call them. I can see Adam walking down the line of animals right now: “Let’s see…you’re a bear. You’re a giraffe. You’re aaoOOOMYGOD WHAT IS THAT!?”
(2:20) Adam could not find a suitable partner among the animals, which begs the question as to whether he tried copulating with them. In any case, God decides to create a more suitable companion using one of Adam’s ribs – though fortunately not before putting him into a “deep sleep” – an important step before any major surgery.
(2:25) And so Adam and Even began living together in harmony, unashamed of their of their nakedness. Had it not been for their upcoming downfall, the garden of Eden would have surely become quite the nudist colony.
Here ends the first two chapters of Genesis. Below are important scholarly notes, fascinating parallels from the ancient near east, and some surprising “deleted scenes” composed by later Jews who felt like there was a lot more to the story that needed to be told.
The first version of creation (Gen. 1:1-2:3) is derived from “P” (the Priestly source) while the second version (Gen. 2:4-2:24) comes from the “J” (the Yahwist source). J is believed to have been written in the Southern Kingdom of Judah around 950 BC while P comes from priestly writers who lived during and after the Babylonian exile from 587-400 BC.
(1:1) The first phrase in the Hebrew text is bereshith (“in [the] beginning”), which is also the Hebrew title of the book (books in ancient times customarily were named after their first word or two). The English title, Genesis, is Greek in origin and comes from the word geneseos, which appears in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible called the Septuagint. Depending on its context, the word can mean “birth,” “genealogy,” or “history of origin.” In both its Hebrew and Greek forms, then, the traditional title of Genesis appropriately describes its contents, since it is primarily a book of beginnings.
The first verse of Genesis in Hebrew has exactly seven words, equaling the seven days of creation (coincidence?).
It’s interesting to note that the second day of creation is the only one that God does not affirm as “good.” One Jewish tradition teaches Gehenna (a figurative equivalent for “hell”) was created on that day, explaining why God refused to bless it.
(1:2) Contrary to popular belief developed by later Jews and Christians, Genesis chapter 1 does not state that God created the universe ex nihilo, that is, “out of nothing.” Rather, the opposite is written. In the Hebrew of this verse, the noun comes before the verb (in the perfect form). This is now known to be the way of conveying the past in perfect Biblical Hebrew. This point of grammar means that this verse does not mean “the earth was shapeless and formless. Instead it means that “the earth had been shapeless and formless” – that is, it had already existed In this shapeless condition prior to the creation. In other words, God uses preexisting raw material – a boundless formless abyss of water – to fashion the universe. The English phrase “the deep” translates in Hebrew as tehom, which refers to the ancient Near Eastern concept of undifferentiated sea that existed before divine action brought the world into being. Only light is expressively created from nothing.
(1:16) Notice how the creation account never uses the word “sun” but instead refers to it as a “great light”. It has been convincingly argued that the reason for this is because in Hebrew, sun (shemesh) relates too closely to Shamash, the Babylonian sun god. The same can be said about the singular form sea (yam) – the word for the sea god of the ancient Canaanites – which is avoided in favor of the plural seas (yamin). It would seem then that the author wants to make sure that the reader isn’t given the impression that God is responsible for the existence of pagan deities.
“Was it six 24 hour days?” is an age old question that often addressed to reconcile science with scripture. Those who say no point out that the sun wasn’t created until the fourth day, which allows us to equate “days” in this context with eons. However, I agree with Richard Elliot Friedman that “light, day, and night are not understood here to depend on the existence of the sun, so there is no reason to think that the word “day” means anything different on the first two days than what it means everywhere else in the Torah.”
(1:7-8) The sky is a transparent shell that holds back the upper waters. Presumably the ancients thought the sky was blue because they believed in “water that was above the space”.
Below is a detailed illustration of how the Hebrews saw the cosmos in accordance with the details in Genesis 1:
(1:26) “Let us make a human in our image, by our likeness.” What are we to make of these first-person plural pronouns during this step of creation? Who is God speaking to? There are three common answers, each with its problems:
- This could be an echo of earlier polytheism which wasn’t redacted. While an attractive theory, it seems unlikely given the author’s obvious intent to demythologize the narrative.
- Perhaps here God is addressing the angels, however the belief in angelic beings developed in the later biblical period, and there is no hint of angels anywhere else in the chapter.
- The verse is using the royal we, though it’s important to point out that nowhere is this usage attested in all of ancient Near Eastern literature.
(2:4) The second creation story begins in the middle of verse 2:4. This one of the first examples where a new story doesn’t always begin at a new chapter. The chapter and verse divisions found in Bibles today were put in place by Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Centerbury in England (c. 1150-1228).
Expanding upon the two separate creation accounts from in Genesis 1 and 2:
In Genesis 1:21-23 we read that God created all of the animals of the sea and air on the fifth day. Verses 24-26 then tell us that on the sixth day he created the land animals and “Then” made man.
In the second chapter, Genesis 2:7, God created man and then – because he was lonely – created for him “every beast of the field and every fowl of the air” (18-19).
Here we have a classic example of contradiction in scripture as a result of ancient redactors combining two creation stories stemming from two different Israelite sources: The first version of creation (Gen. 1:1-2:3) is derived from “P” (the Priestly source) while the second version (Gen. 2:4-2:24) comes from the “J” (the Yahwist source). J is believed to have been written in the Southern Kingdom of Judah around 950 BC while P comes from priestly writers who lived during and after the Babylonian exile from 587-400 BC.
Apart from the order of creation, here are some key differences between the two versions of creation:
P (Gen. 1)
- God is called “Elohim”
- God fashions the universe in six stages
- There is no Eden
- There is no forbidden tree
- There are no characters named Adam and Eve; Here the Hebrew word “adam” is used in a generic sense for humankind, male and female, who are created at the same time in God’s image
- Cosmic validation is established regarding the Sabbath, a priest-regulated institution.
J (Gen. 2)
- God is called “Yahweh”
- God is anthropomorphic with more human characteristics and interacts with his creation in a more folklorist manner – making Adam from earth and Eve from Adam’s rib, talking to them and walking in the Garden in the “cool of the day.”
- Man is created for the purpose of “tilling and keeping” the garden of Eden.
(2:7) One fun fact about the Bible is that the authors loved to use puns. In this case, adam (“human”) is formed from the “ground which in Hebrew is adamah.
(2:13) Another pun is the river “Gihon”, because later the snake is cursed and must crawl on its “belly” (Heb. gehon).
(2:16-17) Note that with the exception of the tree of good and bad, “every tree of the garden” is available for Adam and Eve to eat from – including the tree of life.
(2:17) God tells Adam that he will die after eating from the tree of good and evil, suggesting that he’ll drop dead. But Adam doesn’t die, leaving one to conclude that God was lying. Another interpretation is that it was only after eating from the tree of good and evil that the tree of life became off limits – thus preventing them from becoming immortal; in that sense, Adam and Eve do die as a result of eating the forbidden fruit.
(2:18) “I will make him a helper as his partner/a helper fit for him.” What exactly does God mean by this? Is this “helper” to be equal or subordinate? The idiom “fit for” indicates something suitable, or appropriate. As such, ha-adam requires someone like himself, corresponding to his nature.
So what does woman do to help? One straight forward answer is to “help” man propagate. Other answers can be derived from clues throughout other biblical narratives, where woman helps man reach his potential by challenging him, or even act for him (e.g. Rebecca for Jacob, Bathesheba for David).
(2:22) Many notable adherents to the Bible have concluded that because woman came from man, woman is naturally inferior. The author of 1 Timothy advocates this position, writing, “Now I permit a woman neither to teach nor exercise authority over a man, but let her be in quietness. For Adam was first formed, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:12-13).
However, the origin of woman can also be read as promoting gender equality. According to one Midrash (rabbinic story), woman was not taken from man’s head, lest she lord it over him, nor his feet, lest he walk all over her. She is from his side, and they are partners.
- Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish
- Lands of paradise Dilmun; Hanging Garden; Mari mural
- Ninti, “Lady of the Rib”
- Adoil and Arkhas, primordial beings controlled by God to create Light and Darkness
- God created prior worlds
- Creation and nature of angels
- Angels helped with creation
- The Fall of Satan and his angels
- Adam was created an androgynous/hermaphrodite
- Adam was created a powerful giant
- Adam was created an angel
- God created two Adams
- Adne Sadeh/Faduah, God’s first attempt at making Man
- Lilith, Adam’s wife before Eve
- Adam and Eve’s (arranged) marriage
Sources and Further Reading:
- What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden? by Ziony Zevit
- The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV)
- NIV Study Bible
- The Oxford Bible Commentary
- Commentary on the Torah by Richard Elliot Friedman
- The Bible with Sources Revealed by Richard Elliot Friedman (click here for pdf sample)
- Understanding The Bible by Stephen Harris
- Historical Context for Genesis by Nathan Schumer