What does one make of the two opposing accounts of the creation of humans in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2?
In Genesis 1 God manages to fit in the making of the first man and woman — “in his own image”! — just at the close of the last day of creation. Gary Greenberg suggests that this concept of a male and female being made in the image of a single God is borrowed from Egypt’s hermaphroditic deities.
But the very next chapter (i.e. 2!) presents a quite different view of the creation of our species. Dr McGrath has posted a quite nice chart highlighting both the similarities and the contrasts of the two creations. But let me draw attention to a point that is not so immediately clear in this quite nice chart. In Genesis 1 all the animals are created before the man and the man (and woman) is created as an afterthought at the end of the day. In Genesis 2 Adam is created before all other animals.
What is going on here? I would like to go on beyond Dr McGrath’s interests in these conflicting accounts, however, and ask how we might account for them appearing as they do as the first two chapters of our Bible. (Dr McGrath in his blog post only addresses grist for his anti-creationist mill. But creationists can come and go and it is nothing notable to expose the flaws of one who has never learned to question his or her faith. I am more interested in explaining what we do have as our religious and cultural heritage.)
I’ll introduce my post by pasting here the comment I left on Dr McGrath’s blog (slightly edited).
Jan-Wim Wesselius’s “The Origin of the History of Israel: Herodotus’s Histories as Blueprint for the First Books of the Bible” discusses such adjacent accounts that give variant explanations for events from the perspective of comparison with “Histories” by Herodotus. The most obvious difference between the two works (Histories and Primary History – i.e. Genesis to 2 Kings) is that the Greek work is structured around an intrusive narrator (who is himself a character in the work, and not the real author — I have discussed some of the scholarship about this on my own blog over the years) while the Primary History of the Hebrews is an exercise in studied anonymity. Bernard Levinson in “Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation” offers us a plausible explanation for this contrasting anonymity.
But the point is that two contrasting accounts are often found side by side in the Primary History and that this is consistent with Hellenistic historiographical practices — with the only difference being the intrusion/absence of a narrator’s voice.
In this case, given the parallelisms, we are also faced with the strong likelihood that we are not looking at independent traditions that somehow were forced together, but at a single authorial creator behind them both. This is consistent with more recent studies (albeit admittedly minority ones at this point) that do argue that Primary History is, after all and just as Spinoza himself originally opined, the work of a single author. That it is also the product of Hellenistic times is the solutions Mr Ockham would like best, too.
Let’s look at Dr Wesselius’s treatment of the conflicting creation-of-humans accounts:
Having noted the agreement between the subjects of the two works, it is appropriate to scrutinize their beginnings, in order to see whether the way in which they introduce this subject may have elements in common. Herodotus starts his work with a half-mythological story about the first strife between Greeks and Asians. He tells about the beautiful Io from Argos, who was abducted by a group of Phoenicians, and continues with the tit-for-tat abduction of Princess Europa from Tyre, Medea from Colchis and finally of Helen, which was the cause of the Trojan war, the first armed conflict between Europe and Asia, generally regarded as analogous to the wars between Persians and Greeks, both by the Greeks and by the Persians and their allies, and to later conflicts. Herodotus concludes this introduction with a small but significant variant of the story which, he says, the Phoenicians tell: Io would really have fallen in love with a Phoenician captain and become pregnant by him, sufficient reason for her to join the Phoenicians and to decline a return to her land of origin. Directly afterwards, Herodotus starts his account of the real history with the figure of Croesus, who ‘was the first foreigner so far as we know to come into direct contact with the Greeks, both in the way of conquest and alliance, forcing tribute from Ionians, Aeolians, and Asiatic Dorians, and forming a pact of friendship with the Lacedaemonians’ (Her. I. 6); in this account he treats the string of historical events which finally led to the great conflicts that form the main subject of his work. (p. 41, my emphasis)
I won’t repeat here the two Genesis accounts of humanoid creation. They are in Genesis 1:26-27 — in which man is created (as an afterthought?) after everything else — and Genesis 2: 4-7 — in which man is created before all other living beings.
The two variant narratives are most significant. One of their consequences is clear:
This dual account of creation is very remarkable, and historically served as one of the first reasons for assuming various sources in the Pentateuch.
Now yes it is true that one can think that with a little effort the two accounts can be harmonized or conjure another explanation.
[B]ut the basic fact remains that they have been left one beside the other in more or less the most conspicuous place of the entire work, which virtually precludes anything but intentional juxtaposition as an explanation of the way in which they are found now, irrespective of the question what their origins may have been. (p. 42)
Both Herodotus’s work and the Primary History contain numerous contradictory accounts of events. There appears to be no attempt at any sort of harmonization by a redactor in the case of the Primary History, while Herodotus quite openly admits he is reporting contradictory accounts of many events such as:
- the annual rising and falling of the Nile (Histories II, 19-34)
- the youth of Cyrus (Histories I, 122)
- the story of Io (Histories I, 6)
Compare the contradictory accounts set side by side in our Primary History:
- the death of Saul (2 Samuel 21:12 / 1 Samuel 31 or 2 Samuel 2)
- how David came to know King Saul (I Samuel 16 or 1 Samuel 17)
- who killed Goliath (1 Samuel 17 or 2 Samuel 21:19)
- the two accounts of creation (Genesis 1 or Genesis 2)
Are we to suppose, if the accounts really are contradictory as they certainly appear to be, “a hopelessly incapable redactor”?
One therefore wonders whether the author may not have intended his work to look as if at various places different sources had been incorporated, and whether he may have consciously presented multiple versions of a story next to one another. It may be noted in this connection that such contradictions were often noticed and recognized as such by the author of the books of Chronicles and by the makers of the Septuagint, who in various clever ways removed many of them. It seems at least possible that we are dealing in such cases with the phenomenon of deliberately putting certain conflicting accounts one beside the other, probably with the purpose of achieving more or less the same literary effect aimed at by Herodotus’s method of presenting various versions of the same event or explanation. (pp. 83-84)
Jan-Wim Wesselius has more to say about this phenomenon of clearly contradictory accounts placed side by side in Primary History, and in particular throughout the first eight books of Primary History (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth) that is too complex for me to address here. In brief, what he addresses is the phenomenon of seeing two contradictory accounts placed side by side, with the ensuing narrative usually picking up on and following the logic of the second account, only to suddenly find at the end that that second narrative is explicitly denied in, say, a list of persons, or the opposing original account is explicitly affirmed!
How to explain all of this apparently willful set of contradictory tales? Wesselius has already indicated an interest in imitating Herodotus? (There is clearly much more to the Herodotus comparison than I have alluded to here in this brief post.)
This is a subject that is too complex to explore here. But it is sufficient for open-minded people who are always interested in learning new things to note that these various contradictory accounts we read about in the Bible, impose upon us the need to
seriously consider the possibility that this variety really served as a conscious programme, pointing out that the ancestral God was called by several different names throughout history (apart from their function of distinguishing the two accounts of Creation in Gen. 1-2), and that there were also variant traditions about the place of his revelation . . . . [etc].
The considerations of this section . . . should make us wary of attempting to reconstruct the prehistory of the text of Primary History, as the text as we now have it was probably intended to be that way, with all its variations. Although such variation may originate in many cases from differences of provenance, it is probably not feasible to distinguish in individual instances whether variety is a result of different origins or of the design of the author. (p. 85)
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