If you’ve spent any time with a Genesis commentary, you’ll know that the book is divided up by statements which have come to be called “toledot” statements. The majority opinion is that these link the compositional sections by introducing the next one with the name of a person from the last, using the formula, “These are the generations of…”
In some cases such statements do little more than head up a genealogy, serving the very important function of grounding the events of Genesis in history, rather than in mythology. In others the genealogical information is minimal, such as in the case of “the generations of Noah,” which after naming his three sons, goes on to four chapters of the flood account.
In most cases, the sections end up at a narrative destination, so that it’s not certain whether the “toledot” introductions are the headings of genealogies, into which the author has grafted the protohistory events from (as they say) “a separate tradition,” or whether “generations” is meant to indicate something like “the new stuff that came from Adam,” or Isaac, or whoever. That would include both their offspring and how they changed the world. That, I suppose, is why the NIV and the NASB both translate it as “account” sometimes, though “births” is the literal meaning.
But the odd one out in this is the first “toledot,” which is at the “break point” between the creation account and the Eden narrative, Genesis 2:4, reading in the KJV, which unlike many modern translations is happy to be literal in this instance:
These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord made the earth and the heavens…
To follow the pattern, what follows ought to be a genealogy of the world – the heavens and the earth created in Gen 1. But that seems absurd, because the world is not a person to produce generations of offspring. That’s why modern translations have gone for “account,” but even that sounds strange, when the “account of the heavens and the earth” appears to be what we’ve already read in Gen 1 of how they came to be.
A few ways out of this dilemma are suggested. First, it could be that Genesis 2 is a restatement of Genesis 1. This is the classical view that it is the creation account from mankind’s viewpoint rather than from the cosmic one of Genesis 1. That at least keeps the “toledot” with its usual, introductory, function – but it’s awkward in a literary sense.
An alternative is to change the whole orientation around and say that the “toledots” end sections, rather than beginning them. This makes the later ones extremely awkward to explain, but tidies up the beginning. It’s pointed out that there is no “toledot” at the beginning of Genesis 1, which as we all know simply begins,
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was without form and void.
This scheme would make Genesis 2:4 a final summary to the creation account, rather than an introduction to the Eden narrative, eliminating any need for an introduction to the book. But a strong body of scholarly opinion considers that the first sentence is, indeed, an introductory summary of all that follows, so that creation starts from “formless and void” (tohu wabohu) rather than that state being simply the first stage of what God created.
That makes more sense to me, especially as it seems probable to me that the creation account, so rich in tabernacle imagery that resonates with the instructions for the tabernacle in Exodus, was written as an introduction to Genesis, and indeed to the Torah, placed before the traditional history that was received from the Patriarchs before Israel existed as a nation. Genesis 1, then, lacks a “toledot” because it is not from that tradition, where the “toledots” originated.
That still leaves, though, the anomaly of Gen 2:4, which whether originating from the protohistory tradition, or added in conformity to it by our “Moses,” speaks of the heavens and the earth as if they were the parents of a bloodline, or the begetters of events. Is that explicable?
As regular readers will know, I’ve been working on a biblical theology in the light of the Genealogical Adam paradigm: if there were people outside the Garden of Eden, and the biblical authors actually knew that, how does that affect the shape of the story the Bible tells? One surprising conclusion I came to is that the whole Bible, from the Eden narrative onwards, is about the new creation, not the old, the new being abortively introduced firstly through Adam, and then equally unsuccessfully through Israel, of which Adam is the archetype, and eventually successfully by Jesus, bith the new Adam and the true Israel.
Having reached that radical conclusion, I was both surprised and gratified to discover that much the same thing has been concluded by Greg Beale in his massive and detailed New Testament Biblical Theology. The new creation project, culminating in the new heavens and the new earth that are filled with God’s glory (of which we read in Revelation) actually begins in Genesis 2, and the drama unfolds through all the Bible’s subsequent pages, because the Bible as a whole is the history of the new creation, arising from within the old.
Suddenly, that makes sense of the “toledot” of Gen 2:4. What does the old creation of Genesis 1 “give birth to,” that might be analogous to the “generations” of Adam, Noah, Shem, Terah and so on? Why, a new creation, coming through the humanity created by God, as the crown and culmination of the original physical creation, for that very purpose.
Although “heavens and earth” is what is called a “merism,” that is a figure of speech in which the extremes represent everything in between as well, there is a poetically parental aspect to this. When Adam and Eve bear children, then those offspring are, as it were, the true union of their flesh. Seth is, literally, Adam and Eve made one. But the description we have of the new creation in the Bible is remarkably similar to that – God dwells with man, man sees God face to face, the new Jerusalem descends from heaven, and the temple is abolished because God is with humanity, and heaven and earth are conjoined. So heaven and earth, Scripture teaches, do actually become the parents of one “child” that unites them – and that child is the new creation whose long gestation begins in the Garden of Eden.
I find that a fascinating fit to my developing biblical theology. Do you think Moses had an inkling of it when he headed up the Eden account in such an odd, genealogical, way?