There are several differences that are immediately noticeable in the opening verse (Gen 2:4b) of this second creation account. A literal translation runs: “In the day that god Yahweh made earth and skies…”
We immediately notice that the creator deity is now specified by name, Yahweh. This feature is unique to both this creation account and the textual tradition to which it belongs, unceremoniously named the Yahwist. This source (J) earns its name because its author consistently uses the name of Israel’s deity, Yahweh, throughout his composition. Even though the divine name appears approximately 1,800 times in the Pentateuch alone, the other Pentateuchal sources (Elohist, Deuteronomist, and Priestly) restrain from using the name Yahweh prior to its revelation to Moses in Exodus. Only the Yahwist text, in other words, affirms and acknowledges contrary to the other sources that the name Yahweh was known to, and frequently invoked by, the patriarchs prior to its revelation. It is for this reason that the Yahwist tradition does not narrate a revelation of the divine name. According to this tradition, it was known right from the first generation of mortals (Gen 4:26).
As previously discussed, the specific use of the god of Israel’s name throughout this textual tradition is really the least significant of the differences between the first creation account’s portrait of God and that of the second account. More dramatic is the stark anthropomorphism that this scribe uses in presenting Yahweh. In Genesis 2:4b-3:24 Yahweh is depicted forming man from the dust of the earth, breathing into the man’s nostrils, planting a garden, placing the man in the garden, forming animals from the ground, building a woman from the man’s rib, walking in the garden, speaking to his creation, and finally making skins of garments for the human pair. This type of anthropomorphism, that is presenting a deity in human terms, is only found in the Yahwist tradition and for the most part attests to its antiquity.
But this textual tradition’s anthropomorphism goes even further than this. Yahweh is often depicted talking to himself, repenting, relenting, grieving, and raging with anger on numerable incidences. He talks face-to-face with the patriarchs, walks side-by-side with them, and even eats with Abraham on one occasion. More surprisingly, this tradition displays no indication that this conception of the god was problematic. Certainly the anthropomorphism of the Yahwist tradition becomes problematic for later scribes, who either blatantly disagreed with this author’s portrait of Israel’s god or understood the godhead on a higher theological plane. The later Deuteronomist, for example, puts forth a conception of Yahweh that is without form; no image can be formed of him, and he only communicates to mortals as a formless voice from the heavens. Likewise, it has been argued that one of the reasons that the later Priestly tradition rewrote the creation story was to rectify or replace the anthropomorphic depiction of Yahweh in the older Yahwist account with a more majestic, impersonal, and certainly less anthropomorphic portrait of Israel’s god. The Priestly source rarely if ever presents Yahweh in the anthropomorphic manner adopted by the earlier Yahwist scribe.
Another immediately observable point of conflict between the opening statement of this second creation account and Genesis 1:1-2:3 is the time referent “in the day.” For in the first creation account, God does not create the earth and the skies on the same day. In fact, the first creation account tells us that the skies, the domed barrier or raqi‘a, was created on the second day, and earth, that is dry land, emerged from the waters below on the third day. Furthermore, contrary to the claims of Genesis 2:4b-7, man was not created on any of the days on which the earth and the skies were created. According to the first creation account, the days on which God created the earth (day 3) and the skies (day 2) come and go without the creation of man (day 6)!
It would be incorrect to regard the temporal referent “in the day” in Genesis 2:4b as a general abstract statement, particularly if one falsely assumed similar authorship for these two creation accounts. For not only does this time referent, “in the day,” clash with the previous account’s symmetry and chronology, but more significantly the temporal referent of Gen 2:4b does not reflect the same precision and formulaic presentation of the chronology of creation so emphatically and carefully laid out throughout Genesis 1:1-2:3. This is because the same author did not write this verse!
In other words, the orderly, formulaic, and precise use of both language, themes, and the chronology of creation so ritualistically accentuated throughout the entirety of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is simply abandoned and negated—when erroneously assuming the same author—by the imprecise, incorrect, or even abstract temporal reference of verse 2:4b concerning which day(s) god Yahweh created “earth and skies.” Again, this is because verse 2:4b and the story that follows was penned by a different scribe! Contrary to the fist creation account with its temporal precision, the second creation account merely commenced: “In the day that god Yahweh made earth and skies…”
Finally, according to this second creation account, earth, the skies, man, plants, animals, and lastly woman were all created on one day: “in the day that god Yahweh made earth and skies,” he also formed man, then apparently plants, animals, and lastly woman. This radically contradicts all of Genesis 1:1-2:3 on thematic, stylistic, and even theological grounds! The subsequent creation of each one of these life forms in the second creation account—man, plants, animals, and woman—is chronologically dissimilar and utterly contradictory to the presentation, order, and manner in which the creation of each one of these life forms is presented in the first creation account. In sum, these differences are not the mark of the same author, but rather a textual indication that another whole creation narrative begins here, one that furthermore commences by claiming, contrary to the narrative of Genesis 1:1-2:3, that neither man, vegetation, nor animals have yet been created! Genesis 2:4b therefore sets the scene, both thematically and stylistically, for a second creation account, one which commenced: “In the day that god Yahweh made earth and skies…”
Besides differences in the treatment of thematic material, Genesis 2:4b also reveals the hand of a different author on stylistic and linguistic grounds. The verb choice of 2:4b evidences the mindset of a different author. In this verse, the author chooses the general verb “to make,” in Hebrew ’asah. Although we find the verb ’asah also employed in the first creation account, and specifically in reference to the making of the firmament, the verb of choice for the author of the first creation account in expressing God’s creative act is bara’, “to create.” In fact this is the verb this author consciously chooses for his opening verse: “In the beginning when God created (bara’) the skies and the earth…”
Its meaning, moreover, is quite different from that of ’asah, which simply means to make. Bara’ denotes a creative act which brings something into existence by means of separating or dividing it out. Thus in the first creation account, the creator deity creates (bara’) earth by separating it out from the waters below and converting it into dry habitable land, and the skies by separating the original primordial water mass into two. Thus, the use of the verb ’asah in Gen 2:4b not only marks a linguistic difference, but it also displays the mindset of a different author who conceived creation in different terms from those employed by the author of the first creation account. Simply put, the author of Genesis 1:1 would not have used—I would argue consciously avoided using—’asah for his opening statement. It would have been an ill-conceived choice for this author.
Conversely, the author of Genesis 2:4b-25 never uses the verb bara’! This especially holds true for this author’s presentation of the creation, or rather fabrication, of man. Again, this is not just a difference in verb choice, but a larger difference revealing how each one of our authors conceived and imagined the deity’s creative act. More on this below.
Another stylistic difference noticeable in the Hebrew of verse 2:4b which also evidences the mark of a different scribal hand is the absence of the Hebrew particle ’eth which is an untranslated particle used after a verb to mark a direct object in the accusative case. It is not translated in English since its purpose is just to indicate the direct object. Thus Genesis 1:1 in the Hebrew is: bara’ ’elohim ’eth hashamayim we’eth ha’aretz—literally, “God created the skies and the earth.” The two ’eth’s are not translated; they serve merely to mark the direct object of the verb: “the skies” (ha shamayim) and “the earth” (ha ’aretz). But Genesis 2:4b is stylistically quite different.
Besides its different verb choice, both the tone and style of the Hebrew of 2:4b is drastically different from its counterpart in verse 1:1. In the Hebrew of 2:4b not only is ’eth not employed, but neither is the demonstrative article ha, “the.” Here is the Hebrew of Genesis 2:4b: ‘asôt yahweh ’elohim ’eretz weshamayim—literally, “God Yahweh made earth and skies.” The conscious choice to avoid the use of ’eth and the article ha in Genesis 2:4b most likely reflects this author’s desire to express a more poetic, even archaic, style: ’eth was rarely used in poetry. Conversely, the author who penned Genesis 1:1 does not, and would not have, written his Hebrew in this manner, that is without using the direct object marker ’eth, and without the use of the demonstrative article, ha. There is also the added difference that the order is inverted between these two verses—“the heavens and the earth” and “earth and heavens”—which on its own might not mean anything, but together with the differences reviewed above is a further indication of another author’s hand.
In other words, the Hebrew of Genesis 2:4b, and in fact the Hebrew of all of the second creation account, evidences a more poetic style and tone, and has a more storyteller feel to it. The Hebrew of Genesis 1:1-2:3, on the other hand, evidences the hand of an educated elite scribal guild. It is no surprise then to learn that the first creation account was written by a 6th century BCE elite priestly guild at a time when Israel was a temple-state; while the second creation account was written by a secular scribe, a storyteller from the days of old. These different social groups are reflected in the style and tone of the Hebrew.
The textual data is overwhelming thus far and we’ve only looked at the first five words of Genesis 2:4b-3:24’s story! The data convincingly demonstrate, and will further corroborate, that this creation account, a second account, was written by a different author, whose Hebrew, vocabulary, portrait of Israel’s deity, and conception and ideas about the creation of the world and mankind were all vastly different from, and in many ways contrary to, those of the author who penned the first creation account.
People who try to harmonize these differences away are just not being honest to the texts and their individual authors, and more severely have placed their own beliefs about the texts above the texts themselves, what the texts themselves say, and the views and beliefs of their independent authors.