The two creation accounts in Genesis have largely been read as separate stories; but the fact that they are next to each other demonstrates that someone thought they should go together. Rather than arguing over the differences, we would do well to consider why they have been treated as they have, what this paradox of placement reveals about how the texts are meant to be read and experienced.
What if the first story is vertical, emphasizing the relationship between God and the cosmos? The second story, then, is lateral, focusing on human existence in God’s creation. Notice how the two stories hinge on Sabbath, a point at which the first story of “the heavens and the earth” is flipped and projected into a future story of “the earth and the heavens.” The ending, then, of God’s creation – Sabbath – offers a transition into a new beginning, a new creation, a time in which human work and God’s plan coincide to start the long-term work of cooperatively creating.
The problem with this reading – as seductive as it is – is that the texts don’t present a unified view of humanity. In Genesis 2, the relationship between man and woman is unequal, a major difference from Genesis 1 in which God creates both man and woman in God’s image. In Genesis 2, inequality of the genders is demonstrated in the order of creation (man first, woman second), the quality of creation (woman derived from a man-part) and the purpose of creation (woman created as “a helper”).
The two texts were put together. But why? Maybe there’s a question left un-answered in the first, a problem that has to be solved. Maybe it’s a question we can’t see because of the cultural expectations (and assumptions) we bring to both texts. We do have a key, however, and that key is the work of P. A. Bird, work that makes clear the terms used for male and female in Genesis 1:27 are “biological, not sociological.”
What if, instead of reading these stories as poetry or historical narrative, we try the genre of mythos? What if these two accounts are meant to be read as potentially fantastical stories that answer questions of identity, purpose and morality? The fantastical part, according to Jennifer Wright Knust, the part we miss, is the possibility that “male and female” is referring to one, not two. If she’s right, then like the Native American story about how the chipmunk got its stripe, the second creation account answers, among other questions, why we are no longer androgynous.
Crazy? Only in that it controverts the way we’re used to reading the stories. And if we aren’t willing to let our perspectives be shaken, we’ll never really learn to see.
And if we aren’t willing to let our perspectives be shaken, we’ll never really learn to see.