Genesis 2:6-7 — Yahweh Molds an Earthling!

In Genesis 2:5 we saw that the author of this creation story could not have Yahweh create the earth’s vegetation until the two initial conditions necessary for their existence and growth were first established—a water source and a man.

Thus the dry, barren earth that we were presented with in verse 5—one that was unable to support produce and vegetation—is immediately transformed in the following verses with the appearance of a mist that rises up from the earth in verse 6, thus providing irrigation, and the formation of the man in verse 7, thus providing the labor needed to work the field’s produce.

But a mist (’ed) went up from the earth and watered all the face of the ground, and god Yahweh molded (yatsar) the man (ha ’adam), clay from the ground (ha ’adamah), and blew into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being (nephesh hayah). (Gen 2:6-7)

The two initial conditions needed for the creation of plants are in these verses now contended with: a water source and a man. It is only now that this narrative can present the creation of plants and this specifically takes the form of the planting of the garden of Eden. Thus every tree and produce pleasant to the sight and good for eating in this garden has both its water source to fertilize them (vv. 10-14) and the man “to till it” (v. 15).

Man’s creation, its chronological placement in the narrative, the manner through which he is created and the reason why, the fact that only a man in the singular is created, and the elemental material from which he is created are all vastly different from man’s (and woman’s) creation as it was presented in the first creation account. And as we saw in the case of the first creation account, so too here: this account of man’s creation was shaped by the cultural concerns, worldview, and beliefs of its author.

Man’s relationship to the ground is the central and predominant theme in this second creation account and it is presented in several ways. Right down to the creation of his very bones, man is defined in relationship to and in the same terms as the ground! This is not only vastly different from the views and beliefs of our first author, but completely negates and contradicts them. From the perspective of the culture that shaped our present author’s attitudes and perceptions about man, the creation of man could not have been drafted in any other way than by presenting him as a creature of the soil, a thing of the earth, an earthling in a very literal sense. This is brought out in several different ways.

First, verse 5 already foreshadows the conclusion of this etiological tale explaining how it came about that man must procure his livelihood by working the ground by initially referring to the absence of man in relationship to the absence of the earth’s produce. In other words, before the creation of man himself, the author of this text has already subtly suggested that the ground, its produce, and man are all intimately connected together.

Second, unlike the author of our first creation account, this author utilizes a new and different vocabulary for speaking about the earth or the ground—in Hebrew ’adamah. Obviously the introduction of this term fits this author’s purpose in presenting man (’adam) as a product of the earth (’adamah).

By contrast, of the 97 times that the term ’adamah appears in the Pentateuch alone, only 4 of these are found in the Priestly source! Moreover this author, the priest who penned Genesis 1, only uses the term as part of one unique expression, which we do indeed find in this author’s creation account, as well as this same author’s flood narrative—“every creeping thing of the ground (ha’ adamah)” (Gen 1:25, 7:8, 9:2; Lev 20:25). Thus not only does our second author, the Yahwist, introduce a new vocabulary word into his narrative for the purpose of defining man’s essence, but he also employs this term in a different sense than that used and understood by our first author. Again such differences should not be neglected; they are more than differences of word choice. They reflect differences in cultural perspectives, views, and even ideologies.

Third, in drastically different terms and imagination, cultural context and perspective, the author of this creation account portrays the man, Adam, being formed or molded (yatsar) from the ground (’adamah). Again, this is not just a difference in word choice, but a complete about-face in cultural and religious perceptions and ideas from those presented in the first creation narrative. Not only is man (and woman) not formed, molded, or crafted in the first creation account and presumably by Yahweh’s hands, but the verb yatsar is never found in anything that the author of the first creation, the Priestly writer, has ever written! It is an older term and one that was frequently used in the prophetic literature to speak of Yahweh as a potter who fashioned man, the clay of the earth, with his hands like a potter forms objects on his wheel (Is 45:9, 64:8; Jer 18:4-6). So both the word and what the word denotes are utterly absent in the first creation account.

Lastly, the very fact that the author of this second creation account, and only this author, depicts man (’adam) being molded from the ground (’adamah) represents this author’s unique views and beliefs—that man was not only created from the ground, but his very essence or being, is defined both linguistically and substantively by the very same term and material as the ground! Man is in essence and in language of the ground. This is more than a simple pun on words for our author. Rather it helps to define man as intricately and essentially of the ground. It explains, in fanciful terms, the origin behind this author’s cultural truth—why man must procure his livelihood by working the ground (’adamah), and at that a cursed ground (Gen 2:5, 15; 3:17, 23).

In conclusion, none of these themes, ideas, and culturally formed beliefs about man, and only man, are presented in the first creation account nor the mind of its author. They are unique to the second creation account and the aims and views of this author only. In fact, as I stressed earlier (Gen 1:24-27), the author of the first creation account distances the creation of man and woman from the earth, the animals of the earth, and the manner in which the animals of the earth are created. By contrast, the author of the second creation narrative explicitly and purposefully presents the fashioning of man (’adam), and only man, in relationship to the earth (’adamah), and, as we shall see, also in relationship to the fashioning of the animals.

Could the Priestly writer’s presentation of the creation of man and woman together, male and female in the image and likeness of the gods, and apart from any etiological understanding of man only as a thing of the earth and defined in essence as of the earth, be an explicit attempt to rewrite this older Yahiwst creation story?

Finally, and again, contradictory to the first creation narrative, the author of the second account has a very specific reason for not presenting the creation of woman with that of man. And this has to do with this author’s interest in etiology, wordplay, and how he or his culture perceived the essential natures of man and woman separately. For the fact is, for this author, that the origin of woman, unlike that of man (and his animal companions), is not of the soil! As we shall see, contrary to the author of Genesis 1:1-2:3, this author was writing an etiological tale with the express goal of representing and explaining the unique origins of man and woman, separately!

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