Genesis 2
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Genesis 2:4 b– Genesis 3:24 (J). The Story of Paradise: I. The Creation of Man (Genesis 2:4-25). II. The Fall of Man (Genesis 3:1-24)

I.  The Creation of Man (Genesis 2:4-25).

4b–7.  The Creation of Man.

8–9.  The Garden in Eden.

10–14.  Its geographical situation.

15–17.  The Trees of Life and of the Knowledge of good and evil.

18–20.  The Creation of the Animals.

21–25.  The Creation of Woman.

In this passage the compiler has had before him another account of the Creation. The earliest part dealing with the formation of the earth, the heavens, and the seas, he has omitted. The account in the previous chapter was evidently deemed to be sufficient. The description, however, of the origin of man and woman and of the animals is quite different from that given in ch. 1. The narrative goes into greater details; and events are described in a different order. It cannot escape the reader’s notice that, whereas in ch. 1 all the living creatures are created before man and woman, in ch. 2 man is first created (Genesis 2:6-7), the animals are created afterwards as companions to him (Genesis 2:18-20), and that woman, last of all, is created out of his rib to be his wife (Genesis 2:21-25). The picture, therefore, presented in this chapter comes from a different source from that in ch. 1; and the fact is shewn not only by the variety in the treatment of the subject matter, but also by the unmistakable variety in the style and vocabulary. Some of the more noteworthy instances will be commented upon.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
Ch. Genesis 2:1-4 a. The Seventh Day: (a) The Cessation from Work; (b) The Hallowing of the Day

1. were finished] In these verses the repetition of the words “finish,” “work,” “seventh day,” “made,” is probably intended to heighten the solemnity connected with the seventh day; see also note on Genesis 1:27, and Introduction, on the characteristics of P.

and all the host of them] The word “host” is noteworthy. The Hebrew is ṣâbâ, “army,” the plural of which is the word “Sabaoth” (= ṣ’bâôth = “hosts”) familiar to us in the Te Deum. Here, as applied to the countless forces of the universe, its use is metaphorical. In the ancient world a great army represented the ideal of an organized multitude: and the designation of “host” (ṣâbâ) is often given in the O.T. to the heavenly bodies (e.g. 2 Kings 17:16). The LXX ὁ κόσμος αὐτῶν, = “their order, beauty, or array,” is reproduced in the Lat. ornatus eorum = “their splendour,” missing the significance of the original. Upon this error of the Vulgate St Thomas Aquinas based his division of the works of Creation into “opera distinctionis” and “opera ornatus.”


In connexion with the Institution of the Sabbath recorded in Genesis 2:1-3 the following points deserve to be noticed.

1. The writer gives the reason for the sanctity among the Hebrews of the Seventh Day, or Sabbath. As, in chap. 17, he supplies an answer to the question: What is the origin of the Hebrew sacred rite of circumcision? so, here, he gives an answer to the question: What is the origin of the observance of the Sabbath?

2. Whereas the Hebrew rite of circumcision is described as having its origin in the command of God delivered to Abraham, the Father of the Chosen People, the origin of the Sabbath is treated as more ancient and uniquely sacred. As an institution, it follows at once upon the work of Creation. Whatever its import, therefore, may be, it is regarded by the writer as universal in its application. The Divine rest from Creation, like the Divine work of Creation, was a pledge of Divine Love, not to the Jew only, but to the whole world.

3. From the first, God is said to have “blessed” and “sanctified” the seventh day. In other words, he invested the seventh day with the quality of highest value and advantage to those who observed it; stamped its observance with the seal of Divine approbation; and “set it apart,” as distinct from the other six days, for sacred purposes.

4. The account of the origin of the Sabbath, given in this passage, is followed in the legislation, Exodus 31:17 (P), and seems to have supplied the appendix to the primitive form of the Fourth Commandment as found in the Decalogue of Exodus (Genesis 20:11).

In the Deuteronomic Decalogue (Deuteronomy 5:12-15) the observance of the Sabbath is enjoined, without any reference to the days of Creation, but with an appendix explaining its humanitarian purpose. “And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God brought thee out thence by a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.”

A similar explanation for the observance of the Sabbath is found in the so-called Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33 E), which contains the earliest collection of Hebrew laws: “Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may have rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed” (Exodus 23:12). In the old ritual laws of Exodus 34:10-28, the observance of the seventh day is commanded as a duty with which no pressure of field labour is to interfere: “Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest; in plowing time and in harvest thou shalt rest” (Genesis 2:21).

What relation exists between the Hebrew institution of the Sabbath and Babylonian usage is a question which has been much discussed in recent years. It has sometimes been too hastily assumed that the Hebrew ordinance has been directly imported from Babylonia. For a full discussion, see Driver (D.B. s.v. Sabbath); Gordon, Early Traditions of Genesis, pp. 216–223; the Commentaries by Driver and Skinner; Meinhold, Sabbath u. Woche im A.T. The following points may here be noticed:

(a) The Assyrian word shabattu appears in a cuneiform syllabary (ii Rawlinson 32, 16 a, b) with the equivalent ûm nûḥ libbi (ilâni), i.e. “day of resting (satisfying or appeasing) the heart of the gods.”

(b) In a tablet, discovered in 1904 by Pinches, the word shapattu appears to have been applied to the 15th day, or full-moon day, of the month (P.S.B.A. xxvi. 51 ff.).

(c) There is evidence which shews that the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th days, and also the 19th (i.e. the 49th = 7 × 7th, from the commencement of the preceding month) were in certain, if not in all, of the Babylonian months, regarded as “unlucky” days. The following quotation is from a calendar of the intercalated month of Elul. “On the 7th day, supplication to Marduk and Sarpanitum, a favourable day (sc. may it be). An evil day. The shepherd of many nations is not to eat meat roasted by the fire, or any food prepared by the fire. The clothes of his body he is not to change, fine dress (?) he is not to put on. Sacrifices he is not to bring, nor is the king to ride in his chariot. He is not to hold court, nor is the priest to seek an oracle for him in the holy of holies. The physician is not to be brought to the sick room. The day is not suitable for invoking curses. At night, in the presence of Marduk and Ishtar, the king is to bring his gift. Then he is to offer sacrifices so that his prayer may be acceptable” (M. Jastrow’s Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, pp. 376, 377).

(d) It is only on the side of prohibition that we can here see any resemblance between the Babylonian treatment of the seventh day and the Hebrew Sabbath of every seventh day. Of course it is possible that if the use of the Babylonian word shapattu for “full-moon” day is sustained, it may be a survival of Semitic lunar sacred days, the observance of which, though dropped by Babylonian usage, was retained by Hebrew legislation and given a new religious significance.

(e) In the pre-exilic writings of the O.T. (2 Kings 4:23; Isaiah 1:13; Hosea 2:11; Amos 8:5) we notice the joint mention of the New Moon and the Sabbath as sacred festivals observed by the people; but the conjecture of Meinhold, that the Sabbath was originally the Hebrew name of the Full Moon Festival, seems very improbable. That there is some underlying connexion between the Babylonian shabattu and the Hebrew shabbath is highly probable. At present, there is no evidence to shew that the Hebrew usage is borrowed from Babylonian. Nor does the language of the post-exilic writers suggest that the Hebrew observance of the Sabbath was one which they associated with Babylonian religion.

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
2. on the seventh day] Some misunderstanding arose in very early times in consequence of these words. Jealous for the sanctity of the Sabbath, men said, “No, not on the seventh day, but on the sixth day, God finished the work of creation.” So we find “on the sixth day” is the reading of the Samaritan, the LXX, and the Syriac Peshitto. The mistake was not unnatural: it was not perceived that the conclusion of work was identical with the cessation from work. God wrought no work on the seventh day; therefore, it is said, He brought His work to an end on the seventh day. The reading, “on the sixth day,” may be dismissed as an erroneous correction made in the interests of keeping the Sabbath. All reference to the sixth day was concluded in ch. Genesis 1:31.

his work] LXX τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ, “his works.” The same Hebrew word as in the Fourth Commandment, Exodus 20:9, “all thy work”; it denotes not so much the “result” of labour, as its “process,” or “occupation.” Driver renders by “business.”

rested] LXX κατέπαυσε = “ceased,” Lat. requierit. Heb. shâbath has strictly the sense of “ceasing,” or “desisting.” It is this thought rather than that of “resting” after labour, which is here prominent. Elsewhere, the idea that God rested on the seventh day, is more directly expressed, e.g. Exodus 31:17, “And on the seventh day he (the Lord) rested (shâbath, ‘desisted’) and was refreshed.” The idea of “cessation” from the employment of the six days suggested the conception of “rest,” which is mentioned, both in Exodus 20:11; Exodus 31:17, as the sanction for the observance of the Sabbath. Rest in the best sense is not idleness, but alteration in the direction of activity.

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
3. And God blessed the seventh day) It was the belief of the devout Israelite that in some mysterious way God at the beginning conferred His special favour upon the seventh day. The writer does not in this passage mention the name “Sabbath,” but the reference to the Israelite Sabbath is indisputable. A play on the word “Sabbath “is evidently intended by the use of the word shâbath. The Hebrew cosmogony traced back the observance of the Sabbath to the Divine example on the seventh day of the creative week. Whether its observance was followed by the Israelites before the time of Moses, has been much disputed. No reference to it occurs in the Patriarchal narratives: but the intervals of seven days occurring in the story of the Flood (Genesis 7:10, Genesis 8:10; Genesis 8:12 J) may indicate the belief in the primitive recognition of the “week” as a sacred division of time. The reference to the Sabbath in Exodus 16:23 ff. has led many commentators to suppose that the opening word (“Remember”) of the Fourth Commandment assumes the primitive recognition of the institution. See Special Note on Genesis 2:1-3.

hallowed) viz. separated from common and profane usage. LXX ἡγίασεν: Lat. sanctificavit. This is the first mention of the idea of holiness, which in Holy Scripture occupies such an important place in the description of religious worship and godly life.

We may be unable fully to discern what was intended by the writer, when he spoke of God “hallowing” or “making separate” the seventh day. But it conveys to us the thought that God from the first, set His seal upon “time” as well as His blessing upon matter; and this consecration of the seventh day should serve as the continual reminder that as “the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof,” so time is of the Lord and the opportunities thereof. The Sabbath is the sacrament of time: its rest is the symbol of the consecration of work. The worship of the Creator made a demand for the consecration of time as well as of place. Notice the absence of the formula, “There was evening and there was morning, the seventh day.” This omission led some to suppose that the seventh, or rest, day of God is not yet ended; and that, when the work of Creation was finished, there began on the seventh day the different task of the maintenance of the universe. But it seems more probable that by the reference to the seventh day in Genesis 2:2, and by the blessing of the seventh day in Genesis 2:3, the writer intended that the seven days should be regarded as completed, and as presenting the Divine type for every week of seven days. After the seventh day came another phase of Divine activity, the unceasing operation of Divine laws. The Immanence of Creative Love and Wisdom needs to be acknowledged no less than their Transcendence; cf., especially, John 5:17, “My Father worketh even until now, and I work.” In that conception of Divine work, there is no room for the thought of cessation.

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,
4. These are the generations … created] These words, as they stand here, seem to form a summary of the preceding account of the Creation. Elsewhere, however, the phrase “These are the generations, &c.” is the formula employed in P as a heading, title, or superscription, to introduce the passage that follows. Cf. Genesis 5:1, “The generations of Adam,” Genesis 6:9 (Noah), Genesis 10:1 (The Sons of Noah), Genesis 11:10 (Shem), 27 (Terah), Genesis 25:12 (Ishmael). The conjecture has been made that the formula “These are the generations, &c.” originally stood at the beginning of ch. 1, and was transferred to its present place, either, in order that the book might begin with the word b’rêshîth (= “In the beginning”), or to obtain a sentence which would serve both as an epitome of the opening section and as a link with the one that follows.

generations] Heb. tô-l’-dôth = “successions by descent,” usually meaning “the chronicles,” or “genealogies,” of persons and families, is here metaphorically applied to “the heaven and the earth” in the sense of the “history” of their origin and their offspring. LXX, therefore, gives an explanatory rendering, αὕτη ἡ βίβλος γενέσεως οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς.

It is quite a different word from that found, e.g. in Genesis 15:16, “in the fourth generation” (Heb. dôr, LXX γενέα).

created] This word closes the first section of the book, and there should be a full stop after it. The next section, giving another narrative, at of the creation of man and of Paradise, opens with the words “In the day that.”

The first section has been derived from the materials of the Priestly Code (P), the second is from the Prophetic Writing (J). The styles which characterize the two sources offer a marked contrast.

4b–7. The Creation of Man

4. in the day that] There is no allusion here to the Days of Creation. It is simply the vivid Hebrew idiom for “at the time when.”

the Lord God] The Hebrew words “Jahveh Elohim” are used in this section for the Almighty. On the Sacred Names, see Introduction. The use of JHVH, the Name of the God of Israel (Exodus 3) which the Jews in reverence forbore to pronounce, and which received, in the 16th century, the wholly erroneous pronunciation of “Jehovah,” is one of the characteristics of the writing of J. In the previous section, Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4 a, the Sacred Name is “Elohim” = “God”; and the use of “Elohim” is prevalent in the P Narratives of Gen. In the present section, Genesis 2:4 b–3:24, the Sacred Name is a combination of Jahveh and Elohim, i.e. Jehovah (= Lord) and “God.” In the next section, the story of Cain and Abel, Jehovah alone is used; throughout the rest of Genesis we find either Jehovah or Elohim alone. The combination of the two Sacred Names is elsewhere of exceedingly rare occurrence. How to account for it in the present passage, is a problem to which no certain answer can be given. The theory that “God” (Elohim) is used for the God of Nature, and Lord (Jehovah) for the God of Revelation, in unsupported by the facts: e.g. “God” (Elohim) is the name used of the Deity in ch. 17 at the establishment of the covenant of circumcision: the Lord (Jahveh) is the name used at the destruction of the cities or the Plain (Genesis 19:1-28, see note on Genesis 19:29). There seems no reason to assign any doctrinal ground for the exceptional usage.

It should most probably be attributed to the handiwork of the compiler. On the first occasion in which the sacred title of the God or Israel was used, he wished to emphasize the fact that Jehovah and the Elohim of Creation were one and the same.

Another suggestion has been made, that the Paradise Narrative was current in two versions, in one of which the Sacred Name was Jahveh, in the other Elohim, and that the compiler who was acquainted with both versions left a trace of the fact in the combined names. But the compiler has not resorted to any such expedient elsewhere.

earth and heaven] An unusual order of words, found only in Psalm 148:13.

And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.
5. And no plant, &c.] If, as is possible, Genesis 2:5-6 are a parenthesis then Genesis 2:7 carries on the sentence of Genesis 2:4 b. The whole sentence would then run, “At the time when Jehovah Elohim made earth and heaven (there was as yet no plant of the field … face of the ground), Jehovah Elohim formed man.” But this arrangement is too cumbrous to be probable. Moreover, the state of things described in Genesis 2:5-6 is evidently one of considerable duration; it intervenes between the making of the earth and the heavens (Genesis 2:4 b) and the formation of man (Genesis 2:7). It is better to regard Genesis 2:5 as the apodosis to Genesis 2:4 b, “At the time when Jehovah Elohim made, &c., (5) there was as yet no plant, &c., (6) but a mist (or, flood) used to come up, &c.”

plant of the field … herb of the field] The word “plant “is the same in the original as that rendered “shrub” in Genesis 21:15, the stunted growth of the desert under which Hagar cast her child, and “bushes” in Job 30:4; Job 30:7. The “herb” is the vegetation useful for food and requiring cultivation. There was no “plant” or “bush,” because the Lord God had not yet caused it to rain: there was no “herb,” because there was no man to prepare the ground. In the absence of rain and of tillage there was no vegetation. The ground originally was desert, without tree, bush, or grass.

But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.
6. there went up] or “there used to go up,” i.e. periodically. The frequentative idea of the verb is given in the LXX ἀνέβαινεν, Lat. ascendebat.

a mist] Heb. ’êd, a word found elsewhere in the O.T. only in Job 36:27, where it is rendered “vapour.” Here the meaning is not certain: the versions (LXX πηγή: Lat. fons: Targum “cloud”) reflect the doubt. The English versions follow the Targum. Recently, Assyriologists have compared the Babylonian êdû, meaning a “flood” or “overflowing.” It is possible that the rendering “spring” or “stream” maybe more accurate than “mist”; that in Job 36:27 ’êd may denote the “source” of the waters above the heavens; and that here it may refer to the hidden source of the rivers of the world. No account is given of the origin of rain.

watered] Literally, “gave to drink”; an expression better suited to a “stream” than to a “mist”: cf. Genesis 2:10, where it is used of a river. “The ground,” the face of which was watered by it, was “the cultivable soil” (adâmah).

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
7. formed] A different word from that used in Genesis 1:1; Genesis 1:27, “created,” or in Genesis 1:26, “made.” The metaphor is that of the potter shaping and moulding the clay, LXX ἔπλασεν, Lat. formavit. As applied to the Creator, the metaphor is a favourite one; cf. Isaiah 45:9, Jeremiah 18:1-5, Wis 15:7, Romans 9:20-24.

See Browning’s Rabbi Ben Ezra, “Aye, note that Potter’s wheel, That metaphor, &c.”

man] Heb. âdâm. Man was popularly thought to be so called because taken from the adâmah, “the cultivated ground,” to which he is to return at death (Genesis 3:19), and which he is to cultivate during life (Genesis 3:23). It is impossible in English to give any equivalent to this play upon the names for “man” and “ground.”

In this verse and elsewhere, where the Heb. âdâm (= man) occurs with the def. article (hâ-âdâm), there is no reference to the proper name “Adam.” See note on Genesis 2:16.

of the dust of the ground] These words describe the Hebrew belief concerning the physical structure of man. It was seen that after death the bodily frame was reduced, by dissolution, into dust: it was, therefore, assumed that that frame had at the first been built up by God out of dust. For other passages illustrating this belief, cf. Genesis 3:19; Genesis 18:27, Psalm 90:3; Psalm 104:29, 1 Corinthians 15:47. We find the same idea in the Babylonian myth, where man is made out of earth mingled with the blood of the God Marduk1[3], and in the Greek myth of Prometheus and Pandora.

[3] See Appendix A (Book Comments).

breathed … life] The preceding clause having explained man’s bodily structure, the present one explains the origin of his life. His life is not the product of his body, but the gift of God’s breath or spirit.

At death the breath (ruaḥ) left man’s body; hence it was assumed, that, at the first, the mystery of life had been imparted to man by the breath (ruaḥ) of God Himself. Through life, man became “a living soul,” (nephesh), and, as “a living soul,” shared his life with the animals. But man alone received his life from “the breath of God.” It is this breathing (n’shâmâh) of life (LXX πνοὴ ζωης: Lat. spiraculum vitae) which imparts to man that which is distinctive of his higher principle of being, as compared with the existence of the animals, cf. Genesis 2:19. It would seem from Job 34:14-15 that one phase of Hebrew belief was (1) that at death the flesh of man turned again unto dust; (2) that God took back unto Himself His breath (ruaḥ) which He had given; (3) that the nephesh, or soul, departed into the Sheol, the region of the dead.

For the picture here given of vitality imparted to man by the breath breathed by God into man’s nostrils, cf. Job 27:3, “The spirit (or breath) of God is in my nostrils.”

We should compare the expression “breathed into” with the words in St John’s Gospel John 20:22. There the symbolical act of our Lord derives significance from this verse. Christ who is “the New Man,” Himself imparts the life-giving Spirit; “He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit.”

And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
8–9. The Garden in Eden

8. a garden] More strictly “an enclosure.” LXX παράδεισον, Lat. paradisum, a word borrowed from the Persian, and meaning “a park-like enclosure.” Its use here has given rise to the Christian metaphorical use of the word “Paradise.” “The word is of Iranian origin. In Avesta it is pairi-daêza encircling wall’ (Vend. iii. 18). It passed into Neo-Babylonian, Aramaic, post-Exilic Hebrew, Neo-Hebrew, Armenian, Persian, Kurdish, Greek, and Arabic as a word for a park or splendid garden. In the O.T. it is found in Nehemiah 2:8, Song of Solomon 4:13, Ecclesiastes 2:5” (Encycl. Rel. and Eth. vol. ii. p. 705).

eastward] The point of view is not that of the Babylonian, but of the Israelite, who regarded the East, and, in particular, Babylonia, as the cradle of man’s earliest civilization. Notice here the quite general description of the site of the “garden.” For its more minute definition, see Genesis 2:10-15. LXX κατὰ ἀνατολάς: Vulg. a principio. The Hebrew, when speaking or writing, is mentally facing East. “Eastward” is the same as “on the side fronting you.”

in Eden] Eden is not the name of the “garden,” but of the country or district in which Jehovah planted his “garden.” Eden in Hebrew means “delight,” or “happiness”; and the Israelite naturally associated this meaning of the word “Eden” with the dwelling place of the first man and woman, because this auspicious name seemed appropriate to the Garden of Jehovah. Hence we find the Garden of God spoken of as the place of fertility, beauty, and delight, Isaiah 51:3, Ezekiel 28:13; Ezekiel 31:8-9; Ezekiel 36:35, Joel 2:3.

“In Eden”; so, rightly, LXX ἐν Ἐδέμ. The Lat. “voluptatis,” = “of pleasure,” represents a popular misapprehension, not recognizing it as a proper name.

Assyriologists point out that the Assyrian word edinnu, meaning “a plain” or “steppe,” was applied to the Euphrates Valley. They suggest that the “garden” lay in this region. The Hebrew narrative, however, evidently contemplates a fruitful enclosure, not a plain: the name “Eden” is chosen because of its auspicious meaning in Hebrew, while the fact that in sound it reproduced the Babylonian designation of a remote Eastern, or Mesopotamian, region, made it appear all the more appropriate.

And out of the ground made the LORD God 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 knowledge of good and evil.
9. And out of the ground, &c.] The characteristic feature of the “garden,” or “enclosure,” is not its flowers, but its trees. This evident, also, from the traditional belief as to the Garden, which is reproduced in Ezekiel 31:8-9. To the Oriental, the large well-grown tree was an especial object of reverence (“pleasant to the sight”): and man was to live on the fruit of the trees (“good for food”). It is implied that the trees of the “garden,” like the man who is put into it, were from the first fully grown.

the tree of life] There are two wonder-working trees in the “garden.” One is called “the tree of life,” whose fruit imparts immortality to those who eat it (cf. Genesis 3:22-24): the other is called the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” whose fruit conveys moral discernment. These gifts of knowledge and of immortality are the special prerogatives of Jehovah (Genesis 3:5; Genesis 3:22).

The mention of the two trees in this verse comes in a little abruptly. “The tree of life” is spoken of as “in the midst of the garden”; “the tree of knowledge” is then mentioned, but without any description of its position. In Genesis 2:17 the Lord God forbids the man to eat of “the tree of knowledge”; but does not mention “the tree of life.” In Genesis 3:3 the woman refers to “the tree which is in the midst of the garden,” as if there was only one tree that had been forbidden to them, and Genesis 2:5 shews it is “the tree of knowledge.” It is probable that we have the trace of some little confusion between two Hebrew traditions about the sacred trees. The mention of “the tree of life” has here, and in Genesis 3:22; Genesis 3:24, been added to that of “the tree of knowledge.” At any rate, in this verse, “the tree of life” is given the place belonging to “the tree of knowledge” which is “in the midst of the garden.” The story of the Temptation and the Fall turns on the tradition, according to which there was one tree, that “of the knowledge of good and evil,” “in the midst of the garden.” The expression “tree of life” was used as a common metaphor of health and fruitfulness in Hebrew language, cf. Proverbs 3:18, “She (Wisdom) is a tree of life”; Genesis 11:30, “the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life.”

the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] What is signified by this is doubtful. Some say it is the knowledge which infancy lacks and experience acquires, cf. Deuteronomy 1:39, “Your children which this day have no knowledge of good or of evil.” Judging by the context we should rather identify it with moral judgement: the fruit produces the exercise of conscience, which is accompanied by the realization of evil, though not necessarily by the forfeiture of innocence. See Special Note on Genesis 3:24.

Palms as sacred trees are frequent objects of representation in Assyrian and Babylonian art.

On the possible connexion of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” with the date palm, see Barton’s Semitic Origins, pp. 93–95.

And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
10. And a river went out] The description of the river in this verse is as follows: (1) it took its rise in the land of Eden; (2) it flowed through the garden, and irrigated it; (3) after passing through the garden, it separated into four branches, or, as they are here called, “heads.”

to water] The same word as in Genesis 2:6, “a mist … watered the whole face of the ground.”

The account which follows (11–14) is irreconcilable with scientific geography. But the locality of a garden planted by the Lord God, containing two wonder-working trees, is evidently not to be looked for on maps. In the description of the four rivers, we must remember that the Israelites possessed only a very vague knowledge of distant lands. They depended upon the reports of travellers who possessed no means of accurate survey. Mediaeval maps often present the most fantastic and arbitrary arrangement of rivers and seas to meet the conjectures of the cartographist. We need not be surprised, if the early traditions of the Hebrews claimed that the four greatest known rivers of the world had branched off from the parent stream, which, rising in Eden, had passed through the garden of the Lord God. The four rivers here mentioned are referred to in the order of Pishon, Tigris, Euphrates, and Gihon in Sir 24:25-27.

“Alexander the Great believed he had found the sources of the Nile in the Indus, because of the crocodiles and beans he saw there (Arrian, vi. i. 2 ff.; Str. xv. i. 25) … Pausanias records the tradition that ‘the same Nile is the river Euphrates, which was lost in a lake, and reemerged as the Nile in the remote part of Ethiopia’ ” (Gordon, p. 278). When such views of geography were held by the most enlightened Greeks, we need wonder at nothing in the primitive traditions of Palestine.

10–14. A Geographical Description of the Garden

This is very probably a later insertion. It interrupts the sequence of thought.

The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
11. Pishon] The name of this river does not occur elsewhere in the Bible except in Sir 24:25. What river was intended, we can only conjecture, (a) from the description of its course, and (b) from the names of the rivers with which it is classed, two being the Tigris and the Euphrates. It is described as “compassing,” that is, encircling, “the whole land of Havilah.” The identification of Havilah is much controverted. In the present day scholars are of opinion that the name probably denotes a region either in N.E., or in S., Arabia. It is mentioned again in Genesis 10:7; Genesis 10:29; Genesis 25:18, passages in which Arabia seems to be indicated. Havilah is further called a land “where there is gold.” Arabia, in ancient times, was famous for its gold.

The river which would encircle Havilah is, therefore, quite probably rightly identified by P. Haupt, the Assyriologist, with the Persian Gulf and the sea that surrounded Arabia, on the east.

Josephus identifies it with the “Indus.”


Genesis 2:11-14The mention of the four rivers of Paradise has given rise to many endeavours to localize the site. A famous pamphlet by Prof. F. Delitzsch, entitled Wo lag das Paradise? (= What was the site of Paradise?), 1881, gave an immense impulse to the enquiry.

1. Delitzsch himself ingeniously identifies Pishon with the Pallakopas, a canal on the W. bank of the Euphrates, flowing into the Persian Gulf, and Gihon with the modern Shaṭṭ-en-Nil, a canal from the E. bank of the Euphrates, near Babylon, and returning to the Euphrates over against Ur. Hiddekel and Euphrates will then be the lower portions of the Tigris and the Euphrates; Havilah part of the desert W. of the Euphrates; Cush the name for that region in Babylonia, which gave its name to the Kassite dynasty. According to this theory, Eden is the plain (edinu) between the Tigris and the Euphrates, and the river in Genesis 2:10 is the Euphrates. It seems, however, fatal to this ingenious view that

(a) it identifies the river of Genesis 2:11 with one of the four heads into which it divides itself:

(b) “the whole land of Havilah” must be intended to denote something much more extensive than the small district enclosed by the Pallakopas canal: while the canal Shaṭṭ-en-Nil could never be described as encircling the land of Cush:

(c) “in front of Assyria” is a description of the Tigris to the N. of Babylonia, and is unsuitable to the region near Babylon where the two rivers approach most closely to each other.

2. Sayce, in H. C. M. 95 ff., proposes that the garden of Eden is to be identified with the sacred garden of Ea at Eridu, once the seaport of Chaldaea on the Persian Gulf; and the river which waters it (Genesis 2:11), with the Persian Gulf, while the four rivers are the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Pallakopas (= Pison), the Choaspes (modern Kerkha) = Gihon, their waters entering the Persian Gulf by separate mouths. The Persian Gulf was sometimes designated in the Babylonian language Nâr Marratum (“Bitter River”). It is an objection that the Biblical account makes the one river divide up into four, while this theory makes four rivers flow into one.

3. With this view should be associated that of Hommel (A.H.T. 314 ff.), who identifies Eden with the “garden” at Eridu, the river of Genesis 2:11 with the Persian Gulf, and the three rivers Pishon, Gihon and Hiddekel with three wâdis in N. Arabia.

4. Haupt, quoted in Driver, supposes the common source of the four rivers to have been an imaginary lake in N. Mesopotamia. The Pishon is the Persian Gulf encircling Havilah, or Arabia; the Gihon is the Karun, supposed to flow eventually through Cush and become the Nile; while the Tigris and the Euphrates entered, by separate mouths, the marshes, beyond which was the Persian Gulf.

5. Skinner suggests (p. 64) that the Hebrew geographer, who was himself only acquainted with the two great Mesopotamian rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, added to them the names of two others, the Pishon and the Gihon, by which he intended the two mysterious rivers of the Indian world, the Indus and the Ganges.

Delitzsch and Dillmann identify the Pishon with the Indus, and the Gihon with the Nile. “But if the biblical narrator believed the Nile to rise with Euphrates and Tigris, it is extremely likely that he regarded its upper waters as the Indus, as Alexander the Great did in his time; and we might then fall back on the old identification of Pishon with the Ganges” (Skinner).

6. Two of the rivers are the Tigris and the Euphrates, which were known to flow from a remote Northern region into Mesopotamia. The tradition supposed this Northern region to contain also the sources of two other rivers which rivalled the Tigris and the Euphrates. One of them, according to the vague notions of ancient geography, somehow encircled Havilah (= Arabia), while the other watered the region of Cush (= Soudan).

7. The well-known names embodied in this strange piece of ancient geography make it very improbable that any mythological or astrological explanation can meet the requirements of the problem.

And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.
12. bdellium] LXX ἄνθραξ: Lat. bdellium. In Numbers 11:7, “manna” is compared with “bdellium”; where the LXX gives κρύσταλλος. Possibly it may be identified with an aromatic transparent resin, obtained from balsam (balsamodendron mukul), and found in Arabia as well as in India, Bactria and Africa. The Hebrew name b’dôlaḥ is probably a foreign word. Another rendering, “pearls” (which are abundantly found in the Persian Gulf), would be more poetical, and possibly more appropriate for comparison, with “manna”; but we can only conjecture.

the onyx stone] or beryl. Hebrew Shoham mentioned elsewhere, Exodus 25:7, Job 28:16. A precious stone is clearly intended; possibly = “carbuncle.” Assyriologists have identified it with an Assyrian word Samdu; but what Samdu was, is not known. Sayce conjectures “turquoise”; Haupt “pearl.”

And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.
13. Gihon] This river is not mentioned again by the same name in the Bible, except in Sir 24:27. The student will be careful not to confound it with the Gihon of 1 Kings 1:33, a spring in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. It is here described as encircling “the whole land of Cush.” “Cush” in the Bible generally denotes Ethiopia (but cf. Genesis 10:8 note); and by Ethiopia would be signified Nubia, the Soudan, and Upper Egypt, a great tract of country watered by the Nile, cf. Isaiah 18:1. Hence, though the description “that compasseth the whole land of Cush” is fanciful, it seems very probable that the Gihon here means the Nile. The Nile is generally called in the Bible ye’or (cf. Genesis 41:1), and sometimes Shihor (cf. Isaiah 23:3, Jeremiah 2:18). See note Genesis 41:1. For Cushites in David’s time, cf. 2 Samuel 18:21.

And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.
14. Hiddekel] Tigris. The Assyrian name is “Idiklat,” or “Diklat,” the old Persian “Tigra,” whence the Greek “Tigris” (modern Digle). It is mentioned in the Bible elsewhere only in Daniel 10:4 and Sir 24:25. This famous river rises not far from the source of the Euphrates, and flows at first east from Diarbekr and unites with the Bohtan Tsckai, after which it flows south-east. It approaches the Euphrates at Bagdad, but continues a separate course until it unites at Korna with that river, and enters the Persian Gulf as the Schatt-el-Arab. In earlier times the two rivers entered the sea at different points. The Tigris was so called from an old Persian word meaning “arrow,” and probably because of its swiftness.

in front of Assyria] The Hebrew expression rendered “in front of” generally denotes “to the east of,” cf. Genesis 2:8, Genesis 4:16, Genesis 12:8 notes. The Hebrew standpoint is always that of a person facing east. That which is in front is east: towards his right hand is the south, towards his left the north, at his back the west. It is objected that Assyria was a country, through which the Tigris flowed, and that, as Assyrian territory lay on the east as well as the west bank of the Tigris, it would not be correct to describe the Tigris as “that which goeth towards the east of Assyria.” Hence Sayce conjectures that we should here understand, not the country “Assyria,” but the country’s old capital “Asshur” which gave its name to the country, and which lay on the west bank of the Tigris. But Asshur, the city, is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible; presumably, therefore, it was little known to the Hebrews, and was not likely to be mentioned in a geographical description. On the other hand, “Asshur” is the regular Hebrew designation of the country “Assyria”1[4]; the mention here of “Assyria” is parallel to that of “Cush” in the preceding verse. There seems no sufficient reason for doubting that the name “Asshur” is here used, in its usual Biblical application, for the land of Assyria. If so, the geographical description of the Tigris may not be strictly accurate. Considering its remoteness from Palestine, this need not surprise us, especially in a writing dating from a period previous to the active Assyrian interference in the course of Israelite affairs.

[4] See Genesis 10:22. The “Asshur” of Ezekiel 27:23 is mentioned with “Sheba … and Chilmad.”

Euphrates] Heb. Prath. Assyrian “Puratu,” old Persian Ufrâtû, whence the Greek and Latin “Euphrates.” The Euphrates rises in the mountains near Erzerum, and, after following a tortuous course through the Taurus Mts., flows first in a southerly, and then, from Balis, in a S.E. direction, uniting with the Tigris before entering the Persian Gulf.

The Israelites seem to have regarded the Euphrates as “the river par excellence.” Hence “the River,” as a proper name, in Exodus 23:31, 1 Kings 4:21; 1 Kings 4:24, Psalm 72:8; Psalm 80:11, Isaiah 8:7, Zechariah 9:10.

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
15. This verse resumes the subject matter of Genesis 2:9, which has been interrupted by the description of the rivers.

to dress it and to keep it] The Lord God puts man into the garden for a life, not of indolence, but of labour. “To dress it,” that is to cultivate the soil, tend and prune the trees: “to keep it,” that is to defend it from depredation by animals, or from the evils arising from unchecked luxuriance. In other words, he is given, from the first, his work to do by which he is (1) to improve his surroundings, (2) to provide for the necessities of life, (3) to protect from waste or loss that which is committed to his care. This work will exact abundant physical effort; it will exercise his powers of observation and judgement; it will furnish him with food for his body, and with thought for his mind.

Notice, that the garden requires to be dressed and kept; it is not a place of spontaneous perfection. Man in the garden is to work, to take trouble, to practise forethought, to exercise solicitude and sympathy for the objects of his toil. “Paradise” is not a place for indolence and self-indulgence.

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
16. Here, as in Genesis 1:29, man receives a command to eat the fruit of the trees: but this command is to receive one special limitation.

“man,” LXX Ἀδάμ = “Adam,” as a proper name, wrongly: see on Genesis 2:7.

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
17. of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] See above, on Genesis 2:9. Here only one tree is mentioned, as in Genesis 3:3; and it seems not unlikely that the mention of “the tree of life” did not belong to the main original version of the story, but was derived from a separate source.

thou shalt not eat of it] In this prohibition man is apprised of another element in the discipline to which he is subjected in the garden of the Lord God. In Genesis 2:15 it is his physical and intellectual powers which are to be exercised: in this verse he receives warning of a moral discipline. His moral being is to be tested by a simple injunction for which no reason is assigned. No hardship is imposed: but a limitation to self-gratification is required. He who makes the requisition has given freely the enjoyment of everything beside. Man’s character is to be tested in the simplest manner. Will he shew obedience to the Divine will and trust in the Divine goodness?

in the day that … die] Literally, in the day that Adam ate of the fruit, he did not die. This is one of the minor inconsistencies in the story which are not explained for us. Either we are to assume that, in some fuller version of it, the Lord God was described as “repenting” of the sentence of immediate death, as changing His mind and sparing man in His mercy: or the words “in the day, &c.” are to be regarded as metaphorical, and the doom, “thou shalt surely die,” merely means “thou shalt become mortal.”

We must not infer from this verse that the Lord God was considered, to have made man other than mortal. It is clear from Genesis 3:22, that man was created a mortal being. Perhaps, in one version of the story, he was intended to eat of the tree of life “and live for ever.”

And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
18–25. The Creation of Animals and of Woman

18. It is not good, &c.] Man is created a social animal. His full powers cannot be developed by physical and mental work alone; nor his moral being by self-discipline in solitude. His faculties and his character require to be expanded and beautified by the duties of domestic and social life, as a member of a family, as a friend, as a fellow-worker, as a citizen. To be alone is not “good”; it does not promote his fullest life, or his best service.

an help meet for him] “meet”: or answering to. The word “meet” means “suitable,” or “adapted to.” The Lord God will make for man a “help” corresponding to his moral and intellectual nature, supplying what he needs, the counterpart of his being.

“Help meet,” which has become a recognized English word, fails to give the full sense of this passage from which it is derived. Man will find help from that which is in harmony with his own nature, and, therefore, able adequately to sympathise with him in thought and interests. It is not identity, but harmony, of character which is suggested. The word “help” in the Hebrew is ‘êzer, the same as is found in Ebenezer (1 Samuel 7:12): LXX βοηθόν: Lat. adjutorium.

“Meet for him” is lit. “as over against him.” LXX κατʼ αὐτόν, Vulg. simile sibi.

Observe that the versions have “let us make,” LXX ποιήσωμεν, Lat. faciamus, in imitation of Genesis 1:26, but inaccurately.

And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
19. And out of the ground] The animals also (LXX adds ἔτι; so also Sam.) are “formed,” or “moulded,” out of the ground, like man: see Genesis 2:7. They are brought into man’s presence to see whether they could be the needed help to him. Only the beasts of the field and the birds are mentioned in this account.

to see what he would call them] The names which man will give them will determine their use and position in reference to man’s own nature. Their names would reflect the impression produced on the man’s mind. A “name,” in the estimation of the Hebrew, conveyed the idea of personality and character. It was more than a mere label. The animals, in this account, are created after man, and in definite relation to him; an entirely different representation from that in ch. 1.

And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
20. the man gave names] We have here the exercise of man’s powers of discrimination and classification. This is the birth of science. Man’s first use of speech is in the naming of animals. The names describe their character or appearance. From the instance given in Genesis 2:23 of a name thus applied, it is clear that primaeval man was supposed to speak in the Hebrew language.

but for man] From this clause it appears, as indeed is shewn by Genesis 2:18-19, that the animals on being formed were brought to the man, in order that, if it were possible, some amongst them might be the help that his nature needed. The passage implies that the nature of the animals had a kinship with that of man; but, while full of sympathy with the animal world, it implies that companionship, in the truest sense, was not to be found by man in creatures destitute of the higher prerogatives of human nature. “An help meet for man” must be on a level with him in feeling, in intellect, and reason.

for man] Not, as R.V. marg., for Adam. We should undoubtedly here read “for the man” (lâ’âdâm) in accordance with the general usage in this section. The LXX introduces the proper name at Genesis 2:16, Lat. Vulg. at Genesis 2:19 : both ignore the definite article here and in Genesis 2:21-23.

And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
21. deep sleep] The word is used in Genesis 15:12, 1 Samuel 26:12, Isaiah 29:10 indicating a mysterious heavy sleep sent by God. Heb. tardêmah, LXX (ἔκστασις, Lat. sopor. The mystery of Divine working is thus hidden from man’s perceptions.

one of his ribs] Symbolizing the closeness and intimacy of the relation between the sexes. Woman, formed from the side of man, is to be the “help meet for him.” As his own flesh, he is to watch over and protect the woman. The story is a parable interpreting the instinct of love.

It is man’s description, respecting the origin of woman, as of one made for man, after man, and subordinate to him. The “rib” is mentioned presumably, because “ribs” are comparatively numerous, and it was thought that one could be spared without structural loss.

21–22. The Creation of Woman

The description in these verses is remarkable for its delicacy and beauty. Nothing could be more clear than that we are dealing with the poetry of symbolism, not with the record of literal fact.

And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
22. made he] Heb. “builded He,” so LXX ᾠκοδόμησεν, Lat. aedificavit: a different word from that in Genesis 2:7-19.

And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
23. This is now, &c.] The exclamation of joy and wonder is expressed in the rhythmical language of poetry. It is as if the man, after passing in review the animals, recognizes instantaneously in woman the fulfilment of his hope. “This is now” is equivalent to “here at last”; the German “Diese endlich.”

bone of my bones] A strong metaphorical phrase to denote that the woman is different from all the animals, and is absolutely one with the man. For similar expressions used of near relationship, compare Genesis 29:14, Genesis 37:27; Jdg 9:2; 2 Samuel 5:1; 2 Samuel 19:12-13; 1 Chronicles 11:1. This proverbial expression may have furnished the symbolism of the story.

she shall be called, &c.] The marg. by pointing out that the Hebrew for “woman” is Isshah, and for “man” Ish, shews the resemblance in the sound of the two words. This is fairly reproduced in the English words “Woman” and “Man”; and in Luther’s rendering “Männin” and “Mann.” The LXX is unable to reproduce it. The Latin attempts it with questionable success, haec vocabitur virago, quoniam de viro sumpta est.

Instead of “from man.” mê-ish. LXX and Targ. read “from her husband” = mê-ishâh, which adds to the resemblance in sound.

As a matter of philology the derivation is inaccurate. Probably Isshah is derived from a different root, anash. But nearly all these popular derivations of words prove to be inaccurate when judged by scientific etymology. They are based upon the assonance, or obvious resemblance in sound; and this, while it cannot fail to catch the ear and cling to the recollection of the people, is notoriously to be distrusted for supplying the real derivation.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
24. Therefore shall a man, &c.] This verse contains the comment which the narrator makes upon the words of the man in Genesis 2:23. The word “therefore” introduces his inference. As in Genesis 10:9, Genesis 26:33, Genesis 32:32, a sentence beginning with “therefore” supplies the application, or relation, of the ancient narrative to later times. It is the man who is to leave “father and mother,” not “the woman.” Some compare the story in Jdg 15:1, where the woman remains with her family or clan, and Samson comes to live with her. This feature has been thought to illustrate the primitive usage of “the matriarchate.” But it is unlikely that the Hebrew narrative would contain a reference to such conditions.

Instead of “shall leave,” the full force of the tense in the Hebrew would be given by “doth leave” and “cleaveth.” The sanctity of marital relations is thus referred back to the very birthday of human society, being based on a principle laid down before the Fall.

The relation of the man to his wife is proclaimed to be closer than that to his father and mother. By the words, “shall cleave unto his wife … one flesh,” is asserted the sanctity of marriage. Polygamy is not definitely excluded; but the principle of monogamy seems to be implied in the words “cleave” and “shall be one flesh”: and this principle is upheld by the prophets as the ideal of marriage, in their representation of the relation of Jehovah and Israel under the metaphor of the married state.

This is the classical passage dealing with marriage to which our Lord appeals, Matthew 19:4-6, Mark 10:6-8, in His argument against divorce.

St Paul quotes it in 1 Corinthians 6:16, in condemnation of unchastity, and in Ephesians 5:31, when describing the ideal relationships of Christ and His Church.

and they shall be one flesh] Lit., as LXX καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν, Lat. erunt duo in carne una, where the addition of “the two” is supported by the Syriac Peshitto, the Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan, and the quotations in the N.T., Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:8; 1 Corinthians 6:16.

And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
25. This verse by one simple illustration describes the condition of the man and the woman in the garden. It is not that of moral perfection, but that of the innocence and ignorance of childhood. The untried innocence of the child does not possess the sense of shame: the depravity of vice forfeits it. The sense of shame is the shadow which temptation to sin throws across the pathway of purity.


The Book of Genesis contains two Cosmogonies: (1) the earlier and simpler one, that of Genesis 2:4 b–25 J, (2) the later and more systematic one, that of Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4 a P.

(1) The distinctive features of the earlier one suggest a scene familiar to dwellers in the desert. The earth is barren and dry: there is as yet no rain to make it fruitful, no man to till it (Genesis 2:5). A stream1[5] issues “from the earth”; it irrigates “the whole face of the ground” (Genesis 2:6). Jehovah forms “man” out of the dust, and breathes life into him (Genesis 2:7). He causes him to dwell in a garden of rich soil and fruitful trees (Genesis 2:8-17). He forms “the beasts of the field” and “the fowls of the air” to be man’s companions (Genesis 2:18-20). But they give no true companionship: and Jehovah, casting “man” into a deep sleep, takes out of him a rib, and forms “woman” to be man’s companion (Genesis 2:21-25).

[5] “Stream”: R.V. “mist.” See note in loc.

The process of formation is orderly: (1) dry earth, (2) water, (3) man, (4) vegetation, (5) animals, (6) woman. Jehovah is the maker of all. Man is, in all, the object of Jehovah’s care and solicitude. The scene of the garden is that of an oasis teeming with life and vegetation.

(2) The later and more elaborate Cosmogony (Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4 a) is, undoubtedly, ultimately derived from the alluvial region of Babylonia. At the first, there is a primordial watery chaos, over which “broods” the quickening “spirit of God” (Genesis 2:2). Then ensue six days of Creation. On the first, God creates the light, causing day and night (Genesis 2:3). On the second, He “makes” the “firmament, or solid expanse of heaven, which parts asunder the waters above and the waters below (Genesis 2:7). On the third day, God collects the lower waters into seas, and makes the earth appear, and clothes it with vegetation (Genesis 2:9-13). On the fourth day, He makes the sun, moon, and stars; and “sets” them in the “firmament,” to rule over the day and the night (Genesis 2:14-19). On the fifth day, He causes the water and the air to bring forth water-animals and winged things (Genesis 2:20-23). On the sixth day, God “makes” the animals of the earth; and, finally, “creates” man, “male and female,” “in the image of God” (Genesis 2:24-25).

In this Cosmogony there are certain points of resemblance to the Babylonian Cosmogony contained in the Seven Tables of Creation, in which Marduk, the god of light, overthrows Tiamat, the dragon-goddess of the watery chaos, sets up the luminaries of heaven, and makes Man 1:2[6]. The following table, taken from Gordon’s Early Traditions of Genesis (p. 51), will shew all the chief points of resemblance, and will also make it clear that the Biblical story is not a mere reproduction of the Babylonian myth.

[6] See Appendix A (book comments).

Genesis 1.  Seven Tables.

i. The emergence of light (Genesis 1:3 f.).  i.  The appearance of Marduk, god of light (ii. 97).

ii. The division of primaeval chaos into heaven and earth (Genesis 1:6 ff.).    ii.  The splitting in two of Tiamat, to form heaven and earth (iv. 135 ff.; cf. Berosus)1[7].

[7] See Appendix A (book comments).

iii.  The growth of herbs and trees from earth (Genesis 1:11 f.).  iii.  The setting up of the sun, moon, and stars in heaven, as images of the great gods, to “rule” the day and night, and determine the seasons (Genesis 2:1 ff.).

iv.  The placing of the sun, moon, and stars in the firmament of heaven, to “rule” the day and night, and to serve as “signs” of seasons, &c. (Genesis 1:14 ff.).    iv.  The creation of plants (not found in our present text, but evidently an original element of the Epos—prob. in Tab. v., after the setting up of the heavenly bodies) (cf. vii. 1 f., 21 ff.).

v.  The creation of the animals (Genesis 1:20 ff.).    v.  Creation of the animals (also missing from our present text, but authenticated by Berosus—its place also, probably, in Tab. v., after creation of plants).

vi.  The creation of man in God’s image (Genesis 1:26 ff.).  vi.  Creation of man from Marduk’s blood mixed with earth (Tab. vi. 5 ff.; cf. vii. 29, and Berosus).

It will be observed that, except for the exchange in the position of the creation of the plant world and the heavenly bodies, the same general order is followed. In the details of the account, the division of the waters above and below the firmament seems to correspond closely to the cleaving of Tiamat into two pieces, to form the heaven and the earth; and the setting of the heavenly bodies as “signs,” for the determining of seasons, days, and years, and for ruling the day and night, presents a feature of striking similarity to the Babylonian story.

The Genesis Cosmogony has dispensed with the grotesque and often unlovely and confusing details of the Babylonian mythology. For example, whereas man is made out of the compound of Marduk’s blood and the dust of the earth, the truth, which underlies this crude representation, is stated by the Hebrew writer in the simple words, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).

The two main ideas that run through this Hebrew Cosmogony are:

(1) God is the One Almighty Creative Power; whether calling into being light (Genesis 1:3), the firmament (Genesis 1:6-7), the heavenly bodies (Genesis 1:16-17), and man (Genesis 1:27), or causing vegetation to come forth from the earth (Genesis 1:11-12), fish from the water (Genesis 1:20-21), animals from the earth (Genesis 1:24-25).

(2) The sequence in the creative acts is an orderly ascent from one stage to another, progressing from amorphous chaos to man as the crown of creation. At first, there is darkness and watery mass. Light displaces darkness; a solid dome of heaven separates the waters; the waters are collected; earth emerges, and out of the earth vegetation; the heavenly bodies are bearers of light; the waters and the air produce their living creatures; and, lastly, the earth produces the beasts; and, to crown the whole work, God creates man.

It is progress from chaos to order; from elemental to complex; from inorganic to organic; from lifeless matter to vegetable; from vegetable to animal, and, finally, to human life.

The Six Days

The most distinctive feature in the Hebrew Cosmogony of Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4 a is the scheme of Six Days Creation. The orderly arrangement of chronological material is characteristic of the style of P. The stages of the Divine Creative work lent themselves to be distributed over Six Days. But, according to the religious thought of the devout Israelite, the Seventh Day must from the first have been a day of rest, and the Divine example alone could have communicated to the observance of the Sabbath its supreme seal of sanctity.

It is noteworthy that the only two passages in the Old Testament in which reference is made to the “six days work” of Creation, are Exodus 20:11; Exodus 31:17, both of which are probably based upon P’s narrative. (See Commentaries by McNeile and Driver, in loc.) The Six Days Creation, followed by the Seventh Day of Rest, are distinctively Israelite and not Babylonian features. There is nothing corresponding to them in the Babylonian myth. The Seven Tables of Creation are not arranged in any sequence of days.

The Creative works of the Six Days have been classified in different ways.

(1) Thomas Aquinas divided them into three “opera distinctionis” and three “opera ornatus.”

Opera distinctionis.  Opera ornatus.

1st Day.  Light.  4th Day.  Heavenly Bodies.

2nd Day.  The Firmament.  5th Day.  Fishes and Birds.

3rd Day.  Sea, Land, and Vegetation.  6th Day.  Cattle, Beasts, and Man.

(2) Many modern scholars, e.g. Wellhausen and Gunkel, suggest that the Cosmogony originally told of eight creative works, and that these have been arranged in P’s scheme of “six days”:

Elements.  Inhabitants.

1.  Light.  5.  Luminaries.

2.  Heaven.  6.  Fishes.

3.  Sea.  7.  Birds.

4.  Vegetation.  8.  Animals and Man.

(3) The endeavour to find any exact symmetry of parallelism between the works of the first three days and the works of the second three days must be abandoned. Roughly speaking, it may suffice to say, to quote Driver, that “the first three days are days of preparation, the next three are days of accomplishment.” But the following facts are noteworthy. (a) Each group of three days contains four creative acts: (b) the third day, in each group, has two creative acts assigned to it: (c) the creation of light on the first day has corresponding to it on the fourth day the creation of the “light-bearers,” or heavenly bodies: (d) the separation of the waters, on the second day, by the making of the firmament, seems to correspond with the creation, on the fifth, of the creatures of the sea and of the fowls “that fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven” (Genesis 1:20): (e) whereas, on the third day, the dry land appears, and vegetable life is made, it is on the sixth day that the animals of the earth, and man, are created; while the herbs, grasses, and fruits of the third day’s creation are the appointed food (Genesis 1:30), both of animals and of mankind.

1st Day.  Light.

2nd Day.  The Firmament, separating between the waters above and below.

3rd Day.  (a) Formation of the Sea and the Earth, and (b) of the Vegetable World.

4th Day.  Heavenly Bodies.

5th Day.  Fowls of the Air, and Water Animals.

6th Day.  (a) Animals of the Earth, (b) Mankind.

The Cosmogonies and Science and Religion

Every Cosmogony expresses, under the form of imagery, the childlike answers of a people in its earliest phases of civilization to the questionings of the human mind as to the origin of the world and of life. No Cosmogony, therefore, can be expected to give any but naïve, crude, and simple explanations of the deep mysteries of the universe.

The Biblical Cosmogonies only differ from other Cosmogonies in this respect. They reproduce the early beliefs of the Israelite people respecting the Origin of the World and of the Human Race in the form of narrative which, however simple and childlike, is devoid of any taint of polytheism or degrading superstition, and is capable of conveying the profoundest truths respecting God, the Universe, and Mankind.

Unquestionably, they present to us the physical science of their age. And, by comparison with other Cosmogonies, the statement, contained in the first two chapters of Genesis, surpasses in dignity, lucidity, and simplicity that which is to be found in any other ancient literature. It is no exaggeration to say that the picture, which the first chapter of Genesis presents of the orderly progress out of primordial chaos, and of the successive stages in the creation of vegetation, fishes, birds, mammals, and man, is unrivalled for its combination of simplicity, grandeur, and truth. It contains, in principle, though, of course, without exactitude in detail, the thought which is contained in the modern idea of evolution.

Judged by the standards of modern knowledge, the Cosmogonies of Genesis are wholly defective. They present to us pictures, accounting for the origin of things, which vividly corresponded with the Semitic thought of their age and country, but which from the point of view of science are devoid of any value.

For instance, in Genesis 2, the formation of man out of the dust of the earth, and of woman out of man’s rib, is the symbolism of primitive legend, not actual fact.

In Genesis 1, the conception of the universe, as in the O.T. generally, is geocentric. The sun, moon and stars are formed after the earth, and attached to the “firmament.” The “firmament” of the heaven is a solid dome above which are vast reservoirs of water. The vegetation of the earth appears before the formation of the sun. “Six Days” account for the origin of the whole universe. Two days are assigned for the formation of all forms of animal life and of mankind.

These are ideas which, however beautifully expressed, belong to the childhood of the enquiring thought of mankind. They have had their value in helping to supply the science of the Christian world in pre-scientific days. In this respect they have served their time. We derive our knowledge of the structure of the globe, of the universe, of the stars, of the succession of animal life, of the antiquity of man, not from these two chapters of Genesis, but from the continually progressive teaching of modern science. Modern science is based upon the skilled and minute observations of men of genius and highly trained intellect. The astronomical discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton, reinforced by the philosophical teaching of Bacon’s Novum Organon, have revolutionized the natural sciences. The pre-Copernican conception of the universe has passed for ever away.

It is to be remembered that to the Israelite writers “the realm of natural sciences,” as we call them, had no existence. The universe had come into being by the Will of God. The phenomena of Nature were the manifestations of His handiwork. God was the immediate fashioner of all from the beginning. The religion of Jehovah had chased away the Nature Deities of the heathen nations. The Spirit of God is the source of all life: every law of Nature is the direct fulfilment of Divine command. To the Israelite writer “religion” and “science” are one. The gaps in human knowledge are filled up with the poetry of primitive imagination; but this is never allowed to conflict with the pure monotheism of Israel. Neither the world, nor any creature, nor the heavenly bodies, are identified with the Divine Being. Nothing in the universe has any existence save through the Will of God. There is no independent, no hostile, deity. God has willed and made all; and, therefore, He is able to pronounce all to be “very good.” The Hebrew Cosmogonies testify to a God who is not only omnipotent, but whose works proclaim His praise as the God of order, of progress, and of love.

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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