Genesis: Two make one
The story of humankind’s creation, as told in Genesis I and Genesis II, is another key way that our ideas of gender have been shaped in the last few millennia.
There are many differences between Genesis I and Genesis II, and there is disagreement on whether they are two different creation stories or one. The dicrepencies between the two stories is interesting, especially since the language used in Genesis II is often used to justify a hierarchy of the sexes.
In the first narrative, we have a descriptive account of creation that begins with light and space, moves to the animals, and ends with humankind.
“So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”1
Genesis I, 27
In the Genesis II, the second account, we begin with a flood and move to the creation of man and then the animals.
“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Thus the man became a living creature.”1
Genesis II, 7
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will provide a partner for him.’”1
Genesis II, 18
Noticing that man and women are created in two different stories, a naïve understanding might be that God created the world twice; however, a more nuanced investigation reveals that the first account came from nomads almost 500 years before the second account (450 BCE vs 950 BCE).
These societies would find different values compelling, and would want different creation stories because of their social structures.
450 BCE - Nomadic society
- Concerned with the ability for the land to produce plentiful and continuous food supplies.
- Smaller society, so formal power structures are less important.
- Storytelling focusses on how things exist, and on the resources available to the society (descriptive).
950 BCE - Agricultural society
- Concerned with the ability to create and process large amounts of food for itself.
- Larger society, so formal power structures / heirarchy is needed to create order.
- Storytelling is an accessible way to communicate and maintain order in larger society.
- Focusses more on why society functions in a particular way (normative).
Genesis II aims to provide a reasoning for a present reality — it is communicating why society is a particular way.
“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and the two become one flesh.”1
Genesis II, 24
“this shall be called woman, for from man was this taken.”1
Genesis II, 23
Genesis I, in contrast, doesn’t specify which sex was created first (“man” is often used as a term for humankind in older literature). It only concerns itself with the details of creation, and not the details of the human condition.
The second story, however, is focused on the human condition; man is given the power to name the rivers and lands, to categorize the world as he sees fit. It also has a justification for marriage, and for women to exist (to assist man in the caretaking of Eden). This indicates that the second story is not meant as a simple catalog of events, but is meant to convey a message to its readers.
Interpretations of the second story inform a staggering amount of literature and societal ideas of gender. The power of naming is often given to those who create and discover, and the power of naming that man is given implies the dominion over Creation, and in particular Eve.
The dependence on Adam that is created when Eve is created from his rib is poignant as well; God created Adam from dust, why was Eve different?
The use of the rib-bone and the dominion of naming are often used as key reasons for men to be dominant and for women to be submissive.
Appendix: Why does an omnipotent being need help?
Confusingly, Genesis II brings into question God’s agency, God:
- is unable to determine the things that Adam needs and wants,
- gives Adam the power to dictate the direction of Creation,
- is unable to create a suitable helper for Adam, a major justification for the use of Adams un-used rib-bone.
God works in mysterious ways, but the contrast with Genesis I makes these inconsistencies even more intriguing.