|King James4 These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, 5 and every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. 6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. 7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.||New American Standard4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven. 5 Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. 6 But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.||Jewish Publication Society4 Such is the story of heaven and earth when they were created.When the LORD God made earth and heaven— 5 when no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted, because the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the soil, 6 but a flow would well up from the ground and water the whole surface of the earth— 7 the LORD God formed man from the dust of the earth. He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.|
I don’t have an overall interpretation to offer for these four verses, but I do have some observations. (Many of these observations come from the notes I make available here.) Perhaps my observations will provide fodder for thinking about what follows.
My general interpretive strategy is to try to make the most sense of the text, as is. I assume that the text we have is the product of redaction, but I also assume that the redactors were not blind to what they were doing. So for me the question is not the historical question “How did the redactors combine texts to produce the text we have?” but “How do we find a meaning in the existing, though redacted, text.”
I am not yet sure what to make of the marginal status of this text (a status to which Ben has already pointed). In The Lost World of Genesis One, John H. Walton argues that the first composers and readers of our text “believed that something existed not by virtue of its material properties, but by virtue of its having a function in an ordered process” (location 26). I’m predisposed to like that claim.
On the basis of that claim, one possible explanation of the absence of mention in the Old Testament is that everything else occurs within the already-given structure of the world that we see created here. Since it is assumed background (as the framework or ordered process within which everything else occurs), it doesn’t need to be mentioned again. That would also explain why, when the New Testament mentions Adam or Eve, they are used only archetypically.
Walton also argues that chapter 1 is a temple text that ends with God at rest in his temple. But his rest does not mean the end of his engagement with the world. So chapter 2 takes up that engagement: chapter 1, God creating the world / cosmos; chapter 2, God engaged in the world / cosmos [and, I would add, the explanation of the distance between human beings and God].
Scholars are divided over whether verse 4a should be attached to verse three or whether it introduces what follows, with perhaps most contemporary scholars taking the second option. But I think that Umberto Cassuto (A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Part I) has made a good case for not dividing the verse. He says that the verse has a chiastic structure: “when they were created corresponds to in the day that the Lord God made; similarly, the phrase the heavens and the earth is parallel to the earth and the heavens in the second half of the verse—again an example of chiasmus” (98-99).
Chapter 1 and Chapter 2:1-3 (with perhaps 4a) has shown us the creation of the world as a habitat for human beings. But with Genesis 2:4 we begin a story of alienation rather than creation, even if the story begins with the creation of human being.
I’m treading on other people’s ground, but Mormons aren’t the only ones who don’t see chapters 2-3 as describing a fall. The Jewish tradition doesn’t, and many scholars are in agreement (e.g., Walter Brueggemann). Nor is it an explanation for how evil came into the world.
The KJV uses the literal translation “generations” in verse 4, but the Hebrew word applies here to the narrative that follows rather than to a list of descendants. So many translators take the word to mean “stories.”
Though in chapter 1, God creates through speech, in this pericope he does so through an act.
Speaking of the creation of Man, Brueggemann says “Woman is the crowning event in the narrative and the fulfillment of humanity. Moreover, there is mutuality in the second scene (2:18-25). It is only in the fourth scene (3:8-24) . . . where there is trouble and inequity between the two earthlings” (51).
Oddly, the divine name Yhwh Elohim occurs in chapters 2 and 3, but outside of them it appears in only Exodus 9:30. That fact is the subject of much discussion, but Cassuto’s way of dealing with it is interesting, though it runs against the grain of contemporary academic biblical scholarship (which generally takes the compound name as evidence of textual redaction):
“[T]he name YHWH is a proper noun that denotes specifically the God of Israel, whereas ’Elōhim was originally a generic term and became a proper noun among the Israelites through the realisation that there is only One God and that YHWH alone is ’Elōhim [‘God’]. Following are some of the rules governing the use of the two Names in the book of Genesis that emerged from my investigations:
“(a) The Tetragrammaton occurs when Scripture reflects the concept of God, especially in His ethical aspect, that belongs specifically to the people of Israel; ’Elōhim appears when the Bible refers to the abstract conception of God that was current in the international circles of the Sages, the idea of God conceived in a general sense as the Creator of the material world, as the Ruler of nature, and as the Source of life.
“(b) The name YHWH is used when Scripture wishes to express that direct and intuitive notion of God that is characteristic of the unsophisticated faith of the multitude; but ’Elōhim is employed when it is intended to convey the concept of the philosophically minded who study the abstruse problems connected with the existence of the world and humanity.
“(c) YHWH appears when the Bible presents the Deity to us in His personal character, and in direct relationship to human beings or to nature; whereas ’Elōhim occurs when Holy Writ speaks of God as a Transcendental Being, who stands entirely outside nature, and above it.
“According to these rules, the name ’Elōhim had necessarily to be used in the story of creation, for there God appears as the Creator of the material universe, and as the Master of the world who has dominion over everything and forms everything by His word alone, without there being any direct relationship between Himself and nature; and generally the description of creation given in that account is related to the tradition of the ‘wise men’ as stated above (regarding the name ’Elōhim in the last paragraph of the section, see my annotations above, on ii 2, p. 64).
“In the narrative of the garden of Eden, on the other hand, God appears as the ruler of the moral world, for He enjoins a given precept on man, and demands an account of his actions; that apart, stress is laid here on His personal aspect, manifested in His direct relationship with man and the other creatures. For these reasons the name YHWH was required in this section, and this is the name that we actually find. Its association, however, with the appellation ’Elōhim, which is restricted to this one section of the entire book, is easily explained by Scripture’s desire to teach us that YHWH, which occurs here for the first time, is to be wholly identified with ’Elōhim mentioned in the preceding section; in other words, that the God of the moral world is none other than the God of the material world, that the God of Israel is in fact the God of the entire universe, and that the names YHWH and ’Elōhim merely indicate two different facets of His activity or two different ways in which He reveals Himself to mankind. Once this truth has been inculcated here, there is no need to repeat it later; hence in the subsequent sections the Torah employs either the Tetragrammaton or ’Elohim only, according to the context” (87-88).
As our story begins, the earth is perhaps without any plants at all, but is at least without cultivated plants. If the latter, one reason to create man is to create those plants.
In reference to Man being created from “dust,” Victor P. Hamilton (The Book of Genesis) says: “Especially interesting for possible connections with Gen. 2:7 are those passages which speak of an exaltation from dust, with the dust representing pre-royal status (1 K. 16:2), poverty (1 Sam. 2:8; Ps. 113:7), and death (Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2). To ‘be raised from the dust’ means to be elevated to royal office, to rise above poverty, to find life. Here man is formed from dust to be in control of a garden. Thus, the emphasis on the dust in Gen. 2:7, far from disagreeing with ch. 1, affirms ch. 1’s view of man’s regality. He is raised from the dust to reign” (158).
The word translated “man” and “ground” in verse 7 are the same as the word translated “ground” in verse 5: ʾādām (from a word meaning “red”).
The word translated “till” in the KJV is ʿābad. This word appears at important junctures of the story. For example at 2:15 (KJV: “dress”) and at 2:23 (KJV: “till” again). It’s basic meaning is “work, serve” (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew & English Lexicon).