Dueling Creation stories (Gen.1 & 2)

Mozh over in the Rosh Ha-shanah thread said:

It would be interesting at some point in the future to have a discussion about the two creation stories in Gen 1-3. I think it would be interesting to hear how people integrate these stories for themselves, and/or which one appeals to each of us more.

I’d already been thinking of doing this, so here goes :-).

I’m working from the World English Bible: Messianic Edition (WEB:ME), also known as the Hebrew Names Version (HNV), since the more I learn about the origins of the KJV the less I trust the translation.

Creation 1: The Elohim (plural) create:

  • Day 1: the heavens and the earth (1:1-2), light (1:3), day and night (1:4-5)
  • Day 2: the firmament/sky/Heaven (1:6-8)
  • Day 3: earth and seas (1:9-10), plants (1:11-13)
  • Day 4: sun, moon and stars (1:14-19)
  • Day 5: creatures of sea and sky (1:20-23)
  • Day 6: creatures of land (1:24-25) and man “in our image, after our likeness,” “male and female” (1:26-27); man given dominion over other creations (1:28-31)
  • Day 7: completion and rest (2:1-3)

Creation 2: The LORD (aka the 4-letter Holy Name of God) creates:

  • Earth and heavens, no plants or man yet (2:4-6)
  • Man created (2:7)
  • Garden created “eastward, in Eden” (2:8)
  • Trees grow (2:9)
  • Rivers in/from Eden (2:10-14)
  • Man put in (and in charge of) Eden, but don’t eat from that one tree (2:15-17)
  • Creatures of land and sky created; named by Adam (2:18-20)
  • Woman created (2:21-24)

Then the Serpent speaks truth to Havah/Eve (who is not named until 3:20), but that’s another thread. Adam’s name is problematic, since as I understand it in Hebrew “Man” and “Adam” are the same word.

To recap:

Creation 1: heavens and earth, day and night; firmament/sky/Heaven; earth and seas, plants; sun, moon and stars; creatures of sea and sky; creatures of land and man

Creation 2: earth and heavens; man; plants; rivers; creatures of land and sky; woman

My take: I don’t see a need to reconcile these, because I agree with the view that these are two separate events perpetrated by two different “creators” (Elohim and He Who Is Referred To By The Tetragrammaton). This makes sense in a lot of ways, and answers several “classic” Biblical dilemmas:

  • It explains what was Eden “eastward” of.
  • It explains who the Lord is talking to when he complains about his errant children, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” (3:22) FTR, I don’t buy the “royal ‘we'” explanation, either, since to the best of my knowledge that concept doesn’t translate into ancient Hebrew.
  • It explains why the Lord marked Cain. Who was Cain worried would “find him and kill him,” why would the Lord bother marking him to prevent it, if the only people around are Adam and Eve (who presumably knew the who sordid story by then)?
  • It answers the question children have been bedeviling their Sunday School teachers with for generations: Where did Cain’s wife come from? Or, by extension, where did the people in “the land of Nod, east of Eden” come from? Many people don’t buy the story that Cain married some exiled sister who was never mentioned because women weren’t important enough to mention until they did something worthy of note (like getting married). Further complicating this explanation is that Adam is said to have had daughters after son #3 (Seth) was born.
  • It explains the, um, genesis 😉 of all the non-Hebrews that the Hebrews kept coming into contact with throughout the Old Testament, and whom the Lord usually didn’t consider to be “His people.” It also explains why a supposed “one and only god” is always fretting about His people worshiping other gods, to the point of making it one of the Commandments.

I now toss this out to the prophets on the street to discuss :-).


Differing views of the Creator (4.00 / 2)

The thing that always jumps out at me as one of the major differences in these two tellings of the creation story is that in Genesis 2, God is really boldly anthropomorphized (described in human terms). He “formed man from the dust”, “breathed” into man the breath of life (2:7)…and one of my favorite images is of God “taking his walk in the evening breeze” (3:8). It’s just more humanized and imaginative and narrative. In contrast I think the Gen. 1 version is really liturgical in language: “And God said….and it was good”, repeat repeat repeat.

by Summer F on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 07:44:14 PDT

I always thought that (4.00 / 2)

the Genesis 1 version’s containing all the the “and God said…and it was good” was really indicative of the oral history of that book. Repititious phrases like that are often found in tales derived from oral histories, I believe they act as mnemonics to aid the storyteller.

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by Andy Ternay on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 09:39:01 PDT

Slightly off topic. (none / 0)

But I’m reminded of my time in Japan, when I helpled my host-sister with an English translation project. It was the opening chapters of Genesis, and when I explained to her the whole “God said…” part, she found it to be incredibly hilarious. She thought the idea of a self-congratulating God (and that’s how she saw it) to be utterly hysterical.

by Diamondrock on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 23:03:19 PDT

Repetition and Variation are Important OT Motifs (none / 1)

I recommend you check out “The Art of Biblical Narrative” by Robert Alter if you want to understand these sorts of passages and others better.


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by dlw on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 08:24:04 PDT

I think they are clearly (4.00 / 3)

two different stories told by different communities for different reasons.  I think both are profoundly true – and neither is science.

The first is, to me, pretty clearly a liturgy/worship model with a primary focus on creation as a good thing and the Sabbath – the cycle of work and rest – as intentional and necessary.

The 2nd isn’t a subset or retelling – it’s a different story with a different purpose – specifically God did create us but we turned away from him – we “fell” and that’s why we’re estranged from God.

both stories have some other aspects, and there are rich veins of thought to explore in both – but those are, I think, the main thrusts.

At some point I’ll find a way to post some original artwork I’ve done as part of a Sunday School series on Biblical creation stories (there are also Psalms (8, 33, 104 especially) and other texts (the prologue to John – especially 1:1 who a skeptic/taoist friend at Chruch maintains is the whole story in and of itself – and he’s winning me over to that view).

Much interesting discussion to be had in these stories.

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by its simple IF you ignore the complexity on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 09:10:30 PDT

One of the interesting points (none / 1)

of the two stories is the difference in how and why people – in particular women – are created.  the 2nd story – adam’s rib – has been rather dominant in our Western culture.  Who’s fault is the fall – it’s the woman’s fault (of course, she blames the serpent – and Adam actually blames God (the woman, who thoust did create, gave it to me…)

But what does it mean that God created them, male and female, in God’s image.

that’s a very different view of humanity and sets up, in my mind, a very different kind of relationship – to one another, and to God.

I look around creation and I see nature, I see animals, and I see humanity – the one thing that really seems to set humanity apart is our ability to think abstractly, to reason – to DO science.  How ironic is that that the very thing that actually makes us unique in creation is the part that “creationist” would have us ignore.  I suspect that “in God’s image” might just mean “capable of thought”

thoughts?  🙂

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by its simple IF you ignore the complexity on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 09:16:22 PDT

They leave out the first verse (none / 1)

All of the modern translations leave out Genisis 1, verse 0:

First there was a bang, then man argued for 10,000 years about who lit the fuse.

by pvallen on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 09:18:31 PDT

I think that’s covered (none / 1)

…in the “let there be Light” part.

Then again, maybe I’ve just seen Dark Star too many times ;-).

Morgan  /|\
Bomb#20: And in addition to the darkness there was also me. And I moved upon the face of the darkness. And I saw that I was alone. Let there be light. {boom}

by Morgan on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 15:01:43 PDT

How do you guys/gals (4.00 / 2)

reconcile this:

Day 3: earth and seas (1:9-10), plants (1:11-13)
Day 4: sun, moon and stars (1:14-19)

with science and astronomy? Even for those who are not literalists/fundamentalists, how does one accept this sequencing in Genesis? (Plants before stars?) To me this is ample evidence that the bible is not exclusively the inspired word of God, but rather an amazing and wise collection of writings written over a period spanning a few thousand years that reflect the understanding and world view of cultures long gone. But that is the way I feel about all “holy” texts – much fine material that can inspire and give me joy and source of meditation, but not a literal rendition of the truth.

“It seems to me a strange thing, mystifying…” JCSS

by Marcus Junius Brutus on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 12:10:45 PDT

The sequencing (4.00 / 2)

is liturgical, not scientific. Asking how I reconcile it with science is like asking how I reconcile it with movie trivia. It’s completely irrelevant.

Here’s what I see in this sequence:

God forms first the heavens, then the sky and the seas, then the land. Next, God populates the heavens, then the sky and seas, then the land.

So, the first three days are days of forming, and the next three days are days of filling.

Plants, in this scheme, are part of the form of the land. The sun, moon, and stars are merely residents; they are not essential to the heavens’ form. This may be in reaction to Babylonian creation myths, in which the sun, moon, and stars were objects of worship.

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by aardvark on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 12:49:04 PDT

The part of the sequence (none / 1)

that I see as having more potential ramifications is, did the Creator(s) make everything and cap it off with humanity, or did He/They create Man, then plants and animals, and then Woman?

This seems to be more relevant both to the relations between the genders, and (to a lesser extent IMO) of humankind to that over which they were given stewardship.

By the way, I’m enjoying the debate!

by Morgan on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 15:11:31 PDT

I’m with aardvark. (none / 0)

To me, reconciling this with science is the furthest thing from my mind. I really view it almost completely as one of several creation myths that were prominent in ancient Mesopotamia…there’s one in particular called Enuma Elish that has a ton of similarities and shared features with Genesis. There’s some evidence to suggest that Genesis was partly shaped to be a refutation/response/incorporation of various Enuma Elish motifs.


by Summer F on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 17:15:58 PDT

I (at least) wasn’t talking science… (none / 0)

I’m wondering how people reconcile the two stories with each other. I agree with not bothering to reconcile them with scientific theory :-). But the two would seem to lead to different philosophical places.

by Morgan on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 17:25:11 PDT

reconciliation (none / 0)

Now that I think about it, I really don’t get much out of Genesis 2. To me, it’s an elaborate setup for the story of the fall in Gen 3. All the background about what a wonderful place God made for Adam and Eve just shows what they lost by eating the forbidden fruit. And yet, at the same time, by eating the fruit they gained something invaluable — the ability to make moral decisions.

I see your point about the woman being created later, as an afterthought, in Gen 2. I had never really given much thought to that. Gen 1, with the simultaneous creation “in the image of God… and it was very good” fits better with my understanding.

My blog: It Seems to Me…

by aardvark on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 21:10:20 PDT

perspective (none / 1)

When reading the story of creation, remember that the people who wrote/read this originally were not concerned with physical creation.  They didn’t think the way we do.  To them, Creating something meant giving it a purpose.  So the Creation story isn’t as much about physical creation as it is about putting the things that are there in an order and giving them purpose.  So rather than think about God creating the stars, moon, and sun, look beyond that, and see that it also says, “let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years”  The verse is not about creating the physical stars, it’s about creating time, seasons, days and years, all of which are non-physical.  God put things in order in a logical manner, but if you try to read the chapter as if it were written yesterday, it is very hard to understand…

by aegisys on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 15:11:19 PDT

Something I notice no one’s discussed (none / 1)

The difference between the words translated as “God” in chapters 1 and 2. I’d added the links to Wikipedia in hopes of adding that element to the debate :-).

To quote (examples removed for ease of reading, as were Hebrew characters since some browsers don’t render them):

Elohim is a Hebrew word related to deity, but whose exact significance is often disputed. It is the third word in the Hebrew text of Genesis and occurs frequently throughout the Hebrew Bible. In some cases […], is generally understood to denote the God of Israel but from a neutral point of view there is no evidence proving that this originally meant one rather than several acting in accord. In other cases […], it refers to the polytheistic notion of multiple gods. In still other cases […], the meaning is not clear from the text, but may refer to powerful beings.


The Tetragrammaton [from the Greek] is the usual reference to the Hebrew name for God, which is spelled (in Hebrew); (yod) (heh) (vav) (heh) or (YHWH); it is the distinctive personal name of the God of Israel.

FTR, I don’t take either tale as literally true. I consider all “creation stories” to be metaphor to some degree or another. I also see no reason why things can’t have come about more or less as scientific theories explain, but that this progression happened under the direction/guidance of some divine energy.

But that’s getting away from the original purpose of this thread: debating the creation story(ies) in Genesis. If folx want to expand it to other creation stories, I found a list of them on Wikipedia :-). (Note: the link was originally to “Creation within various belief systems” on that page, but that section no longer exists.)

by Morgan on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 14:56:52 PDT

Different sources (none / 0)

We just talked about this in my Hebrew Scripture class last week! From what I remember, in general, many scholars see 4 different sources for Genesis (and I think the Torah as a whole), two of which are identified largely by this distinction that you make:

J: The “Yahwist” source, identified by use of “YHWH” for God
E: The Elohist (?) source, identified by use of “Elohim”
P: Priestly source
D: Deuteronomical source, mostly found in Deuteronomy as its name suggests

by Summer F on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 17:19:16 PDT

Interesting (none / 0)

What is known, or surmised, about these different sources? That should go a long way towards understanding the differences.

by Morgan on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 17:27:42 PDT

J E P D (none / 0)

I’d recommend Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliot Friedman as a thorough explanation of the four sources, that is also a quick read.

Briefly: J and E were writers living in Judah and Israel respectively. Each nation had its own traditions and they had different names for God; this is reflected by the pairs of YHWH and Elohim stories relating the same events. D produced the book of Deuteronomy, probably during the reign of King Josiah. P was a priest who added stories about the rituals of worship. After the Babylonian exile, these writings were brought together into the five books we now know as the Torah.

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by aardvark on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 20:57:04 PDT

Further question: (none / 1)

If you take both stories to be covering the same events, how do you deal with the related “classic Biblical dilemmas” that I mentioned? Adam and Eve’s first three children are mentioned explicitly, which leaves one wondering where the other folks mentioned in Gen4 (one of whom married Cain before Seth was born) came from.

by Morgan on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 15:21:47 PDT

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