This post is part 5 in a series of reviews of John H. Walton’s Lost World of Adam and Eve (pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3, pt. 4). I paid good money for my copy of the book, but you’re getting my unvarnished thoughts for free. Go figure.
Enough about Genesis 1, already. I thought this book was supposed to be about Adam and Eve.
One of the myriad issues that convolutes our reading of the origin narratives of Genesis 1-3 has to do with the relationship between the creation account in Genesis 1 and the account of Adam and Eve in chapter 2 and following.
Specifically, when Genesis 1 is read as the story of the beginning of all matter, we quickly run into logical problems, like why Genesis 2:5 appears to paint a picture of a desert, when vegetation had clearly been created on Day 3 (Gen. 1:11-12; on this question see Meredith G. Kline’s early essay, “Because It Had Not Rained”); or how in the world Adam managed to name every animal in a day (Gen. 2:20); or why Cain, after killing his brother is worried that other people will hunt him down (Gen. 4:14).
To help resolve these and other issues, Walton suggests interpreting Genesis 2 as a sequel to Genesis 1, rather than a retelling of the sixth day.
The swift among you are already objecting: Warning! If Genesis 2 is not a retelling of Day 6, then the humans discussed in Genesis 1:26-28 are not Adam and Eve, and therefore Adam and Eve are not the first people. We’ll get to this point shortly.
But first, the argument in Walton’s favor.
The point is somewhat technical, but directly in the text. Genesis 2:4 reads, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created—when the Lord God made the earth and heavens” (NET). That opening phrase—”This is the account of …”—has long been recognized as a type of formula in Genesis. Smartypants scholars call it a toledoth, because that’s the Hebrew word that begins the phrase.
Anyway, toledoths throughout the book—there are ten others (Gen. 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2)—always begin a story about what happens after the person or thing mentioned in the formula.
For example, Genesis 25:12 talks about the toledoth of Abraham’s son Isaac. What then immediately follows is a genealogy of those who follow Isaac. It is not a return to the middle of Abraham’s life, but a way of introducing the next successive portion of the story.
But, you might say, Genesis 25:19 does leap backward in the timeline, back to Isaac after listing his descendants. Yes, but the important point is that the story leaps back to the beginning of that genealogy, not to someplace in the middle. Nowhere does a toledoth do this. This is done so that the author can proceed with the most important story line (in this case, Jacob).
Relating this to Genesis 1-2, we should expect, given the way toledoths are used elsewhere, for Genesis 2:4 to be introducing either (1) the beginning of a new story that takes place some time after the previous creation narrative or (2) a retelling of the entire creation narrative, with a focus on the most important people. We would not expect the writer to jump back into the middle of the previous account. Between the two options, number one should be favored, since number two only occurs immediately after a genealogy, and Genesis 1 certainly is not that.
Here is Walton’s own conclusion:
There is … no precedent by which to conclude that the introductory formula in Genesis 2:4 is bringing the reader back into the middle of the previous account to give a more detailed description of a part of the story that was previously told. Such introductions never do this in the rest of Genesis (66).
Further, Walton also acknowledges what we suggested at the top.
Though Adam and Eve may well be included among the people created in Genesis 1, to think of them as the first couple or the only people in their time is not the only textual option (66, emphasis added).
That sound you hear is somebody’s hackles raising. More later.