Biblical Beginnings 7a: Genesis 2:4b–25, Translation with Notes

On the day Yahweh[1] Elohim made land and skies there were not yet any shrubs of the field on the land and not yet any plants of the field had sprouted because Yahweh Elohim had not caused rain on the land and there was no human to work the ground. And fresh water came up from the land and irrigated all the surface of the ground. And Yahweh Elohim formed the human from the dust of the ground[2] and he breathed into his nose the breath of life and the human became a living being.

And Yahweh Elohim planted a garden in Eden in the east and he placed there the human whom he had formed. And Yahweh Elohim caused to grow from the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good to eat and the tree of life in the midst of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

And a river came out from Eden to water the garden and from there it spread out and became four headwaters. The name of the one was Pishon. It surrounded all the land of the Chavilah where there was the gold. And the gold of the land, it was good and there was bdellium and the rock of the shoham. And the name of the second river was Gichon. It surrounded all the land of Cush. And the name of the third river was Chiddekel. It was travelling east of Asshur and the fourth river, it was Perat.[3]

And Yahweh Elohim took the human and he settled him in the garden of Eden to work it and to keep it. And Yahweh Elohim commanded the human saying, “From every tree of the garden eating you will surely eat. And from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you must not eat from it. For on the day you eat from it, you will surely die.”[4]

And Yahweh Elohim said, “The human to be alone is not good. I will make for him his suitable partner.[5] And Yahweh Elohim formed from the ground every beast of the field and every bird of the skies that he brought to the human to see what he would call them. And whatever the human called the living beast, that was its name. And the human gave names to every animal and to the birds of the skies and to all the beasts of the field, but for a human there was not found his suitable partner was found. And Yahweh Elohim, caused a deep sleep to fall on the human and he slept. And he took one of his ribs and he closed flesh below it. And Yahweh Elohim built the rib that he took from the human into a woman,[6] and he brought her to the human. And the human said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one will be called woman because from man this one was taken.”

Therefore, a man leaves his father and his mother and he clings to his woman and they become one flesh. And the two of them were naked, the human and his woman, and they were not ashamed.[7]

[1] Did you notice the Yahweh, the name of Israel’s God, did not occur at all in chapter 1? This is one of the indications that starting in 2:4b, we have a second (and different) story about creation. In these verse, the Creator is repeatedly referred to only as “Yahweh Elohim.” Yahweh is the translation of יְהוָ֥ה, often called the Tetragrammaton (four letters). I’ll have more to say about God’s name in the Notes and Quotes post. In addition, note how the order of creation is quite different in 2:4b–25 as compared to 1:1–2:4a, which is another indicator that this is a separate, and second, creation story.

[2] In Hebrew here states that Yahweh Elohim made ha’adam (the human) from the dust of the ha’adamah (the ground). When cursed by God for his disobedience, Yahweh Elohim says, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to ha’adamah for out of it you were taken. You are dust and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). No promise of the afterlife here, just the end of life.

[3] In this paragraph, I have transliterated, the names of the rivers. In most English translations, the last two are rendered as “Tigris” and “Euphrates,” the two rivers running through Mesopotamia. The other two rivers are unknown.

[4] “surely eat…surely die” is a grammatical construction in Hebrew known as “the infinitive absolute.” The same verb is repeated twice in each phrase to add emphasis. Literally it could be translated, “eating, you will eat” and “dying, you will die.”

[5] The words I (and others) have translated “his suitable partner” (or something similar) are עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ (ezer kenegdo). Contrary to what many indicate who try desperately to say the Bible fundamentally teaches egalitarianism, this is not an easy phrase to translate. And a lot of translations are more interpretations than translations. Alter’s translation is an attempt to be as literal as possible, “a sustainer beside him.” Good as well goes for literal rather than interpretive, “a helper (ezer) as (ke) one facing (neged) him (o).” Tabor translates this as “a help a his one before,” which to me is so literal as to be incomprehensible. Perhaps the NRSV is best in simplifying it all to “a helper to be his partner.”

[6] The word translated “woman” is אִשָּׁה (ishah). Remember, the word translated “man” is אִישׁ (ish). Ishah can be translated “woman” or “wife” depending on context. In Genesis 2, I am convinced it should be translated “woman” even in verse 24 and not “wife.” There is no institutionalizing of the ish’s and the ishah’s relationship as marriage in this context. Therefore, ish is “man” and ishah is “woman.” And specifically in verse 24, it is “his woman” as it will appear in numerous verses to follow.

[7] Whatever “one flesh” means it does not mean literally “one flesh.” The two humans were individuals, for it is “the two of them” who were each “naked, the human (ha’adam, not ish) and his woman, and they were not ashamed.”