Friday, 2 March 2012

Creation Take 2 Part 1

Genesis 2:4-7 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up-- for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground-- then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

In the first creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:4a), which I wrote about here: Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 , Part 4 , the emphasis is on God as the sole creator. At least part of the intent is polemical; the God of Israel is the one who creates, and powerful deities like the sun and the moon, which were worshipped in the Jerusalem Temple before the exile (2 Kings 23:5) are robbed of their names and reduced to mere lights in the sky. Human beings are created - male and female, with each sharing the same importance - and appointed to exercise dominion; to be God's viceroys on earth. They're told to multiply and populate the earth in this context; obviously, they can't carry out their appointed role without doing so.

In the second creation account (Genesis 2:4b-25), the emphasis is different, on the creation of humanity, and there are enough points of difference to justify treating this as an independent creation account, which has been placed beside the first by subsequent editors.

The name used for God is different. In Genesis 1, God is 'Elohim'. It's a word with a broad range of meanings; it can mean God, a god, the gods; it can refer to lesser divine beings such as angels, and it's even used of Samuel's ghost in 2 Kings 28:13. 'God' is probably as good a translation as we'll get in this context, since it's so obviously used of Israel's god. In the second account, God is 'Yahweh Elohim', conventionally translated as 'LORD God'. Yahweh is his personal name, which is revealed to Moses rather later in the story, so it means something like 'Yahweh the god' or 'the divine Yahweh. The repetition looks like a way to emphasise the godness of God, if you like.

Genesis 1 begins with an unformed chaos; Genesis 2 with the land. The physical universe is assumed to be there already, but there's no life; that comes into being in 'the day', singular, in which creation takes place. Again, we have a contrast with the six days of Genesis 1. Some more conservative interpreters will want to slot this account into the framework on Genesis 1, but too much is created in one day, and it doesn't fit. Two things are lacking for life; there is no water on the earth, and there's nobody to work the land. The seas aren't mentioned, but no rain has fallen. The land is seen to be dependent on the presence of a farmer. Two types of plants are mentioned, shrubs and herbs. Shadeh, 'Field', carries a wider meaning than just agricultural land. Most likely what's meant is both fields and pasture, where many shrubs and trees might be expected, and arable crops. Herbs, on the other hand, would be agricultural crops. Fields, of course, can't exist without a farmer to till them, and in many cases, a similar situation exists with pasture. I can't answer this one with reference to the ancient Near East, but in a British context, abandoned pasture will soon revert to woodland. The author is thinking of an artficial landscape, brought into exitence by human effort.

It's worth looking at this comparison table, which I stole from here:

Obviously, the two have a great deal in common. In both, creation is the work of a single deity, the Israelite God. However, there are distinct differences, and whoever put the two texts together probably didn't feel any need to harmonise them in the way traditionalist Christians do today. Our concern with consistency is a product of our culture, not theirs.