Genesis 2:18-20

Before we begin, I’m curious about how v18 relates to v17.  We ended last week with the command not to eat of the tree and then, in the next breath, the Lord God says it isn’t good for man to be alone.  Are these ideas related?  If so, how?  (Is it possible that the text is implying that the Lord God knew that Adam wouldn’t eat unless Eve was there to encourage him?)

2:18 And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

To whom is the Lord God speaking here?  Adam?  Or does Adam not hear this?

In the creation story, we learn about a lot of things that were “good.”  Here’s something that is “not good.” And what is “not good” is the state of being without a relationship, not a thing (animal, plant, etc.) created by God.  How can the creation of man be good but this situation be “not good”?  What does this teach us about relationships?

Why isn’t it good for the man to be alone?  What might we learn from this?

If it isn’t good for the man to be alone, why did the Lord God create him that way?

If you want to see the muscles in my neck tense up, just say the word “helpmate.”  This unfortunate neologism has a long and ugly history.  The words actually used in this text (here translated as “help meet”) are much different from the connotations of “help mate.”  Remember that meet means equal.  The Hebrew word kÿnegdo is here translated as “meet,” with the sense of “equal to” or “corresponding to.”  Modern translations use words/phrases such as “according to the opposite of him,” “partner,” “suitable to,” and “fit.” In what sense(s) will Eve correspond to Adam? “Help” here translates a word that is most usually used to describe the kinds of help that God gives to humans.  So the idea here is that the “help meet” is someone who is equal to the man and who will help (but not in a subordinate sense) him.

Contrasting the creation of the man with what we learn here about the impending creation of the woman:  the purpose of his creation is never explicitly stated (is it to till the ground? maybe).  But a purpose is given for her creation.  Why might this be?

Some readers read “of him” instead of “for him.”  This reaches back to the idea that “Adam” was originally male + female, reads the “rib” as a “side” that was removed, and has ancient Jewish roots.  (And apparently President Kimball believed this as well; see –President Spencer W. Kimball, “The Blessings and Responsibilities of Womanhood,” Ensign, March 1976, page 70f.)  If we read this verse as an act of separation, how might that nuance our understanding of the story?  (My thought:  I like that reading, except that it is hard to figure out what to do with the “impending parade of animals” if the Lord God was already planning on splitting Adam down the middle to make the meet help.  Also, it makes marriage into an interesting thing:  the re-joining of what should be together to form one person.)

What does it suggest about women to say that they were created because it was not good for men to be left alone?

19 And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

Note that all of the animals are formed out of the ground, as Adam was, but apparently do not have the breath of life like he does.

Is the Lord working by trial and error here?  That is, does he think that maybe one of these animals will be a help meet for Adam?  How else might we understand this passage?

Does this verse imply anything about how we should (or should not) relate to animals?  (Interesting that after the previous verse’s explanation for why women would be created, this verse positions the animals as a sort of reject bin.  Yet the animals are not called “not good.”)

This might be a good time to ask how this chapter relates to Genesis 1, where the animals are created before the human.

A Comparison of Genesis 1 and 2-3

Chapter 1

Chapters 2-3

Focus is on . . .

Heavens and earth

Earth only

Beginning is . . .

Watery

Dry

Man is mentioned . . .

At the end

At the beginning

Human-animal relationship

Humans rule animals

Animals are possible companions

to humans

Human-life relationship

Humans are masters of life on earth

Humans are servants of life on

earth

Human-plant relationship

Plants are given to humans for food

Humans are to serve and keep

the plants

Male-female creation

Created at the same time

Male created first

Humans are created . . .

In the image of God

Of dust, of a rib

Creation is described as being . . .

Good

(no description, but male’s aloneness is “not good”)

God is called . . .

Elohim

Yahweh Elohim

Commandment

Multiply and replenish the earth

(permission)

Do not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil

(restraint)

Naming is done by . . .

God

Adam

Adapted from Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom:  Reading Genesis, page 55.

Why does the Lord see what Adam would call the animals?  Would Adam have been able to discern if any were a help equal to him?  How does the naming relate to the purpose of the scene, which is to find the help meet?  Why does Adam, and not the Lord, name the animals?  Why aren’t the names included in the record?

Where does Adam’s ability to name animals come from?  Isn’t he kind of new at this being-alive thing?

20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

This is the first time that “adam” is used without the article, so it is more likely to be a proper name here (and perhaps not before this point).  If that is the case, why would it become a proper name here?  (Perhaps because there are now other living creatures on the scene?)

General thoughts:

(1) I’ve found this analysis of Genesis compelling:

Creation by Division
All creation either lacks a place (light) or has a place.
Everything having place either lacks a definite place (heaven, sea, earth) or has a definite place.
Everything having a definite place either lacks local motion (plants) or has local motion.
Everything having local motion either lacks life (sun, moon, stars) or has life (and motion).
Everything having life and motion is either nonterrestrial (fish, birds) or terrestrial.
Everything terrestrial is either not in God’s image (land animals) or in God’s image.
Everything in God’s image is either male or female.
Adapted from Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom:  Reading Genesis, page 34.

If you find that persuasive, what light does it shed on this creation story, and particularly on women?

(2)  I’ve read that there is no other ancient Near East creation account that mentions the creation of women.

(3) Is it justifiable to read this story as a template for male-female relationships?  (If the answer to that question is painfully obvious to you, then consider this one:  Is it justifiable to read the story of Cain and Abel as a template for sibling relationships?)

(4) We all seem to have been fascinated with “dust” in recent weeks; is there anything in these verses that would nuance our understanding of the dust?  Is Eve more removed from the earth/dust than Adam is?  If so, what are the implications of that fact?

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5 Responses to Genesis 2:18-20

  1. Ben S says:

    I’m getting caught up here. Some quick thoughts.
    “This is the first time that “adam” is used without the article”- Ambiguous, actually. Because it’s an attached preposition (i.e. b-, l-, m-), the definite marker would be indicated only by the vowel, or pointing, which is very late and traditional. BHS suggests we should read it as definite. I left “Adam” completely out of my translation. On the side of “Adam,” we marshall the KJV, NKJV, 1899 Douay-Rheims, LXX (hmmm), Websters 1833, Targum Onkelos (need to look into that as well), Targum Pseudo-Jonathan. Otherwise, every translation I can see in the last 100 years reads as “man” instead of “Adam.”

    I need to look into both the LXX usage and Targumic use of Adam as a proper name. The Adam/man dichotomy is not present in Greek. Aramaic has some of the same existing duplication (Heb. ish, ‘adam, Arm. ‘enosh, ‘adam) overlap, but different distribution. I suppose, without looking at it deeply, that both the LXX (which first has Adam the proper name in Gen 2:16, then 19 and 20) and Targumic occurrences attest to an early Jewish tradition of a particular man, Adam. Which, I suppose, is no surprise. It’s not something Paul innovates, but neither does he or anyone else in the NT make use of Adam extensively.

    Also, check out Clines’ What Does Eve Do To Help? which is intriguing and germane, but perhaps negative. http://fontes.lstc.edu/~rklein/Documents/clines.htm

  2. Ben S says:

    Clines argues, contra nearly everyone, that it is not ADAM for whom it is not good. That is, the statement has nothing to do with Adam and relationships per se. Rather, it’s not good for creation that he be alone, because he cannot procreate. Eve is created to “help” by being the partner in doing so. IOW, Adam’s purpose is to tend the Garden, Eve’s is to have kids. He makes a close reading, but I can’t go all the way with his conclusions.

  3. Candice says:

    Julie, thank you for this. Kass’s table contrasting the two creation accounts helps me realize some very basic things–

    a) concepts in the two overturn each other. There is no one unifying ideology here, no one principle behind animal-human relationships etc. The incongruency shapes– both expanding and contracting– our realm of interpretive possibilities.

    b) it’s no wonder the two versions weren’t ever integrated together, or that one became obsolete. They are just too different, and each too valuable to let go of.

    My personal perspective of Adam naming the animals is that he can’t see and enjoy this new home properly until he names them. When you think of most individuals today, most of us don’t know the names of plants and animals. We don’t know much about native plants and wildlife around us. But when if we do choose to learn them, we tend to notice them more and even care more about their well being. Or we can compare it to how it is empowering and moralizing to learn other people’s names. Adam, meet your new class :). Adam will see and think more if he has spoken names for these things.

    Maybe the fact that the animals don’t have the breath of life should be connected with the power of speech and naming–animals can’t speak, they don’t have this special divine breath. Naming and speaking about being: God-like acts that must be divinely authorized? Another reason the serpent is so disobedient and out of place.

  4. rosalyndewelch says:

    There’s definitely an element of comedy in these verses, no? Yahweh is a bumbling tinker who can’t manage to make anything suitable— a giraffe as a possible matched set with a man? I suppose it was worth a try, but… try again, buddy.

    It’s interesting that plants themselves don’t get an explicit creation moment, as they do in the Genesis 1 account. They’re simply taken for granted when Yahweh plants the garden. But animals do get an explicit creation, even if they are merely botched attempts at recreating the human. I’m not sure whether that gives them more or less dignity than plants. They do get names, which would seem to dignify them with identity but also makes them subject to man. It’s interesting that at this point there’s no sense that Adam might ever EAT or USE animals — in a sense, this would be horrifying, as they are failed approximations of humans.

    This makes me think about the felt continuity between human and animal life that seems to pervade ancient human culture. This weekend I watched Werner Herzog’s film about the neolithic Chauvet cave paintings. It’s striking that there are no representations of humans. The one glimpse of homo sapiens is a bizarre and compelling amalgam of female and bison — female legs and genitalia attached to a bison head. It’s almost as if neolithic humans could SEE evolution happening, could see their own transition from animal to human.

    The parade of approximated humans that are discarded and labeled animals imposes a teleological ordering on the idea of evolution — the sense that Yahweh knows in advance what he’s working toward as he makes the animal, something corresponding to the first thing he made — but it nevertheless acknowledges a continuity between human and animal, and a process of growing apart.

  5. Adam Miller says:

    Great thoughts this week. I’m especially interested in the business of naming the animals. And Rosalynde’s suggestion that there is something intentionally comic about the search for a companion for the human is liberating. Yeah, biblical comedy! I like it a lot.

    A couple of other thoughts:

    1. “It is not good for the human to be alone . . .”

    I’m interested in the way that this mention of what is “good” for the human in v.18 follows so hard on the heels of the interdiction against eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in v.17. The human, knowing good, would be doomed to die. Is Adam’s finding the good in Eve’s companionship going to be connected with his being doomed to die? In a sense, Adam has to be wounded in order for Eve to be created. Are his being wounded, Eve’s being good, and his dying all tied together?

    2. And the human called names to all the cattle . . .”

    The Lacanian in me has a lot of predictable things to say about how a new, symbolic dimension to the created world “emerges” here in the process of naming (and I mean that term “emerges” in a quasi-technical sense). The series of “knots” or “deadlocks” that emerge (e.g., eat the ToK or not?) as the symbolic is interwoven with the material is interwoven with sexual difference in a way that isn’t clean or reducible is classically Lacanian. Sexual difference, as something more than biological, ferments out of this vast processing of mixing the biological with the symbolic, a process that fails again and again, moving through whole phyla of flesh, until Adam finally has part of himself sacrificed part in order for sexual difference to arrive on the scene. Also, what does it mean in this whole sequence of naming and searching that Eve doesn’t herself get a proper name until the end of chapter 3?

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