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It begins with two accounts of the origin of humans: the first in Gen. 1-Gen 2:3, and the second in Gen 2:4-Gen 3. Oddly, people who believe that the Book of Genesis is 100% literal, historical Truth in every word, do not seem to care that Gen. 1 and Gen. 2 cannot agree on when Adam was created (Gen. 1 says God did Adam after all other species; Gen. 2 says God did Adam before He did everything else).
The two creation stories differ in several important details.
The Genesis 1 story (G1):
- God is called elohim
- God creates by commanding
- God creates step-by-step
- Humanity is God's latest and greatest creation, created after everything else
- God is very happy with what he had done, and at the end of his labors, he decides to take the first day off in the history of the Universe
The Genesis 2 story (G2):
- God is called yhwh elohim
- God creates in a more physical fashion, by manipulating dirt and a rib and the like
- God fixes his creation as he goes, since Adam is lonely, and unsatisfied with the animals that God creates for him
- The first man, Adam, is created before the animals, which are created before the first woman
- God must be rather exasperated by his misbehaving creations
The orders of creation are very important to the storylines of both G1 and G2, so it is difficult to get around that contradiction. A common counterargument, however, is that G2 is an elaboration of what had happened to the first people mentioned in G1, and that the "creating" of animals in it was really the introduction of previously-created animals to Adam.
Also, G1 has some interesting internal parallels; the first three days are the creation of environments and the second three days are the creation of their inhabitants, in the exact same order. As a table:
|Celestial||Day 1||Day 4|
|Far terrestrial||Day 2||Day 5|
|Sea||Fish, sea monsters|
|Near terrestrial||Day 3||Day 6|
|Land||Land animals, humanity|
|Plants||"You may eat these"|
This is a very elegant arrangement, with two creation sequences intermixed:
- Celestial - Far terrestrial - Near terrestrial
- Environments - Inhabitants
This arrangement explains several puzzles, like why daytime and nighttime are created three days before the Sun and the Moon, why plants are created before the Sun, and why birds are created before land animals. However, to a modern mind, and perhaps even to some perceptive ancient mind, it nevertheless has several oddities. It reverses cause and effect about the Sun and daytime, the Moon shines for only half of the nighttime, flying animals are essentially land animals that can fly, and plants are much more like animals than (say) rocks. Plants, despite being naturally stationary, grow and reproduce and have edibility similar to animals, at least to omnivores like ourselves.
By contrast, G2 lacks any similar sequencing or internal parallelism.
If G1 and G2 look like the writings of different authors, do not be surprised. This different-author hypothesis is part of the Documentary or JEDP Hypothesis about the origin of the early books of the Bible, and the Bible as a whole appears to be a mishmash of the writings of a variety of authors with different beliefs and interests and agendas. In fact current consensus recognizes four authors
- J - Yahwist (850 B.C.E.) (G2)
- E - Elohist (ca. 700 B.C.E.)(G1)
- D - Deuteronomic (ca. 623 B.C.E.)
- P - Priestly (500-450 B.C.E.)
There are some ulterior motives that one can discern in these stories. G1 seems intended to celebrate the Sabbath, by describing the first week and the first Sabbath in the history of the Universe. G2 seems more like some Just So Story that explains such things as why giving birth is difficult for our species and why snakes crawl on their bellies. Genesis contains several other such foundation myths and Just So Stories. The stories of legendary ancestors of various ethnic groups indicate what they are worthy of; the twelve tribes of Israel have some land allotted to each of them, while the Canaanites, Ammonites, and Moabites have very disreputable origins. The Tower of Babel is a Just So Story intended to account for an incomplete ziggurat and for why people speak different languages.
The story of Noah's Flood is also worth noting, since young-earth creationists often believe in Flood Geology, the old theory that the Earth's surface rocks had been shaped by that flood. This story closely parallels some old Mesopotamian flood stories, and was likely borrowed from them. Likewise, some of the cosmology in Genesis 1, like the water above the sky, was likely borrowed from that source.