Creation (Genesis 1:1–2:19)
Lectionary1st Monday of Great Lent (i.e., Clean Monday, Beginning of the Great Fast)
Genesis 1:1–13 (ENGLXXUP), altered
1 In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. 2 But the earth was [unseena] and unfurnished, and darkness was over the deep, and the Spirit of God moved over the water. 3 And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. 4 And God saw the light that it was good, and God divided between the light and the darkness. 5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night, and there was evening and there was morning, [one dayb].
6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the water, and let it be a division between water and water, and it was so. 7 And God made the firmament, and God divided between the water which was under the firmament and the water which was above the firmament. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven, and God saw that it was good, and there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9 And God said, Let the water which is under the heaven be collected into one place, and let the dry land appear, and it was so. And the water which was under the heaven was collected into its places, and the dry land appeared. 10 And God called the dry land Earth, and the gatherings of the waters he called Seas, and God saw that it was good. 11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the herb of grass bearing seed according to its kind and according to its likeness, and the fruit tree bearing fruit whose seed is in it, according to its kind on the earth, and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth the herb of grass bearing seed according to its kind and according to its likeness, and the fruit tree bearing fruit whose seed is in it, according to its kind on the earth, and God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
a Brenton / ENGLXXUP translated ἀόρατος (aoratos) as “unsightly.”
b Brenton / ENGLXXUP translated ἡμέρα μία (hēmera mia) as “the first day.”
The allusions (and challenges) to other ANE mythological accounts are apparent (e.g., Enuma Elish).
Many fathers emphasize God’s creation from nothing (ex nihilo), with the standard Christian prooftext in the early Church being 2 Maccabees 7:28: “I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not; and so was mankind made likewise” (ENGLXXUP).
1: Both Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 begin with “Ἐν ἀρχῇ” (en archē; “In the beginning”).
- The Nicene Creed affirms God as creator: “I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth….”
2: The fathers saw a foreshadowing of baptism in the Spirit’s rushing / hovering upon the water. The Greek word translated “deep” (ἄβυσσος) is the basis for the English word “abyss.”
The Greek LXX words translated “unseen” (ἀόρατος / aoratos) … “unfurnished” (ἀκατασκεύαστος / akataskevastos) … “abyss” (ἀβύσσου / abyssou) are an example of alliteration to translate assonant Hebrew words. Law proposed using another word beginning with the prefix “un–” to translate “abyss” to capture this alliteration (i.e., “unseen… unsorted… unsounded”). I considered translating ἀβύσσου (abyssou) as “underworld” for this reason, but decided against it to avoid confusion with Hades / Sheol.
- Timothy Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 40.
1–3: The fathers emphasize the role of Jesus (and the entire Trinity) in creation. “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions, rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16–17, BTV).
- The Nicene Creed further affirms Jesus’ role in creation: “… by whom all things were made.”
5: Most translations say “first day” rather than “one day,” but “ἡμέρα μία” (hēmera mia) is better translated as the latter. “μία” (mia) is a cardinal number (meaning “one”), whereas “πρῶτος” (protos) would be the ordinal number (meaning “first”). For the other days of creation, the ordinal numbers are used, making this distinction intentional and important, and it is present in the Hebrew (יֹ֥ום אֶחָֽד / yom echad), Greek (ἡμέρα μία / hēmera mia), and even in the Latin Vulgate (dies unus). This distinction was the subject of several ancient Jewish (e.g., Philo, Rashi) and Christian (e.g., Sts. Basil and Augustine) commentaries.
In those ancient and classical commentaries on this biblical text, moreover, we find the common assertion that the words “one day” served to elevate that day of Creation to something more than part of a sequence. There is a profound reason why the original day of Creation is appropriately called “one,” whereas the second day is not appropriately called “two,” nor the third day “three,” and so forth. The original day is “one” in a manner analogous to the number itself. “One” is not simply the numeral that precedes two; it is, rather, the number out of which that second number comes. There is a formal disparity between one and the other numbers. One (to hen) is the font determining the identity of two and the subsequent numbers. “One” is not just “first” as part of a sequence; it is what we call a principle, an arche. On “day one,” then, God creates light, which He thereby separates from darkness. It is out of this light, which is the product of God’s first creating word, that all the rest of Creation comes. All things that God makes are filled with His light. God’s light lies shining at the heart of the world
Patrick Henry Reardon, Creation and the Patriarchal Histories: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Genesis (Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2008), 32–33.
- This theme of the “one day” was also associated with the eighth day (Sunday) and connected to the Orthodox liturgical calendar (specifically, Pentecost in the below example). St. Basil explained why the Church teaches to stand in prayer on Sunday:
We say our prayers standing on the first day of the week, but not all know the reason why. By standing for prayer we remind ourselves of the grace given to us on the day of the resurrection, as if we are rising to stand with Christ and being bound to seek what is above. Not only this, it also seems somehow to be an image of the age to come. On account of this, although it is the beginning of days, Moses names it not “first” but “one.” For it is written, “There was evening, and there was morning, one day” (Gen 1:5), as if the same one often repeated. Now, “One” and “Eighth” are the same, which indicates of itself that the really “one” and true “eighth”—which the Psalmist mentions in some titles of psalms—are the state after this time, the unceasing, unending, perpetual day, that never-ending and ever-young age. Necessarily, then, the Church teaches her foster children to pray standing on this day, so that we would not neglect the provisions for our journey to everlasting life by a constant reminder of it. And the whole of Pentecost is a reminder of the resurrection to come in eternity, for that “one” and first day, multiplied by seven seven times, fills up the seven weeks of sacred Pentecost. It begins on the first day and ends on the same day, revolving fifty times through similar days in between. Eternity is like a circular movement, beginning from the same points where it ends. The ordinances of the Church well taught us to prefer to stand at prayer on this day, as if we were leading our minds from the present to the future. With each going down on the knee and rising up we indicate in deed that we have fallen through sin to the earth and are called up to heaven by the love of our creator.
St. Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, ed. John Behr, trans. Stephen Hildebrand, vol. 42, Popular Patristics Series (Yonkers, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 106 (27.66).
- There is symmetry between the days as to the various created domains and what was created to inhabit and order each domain. During days 1–3, God made the forms (or “domains”) of the cosmos (and in days 4–6 He filled the void within each domain).
|Day||Domain Created||Domain's Inhabitants / Creatures||Day|
|1||Light / darkness||Lights / stars (including the sun (greater light) and moon (lesser light))||4|
|2||Heaven / waters (divided by firmament)||Birds / fish||5|
|3||Land (Earth) (divided from waters (Seas)) / plants||Land animals and humans||6|
Day 7: Sabbath (rest: God blessed and sanctified)
To modern people, the opposite of the created order is “nothing,” that is, a vacuum. To the ancients, the opposite of the created order was something much worse than “nothing.” It was an active, malevolent force we can best term “chaos.” In this verse, chaos is envisioned as a dark, undifferentiated mass of water.
Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Michael Fishbane, eds., The Jewish Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 13.
- The Genesis account assumes the Mesopotamian worldview that consisted of primordial chaos prior to the functional ontological formation of the cosmic order. This was envisioned as chaotic waters and explains why the Spirit hovered upon the surface (literally “face” in the Hebrew) of such waters (עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם) in the creation narrative.
In Egyptian views of origins there is the concept of the “nonexistent” that may be very close to what is expressed here in Genesis. It is viewed as that which has not yet been differentiated and assigned function. No boundaries or definitions have been established. The Egyptian concept, however, also carries with it the idea of potentiality and a quality of being absolute.
Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Genesis 1:2.
- John Walton refers to this as a “functional ontology.” As opposed to a “materialist ontology” which views nonexistence as the absence of matter, a functional ontology sees nonexistence as a state of chaos that lacks order (often represented in ancient cultures as primordial waters).
- The Hebrew word for “good” (טֹ֑וב / tov) shows up frequently in the creation narrative. In the Hebrew MT:
The role of the number seven in 1:1–2:3 extends, in fact, beyond the obvious division of the acts of creation into a seven-day sequence. For example, the expression, And God saw that [something He made] was good or very good occurs seven times, but not on every day of the primordial week. Missing on the second and seventh, it appears twice on the adjacent third and sixth days (1:10, 12, 25, 31). Similarly, the word “God” occurs exactly thirty-five times (i.e., five times seven) in our passage, and the section devoted to the seventh day (2:1–3) has exactly thirty-five words in the Heb.
Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Michael Fishbane, eds., The Jewish Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 12.
- While “good” (טֹ֑וב / tov) occurs seven times in the Hebrew MT, the distribution differs in the LXX and “good” (καλός / kalos) occurs eight times based on my count using the Göttingen LXX. I compared this to BHQ. I haven’t checked the counts of the other words from this quote.
Lectionary1st Tuesday of Great Lent
Genesis 1:14–23 (ENGLXXUP), altered
14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, to divide between day and night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and for years. 15 And let them be for light in the firmament of the heaven, so as to shine upon the earth, and it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights, the greater light for regulating the day and the lesser light for regulating the night, the stars also. 17 And God placed them in the firmament of the heaven, so as to shine upon the earth, 18 and to regulate day and night, and to divide between the light and the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth reptiles having life, and winged creatures flying above the earth in the firmament of heaven, and it was so. 21 And God made [the] great [sea monstersa], and every living reptile, which the waters brought forth according to their kinds, and every creature that flies with wings according to its kind, and God saw that they were good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, Increase and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let the creatures that fly be multiplied on the earth. 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
a Brenton / ENGLXXUP translated τὰ κήτη (ta kētē) as “whales.”
- There is symmetry between the days as to the various created domains and what was created to inhabit and order each domain. Days 4–5 fill the domains created on days 1–2. See Symmetry.
5: Since the sun is not created until the fourth day (1:14–19), the light of the first three days is of a different order from what we know. A midrash teaches that when God saw the corruption of the generations of the flood and of the tower of Babel, He hid that primordial light away for the benefit of the righteous in the world-to-come (b. Ḥagigah 12a). Other ancient Near Eastern myths similarly assume the existence of light before the creation of the luminaries….
16: The sun and moon are created only on the fourth day and are not named, but referred to only as the greater light and the lesser light. This may be an implicit polemic against the worship of astral bodies (see 2 Kings 23:5).
Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Michael Fishbane, eds., The Jewish Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 13–14.
- Various commentators have indicated that the creation account parallels the assembly of the tabernacle in Exodus. For example, in the Hebrew MT, מְאֹרֹת֙ (meorōt) is used for “lights” (or “luminaries”), which is the same word used to describe the lights in the tabernacle lampstand (e.g., Exodus 25:6; 27:20; 35:14). In the Hebrew MT, מְאֹרֹת֙ (meorōt) appears 5 times in Genesis (all uses in vv. 14–16).
The seven lamps on the lampstand may have been associated with the seven light-sources visible to the naked eye (five planets, sun and moon)…. [Walton] proposed that the cosmos itself was conceived of as a huge temple.
G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, New Studies in Biblical Theology 17 (Downers Grove, Ill: Apollos : Inter-Varsity Press, 2004), 34.
v. 21: The Hebrew MT has the the word תַּנִּין (tannin) which is frequently translated as “sea monster” (but also can also carry the sense of “snake” or “serpent” and is sometimes also translated “dragon”). The LXX translated this as κῆτος (kētos), the corresponding Greek word for “sea monster” (“such as tried to swallow Andromeda” in Greek mythology; see BDAG 2000, 544). In contrast to the clear early Greek understanding of this Hebrew word, the KJV and Brenton both translated it into English as “great whales,” which was perhaps a deliberate choice to avoid implications of mythology (even the Latin Vulgate here has cētus, a cognate of the Greek lemma).
In other ancient myths, creation results from the slaying of a sea monster, and this imagery shows up throughout the Old Testament. Such references, including other mentions of sea monster(s) in the LXX, include 3 Maccabees 6:8; Psalm 73(74):12–17; Job 3:8; 9:13; 26:5–13; Sirach 43:25; Jonah 2:1–2, 11; Isaiah 27:1; 51:9–10; Daniel 3:79).
I think the Hebrew here contains an intentional affront to Ugaritic (i.e., Canaanite) mythology. In Ugaritic accounts, Baal battles against Yamm (which is a homonym of the Hebrew word for “sea”, yam), the sea monster who is also referred to as Tannun and Litanu. In an Ugaritic account, Baal defeated Yamm as well as the sea itself (yam). The overlap here with biblical terminology is apparent.
- Cf. James Bennett Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed. with Supplement. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 129–131.
The affront to Ugaritic mythology is even clearer in Psalm 74 (Hebrew MT), which connects the crossing of the sea in the exodus event to creation, alluding to common ANE creation mythology (just as God defeated the chaotic waters in creation, he again subdued chaos and his people crossed the sea on dry land). The Psalmist connects the parting of the sea to God’s creation of the cosmos, showing how intertwined such ideas were in ANE thought:
Psalm 74:12–17 (translation from the Hebrew)12 But God has been my king from long ago,
working salvation in the middle of the earth.
13 You parted the sea [יָ֑ם / yam] by your strength;
You broke the heads of the sea monsters [תַ֝נִּינִ֗ים / tanninim] in the waters.
14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan [לִוְיָתָ֑ן];
you gave him as food to the desert-dwelling animals.
15 You split open spring and wadi.
You dried up ever-flowing rivers.
16 Yours is the day, yours is the night also.
You established light and the sun.
17 You defined all the boundaries of the earth;
Summer and winter—you formed them.
Lectionary1st Wednesday of Great Lent
Genesis 1:24–2:3 (ENGLXXUP)
24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind, quadrupeds and reptiles and wild beasts of the earth according to their kind, and it was so. 25 And God made the wild beasts of the earth according to their kind, and cattle according to their kind, and all the reptiles of the earth according to their kind, and God saw that they were good.
26 And God said, Let us make man according to our image and likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the flying creatures of heaven, and over the cattle and all the earth, and over all the reptiles that creep on the earth. 27 And God made man, according to the image of God he made him, male and female he made them. 28 And God blessed them, saying, Increase and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the seas and flying creatures of heaven, and all the cattle and all the earth, and all the reptiles that creep on the earth. 29 And God said, Behold I have given to you every seed-bearing herb sowing seed which is upon all the earth, and every tree which has in itself the fruit of seed that is sown, to you it shall be for food. 30 And to all the wild beasts of the earth, and to all the flying creatures of heaven, and to every reptile creeping on the earth, which has in itself the breath of life, even every green plant for food; and it was so. 31 And God saw all the things that he had made, and, behold, they were very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2 1 And the heavens and the earth were finished, and the whole world of them.
2 And God finished on the sixth day his works which he made, and he ceased on the seventh day from all his works which he made. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it he ceased from all his works which God began to do.
- There is symmetry between the days as to the various created domains and what was created to inhabit and order each domain. Day 6 fills the domain created on day 3. See Symmetry.
26: God created humans according to the divine image (εἰκών / icon) and likeness (ὁμοίωσις / homoiōsis). The fathers at times maintain a distinction between Jesus, who “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15, BTV, emphasis added), and humans, who are created according to God’s image.
- A number of fathers also discuss how human beings were created according to the divine image but lost the likeness. For example, Gregory of Nyssa essentially taught that we possess the image by creation but acquire the likeness through exercising our free will (On the Making of Man 11.3).
And then, again, this Word was manifested when the Word of God was made man, assimilating Himself to man, and man to Himself, so that by means of his resemblance to the Son, man might become precious to the Father. For in times long past, it was said that man was created after the image of God, but it was not [actually] shown for the Word was as yet invisible, after whose image man was created. Wherefore also he did easily lose the similitude. When, however, the Word of God became flesh, He confirmed both these: for He both showed forth the image truly, since He became Himself what was His image; and He re-established the similitude after a sure manner, by assimilating man to the invisible Father through means of the visible Word.
Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 544 (Adv. Haer. 5.16.2).
- The divine image in the ANE context brought with it an understanding of shared essence when applied to idols.
In the ancient world an image was believed to carry the essence of that which it represented. An idol image of deity, the same terminology as used here, would be used in the worship of that deity because it contained the deity’s essence. This would not suggest that the image could do what the deity could do, nor that it looked the same as the deity. Rather, the deity’s work was thought to be accomplished through the idol. In similar ways the governing work of God was seen to be accomplished by people. But that is not all there is to the image of God. Genesis 5:1–3 likens the image of God in Adam to the image of Adam in Seth. This goes beyond the comment about plants and animals reproducing after their own kind, though certainly children share physical characteristics and basic nature (genetically) with their parents. What draws the idol imagery and the child imagery together is the concept that the image provides the capacity not only to serve in the place of God (his representative containing his essence) but also to be and act like him. The tools he provided so that we may accomplish that task include conscience, self-awareness and spiritual discernment. Mesopotamian traditions speak of sons being in the image of their fathers (Enuma Elish) but do not speak of humans created in the image of God; but the Egyptian Instructions of Merikare identifies humankind as the god’s images who came from his body. In Mesopotamia a significance of the image can be seen in the practice of kings setting up images of themselves in places where they want to establish their authority. Other than that, it is only other gods who are made in the image of gods.
Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Ge 1:26–27.
- Bearing God’s image carried the idea of ruling authority in the ANE and was reserved for kings traditionally. Hence it is radical for the Bible to indicate that all human beings were created according to the divine image.
In the Ancient Near East, only the king was held to be the “image and likeness” of God on earth; therefore, only the king could be the latter’s sole representative with authority over other men….
Thus, in a masterly way the author planted at the heart of the creation story the central characteristic of the biblical view: that God himself is the king, the sole king, the king who rules the world without any mediation. Nevertheless, God preserves the right to choose any man (as he did the prophets) to speak on his behalf at any time….
The polemical aspect of this teaching can be better appreciated when one recalls that Ancient Near Eastern mythologies depicted the history of mankind as a lineage of kings who ruled from the beginning of creation. Moreover, creation itself was generally conceived as the orderly realm of the king’s city…. The biblical writer, on the other hand, replaced the royal genealogies of extra-biblical histories with the genealogies of mere men.
Paul Nadim Tarazi, The Old Testament: An Introduction. Vol 1: Historical Traditions, vol. 1, 3 vols. (Crestwood, N.Y: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991), 83–84.
- On the sixth day, God indicated that his work was finished and He instituted and rested on the Sabbath. Likewise, Jesus indicated that “It is finished” on the cross, and then proceeded to rest on the Sabbath (creation –> new creation). In both instances, this is not to take a break because God is tired, but rather, God is taking His seat as King and Lord.
Man failed to keep this Sabbath-rest. But Jesus fulfilled it for man by resting in the tomb on Great and Holy Saturday, after He said on the cross, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). For He destroyed sin and death, and rose again on the first day of the week. Through His saving work on man’s behalf, He is man’s Sabbath-rest, and He now invites all to find rest in Himself (Mt 11:28–30).
OSB 2008, 5.
Lectionary1st Thursday of Great Lent
Genesis 2:4–19 (ENGLXXUP), altered
4 This is the book of the generation of heaven and earth, when they were made, in the day in which the Lord God made the heaven and the earth, 5 and every herb of the field before it was on the earth, and all the grass of the field before it sprang up, for God had not rained on the earth, and there was not a man to cultivate it. 6 But there rose a fountain out of the earth, and watered the whole face of the earth. 7 And God formed the man of dust of the earth, and breathed upon his face the breath of life, and the man became a living soul.
8 And God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and placed there the man whom he had formed. 9 And God made to spring up also out of the earth every tree beautiful to the eye and good for food, and the tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the tree of learning the knowledge of good and evil. 10 And a river proceeds out of Eden to water the garden, thence it divides itself into four heads. 11 The name of the one, Pishon, this it is which encircles the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good, there also is carbuncle and emerald. 13 And the name of the second river is Gihon, this it is which encircles the whole land of Ethiopia. 14 And the third river is Tigris, this is that which flows forth over against the Assyrians. And the fourth river is Euphrates. 15 And the Lord God took the man whom he had formed, and placed him in the gardena, to cultivate and keep it. 16 And the Lord God gave a charge to Adam, saying, Of every tree which is in the garden thou mayest freely eat, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—of it ye shall not eat, but in whatsoever day ye eat of it, ye shall surely die.
18 And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone, let us make for him a help suitable to him. 19 And God formed yet farther out of the earth all the wild beasts of the field, and all the birds of the sky, and he brought them to Adam, to see what he would call them, and whatever Adam called any living creature, that was the name of it.
a Brenton / ENGLXXUP translated παραδείσῳ (paradeisō) as “garden of Delight.”
Numerous commentators, ancient and contemporary, have observed that this pericope contains a second creation account. Source-critical scholarship attributes each creation account to a different source (the first to P and this one J). A number of features about this creation account subverted the expectations of readers in the ANE.
4: This verse contains the title of the book, Genesis (γενέσεως), translated as “generation” by Brenton (as reflected in the ENGLXXUP). In the Hebrew, this verse contains the first instance of the toledot formula.
6: The Hebrew word for “fountain” or “stream” is challenging to translate (Hebrew: אֵד / ēd; translated into Greek as πηγή / pēgē). It may refer to “the subterranean stream of fresh water, groundwater” or “the celestial stream” (HALOT 2000, 11). A similar word appears in early Sumerian and Babylonian mythological accounts in reference to an underground primordial river.
7: The Hebrew contains an etymological pun on “man” (אָדָם / adam) and “ground” (אֲדָמָה / adamah). Robert Alter’s translation which seeks to maintain this wordplay in English is clever: “… then the LORD God fashioned the human, humus from the soil…” (Alter 2019).
- The fathers indicate that God’s Spirit / breath gave man his spirit/breath/animation, differentiating the spirit from the body, the latter of which came from matter. However, the result represents the union of the divine and corporeal into “a living soul.” The animals were not animated by God’s Spirit / breath, so this distinguishes humans from other creatures.
8: While “east” could be a reference to direction, מִקֶּ֑דֶם (miqqedem) could also be a temporal (rather than geospatial) reference and thus translated “in ancient / prehistoric times,” “in days of old,” or even “in the beginning” (e.g., Psalm 76(77):6, 12; 142(143):5; Proverbs 8:22–23). The LXX assumes it is geospatial (κατὰ ἀνατολάς / kata anatolas), but other early translations assumed it was temporal, including other Greek translations (e.g., Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion), Aramaic translations (targums), the Syriac, and the Latin Vulgate (a principio). Cf. HALOT 2000, 1069–1070 (קֶדֶם). The ambiguity may be intentional.
What is striking, however, is that this yahweh forms a regular human being—not a king—and installs him in a garden—not a city. Furthermore, this garden is said to be “in the east,” an oblique reference to the direction of Babylon.
Paul Nadim Tarazi, The Old Testament: An Introduction. Vol 1: Historical Traditions, vol. 1, 3 vols. (Crestwood, N.Y: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991), 85.
ANE temples are depicted with sacred gardens (especially trees). The cosmos itself is depicted as God’s temple, for “the Most High does not dwell in temples made by [human] hands” (Acts 6:48–50; cf. Isaiah 66:1).
7–8: Adam is created from the ground / dust before the garden is planted, and so therefore was created outside the garden.
8, 14: The word παράδεισος (paradeisos), from which the English word paradise is derived, has been translated as “garden” by Brenton / ENGLXXUP here and in v. 14 (and throughout). Brenton translated it as “garden of Delight” in v. 14. I altered the translation above to make it consistent with v. 8.
Because of this we all look to the East for prayers, but few of us know that our ancient fatherland, the paradise that God planted in Eden, was in the East.
St. Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, ed. John Behr, trans. Stephen Hildebrand, vol. 42, Popular Patristics Series (Yonkers, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 106 (27.66).
9: The fathers frequently connect the tree of life with the cross.
10–14: The Tigris and Euphrates were well known to early readers, but the Pishon and Gihon perhaps less so. A literal place that can be found was unlikely to have been intended.
… the Gihon issuing from Paradise is connected by homonymy (that is, by having the same name) to the spring “Gihon” in Jerusalem, and by association with the river which flows from under the platform of the Temple in Jerusalem to bring freshwater to the entire land and the Dead Sea (Ezek. 47:1–12). Over and again in the Scriptures, especially in the Book of Revelation, the Genesis or original state of things is understood to have been lost in the here and now, but to have a surpassing restoration in the new heavens and new earth (e.g. Rev. 21–22)….
It seems intended that the reader is not given a fully drawn map, confirming that the garden and its river lie beyond the reader’s reach. As if to say, “Paradise is now completely lost.” Contrast Genesis 10:19, where the borders of Canaan are defined through reference to places of familiar location….
Samuel L. Bray and John F. Hobbins, Genesis 1-11: A New Old Translation for Readers, Scholars, and Translators (Wilmore, KY: GlossaHouse, 2017), 98–99 and at fn 164.
16–17: ANE deities delivered their laws or law codes to their appointed kings, and here God commanded Adam concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In line with a functional ontology, by naming the creatures, Adam is participating in ordering the creation to an extent (for something to “exist,” it generally had to be given a name and a purpose).
- The fathers emphasize that the tree of knowledge of good and evil wasn’t bad or evil. Humans would have eventually been invited to eat from it, but they weren’t ready yet.
18: God points out that “it is not good that man should be alone.”
The self-same Goodness provided also a help meet for him, that there might be nothing in his lot that was not good. For, said He, that the man be alone is not good. He knew full well what a blessing to him would be the sex of Mary, and also of the Church.
Tertullian, “The Five Books against Marcion,” in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 3, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 300 (Against Marcion, 2.4).