So in chapter 2, we shift stories. Now we have a story that is far older than the first chapter, and is regarded by scholars as the “Yahwist” creation story, and it focuses primarily on humans. The story is far more familiar than the first chapter is (the first few sentences notwithstanding), so we can be pretty brief.
Here, the deity is referred to as “YHWH Elohim”, and is translated in English as “LORD God”. YHWH is the ancient name for a Phoenician deity of the inhabitants of Canaan. We don’t know exactly how it was pronounced, but problably it is said as “Yahweh”. In the Canaanite religion, YHWH was a son of El, the Father of the Gods, and served as his cupbearer. His mother was Asherah, which is a term that remains in the Bible as “Asherah poles”, a devotional object.
Later on, the Hebrews took El, Adonai (a spring fertility god) and YHWH to be the same. In the Northern kingdom, it appears that Asherah was the consort of YHWH too. But that is only echoed in our present text, and it is clearly not what the Redactor thought was right and true.
So at first there was no rain, only water rising from the subterranean springs under the earth. The God forms the man from dust. This is not a spontaneous generation account, unlike the P text. Here, God is the craftsman, the potter. He adds breath (ruach) and the sculpture becomes a living being.
He then puts the man in a garden “in the east”, located very precisely in the Mesopotamian valley. However, it is not any place that now exists because there is no headwaters of four rivers in that region. One land, Havilah, is clearly a significant trading region when the text was written.
“The man” here is adam, which means “man”, and which sounds like adamah, for “dust”. Such puns were not a matter of low humour, but reflect the belief that the sound of words is significant and has deeper meaning than mere resemblance. It is a view that we find later in the modern (or relatively modern) Kabbalah. Words have power, and tell you about the nature of things. This is a view that we never really shook, despite the motto of the Royal Society, nullius in verba ([seek] nothing in words). The idea that knowledge lies in words not in evidence and science is at the heart of this text, as it is of pretty well all ancient texts until the Greek Enlightenment, and even then Aristotle appeared to think that true knowledge could be found in proper definitions of ordinary words, a process I call science by definition. Modern creationists think that the words of our text hold special knowledge, and take priority over experience and evidence.
So the adam is placed in the garden (a folk memory of foraging society in forests, perhaps? The region was heavily wooded until goats and logging made the modern landscape in what was then the “fertile” crescent). He’s alone, so YHWH Elohim brings all the previously made beasts and birds before the adam who names them – again with the power of words. By naming these animals, the adam has power over them. None of them are able to keep the adam company and serve as his helper, so YHWH Elohim removes part of the adam‘s ribs in a kind of early surgery (aside: I wonder if this was based on some folk medicine surgery – actual surgeries had been done for thousands of years, and surely some soporifics had been done. If so, this would make YHWH a divine surgeon). As nothing comes from nothing, YHWH has to use the prior material this way to form the first woman.
[This comment, which is rather illuminating, can be found on Wheat-dogg’s blog:
“The Hebrew name for Asherah was Ela, and later Hawah, which became Eve in English. In Genesis Eve was lured by the serpent to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and to convince Adam to do the same. El/YHWH was not pleased, and kicked them out of Paradise. Some scholars point to Eve?s subordinate place under Adam (and disobedience to YHWH) as a parallel to the early YHWHists? efforts to suppress worship of the goddess Asherah.”]
The story of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is a curious one. We’ll come back to it later. For now note that there appears to be no moral knowledge in either the woman or man. The story of the creation of the woman is used here as a justification of the power relations between men and women in marriage, but that is a social thing that applies in the RealWorld and need not detain us here.
What do we learn from this part of the J narrative? That humans began, it appears, with two individuals. This has enormous implications for genetics. It means either that all inherited variations occurred later, or it means that genetics is impossible. As we will see later on, this latter view is supported by comments made about inheritance of variation in the story of Joseph Jacob and his sheep, but we’ll get to that.
The origin of humanity is the literal “center of creation” (a term used in the early nineteenth century a lot). It is in the near east, not Africa. In fact it is where we now locate the origins of civilisation, and in particular, writing. This will be important when I finish up with my idiosyncratic opinion (hint, hint!).