Two Accounts of Creation: Bereshit 1–2

Exegetical Approaches


Commentators attempt to understand both the need for and the discrepancies between the two accounts of creation.  The majority of sources view the issue from a literary perspective, claiming that Chapter 1 presents an overview of creation, while Chapter 2 provides the details, focusing on the formation of man.  Others, such as R. Y"D Soloveitchik and R"M Breuer, are more philosophical in their approach. They claim that the two accounts complement each other, each relaying a different aspect of man and the world.  Since man himself, and the world at large, have contradictory yet coexisting facets, so does the narrative. 

A final approach is suggested by Hoil Moshe and elaborated upon by R"D Nissani.  They suggest that the two chapters do not describe the same event at all, and as such, have no need to conform to each other.  While Chapter 1 describes the initial creation of the world and the entire human race, Chapter 2 depicts the much later creation of the individual named Adam.  This solution is used to explain other troubling issues in Bereshit as well, including the age of the world and the longevity of early humans.

Literary Device

The repetition of the Creation story is a literary technique, in which the Torah first presents a general overview of the world's creation and then returns to provide greater detail about its most significant individual components.

Structural unit – This position views Chapters 1–2 as one unit.  Chapter 1 provides an overview of creation, while Chapter 2 presents the details, with a specific focus on the creation of man.
Creation of man and woman – together or separate? Chapter 1 describes the end result of mankind's creation, that both male and female were created.  The specifics of how that creation transpired are expressed only in Chapter 2, where the reader learns that this was a staged process, with man being created prior to his mate, and woman being formed only later from one of his ribs.
Man in the "image of God" or from earth – While Chapter 1 makes the general statement that mankind was made in Hashem's image, Chapter 2 elaborates on exactly how this occurred:  Man was first formed from the dust of the earth and then Hashem breathed into him a living soul.
Order of creation – This approach maintains that the order of creation described in Chapter 1 is the chronological sequence of the events.  The differences that emerge from Chapter 2 are given local explanations:
  • Man: first or last?  Since the entire purpose of retelling the creation story in Chapter 2 is to move into a discussion of Adam and the particulars that relate to him alone, this account veers from the actual order and begins by recounting man's creation.
  • Vegetation: before or after man?  Both Rashi and Cassuto assert that Chapter 2 speaks of a new event but differ in how they relate it to the plants of Chapter 1:
    • Second stage – Rashi, following R. Assi in Bavli ChulinChulin 60bAbout Bavli Chulin, harmonizes the two accounts by suggesting that vegetation appeared on the earth on day three, but did not grow until after man's creation on day six.1
    • New creation – Cassuto suggests, in contrast, that most vegetation was created before man, as described in Chapter 1.  Bereshit 2:5 is speaking only about very specific plants ("שִׂיחַ הַשָּׂדֶה" and "עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה") which were created afterwards.  These terms refer to wheat and barley which were necessary only after man sinned and could no longer benefit from the Garden of Eden.  As Chapter 2 leads into the story of the sin, this fact is mentioned only here.2
  • Animals: before or after man? 
    • Old event – Rashi and Radak explain that the word "וַיִּצֶר" in 2:19 refers back to the previous creation already done in Chapter 1.  This creation is repeated simply to introduce Adam's naming of the animals.
    • New event – Cassuto argues that "וַיִּצֶר" is not a past perfect form and thus must refer to a new creation. Though many animals had already been created, Hashem now formed specific ones to introduce to Adam in the Garden.
Commands to man: to conquer or to guard? Chapter 2 which focuses on man's life once he moves into the Garden of Eden includes the specific instructions related to the Garden.  Such directives have no place in the general account of Chapter 1 which instead includes the timeless command to multiply and subdue the earth.
Names of Hashem
  • Radak, following Bereshit Rabbah13:1,3About Bereshit Rabbah, suggests that throughout Chapter 1, when creation was not yet complete, Hashem's full name is not used.  Only in Chapter 2, when the entire world already exists, does the Torah use His full name.3
  • Cassuto asserts that the name Elohim is a general term used to refer to God, while Hashem is His proper name.  Thus, in the general description of the material world, the more distant term, "Elohim", is used.  However, in the detailed description of His personal interaction with Adam, the proper name "Hashem" is used.4
Verbs used (עשה/ברא versus יצר) – These commentators do not explicitly address this issue, and they might not attribute any significance to the differences, viewing the assorted verbs as no more than standard literary variation in Torah.  Nonetheless, the fact that the verbs are so distinctive in each chapter is still somewhat surprising.

Two Facets of Creation

The two chapters describe different aspects of the same creation.  Since man and the world at large have contradictory, but nonetheless, coexisting facets, each aspect of the world is spoken of separately.  This approach has been developed in two similar, but distinct, ways by R. Y"D Soloveitchik and R"M Breuer:5

Creative Man vs. Man of Faith

Chapter 1 focuses on man in his majestic and creative capacity and his search for dignity through control over his environment, while Chapter 2 describes the submissive man of faith and his search for redemption.  As each prototype approaches his surroundings differently, the descriptions of each creation differ.

Sources:R. Y"D Soloveitchik6
Structural unit – This approach views Chapters 1 and 2 as forming a single unit. Only when read together can one appreciate the complexity and multifaceted character of mankind.  Humans are are neither solely the creative, utilitarian, men of Chapter 1, nor the deep thinkers of Chapter 2, but rather a somewhat paradoxical conglomerate of both.
Man in the image of God or from earth – Adam 1 is created in the "image of God" and imitates Him; more than anything else he aspires to create, like his Creator.  In contrast, Hashem forms Adam 2 from the dust of the earth and then breathes into him a soul.  This breath of God instills in man his spiritual yearning for a relationship with Hashem,7 while his humble origins make him ever cognizant of his lowliness in his search for Hashem.
Names of Hashem – The name Elohim connotes a God who is the source of cosmic dynamism while the name Hashem reflects an intimate and personal God.  The former reflects the God of the practical, creative man of Chapter 1 while the latter reflects the relationship yearned for by the man of faith of Chapter 2.
Creation of man and woman – together or separate? Adam 1 is created together with his female counterpart, symbolizing his need for society.  This prototype strives for glory and needs a community in which to achieve this.  There are pragmatic tasks which he can accomplish only through the cooperation of others, and so he attaches himself to those around him.  Adam 2, in contrast, is existentially lonely in his quest to understand the purpose of life and the world around him.  It is only through surrender and sacrifice (sleep and the loss of a rib) that he can find a true friend who deeply shares his experiences.8
Commands to man: to conquer or to guard? Adam 1 is commanded to conquer the world for that is his essence.  Adam 2, in contrast, is told to work and preserve the garden rather than subdue it.  He is further warned against eating from the Tree of Knowledge, as he is assigned, not to control the world, but rather only to control himself.
Order of creation – As Adam 1 is essentially a natural being, he is created on the same day as the animals.  He is made last, as the pinnacle of creation, for he aims to dominate all lesser beings.  The same is not true of Adam 2.

Natural World vs. Revelatory World

Chapter 1 presents the world as run by nature, where Hashem is hidden and His attribute of justice is at the fore. Chapter 2, in contrast, presents a world in which Hashem is revealed and His mercy dominates.

Sources:R"M Breuer9
Structural unit – This approach views the first two chapters of Bereshit as one unit, each complementing the other's presentation of the world.
Order of creation – In the natural order world of Chapter One, the simple precedes the complex, and therefore creation proceeds from plant to animal to human.  However, in Chapter Two's miraculous world of overt revelation, natural laws of development do not apply.  Instead, the essential precedes the incidental, and thus man, the raison d'etre of creation, is mentioned before the vegetation and animals.
Names of Hashem – According to R. Breuer, the name Elohim connotes Hashem's attribute of justice which rules the natural world.  Here, Hashem is hidden and not known by His proper name.  In the revelatory world, though, there is room for Hashem's mercy, and thus the name Hashem (which implies this attribute) is added in this account of creation.10  Moreover, the name Hashem implies a personal God who relates to man, fitting the God of revelation.
Creation of man and woman – together or separate? In the natural world, the continuation of the species is of prime import.  Thus, the account in Chapter 1 describes males and females as being created together, since their partnership is necessary for the continued existence of mankind.  Chapter 2, which speaks of a world in which Hashem is involved and in which He desires that His creations be happy, instead describes man's search for his appropriate mate.  A period of loneliness is required before she can be created, for only afterwards can man truly appreciate and love her.11
Man in the "image of God" or from earth – R. Breuer might explain that when describing a world of nature that revolves around survival of the species, man is created in the image of God, for it is the Godly attributes of dominance and wisdom which ensure his existence.  In contrast, when speaking of the revelatory world which is infused with meaning, it is important than man be given a living soul.  In addition, perhaps man is created from the earth because in this world of mercy it is important that he have empathy for those lesser than him.
Commands to man: to conquer or to guard? R. Breuer might explain that conquest and dominance are crucial for survival in the world of nature and justice, while preservation and guarding are key components of a world of mercy.

Completely Distinct Events

While Chapter 1 describes the earlier creation of the whole world and the entire human race, Chapter 2 speaks of a subsequent and wholly separate creation of the Garden of Eden and the individual Adam.

Structural unit – This approach views Chapters 1 and 2 as two distinct units, describing different events.  Chapter 2 is connected to the chapters which follow it rather than to Chapter 1.
Why two creations?
  • The Hoil Moshe appears to suggest that the pre-Adamites of Chapter 1 are a lesser form of the human species later fathered by Adam.  He does not explain why Hashem did not simply start by creating a more perfect creature.14
  • According to R. Nissani, Adam was uniquely created and placed in the Garden of Eden since he was to father a special race, distinct from the rest of mankind which had been previously created.
Order of creation – Since the two chapters describe totally different events, there is no reason for the order of creation to be the same in both.15
Names of Hashem – R. Nissani suggests that the name Elohim connotes a universal God, and is thus used when discussing the creation of the world at large.  The name Hashem, on the other hand, reflects God's personal providence, and is thus added when describing the creation of an individual race whom God cares for in particular and with whom He converses.
"צֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים" versus "נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים" – The Hoil Moshe asserts that although both pre-Adamites and post-Adamites were created "in the image of God", with the ability to rule over others, only Adamites merited that Hashem breathed into them a living soul, making them much wiser and closer to Hashem.
Creation of man and woman – together or separate? In Chapter 1, when the human species as a whole is created, both male and female are created simultaneously since the procreation necessary to produce a species requires a male and female.  When Hashem forms the individual, Adam, though, there was no special reason to create Chavvah simultaneously.
"זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה" versus איש ואשה – The Hoil Moshe suggests that the lesser pre-Adamites might have gone to the other sex only out of animalistic desire and thus they are referred to only as male and female.  Adam, in contrast, looked for a spiritual partner in Chavvah.
Verbs used (עשה/ברא versus יצר) – In Chapter 1, when Hashem created ex nihilo, the verbs "ברא" and "עשה" are used.  The creations of Chapter 2, though, were formed from pre-existing matter, and therefore the more appropriate verb "יצר" is used.
Commands to man: to conquer or to guard? Hashem blesses the human species as a whole to multiply, and He places them at the apex of creation, in control of the lesser beings.  In Chapter 2, in contrast, Hashem gives very specific commands to Adam, meant for him alone in his unique abode, the Garden of Eden.
Evidence of multiple humans – R. Nissani supports his claim that many humans existed besides Adam and Eve from the following:
  • "כָל מֹצְאִי יַהַרְגֵנִי" – Kayin's lament after his punishment for killing Hevel that "all who will find me will kill me" only makes sense on the backdrop of other existing humans.
  • Progeny – If there were no other people in the world besides Adam, Chavvah, and their children, whom did Kayin marry and how did he bear children?16
  • "וַיְהִי בֹּנֶה עִיר" – After Kayin bears his son, Chanokh, the verse states that he built a city.  A city connotes an area inhabited by many, not just Kayin's immediate family.
"לְמִינוֹ" – With regard to the creation of all other forms of life (vegetation, fish, birds, and animals), the verses explicitly state that Hashem created each according to its species ("לְמִינוֹ").  By man, though, this term is absent, and this is somewhat difficult for this position which claims that mankind, too, was created as an entire species and not just as a single individual.
זֶה סֵפֶר תּוֹלְדֹת אָדָם – The opening two verses of Chapter 5, which preface the genealogy of Adam (and presumably thus speak of Adam of Chapter 2) are also difficult for R. Nissani, since the language in Chapter 5 parallels the terminology used regarding the creation of the human species in Chapter 117 rather than that of Chapter 2.  R. Nissani thus suggests that these two opening verses serve as a summary of the entire creation account in Chapters 1-4, rather than an introduction to Chapter 5 itself.
Age of the world – Both the Hoil Moshe and R. Nissani posit that the creation of Adam in the Garden might have occurred thousands of years after the original creation of humans.  This allows for harmonization with scientific data according to which the world and human life is much older than dating in Torah would seem to imply.18
Permission to eat meat – To explain the differing commands regarding eating meat in Chapters 1 and 9 of Bereshit, the Hoil Moshe suggests that the Pre-Adamites were commanded to eat only vegetation, while Adam and Chavvah's descendants were permitted to also eat meat.  For other opinions regarding this issue, see Permission to Eat Meat.
Longevity – R. Nissani suggests that the long life spans of the people listed in the generations from Adam to Noach likely refer only to Adam's descendants and are not representative of the rest of the people living in the world at the time.  Having originated in the Garden of Eden, and perhaps having tasted from the Tree of Life, they merited long life.  Over the generations, though, Adam's descendants mingled with and married other humans and eventually life spans were lowered for all.
בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים and בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם – R. Nissani posits that the "בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים" of Bereshit 6 are the descendants of Adam who had lived in the Garden and eaten of the Tree of Knowledge.  They took advantage of their special status and knowledge to capture the daughters of the rest of mankind to whom they had taken a liking.19  See בני הא־להים and בנות האדם for other understandings of this enigmatic passage.