Harrowing Of Hell
October 6, 2013

God Creates Humanity

Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

8And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9Out of the ground the Lord God made 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 the knowledge of good and evil. 10A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. 14The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. 15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

18Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.

21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” 24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

In the name of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This morning, we got to hear the second version of the creation story from Genesis.  Over the past two weeks, we heard the first version, “In the beginning, God created…and it was good — on the second day, God created….and it was good.”  These two accounts come from different sources and different times, but for some reason, they ended up side by side in this narrative.

The first account is spacious, taking in the whole cosmos as viewed from earth, while the second has a more limited, localized setting, taking place entirely within the Garden of Eden.  According to the first account, God creates the world in 6 days and then rests on the 7th, thereby establishing the Sabbath day of rest as a part of the natural order.

The second account of creation is part of the larger story of the Garden of Eden.  As in the first account, the world comes into existence according to divine initiative and design.  Yet here the scene is limited to a garden, and there is no indication of the time involved in the creation process.

Also, the order of creation is different from the first account: here, the first human being is made before anything else.  In this version, God is more immediate and personal, planting and shaping on the scene rather than commanding from a distance.  And in place of the formal, repetitious style of the first account, this is a dramatic story with interacting characters and a distinctive vocabulary, including use of the divine name YHWH.

In the first story, the text of Genesis chapter 1, verses 27 and 28 read, “God created the human in God’s image.  God created it in the image of God; God created them male and female.  And God blessed them.”  The Hebrew word for human is ãdãm and appears again in the second version of the story in chapter two, verse seven, when “God fashioned a ãdãm, a human, dust from the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living being.”

It isn’t until later in the story that the original “human” is divided into two beings, one female and one male.  On this topic, Susan Niditch writes, “Jewish and Christian traditions postdating the Hebrew Bible and a long history of Western scholarship have viewed woman’s creation in Genesis 2 as secondary and derivative – evidence of her lower status.  The tale explaining the departure from Eden into a real world of work, birth, and death in Genesis 3 is taken to be an even stronger indictment of woman as the gullible, unworthy partner who let loose sin and death.  Her biological function as conceiver and bearer of children is perceived as confirmation of her fall, a punishment shared by all women who come after her.”

But, “on the other hand, in the lore of all cultures, interdictions such as Gen. 2:17 (“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…”) exist to be disobeyed by the tales’ protagonists.  That is what makes the story.  Eve, as she is named in chapter 3, verse 20, is the protagonist, not her husband.  This is an important point, as is the realization that to be the curious one, the seeker of knowledge, the tester of limits is to be quintessentially human – to evidence traits of many of the culture-bringing heroes and heroines of Genesis” (Women’s Bible Commentary, pg 16-17).

Eve, in her curiosity and wonder, sets the stage for humanity’s quest for knowledge.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  In today’s version of creation, “the man and the woman are equals with equal honor and responsibility.  The differentiation of the woman and man from the original human being completes the creation of humankind” (Patella, Michael, pg. 89).

The Talmudic rabbis, Jewish scholars of the 3rd to 6th centuries, were also bothered by an overly literal interpretation of these verses in chapter 2.  They came to the conclusion that the Hebrew word tzelah, most commonly translated as “rib,” comes from the word actually meaning “side.”  To quote Rabbi Lori Forman, “Thus, they declare that Eve was not created from Adam’s rib.  Rather, Adam was a bisexual, double-faced being – neither male nor female.  During the deep sleep that fell upon this first human, its male and females sides were separated, creating man and woman, as we know them today.  Thus, man and woman came into being not one after another, but simultaneously; in fact, joined together as one” (The Women’s Torah Commentary, pg. 49).

This ancient interpretation of the text makes space for the theory that the first story tells of the creation of this androgynous being, while the second version tells of the creation of gendered beings – man and woman.

Again in Rabbi Lori Forman’s words, “This view takes us a short trip away from the plain meaning of the verse in Gen. 2, but its midrashic assistance makes sense of the juxtaposition of the two different stories of creation, which the more belittling view of Eve leaves unresolved.”

But we mustn’t overlook the rest of creation.  Also out of the ground, God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the human to see what he would call them.  God formed humans and animals out of the ground and the Hebrew word for ground is adamah, so very similar to the very word for human, adam.  This is not a coincidence.  It links us to the soil from which God made us so lovingly.

You see, from the very beginning, humans – male and female – made in God’s image, have had a special relationship with and a responsibility towards the animals of the earth.  (That is evidenced in our congregational make up today.  Look around you and you will see dogs, cats, maybe a snake, hamster, fish or two.)

Perhaps, God gave us animals and pets to help us understand in our very bones, the love God has for us as made clear in God’s careful and intentional creation of us.

We can learn so much from Adam and Eve, from St. Francis and from our pets.  Francis wrote many prayers, most of them focusing on the need and desire to Praise God and Creation!  Today, let us remember our creation.  Let us praise and bless our relationships with our pets, the ones here today and the ones we remember in our hearts.  Let us feel our connection to the soil from which we are made and our deep and abiding relationship to all of God’s creatures.

Works Cited

Friedman, Richard Elliott. Commentary on the Torah: With a New English Translation. [San Francisco, Calif.]: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print.

Goldstein, Elyse. The Women’s Torah Commentary: New Insights from Women Rabbis on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2000. Print.

Newsom, Carol A., and Sharon H. Ringe. The Women’s Bible Commentary. London: SPCK, 1992. Print.

Patella, Michael. Word and Image: The Hermeneutics of the Saint John’s Bible. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.