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The Bible:
Genesis 2


Genesis one seems to end at Genesis 2:3 and chapter two should start at Genesis 2:4. In ancient times there were no chapter divisions. These were added much later. Genesis 2:4 serves as a title to 2:5-4:26. The first and second halves of verse 2:4 form a chiasmus.

A. Heaven
     B. Earth
          C. Created
          C’ Made
     B’ Earth
A’ Heaven.

Usually heaven is mentioned before earth in the OT (Wenham 1987, 55). There are a number of Biblical accounts of creation in the Bible.

Old Testament

Genesis One

The creation story in Genesis 1 is very orderly, and when it is compared to Genesis 2 it seems that there are two different creation stories. The order is different. Man is last in chapter 1, but first in chapter 2. Different names for God are used: Elohim in chapter 1 and Yahweh Elohim in chapter 2. The style, terminology and perspective are different. Genesis 2-3 is a distinct unit from Genesis 1.

Psalm 104

Psalm 104 is a poem about creation. It basically follows the same order of Genesis 1. The psalm embellishes Genesis 1 with poetic metaphors. It graphically describes creation according to the 6 day outline.

Psalm 136

The first 9 verses of Psalm 136 follow the basic chronological order of Genesis 1 although it is very sketchy. There are also many other references in the Old Testament to creation.

Proverbs 8

Wisdom is seen as the instrument by which God created the world.

New Testament

John 1

In the New Testament a new interpretation is given to the creation motif. Christ is seen by John as the Logos that created the world. Peter Borgen argues, "John’s prologue is essentially a targumic exposition of Genesis 1:1-5" (Hamilton 1990, 144).

Colossians 1

Burney believes that Colossians 1:16-18 is a midrashic exposition of the first word of Genesis 1:1 (Hamilton 1990, 145). Paul connects the "beginning" of Genesis 1:1 and the "wisdom" in Proverbs 8:22 with Christ which Genesis Rabbah interprets as the "torah" (I.I,2.H; Neusner 1985, 2).

Hebrews 1

The writer of Hebrews sees creation as "out of non-being" and not "out of nothing," ex nihilo.

Therefore when one compares Genesis 2 with longer creation accounts in the Old Testament one discovers that it is quite different.

Genre of Genesis Two

Genesis 2 seems to follow the basic patterns of creation stories as found in Mesopotamia. Not all the characteristics are found in a single text.

Most of the creation stories start with a subordinate clause beginning with beyom meaning "on the day that" or simply translated "when." See Enuma Elish the Babylonian creation story. Secondly, there is a list of things that were not created yet, or some say "after" (the gods did something). Thirdly, there is a description of present conditions. Usually a primeval sea exists. Fourthly, the text goes on to describe what was created. There are repetitions and detailed descriptions of the creation of man. Fifthly, some end with a statement about marriage (or something else) as an institution and then try to explain the ritual. This is seen in Atra-Hasis. Not all the creation stories have all these five characteristics. Most have two or more of these characteristics. One can reduce the stories about creation of man to this formula:

  1. When
  2. There was no (negative clauses) or after
  3. There was (present conditions)
  4. Then (gods or god) made (positive statements)
  5. Epilogue (the explanation for the institution).

The internal structure of Genesis 2:4-14 forms a chiasm (Walsh 1977, 162-3). The negative statements in verse 5 are dealt with in reverse order in verses 7 to 9:

1 No plants
    2 No man
        3 Water exists
        3a Water described
    2a Man created
1a Plants made.

The water in verse 6 is then described in detail in verses 10 to 14. Because of the digression into describing the garden, the writer repeats that man was put into this garden (verse 15) and then picks up the story where he left off.

An overview of Genesis 2 and 3 reveals a chiastic pattern. Genesis 2 starts with the creation of man while Genesis 3 ends with the fall of man. The climax of Genesis 2 is the creation of woman while in Genesis 3 the anticlimax is the woman’s fall (Mckenzie 1954, 569).

Genesis 2 is a tightly knit story of man’s creation that follows the literary style of ancient Mesopotamian creation accounts. Most of the difficulty in understanding Genesis 2 is in not recognizing its distinct genre.

There have been many differences pointed out between Genesis 1 and 2 by scholars, but the genre of both of them is strikingly the same. Both Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 2:4b start with a preposition phrase, a statement about God creating the universe, and three circumstantial clauses. Then both go on to tell about creation and then end with a statement of explanation. The end statements seem to be the key to the chapters. In Genesis 1 it is a statement about the Sabbath. In Genesis 2 it is a statement about marriage. These two chapters seem to be etiological in nature. They are explaining why certain religious customs are followed. Genesis 1 gives the origin of the Sabbath. It is founded upon the very act of God in creation. Genesis 2 gives the origin of marriage. It is ordained by God from the beginning of creation. Genesis 3 goes on to explain why the woman is subordinate to the man and why she bears children in pain. It also explains why the man must toil for his food.

Because of their different etiological purposes, their content of the creation stories will also be different. This is true of Mesopotamian creation stories. The "Worm and the Toothache" specifically tells about the creation of the worm and then ends with an incantation against toothaches. "When Anu had created the Heavens" specifically tells about the creation of man to serve the gods. It is a ritual for the restoration of a temple. The purpose of the creation story determines its content and arrangement. In Atra-Hasis after the creation of men and women there is an explanation of certain marriage and childbirth rituals. In "Enki and Ninmah" the main purpose of the story is to show that Enki is superior to Ninmah. This is done in the framework of a creation motif. Enki can create better that Ninmah. Ninmah creates deformed people. In the creation account in the Book of Jubilees it explains why the purification of a baby girl is twice as long as a boy. Even Hesiod uses the creation of Pandora as an opportunity to explain the evil character of women.

The main purpose of the creation account in Genesis 1 is to explain the origin and importance of the Sabbath. The content and arrangement of this creation account hinges on the Sabbath. Therefore one would expect a seven day cycle. The main purpose of the creation account in Genesis 2 would be to explain the origin and importance of marriage. Therefore one would expect the content and arrangement to center on the man and woman.

Therefore in ancient literature a lot of creation stories are etiological. There main purpose will determine the content and arrangement of the story. Their basic form is still the same. They start a certain way and end a certain way, but the body of the account differs according to the writer’s main purpose.

In conclusion, most of the creation motifs in the Bible follow the six day pattern of Genesis 1. Genesis 2 seems to be unique. Ancient Jewish writers tried to harmonize Genesis 2 into the six days of Genesis 1. After comparing Genesis 2 with other ancient Mesopotamian creation accounts, one sees that Genesis 2 is using the same literary conventions as the Babylonians and Sumerians did. Understanding ancient creation genre will lead to a better understanding of Genesis 2.