Thus the heavens and the earth were finished. (Gen. 2:1)
Last week, we read about the first six days of creation and how God created the various attributes of the world during those days (I’m sure he fit the rest of the universe in somewhere, probably after tea time on Day 4 or something). Today, we open with God resting. And resting. And resting. He pauses for a moment to bless the day on which he gets to rest (perfectly understandable – I do the same). Then he goes back to resting. And resting. Oh ancient Hebrew poetry – why must you be so repetitive?
But then we shift gears a bit and we get into a second creation story!
Genesis 2 Creation
This version is a little different. For one thing, the daily breakdown motif is completely removed. While the narrative flow is far more pleasant, this version may prove problematic for the Christian reader it directly contradicts the Genesis 1 story right from the first verse.
We are told specifically that, before there are any plants or herbs, God causes a mist or flood to rise from the earth to water “the whole face of the ground” (Gen. 2:6). He then creates man out of dust and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). So we go from man being created last to man being created first (in both cases, this creation takes place on a pre-existing world that God is merely shaping to his preferences).
So while Adam is standing around on completely barren ground, God created all the trees that are “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). All other trees need not apply. Only the Gen 2 story refers to the creation as a “garden.” This garden is a heavenly paradise, and the name “Eden” means “delight.”
Note: Some apologists will claim that the Gen 2 creation account really is the story of the creation of the garden, and not of the rest of the world (which is what is described in Gen 1). In other words, Gen 2 is a flashback to describe how humans are created on Day 6. This is not the scholarly consensus (which instead believes that we have two religious traditions that have been collected into a single book), but it is a common apologetic view.
Features of the Garden
In addition to all the other pleasing and tasty trees, God also creates the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The former is believed to confer eternal life while the latter confers wisdom.
We are also told in Gen. 2:10-14 that God creates a nameless river that flows out of Eden (“to water the garden”), and then splits into four rivers: Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates. These four rivers each flow into the various lands that were known to the ancient Hebrews. Someone reading this passage from Ottawa, ON (for example) may be confused as to the Biblical source for our Rideau river. Perhaps God gets to that later on so that the descendants of Adam and Eve have somewhere to conquer when they get bored of just hanging around in the Old World.
Adam was apparently created to be God’s landscaper. Like many landscapers today, Adam isn’t even offered minimum wage, but is instead allowed to “freely eat of every tree of the garden” (Gen. 2:16). There’s an exception, of course. Adam is not allowed to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or else “in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen. 2:17).
God then realizes that Adam is looking pretty lonely, so he decides to “make him a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18). What kind of helper is he going to make? Well, he tries beasts, birds, and cattle and brings them to Adam to name (which expresses Adam’s dominion over them – the knowing of the name being equivalent to the controlling of the named is a classic theme in mythology, consider the story of Rumpelstiltskin).
But none of these animals are good enough for Adam. Out of all of them, “there was not found a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:20). Adam apparently isn’t into the kind of kinky stuff God is trying to push on him.
So God gives up with the whole bestiality thing and instead “caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man” (Gen. 2:21). While Adam is sleeping, God takes one of his ribs and uses it to create a woman, whom he presents to Adam. Adam then promptly names her “Woman,” forever asserting men’s dominion over women.
So as Genesis 2 draws to a close, we are left with a note that Adam and “the woman” are both naked and “were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25).
EDIT: I was skimming through David Leeming’s anthology The World of Myth, and he notes that the story told in Genesis 2 is probably quite a bit older than the Genesis 1 story. The dates he gives are “probably as late as the fifth century B.C.E.” for Genesis 1, and “a much earlier text, perhaps as early as 950 B.C.E.” for Genesis 2.