Gary Greenberg's blog on biblical studies and related matters

A Genesis editing error? Separating the second and third days of Creation

As the story of creation unfolds day by day in Genesis 1, you can see something of a formulaic structure in the wording. On Days 1,3, 4, 5, and 6, the text has God declare that each days creation was “good.” On each of those days, the text ends with “there was evening and there was morning, the [N] day”, where N represents the particular day’s number. But there is a slight flaw in that structure on the second day and third days.

While the second day ends with the formulaic “there was evening and there was morning, the second day,” there is no reference to the events of the second day being “good.” On the third day, however, there are two separate references to the day’s events being “good.” Let’s take a closer look at these two days.

On the second day, God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” The waters above were separated from the waters below, and the dome was called “sky” (in the NRVS version.) This is followed with the formulaic note about evening and morning.

On Day 3, God is still fooling around with the waters. “’Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so.” God called the land “earth” and the waters under the sky “Seas.” As an aside, this sees to be something of a contradiction. Seas implies multiple waters separated from each other, but we were just told all the waters were gathered in one place.

At the conclusion of this task and naming exercise, we are told, “And God saw that it was good.” On all the other days, this phrase comes at the end of the day’s activity. Here it comes in the middle of the day’s activity. God next plants fruit and vegetation and the trees and seed. And, again, “God saw that it was good.” This is followed by the formulaic description of evening and morning.

The question I have is why the second day’s activities are not declared “good”, but the third day’s activities are declared “good” on two separate occasions for two different projects, one of which continues the second day’s activities.

The second day was concerned with creating a dome to separate the waters above from the waters below. The first part of the third day is devoted to gathering together the waters below and causing dry land to appear. It seems to me that that activity should have been part and parcel of the second day’s activities. In fact, the act of separating the waters above from the waters below actually left the waters below in one place. We know that because dry land had not yet appeared on the second day.

Furthermore, the end result of the third day was not the gathering of the waters in one place, the declared purpose, but separating the waters so that land can appear. We know some waters were separated from other waters because they were turned into separate Seas. Now, I am sure I am not the first person to notice this problem, and I am sure there is no end of creative theological solutions to paste over what appears to be an obvious error, but something is clearly wrong here.

It is my suggestion that in the original version of Genesis, the second day ended after the separation of the waters above from the waters below, leaving the waters gathered together in one place. Somehow, in the course of textual transmission, this got screwed up, with the gathering of the waters in one place being confused with the separation of the waters into Seas.

To be more specific: On the second day, God separated the waters above from the waters below, causing the waters to be gathered in one place, with no land divisions. This act was called “good” and there was evening and there was morning. The third day was not concerned with “gathering” the waters in one place but with separating the waters into Seas and bringing out the dry land, upon which God seeded and planted the vegetation and fruits and trees. That was also called “good” and there was evening and there was morning.