Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The J Story

In this post I will examine the second creation story that begins in verse 2:4 and continues to the end of Chapter 3.

The first thing to note about this story that differentiates it from the E story is that the name of Deity has changed from the simple Elohim to the compound Yahweh Elohim. Yahweh of course is the Tetragrammaton, or four letters, that make up the sacred name of God, יהוה in Hebrew and is the source of the name Jehovah. Thus, I am calling this the J story. This story is the first usage of this divine name In the Bible. Throughout this story the name Elohim never appears alone as it did in the first story, but all actions here are performed by the compound Jehovah Elohim or LORD God as KJV translates it.

There is some dispute over exactly where the seam exists between the two stories. Robert Alter sees the first half of this verse 2:4 as the closing of the E story with its "the Heaven and the Earth" reflecting 1:1 and forming an envelope structure for the entire E story. I respectfully disagree with him and propose that 2:4 is a standard beginning to an origin story and similar wording exists in Gen 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 25:11, 36:1, 37:2. The wording is unique to Genesis within the Torah, however it does occur a few other times in the Hebrew Bible. I am not alone in my assessment as at some ancient point the scribes decided this was the spot for a new paragraph break in the text, represented in KJV as a pilcrow (¶). I think this makes a compelling argument for division of the stories at the beginning of the verse. However in favor of the other camp there is the fact that first part of the verse does reflect the word order of Gen 1:1 and does include the verb bara, which is a verb more exclusive to the E story. But these are the details scholars like to argue endlessly.
Now if you wanted to write a story that was totally the opposite of the E story, you would probably come up with something close to the J story. We start with a simple Chiasm. Perhaps considering our question about the seam between the two stories, this literary device is used here by the editor who joined them to form a sense of unity. Two halves of a whole:

These are the generations
Of the Heavens
And the Earth
When they were created
In the day Yahweh Elohim made
An earth
And a heaven
Note that the definite article gets dropped on the repetition. KJV does not accurately reflect that. Here we are going to have a different account with a different name for deity.
The style has also changed. I cannot say it better than Robert Alter:

"Now, after the grand choreography of resonant parallel utterances of the cosmogony, the style changes sharply. Instead of the symmetry of parataxis, hypotaxis is initially prominent: the second account begins with elaborate syntactical subordination in a long complex sentence that uncoils all the way from the second part of verse 4 to the end of verse 7."

Excerpt From: Alter, Robert. "The Five Books of Moses." W.W & Norton, 2004.

Sentences are much longer and more complex than the previous story and there is overall a very different feel in the narrative style.

Where before our welter and waste earth was filled with chaotic water, instead we have nothing but parched, dry ground. There are no plants because there is no rain and there is no man to plant them. The text says "there was no Adam to work the Adamah". The masculine Adam is rendered by KJV as "man" and the feminine of the same word is rendered as "soil". While KJV gets the literal sense of the sentence correct it looses the deep connection between man and the soil. Just as God is the Father of man, the Earth or soil is our mother. Where before we had a wind or spirit brooding, now we have a mist. Water has been transformed from a symbol of chaos and now is the symbol of life and fertility. Our parched ground has now turned to mud. Yahweh Elohim does not speak things into existence but actually gets his hands dirty. Here he molds and forms man, literally "the Adam", from the mud. He breathes directly into his nostrils to grant him life. Creation is now intimate, individual, and involved. No longer has God created a race of mankind, male and female, but he has made a single Adam with his own hands. No longer is it his crowning achievement after everything else was done, but here Adam is his first creation and remains his primary concern throughout the story.

Now Yahweh Elohim plant a garden. The phrase "Eastward in Eden" would be a good topic for another post. They place the Adam into that garden. They make trees grow out of the ground including the two special trees of life and knowledge. There is no sense of time in this story. The accounting of days and creative periods is gone. The idea of planting a garden and growing trees gives the sense of a significantly long time or an accelerated process but there is no attempt to explain the passage of time.

The four rivers are described in detail going to places with familiar names. Who named them? Are there civilizations there? Are they the same places in our world that bear those names? We are not told. The ancients knew the rivers fairly well as they were major avenues of travel and trade and these four rivers converging does not follow any understanding of the world map. River systems as diverse as Ethiopia and Assryia converging at a single point would have seemed as preposterous to the ancient mind as to ours. Perhaps there is symbolizism here of many diverse civilizations tracing their sources back to Eden. Water is again a source of life and fertility flowing out of the garden.

Yahweh Elohim give Adam a job as a gardener. They also provide him with food from the fruit trees. But they also give him is first commandment in this story. He is told not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil or he will surely die.

It seems enough time has passed that Adam has become lonely. Yahweh Elohim declare that it is not good for him to be alone and they set out to form an Ezer Knegdo, "help meet".

From this search comes the creation of the land animals and the birds. Note in this account there is no creation of fish, seas, heavens, sun, moon or stars. Each creation is individual with Yahweh Elohim forming it from the mud and presenting it to Adam to see what he will call it. It gives the sense of a game. Each time Yahweh Elohim is trying to outdo his previous attempts and enjoying proudly displaying his work to Adam and seeing his reaction. The situation is contrived in some sense as it is obvious if God could create Adam he could create another being like him, but it builds this sense of deep concern and establishes Adam as the purpose for which all creation was made. It also elevates the eventual creation of Woman as something truly special. In this story it is Adam that is naming things. It is not clear if he is naming classes of animals or giving individual personal names to each animal. Given the intimate nature of the story I suspect the latter is intended.

In verse 20 we find the melancholy phrase that there was not an Ezer Knegdo found in all the creations. Now Yahweh Elohim put Adam to sleep and for the first time it mentions them making something that is not from the soil, at least not directly. From the actual living bone of Adam they make a woman. Adam seeing her makes the first recorded words of a human in Scripture with the beautiful statement the she is "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh". He calls her "ishah" (woman) because she was taken from "ish" (man). The scriptures then turn to the didactic statement explaining this is why a man will leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and become one flesh. The strong idea here is that they started off as one flesh and are being reunited by strong forces. There is undoubtedly a sexual dimension to the statement as well but it is clear that the bond spoken of exceeds anything experianced by animal creation but is a unique feature to humankind. The statement also seems to imply that Adam was ready to leave his father (and mother?) to cleave to the woman. That finding this love of his life readied him for the independence he would need to become a creator like his father and no longer rely on his father creating for him.

Verse 2:25 and verse 3:1 are linked. In 25 we are told Adam and Eve are both naked "arum" and are not ashamed. In 3:1 we are introduced to the serpent and told he was the most "arum" of any animal. Here KJV and many others translate the word as naked in 2:25 and crafty or subtle in 3:1, however it is clearly the same word or an intentional play on words. I leave it you to find meaning in describing the serpent as the most naked animal. Note that the serpent is nowhere associated with Lucifer or Satan in this text. Other later texts will make that connection. Here he is presented only as an animal.

I will end this examination of the J story here although it goes through the end of chapter 3 with the familiar story of the serpent and the forbidden fruit, the cursing and expulsion of the couple, the eventual naming of the woman in verse 3:20, various uses of clothing for the first time, and of course the cherubim and flaming sword. All these are worthy themes for a later post but here the direct parrallels to the E story end.

I will make a final post for this theme tying together these two stories, what we learn from them and how their meaning applies in a modern world.

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