Genesis 2:24-25

Stories explaining the beginning of some particular behavior can be quite fanciful and equally unhelpful. This reference to a socially recognized relationship of marriage cannot later claim to be a justification for any specific claim, such as the privileging of heterosexual relations over a variety of other intersections of individuals or even singleness.

The only “father and mother” at this point is a creator carrying both what has come to be called masculine and feminine characteristics and passing them on through their image. These verses are a foreshadowing not an ontological claim of righteousness.

The ’adam of male and female in Genesis 1 and the ’adam carrying both within and needing to clarify both through division along the lines of a rib have a primary connection with their creator. The cascade of creation differentiation is about to reorient the story away from an initial creation to identify claims by individuals and groups.

As well as connecting “father and mother” to G*D in “one flesh” resultant from the “clinging” of man and woman to one another is not only a biologic, psychic, and spiritual bond but a resultant child. The two have become one, not as a reuniting but as a setting forth or calling forth of yet another creation and creator—a child.

This overly fanciful reading allows for the usual expectation to be fruitful and multiply to begin far in advance of the closing of Eden as a garden and its remembrance as a location and dream of eternity that will plague the rest of the story. In the imagery of Greg Brown, a focus on eternity has damn-near wrecked this place.

A difference between naked and unclothed introduces what can only enter later with a return to the earlier throwaway line about a tree of life and tree of knowing good from not-good. These verses are very meta-story and need to keep their appropriate place within a story and not be an explanation of anything.

Genesis 2:21–23

A creation story within a creation story. The imagery changes from a potter shaping clay to a contractor building from an architectural blueprint (“rib” is later used as an architectural detail).

Presumably an anesthetist G*D has a protocol for awakening as well as a putting to sleep. Left in darkness is the number of Days this Not-Alone Project took. Did ’adam sense a loss before recognizing a transformational return of a heretofore unconscious part?

It is not until there is another image of an image of a creator that we have speech, a talking with another as well as a creator in the cool of the day. Tilling and watching do not seem to engender grist for conversation.

’Adam’s first words are in the form of a feminine indicative pronoun, “This one.” Fortunately, the writer has an already formed grammar sufficient for the needed poetic form appropriate to this creative moment.

This one … at last … bone/flesh
This one … rising ’ishah … from ’ish
… this one …

Up to this point naming has been a matter of distinguishing one thing from another. Now a “something else” can be named for what can be seen as a connection between differences. We might even go so far as a recognition of a constructed Galatea who can be encountered and that will make a difference in the expected arc of a Pygmalionesque ’adam.

With the introduction of ’ishah (too easily condensed to a category of “woman”) the story of a simply tiller and watcher (too easily identified as “male”) cannot remain the same (here remember the song of a lonely goatherd in The Sound of Music).

Genesis 2:19–20

Creativity calls for setting up experiments to test possible solutions to a present difficulty. Here ’adam is seen to be alone (lonely, as a projection of G*D?) and a series of beasts and fowl are brought forth to see if they will care for the result of being alone. This is a similar but different track than Creation 1.0—loneliness from being cast adrift in a cosmic whirlpool of endless possibility—or—condensing whirling possibility into specifics such as water, earth, plants, and animals—or—loneliness within a too limited job-description to till and watch a statically perfect Eden.

Here, from the same soil, more is fashioned. This more, as always, misses the empty spot resulting from distinguishing this from that—always seeing that which is not me exactly where we desire to be most reflected. To this extent, G*D and an image of G*D both make initial errors in first experiments capable only of narrowing the questions-at-hand to fit the current context. A still more general theory will have to await a further defining of current conditions.

As a creator awaits their creation’s secondary responses of identifying/naming its surroundings and continually finding a play toy, not a partner, it becomes apparent that bringing more forth from the same soil is no better than attempting to change the basic results of any system by repeating its processes. A quanta jump is needed. And, likely, subsequent leaps.

To move beyond aloneness takes more than denotations and literalism. There is not a way to move beyond this existential reality than to look within at the foundation for such loneliness and recast all that is encountered as a beloved other that does not complete or finish a storyline, but stimulate a gratitude needed to begin a larger quest than escape from current limits.

Genesis 2:18

There is no knowing what may like behind an insight or judgment that it is not good for a starter human to be alone. It may be as crass as any tired parent desiring a reliable source of distraction for a sincere but stumbling tiller breaking earth indiscriminately. Who wants to spend their time micro-managing what was supposed to take care of itself?

The outrigger of training wheels comes to mind. Aloneness needs more than help. Something alongside will bring better balance. Something oppositional will slow things enough for a second thought to arise. Some counter-weight, counterpart, will move beyond a single view, that a 3-D world might be better apprehended. [“Beside”, “opposing”, and “counterpart” are all optional translation choices.]

Wherever this something more is located—alongside, ahead, or behind—it needs to be more than an add-on that can be lost or broken. This something needs to be bone deep, something that will sustain over a long haul. This something needs to be active, not passive.

This something that will address a state of aloneness will be challenging to state once, much less translate into far distant societies, cultures, or languages. Alter phrases this something beyond aloneness as a “sustainer beside.”

Given the multiple valences available from the Hebrew and imagination, we might wonder about the need for an external companion or counterpart. Given the task to till and watch and the noted state of aloneness, does this protohuman need help or assistance with the tilling (not being done fast enough) or the watching (an engaged thoughtfulness)? If tilling, any automaton will do. If watching, an opponent and parser of words will bring a deepening of engagement or partnership with what is encountered. Here we try to distinguish between a servant and a soul-mate and an integration of a singular one.

Genesis 2:16–17

The general instruction to till and watch Eden is a place to pause and consider what that might mean in today’s experience of plenty. There is still enough food for all. Even as we over-till and close a blind eye to environmental degradation, might there be something more that needs saying in a hope of it being understood?

At this early stage of primal infancy or innocence or ignorance, what might strengthen what was meant by “till” and “watch”?

It is at this point (who knows how many Days down the pike) we hear of a tree unknown to the human who is not privy to some “center” of Eden. This one only knows that trees are good for food. There is no location given, simply a doctrine of “No!” to eat from one particular tree without a fence around it. Remember, every tree is “lovely to look at and good for food.”

A reader might understand how this tree is central to this story, but within the story, there is nothing to set this centrally located tree of good and not-good apart, until it is too late. A very lovely and sustaining tree becomes a threat to tilling-as-we-will and watching for our pleasure.

Translators tell us that the Hebrew here has an infinitive absolute—an infinitive followed by a conjugated form of the same verb. Its effect is to double down on the verb “to die” and sends us toward being “doomed to die.”

This is quite the setup that might have led Robert Frost to quip: “Lord, forgive all the little tricks I play on you, and I’ll forgive the great big one you played on me.”

There is opportunity here to reflect on the danger and limits of commands. At the very least we might recognize there are consequences for assuming what might be intended as fair-warning and ends up not being understood as significant. What would “die” mean to someone who has no experience of anything other than a new Eden.

Our erstwhile human has been breathed into action, surrounded by plenty, and given a limited purpose. Nowhere is there an awareness of no longer having breath, a notion of death.

Genesis 2:10-15

The first creation story spent much energy working on water. It’s slipperiness scootches here and there. Like a flash flood, it is dangerous and chaotic. Taming is in order. The waters are separated above and below and then pushed aside or gathered together.

Here the waters have been tamed. Though their geographic location cannot be calculated back to the source of a mysterious Eden-to-the-East, a cacophonous big-bang, they give us pictures of resource-rich regions.

Confusion continues with one river that splits into four rivers, unlike a watershed where many rivers join into one. This four-fold river flows out from Eden to water the garden (writ large as Earth), which garden is located in Eden. Such circularity reminds us not to get tied to any rational or linear understanding. A tree of knowledge, of any kind, might be envisioned on an island surrounded by Rivers (one and four) rather than Seas. Living between rivers is a much more human-sized space than between waters above and waters below.

The River Pishon leads to Havilah where there is gold (precious metals), bdellium (aromatic resin, like myrrh), and lapis lazuli (precious stones). A question arises about the value of these materials if a “living creature” is in an Edenic setting (a utopia?). Each of these materials, later symbols of wealth and power, seem out of place for a singular one designed to till and watch (over?) Eden. To flaunt such before there is someone to impress speaks to an inherent sense of vanity within androgenous ’adam. It is as though humans are pre-loaded with a yearning for and distractability by such shiny objects.

The Pishon and Gihon rivers are unknown to us. Suggestions have ranged from the Blue Nile to the Ganges. Since I live on the Mississippi, I’ll claim that is is the correct spelling of an Edenic river. You may have another to suggest and to work at keeping clean.

Genesis 2:8–9

After Six Days, g()d ceased work. As evening and morning of Day Seven comes and goes, it becomes obvious that an eternal listening to harps and receiving praise for those previous Six Days are not the end of the story. There is another project—Eden, a parallel universe just to the East. This is directionally similar to Peter Pan’s description of the location of Neverland: “second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.”

A decision to refocus on Eden is very much like a call for “Light.” The intent is directly linked to its implementation. After this enlightened decision, we find the first work has to do with plants—this time brought in to be planted rather than being latent. Gardening, though, can be understood as working with or ordering what is already present. As the first creation was not from nothing, there is the sense here of a starter home that will be flipped from earthly garden to Home in the Heavens. At question will be how dilapidated the original is.

A garden is planted. Among the plantings is this left-over human, male and female, from Day Six. Our sequel continues by beginning again—Day Eight.

The specific plants focused on are trees. There is a forest of food trees, fruit trees, fruitful and multiplying. There are trees of physical life and knowledge of good and not good. These are presented as unique, singular—trees among trees. These utopian trees are also like a fixer-upper—they appear grander than they turn out to be and it is found out that this Day Eight is going to take longer to wrangle than the previous Seven combined.

There will need to be several refinancings, new architects brought on board, and restarts. We’ll have to wait to see how our investment pans out—worth it or bankruptcy?

Genesis 2:5–7

Alter describes the first creation story as a “harmonious cosmic overview” and the second as a “plunge into the technological nitty-gritty and moral ambiguities of human origins.”

Right off the bat, the Six Days are condensed to One. Instead of deep, dark, wild water as the background, we first have deserted earth, literally a desert. We hear a call for water to sprout seeds latent within Earth and the fashioning of a human to till the earth (already a farmer in anticipation of later being set to plow until their brow sweats). This envelope of Water and Human points to the entirety of the first creation story and focuses on the human component rather than the context for human life.

Instead of separating from water, we seek its presence. In the first tale, G*D hovers, breath-like, to call distinctions into being. In this second look, the call to be imaged becomes tangible with a “making,” a fashioning of humus into a human being—how humorous. James Weldon Johnson’s picture of a mammy bending over her baby is quite apt. This will become a story of a baby maturing and separating instead of the distinguishing between elements coming first.

The resultant ’adam was not latent, needing only water to revive a package of Sea Monkeys. There is a deliberate construction project implying blueprints and penalties for a time or cost overrun. Unrecorded in this shaping is the number of tries it took to get a stable unit capable of holding an animating puff of air. Who knows how many stones had to be sifted from the humus lest they lodge in the heart or head. Who knows how many leaks had to be patched. Who knows how long it took for the learning of language—at what point baby-talk ceased and conversation could be engaged in an attempt to be on the same page.

First water to sprout seeds to become food, then water to make the soil malleable to shape an ’adam, and only then fashioning and inspiring.

Genesis 2: 4) … (5

The tale is over; another story rises. The space between verses 4 and 5 is both too small to take into account, justifying conflation, and too large to hold within a vaulted space marginally freed from chaos.

How we deal with this space between stories will come to be seen as a Babel moment separating hearer from hearer, reader from reader.

Honoring a host of resources can help as we select Note A from one commentator and Note B from another midrasher. Here I jump to Karen Armstrong and her book, In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis to reiterate a creator’s cessation and to pick up a next creation story as if it began the in the midst of the one just put down.

In the next story we will also come to the point of cessation at a critical moment for going ahead, anyway—without the benefit of an on-going conversation in the evening that grants a courage to sleep through a dark reminiscent of a great, never remote, dark always awaiting after a day and parted before any next day.

= = = = = = =

… We always enter the action in medias res and seldom see the whole shape and pattern of events: impressions and experiences jostle for our attention, and we rarely see incidents and their consequences in clear focus. Since religion is also concerned with the quest for meaning amid the chaos of mundane existence, fiction can be more useful to the spiritual life than a purely historical narrative.

By giving us two contradictory accounts of the creation, the bible editors were indicating that both J and P were writing fiction. They offered timeless truths that could not be rendered obsolete by new cosmological discoveries. If P wanted to show us how to regard the universe in relation to the divine, J was more interested in humanity. He turned the spotlight from God in his heaven to adam in the garden. Above all he was concerned with the distance that seemed to separate God from humanity. How could human beings, who were sustained by the divine breath, feel that God was so remote?

Karen Armstrong
In the Beginning, pp. 19–20

Genesis 2:4

This summary verse introduces us to a marker that will raise a remembrance of creation in each subsequent portion of a larger story. This verse begins, literally, these are the “begettings” of the heavens and earth. In like manner, a named series of people and events are held in later recordings—the begettings of generations. This means the begats to come are not present as details such as years lived and so cannot be plugged into any arithmetic process and toted up to figure out the year, day, and hour of any of the Six Days in any calendaring system.

This verse is a marker completing a unit of story. A helpful response to a mention of begats is a pause to imagine all we don’t know from what we are told. Even though our imagination is too small to scratch the surface of what we don’t know, that which is given is fertile ground to hold seeds of connection between then and now as well as give anchoring points for lines of intersection between various aspects of now.

The story told is of a piece. Many have written of how this telling is drawn over against other recordings of a beginning space and time. There is uniqueness here, but not an inherent superiority over other accounts. As a part of a living tradition within this storyline, we are able to find an abundance of responses to this telling. We are missing this lived function in other traditions gone by and even those of other current traditions we are not a part of.

As our “once upon a time …” we are able to bring it to a joyous, “… and they all lived happily ever after.”

A special case has been protected from most of the onslaught of roiling waters darkening our apprehension of position and pattern. We are no longer completely adrift even though the story has come to an abrupt end—a cessation of Days. We are always in danger, now, of trying to go back to a great day again and failing to take our place in moving the story on.

While we have a tale of abundance and connectedness, we also have a story broken off, ceased. Now to see where what has been begotten will next fruit.