Genesis 3: 4-5 (Satan as a Trickster)

Genesis 3: 4-5 (Everett Fox translation):

The snake said to the woman: Die, you will not die! Rather, God knows that on the day that you eat from it, your eyes will be opened and you will become like gods, knowing good and evil.

Because I wish to talk about Satan in a broader and character based sense in this post, I will call him Satan rather than the snake or serpent. Satan’s dialogue with Eve reminds me of the trickster role of Prometheus in Greek myth. Prometheus is positioned liminally beween Gods and mortals. He’s a Titan— that is, a member of the old, defeated generated of Gods conquered by the Olympians led by Zeus. He also straddles divine and mortals worlds as a creator of humans from clay. Later, he becomes a teacher to them and gives them fire after Zeus takes it away. At a feast intended to promote unity between Gods and humans, Prometheus tricks Zeus into taking the bad half the of the humans’ offering. He hides bones and gristle inside the attractive roasted exterior of the animal, and puts the bacon inside organs for the humans to enjoy. Zeus punishes the  humans for this deception so they can’t follow Prometheus’s suit and offer such offensive sacrifices in the future. But Prometheus steals fire from heaven and brings it to the humans, which allows them to gain new knowledge and build civilization by making tools and so forth. This time, Zeus punishes Prometheus by tying him to a rock and causing an eagle to tear out his liver, which grow anew every day. Some literature exalts Prometheus as a hero, even a symbol of human perseverance, intelligence and achievement. But other perspectives, such as Hesiod’s Theogony treat Prometheus as ordinary and pretentious, and his trick as a minor ploy that can’t defeat Zeus’s more enlightened way of being toward humans.

The way we treat the serpent’s deceptions is similarly open to different perceptions and interpretations. How vital his actions are in the course of events is in question. Does the serpent really change anything? What cause, if any is he fighting for? Tricksters are usually catalysts of otherwise impossible events. They can wield this influence precisely because of their in-betweenness. When Prometheus brings fire down from heaven to mortals, for example, this is something humans cannot do for themselves. Only someone who has access to Olympia and who is also intimately concerned with human events could do such a thing. Major changes occur among humans and to their society as a result. Like Prometheus, Tricksters tend to initiate rites of passage in myths—they are transformative figures that tend to exalt what is lowly. They shake up the spaces they inhabit and leave them changed.

They often are initially lowly or defeated figures who succeed in exalting themselves and or others.

This is my list of meanings and intentions Satan’s words might possibly claim in the passage at hand today that I am considering as I question the nature of Satan’s deceptions:

  1. “Die! You will not die!” God lied to Adam and Eve about the consequences of partaking of the fruit; Adam and Eve will not “in the day” (Eve’s words) they eat the fruit. As others have discussed on this blog, Eve has already altered God’s words here, and Satan is playing off her apparent carelessness or misunderstanding. God said they would “surely die” without communicating, as far as we know, that it would be in the same day.
  2.  Perhaps Satan implies that they will not die immediately after. Dropping dead, Snow White like, after biting the fruit might have been something Eve had imagined and was frightened of, and perhaps Satan guessed at this.
  3. “Rather, God knows…” Fox’s use of “rather” here is useful to me, it helps the reader identify that Satan is assertively claiming he has superior knowledge about God, his purposes and motivations. Also, that he claims to offer concealed information. “Rather” intends to cut through error, leading a listener to the truth.
  4. “…on the day that you eat from it, your eyes will be opened…” What will happen “on the day” they partake of the fruit is not death, but a desirable transformation—they will become like Gods, have their eyes opened, and gain knowledge. This seems like an especially dangerous half truth. Adam and Eve’s eyes may be opened in a new way, but only in a way more comparable to how a newborn baby first opens his eyes and looks on an unfamiliar world with blurry vision.
  5. Satan appears to use a false and ill-intentioned countenance of openness. We might occasionally see such tactics in people around us. Some people speak “openly” about life in a manner that is superficially or prematurely intimate. The façade is instant friendship and benevolence, but the motivation is often selfish. This kind of voice seeks to gain trust in order to become a greater influence. The appearance of selfless honesty masks some of the greatest lies.
  6. God told Adam and Eve that they would die not because they actually would, but because he didn’t want their eyes to be opened, and for them to become like him.
  7. “…you will become like gods…” God is jealous of his status and knowledge. He is exclusive and keeps others from progressing; he gains personal benefits from the fact that Adam and Eve are ignorant and blind. This plays off of Satan’s own character; it is of course Satan who actually seeks solo self-aggrandizement at the suffering of others.
  8. Gaining knowledge is as easy as consumption and mere absorption. While death will not come instantaneously, Godhood and knowledge will. Another particularly dangerous half truth. They will not “[know] good and evil” in any rich sense in an instant. What might transform a little more instantaneously is not knowledge but their potential and desire to gain knowledge, including capacities for personal responsibility, pain, enjoyment, and moral discernment.
  9. God is not on the side of humans, but Satan is. God does not promote human progression, especially when assertively sought by humans, but Satan does.
  10. Disobedience is desirable and right if it appears it will increase your personal knowledge, power, and pleasure, even if it damages relationships and trust.

Satan is a unique kind of trickster. Mythological tricksters, like Prometheus, frequently suffer and sacrifice. It is through this that they evoke change– they offer something of themselves. They are loyal to some cause, even if they tear down and deceive others in the process who have created boundaries. Satan does this only pretentiously and insincerely. He pretends to care about humans, but only intends harm. Also, while Prometheus is invested in humans as a creator on earth, Satan pops into this scene out of nowhere in our narrative. Even when we consult the richer array of pre-mortal narratives about him, he never promotes anyone but himself, and that only tragically and failingly. Even if we took the perspective as Prometheus as inferior to Zeus, Prometheus at least offers meat, warmth, and light to humans at his own cost and his own suffering. Satan claims to offer knowledge and to promote human advancement, but all he ultimately offers is lies. These lies are especially dangerous because of the way Satan mixes insinuations that God is a selfish monster (the truth about Satan himself actually) with deeper hidden truths about human exaltation that Eve hasn’t learned from God yet and is not yet ready to identify and separate from error. Satan pressures and confuses. He is not on the side of humans or Gods, however catalystic we might interpret his role to be in the transgression and course of events that follow.

God’s punishment to the serpent after this temptation does not inflict the kind of suffering that refines or exalts. God basically communicates to Satan he is going to ignore him more and feed him less than ever; he is worth less attention, not more, and there is no need to inflict any kind of violence. It is tempting to celebrate Prometheus as a hero because he suffered in consequence of helping humans, but Satan suffers only out of selfish disobedience.

But despite all these thoughts, I still feel the need to compare Prometheus bringing fire with Satan offering the fruit. Satan’s opposition may catalyze meaningful changes the world, even if most or all of these changes are not what he specifically intends. Fire and fruit are both such beautiful and powerful representations of the enjoyment of life, and human striving after light and intelligence. The partaking of the fruit ultimately benefits Adam and Eve, as they recognize later, even though they first tasted it in the obscurity and confusion of Satan’s presence. Satan’s opposition appears to prove productive, but because of human agency, it does so in two directions—evil and good. His pressures accelerate human growth and unintentionally (for Satan, tragically) aid the Father’s purpose of exalting humans again and again.

Or perhaps, as some have treated Prometheus, we should treat Satan’s efforts more as pathetic deterrents to God’s plans that are really just mild annoyances more than vital opposition and catalysts. I sometimes wonder what would happened had Satan not appeared here. Perhaps a day would have arrived when Adam and Eve were prepared to partake of the fruit, and the Father would have encouraged or even commanded it. And perhaps this even would have been a better kind of learning and growing experience for them.

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Genesis 3:1-3

“…And the two of them were naked, the human and his woman, and they were not ashamed.”


The break between chapters 2 and 3 is a major formal and thematic cleft in the text. The first seven verses of chapter 3 are a kind of narrative carnival, an interlude during which Yahweh withdraws and a new maker-god temporarily takes his place to preside over a topsy-turvy feast of conversation and transgression.

(My thoughts here are informed, perhaps eccentrically, by an oldie-but-goodie from my undergraduate days, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Bakhtinian theory of dialogue/heteroglossia and carnival. Bakhtin is a bit musty in critical theory these days, but it seems to me that both of his major ideas are active in these verses so perhaps he is worth resurrecting here.)

“Now the serpent…” “Now” points to a temporal disjunction in the narrative, a new scene and a new plot. And a new character: the serpent. Whereas the walking, tree-like Yahweh initiates the action in the first scene of the story, the slithering, ground-like serpent (1) will take over during this interlude. But where has Yahweh gone? The last we saw of him, he was presenting the woman to the human; after the human accepts and names the gift, Yahweh disappears from the text. His sudden absence is what allows the serpent to appear in the narrative. Is this withdrawal analogous to the seventh day of the first creation story, in which Elohim withdraws from his work to rest? Perhaps Yahweh is off sleeping in the shade of the garden someplace. In any case, God, on the first of many occasions in human history, withdraws from human perception while things take a hard left-hand turn on earth.

“… was most cunning of all the beasts of the field that the LORD God had made.” Alter chooses the word “cunning” to describe the serpent; the NSRV uses “crafty”; the KJV uses “subtil.” Of the three I prefer “crafty” because it suggests a connection between the the serpent and Yahweh: after all, Yahweh is more than anything else a crafter, a tinker, an incremental maker of imperfect but living things out of material scrabbled together from the ground. The serpent is Yahweh’s double and his opposite. But also, the text reminds us, his creation and creature. Is there a whiff of theodicean reasoning here — an implied suggestion that if the serpent is crafty, cunning, and subtle, it is only because Yahweh made him so? Should his creatureliness excuse the serpent for merely acting on his nature, or, on the contrary, is he all the more blameworthy for controverting his own maker (as Milton has it)?

“And he said to the woman, “Though God said, you shall not eat from any tree of the garden—” There is so much to be said here that I hardly know where to begin; please consult your commentaries! Perhaps one thing to be noted is the matter of God’s name: Yahweh Elohim. (Ben generously supplied his linguistic expertise to talk this through with me.) The narrative voice in chapters 2:4+ and 3 consistently uses both names together, Yahweh Elohim, which Alter and many other translators render as LORD God. But in the quoted dialogue of the serpent and the woman, Elohim is used alone. Is this coincidence, an artifact of redaction, or a thematically meaningful distinction? I don’t know.

This sentence also represents the introduction of the dialogic imagination into the garden. We have heretofore heard both Yahweh’s voice and the human’s voice, but never in responsive dialogue; there are scarcely even distinctly implied points of view distinguishing the human from his creator. In Bakhtinian terms, everything that has come before has been uttered in “authoritative discourse.” The serpent breaks this wide open by introducing a distinct voice, which in turn makes dialogue possible. There’s irony in the fact that he does so by subversively (mis)quoting Elohim, moving the original (and foundational) authoritative utterance (“You shall not you shall not eat from any tree of the garden…”) into a different register and thereby changing its meaning. The serpent here purports to reproduce Elohim’s speech, but of course Yahweh Elohim in fact said “From every fruit of the garden you may surely eat” (emphasis mine). This is what Bakhtin calls “heteroglossia” or a “hybrid utterance” — the presence of multiple discourses (in this case, both Yahweh’s and the serpent’s, both authoritative and subversive-carnival-authoritative) in a single utterance. More on that when the woman starts speaking in a moment.

The introduction of distinct points of view, distinct discourses, is what makes dialogue possible. I love how Alter conveys a welter of overlapping voices by rendering the serpent’s first utterance not as a disingenuous question, as the KJV and NSRV have it (“‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’), but as an appositive clause which is frankly interrupted by the woman’s voice: “Though God said, you shall not eat from any tree of the garden — “ I have no idea how justifiable this is textually, but it’s fantastic storytelling and the perfect formulation of a truly dialogic consciousness: a worldview open to contest, multiplicity, and incommensurability. If we define a novel as a text infused by the dialogical imagination, as Bakhtin does, we might say that this sentence is the first and shortest novel ever written.

“And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the garden’s trees we may eat, but from the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it and you shall not touch it, lest you die.’” The woman’s words here are a tour de force of heteroglossia. Peeling back the layers of the utterance we discover: at the first level, the woman’s voice, interrupting and correcting the serpent’s mis-quotation; at a second level, an implied quotation of the male human’s voice, for how else did the woman to learn of the proscription?; beyond that, of course, is the authoritative voice of Elohim himself. Only not really, because the woman misquotes Elohim too. Somewhere along the way, either by the male human or the female, a hedge was added around the fence, and the woman now suggests that she is prohibited from both eating and touching the fruit. What do we make of this multiplication of the taboo?

It’s interesting that the woman identifies the tree only by its position, its locality in the midst of the garden, rather than by its characteristics. Does she know that there are two trees in the “midst” of the garden, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge, but only one is proscribed? Matter of fact, do WE know that there were two trees? Is it possible that the text in 2:9 applies two descriptors to a single tree?

I don’t have a great way to tie this all together. Let’s dive into the discussion.

(1)  Does the serpent slither at this point? Yahweh later curses him to “go on his belly and eat dust”, so it’s possible that at this point the serpent is a walking, upright-oriented beast. Either way, it’s worth noting that the serpent’s associations are not negative at this stage; indeed, my commentary suggests that the serpent was anciently associated with wisdom and fertility.

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Genesis 2: 21-25: Comparing Eve’s Creation to Birth

A gospel instructor recently introduced me to a new concept:

“Men and women are each required to lay down their lives for the sake of giving life to others. Women lay down/risk their lives in childbirth to give physical life. Men, in turn, are called on to provide spiritual rebirth to other souls, and to be willing to give their lives for this cause.”

Does this idea ring true? What are its limitations? Gender roles in the plan of salvation definitely blur together; men and women prove essential to assisting in each other’s life giving roles. In other words, women are also needed to provide spiritual life, and men are needed to provide physical. Nevertheless, I keep finding myself drawn back to this insight as I contemplate this big question that has already been raised:

Why are Adam and Eve created so differently, and what might this teach us about gender difference?

In this post, I’d like to contrast it with a birth experience. Is there any sense in which Adam is laying down his life symbolically?

One thing is clear at this point just prior to Eve’s creation: there are no mortal women on earth to give birth to new souls. While Adam is hatched or molded on ground level like a seed or an egg, Eve’s organic material is removed from Adam’s body and remolded and structured like clay by a potter. It is resuscitated with new breath to become female and independent from Adam’s body by divine hands. Why should Eve’s body originate partly from Adam’s, with him serving as a kind of surrogate male mother/father for her? By fusing Eve’s creation so closely with Adam and his body, the story invites us to plumb the emotional  and psychological depths of Adam and Eve’s first meeting. I am particularly intrerested in the  joy and feelings of unification Adam feels when he wakes, rises and first looks on Eve. What does Adam’s part in Eve’s creation signify, and how might this process be said to transform and prepare him?

Point of contrast 1: Anticipation

Any awareness Adam might have had concerning the creation of Eve beforehand is unclear. Encountering other living creatures and naming them might have starting him thinking about the possibility of a female human being.

“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.”

Adam is the active agent in the first half of this verse, perhaps the “not finding” is on his part. Was Adam was searching and waiting for a female human to come?

Did God give Adam any clue about what to anticipate with Eve’s creation? There doesn’t seem to be clear evidence of this unless we want to assume Adam overhears God’s plan: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” But  God seems to be talking about Adam to someone else. The biggest evidence that Adam may have hoped for Eve’s creation is his words “at last,” or “now”—“This at last is bone of my bones” as if he had been waiting for these events, even hoping to have this kind of “same flesh” relationship with another being.

And a new mother is like Adam alone– the last link in the chain of her own family’s line. She feels desire for a relationship with a child, but of course can’t know what being in this relationship will entail—what she will feel, experience, sacrifice, and become. Nor can Adam.

Julie raised the question why of the commandment not to eat the tree, and then the Lord’s determination to get things rolling with Eve’s creation should go together. Maybe God needs Adam to gain knowledge, but he isn’t ready for Adam to actively partake of knowledge himself. Might we see the course of events as God asseringt parental control over what knowledge is revealed? Understanding of what it means for Adam to be male, and Eve female, and for them to be partnered together is coming Adam’s way through God’s actions rather than Adam’s. Like a child, Adam is treated as if he is not ready to have much foresight or to choose his own course of learning. A structured rites of passage is presented as suitable for him as to a little child who doesn’t appreciate parental perspective.

2. Labor, deep sleeps, and other trances

Labor is comparable to a kind of sleep in that it is for many women a trancelike state. A woman loses consciousness of time. Bodily pain causes her to turn in and become somewhat oblivious of surroundings and people. Completely unprecedented behavior reveals itself—the women is out of her element, transformed. She is never more aware of herself than in these moments, yet also never less aware. She, exhausted and terrified, is compelled to focus on the labor at hand. Labor and birth is more like a state of hyper wakefulness and awareness beyond ordinary consciousness.

Adam probably doesn’t suffer physically and is unconscious. Adam has something more akin to the early 20th century American birth experience. Many doctors, not wanting to deal with all the drama and trauma of women in labor, thought it best to knock patients out and wake them up when the baby was out (this is also known as a “twilight birth”).

Adam is put into a “deep sleep” with the intention of waking him when Eve is prepared to meet him. Deep sleep from God tends to be invoked for merciful purposes. Deep sleep induced by God, used symbolically, protects the unprepared and heedless from divine wrath. It also comes upon enemies in order to liberate captives in the Book of Mormon. A similar thing happen when David is spared from sleeping enemies. Perhaps God mercifully lets Adam sleep through this “procedure” in our story because wakefulness would cause him needless suffering. The JPS commentary shares this: “a deep sleep Hebrew tardemah is … abnormally heavy sleep, divinely induced. It has here the dual function of rendering the man insensible to the pain of the surgery and oblivious to God at work.” Eve’s creation may be something he was not prepared to witness and understand. Again, God is treating Adam like a child. Adam may be unprepared to have the knowledge of what it means to suffer and sacrifice. Adam’s body being new to him, we would imagine him being frightened and overwhelmed by his experience.

Some women consider it a privilege to suffer in order to give life, and to retain this knowledge. My husband’s grandmother begged her “twilight birth” doctor in the 1940’s three times to stay awake for the deliveries of her children unsuccessfully, which haunted her. She wanted to be present. Labor and birth are not things to sleep through—they are things to wakefully engage and gain a knowledge of. For a mother, birth is an act of sacrifice and suffering and a brush with death. She gives life through suffering that is difficult and probably impossible to measure and fully describe. She lays her life on the line during labor. There is no guarantee her body can make way for the baby to come out. After the baby is out, she bleeds heavily, and even risks death again with this bleeding.

In Adam’s case life is literally in God’s hands, we assume he is safe. Nevertheless, how do we imagine Adam’s body in this experience? Is he bleeding? Does he need to receive resuscitation? Will there be afterpains? Prostrate and unconscious, with his chest slit into, he may actually appear closer to death than the actively laboring mother, or something more like organ donation than birth.

This image of Adam prostrate and opened foreshadows in my mind the powerful and divinely given human capacity to lay down our lives to give life that is described in the thesis I shared above. You might even suggest that the taking of Adam’s flesh gestures toward all the ways that we are related the Christ—through the suffering of his body, his death, and the symbols of his body used in the sacrament.

3. Moments of birth/creation

A baby comes out crying, drawing in air into its lung on its own for the first time, covered in blood and fluid and ready to be human and bond with its mother. Adam’s ribs come out, fairly small white bone covered in muscle, fat, veins and blood. A piece of flesh, not a living soul. Seeing as how God intends Adam to go into a deep sleep, it seems to be suggested this restructuring process takes a long time. A human being is formed from part of another human. This happens behind veil of a mother’s womb every day; in this story, it happens in the open air of a garden. Why doesn’t Eve fly out or come pulled out of a part of Adam’s body like in some other ancient myths? This part of the story seems to bear special emphasis on gender identity and sacred purposes in gender distinctions. Only the hands of God can make flesh of identical origins ontologically distinct.

4. Waking, Meeting, Bonding, and Joy

Divinely invoked deep sleeps often lead to revelation and transformation that is evident at waking. King Lamoni, his father and mother, and many others received powerful testimonies of Jesus Christ while in deep trances. At waking, they are filled with profound joy and cannot be withheld from testifying. Job describes being awoken from a deep sleep to be faced by God himself with the crucial questions of his life, such as “Shall mortal man be more just than God?” (Job 4:13).

Sleep is forgetting, dust, and death. Waking and arising are remembering, drawing strength, and preparing for sacred and celebratory events (Isaiah 51-52). The sleep of God transforms us—just as after an ordinary night of rest, we wake with new strength, and knowledge we are present in a new day.

Giving birth is a kind of “waking” experience out of the trance and pains of labor that transforms a new mother. The pains of her labor prepare her for moments of profound new love, bonding and revelation. The presence of the child can be saturating, overwhelming. A woman once shared with me how she found herself asking, “This is what has been growing inside of me, with this little face?” I remember the first moments I saw my son Adam. The fact that his gender is different than mine is vital to what I thought and felt. I recognized Adam bore an unmistakable resemblance to me, yet being male made him completely other. He bore an uncanny similarity to myself, he was even a piece of me taken out, but coupled with distinctions that would never be reconciled. I witnessed he was in a sense “flesh of my flesh,” but never before had a being presented itself with this same/other quality. These thoughts were coupled with the epiphane that every male person I had ever encountered had started as one of these innocent and helpless beings. Every son must have or should have struck awe and elation in this way. It was a moment of healing for me when bitterness melted away. My eyes were opened to see gender identity, particularly males, anew.

What I thought and felt when I first saw Adam is comparable to what passed through Adam’s heart when he first saw Eve. Adam is filled with sudden, surprising joy. As the JPS Torah commentary suggests, “Man’s first recorded speech is a cry of ecstatic elation at seeing the woman.” Adam confirms the eye opening experience to himself, praises God, and perhaps indirectly speaks to Eve with these words:

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”

The opening of Adam’s body for the sake of taking out flesh for Eve both gestures toward birth and distinguishes itself as producing this new relationship. The rib is not put back, there is a hole in Adam where Eve’s transformed flesh once belonged and in a sense she still belongs there. Knowledge that Eve is created of his flesh cultivates special feelings and thought in Adam. He seems to instantly and wholeheartedly recognize the closest of familial bonds between the two of them—something possibly closer than family, unity on the level of self. If a man is to “leave his father and mother” to cleave to a wife, only a relationship that can compete with or supersede the bond of son to parents would motivate him to do so. At this moment, Adam wraps his mind around two seemingly paradoxical insights—he feels such unity with Eve that it is as if she is still inside him and is part of his own self, and yet she is so ontologically different that she needs her own name that denotes a completely different way of being.

Man and woman: a relationship with potential to be as emotionally powerful, binding and sacred to human beings as any. This is not because of parental or blood bonds, but, least to begin with, because we experience such powerful unity and sameness combined with interesting and fulfilling otherness.

This unity/otherness leads Adam and Eve influences Adam and Eve’s first choice—Eve independently partakes of the fruit, Adam out of loyalty chooses to do the same. When Adam chooses Eve there is a sense in which he also deliberately and willingly chooses death (as Milton suggests in book 9 of Paradise lost, sorry, can’t find the lines right now, it’s just so amazingly long). What might Adam’s choice can lead us to understand something of the love, impulses, and feelings of duty and protectiveness that lead men to be willing to lay down the lives for others and perhaps particularly women?  As likely in Adam’s case, the spiritual wellfare and mortal safety of others are entangled together in men’s motivations—they shield against and fight violence both spiritual and bodily violence.

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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 . . .



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


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 . . .


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

God is called . . .


Yahweh Elohim


Multiply and replenish the earth


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


Naming is done by . . .



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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Verses 15-17: Thoughts on Dust, Tilling, Tending and Fruit

NRSV Genesis 2: 15-17


 The LORD God took the man

and put him in the garden of Eden

to till it and keep it.


 And the LORD God commanded

the man, “You may freely eat of

every tree of the garden;


 but of the tree of the knowledge of

good and evil you shall not eat, for

in the day that you eat of it you shall



The two main questions this post approaches are:

What is the significance/role of dust in the narrative?

Why is Adam’s first task tilling and tending the garden? Or in other words, what deeper significance might be embedded in the narrative in these tasks?

Adam is dust bound and dust oriented. Formed from the dust, he is now raking dust. Dust is rich and ambiguous symbolically. It has its dark side. Frequently, it is associated with that which the Lord condemns—spiritually fruitless bodies and buildings are to shatter into dust (Isa. 25:12, 1 Ne. 22:14). It is also a symbol of human frailty or even worthlessness. Abraham marvels that he, merely made of dust and ashes, speaks face to face with the Lord (Gen. 18: 27). Dust is that which is dead, silent, and lowly (Psalms 29:9-12). God pities man for being embodied in dust (Psalms 103:13-14). The wicked, like the serpent lick up milly, dry and tasteless dust in shame (Micah 7:17). Dust is that which is not whole or holy, clean, unified, glorious, or eternal.

But dust is more than this. Dust is the clay from which God miraculously forms all manner of life by his word (Exodus 8:16, Mormon 9:17). The infinite nature of dust particles gestures toward the potential for mortal worlds to stretch into more glorious ones. Abraham is promised that his seed shall be as the dust of the earth (Gen. 13:16); it is elsewhere used as a symbol of countless posterity (Numbers 23:10). As Jim has mentioned, rising from dust is associated with royal ascension. Dust and ashes are symbols of sacrifice and repentance. Voices of the dead bearing testimony miraculously speak out of their broken down, dust-bound bodies (2 Ne. 3:19-20). God wills such voices to come forth, and holds us accountable to heed their words (Moroni 10:27). Dust is mortal matter with potential life and growth; it is only those who choose to remain robed in mortal dust rather than to be enrobed by Christ who need be degraded by it.

Let’s also consider soil and tilling in terms of actual gardening. Like dust as a symbol, soil is phenomenologically somewhat dual-natured. This raw mineral and organic material with potential to nourish and support plant life is lumpy, disintegrated, and shapeless in our hands, and yet also shapes the beautiful geological formations of the earth. It is absorbent, porous and malleable, but also resists human control and mastery. It itself is dark and can block light from our view, yet also allows seeds to respond to light’s energy by supporting beautiful growth. It is stony or soft. Dry, or rich and clayey. Poorly or well nourished. It drinks up good and bad substances, to be enriched or contaminated. It is passive but also takes up a kind of micro life of its own through seeds, weeds, insects, and fungi that grow in it.  Soil does unpredictable things due to our lack of knowledge of it and can’t choose to make itself into anything in particular. It must be acted upon with cultivation to have order, cleanliness, and designed purpose.  

While soil lacks interest or distinguishing characteristics (e.g.  we who don’t grow food don’t even notice or appreciate it), it is ironically something that is not only essential to all life and our enjoyment of life in our bodies, but also has an infinite range of meaningful particularities that affect us. Because soil is by definition crumbled minerals and organic life, its fragments come from a unique set of disintegrated objects, and the resulting nutrients will affect what the soil can nurture and produce.

The terms “tilling” and “keeping” bear important distinctions. The TNK gives “till” and “tend;” the Everett Fox translation provides my favorite pairing, “work” and “watch.” I interpret tilling to apply to the ground and preparing it for plant growth, and the tending to apply to animal life and perhaps also plants (for example, Moses 5:3).

Some synonyms for till include: cultivate, plow, harrow, labor, and strive after. Synonyms for tend are: lead, conduce, look after, watch over, minister, and wait on.

Tilling is the hard labor in the soil, this raw material from which all physical life is to stem. It is the back to the grindstone, sweaty, cardiovascular act of organizing, preparing, fertilizing and stirring up this raw material to ready it to nurture life, help seeds respond to light and water, and grow. Tilling and keeping are interdependent, without plants, animals and humans have no source of nourishment. Tilling concerns what is inanimate or latent, tending that which is starting to actively grow.

Perhaps tilling gestures toward Christ-like virtues and gospel principles, particularly faith. Every gardener’s tilling is performed in uncertainty and risks possible fruitlessness.  Did Adam have faith he could help the Father in his work? Not just growing fruits and flowers, but to fulfill his relationship as the son of the creator in this big, new world? When I imagine Adam tilling the garden, I imagine all the potential growth and life—physical and spiritual—that Adam’s life would begin. I don’t suppose he knew this at the time, or even that he saw deeper symbolic purpose in his actions (like a sacred ritual), but tilling seems to gesture toward Adam’s future powerful role as a giver and cultivator of life on earth.

I’m particularly struck by the word “harrow” as a cognate for till because it reminds me that the spiritual labor of tilling into new soil is not easy or pleasant. I think of my father picking into the latent and unformed soil in his children’s brains and spirits with his theological questions, creative metaphors, and strongly expressed spiritual convictions. His was an act of diligent tilling and sowing. It took years for me to understand many of the observations he made. There were resistant, awkward moments of silence as our family gathered and learned from him, and spiritual dialogues shared in quiet moments. I imagine his labors often felt one-sided, we children sometimes passive in our learning and unappreciative in many ways.

What is the fruit the father-tiller hungers after? Spiritual knowledge and life, grown and tasted for and by him and his children. Mortal family life is the resistant yet malleable medium of this work. Spiritual tilling is accompanied by tending. As time presses on, seeds of faith actively grow in the hearts of a family and take on their own life. The chore of tending has become more part of my father’s work. He is no longer laboring so much in what is passive and latent, but feeding the needs of living, active, and fruit bearing creatures who are becoming givers of life themselves. The plant becomes a gardener, the sheep becomes a shepherd (Thank you Julie!) Perhaps his work is not entirely selfless—he hungers after the fruit of knowledge himself,  and long just as much for his children to grow and for them to receive it and rise to his stature to help him in his labors.

Tending is watching and responding to particular needs through conscious observation. We could relate “tilling” and “keeping” to two basic principles: labor and watch. We put our shoulders to the wheel, but then deliberately observe changes among the agents we’re entrusted with in order to direct an intelligent course of action.

Adam, the man laboring in the dust, is the father and priest responsible to nurture spiritual and physical life. Laboring in the dust is full of ashes, sweat, and tears for him. He works in the face of failure and death. His heart expands toward eternity; he longs for connections backward and forward through generations with souls as innumerable as dust. He sacrifices, he sometimes even must let parts of himself and prized facets of his life or dreams be burnt up into ashes. He orders and nurtures his stewardship. He feeds it with the words of God without any guarantee that this labor will produce good fruit. As his stewardship sprouts and grows active, He watches it carefully, and through this judges how to reciprocate its responses and needs. He also calls on the greater wisdom of God. Voices speak to him from the dust from generations past, helping him to keep and pass on his knowledge of God. He’s working the greatest miracle imaginable: creating eternal bonds and beings from a fundamentally disintegrated, dust world. Adam could be said to have been given the stewardship of keeping earth in a proper order and a state of preparedness for God’s presence, to keep the home God planted on earth in—an eternal home amidst temporary chaos.

To be a spiritual cultivator requires spiritual knowledge and experience. According to the narrative, Adam seems to have only a little of this at this point as an embodied mortal being.    Why does the Father forbid Adam to eat the fruit? If knowledge is good and something the Father “grows” and cultivates himself in his father-gardener role (he is possibly even consuming it in the garden before Adam) why would it be wrong for his son to taste it? As he first experienced life on earth, was Adam’s own mind beginning to be stirred and prepared up by the Father’s words and actions with hunger for spiritual knowledge to gain knowledge? Good parents deny good things often because children are not prepared or matured enough for them yet. Would the day have come when the Father would have invited him to partake? Or would God have taught him to grow his own sapling tree of knowledge in the greater course of time? 

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Genesis 2:8-14

A word about my general approach: it might best be described, at least initially, as a kind of highly speculative, existential, literary-theological brainstorming in which no idea is too bad to publicly display in order to see what, if anything, sticks. The translation is Robert Alter’s.

Here are some thought and notes and questions:

1. “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, to the east, and He placed there the human he had fashioned.”

God shows up here as farmer/gardener. He plants the garden without any mention of hands-off voice-commanding or mediating figures. He just plain plants the garden. The earlier implication in vs. 5 was that the ground was naked and plant-less because (1) God had not caused rain to fall, but also because (2) “there was no human to till the soil,” as if humans were needed in order for the garden to get planted in the first place. There’s no mention of that here, though. Humans get created first, then the garden gets planted (so there is a sequential priority), but humans get the role of tenders rather than planters.

God plants “a garden in Eden, to the east.” Eden does not appear to be co-existensive with the world. It may not even be the case that the “garden” is co-extensive with Eden. Translations vary, but the general drift seems to be that, like nesting dolls of increasing size, the human is put in the garden, the garden is put in Eden, and Eden is put in the east (of the world). We’ll come back to this more when we talk about the rivers.

Note: Some might read this as a boon for the whole “no death before the fall” problem (there could have been death outside the garden in the north, south, and west of the world!), but in my view that whole “problem” is a pseudo-problem anyway, generated by a too-contemporary reading of what’s going in these early chapters of Genesis. So I’m neither worried about this problem nor find this to be a potential “solution” to that problem.

But I am very interested how this contextualizing of the human in the garden in the world hints at a much bigger picture just off stage.

God “places” or “puts” the human in the garden. In some ways, this final business of “placing” the human puts the “da” in his “sein” and completes God’s work of fashioning a human being (or dasein). To be human is not just to have been inflated by the divine breath, but to have been “there’d” by God into a particular place. To be human is have this “there” circulating through your lungs, your eyes, your ears, your hands, your blood, your nerves, etc. The “there’ing” is essential to this circulation that is a human way of being. I’m tempted to anticipate and suggest that death (spiritual and physical) has to do with a failure of our ability to “here” ourselves (wherever our “here” is). More later.

2. ”And the Lord God caused to sprout from the soil every tree lovely to look at and good for food . . .”

Is it the case that the garden consisted entirely of trees? They’re the only plant mentioned at any rate. Perhaps trees function metonymically here for all the Eden-grade plants. But also, is it the case that the garden consisted entirely of trees that were lovely to look at and good for food? Is this “and” meant to be serial (the garden had some trees that were and lovely and some that were good for food) or are all the trees both lovely and good to eat?

Note that an aesthetic value is embedded by God at a root level in the creation of the garden itself: the trees are lovely to look at. Aesthetic concerns are not here peripheral or supernumerary or an after-thought thrown in for final effect. In fact, being “lovely to look at” is given priority here over the edibility-function of the fruit insofar as it is listed first. Edibility is what’s tacked on as the handmaiden of aesthetics.

Also, what do we make of the fact that eating is part of the plan from the beginning, that consumption is also embedded by God at a root level in the creation of the garden? There’s no eating without death. Maybe only poor little apples and pears find themselves on the chopping block here with bunnies and people living happily in perpetuity, but still that’s a far cry from a static and benign garden where everyone and everything gets along and lasts forever. Stuff is getting eaten here. And, moreover, God intends for it to get eaten.

We can probably induce Jim to say more about this, but coming to grips with the role of food and teeth and digestion in this story strikes me as central to understanding the entire narrative.

3. “. . . and the tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge, good and evil.”

I don’t know what all to say about these trees. Consult your commentaries, people!

From Alter’s (and the NRSV’s) translation, the text technically only locates the tree of life in the “midst” of the garden. Talk about the tree of knowledge is then tacked on imprecisely to that initial description (as is the following description of the tree of knowledge as “good and evil”). Are both trees in the middle/midst? Or just the tree of life? Is “midst” here the same thing as “middle”?

The New Interpreter’s Bible notes the “awkward syntax” of this section and offers a couple of suggestions in light of them: (1) this may suggest that stories with two different trees have here been combined into a single story, or (2) this may suggest (as some think) that “only one tree is intended (‘the tree of life, namely, the tree of knowledge’).” The first is intriguing, though I don’t know what we’d do with it. The second is even more intriguing, but seems unlikely in light of the way the text later seems to clearly distinguish between the two (“They’ve eaten the one, station a flaming sword to keep them from the other!”).

Okay: tree of life, then. What kind of life? Are we talking quantity here? Quality? If so, what kind of quality? What distinguished the tree of life’s kind of life from the already given breath of life’s kind of life? What does it mean that you have to eat the tree (or its fruit at least) in order to have that life that the tree bears? Does this tree of life gel very well with Lehi’s tree of life? I’m hesitant to see the relationship as straightforward.

What about the tree of knowledge then? The NIB commentary sees the expression “good and evil” as idiomatic, as an expression in which the words do not have their normal meanings. They argue that the NIV translates the same phrase in Genesis 24:50 as meaning something more like “one way or another.” In that case, we’d have something like: “the tree of knowledge, one way or another!” Which, to be honest, I kind of like.

Further, what kind of knowledge are we are talking about here? I don’t even know where to start in laying out the potential candidates. The one thing we seem to know from later on is that this knowledge has somehow to do with becoming more like the gods.

The NIB suggests that, functionally, the tree of knowledge, coupled with the command to not eat it, marks the limit of creatureliness. The idea is that being a creat(ed)ture depends on the imposition of some limit to one’s createdness.

It’s also worth noting that the NIB really poo-poos the idea that the tree of knowledge has anything to do with sex: “Any meaning assigned to the tree must recognize that it has to do with a ‘knowledge’ that God has. This makes it unlikely that it has to do with sexual knowledge/experience . . . or knowledge of/experience with sin or wickedness.” Though, to be fair, my conception of God may be much more plastic on this point than the NIB’s.

4. “Now a river runs out of Eden to water the garden and from there splits off into four streams. The name of the first is Pishon, the one that winds through the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is goodly, bdellium is there, and lapis lazuli. And the name of the second river is Gihon, the one that winds through all the land of Cush. And the name of the third river is Tigris, the one that goes to the east of Ashur. And the fourth river is Euphrates.”

A couple of final notes about the river(s).

The river flows out of Eden. It binds the garden and Eden to the rest of the world. When it splits into four rivers, some of the river names are associated with recognizable locations in the Middle-East, and some of them use names we don’t know anything about. This splitting of names into the identifiable and unidentifiable also (1) hints that the world we know about and can name is not the entire world, even as (2) it identifies concrete geographical linkage between the world we can name and Eden.

The NIB says: “Moreover, the worlds out beyond Eden already have names, suggesting that they were believed to be inhabited (which would coincide with the fuller population in chap. 4).” This localization of Eden and the concomitant “there-ing” of the garden in relation to the rest of the off-stage but hinted at world is important, I think, in relation to what was said before.

Finally, we’re told that the river “waters the garden.” Here, the river does the watering, not the rain from the sky or the water welling up, pre-garden, from the earth. What do you make of this shift? Neither earth nor sky but river?

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Genesis 2:4-7


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). 

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