Genesis 1-4: Two different creation accounts

Introduction: Genesis, the first book of the Bible, describes the creation of the world, the first humans, and Noah’s flood.  It then narrates the life of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph, among others, including God’s promise to make Abraham’s descendents into a great nation.  Modern scholarship has shown that Genesis is a composite, consisting of at least 3 inconsistent sources woven together by an editor.  In the documentary hypothesis, these sources are called the Yahwist (because the author uses “Yahweh”, the personal name for God), the Elohist (because the author uses “Elohim”, the Hebrew word for God/gods), and the Priestly (for the author’s emphasis on ritual and sacrifice).

Genesis 1-4: In the beginning, the universe was unformed and void.  On the first day, God created light and separated it from darkness.  On the second day, he separated the waters with a dome, gathering up the water below into one area so that dry land may appear.  On the third day, he created vegetation; the fourth day, the sun, moon, and stars; the fifth day, animals; the sixth day, human beings.  God rested on the seventh day, and saw that all was good.

When God made the earth and heaven, God created a man (called Adam), planted a garden in Eden, and put the man into Eden.  He was permitted to eat from every tree–presumably even the tree of life–but not the tree of knowledge of good and bad.  God made the animals as helpers for Adam, but he was unsatisfied.  God then made a woman from Adam’s rib to be his helper.  A serpent deceived Eve into eating from the tree of good and bad, and Eve convinced Adam to do the same.  As punishment, the serpent was forced to crawl on its belly, the woman to bear the pain of childbirth and be ruled by her husband, and the man to get food from the ground “by the sweat of your brow”.  Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden.  Adam and Eve had three children: Abel, Cain, and Seth.  Cain killed Abel because God preferred his meat offering over his fruit offering, and was forced by God to wander the earth.  Cain founded a city, gave birth to Enoch, and had many descendents, who invent pastoralism, music, and metal-working.

Commentary:

  • Notice that in these four chapters, there are two separate and contradictory creation accounts: one in Genesis 1:1-2:4, and the other in Genesis 2:4-4.  In the first account, the world was initially full of water and God had to create dry land (1:10).  He creates the animals before mankind, and creates men together with women.  After each creation, he declares everything to be good.  In the second account, the earth is initially dry and God fills it with water (2:3); he creates a man first, animals second, and woman last.  Immediately after creating man, there is a problem: he becomes lonely.  God creates animals, which does not solve the problem.  He creates woman, but she causes Adam to eat the forbidden fruit.  Note also that these two accounts have different designations for God.  The first calls him Elohim (Hebrew for God/gods), while the second calls him LORD (in Hebrew: Yahweh).  The first account is attributed to the P source, while the second is attributed to J.
  • In the cosmology of the P account, the sky is a solid dome resting on top of the earth (1:6).  (The word translated “dome” refers to a piece of metal that has been hammered flat.)  The sky holds back the water above the dome; this water was probably believed to be the reason the sky is blue.
  • Genesis 1 is often considered to be a creation ex nihilo (out of nothing).  The first sentence is usually translated “In the beginning God created the heaven and earth”, but it is more accurately translated as a temporal clause: “when God began to create heaven and earth–the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep…”  As such, Genesis 1 is better described as a “creation from chaos.”
  • Was the serpent lying to Eve?  The serpent said that if Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, she would 1) not die, and 2) be more like God.  Eve didn’t die (despite God’s threat in 2:16), and she did become more like God.  In fact, that is the reason God casts Adam and Eve were cast out: “Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and bad, what if he should stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat…” (3:22).
  • Interestingly, these chapters assume the existence of other gods, or at least other divine beings.  See 1:26 (“let us make man in our image, after our likeness”) and 3:22 (“now that the man has become like one of us…”)
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