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The Second Creation Narrative in the Second Chapter of Genesis: A New Approach.


Torah-observant Jews believe in the Divine origin of the Torah (meaning, in this article, the Five Books of Moses). The Torah contains two subjects: (1) the positive and negative commandments that obligate every Jew throughout his or her life, and (2) Jewish history, beginning with the creation of the world, through the genealogies and the lives of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and concluding with Moses leading the Children of Israel to the borders of the Land of Israel. The style and terminology of the Torah vary as different subjects are discussed, but believing Jews maintain that all the verses in the Torah were produced by a single Divine Author.


The above scenario is challenged by biblical critics, who dismiss out of hand the idea that the Torah could possibly be of Divine origin. They claim that the Torah is the product of multiple human authors, of whom they have identified four, denoted by E, J, P, and D. These designation letters of the four authors refer to the subject matter and/or terminology that appear in the verses in question, which were later cobbled together by an anonymous editor, so we are told, to form the Torah.

The second creation narrative is one of the sharpest arrows in the quiver of biblical critics. After the first chapter of Genesis describes in detail the creation of the world, the second chapter presents another, quite different creation narrative. Biblical criticism claims that these two narratives were written by two different authors representing different traditions, which were later joined together to form the present version of Genesis. Biblical critics point to the two different expressions for G-d that appear in the two narratives. In the first chapter, G-d is called Elokim, whereas in the second chapter, G-d is called Ha'Shem Elokim. They claim that this further supports their thesis that different authors produced these two different narratives.


Various explanations have been proposed to explain the two creation narratives by those who remain faithful to the belief in a single Divine Author. We here propose a new approach that answers the following questions:

1. What does the second creation narrative add to the first creation narrative?

2. Why do different names for G-d appear in the two narratives?

3. Why are the two narratives so different? For example, in the first narrative, the plants precede man, whereas in the second narrative, man precedes the plants.

4. Adam is described as "created" in the first narrative, but "formed" in the second. Why are these two very different verbs used to describe the same event?

5. Why is there mention of the raw materials ("dust of the earth") from which man was formed? For no other item in either creation narrative are the raw materials mentioned.

An important feature of the second-chapter narrative is its extreme brevity. Whereas the first-chapter narrative consists of thirty-one verses, the second-chapter narrative consists of only four verses, which are quoted below. Starting from verse 2:8, the Torah discusses the Garden of Eden, which is a different topic.

* Verse 2:4--These are the generations of heaven and earth when they were created, on the day that Ha'Shem Elokim made heaven and earth.

* Verse 2:5--No vegetation of the field was yet on the earth, neither did any grass of the field as yet grow because Ha'Shem Elokim had not brought rain and there was no man to till the soil.

* Verse 2:6--A mist ascended from the earth and watered the entire ground.

* Verse 2:7--Ha'Shem Elokim formed man from the dust of the earth, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living being.

Verse 2:4 is introductory. The remaining three verses do not contain the verb "created" (bara) and are distinguished by what they do not discuss. Almost all the topics discussed in the first-chapter creation narrative are absent in the second-chapter creation narrative. There is no mention of light or animals or oceans or dry land or celestial bodies. Just what does this three-verse creation narrative discuss?

Verse 2:5 discusses the absence of plant life. And why were there no plants? The reason given in verse 2:5 is that G-d had not yet produced the necessary rain and man had not yet appeared to till the soil. The next two verses, 2:6 and 2:7, deal with these "missing" items. G-d provides water (2:6) and man appears (2:7). Plant life can thus begin.

These verses are surely strange. Why this emphasis on plants? Is there nothing else in the physical universe worth mentioning? Especially difficult is verse 2:5. It is obvious that the tilling of the soil is not necessary to produce plants. The lush vegetation of the Amazon jungle or the vast forests of Europe and North America did not require any human assistance. Therefore, it is clear that the plant life that is discussed relates to agricultural produce, such as grains, fruits, and vegetables. Producing such agricultural plants does indeed require the farmer to till the soil.


Our thesis is that the second-chapter "creation narrative" is not a creation narrative at all. Verses 2:5-7 represent one of the central pillars of the Torah view of creation, using agriculture as an illustration. In these verses, the Torah states that creation results from a partnership between man and G-d. The Torah illustrates this partnership by stating that the contributions of both G-d and man are required to yield agricultural produce. The second-chapter narrative implies that all human creative activity is based on such a partnership between man and G-d.

* The farmer uses G-d's rain to produce his agricultural plants.

* The potter uses G-d's clay to produce earthenware vessels.

* The glassblower uses G-d's sand to create lovely glass artifacts.

* The jeweler uses G-d's gold, silver, and precious stones to create beautiful jewelry.

* The artist uses G-d's pigments to create magnificent paintings.

* The sculptor uses G-d's marble to create breathtaking statues.

Rabbi Akiva elaborates on this theme (Midrash Tanhuma, Tazria, section 5). He states that the delicious cake produced by a baker is even more impressive than the seeds of grain produced by G-d, from which the baker made the cake. With this statement, Rabbi Akiva emphasizes that the creative activity of the baker results from the partnership between man and G-d, and human contribution is significant.

The verses in the second chapter are thus seen to complement and to complete the creation narrative of Genesis, a narrative that describes the bond between man and G-d. The first-chapter verses plus the second-chapter verses form a unified whole--a single creation narrative that was given to us by G-d at the revelation on Mount Sinai.


The different aspects of creation found in the first and second chapters of Genesis explain the change in the name used for G-d. In the first chapter, G-d is called Elokim--a term that signifies power. This designation is used for G-d in the first chapter because this chapter describes the omnipotent, powerful G-d Who created the entire universe. The word Elokim (with the letter "k: replacing "h" out of respect for one of G-d's ineffable names) is also used in the Torah to refer to the gods (powers) worshipped by other nations, as in the Ten Commandments: "You shall have no other gods (elohim) before Me" (Exodus 20:3), and in the Sh'ma: "lest you worship other gods (elohim) and bow down to them" (Deuteronomy 11:16). A suitable translation of elohim is "deity" or "deities." This word may refer either to the Deity of Israel or to the deities of other nations. (When referring to plural gods, we can pronounce the "h" of "elohim.")

By contrast, the second chapter is not discussing the all-powerful G-d at all, but rather the personal G-d, the partner of humankind in creation. Therefore, the second chapter includes G-d's ineffable personal name, which we shall denote by Ha'Shem. The introductory verse 2:4 includes the word "creation" even though no act of creation is later discussed, because the subject of the second-chapter narrative is the partnership in creation between humanity and G-d.

Understanding the different meanings of the Divine names Elokim and Ha'Shem enables one to understand the meaning of the opening verse of the Shema.
[phrase omitted]

The verse is often (mis)translated as follows:

Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One.

The above translation of the second phrase (the L-rd is our G-d) is a tautology because the terms "L-rd" and "G-d" are synonyms. The correct translation of the second phrase is: Ha'Shem is our G-d. With these words, we declare that our G-d (Elokim) is not Zeus nor Jupiter nor UhuraMazda, but Ha'Shem.

The above translation of the third phrase (the L-rd is One) is simply wrong. The L-rd is not necessarily "One." For example, the lord of the Christians is three; the lords of the ancient Romans and Greeks are dozens; the lords of the Hindus are hundreds. The correct translation of the third phrase is:

Ha'Shem is One.

With these words, we declare that our L-rd, namely Ha'Shem, is characterized by being "One," unlike the multiple deities of other peoples.


The appearance of Adam is described twice in the Torah.

Chapter 1, verse 27: G-d created man in His image; in the image of G-d, He created him; male and female, He created them.

Chapter 2, verse 7: G-d formed man from the dust of the earth, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living being.

There are three questions here.

1. What does the second chapter (verse 2:7) contribute to our understanding of humankind's origin beyond what is written in the first chapter (verse 1:27)?

2. Why are very different verbs used in the two descriptions of the origin of Man: created in verse 1:27 and formed in verse 2:7?

3. Unlike every other item in the creation narratives, the Torah tells us what materials were used to form man ("the dust of the earth"). Why is this information included?

The first part of verse 2:7 describes the physical nature of Adam ("formed from the dust of the earth"). The second part of verse 2:7 describes the intellectual/reasoning nature of humankind ("He [G-d] blew the soul of life into his nostrils"). This verse expresses our dual nature--physical ("dust") and intellectual/reasoning ("soul"). It is this combination--physical and intellectual/reasoning--that constitutes the essence of humanity. In other words, the term "living being" in verse 2:7 referring to Adam differs from the same term when applied to animals, because we were endowed by G-d with a soul.

Verse 2:7 states that Adam was formed by adding a high degree of intellect and reasoning power ("soul") to a physical creature ("formed from the dust"). The origin of the physical creature is secondary. From the Torah perspective, our essential qualities lie in our intellect and reasoning powers, which were infused into an already existing physical creature ("He [G-d] blew the soul of life into his nostrils"). Therefore, it is not surprising that the definition of man given by all Torah commentators relates solely to his intellectual and reasoning powers.

Consider the following examples:
Rashi: "The soul of man is highly developed because man was granted
understanding and speech."
Nahmanides: "With his soul man reasons and speaks."
Sforno: "When man was created in G-d's likeness, he became able to
speak. Upon receiving G-d's image, man had the power of intellectual
Onkelos: "Man is the speaking being."


We now turn to the question of why different verbs are used to describe the origin of Man. The first chapter states (1:27) that G-d created Adam (vayivrah), whereas the second chapter (2:7) states that G-d formed Adam (vayitser).

The use of these two very different verbs can be understood in the following way. The first chapter deals with the intellectual/reasoning aspects of Adam (created in the image of G-d). A human being is a creature endowed by G-d with this completely new and unique feature that is not shared by any other creature. A fundamentally new feature requires the verb created.

By contrast, the first part of verse 2:7 deals with the physical aspects of Adam (formed from the dust of the earth). Our physical aspects are not fundamentally different from those of many other creatures. Therefore, the verb created would be inappropriate and the verb formed is used.

Verse 2:7 contains two messages. First, the appearance of man "to till the soil" permits plants to be produced in partnership with G-d Who provides the rain, as stated in verse 2:5. Second, verse 2:7 also describes the unique feature of Adam, that he is endowed with a "soul."


Do human beings possess intellectual/reasoning abilities that are fundamentally different from those of all other creatures? This notion has been vigorously contested by atheists, who deny that human beings possess unique intellectual/reasoning abilities. They consider Homo sapiens to be just another of the five thousand species of mammals. Atheists do admit that we are different from other mammalian species, but every species possesses some special properties that set it aside as a separate species. Atheists claim that it is only human pride that makes us think that we are unique creatures who were "created in the image of G-d."

Man's lack of unique intellectual/reasoning abilities is the thesis of a book by Professor Jared Diamond, entitled "The Third Chimpanzee." The title refers to human beings, whereas the other two species are the common chimpanzee and the bonobo chimpanzee. Diamond asserts that human beings have no special traits that are not shared by many other mammals, including our ability to think and reason. We are more talented, of course, but he says that there is nothing fundamentally different about us (DIAMOND 1992).

The uniqueness of humans is blatantly obvious and can easily be demonstrated. Human beings have established universities, art museums, cities, charity funds, hospitals, and the list goes on. Chimpanzees have not established any of these institutions.

These facts are especially surprising, given the close physical similarity between the two species. Professor Diamond points out that 98.6 percent of the genetic material (DNA) found in humans is also found in chimpanzees. Since genes determine the physical properties of an animal, this close genetic similarity shows that physically we are very similar to chimpanzees. This raises the following question: If we are so similar to chimpanzees physically, why are we so different intellectually? Divine enrichment naturally suggests itself.

What can we say about our physical abilities? Humans cannot run like the deer, nor fly like the bird, nor swim like the dolphin, nor climb like the squirrel. Quite obviously, G-d did not bestow any special physical talents upon humankind. Thus, there is a clear distinction between intellectual/reasoning abilities and physical abilities. In the intellectual realm, we excel; whereas in the physical realm, we are quite ordinary.


The lack of unique intellectual/reasoning abilities is not limited to chimpanzees. It also applies to prehistoric man. The prehistoric man most similar to modern humans is Neandertal Man, "who had brains as large and as complex as our own" (TRINKAUS 1993, p. 418).

What were the tools of Neandertal Man? What were his artistic achievements? What great cities did he build? What profound writings did he leave for posterity? What important moral teachings did he expound? What marvelous paintings, stirring musical compositions, magnificent sculpture, moving poetry, breathtaking architecture, beautiful gardens, and scientific discoveries remain from the Neandertals' 300,000-year-long sojourn on our planet? That seems like enough time to have accomplished something. One might attribute the lack of cultural accomplishments of chimpanzees to their smaller brain size, but this argument does not apply to Neandertal Man, whose brain size was equal to that of contemporary modern humans.

Scientists have discovered that Neandertal tools were primarily flints with a sharp edge. Their tools look quite similar to the sharp stones that one finds strewn along every beach. Neandertal tools are so primitive that one who is not a professional archaeologist would not even recognize them as man-made objects. As Professor Ian Tattersall, recognized authority on Neandertal Man, writes:
The stoneworking skills of the Neanderthals consisted of using a stone
core, shaped in such a way that a single blow would detach a finished

They rarely made tools from other materials. Archaeologists question
the sophistication of their hunting skills. Despite some misleading
earlier accounts, no substantial evidence has ever been found for
symbolic behavior among the Neanderthals or for the production of
symbolic objects. Even the Neanderthal practice of burying their dead
may have been only to discourage hyena incursions, for Neanderthal
burials lack the "grave goods" that would attest to ritual and belief
in afterlife... Though successful in the difficult circumstances of the
late Ice Age, the Neanderthals lacked the spark of creativity that
distinguishes Modern Man.

                                         (TATTERSALL 2000, p. 43)

Regarding artistic achievements, it is important to mention that the magnificent cave paintings found in France, Spain, and elsewhere, were all the work of modern man. Professor Paul Pettitt writes that "it is unlikely that we will find examples of Neanderthal art" (PETTITT 2008, p. 909).

What are the reasons for Neandertal Man's lack of culture? Why was modern man able to revolutionize all aspects of his environment, while Neandertal Man hardly left a trace of his existence? Archaeologists must search very hard to find the remnants of Neandertal Man, in spite of the fact that the Neandertal brain does not suggest any differences from modern man in intellectual or behavioral capabilities. Nevertheless, archaeological data strongly suggest that contemporary human beings are fundamentally different from all prehistoric men.

It is most interesting to note that the many unique features of human behavior appeared quite suddenly. In fact, the appearance of human civilization was so sudden and dramatic that the archaeologists speak of a revolution in human behavior--the Neolithic Revolution--the causes of which remain a mystery to this day. The sudden, relatively recent appearance of civilization is in complete harmony with Genesis 1:28: "G-d blessed mankind and commanded him to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the land and subdue it." Every archaeological site testifies to the fulfillment of this Divine blessing.


I have emphasized that the Torah characterization of Adam as having been created "in the image of G-d" refers to the unique intellectual abilities of contemporary human beings. I will list three of the many aspects of man's uniqueness.

1. Language and communication

The past several thousand years have witnessed enormous progress in all areas of human endeavor. An essential ingredient of this progress is the unique ability of human beings to communicate ideas with each other through speech. This ability enables human beings to benefit from the ideas of others. Human speech should not be confused with that of parrots. Humans have the ability to communicate abstract and complicated ideas in fields such as science, technology, and philosophy. Parrots cannot formulate and convey ideas.

The importance of the communication of ideas cannot be overemphasized. The many technological innovations that have revolutionized human society resulted from the cumulative efforts of many talented people. Because humans can communicate ideas, one need not "reinvent the wheel" before making new discoveries. Building upon the work of others has led to the rapid technological progress that is the hallmark of civilization.

The distinguished physicist Isaac Newton once remarked: "If I have seen farther than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

Our ability to communicate with others is an important aspect of having been created "in the image of G-d."

2. Intellectual curiosity

Man is the only creature that displays intellectual curiosity regarding abstract matters that do not enhance his chances for survival. These include philosophy, art, history, mathematics, aesthetics, theology, science, psychology, sociology, and numerous other fields. All other creatures concern themselves with food, shelter, safety, and mating, for themselves and their family or colony. Only human beings express intellectual curiosity and devote much time to the pursuit of knowledge that has no practical consequences whatsoever.

An excellent illustration of this phenomenon is the article you are now reading. Reading this article will not increase your salary, will not put better food on your table, and will not improve your physical situation in any way. Nevertheless, in spite of the absence of any practical benefits, you continue to read in order to satisfy your intellectual curiosity.

Our intellectual curiosity is another important aspect of having been created "in the image of G-d."

3. Conscience and morality

The most striking feature of human uniqueness lies in the realm of conscience and morality. Only human beings are capable of making decisions based on the principles of right and wrong. Human beings often sacrifice their personal welfare in the cause of morality. For example, newspaper stories of starving people always generate a worldwide appeal for help. These hungry people usually have nothing in common with the average American or European--neither race, nor religion, nor language, nor ideology, nor life-style. Yet, the sight of starving people touches our hearts, and our conscience demands that we help alleviate the suffering.

We are concerned with ecological issues; we have a "save the whales" campaign; some people spend their entire lives in the jungle caring for gorillas and chimpanzees. The list goes on and on. All such activities are examples of tikun olam (improving the world). Our participation in tikun olam is another important aspect of our being created "in the image of G-d."


The second-chapter description of creation emphasizes the partnership between humankind and G-d in the process of creation. This partnership is based on our unique intellectual and reasoning abilities which result from the soul with which our Creator endowed us. Our souls also give us the ability to make moral judgments. This divine privilege and accompanying responsibility are ours alone, because we were created "in the image of G-d."
I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil...
therefore, choose life.
                               (DEUTERONOMY 30:15, 19)


DIAMOND, JARED. 1992. The Third Chimpanzee. New York: Harper Collins. Pettitt, Paul. 2008. "Art and the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic Transition in Europe." Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 55, no. 5, pp. 908-917.

TATTERSALL, IAN. 2000. "Once We Were Not Alone." Scientific American, vol. 282, no. 1, pp. 38-44.

TRINKAUS, ERIK, and PAT SHIPMAN. 1993. The Neandertals: Changing the Image of Mankind. London: Jonathan Cape.


Presented at the Eleventh Miami International Conference on Torah and Science at The Shul of Bal Harbour, Surfside, Florida, December 14, 2015


NATHAN AVIEZER is professor of physics and former chairman of the Physics Department of Bar-Ilan University in Israel. Aviezer is the author of 140 articles on condensed matter physics. In recognition of his important research contributions, Aviezer was honored by being elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

In addition to his scientific research, Aviezer has a long-standing involvement in the relationship between Torah and science. He is the author of three books on this subject: In the Beginning (in nine languages), Fossils and Faith (in four languages), and Modern Science and Ancient Faith. Aviezer's course at Bar-Ilan University on Torah and Science was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize. He is active in the organization of an annual Torah and Science Conference which attracts hundreds of participants from all over Israel. Aviezer was recently awarded a grant from the Templeton Foundation to develop a teaching unit on Torah and science for Orthodox Jewish high schools.

Born in Switzerland, raised in the United States, Professor Aviezer received his doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago and subsequently held a research position at the IBM Watson Research Center near New York. In 1967, Nathan and his wife, Dvora, made aliyah, and they live in Petah Tikvah. The Aviezers have four children and sixteen grandchildren.

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Author:Aviezer, Nathan
Publication:B'Or Ha'Torah
Date:Jan 1, 2017
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