Fertility and Resurrection

“The entire picture is dominated by negatives,” writes Bruce Naidoff [1]. Genesis 2:5 describes only what is not:

No wild plant of the field was yet in the land
No cultivated field plant had yet sprung up

The reason for such infertility is then provided:

for Yahweh God had not caused it to rain on the land,
and there was no man to work the ground.

 Two things are lacking, without which life will not permeate the land – rain sent by God, and man (adam) to work the ground (adamah). Sooner or later, rain is sent by God [2]; in the next verse we see the creation of man from the infertile ground:

then Yahweh God formed the man (adam) of dust from the ground (adamah) and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (v. 6)

Why the creation of man? Nomen est omen! The infertile adamah required a gardener, and what better gardener for the adamah than an adam, one who was “intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (Psa. 139:15b)? Just as no better helper for the man can be found than the one built out of his side (Gen. 2:21-23), so no better servant of the ground can be found than one formed from her own substance.

It is by design that Christ should be raised by God out of the earth in the early days of Spring, when creation is yearning to be fertile again. When we celebrate the work of God in bringing to life a man from the ground and rejoice in the new life that permeates the land, we should say, “This is what was intended from the beginning. This is how it should be.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him… (John 20:15a)


[1] B.D. Naidoff, “A Man to Work the Soil: A New Interpretation of Genesis 2-3,” JSOT 5 (1978), p. 4.

[2] For the view that the provision of rain is given in Genesis 2:6, see M. Futato, “Because it had Rained: A Study of Gen 2:5-7 with Implications for Gen 2:4-25 and Gen 1:1–2:3,” WTJ 60 (1998): 1-21, and M. Rogland, “Interpreting ED in Genesis 2.5-6: Neglected Rabbinic and Intertextual Evidence,” JSOT 34 (2010): 379-393. cf. Deuteronomy 11:14-15.

Published in: on April 5, 2015 at 9:27 am  Leave a Comment  

The mother of all living

And she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” (Gen. 4:25)

Eve understood that the conception and birth of Seth was an act of God, whose objective it was to replace one who was dead with one who was alive. This may be the key to understanding the meaning of Eve’s name. Immediately after Adam heard from the mouth of Yahweh the words, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” he turns to his wife and names her Eve, “because she was the mother of all living.”

Being cut off from one source of life inside the garden, Adam recognizes that his wife will be the source of life outside the garden. Adam will die, but adam (humanity) will live forever as Yahweh raises up offspring through Eve. One form of eternal life is granted through the son, anticipating the other form of eternal life that will come through the Son.

Published in: on March 24, 2015 at 9:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Genesis 2 and the Virgin Birth

Terje Stordalen writes,

Usually toledot is a superscription naming the progenitor of the characters in the following section (i.e. toledot Adam in 5.1 opens the list of Adam’s offspring, toledot Terah in 11.27 initiates the story of Abraham, etc.). Reading Gen. 2.4 in the same way, it relates the story of Adam, Eve as ‘the story of the offspring of heaven and earth’. [1]

The association between the earth (eretz) and a mother’s womb (cf. Psalm 139:13-15; Job 1:21; 10:9-11; Isaiah 34:1; Jeremiah 20:17; Sirach 40:1; also Romans 8:19-22) would position the earth as “mother” and the heavens as “father” in Genesis 2:4a.

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

Insofar as life comes out of the earth in Genesis 2, the biblical association between it and a womb is reasonable. In what way, however, might heaven be imagined as “father”? Verses 4b-5 provides the clue:

In the day that Yahweh God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up — for Yahweh God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man (adam) to till the ground (adamah)…

This verse affirms that life normally sprouts from the earth as a result of heaven showering it with rain [2]; no rain normally means no life… unless Yahweh directly intervenes. Verse 7:

Then Yahweh God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Whereas life typically sprouts from the ground through the cooperation of both heaven (as it gives rain) and earth, the first life to come from the earth is through the personal agency of Yahweh. Created before it had rained, the first Adam was born of a “virgin,” anticipating Yahweh’s work of new creation in the last Adam.


[1] Terje Stordalen, “Mother Earth in Biblical Hebrew Literature: Ancient and Contemporary Imagination,” in: J. Middlemas, D. J. A. Clines, and E. Holt (eds.), The Centre and the Periphery: A European Tribute to Walter Brueggemann (Hebrew Bible Monographs 27), Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2010, p. 119. See also idem, “Genesis 2,4. Restudying a locus classicus,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 104, 1992.

[2] Assuming an environment such as that of Canaan (Deut. 11:11). See Theodore Hiebert, The Yahwist’s Landscape: Nature and Religion in Early Israel, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996, 2007, pp. 36-37.

Published in: on March 22, 2015 at 6:15 pm  Comments (1)  

Eve as creation

Evidently Paul views Eve as a type of creation:

Genesis 4:1, “And she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have begotten a man with Yahweh!'”
Romans 8:19, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”

Genesis 4:2, “And again, she bore his brother Abel” [= hevel = futility]
Romans 8:20, “For the creation was subjected to futility…”

Genesis 3:16, “To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children…”
Romans 8:22, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

Genesis itself invites such a comparison. The Eden narrative begins with the title, “These are the generations [toledoth] of the heavens and the earth,” which indicates that together they are the progenitors of what follows (everywhere else in the Hebrew Bible, where it refers to the toledoth of X, X is the parent or ancestor of those who follow in either the genealogy or narrative). What follows is man (adam), created from the ground (adamah) through the activity of Yahweh, and the rest of humanity coming from him. Whatever role might be ascribed to “the heavens” in the production of adam (my first inclination to simply read it as a substitute for God is thwarted by the words in 2:4, “when they [the heavens and the earth] were created”), the earth, as the womb from whence adam was born, can be regarded as the first “Eve,” that is, “the mother of all living.” Based on this comparison, Paul may have thought it only natural (pun intended) to apply the words to and from Eve as revealing something about creation as a whole.

Published in: on December 19, 2014 at 4:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Why readers of Genesis 3 need to read Genesis 4.

Genesis 4 provides many of the details needed to make sense of Genesis 3, at least in part. The Cain & Abel narrative reuses ideas and words from the story it follows in such a way that it demands its readers to turn back the page, look again, and realize how much of the preceding story only now makes sense.

For example, the cursing of the ground for Adam’s sake in Genesis 3:17 may initially seem a non-sequitur: why punish the ground for the crime of another? The further development of the curse may provide readers enough information to reveal that the curse imposed on the ground is a means to an end: Yahweh’s curse of the ground for Adam’s action prompts resentment on the part of the ground. It is out of resentment toward Adam for this imposed curse that it chooses to make Adam’s work difficult through the production of thorns and thistles.

This does not, however, make explicit the nature of the curse imposed on the ground. To put it another way, what does Yahweh do to the ground that may rightly be identified as a curse? Cain’s murder of Abel in the next episode makes the identification explicit:

And Yahweh said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” (4:10-11)

Unlike Genesis 3, here Yahweh identifies the nature of the curse which the ground is imposing on Cain (which, it is important to note, is different from the curse on the ground imposed by Yahweh): “When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength” (v. 12). The ground reacts negatively toward Cain in a way similar to its reaction toward Adam (though with greater intensity). Also unlike Genesis 3, an explicit reason is given for this action on the part of the ground: the ground, deceived by Cain, “opened its mouth” to receive the blood of Abel. As a worker of the ground (v. 2), Cain would have irrigated the ground with water. In response, the ground would “open its mouth,” drink the water, and reciprocate by “yield[ing] to [Cain] its strength.” Evidently, the ground hates being given human blood to drink, and will respond negatively when forced to.

This is where Genesis 4 sheds light on Genesis 3. What is the nature of the curse imposed on the ground by God, resulting in the ground’s negative respond?

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (3:19)

The ground had participated in the creation of Adam. Now, because Adam took from the fruit which God had warned would result in death, the ground would be forced to receive back his body. The ground’s contribution to bringing humanity (adam) to life has been frustrated; therefore, the ground will frustrate humanity’s (adam) effort to hold onto its life by eating. It no more appreciates the curse of eating dust than does the serpent (cf. 3:14).

The implications for reading Genesis 3 continue. By eating from the tree that would result in death, Adam’s disobedience to Yahweh’s voice was an indirect crime against the ground. No matter how hard Adam turns to the ground to farm it, the ground will continue to dominate him.

Now take another step back. Yahweh had said to the woman:

I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (v. 16)

“Desire” (Heb. teshuqah) is difficult, and might be better understood as “forward movement,” “momentum,” or something like that (see Joel Lohr’s article in JBL 130, no. 2, pp. 227-246). The point, however, is similar to the one made above: no matter how hard the woman returns to the man (to produce children? to turn him toward another act of disobedience?), the man will continue to dominate her.

Of course, this just as easily carries back to the words to the serpent: no matter how often the serpent nips at the heel of the woman’s seed, the heel will continue to dominate him.

Finally, returning to the issue of the curse imposed on the ground, a re-reading of Genesis 4:1-2 may reveal grim irony. The word that might well describe the curse on the ground is “hevel,” understood in the sense of futility, working towards something that results in nothing (cf. Eccl. 2:18-19). The ground brought forth Adam, only to receive him back in death. Genesis 4 begins with an exclamation on the part of Eve: “I have gotten a man with Yahweh!” Though painful, Cain’s birth was an accomplishment. But something happened to Eve that made her identify with the ground. When the second child was born, she named him “Hevel.” Accomplishment gives way to disappointment and frustration. The ground knows that. Now, so does Eve.

Published in: on November 30, 2014 at 9:00 pm  Leave a Comment