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Archive for the 'Genesis' Category

What Was Wrong with Cain’s Offering? A Possible Hint from Hebrew Grammar

24th February 2011

[I post a lot about Old Testament/Hebrew Bible on this blog. This post explores one of the perennial problem passages in the early chapters of Genesis.  Originally posted 03/2009]

One of the many crux interpretums in the early chapters of the Book of Genesis surrounds Yahweh’s negative response to Cain’s offering. Why did Yahweh accept Abel’s offering and reject Cain’s? Some traditional — yet ultimately unsatisfying — answers include that God prefers animal sacrifices over grain offerings or that God prefers shepherds to farmers. Others have chalked it up to the mystery of Divine election. The New Testament author of Hebrews interprets Yahweh’s disapproval as a matter of faith: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s” (Heb 11:4).

The passage in Hebrew MT  is as follows:

‏ וַיְהִי־הֶבֶל רֹעֵה צֹאן וְקַיִן הָיָה עֹבֵד אֲדָמָה‎
‏וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ יָמִים וַיָּבֵא קַיִן מִפְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה מִנְחָה לַיהוָה‎
‏וְהֶבֶל הֵבִיא גַם־הוּא מִבְּכֹרוֹת צֹאנוֹ וּמֵחֶלְבֵהֶן
וַיִּשַׁע יְהוָה אֶל־הֶבֶל וְאֶל־מִנְחָתוו‎
‏וְאֶל־קַיִן וְאֶל־מִנְחָתוֹ לֹא שָׁעָה‎

While the biblical text does not indicate explicitly why Yahweh approved of Abel’s offering and disapproved of Cain’s, I wonder if it gives us a hint based upon an under appreciated nuance of Hebrew grammar: the anterior construction. I made reference to Ziony Zevit’s volume, The Anterior Construction in Classical Hebrew (Scholar’s Press, 1998; buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com), in a comment on a previous post. Zevit argues that when biblical authors wanted to indicate unambiguously that a given action in the past had commenced and concluded before another action in the past (a pluperfect) or had started but not necessarily finished in the past prior to the beginning of another action (preperfect), they would use the following construction:  vav + subject followed by a qatal verb (all preceded a past tense verb).  Taking this construction into consideration, here is my translation of the Cain and Abel passage:

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep,
but Cain had been a worker of the ground.
And after many days, Cain brought to Yahweh a gift from the fruit of the ground,
But Abel, he had already brought from the first born of his flock, their fat portions.
Now Yahweh looked with favour to Abel and to his gift,
but to Cain, and to his gift, he did not look with favour.

The use of the anterior construction (indicated by italics) emphasizes that while Cain had started being a worker of the ground before Abel took up his farming (which would have been expected as the older brother), Abel was the first to bring a gift to Yahweh from the fruit of his labours. Moreover,  the parallel construction of these verses (as a chiasm, in fact) sets up a clear contrast between the gifts: Cain only brought from the fruit of the ground, while Abel brought the fat portions from the first born of his flock. While we shouldn’t read later sacrificial law back into this account, the fact that Abel’s gift receives additional  descriptors suggests that he offered the first and the best.

So while the biblical text doesn’t spell out exactly why Yahweh favoured Abel’s gift, it seems clear from the grammar and syntax of the passage that not only did Abel beat his brother by bringing a gift to Yahweh before him (even though Cain started his career first), he also offered the first and the best of his flock to Yahweh. Perhaps that is why Yahweh looked with favour on Abel’s offering. This understanding comports well with interpretations that suggest the individual’s attitude (or faith) was the reason for Yahweh’s response. In fact, it provides some evidence within the text itself for the difference in attitudes between the brothers.

At any rate, I don’t have time to explore the pros and cons of the anterior construction (it makes some assumptions of the nature of the Hebrew verbal system), but thought I would highlight this one potential way it can shed some light on a difficult passage.


Posted in Bible, Biblical Teaching, Genesis, Hebrew, Hebrew Grammar, Old Testament | 5 Comments »

The Androgynous Adam: Sex and Sexuality in the Garden

13th February 2011

Claude Mariottini, over at his eponymous blog, drew our attention to a couple recent books on the Bible and Sex, Michael Coogan’s God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says (New York: The Hachette Book Group, 2010; buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com) and Jennifer Wright Knust’s Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011; buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). I have not had a chance to examine either book, so I’m not going to say anything about them. I did, however, want to comment on Mariottini’s quick dismissal of Knust’s notion that the first human was androgynous and only later sexually differentiated. He notes:

Her premise is that the story of creation of the first human person in Genesis 1 was a case of androgyny, that is, that the first person was both male and female and had the genitals of both sexes. Then, in the creation story of Genesis 2, the sexes were separated and this separation created sexual desire in human beings. This desire drives man and woman to have sex so that they can become one again.

This view that God’s original plan for his creation was that a human person would have two sexes in one body is the creation of a fertile mind that finds no support in the Bible. Knust bases her view on ancient Jewish interpreters who were trying to explain why there are two creation stories in Genesis.

Knust’s interpretation is so radical that she reinterprets what the Bible says in order to present a modern view of sex and sexuality that is a complete departure from what the Bible has to say and teach.

The notion that the original human was androgynous (or something similar) isn’t a new idea, nor perhaps is it so radical. Rashi, a 10th century Jewish interpreter, suggested the first human was male on one side and female on the other and that God had simply divided the creature in half (compare the similar idea of Aristophanes, brought to Mariottini’s attention by David Reimer). Perhaps the most well know biblical scholar to champion a similar notion recently is Phyllis Trible, who presented this idea in her masterful, God and Rhetoric of Sexuality (Fortress, 1986; buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). Using rhetorical analysis and a close reading of the text, Trible argues that God created the first human without gender, “the adam” [human] was formed from “the adamah” [humus]. Rather than a man, “the adam” was an “earth creature”  (as an aside, there is a great play on words in the biblical text: “Yahweh Elohim formed the earthling from the earth” or “the human from the humus”).  Not until the woman is built from the side of the earth creature does the original human being acquire gender. Now Trible’s interpretation has some basis in the biblical text. Despite most modern translations, the use of “adam” in Genesis 2 is not a personal name. The biblical text does not have “Adam”, but rather “the adam” (‏האדם), i.e., the human, or the like. And it is only in Gen 2:23 (after the building of the woman) that text text refers to humanity as “male” and “female” (‏אישׁ and ‏אשׁה).

Now, that being said, I don’t agree with Trible’s interpretation. It’s just that I don’t feel like I can dismiss it out of hand. The biggest problem with her interpretation is that throughout the entire narrative, “the human” is referred to as “the-adam” (‏האדם), Even after the creation of the woman in 2:23, the creature is still referred to as “the-adam.” It is only later that the human male is unambiguously referred to as “Adam” (i.e., as a proper name; without the definite article). So I guess I don’t really disagree with Mariottini’s ultimate conclusion, though I’m not sure I would be too dogmatic. When it comes right down to it, I’m not sure we should press the biblical text too much in this regard. The point of the narrative is not to comment on the original sexuality of the human, but rather to celebrate the creation of the woman as a suitable counterpart for the man.Richardson, Flame of Yahweh

While we are talking about the Bible and sex, I should note another fairly recent publication on sex and the Bible:  Richard M. Davidson‘s Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Hendrickson, 2007; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com).  This almost 850 page volume is the most extensive discussions of sexuality in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible available. Compared to  Coogan and Knust, this work is quite conservative, though it will probably remain unchallenged for a while in terms of comprehensiveness.  (In case you are wondering, the title of the volume is derived from Davidson’s somewhat unique understanding of Song of Songs 8:6).

You should check it out.


Posted in Bible, Creation, Genesis, History of Interpretation | Comments Off

Adam’s Premature Ejection

11th February 2011

One of the challenges we face with interpreting some biblical stories is the problem of familiarity. We don’t really read the text carefully because we already know what it means. This is the case for many of us when we come to the stories of the man and the woman in Genesis 2-3.  It’s interesting to try to read it again for the first time.

The account of the forming of the man and the building of the woman and their subsequent eating of the fruit and expulsion from the garden in Genesis 2-3 brings many additional challenges to the interpreter. One such crux interpretum in the significance of the tree of “the knowledge of good and evil” עץ הדעת טוב ורע (Gen 2:9). This particular tree is only found here in the entire Bible. While it is difficult to understand, it is clearly a key phrase in the narrative, occurring four times (Gen 2:9, 17; 3:5, 22).

Most take “good and evil” as a merism, a figure of speech where the whole is expressed by contrasting parts. Thus, “good and evil” means a whole range of knowledge, not two isolated things. Some, such as Karl Barth, take the phrase to refer to omniscience:

To know good and evil, to be able to distinguish and therefore judge between what ought to be and ought not to be, between Yea and No, between salvation and perdition, between life and death, is to be like God, to be oneself the Creator and Lord of the creature. (Barth CD III/1 258)

It is much more likely that it doesn’t refer to all knowledge in general, i.e., omniscience (especially considering that after eating of the tree, the first couple doesn’t appear to be omniscient!), but knowledge related to “good and evil.”

Significantly, the expression “good and evil” (טוב ורע) is used elsewhere in the Bible of the human ability to be discriminating, something that is lacking in children (Deut 1:39; Isa 7:15-16), the elderly (2Sam 19:35), and the inexperienced (1Kings 3:9). This discerning and discriminating wisdom is a faculty normally experienced in the “prime of life”; it is a mark of maturity in a person.

The fact that the knowledge of good and evil is actually something good to have when one is an adult, may suggest that the man and the woman are presented in the garden as innocent preadolescent children. Think about it: they are naked and not ashamed (2:25), which is a child-like trait (this is not a recent idea, some early church fathers also suggested this). So the prohibition related to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:15-16) may be more an issue of timing and obedience, rather than there being something inherently wrong with eating of it. “When the time was right, the first couple would be able to eat from it” (Walton, 205). In eating the fruit they prematurely mature, they gain autonomy and sexual awareness. “God has prohibited the tree because autonomy and sexuality should come only at the end of an appropriate process” (Walton, Genesis, 216).

The narrative also seems to suggest that the first couple’s stay in the garden was meant to be temporary. The state of the earth at the beginning of the account was desolate and “there was no human (אדם) to work/serve/cultivate (עבד) the ground (אדמה).” This may suggest that the goal of the human was outside of Eden.

The fact that God, rather than the human creature, planted the garden suggests that the garden was not intended to be the dwelling place of humans. After all, the garden of Eden is the garden of God. Humans were created to till the ground and in this manner bring life to the sterile desert. This is their destiny, and the earth outside the garden will be their dwelling. But just as children must remain in the house of their parents until they reach maturity so also the human creature is placed temporarily in the garden of God (Ronald Simkins, Creator & Creation, p. 180).

So perhaps we don’t know these opening chapters as Genesis as well as we think we might. The man and the woman getting kicked out of the garden was perhaps more an issue of “premature ejection” rather than than something entirely unforeseen.


Posted in Bible, Creation, Genesis | 2 Comments »

How Not to Preach from Genesis 1

18th December 2010

Robert Cargil has an excellent discussion and critique of Mark Driscoll’s exegesis of Genesis 1, especially Driscoll’s appeal to Targum Neofiti to show some Jews before the time of Christ held Trinitarian views.

Here is Robert’s intro:

Apparently, as a part of an indoctrination informative series of mini-sermons on ‘What Christians Should Believe,’ pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle attempted to expound on Targum Neofiti. In particular, he attempted to use Neofiti as part of an apologetic defense for evidence of the Christian concept of the Trinity in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

And his conclusion:

Unfortunately, in the end, Driscoll’s so-called mis-“reading” of Targum Neofiti is a mere fabrication – a complete misreading of the text, which he uses as evidence for something that isn’t there (evidence of the Trinity in the OT). It’s almost as egregious of a fabricated defense of the Trinity as the Johannine Comma, in which a medieval publisher (Erasmus) intentionally inserted text (under pressure from others) in 1 John 5:7-8 in an attempt to provide some explicit Biblical evidence for the Trinity (because there was/is none).

And that is how not to use the targums. How do you mislead your congregation into believing something that you believe, but that the Bible doesn’t mention? You just make something up.

As I said before, “I shake my head.”

Do watch the video and read Robert’s blog post deconstructing it.

Now I don’t think that Driscoll just “made it up”; he was misinformed and got into stuff he knew nothing about. Pastors should stick to what they know. They shouldn’t try to use Hebrew or Greek if they don’t know it (or don’t remember it). They shouldn’t appeal to ancient Jewish translations or text if they can’t read them.  Or, perhaps, they should have paid attention in Seminary and actually learned some of this stuff in the first place.  Or at least they should have learned some basic hermeneutics and learned how to think critically and theologically about the biblical text.

Methinks I will have to use this in my Genesis class next semester. Thank you Dr. Cargil!


Posted in Aramaic Targums, Bible, Genesis, Hebrew, Hermeneutics, Old Testament | 4 Comments »

Coins or Scarabs?

25th September 2009

As noted in a comment in my last post, Daniel O. McClellan over at his his blog Maklelan, has some possible pictures of the so-called “coins” that were discovered. If he is correct in his opinion and if his pictures are accurate, then these are certainly not coins, but scarabs.

Perhaps if further pictures are produced, there might be something to this story. As it stands right now, it looks very unlikely, especially considering the tendentiousness of the source (illustrated by the apologetic aim to show that the Quran’s references to coins at the time of Joseph are historically accurate).


Posted in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Near East, Discoveries, Genesis | 2 Comments »

Coins from the Joseph Era found In Egypt!?

25th September 2009

News reports are buzing this morning about a cache of coins discovered among some unsorted artifacts in the recesses of the Museum of Egypt. Not only are coins not thought to have been used in ancient Egypt, more surprisingly, the report claims that coins with the  name and image of the biblical Joseph have been found among the coins. If this turns out to be a bona fide discovery, this will be the first extra-biblical evidence for any of the biblical patriarchs.

Here is an excerpt from the Jerusalem Post:

Archeologists have discovered ancient Egyptian coins bearing the name and image of the biblical Joseph, Cairo’s Al Ahram newspaper recently reported. Excerpts provided by MEMRI show that the coins were discovered among a multitude of unsorted artifacts stored at the Museum of Egypt.

According to the report, the significance of the find is that archeologists have found scientific evidence countering the claim held by some historians that coins were not used for trade in ancient Egypt, and that this was done through barter instead.

The period in which Joseph was regarded to have lived in Egypt matches the minting of the coins in the cache, researchers said.

“A thorough examination revealed that the coins bore the year in which they were minted and their value, or effigies of the pharaohs [who ruled] at the time of their minting. Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and bear his name and portrait,” said the report.

The discovery of the cache prompted research team head Dr. Sa’id Muhammad Thabet to seek Koranic verses that speak of coins used in ancient Egypt.

“Studies by Dr. Thabet’s team have revealed that what most archeologists took for a kind of charm, and others took for an ornament or adornment, is actually a coin. Several [facts led them to this conclusion]: first, [the fact that] many such coins have been found at various [archeological sites], and also [the fact that] they are round or oval in shape, and have two faces: one with an inscription, called the inscribed face, and one with an image, called the engraved face – just like the coins we use today,” the report added.

Some more details from the original article that appeared in the September 22, 2009, edition of Al-Ahram (Egypt), are provided on the MEMRI website. Here is a translation of the section pertaining to the supposed Joseph coins:

“The researcher identified coins from many different periods, including coins that bore special markings identifying them as being from the era of Joseph. Among these, there was one coin that had an inscription on it, and an image of a cow symbolizing Pharaoh’s dream about the seven fat cows and seven lean cows, and the seven green stalks of grain and seven dry stalks of grain. It was found that the inscriptions of this early period were usually simple, since writing was still in its early stages, and consequently there was difficulty in deciphering the writing on these coins. But the research team [managed to] translate [the writing on the coin] by comparing it to the earliest known hieroglyphic texts…

“Joseph’s name appears twice on this coin, written in hieroglyphs: once the original name, Joseph, and once his Egyptian name, Saba Sabani, which was given to him by Pharaoh when he became treasurer. There is also an image of Joseph, who was part of the Egyptian administration at the time.

“Dr. Sa’id Thabet called on Egypt’s Antiquities Council and on the Minister of Culture to intensify efforts in the fields of Ancient Egyptian history and archeology, and to [promote] the research of these coins that bear the name of Egyptian pharaohs and gods. This, he said, would enable the correction of prevalent misconceptions regarding the history of Ancient Egypt.”

Here is an image from the MEMRI which I assume is of some of the coins:

Joseph_Coins

I would like to affirm the findings and announce that there is now iron clad evidence for the biblical Joseph, but alas, the skeptical side of me says wait and see what comes of this. Wait and see…


Posted in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Near East, Archaeology, Discoveries, Genesis, Joseph, News | 7 Comments »

Cain and Abel: A Cameo from Year One

2nd March 2009

My previous post on Cain and Abel reminded me of a somewhat funny (OK, it is funny — just a little dark) trailer for a new Harold Ramis film, The Year One:

The film follws the adventures of two lazy hunter-gatherers (Jack Black and Michael Cera) as they travel the ancient world. It appears that they not only encounter Cain and Abel, but also Adam and Eve,  Abraham and Isaac, and Sodom and Gomorrah. Hmmm… I don’t think it is trying to be biblically accurate!  The film is scheduled to be released 19 June 2009 according to IMDB.

If you are interested in more films based on the Bible, check out my “The Old Testament on Film” pages.


Posted in Bible, Bible & Film, Film, Genesis, Humour, Old Testament | Comments Off

New and Forthcoming Commentaries on Genesis

27th February 2009

I have been perusing a couple new commentaries on the book of Genesis and decided to update my commentary listing.  I am aware of four recently published commentaries on Genesis:

  • Bill T. Arnold. Genesis (New Cambridge Bible Commentary; Cambridge University Press, 2009). This is a popular series based on the NRSV aimed at pastors and laypeople, but useful for scholars and teachers as well. Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • C. John Collins. Genesis 1-4. A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (P&R Publishing, 2006). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • James McKeown, Genesis (The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary; Eerdmans, 2008). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • John H. Sailhamer. Genesis (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition, vol. 1; Zondervan, 2008). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com

These four recent commentaries all have different things to offer the careful reader. Arnold‘s volume is an excellent study of the book of Genesis that engages its ancient context (in the commentary proper and in “Closer Look” sections) as well as its modern significance (primarily through “Bridging the Horizons” sections).  This is the most academic of the four volumes, and also the most concise (he packs a lot of information in). McKeown‘s commentary is another excellent study of the book of Genesis which also tries to address both the “horizon” of the text and our modern “horizon” (that’s Gadamer speak for ancient and modern context). While Arnold embeds his discussion of theological relevance of a passage throughout the commentary, McKeown primarily offers his at the end of the commentary in an almost 200-page section on the theological message of Genesis and its theological significance for today.  The next two offerings are more conservative in nature, although while Sailhammer is fairly conservative, that has never hampered his creative and detailed engagement with the biblical text (see his Genesis Unbound: A Proactive New Look at the Creation Account Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). And he doesn’t disapoint with his treatment of Genesis. Perhaps the biggest weakness in Sailhammer’s commentary is due to the limitations of a multi-volume series. Collins‘s conservative commentary on the first four chapters of Genesis is good, though I found it somewhat predictable (to be honest I was a bit disappointed).

If I had to recommend only one of these recent releases, it would be a toss up between Arnold and McKeown, and I would probably end up recommending Arnold.

Here is a listing of other forthcoming commentaries on the book of Genesis:

  • David Baker. Apollos Old Testament Commentary (Apollos/InterVarsity Press). A semi-popular series based on the author’s own translation of the Hebrew text. This volume is several years down the road.
  • Erhard Blum. Historical Commentary on the Old Testament (Peeters). The title of this series is a bit misleading if you are expecting a history of interpretation. The series is more of a historical-critical commentary aimed at scholars and ministers.
  • Richard Clifford. Hermeneia (Fortress). This is one of the premier critical commentaries available in English (and it’s beautifully typeset). If Clifford’s volume on The Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible (Catholic Biblical Association, 1994; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com) is any indication, this should be a very good critical commentary. It is a few years from publication.
  • Blackwell Bible Commentaries (Blackwell). This series looks more at the reception history of the book under study. As such it is of primary interest to scholars and teachers. This one was assigned to Danna Fewell and Gary Phillips, but they have since dropped out and I don’t think the commentary has been reassigned yet (at least there is no indication on the Blackwell site)
  • Duane Garrett. Kregel Expository Commentary on the Old Testament (Kregel; note the title of the series is still tentative). This is a conservative evangelical series geared for pastors and laypeople. Garrett is author of Rethinking Genesis, The Sources and Authorship of the First Book of the Pentateuch (Baker Book, 1991; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com), which I reviewed a number of years back. The commentary is at least two years from completion.
  • Ronald S. Hendel. Anchor Bible (2 volumes, Doubleday). The new volumes in this series are excellent critical commentaries. The first volume on Genesis 1-11 was projected to be available in 2008 but it is behind schedule.
  • Theodore Hiebert. Abingdon Old Testament Commentary (Abingdon). A popular series aimed at pastors and laypeople.
  • Kathleen M. O’Connor. Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Smyth & Helwys). This is a unique series aimed at pastors and laypeople that includes insightful sidebars, fine art visuals, and a CD-Rom containing all the text and images of the volume in a searchable format.
  • Russell R. Reno. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Brazos/Baker). A series designed to serve the church; appropriate for pastors, teachers, and laypeople. This volume was projected to be released in late 2008, but is behind schedule.

If anyone knows of other recently published Genesis commentaries or others in preparation, please let me know.


Posted in Bible, Commentary Survey, Genesis, Old Testament | 4 Comments »

What Does Harmonizing Genesis 1 and 2 Really Accomplish?

18th February 2009

I am teaching an undergraduate course on the book of Genesis this semester and have been reflecting on how to best read the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2. Many of my students have been brought up to read them literalistically as depictions of what actually happened some 6,000 years ago. While I don’t want to get into the question of how these accounts are best understood today in this post, what I do want to question is the tendency to read these accounts in such a way that harmonizes (or at least tries to) the apparent differences between the two accounts, rather than respecting the integrity of each as different yet complementary accounts of creation.

There are many differences in vocabulary, style, and theology that distinguish the two accounts. What I want to focus on is more basic: the order of the creation of the animals in relation to the human(s), as well as the order of the creation (or “building”) of the woman in relation to the human.

In Genesis 1 the living creatures in the sea and the birds of the air are created on day five, while the “living creatures” (נפש חיה) of the land are created on the sixth day. Only after the creation of the myriad of animals is humanity created in Genesis 1:26-27. In the first creation account the creation of humanity is the pinnacle of all of the creative acts of God:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”  So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Gen 1:26-27).

While much ink has been spilled on the interpretation of these two verses, I only want to point out that according to verse 27, humanity was created “male and female” at this time. The clear and straightforward way of reading this is that Elohim created humans (plural) on day six, after the various types of animals. (This, by the way, accords well with many of the ancient Near Eastern accounts where the gods create a plurality of humans at a time, not just one or a pair; see my posts on ANE Creation accounts).

When we come to Genesis 2 we see a drastically different picture. In Genesis 2:7, “ha’adam” is formed from the dust of the earth by Yahweh Elohim first. Then Yahweh Elohim plants a garden and then puts the human in the garden. Then after a brief description of the garden (2:10-14), the action picks up again with Yahweh Elohim forming the land animals and birds (referred to as נפש חיה “living creatures” in 2:19) and brought them to the human to be named. It’s only after a suitable companion wasn’t found among the animals that Yahweh Elohim “builds” (בנה) the woman out of the side of the human.

One way some ideologically motivated translations attempt to reconcile the differences between the accounts is to translate some of the vayyiqtol verbs in chapter two as pluperfect (i.e., as describing an action  completed before another past action). Look for example at how the NIV translates this passage:

The LORD God formed [vayyiqtol] the man from the dust of the ground and breathed [vayyiqtol] into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became [vayyiqtol] a living being.

Now the LORD God had planted [vayyiqtol] a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put [vayyiqtol] the man he had formed. And the LORD God made [vayyiqtol] all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters.…

The LORD God took [vayyiqtol] the man and put him [vayyiqtol] in the Garden of Eden to work it  and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded [vayyiqtol] the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

The LORD God said [vayyiqtol], “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Now the LORD God had formed [vayyiqtol] out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought [vayyiqtol] them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave [vayyiqtol] names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall [vayyiqtol] into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping [vayyiqtol], he took [vayyiqtol] one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made [vayyiqtol] a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought [vayyiqtol] her to the man.

The problem with this translation involves the two pluperfects (which I bolded and italicized) found in the NIV translation.  In both of those cases the translators of the NIV ignored the normal use of the vayyiqtol verb form (which is to narrate a sequence of events) and render them as pluperfects (“had planted” and “had formed”). I assume their motivation was to harmonize the account with Genesis 1 where the plants and animals were created before the humans. But from a syntactical point of view to translate the verb forms as pluperfects is very problematic. Virtually all grammars agree that it is very rare for the vayyiqtol verb form to have pluperfect value (see Jouon-Muraoka 118d, BHRG 21.2; but WO’C 33.2.3 and others do note a pluperfect sense is possible in certain circumstances, although it is rare), and there is nothing in this passage that supports a pluperfect sense. If anything, the sense of the passage requires a normal sequential meaning of the verb forms since the animals were formed (2:19) in direct response to Yahweh Elohim’s declaration that “it is not good for the human to be alone” (2:18).

Of course, perhaps the more basic question is that how can Elohim create humans male and female by divine fiat (as in Gen 1:27) and also form the human from the dust of the ground and then build a woman from the side of a human (as in Genesis 2), and say these two accounts are referring to the same events? What, if anything, is recorded as happening in 1:27, 2:7, 2:18, 2:22?

I recognize that hamonizing these accounts has a long history. I also recognize and agree with the need to read these accounts in tandem as part of the canonical book of Genesis, no matter what their independent histories may have been. That being said, I don’t think we should blur the distinctions between the accounts and engage in hermeneutical gymnastics in order to harmonize their details. Instead, we should revel in their theological depth and the different ways they teach the unique place and significance of humanity — male and female — in God’s creation.


Posted in Bible, Biblical Teaching, Creation, Genesis, Old Testament | 4 Comments »

Precious Moments Akedah

15th July 2008

I came across this image as I was going through some old email; a student made it a number of years back. It certainly gives quite a different spin on the Akedah — the binding/near sacrifice of Isaac — as found in Genesis 22!

The Precious Moments Akedah


Posted in Akedah, Bible, Genesis | 5 Comments »