OT And History
Cassuto and JEDP’s Death Throes: Part IV Duplications, Contradictions and Repetitions
One mainstay of the Documentary Theorists is the persistent belief that certain Old Testament narratives are contradictory duplications of other passages. As par for the course, Genesis 1-2 makes for a great example. I don’t believe for a minute that these are two separate creation accounts, but let’s take a look at what some of these theorists might say about Genesis 1 and 2. As always, Cassuto’s work will be referenced in parentheses.
There are three contradictions or inconsistencies that are argued for between the two repetitious creation accounts.
I. The Number of Days Creation Took to Complete
The first creation account states:
2:2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 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.
The second creation account states:
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.
The first creation account states that it took six days for God’s creation to be completed, but the second account states that it happened in one day.
II. The Creation of Male and Female
1:26 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.”
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it…
18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
21 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. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
What we see between these two passages is that in the first creation account God made man and woman at the same time, but in the second account God created Adam first and then formed Eve later.
In Genesis 1, plants were created on the third day which is prior to human beings (sixth day). In Genesis 2, we find:
2:5 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, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 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.
So, in one account plants precede Mankind, and in the other the opposite is true.
Now it is true that, at least for the first two points, one must already believe the Documentary Hypothesis in order to view this as evidence of two creation accounts. Thus, it is a bit circular. To be fair, though, I’m assuming the text to be a literary unity, and so I bring my assumptions to the table when I am reading Genesis 1-2. Second, the theorists approach the text assuming there are two creation accounts for reasons other than I’ve listed here (Use of Divine Names, Language, Repetitiveness). Many of these other reasons have already been dealt with by Cassuto. I’m mentioning this only because I want to deal fairly with those who hold to the Documentary Hypothesis. It’s not entirely fair to say, “You’re assuming the conclusion.”
I. In the day/On the day is a literary colloquialism for “at the time when” (73)
The use of the Hebrew word yôm can change its meaning. It can mean a span of time, a literal day, or it can be used in a phrase to mean something else, e.g. “The Day of the Lord.” In order to assert that Genesis 1-2 is a contradiction, it would need to be proven that the phrase “in the day” necessitates the idea that only one day is in view. But it doesn’t.
Cassuto calls up many examples, but consider a clear one from David in Psalm 18:
Psalm 18 TO THE CHOIRMASTER. A PSALM OF DAVID, THE SERVANT OF THE LORD, WHO ADDRESSED THE WORDS OF THIS SONG TO THE LORD ON THE DAY WHEN THE LORD RESCUED HIM FROM THE HAND OF ALL HIS ENEMIES, AND FROM THE HAND OF SAUL. HE SAID:
It should be noted that in the day/on the day consists of the same words in Hebrew. Now, what are we to believe about David’s life now? The title and content of the Psalm make clear that David is speaking not only about Saul, but also “all” of his enemies. Were all of David’s enemies really conquered in one day? If not, is the author ignorant of how his language works? I’m going to say, “no” on both accounts. David is giving praise for Yahweh delivering him from Saul and from the foreigners who harassed him. This happened over a period of time, but it is referred to by the phrase, “On the day.”
This occurs also in Numbers in reference to Moses’ forty days on the Mount of God.
Numbers 3:1 Now these are the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day that Jehovah spake with Moses in mount Sinai.
American Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995), Nu 3.
We know in Exodus that Moses spent forty days on Sinai, but Numbers 3 states “in the day.” But, of course, this is fine because the phrase simply is a colloquialism signifying “at the time when.”
The assertion that this is a contradiction is based on ignorance of a Hebrew phrase.
II. Repetition is a Characteristic of Hebrew Narratives (74)
In general, much of the discussion concerning multiple sources is rooted in repetition. But this is a characteristic of Hebrew narratives (and at least NW Semitic, e.g., Baal Cycle in Ugaritic) in general, and not evidence for multiple authorship.
In keeping with what Cassuto has already stated concerning the creation account, he notes that in Genesis 1 we are not told how they are created, but merely that they were created. Hebrew narratives work by giving a general account that is then followed by a detailed account. Genesis 1 leaves you with the pinnacle of God’s creation, Mankind, and Genesis 2 gives detail to how that creation happened.
III. What about the Plants? That has to be a contradiction, right?
Plants on the third day in Gen. 1, but in 2 “No שיח of the field were yet in the earth and no עשב of the field had yet sprung up.
- Notice the construct form שיח/עשב of the field (השדה). Putting a noun into a construct field changes the meaning of a word. Using the rest of the bible, Cassuto argues that the construct phrase refers to wheat and barley which are planted and grown in fields. (75)
- Cassuto argues, “If Scripture tells us that just these plants had not yet grown, it is these kinds and no others that are intended. On the contrary, the negation also implies an affirmation, to wit, that the other plants were already to be found on the earth.”
- The importance of the field is that in 3:18, the curse says they shall eat the עשב השדח by the sweat of their brow and the שיח השדח is synonymous with ‘thorns and thistles.’ What Gen. 2:4ff is stating that these plants (Wheat and Barley) were not available yet because man had not yet transgressed. After the transgression thorns and thistles came and man had to live on wheat/barley because the fruit of the trees were not available. (75)
- Gen. 1 stresses that God created the types of plants that reproduce bountifully with their seed. Seed is repeated often. But the plant life excluded in Gen. 1:11 is that which requires rain and tilling. As Cassuto states: “This excludes those for which seed alone is not sufficient; they need something else in addition, something that had not yet come into the world. We are specifically told in connection with the שיח/עשב of the field: ‘Now no שיח of the field were yet in the earth and עשב of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, AND THERE WAS NO MAN TO TILL THE GROUND.” (76) Thorns and thistles actually require rain to sprout Cassuto says, and fields of grain are only produced by man.
- 2:4ff is not a cosmology at all. There is no mention of sea or fish, and even the creation of heaven and earth are mentioned only incidentally. What we find is a general description followed by a detailed description of the creation of man—which Cassuto says is a frequent literary device employed by the author of the Torah. (77)
Genesis 1 is a general account that God created the world. Genesis 2 is the detailed account of the creation of Man. It begins with a notice that fields of barley and wheat did not exist because Man had not transgressed and rain had not fallen. Rather, being put in the garden, Adam had plenty of food from only those fruit trees and other plants which carry their seed in them and can grow without thorns, thistles, plowing and tilling. This comes later as a by-product of the curse.
Next week, we will look at another repetition often used as evidence for multiple sources, the stories of Abraham and Isaac lying to a king by saying their wives were sisters.
1. Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961).