Six Differences between Two Creation Stories in Genesis

Mark Roncace and Joseph Weaver (eds.), Global Perspectives on the Bible, Upper Saddle River, NJ: 2013, pp. 7-9  Meir Bar-Ilan


It has been well known for centuries that Gen 1-3 contains two different stories: Gen. 1:1-2:3 and Gen. 2:4-3:24. Originally scholars stressed the fact that in the first story the deity is named Elohim (God), while in the second story he is called Yahaweh-Elohim (Lord God). While there is no need to underestimate this difference, it should be noted that the change of the divine names is not essential, but rather technical (just like the difference in the number of Hebrew words: 469 in the first story vs. 640 in the second). The aim of this paper, therefore, is to analyze the essential differences between the two stories. There are six such differences:

1. The Aim of the Stories

In the first account there is only one protagonist: God. Given that his deeds are so tremendous, with no precedent, it is clear that the aim of the first story is to glorify God (as creator). However, in the second story there are several protagonists: each of them is doing or saying something in his/her turn. The bottom line of this second story is that man has to toil hard for his living, woman suffers, and wild animals threatening man existence. That is, it is an etiological story, explaining the destiny of human beings, why the world is the way that it is. The differences between the stories become evident by looking at statistics of words and their dispersion. In the first story man appears after 317 words (63% of the text), and he is mentioned in 102 words, that is 20% only. However, in the second story man is mentioned after 29 words (4% of the text) and he takes up more than 80% of the text. In short, one story is God-oriented while the other is man-oriented.

2. Time versus Space

Time governs the first story (day one, day two, and so forth). Moreover, the luminaries were created to enable man to reckon times (not for warming or ripening fruits, for example). There are different types of times: linear (verses 1-7), cyclical (evening, morning), secular time of the working days and the holy time (day seven), a “quality-time” according religious perspective, not a social one. Other than God himself, time governs the world, and there is no specific space. The other story is by contrast space oriented (with the exception of the first line of the account). The narrator depicts the Garden of Eden, the venue of the story, by giving it geographical dimension aided by four rivers (and lands). Moreover the importance of the location is augmented by the fact that man is expelled from his congenital territory, marking the importance of realm in one’s life. While holy times mark the life of religious person, territory marks the more mundane man (that ignore God’s ruling).

3. The Power of the Word

In the first story the word of God is His tool to create the world. The power of speech is evident. Speech is a divine tool that preexisted the world. Names that were given by God to His deeds, such as day or sky, marked the end of their creation. With this power of the word God blessed His creatures—fish, fowl, man and the seventh day—showing that the existence of the world is word dependent. And only God speaks. Unlike the first story, in the second God does not use his speech ability as a tool of creation; rather man uses it to impose his own supremacy. The word has no divine merit and God brings forward the animals to man waiting for man to name them. In other words, the first story implies that language is divine, denoting it is part of the creation, while in the second story language is a man-created phenomenon.

4. Order and Law

The first story is marked by the order of numbers 1, 2, 3, etc., coming to its culmination in the seventh day. Order is also implied in the creation of the luminaries and stars, as in the “rules of Heaven” (Jer. 33:25; Job 38:33), and in the “laws” necessary for creation (Prov. 8:27-29). So although the terms ‘law’ and ‘order’ do not appear in the first story, it is clear they were there from the very beginning. Stars have laws and order and God, their Creator, is not only the Lord of Time but He is also the Lord of Order. However, in the second story there is no order (even not implied) and there is no law. As a matter of fact, God decreed a law (not to eat from the Tree) but after a short while this law is transgressed and chaos seems to dominate the world. In brief, God goes together with time and order, while man goes together with space and disorder.

5. The Role of Numbers

In the first story numbers are the spine of the story and their appearance at the end of each passage denote the tempo, or dynamics, of the story. In the first story there are 469 words and among them there are 10 number-words, in this order: 1 2 3 2 4 5 6 7 7 7. That is, the percentage of number-words in the text is 2.016. In the second story, there are 640 words and only 6 are number-words (4 1 2 3 4 1), which means a percentage of 0.937. This difference in the use of numbers, part of what modern scholars call “stylometry,” reflects attitude towards science (and order). While God did not create numbers, He did something to them: He bestowed quality on quantity. The number 7 is related to God as well as to blessing and non-activity, which exemplifies holiness. Thus the number 7 was transferred from being quantity only to become a symbol of quality. The number 7 accompanies God from primordial till the end of times; 7 means divine.

6. Sermon versus Story

The structure of the two stories is very different. The first story is full of formula. Each and every passage begins and ends with formula, (and God said, let there be, and God saw that it was good, etc.). As a matter of fact, roughly 20% of the text is formulaic. Thus it has a clear, special, and “tight” structure. The second story, by contrast is “loose”— it has no specific structure (but like any story there is an exposition, a change and an end). Therefore, it is assumed that the first story originally began as a sermon, probably to mark a new year, while the second story was nothing but a story. The second story is the craft of a narrator, but the first one is a speech made by a speaker, a preacher (a priest and a prophet).