With this essay I intend to address a very common observation about scripture that I constantly run across, even (and especially!) in the halls of academia. It’s the notion that the Bible contains two contradictory accounts of the creation of the universe. I really don’t know how this silliness could have ever occurred. To me this is simple proof of the Biblical concept that wisdom comes from God, and no amount of studying can replace the Holy Spirit as one’s source of understanding. The number of people that I have run into with PhDs and fluency in Biblical Hebrew that pipe this “observation” is truly mind boggling. So, as an explanation, I will talk a bit about how it came to happen as well as some of my own views concerning the compilation of Biblical texts, particularly the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and the book of Genesis.
To begin with, I’ll say that the traditional understanding of the authorship of the Torah in Christianity mimicked the Jewish understanding that was primarily promulgated through the Rabbi Maimonides. He developed a standard of what it meant to be an orthodox Jew that is called the 13 Principles of Judaism. One of those rules was the divine origin of the Torah. This was interpreted to mean that the Torah as we have it today was written by Moses, with the exception of the last bit about his death, which was written by Joshua. This tradition was much older than Maimonides, as there are references to the idea in the Talmud, and also in the New Testament, as the Apostle John referred to himself as “the disciple who Jesus loved” and spoke of himself in the third person, as he was mimicking Moses, who allegedly wrote the Torah about himself in the third person.
There are some problems with this view that ultimately lead to the secular scholars’ theory concerning Torah authorship. There are anachronisms in the Torah, such as references to the split kingdom (Israel and Judah) in a work supposedly written half a millennium before the kingdom split, or little phrases such as “before there were kings in Israel.” Further, and this would be key, God has various names in scripture, and it seemed like these different names were used in different chunks of the text, which made the liberals think that the different names were associated with different source texts that were pieced together.
What the secular scholars would come up with was absolutely ridiculous, however, and has been contradicted by a hundred years of Israeli archaeology. And finally, Jesus himself spoke of the Torah as being written by Moses, So to this day Christian scholars such as John MacArthur defend the medieval view.
The current secular view was basically derived by a guy named Julius Welhausen. Starting with the different names of God, he divided the Torah up into different source texts pieced together. Further, though, he also injected the assumption that the Bible was merely a collection of competing and contradictory oral myths from various schools of Judaism that wanted to unify to forge a common ethnic identity during the exile in Babylon. He assumed that certain texts that looked like a highly developed sacrificial cult were indeed from yet another source. So, in addition to separating out sources that called God Yahweh from sources that call him Elohim, he separated out a “priestly” source. And finally, there are many passages in Deuteronomy that are grammatically different from the first four books, and in fact resemble a number of phrases in the later books of Samuel and Kings, and so identified the “deuteronomistic” source, which would later be taken up by a guy named Martin Noth to assume that there was a deuteronomistic history written by a common writer or school of writers at a unique time and place. This theory is called the documentary hypothesis, or the JEPD hypothesis. In a nutshell, it can be summed up by saying that the Bible is a patchwork of myths stitched together during the Babylonian exile, and that Judaism merely evolved in the same way as any other religion.
Now as mentioned, Israeli archaeology has shredded this notion, but the seculars continually force their preconceived notions onto every find, grasping at straws to discredit the whole field. For example, Jericho was once thought to be fanciful, but it was eventually found, and one segment of it, a particular layer of the buried city, does in fact contain what can only be described as an exploded wall. However, they said that the pottery in the area didn’t look like they assumed it should, so the explosion must have been related to some other event a hundred years earlier than their assumed chronology of a Biblical Jericho incident. Remember, the seculars had already been attacking Biblical chronology for a long time. Now deep in the writings concerning the documentary hypothesis, you’ll find that the various scholars disagree with each other mightily concerning the number of sources and what texts belong to what source. Remember, it’s easier to get tenure if you can wow the establishment by rewriting everything. However, in popular literature that you find at Barnes and Noble, the documentary hypothesis reigns supreme among those who fancy themselves smarter than Aquinas and Augustine, and among its various disagreeing scholars, when they are presented with the challenge that everything they are coming up with might be hogwash, they adamantly insist that some form of the documentary hypothesis is definitely true, and whatever form they pipe, it invariably rests upon the premise that Judaism was made up from various legends during the Babylonian exile.
So that is generally the state of things concerning the authorship of Torah. One is presented with the choice on the right hand that our current Hebrew text was written exactly by Moses, or the choice in the left hand that the whole thing was a fabrication of the Babylonian exile. Sadly, when given a choice of one possibility on the right hand and a possibility on the left hand, 99.9% of people will simply choose one of the two choices and fit everything they see into the presumptions of one choice or the other. Therefore, the conservative Christian will go with John MacArthur and espouse the medieval Maimonides option. This can be done, as the various anachronisms, usages of divine names, and differences in style and grammar can be explained away. However, to one not wedded to the idea, these explanations do look, at least to me, like reaching for the improbable. On the other hand, the liberal perspective so very obviously looks to be based on the unfounded assumption that Judaism (and Christianity) cannot be unique and cannot involve divine revelation, and simply must have come about via the speculative processes of the evolution of the various mythologies of the world. If you take away that assumption, the various JEPD theories simply crumble.
I have chosen to reject both the choice on the right hand and the choice of the left. My understanding does involve various source texts being compiled into the Hebrew Torah that we have, but completely avoids the notion that the Bible was fabricated from oral myths in Babylon. My belief is that Moses did exist and the events of the Torah did happen as described, and the Hebrew Torah that we have is indeed an inspired and accurate account of events. I believe that the substance of the Torah was indeed written by Moses. However, I believe he wrote it in the language of his day in the method of his day, so some sort of early Hebrew (a form of which actually survives in the Bible in certain poetic texts and psalms) on clay tablets in some sort of cuneiform alphabet such as was found in the texts at Ugarit or some system of logograms and phonograms such as found at Tel El Amarna in Egypt. I believe that Moses had with him the content of Genesis passed down from Noah to Seth to Abraham to the patriarchs to himself. Concerning the remaining four books, I believe that Moses wrote them, but again, not in the form of our Hebrew text we have, but on clay tablets in Canaanite/Early Hebrew in cuneiform. These texts then got lost in a basement somewhere, explaining why the Israelites of Age of the Judges instantly forgot about the history of Moses and Joshua. Perhaps David and Solomon had access to these texts, but they were not broadly published or known until they were found by King Josiah as described in 2 Kings.
In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the Lord, saying, “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may count the money that has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people. And let it be given into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord, and let them give it to the workmen who are at the house of the Lord, repairing the house (that is, to the carpenters, and to the builders, and to the masons), and let them use it for buying timber and quarried stone to repair the house. But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.” And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord.” Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”2 Kings 22:3-13
Now the finding of the Book of the Law by Josiah is certainly known by scholars liberal and conservative, but my understanding is that Josiah found the cuneiform texts that came down from Moses and updated them to the language of his day, piecing them together in a form that was coherent with the paleo-Hebrew alphabet of his day and the writing on papyrus that had become common – basically the Hebrew text as we have it (at least the consonantal form).
In essence, what I am saying is that there are two theories about how the Torah, and we are talking about Genesis here, came to be. One of them is extremely conservative, and respectful of the reliability and inspiration of scripture, but doesn’t quite account for all of the features of the text. Another runs away with every little idiosyncrasy of the text to the conclusion that the whole thing is a bald-faced lie based on fantastical myths of old.
However, there is another guy, P. J. Wiseman (Father of the famous scholar Donald Wiseman), who made some observations that are significant for our observations about Genesis 1 and 2 in this essay. His observation is centered around the phrase “these are the generations of” in the Torah. I will list them below:
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.Genesis 2:4
This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.Genesis 5:1
These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.Genesis 6:9
These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood.Genesis 10:1
These are the generations of Shem. When Shem was 100 years old, he fathered Arpachshad two years after the flood.Genesis 11:10
Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot.Genesis 11:27
These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac,
These are the generations of Esau (that is, Edom).Genesis 36:1
These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father.Genesis 37:2
These are the generations of Aaron and Moses at the time when the Lord spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. (Numbers 3:1)Numbers 3:1
We observe that this phrase, “these are the generations” seems to be a marker for separate texts that involve a genealogy or family history. Wiseman was a scholar of the Ancient Near East, and was also able to note that in the earlier Akkadian cuneiform documents from the second millennium BC, titles of documents were usually at the end, rather than at the beginning. A Biblical example of this would be the book of Numbers.
These are the commandments and the rules that the Lord commanded through Moses to the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.Numbers 36:13
While the above verse does not contain the word “generations,” it is the last verse of Numbers and makes for a really good title for the book as a whole. Now in Genesis, the “generations” verses seem at places like they are best suited at the beginning of the text, but at other places they are suited to the end. I only want to point out here that whether the verses mark a title of a text, and are at the beginning of a text or at the end, is significant for us precisely for one reason. We are discussing the harmony or lack thereof between Genesis 1 and 2. I personally believe that these two chapters are indeed two texts that have been put together by Moses or by King Josiah and his court. As with all who believe that these chapters are two texts, I believe that the transition between the two texts is at Genesis 2:4.
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.Genesis 2:4
Not only does this text contain the “generations” phrase, but it also contains the first occurrence of “the Lord God,” which is how God is described throughout the second chapter. Previously, in Chapter 1, God is simply described as “God.” However, most secular scholars take the entire verse as the opening words of the second text, beginning with, “these are the generations of the heaven and the earth when they were created”. This would make the entire following text a description of the heavens and the earth. However, I believe, as did Wiseman, that Genesis 2:4a is talking about the generations of the heavens and the earth as the title AT THE END of the first text. By this reasoning, the second text actually starts at Genesis 2:4b. Note punctuation in our Bibles was not a part of the original Hebrew. With that in mind, the introduction and background portion of this essay is concluded and we can actually start to discuss the details of the two texts that we are concentrating on. I will start by displaying the entirety of the texts. I will use the English Standard Version translation with some modifications to capitalization and punctuation in order to reflect what I believe to be a proper division of the texts. We’ll start with the creation of the heavens and the earth.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So, God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus, the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. (Genesis 1:1-2:4a)Genesis 1:1-2:4a)
This is clearly a creation of the heavens and the earth, as the title at the end suggests. Now I will list the second text. When one reads it, one should keep their eye on exactly what it is about. Is it really about the creations of the entire world or universe? Or is it the creation of man, the garden of Eden, and woman?
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So, the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:4b-24)Genesis 2:4b-24
Now in reading this second text in particular, I have to ask, if one doesn’t presume that this is a text about the creation of the heaven and the earth because one assumes that the phrase about the generations of the heaven and the earth is the first verse of this text, is there any reason to think this text is about the creation of the heavens and the earth at all? Because that is precisely what the skeptics have done. They’ve just assumed that it is about the heavens and the earth and compared the two texts, and they noticed that there is a difference in the order of things. I’m putting their observations into a table below:
Secular writers are quick to point out that in the first text, man is created last, but in the second he is created first. This must be a contradiction. They will also say that the second text is more primitive and local, as the astral bodies are not described, nor the oceans, but only surrounding rivers and geographical features. They insist that it is an account of the creation of all plant life, as the first lines state that there were no plants or bushes.
I just have to shake my head. If you don’t presume that the second text is an account of the creation of the world, there is absolutely nothing in it to indicate that it is an account of the creation of the world. The second text starts with the heavens and the earth having already been created. Further, it does not say there were no plants or bushes. It says that there were no plants or bushes OF THE FIELD. This is a specific term defining cultivated plants. It even tells you why there were no plants or bushes of the field: no man was around to cultivate them. Then it specifically says that God planted A GARDEN – not a planet – not a universe – but A GARDEN. Then it describes things that one would expect to see in a cultivated garden: beautiful trees, and trees with edible fruit. It doesn’t fail to mention the sun and stars because it is just too primitive. It’s just not a text about the creation of the sun and stars! That had already been described in the creation of the world previously. This is a completely different story about the creation of man, the garden of Eden, and woman. It does not describe the creation of all animal life, but specifically describes beasts OF THE FIELD, meaning animals suitable for domestication, as one would expect to find in a garden. Let me be clear: not lions and tigers – not whales and sharks – simply animals for domestication, potential partners for Adam!
Folks, the real shocker here is that I tell this to people all the time. I tell it to people with PhDs and people who know Hebrew like the back of their hands. They look me in the face and, I kid you not, without laughing even, tell me that I am still wrong, and that these are two contradictory accounts of the creation of the universe. They have absolutely no reason to think that the second text is the creation of the world or the universe. It’s all presumption, folks. Talking to these people is like trying to tell a paranoid schizophrenic that he is actually not being surveilled by the illuminati. They are proof positive that the human mind can string anything together that it wants. They can ignore every detail of the text in favor of blindly believing what the last guy with a PhD told them. In fact, if one just reads the first text and the second, one sees clearly that the first text is a six-day creation of the world, and the second text is an account of the creation of man, woman, and the garden of Eden that took place on day six.
Yes, the evidence does indicate that the two texts are separate texts that have been put together. This does not mean that they are de facto piecing together contradictory creation myths. There is no reason not to believe that these two texts are two stories passed down from Noah to Seth to Abraham to Moses to Josiah, being put together into one literary unit somewhere along the way. They cover overlapping events (the creation of man), and include separate events (the creation of Eden). There is no contradiction. We can take them literally, to include a six-day creation, or not. However, there is no contradiction. A creation of the universe, a creation of a garden. How these stories got together is anyone’s guess. I have offered my Josiah theory. Regardless, there is nothing preventing one from understanding that these stories are the words of Moses, whether through Josiah or not.