The familiar story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:4-3:24) is a separate narrative written in a voice different from the story we hear in chapter 1. The style of storytelling becomes folksy and colorful, God walking through the garden as if in human form. This is a second creation story, distinct from the account of God making the world in seven days. Take a look at Genesis 2:4 and you’ll see the hinge where the two stories are spliced together.
The story begins with a garden with no one to till it. So God forms a mud creature out of the dust and breathes life into it. This mud creature is called “’adam,” the Hebrew word for human. The word is also related to “’adamah,” which means ground. The ‘adam, therefore, is a being fashioned from the ground and made in connection to the earth: to till the ground and tend the garden.
We learn that there are four rivers that flow from Eden, and two trees within it. One is the Tree of Life. The other is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Scholars debate the meaning of this name. Some argue that the tree offers universal knowledge, others maintain that the tree offers the “power of discernment between good and evil” (Collins). These finer points aside, if one tree is the Tree of Life, the other must surely be the Tree of Death, a reality that the story goes on to explore.
-Emily M D Scott
Collins, John J. Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004.
Sharp, Carolyn. “Creation, the Garden of Eden and the Irony of Wisdom.” Yale University, Introduction to the Old Testament. New Haven, CT. Fall, 2004.