Who or what are the “Generations of the Heavens and the Earth in Genesis 2:4a?

It is widely accepted among scholars of the Jewish scriptures, that the book of Genesis has two separate Creation stories, one following after the other. The first story deals with the seven days of Creation and source-critical scholars assign this to the P (Priestly) source. The second begins immediately after with the story of the Garden of Eden and is assigned to the J (Jahwist) source. The stories are inconsistent in several ways and differ on the order and substance of Creation. The problem I want to discuss today is the issue of where the P source ends and the J source begins.

The critical passage is Genesis 2:4a, which reads,  “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” For context, I will list this verse with the preceding verse and the following verse. I’ll place the key verse in italics.

  • So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation (Genesis 2:3)
  • These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. (Genesis 2:4a)
  • In the day that the Lord 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 the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; (Genesis 2:4b–5)

The majority of scholars, I am told, see Genesis 2:4a as the end of the P source. But a minority see it as the beginning of the J source that follows immediately after. If we look solely at the text at face value, you can make a case for either side.

On the one hand, it could be a concluding statement for what preceded it. On the other, it could be an introduction for what follows. However, the term “these are the generations of “is a literary formula that appears at least ten times in Genesis and an additional time in Ruth. The KJV uses the translation “These are the generations of…” The NRSV substitutes “descendants” for “generations” in all the KJV instances except for Gen 2:4a, clearly attempting to disassociate Genesis 2:4a from the rest of the occasions in which the same phrase is used. Here is the list of the other occasions. For consistency, I’ll use the KJV translation.

  • Genesis 2:4: These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,
  • Genesis 6:9–10: These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. And Noah begat three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
  • Genesis 10.1: Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood.
  • Genesis 11:10: These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood:
  • Genesis 11:27: Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot.
  • Genesis 25:12: Now these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s handmaid, bare unto Abraham:
  • Genesis 25:19: And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham begat Isaac:
  • Genesis 36:1–2: Now these are the generations of Esau, who is Edom. Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan; Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite;
  • Genesis 36:9: And these are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in mount Seir:
  • Genesis 37:2: These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.
  • Ruth 4:18: Now these are the generations of Pharez: Pharez begat Hezron,

In each case after Genesis 2:4a, “these are the generations of” serves to introduce a family, members of a family, and/or stories about a family. Why should Genesis 2:4a be treated any differently? The reason is that to treat Genesis 2:4a in the same way creates a major theological embarrassment.

If we treat Genesis 2:4a in the same way that we treat the key phrase on the other occasions, then “heavens and earth” would have to be parents of someone, and the story that follows would be about the parents and their children. But “heavens and earth” can only be parents if they are beings that bear children. The phrase implies that we are talking about deities associated with Heaven and/or Earth and who have had children (more deities). This is highly problematic for a religion that teaches some form of monotheism.

A redactor appears to have accidentally left in a clue that the J Creation stories about Adam and Eve and their families were originally stories about deities and their children. More specifically, the implication is that Adam and Eve were originally deities associated with Heaven and Earth, and their children were also deities.

So, which deities were they? In the Babylonian Creation story known as Enuma Elish, heaven and earth are the severed portions of a water dragon’s corpse. That doesn’t sound anything like the Garden of Eden couple. Babylonian sources are overly relied upon anyway. So where else should we look?

In my forthcoming book, Genesis Chronology and Egyptian King-lists Vol. II, the Mythic Period, I argue that the two deities are the Egyptian gods Geb, a male who is the Earth, and Nut, a female who is the Heavens. That would make Adam a stand-in for Geb, and Eve a stand-in for Nut. Both sets of parents had three children. Adam and Eve were the parents of Cain, Abel, and Seth. Geb and Nut were the parents of Osiris, Horus, and Set, three of Egypt’s most important deities. In each family, one of the brothers killed one of the others.

I’m not going to go into all the arguments here. I hope to have the book out and available in the early portion of 2022. Hope you’ll be curious enough to buy it.

  1. Jack Marquardt

    From a strictly theological standpoint, the sources on which the Torah, specifically the book of Genesis, was compiled remains a vital question that is open to various interpretations. However, while there may be debate among religious scholars on Egyptian, Babylonian or any other roots dealing with the book Genesis, I feel what is largely overlooked is the magnificent vision those ancient scribes displayed in painting their picture of creation. With absolutely no knowledge of such sciences as geology, cosmology, anthropology, paleontology, or archaeology, they somehow managed to compose an image of God’s creation of the universe, the world and all earthly creatures. That, to me, was the true miracle which could only have been inspired by the hand of God.

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