If we thought the creation story in Genesis 1 was the Bible's definitive statement
on creation, and that it would now move on to what happened next, we'd be
mistaken. It seems the first four verses of Genesis chapter 2 complete the
scenario in chapter 1, ending halfway through verse 4:
These were the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were
created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,
In Genesis chapter 1 we've already had a description of the creation of various life
forms on earth, culminating in the creation of man. But there is a significant
change in Genesis chapter 2, verse 4. Instead of Elohim, the Gods, or Immortals,
we have 'the Lord God.' That's Yhwh Elohim. Yhwh of the Immortals. Many
Biblical scholars think that Genesis 1 was the beginning of a text, and that now we
have a transition to another text. This happens frequently in the Bible. Instead of
one text surviving, a number of texts have survived and are patched together,
sometimes quite awkwardly, causing repetition. We've just come upon one such
join. So, according to this theory, called the documentary theory (see Note 1
below), a theory which seems reasonable in the circumstances, we can see
that the second text rounds off the first and then continues with its own story
And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field
before it grew, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and
(there was) not a man to till the ground.
We find in this version the ambiguous statement 'there was not a man to till the
ground.' This could mean that there were no men on earth, and that might seem
a logical assumption because as we shall next see, the text goes on to describe
the making of man by Yhwh Elohim. The commentary in the Torah referenced here
says 'the Lord God is pronounced Adonai Elohim'(Note 3, and see my The
Obelisk chapter 5, elsewhere on this web site, for a discussion of use of the word
Adonai). But there could be another interpretation: not that there was no man, but
that there was no farmer (no man to till the ground). In other words, there were
hunter gatherers but not yet agriculturalists. This would then be describing the
advent of a farming society, which began it seems at about the time the last ice
age was retreating: say, 10-12,000 years ago. Now let's continue with the
Genesis 2 text, remembering that 'the Lord God' is really 'Yhwh of the Immortals':
6. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the
7. And the Lord God formed man (of) the dust of the ground, and breathed into his
nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
8. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man
whom he had formed.
9. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to
the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the
tree of knowledge of good and evil.
10. And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was
parted, and became into four heads.
11. The name of the first is Pison: that (is) it which compasseth the whole land of
Havilah, where (there is) gold.
12. And the gold of that land (is) good: there (is) bdellium and the onyx stone.
13. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same (is) it that compasseth
the whole land of Ethiopia.
14. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that (is) it which goeth toward the
east of Assyria. And the fourth river (is) Euphrates.
15. And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress
it and to keep it.
What follows is the story of the creation of Eve from Adam's rib; forbiddance to
touch the trees of life and knowledge; Eve's surrender to temptation by the
serpent; she involves Adam; they are both driven out of the garden of Eden by
Yhwh; Cain and Abel are born to the couple; Cain kills Abel; and the history of the
ancestors is under way.
I don't propose to involve us in reviewing any of these subsequent events. My
primary objective is whether the Eden story is fact or fiction, and for that I suggest
we need only consider the verses already quoted. If Eden was a real place, we
may be able to determine its location. If that doesn't prove possible, it leaves the
question of actuality of the story unsolved. Because these particular verses need
to be considered carefully in this investigation I suggest we next consult a
translation other than the KJV we've just used. But instead of using the modern
Revised Standard Version, or the New American Bible, or The Complete Bible, or
The Bible in Order, or The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, or the
North American translation of the Torah, I propose to refer to the translation by
James Moffatt, DD. D Litt. MA (Oxon). He appears to have been an independent
scholar at Oxford and must have been courageous to have tackled this enormous
task, full of academic pitfalls. His translation is just over 300 years later than the
Dr. Moffatt subscribes to the documentary theory, as shown in Note 1. Here we
may say that in some forms it sees a J (Jahwist) or L (lay) old source, an E (Eloist)
old source, and a somewhat later D (Deuteronomist) and finally a P (Priestly)
source. Dr. Moffatt kindly provides markers in his text to identify which source(s)
he thinks responsible for a particular verse or section. From this we find that the
entire section we're interested in from Genesis 2 is by J. Many scholars who
accept the documentary theory think that Genesis chapter 1 is by P as are the first
few verses of Genesis 2.
In his introduction Dr. Moffatt says:
One crucial instance of the difficulty offered by a Hebrew term lies in the prehistoric
name given at the exodus by the Hebrews to their God. Strictly speaking this ought
to be rendered "Yahweh" which is familiar to modern readers in the erroneous form
of "Jehovah." Were this version intended for students of the original, there would
be no hesitation whatever in printing "Yahweh." But almost at the last moment I
have decided with some reluctance to follow the practice of the French scholars
and of Matthew Arnold (though not exactly for his reasons), who translated this
name by "the Eternal."
I see no reason why we should follow him in this, and therefore have restored the
word Yhwh ( earlier form without vowels) for 'the Eternal' in his translation:
5b. For Yhwh had not sent rain on earth, and there was no one to till the soil -
6. though a mist used to rise from the earth and water all the surface of the
7. Then Yhwh moulded man from the dust of the ground, breathing into his nostrils
the breath of life; this was how man became a living being.
8. In the land of Eden, to the far east, Yhwh then planted a park, where he put the
man whom he had moulded.
9. And from the ground Yhwh made all sorts of trees to grow that were delightful
to see and good to eat, with the tree of life and the tree that yields knowledge of
good and evil in the centre of the park.
10. From Eden a river flowed to water the park, which on leaving the park
branched into four streams;
11. The name of the first is Pison (the one which flows all round the land of
Havilah, where there is gold -
12. Fine gold in that land! - and pearls and beryls),
13. The name of the second is Gihon (the one which flows all round the land of
14. The name of the third is Hiddekel (the one which flows west of Assyria), and
the fourth river is the Euphrates.
15. Yhwh took man and put him in the park of Eden, to till it and to guard it.
What we need to do now is to consider these verses carefully, in both translations,
and decide if we can whether this is fact or fiction.
Dr. Moffatt's translation (1926, Richard R. Smith, New York) has a rather lengthy
introduction. Here are some excerpts which may help us, taken sequentially:
The old Testament is a collection of religious literature... none of the books in this
collection is earlier than the 7th or 8th century BC... nearly all have been more or
less edited after their original composition ... Here and there influences from Egypt,
or from Assyria and the East, no less than from Greece, have been detected...
This literary creativeness probably sprang up during Solomon's reign... the mutual
desire to gather up the primitive traditions of the people prior to the monarchy,
...one Judahite (J) one for the northern realm (E)... Both narratives started from the
beginning. The differences between the two are well marked ... both have
survived... we have repeatedly two more or less parallel versions side by side,
extracts from one being welded into the framework of the other... Nor was this the
end... in the year 621 BC a religious reformation along prophetic lines was
started... somehow connected with our present book of Deuteronomy... Another
production was the special priestly code enforced by Ezra on the Jewish
community about 444 BC... It is fairly clear that out of such sources... there was
compiled after the exile the composition known as the Pentateuch... under the
Ptolemies in Egypt the Old Testament was first translated - into the Greek
language, other versions were made... into Syriac for example... The Septuagint
enables us often to reach a purer text than the late Hebrew masoretic tradition...
sometimes its variations suggest that both are later ... editions of the earlier
autograph... even from the Hebrew text we can infer that some books perished...
Such is the literature here translated into English... The traditional masoretic text
though of primary value is often desperately corrupt... broken or defective, though
an English version usually conceals this.
EF comment: The Pentateuch is the first five books of the Old Testament of the
Dr. Moffatt allocates all Genesis 1 to the P or priestly later source, and Genesis 2
to the J source described in Note 1.
The edition of the Torah used here is the 1974 edition by the Union of American
Hebrew Congregations, New York: the English translation published 1967 by
the Jewish Publication Society, with a modern Commentary by Dr. and Rabbi
W. Gunther Plaut.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation audio taped my hour long discussion with Rabbi Plaut,
which was mainly concerned with textual problems in the chapters relating to the Exodus
and my preparation of a two hour radio documentary on The Red Sea Crossing, now revised,
updated, and posted elsewhere on my website.