(cross-posted from The Ones You Didn't Hear in Sunday School)
Sometimes the Bible is dismissed as “Just a Collection of Myths”; an assessment which to my mind shows a shallow understanding of both the Bible and of Myth. But if we’re going to level the charge of Mythology against any part of Scripture, then surely the first eleven chapters of the Book of Genesis, in which we see God personally shaping the World, are the most Myth-like. Here we have God forming Order out of Chaos; erecting the Sky; raising the Continents; and bending down to get his hands dirty forming the first man out of the dust of the earth and breathing into him the breath of Life. Cosmic stuff.
Now wait, you are saying, didn't I say that these were going to be the ones we didn't hear in Sunday School? Well, yes. But as Julie Andrews tells us, we should “start at the beginning; A very good place to start.” And if we’re going to be talking about the Bible, it’s hard to get much earlier than Genesis. And instead of going into the whole Charles Darwin vs. Bishop Ussher thing, I wanted to just touch a bit on one aspect of the beginning of Genesis that we maybe sometimes overlook.
Most people have probably heard the passage “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth” and know that according to Genesis God created the world in six days; but they might not know that there are two different Creation accounts in Genesis. The first is the familiar Six-Day story found in Genesis chapter 1, (plus a couple concluding verses which somehow got put in Chapter 2). The second, beginning in Genesis 2:4 and continuing through the rest of the chapter, describes the Garden of Eden and describes how God created first Adam and then Eve.
But why are there two Creation accounts? I can think of a couple explanations.
Tradition holds that the first five books of the Bible; the Pentatuech, or Torah; were written by Moses. In the 19th Century, Biblical scholars developed the theory that these books were actually compiled at a much later date from several different sources, each with a different agenda and a different point of view. This has become known as the Documentary Hypothesis or the JEDP Theory after the four sources that are believed to have been used in assembling the Books of Moses as we know them today. Most biblical scholars accept the Documentary Hypothesis, or some version of it; although some Literalists like to stick with Tradition because that’s what we do. Others simply shrug and quote 2 Peter 1:21 “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke form God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” From that point of view, Scripture is still Scripture no matter who actually wrote it down.
According to the Documentary Hypothesis, the multiple versions of the Creation Account make perfect sense. The Redactor, (the guy who compiled the disparate sources into the Torah), had two different versions of the same story and wasn't sure which one to throw out; so he included both.
But another possibility occurs to me, not necessarily incompatible with the first. Scriptures often employ a literary device where something is described, and then described again in a slightly different way. We see this a lot in the Psalms, most frequently in the form of the first half of a verse making a statement and then the second half restating it; for example: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.“ (Psalm 119:105) Both statements are saying the same thing, but the rephrasing gives us a slightly different connotation from the first, giving us a sort of stereoptic view of the concept.
So perhaps the Creation accounts in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are doing the same thing: providing two different views of the same event. The first looks at the Big Picture, and places it in the context of a Six-Day-plus-Sabbath structure. The second, focuses on a couple important features of Creation: the Garden of Eden, and the Origin of Mankind.
Except there’s one fairly big discrepancy there. The Genesis chapter 1 account strongly suggests that God created the first Man and the first Woman at the same time, on the sixth day: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27 NIV). Sounds pretty clear to me.
But the Genesis 2 account has God creating Adam first, and then, thinking it over, decided that Adam needed a companion. To remedy this situation, he created the first woman, Eve.
There are two ways of looking at this passage. Traditionally, it’s been interpreted to mean that Man has precedence over Woman because he has seniority. But I think it’s just as valid to say this story is about how Man needs companionship. Eve is not just a secondary creation, an afterthought on God’s part; she is actually created out of Adam’s body and therefore, it seems to me, she has a greater claim to equality with Adam than if she had simply been Adam 2.0. But we’re getting away from the point.
So how do we reconcile this story of Eve created out of Adam’s rib with the Genesis 1 account where Male and Female were created at the same time?
The easiest solution is to say that both stories are myths and we shouldn't expect them to be consistent because they never really happened. But really, what’s the fun of that?
Another way is to say that the author of the Genesis 1 account fiddled things around in order to get everything to fit neatly into his Week-of-Creation outline. Raised as I was in a tradition adhering to the Inerrancy of Scripture, I can’t say I’m crazy about that interpretation; but it seems plausible.
Going to the other extreme we have the interpretation that the story in Gen. 2: 7-25 all took place on the same day; the Sixth Day of Creation. That was what I remember being taught in Sunday School. But when you look at it, we have (1.) God creating Adam; (2.) God establishing the Garden of Eden for Adam to live in; (3.) God brings all the animals he’s created to Adam, who gives them all names; (4.) God puts Adam into a deep sleep and creates Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs; (5.) Adam and Eve meet, get to know each other, and presumably invent sex. And keep in mind this all happens after God has already created every animal that creepeth upon the Earth. That’s a lot to pack into one busy afternoon. Yeah, God’s good at multi-tasking, but still, it’s enough to make a man consider the theistic notion that the Days of Creation represented geological epochs rather than 24-hour days.
Then there’s the theory that Adam actually had two wives, one created with him on the 6th day, and a second one, Eve, created out of his rib. But that’s a story we‘ll get to another time.