Genesis’ Two Creation Accounts Compiled and Interpreted as One
One Flood, Two Creations
Neither of the creation accounts—Genesis 1:1–2:4a, usually attributed to the Priestly source (P), and Genesis 2:4b–3:24, regarded as the Yahwist source (J) or as non-P—seems to be an updating (Fortschreibung) of the other one. Rather, they likely originated independently and were only secondarily juxtaposed, probably mainly because the composers of the Pentateuch did not want or did not dare to omit one of them.
The compilers of the Pentateuch could have taken the approach of interweaving the two creation accounts by interleaving them, as they did with the P and non-P materials in the flood story (Gen 6–9). The two flood accounts, however, apparently were similar enough to be combined into one single narrative. In addition, the compilers probably wanted to avoid the possible impression that there were two big floods in the early history of humankind.
By contrast, because the narrative structures of two creation accounts are so different, and because Genesis 1 has a cosmological focus, whereas Genesis 2–3 deals mainly with anthropological issues—namely, it focuses on the creation of people—the two sources could be juxtaposed.
Nevertheless, the narrative still lacks consistency and coherence. For example, the human beings are created twice, first as a pair in Genesis 1:27 and, again in a staggered sequence, in 2:7, 22, with a male created first, and then a female. The order of creation for plants and humans is also inverted compared to the previous chapter: Within Genesis 1, the plants are created on day three and the humans on day six, whereas in Genesis 2–3, there were not yet any plants when God created man.
While the pentateuchal compilers did not extensively revise their sources to resolve such contradictions, the composition of Genesis 1–3 nevertheless shows clear signs of redactional alignment that serve to bind the two originally independent accounts closer together. One example is the somewhat surprising term used for God in the second account.
Why Not YHWH HaElohim?
In Genesis 1, God is identified as אֱלֹהִים, “Elohim” (God), whereas Genesis 2–3 uses יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהִים, “YHWH Elohim,” except in the dialogue between the woman and the snake, where both of them just speak of Elohim in their direct speeches.
The usual and most plausible explanation is that the story in Genesis 2–3 originally used only “YHWH,” and that “Elohim” was added to clarify for readers that this “YHWH” was none other than the “Elohim” from Genesis 1. Grammatically, Elohim seems to function in apposition to YHWH. This is important because an easier option would probably have been to speak of YHWH HaElohim, like David HaMelekh (David the king; see, e.g., 1Chr 24:31) or Yeshayahu HaNavi’ (Isaiah the prophet; e.g., Isa 37:2; 38:1). Nevertheless, the compiler of Genesis 1–3 decided to use YHWH Elohim, highlighting the shared identity of this deity in 2:4b–3:24 with the one from Genesis 1:1–2:4a, where Elohim is used without the article and thus seems to be employed like a proper name.
God’s Universal Relevance
An additional interpretive motivation for choosing the expression YHWH Elohim is the claimed universal relevance of Israel’s deity, YHWH. Outside of Genesis 2–3 YHWH Elohim is only attested twice. The first is when Moses speaks to Pharaoh:
שׁמות ט:ל וְאַתָּה וַעֲבָדֶיךָ יָדַעְתִּי כִּי טֶרֶם תִּירְאוּן מִפְּנֵי יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהִים.
Exod 9:30 But as for you [Pharaoh] and your officials, I know that you do not yet fear YHWH Elohim.
The second, in Jonah, a late biblical book, might have been inspired by the current shape of Genesis 1–3:
יונה ד:ו וַיְמַן יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהִים קִיקָיוֹן וַיַּעַל מֵעַל לְיוֹנָה לִהְיוֹת צֵל עַל רֹאשׁוֹ לְהַצִּיל לוֹ מֵרָעָתוֹ וַיִּשְׂמַח יוֹנָה עַל הַקִּיקָיוֹן שִׂמְחָה גְדוֹלָה.
Jon 4:6 YHWH Elohim appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush.
Thus, the choice of YHWH Elohim seems to be inspired by universalistic theology.
The “Day” that YHWH Elohim Made Earth and Heaven
The most important compositional feature binding Genesis 1–3 together can be found at the very point where the two accounts are joined together:
בראשׁית ב:ד אֵלֶּה תוֹלְדוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ בְּהִבָּרְאָם בְּיוֹם עֲשׂוֹת יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָיִם.
Gen 2:4 These are the toledot of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day/time that YHWH God made earth and heaven …
The specific wording, בְּיוֹם (beyom), translated literally “in the day,” can also be understood more generally as “in the time.” Yom calls to mind the seven “days” from Genesis 1:1–2:3, but needs to be understood in a more fluid way: it is not here a single day, but denotes a longer amount of time.
Genesis 2–3, then, does not relate to a specific day of Genesis 1, but to the creative acts recounted there in a more general way. This concept is particularly important to smooth out the contradiction of the double creation of mankind on one hand, and the corresponding alternating sequence of the creation of the plants and humans between the two accounts on the other hand.
To be sure, the beginning of the second account in Gen 2:4b: בְּיוֹם (beyom) “in the day/time” is probably not redactional, but might preserve the original wording of a formerly independent story. But redactional processes do not always have to alter pre-existing texts. In this case, the beginning of the second creation account was already formulated in a way that the mere juxtaposition of Gen 1:1–2:3 and 2:4b-3:24 already sufficed to provide a not very elegant, but yet viable solution to the temporal contradictions between the two accounts.
The Compilation Process
The sources included in Genesis 1–3 were hardly reformulated or adjusted one to another when they were redactionally combined or subsequently reinterpreted. Hermann Gunkel captured it quite well when he described the compositional processes in the book of Genesis as follows: “These collectors are not masters, but servants of their traditions.”
And yet, the presentation of these materials was not just mechanical in nature. The redactional alignments suggest that Genesis 1 was perceived as the master text and Genesis 2–3 was modestly adapted to it. This corresponds with the general role of P in Genesis and Exodus, providing the main narrative thread, into which the non-P material has been integrated.
Early Readings of Genesis 1–3
The earliest interpreters of Genesis picked up on the challenges of reading these two stories as an integrated unit. Among the earliest examples is the book of Jubilees, probably a mid 2nd century B.C.E. text, whose retelling of Genesis responds to several problems in the biblical version.
1. Creation over two weeks
In Jubilees, after the seven days of creation, the events of Genesis 2–3 play out in a second week, beginning with the naming of the animals brought to Adam by the angels:
Jub 3:1And in six days of the second week, by the word of the Lord, we brought to Adam all of the beasts, and all of the cattle, and all of the birds, and everything which moves on the earth, and everything which moves in the water, each one according to its kind, and each one according to its likeness:
The beasts on the first day, and cattle on the second day, and the birds on the third day, and everything which moves upon the earth on the fourth day, and whatever moves in the water on the fifth day.
The woman is created in the man’s side or rib in week one, but is only brought to Adam in the second week:
Jub 3:8 In the first week Adam was created, and also the rib, his wife. And in the second week He showed her to him.
3. Eden is created on the third day
Jubilees presents the creation of all plants as a unified divine action by adding the creation of the garden of Eden to its description of the third day of creation:
Jub 2:7 And on that day He created…everything that is eaten, and fruit-bearing trees, and (other) trees, and the garden of Eden in Eden…These…the Lord made on the third day.
Jubilees thus also omits the biblical passage stating that no plants existed when God created the human (Gen 2:5–7).
Jubilees’ reading of the composite text of Genesis 1–3 seems to follow two main, but competing principles: On one hand, it perceives Genesis 1–3 as a continuous narrative that is supposed to follow a certain logic of coherence and consistency. On the other hand, Jubilees also retains the distinct imaginative worlds of Genesis 1 and 2–3 as much as possible.
Similar Readings in the Septuagint
A similar interpretive approach from probably some 100 years before Jubilees is found in the Septuagint. The Masoretic Text (MT) describes day seven as the completion of the creative process:
בראשׁית ב:ג וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת.
Gen 2:3 God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it he rested from all the work that God had created to do.
The Septuagint changes the final phrase to present day 7 as a transition from the beginning of the creation to its continuation in Genesis 2–3:
Gen 2:3 God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it he rested from all the work that God had begun to do.
The relationship between the creation of the plants and the garden of Eden is solved in a different way than in Jubilees. The MT reads:
בראשׁית ב:ט וַיַּצְמַח יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהִים מִן הָאֲדָמָה כָּל עֵץ נֶחְמָד לְמַרְאֶה וְטוֹב לְמַאֲכָל וְעֵץ הַחַיִּים בְּתוֹךְ הַגָּן וְעֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע.
Gen 2:9 And out of the earth YHWH God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The Septuagint adds the particle ἔτι, meaning “further,” or “additionally”:
LXX Gen 2:9 And out of the earth the God made additionally (ἔτι) to grow every tree….
This change harmonizes Genesis 2:9 with the creation of the plants on day 3 in Genesis 1: God made additional trees grow besides those which had already been created.
Reading and Rereading the Pentateuch
Reading Genesis 1–3—and this is, of course, true for the Pentateuch as a whole—requires an openness to perceive its complex and composite nature. Its nature as a composite text may be one of the most important reasons for its survival over centuries. The Pentateuch’s density as a text, and specifically its redactionally aligned inclusion of a variety of different perspectives, made it interesting to re-read and re-interpret over many centuries.
Without the constant process of having been read, copied, and commented upon, the Pentateuch may well have been forgotten shortly after its composition. Perhaps then we would only know of it much as we know of many other texts from the ancient Near East—through the coincidence of an archaeological finding.
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Prof. Konrad Schmid is Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. He received his Ph.D. and his Habilitation from the University of Zurich. He is the author of Genesis and the Moses Story (2010); The Old Testament: A Literary History (Fortress Press, 2012); and A Historical Theology of the Hebrew Bible (2019), and the co-editor of The Pentateuch: International Perspectives on Current Research [with Thomas B. Dozeman and Baruch J. Schwartz] (2011) and The Formation of the Pentateuch [with Jan C. Gertz, Bernard M. Levinson , and Dalit Rom-Shiloni] (2016). Since 2017, he has served as president of the Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für Theologie (Academic Society for Theology) and he is currently also the President of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament (IOSOT). In 2018, Schmid was awarded the Humboldt-Forschungspreis, and in 2019 an ERC Advanced Grant for the project How God Became a Lawgiver (www.divlaw.uzh.ch). In the fall of 2022, he served as Lady Davis Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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