The second account of creation features some of the more well-known images of the Hebrew Bible: God planting the idyllic garden of Eden and then fashioning the first humans from the earth and from a rib. It presents a distinct picture of God, the divine-human relationship, and the origins of human society—one that differs from the first creation account and that has lasting implications for understanding creation, sex, and gender in modern culture.
God in the second creation account has a tactile, intimate relationship with the first being. God forms the being out of the “dust of the ground” and animates it by breathing into its nostrils “the breath of life” (
Did you know…?
- The second creation account focuses on agriculture—including references to irrigation, arable land, gardens, trees, plants, animals, and the first farmers.
- The second creation account focuses on the first humans as farmers; before they are created “there was no one to till the ground.” Indeed, humankind (‘adam) is inextricably connected to the earth (‘adamah) from which it was created (and for this reason some think “earthling” might be a better translation of ‘adam.)
- The biblical account of Eden often differs from later Jewish and Christian interpretations of it. The words “fall” and “temptation” never appear in the second creation account, nor does “original sin,” terms that are developed later, particularly in early Christianity.
- The identity of the “forbidden fruit” of Eden is not specified in Genesis but has been variously imagined as fig, pomegranate, grapes, and, most popularly, an apple (which perhaps derives from the much later Latin Vulgate translation of the Hebrew Bible).
- The proper names “Eve” and “Adam” are not used of the first beings until they leave the garden (
Gen 3:20and Gen 4:1, Gen 5:1), which suggests something generic or archetypal of the first beings at the outset of the second creation account.
- The second creation account continues through
Gen 3and, with some interruptions, through Gen 11, meaning many of the ensuing narratives—the transgression of God’s first command, the episode of Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, and the Tower of Babel—are also part of an extended narrative about the creation of the world as we know it.
- Different translations of the Bible will navigate the interpretative issues differently—signaled by their rendering of such terms as “humankind” and “helper as a partner”—and thus present different conceptions of creation, sex, and gender.
Are we starting all over again?
Throughout history, thoughtful readers have noted that the two accounts of creation differ in ways that make it hard to read them as a continuous narrative. Both begin from the same point, when God was beginning to create. They then diverge in their order of creation, so that in the first account, animals are created and then all humanity simultaneously, “male and female” (
Notably, the stage set for the first creation account is a watery chaos (
Moreover, different vocabularies (for example, “to make” and “to form” in Gen 2, instead of Gen 1’s “to create”) and depictions of and names for God (“YHWH God” or as most translations render it, “the LORD God” in Gen 2, instead of Gen 1’s “God”), help us to distinguish two distinct accounts. The first creation account reflects the ancient myths and realities of Babylon, whose annual flooding in the spring resembles the watery chaos of Gen 1. It emphasizes the sabbath, which accords with the rising importance of that practice in the Babylonian exile. The second creation account fits the arid circumstance of an author in Israel. Each account gives us different information based on the author’s setting and concerns.
There is a subtle narrative artistry in placing the second creation account in sequence with the first, even if an easy chronological reading is not possible. As the rabbis recognized, the variations suggest a different vantage point: the second creation account speaks from a more human perspective, rather than the cosmic “God’s eye-view” of Gen 1, and provides different views of the relationships of humans, earth, and deity that are a part of human experience.
Is the woman created to be second to the man?
While humanity is created simultaneously in the first creation account, “male and female” (
Second or Secondary? That the woman is formed second does not, on its own, signify that she is secondary; after all, in the first creation story, humanity was created last in God’s creative acts and its late creation marked it as special, the penultimate event before the Sabbath. In the context of the second creation account, the woman is an answer to a problem: God muses, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (
Woman from Man? Related to this is a more complex ambiguity about the gender of the first being, who is referred to by the Hebrew generic noun for “humankind,” ‘adam, a noun that refers to all people—as opposed to the gender specific noun for “man,” ‘ish, that we see later. But it has also suggested, to early rabbinic and modern interpreters alike, that the first being was sexually undifferentiated, androgynous, or male and female; only later when the woman was created—disambiguated from the first being, really—was there a distinctly male being; this is noted in the man’s first words: “… this one shall be called Woman [‘ishah], for out of Man [‘ish] this one was taken” (
Partners? There is another route into understanding the relationship between the first created beings: the first being is described as not having “a helper as a partner” (‘ezer kenegdo) (
The second creation account has had a lasting hold on the theological imagination of early and modern interpreters in their view not only of creation, but of gender, sex, and human relations. All of which makes the interpretation of these key points particularly meaningful not only to Jews and Christian but also in wider culture.