Ver. 1 April 5, 2005

Bereshit Bereshis


Why Were There Two Trees in the Garden of Eden?

A Possible Development of the Eden Myth

By David Steinberg


1. Background – The Historical Evolution of the Religion of Israel 1000-500 BCE


2. Possible Historical Phases of the Eden Story

a. Garden of Eden - All Phases

b. Garden of Eden - Phase 1 Gods of First, Second and Third Levels

c. Garden of Eden - Phase 2 Dyad of Gods

d. Garden of Eden - Phase 3 One All-Powerful God – The Version in the Hebrew Bible


Table - Key Points in Tabular Form

Annex 1 - A Selection of Modern Commentaries on the Two Trees in the Garden of Eden


Select Bibliography


1. Background – The Historical Evolution of the Religion of Israel 1000-500 BCE


2. Possible Historical Phases of the Eden Story

Where Did the Eden Story Come From?

Modern scholars are preponderantly agreed that the current text was developed out of earlier Israelite stories and shows signs of its changes of storyline[1] or viewpoint.[2] (See Gaster, Hooke, Speiser, Sarna, Wallace.)

“There existed in early times an Israelite tradition of a "garden of God" (i.e., a mythological garden in which God dwelt) that underlies the story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 23. Ezekiel (28:11–19; 31:8–9, 16–18) in his description introduces new and variant details not present in the Genesis narrative of the Garden of Eden. Thus, in Genesis there is no trace of the "holy mountain" of Ezekiel 28:14 and no mention of the "stones of fire" of Ezekiel 28:14, 16. While Genesis speaks only in general terms about the trees in the garden (2:9), Ezekiel describes them in detail (31:8–9, 18). The term "garden of YHWH" occurs in a metaphorical sense in a number of other passages in the Bible (Gen. 13:10; Isa. 51:3; Joel 2:3).”

While sharing many motifs with Genesis 23 (including the abundance of precious stones in Eden, Gen. Gen. 2:12; Ezek. 28:13), Ezekiel differs from Genesis in describing Eden as the "garden of God," recalling Sumerian Dilmun, over against the character of Eden in Genesis as a garden created for human beings to till and keep (Gen. 2:15). The account in Ezekiel also differs in having only one inhabitant. Eden as the garden of God also occurs in Ezekiel 31, a complex allegory of a tree that in grandeur and beauty surpassed even the trees in Eden (31:8, 9, 16, 18). The garden of Eden is a metaphor for the renewal of the land of Israel by God after the Exile (Ezek. 36:35; Isa. 51:3, where "Eden" is paralleled by "garden of Yahweh"). In Joel 2:3, the transformation of the land from garden of Eden to devastated wilderness is part of an oracle forecasting the Day of Yahweh.”[3]

Ezekiel 28:11–19

 Moreover the word of the LORD came to me: 12Mortal, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord GOD: You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, carnelian, chrysolite, and moonstone, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald; and worked in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. 14With an anointed cherub as guardian I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked among the stones of fire. 15You were blameless in your ways from the day that you were created, until iniquity was found in you. 16In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and the guardian cherub drove you out from among the stones of fire. 17Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you. 18By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade, you profaned your sanctuaries. So I brought out fire from within you; it consumed you, and I turned you to ashes on the earth in the sight of all who saw you. 19All who know you among the peoples are appalled at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever.

Ezekiel 31:8–9,

8 The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it, nor the fir trees equal its boughs; the plane trees were as nothing compared with its branches; no tree in the garden of God was like it in beauty. 9 I made it beautiful with its mass of branches, the envy of all the trees of Eden that were in the garden of God.

Ezekiel 31:16–18

16 I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to Sheol with those who go down to the Pit; and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that were well watered, were consoled in the world below. 17 They also went down to Sheol with it, to those killed by the sword, along with its allies, those who lived in its shade among the nations. 18 Which among the trees of Eden was like you in glory and in greatness? Now you shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the world below; you shall lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are killed by the sword. This is Pharaoh and all his horde, says the Lord GOD.



Knowledge and Eternal Life Separate the Gods from Humanity

“The Garden of Eden story indicates that divinity consists of two primary elements: knowledge and immortality. Through an act of disobedience, human beings acquired the former, but they could not be allowed to attain the latter, lest they become like God. Similarly, the alewife (in Gilgamesh) observes that the gods are jealous of their own supremacy. The boundary between the human and the divine may not be traversed, and immortality must remain the sole province of the gods….

“The affinity between biblical and Mesopotamian literature in no way diminishes the special character of Israelite religion. By introducing the concept of monotheism into the ancient Near East, Israelite religion made a unique contribution to human civilization…. Pervasive polytheism represented a threat to the belief in one God and required a strong rejection if monotheism were to take root. Yet despite the anti-pagan polemic of the Bible, the mythic tradition of the ancient Near East was a serious, complex, and profound attempt to comprehend both the natural and the supernatural. The impact of this tradition was felt far beyond the borders of Mesopotamia, and it had a fundamental influence on the formation of Israelite religion and some of the literary traditions of the Bible.”[4]


Garden of God

The concept of a primitive garden of god is found in various folklores[5].  The earliest known example, and conceivably the distant ancestor via Canaanite mythology of the Eden myth is the Sumarian story of Dilmun. The name “Eden” is one of the very few words in Biblical Hebrew derived, via Akkadian, from the first known written language Sumerian.[6] Almost certainly, this name was chosen because of the similarity in Hebrew of ceden= “Eden” to Hebrew céden=”pleasure”.


The magic Snake

Genesis' serpent possesses two remarkable abilitities, he can walk and talk. Ningishzida is portrayed in human as well as animal form. As an animal he walks on four legs, has wings, and two horns. In human form he walks on two legs, has a beard, wears a horned helmet (a symbol that he is a god), and has serpent-dragon heads erupting from his shoulders. I suspect that Skinner was correct in his hunch, Genesis' serpent was indeed a god in the original myths. The serpent-god has been recast into a mere snake, and he has lost his legs in the Hebrew recasting of this ancient Sumerian myth. Apparently Ningishzida's association with a "Good Tree" is what lies behind Genesis' statement that the Tree was the source of knowledge about good and evil and associated with a serpent.


The Name of the Woman

The translation of awwah = “Eve” is not simple. A range of possible meanings (see HALOT = The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner et al.) –

  • Life giver
  • Tent woman (= housewife?)
  • Wild animal (= archaic form of חיה )
  • Speaker (perhaps = inappropriate speaker)
  • Snake (as in Aramaic)

The pre-exilic audience would have understood the relationship between the Tree of Life (symbol of the mother goddess Asherah), the snake (one of the animals – along with the ibex and lioness – associated with Asherah) and awwah which may have been one of the names of Asherah. Perhaps they would have seen Eve as a rebellious Astart-Anat figure socialized into the obedient, subordinated role modeled by Asherah the mother goddess. She moves from being a snake reaching for power-knowledge to being a domesticated housewife – mother.

The post-exilic audience, on the other hand, would have understood awwah as a double entendre of “life giver” and snake (life taker?).


The Biblical Treatment of the Near Eastern Primordial Myths – Turning them on their Head![7]

"Viewed with respect to its negatives, Gen 1:1-2:3 is a polemic against the mythico-religious concepts of the ancient Orient...The concept of man here is markedly different from standard Near Eastern mythology: man was not created as the lackey of the gods to keep them supplied with food; he was God's representative and ruler on earth, endowed by his creator with an abundant supply of food and expected to rest every seventh day from his labors. Finally, the seventh day is not a day of ill omen as in Mesopotamia, but a day of blessing and sanctity on which normal work is laid aside. In contradicting the usual ideas of its time, Gen 1 is also setting out a positive alternative. It offers a picture of God, the world, and's true nature. He is the apex of the created order: the whole narrative moves toward the creation of man. Everything is made for man's benefit..."[8]

Some observations on "REVERSALS" or "INVERSIONS" in Genesis in comparison with the Mesopotamian myths-

  1. Tehom, the saltwater ocean that covered the earth is a goddess, and becomes only a watery "deep" not a goddess in Genesis.
  2. Man and wife (Utnapishtim, the Mesopotamian "Noah", and wife) are not naked in paradise as are Adam and Eve.
  3. Food conferring immortality is offered to Adam in an earthly Eden, whereas Adapa is offered the "food of life" and the "water of life," by the great god Anu, chez Anu, which Adapa refused and returned to Eridu.
  4. The gods rest on the 7th day after destroying a world with a flood in 6 days. Genesis has God resting on the 7th day after creating a world for man's benefit.
  5. A man and his wife (Utnapishtim and wife) are placed in an earthly paradise after the flood in Mesopotamian myths, whereas Genesis has this occur before the flood.
  6. Utnapishtim and wife are not the first humans made by the gods whereas Adam an Eve are (both are placed by a God in an earthly paradise, Dilmun/Eden).
  7. Utnapishtim and wife attain immortality and freedom from toil for his faithfulness in heeding and obeying the words of his god, Enki. Adam and Eve are doomed to a life of toil and pain of child birth due to their rebellion against God.
  8. In the Adapa Myth the god Enki tricked man (Adapa[9]) into losing a chance for immortality whereas the biblical God is portrayed as desiring the best for man (Adam).
  9. Man (Adapa) loses a chance at obtaining immortality because he obeys the god Enki’s warning vs. Adam's loses his chance of immortality because he disobeyed his God's warning.
  10. Utnapishtim and wife are not expelled from paradise, whereas Adam and Eve are.
  11. The flood lasts 6 days and nights, mankind being destroyed by the 7th day. In Genesis the Flood begins in 7days time.
  12. Noah and wife are not placed in a paradise and given immortality like Utnapishtim and wife.
  13. There is no curse on Utnapishtim and Wife, only a blessing vs. Adam and Eve's situation.
  14. Gods rest on a 7th day after the flood vs. a God resting on the 7th day before a flood ever occurred.
  15. On the 7th day the flood begins in Genesis vs. the Flood coming to an end on the 7th day in the Mesopotamian myths.
  16. Serpent consumes a plant denying renewed youth to Gilgamesh vs. a Serpent denying immortality to Adam by persuading the man to eat the forbidden fruit.
  17. The serpent god, Nin-gish-zida[10] (an alternate form of Tammuz=Baal-Hadad), who sought immortality for man (Adapa) is transformed into man's enemy, seeking to trick him, causing him to lose a chance to attain immortality.
  18. A walking, talking serpent-god (Nin-gish-zida) is transformed into a mere serpent who loses his legs.


a. Garden of Eden - All Phases

  • The over-arching theme is how the human race moved from an original condition of innocence and bliss and harmony with the divine[11] to the human condition of knowledge of sin, misery, and death as well as explaining patriarchal dominance;

§         A key principle would have been El-YHWH’s jealous regard for his own prerogatives against any encroachment by ambitious man. Contrast this with Greeks mythology according to which their gods - particularly Zeus, the king of the gods - would periodically mate with humans and produce offspring by them. These offspring would be a sort-of hybrid: part-god and part-human, with some the qualities of each of their parents' races. Some examples of these "demigods", as they are called, are Heracles (Hercules) and Perseus, two legendary Greek heroes whose "divine" sides allegedly enabled them to achieve greater feats than mere mortals. A remarkably similar view is preserved in Genesis chapter 6 (RSV) -

1: When men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them,
2: the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took to wife such of them as they chose.
3: Then the LORD said, "My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years."
4: The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.

  • Disobedience of the ruling patriarch encroaches on El-YHWH’s prerogatives by appropriating for the human race divine knowledge or, alternatively, the ability to distinguish good from evil (see Annex 1)
  • This act of rebellion leads to banishment from the garden of God; and,
  • God recognizes their transgression and proclaimed their punishments—for the woman, pain in childbirth and subordination to her husband, and, for the man, relegation to an accursed ground with which he must toil and sweat for his subsistence.


Of course, we do not have the earlier versions of the Eden story so my reconstruction given below must necessarily be conjecture.

Given our understanding of the movement from the original triad of Gods to a dyad of Gods to One God, how might the myth of Eden have developed?


Cain and Abel

§         The original tale of Cain and Abel was unrelated to the Eden story. And, contrary to a widely-held belief, it never had anything to do with, a largely imaginary, conflict between shepherd and farmer[12].

§         The key to the origin of the story of Cain and Abel is probably indicated by their names of the protagonists. Cain (קין) means "smith," (with overtones of jealousy (קנא) acquisitousness (קנה) and dirge (קינה) and Abel “transcience”, "herdsman." Its original purpose was to account for the pariah status of the smith in a pastoral society. The exilic and post-exilic audience would have understood the double entendre of Abel (= “transience” and, as in Aramaic, “herdsman”). Perhaps it is a story showing that while the smith  is necessary to the society he is not of it. He is despised but protected, the maker of vitally required pots and tools but also of weapons that kill. One might compare him to Wagner’s Loge – a personification of logical thought which can be either sophistic and delusory or penetrating and truth finding depending on the user. Loge is also the god of fire – a good servant but a bad master.

§         It is unclear whether the Eden story would have included the children of the first couple[13].

§         We cannot know when story of Cain and Abel was grafted on to the Eden story.  If this happened in what I call Phase 1, it would likely relate to Baal as the god of vegetation and agriculture.  Although primarily linked to vegetation Baal, under the name Haddu, is once described in Ugaritic literature as the shepherd of El. Hooke suggested that the slaying of Abel by Cain may have originated in an agricultural fertility rite – a suggestion which has not been widely accepted.[14]

§         In the biblical account, Adam and Eve have 3 children (in order of their birth):

§         Cain (meaning “smith”[15]). Cain became a farmer.  A descendant was the first smith according to vs. 22[16].

§         Abel (meaning "breath, nothingness" which may be a reflection of his fate or it may mean "herdsman.[17]")

§         Seth (born after the murder of Abel.  Seth, probably means "foundation" – an image of solidity contrasting with the transience implied in the name Abel.  The idea is probably that a new, and solid, start is being made[18].).  Little is said about Seth the list of whose descendants is very similar to those of Cain[19].

 “The two sons, unlike their parents in Eden, subsisted through the toil of their hands. In the fruits of their labors they recognized divine blessing, and they felt gratitude to God for His bounty. Their offerings were spontaneous, not a response to divine command.” [20]


Cain and Koshar/Kotharu/Kothar-wa-Khasis

I must admit that the following is rather speculative.

It is possible that Cain, in the Eden story, may be the remnant of a Kothar myth based on:

  • The probable root meaning of Cain i.e. smith – perhaps Kothar was the patron god of the Kenites.
  • Genesis 4:21-22

"His brother's name was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah bore Tubal-cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools."

  • Kothar as the smith god with an association with music.  See eg.

"The exchange of oracular consultations with the king of Alashia is  attested in texts from Ugarit. There the kinnarum was probably associated with the craftsman-god Kothar-wa-Hasis, who seems to have presided over both music and prophecy.”[21]



b. Garden of Eden - Phase 1 Gods of the First, Second and Third Levels


1)     The Divine Realm

Creation of first humans in the image of El-Elat[22]


  • El-YHWH5  (First Level) the creator is symbolized by the Tree of Knowledge[23].  El-YHWH having the characteristics of a patriarchal father, would have been the personal God[24] of the first human patriarch Adam. El-YHWH would have been the source and model for the first human patriarch’s leadership qualities. Adam (Hebrew ha’adam probably meaning “earthling" [25]) is the earthly reflection of the great sky-God El (Gen. 1:26: “Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”). We see the concept of El-YHWH as divine patriarch reflected in some of the divine names in the Hebrew Bible was "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Ex. 3:6). Therefore, the terms "the Fear of Isaac" (perhaps rather, "the Kinsman of Isaac," Gen. 31:42, 53) and "the Mighty One of Jacob" (Gen. 49:24; Isa. 49:26). At Ugarit, El has the following titles that are relevant to the Eden story[26]:

*  El at the sources of the two rivers - ´ilu mabbukê naharêmi

*  El in the midst of the springs of the two oceans - ´ilu qirba ´apigê tihamatêmi

*  Father of Humanity - ´abi ´adamu

*  The Creator of Creatures - baniyu banawati

*  The Ageless One who Created Us - dordoru dykeninu

*  Kindly/Beneficent ´El the Compassionate/Sympathetic - lutipanu ´ilu du pa´idu

*  The King, the Father of Years/Time - malik ´abi shanima/shunemi


In the Ugaritic Aqhat Epic we read a curse which is similar to that which David uttered (2 Samuel 1:21[30])

Seven years may Baal fail

Even eight, the rider of the clouds;

Nor dew, nor rain, nor upsurging of the deep,

Nor sweetness of the voice of Baal (i.e. thunder).[31]


Dew, rain, and mountain springs were the three sources of moisture in Syria and Palestine. Tammuz, the Mesopotamian equivalent of Baal, was the god representing the decay and growth of natural life; he died at midsummer and was rescued from the underworld the following spring by his lover Ishtar. His cult spread over Babylonia, Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine. He was possibly identified with the Egyptian Osiris and the Greek Adonis. His father was Ea Lord of Apsu (also spelled Abzu), the fresh waters beneath the earth. Tammuz has some sort of relationship with Dumuzi-Apzu—a goddess who appears to have been the power in the waters underground (the Apzu) to bring new life to vegetation. The cult of Tammuz centred in the cities around the central Mesopotamian steppe area termed, in Sumerian the edin.  This word was borrowed into Biblical Hebrew as “Eden”.

Baal was the divine being closest to man probably sharing with him the duty of  maintaining the garden of God (c.f. Genesis, chapter 2And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”). Baal would be the personal God of the first human child. Baal would have been the source and model for the first human child’s activities as farmer.


2)     Issues

  • Sexuality, birth, having children and conflict within the family shared by Gods and men;
  • Rebellion - Presumably some attempt by of the first human patriarch to eat of the tree of Knowledge triggered El-YHWH’s jealous regard for his own prerogatives against any encroachment by ambitious man; and, as a result,

§         Banishment - El-YHWH banished the human race from the garden of God. Humanity thus moved from an original condition of innocence and bliss and harmony with the divine to the human condition of knowledge of sin, misery, and death.


c. Garden of Eden - Phase 2 Dyad of Gods

1)     The Divine Realm

§         El-YHWH5 is symbolized by the Tree of Knowledge.  El-YHWH having the characteristics of a patriarchal father is the creator of the world and the guarantor of rain and fertility, patriarchal father, war leader, old, wise, compassionate, the supreme judge, and all-powerful. El-YHWH would be the personal God of men. El-YHWH would have been the source and model for ideal male qualities and would guarantee success in agriculture and war;

§         Asherah, the universal mother, is symbolized by the Tree of Life. Asherah is El’s consort.  She is wise, nurturing, supporting the fertility of man, beasts and crops.  She provides an avenue of approach to the august El. She may be guarded by her sacred serpent. Asherah-Ela/Elat would be the personal deity of the first human matriarch and, more broadly, women. Asherah-Ela/Elat would have been the source and model for the first matriarch’s child bearing, nurturing and family-management qualities;

2)     Issues

§         Sexuality but no longer birth (?), having children and conflict within the family shared between Gods and men

§         Rebellion - Presumably some attempt by of the first human patriarch to eat of the tree of Knowledge triggered El-YHWH’s jealous regard for his own prerogatives against any encroachment by ambitious man[32]; and, as a result,

§         Banishment - El-YHWH banished the human race from the garden of God. Humanity thus moved from an original condition of innocence and bliss and harmony with the divine to the human condition of knowledge of sin, misery, and death.


d. Garden of Eden - Phase 3 One All-Powerful God – The Version in the Hebrew Bible

1)     The Divine Realm

  • El-YHWH5 is the one all-powerful God. He has absorbed Asherah’s characteristics but these remain subordinate to His dominant characteristics of power, authority and the ability to create. Tree of Knowledge representative of the original qualities of El-YHWH and the Tree of Life representative His unique ability to create and his complete control of life and death.

2)     Issues

  • Sexuality no longer seen in the divine realm
  • Rebellion - The serpent, formerly a symbol of Asherah-Ela/Elat, uses the woman’s formerly positive family-management qualities, to manipulate the first human patriarch to eat of the tree of Knowledge thus triggering El-YHWH’s jealous regard for his own prerogatives against any encroachment by ambitious man; and, as a result,

§         Banishment - El-YHWH banished the human race from the garden of God. Humanity thus moved from an original condition of innocence and bliss and harmony with the divine to the human condition of knowledge of sin, misery, and death.


Key Points in Tabular Form


Approximate Dates




Human Devotees in the divine image

Sexuality and Fertility

Status of Woman

Phase 1 Triad of Gods

c. 13th-9th centuries BCE

El-YHWH - the creator; divine patriarchal father; patron God of Israel and its war leader; old, wise, merciful, the supreme judge, and, in the last resort, all powerful

Tree of Knowledge

First Patriarch Ha’adam

Similar in divine and human realm

Eve’s position is reflective of that of Asherah. As Asherah is El-YHWH’s consort she holds a subordinate position within the patriarchal family.  However, she has a clearly recognized sphere, characteristics and status

Asherah - El-YHWH’s consort thus subordinate to El. The universal mother, wise, nurturing, supporting the fertility of man, beasts and crops; providing an avenue of approach to the august El.

Tree of Life and possibly the serpent

First Matriarch Eve, (Hawwa)

Baal – Source of the winter rain storms, spring mist and summer dew which nourished the crops and represents vegetation.

ed = the subterranean stream of fresh water

First Farmer and Shepherd

Phase 2 Dyad of Gods


mid 9th- mid 8th centuries BCE

El-YHWH is the patriarchal father. The patron God of Israel, its war leader and divine kinsman.  He is the creator, old, wise, compassionate, the supreme judge, and, in the last resort, all powerful. He is now also the executor god and the god of weather and fertility

Tree of Knowledge

All Men

Sexuality but no longer birth, having children and conflict within the family shared between Gods and men

Asherah - El-YHWH’s consort thus subordinate to El. The universal mother, wise, nurturing, supporting the fertility of man, beasts and crops; providing an avenue of approach to the august El.

Tree of Life and possibly the serpant

All Women

Phase 3 One All-Powerful God – The Version in the Hebrew Bible

mid 8th- 5th centuries BCE

El-YHWH is the one all-powerful God. He has absorbed Asherah’s characteristics but these remain subordinate to His dominant characteristics of power, authority and the ability to create.

Tree of Knowledge representative of the original qualities of El-YHWH and the Tree of Life representative His unique ability to create and his complete control of life and death.

All Humanity

Sexuality no longer seen in the divine realm

Eve’s position is now wholly reflective of that of her husband.





Annex 1

A Selection of Modern Commentaries on the Two Trees in the Garden of Eden


1. A Folklore Based Analysis- Gaster

With a few light but masterly strokes the Biblical writer depicts for us the blissful life of our first parents in the happy garden which God had created for their abode. There every tree that was pleasant to the sight and good for food grew abundantly; there the animals lived at peace with man and with each other; there man and woman knew no shame, because they knew no ill: it was the age of innocence. But this glad time was short, the sunshine was soon clouded.

In this account everything hinges on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: it occupies, so to say, the centre of the stage in the great tragedy, with the man and woman and the talking serpent grouped round it. But when we look closer we perceive a second tree standing side by side with the other in the midst of the garden. It is a very remarkable tree, for it is no less than the tree of life, whose fruit confers immortality on all who eat of it. Yet in the actual story of the fall this wonderful tree plays no part. Its fruit hangs there on the boughs ready to be plucked; unlike the tree of knowledge, it is hedged about by no divine prohibition, yet no one thinks it worth while to taste of the luscious fruit and live for ever. The eyes of the actors are all turned on the tree of knowledge; they appear not to see the tree of life. Only, when all is over, does God bethink himself of the wondrous tree standing there neglected with all its infinite possibilities, in the midst of the garden; and fearing lest man, who has become like him in knowledge by eating of the one tree, should become like him in immortality by eating of the other, he drives him from the garden, and appoints cherubim, or griffins, and a self-revolving flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life.

It appears to be generally recognized that some confusion has crept into the account of the two trees, and that in the original story the tree of life did not play the purely passive and spectacular part assigned to it in the existing narrative. Accordingly, some have thought that there were originally two different stories of the fall, in one of which the tree of knowledge figured alone, and in the other the tree of life alone, and that the two stories have been unskillfully fused into a single narrative by an editor, who has preserved the one nearly intact, while he has clipped and pared the other almost past recognition. It may be so, but perhaps the solution of the problem is to be sought in another direction. The gist of the whole story of the fall appears to be an attempt to explain man's mortality, to set forth how death came into the world. It is true that man is not said to have been created immortal and to have lost his immortality through disobedience; but neither is he said to have been created mortal. Rather we are given to understand that the possibility alike of immortality and of mortality was open to him, and that it rested with him which he would choose; for the tree of life stood within his reach, its fruit was not forbidden to him, he had only to stretch out his hand, take of the fruit, and eating of it live for ever. Indeed, far from being prohibited to eat of the tree of life, man was implicitly permitted, if not encouraged, to partake of it by his Creator, who had told him expressly, that he might eat freely of every tree in the garden, with the single exception of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This suggests that the forbidden tree was really a tree of death, not of knowledge, and that the mere taste of its fruit sufficed to entail death on the eater. Accordingly we may suppose that in the original story there were two trees, a tree of life and a tree of death; that it was open to man to eat of the one and live for ever, or to eat of the other and die; that God, out of good will to his creature, advised man to eat of the tree of life and warned him not to eat of the tree of death; and that man, misled by the serpent, ate of the wrong tree and so forfeited the immortality which his benevolent Creator had designed for him.

[This, however, is but one possibility. Comparative Folklore and Religion suggest another. The essence of the story, as we have seen, is that the food of Paradise is taboo to mortals because it can convey to them qualities which are the characteristics and perquisites of divine beings. Now, the two essential qualities are: (a) incorruptibility, and (b) special knowledge, or even omniscience. The food might thus be conceived as the vehicle of either the one or the other. Accordingly, where it is identified as the fruit of a special tree, that tree might be either (a) the tree of immortality (life), or (b) the tree of knowledge; and the Biblical story might therefore represent a conflation of these originally alternative versions.]

(a) The Tree of Life

The Hebrews were not the only people of the Ancient Near East to possess the notion of the Tree of Life. An early Egyptian Pyramid text mentions such a tree on a distant island, in quest of which King Pheops sets out…. There are also sundry references to a "tree of life" situated in the Egyptian Elysium, the so-called "Field of Peace" … the fruit of which is enjoyed by the righteous….

 (b) The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

Comparative Folklore also throws light on the true nature of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As we have seen, the purpose of the trees in general was to convey to the divine inhabitants of Paradise those qualities of incorruptibility and special sapience with which they were credited. The knowledge of good and evil, therefore, is not-as all too often supposed -a specific branch of knowledge (e.g., sexual awareness), nor is it knowledge of the distinction between good and evil (which Hebrew idiom would express quite differently); it is knowledge in toto, such as the gods possess. The expression is to be construed as a merism-that is, a figure of speech in which contrasting parts are used to convey the notion of a whole, e.g., "officers and men" for "army," or "dollars and cents" for "cash."

That this is the correct interpretation is shown also by the fact that it restores to the tale the same central theme as runs through all the earlier stories in the Book of Genesis, namely, that of God's jealous regard for his own prerogatives against any encroachment by ambitious man. It is this theme that underlies the stories of the consorting of human women with divine beings (6:1-4) and of the building of the Tower of Babel. In both those cases man's present situation is represented as the punishment for aspiring to be like the gods. In the former, to prevent his absorbing immortality, his life-span is immediately curtailed; in the latter, to prevent his scaling heaven, he is scattered over the earth. So here, consideration of the folklore background enables us to recognize that the true theme of the story is a similar abortive attempt on the part of man to usurp divine status and quality-in this case, by feeding himself on that magical fare of Paradise consumption of which makes the gods what they are.


2. Traditional Modern Analysis - Hooke

“In the case of Genesis … in the form of a book which might stand at the beginning of the story of God's ways with man and with Israel. … although it is the book of divine beginnings, it was probably the last book of the Pentateuch to receive the form in which we have it…. Other references in the Old Testament show that the Yahwist is using here a myth which formed part of ancient Hebrew tradition. Similarly the analysis of the text has shown that in the original form of the myth there was only one tree whose nature was not disclosed; so that we may assume that it is the Yahwist himself who has shaped the myth so as to present the two contrasted trees with their different properties, one of them containing the fruit of forbidden knowledge, and the other containing the fruit of immortal life… The … central elements in the Yahwist's presentation of the human tragedy are the related ideas of the forbidden knowledge and the loss of immortality. In the period in which the Yahwist was writing, the essential knowledge for man, and the knowledge which set Israel apart from all the other nations, was the knowledge of God, and obedience was the condition of life. In Dt. 32 :47 Moses is represented as saying, 'Lay to heart all the words which I enjoin upon you this day, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no trifle for you, but it is your life.' … But there was also a forbidden knowledge, as the Deuteronomist represents Moses as saying, 'the secret things belong to the Lord our God' (Dt. 29:29), and for the Yahwist this was the one forbidden thing, the knowledge of those secrets of life and death which belonged of right to God alone. In the myths which the Yahwist is using, knowledge of good and evil was not moral knowledge, but knowledge of powerful spells and incantations by which the mysterious forces of the universe could be controlled…. Another version of man's loss of immortality is found in the Epic of Gilgamesh …. In this myth … Gilgamesh, distressed by the death of his friend Enkidu, sets out … to find his ancestor Utnapishtim, the only survivor of the Flood. He learns from him that the gods have reserved for themselves the gift of immortality, but also learns from him where to find a magic herb which has the power of renewing life. He finds the herb, but loses it by the guile of the serpent who steals it while Gilgamesh is bathing…. we see the Yahwist making skilful use of the old myths, the guile of the serpent, the gods' jealousy of man, and representing the serpent as offering to man the enticing prospect of vital knowledge which was being withheld by Yahweh through jealousy. So the fatal act of disobedience is committed, the free and happy relationship between man and God is broken, and the curse falls.  All the good and useful activities are darkened and turned to evil. The pleasant care of the fertile sail becomes a weary toil, a struggle against useless and hurtful weeds far a bare subsistence, until man returns to the dust from which he was taken. The natural desire of the man for the woman becomes a thing of shame, and child-bearing becomes a mortal struggle with pangs of the rending flesh. The serpent becomes the age long enemy of God and man, the incarnate symbol of evil…. Finally man is expelled from the Paradise, the garden of God, where he had dwelt in happy companionship with God, the way to the tree of life is barred by Cherubim and a fiery sword, no return is possible. “


3. Modern Commentaries by Jewish Authors


E Speiser

The focal point of the narrative is the tree of knowledge. It is the tree "in the middle of the garden" (vs. 3), and its fruit imparts to the eater the faculty of "knowing good and bad" (vs. 5; cf. vs. 22). In the last two passages, the objective phrase "knowing/to know good and bad" is faultless in terms of Heb. syntax. But the longer possessive construction "the tree of knowledge of good and bad" (ii 9, 17) is otherwise without analogy in biblical Hebrew and may well be secondary.

More important, however, than those stylistic niceties is the problem of connotation. The Heb. stem yd' signifies not only "to know," but more especially "to experience, to come to know" … in other words, the verb describes both the process and the result. In the present phrase the actual sense is "to distinguish between good and bad"; cf. II Sam xix 36, where "between" is spelled out; see also I Kings iii 9. The traditional "good and evil" would restrict the idiom to moral matters. But while such an emphasis is apparent in I Kings ill 9 and Isa vii 15, 17, and might suit Deut i 39, it would be out of place in II Sam xix 36. In that context, the subject (Barzilai) shows very plainly that he is a keen judge of right and wrong. At the age of eighty, however, his capacity for physical and aesthetic pleasures is no longer what it used to be: he has lost the ability to appreciate "good and bad." The same delicate reference to physical aspects of life is implied in our passage, which leads up to the mystery of sex (cf. Ehrl., and see McKenzie, Theological Studies 15 [1954], 562f.).  For so long as the man and his wife abstain from the forbidden fruit, they are not conscious of their nakedness (ii 25); later they cover themselves with leaves (iii 7). The broad sense, then, of the idiom under discussion is to be in full possession of mental and physical powers. And it is this extended range of meaning that the serpent shrewdly brings into play in iii 5.

Such motifs as sexual awareness, wisdom, and nature's paradise are of course familiar from various ancient sources. It is noteworthy, however, that all of them are found jointly in a single passage of the Gilgamesh Epic. There (Tablet I, column iv, lines 16 ff., ANET, p. 75), Enkidu was effectively tempted by the courtesan, only to be repudiated by the world of nature; "but he now had wisdom, broader understanding" (20). Indeed, the temptress goes on to tell him, "You are wise Enkidu, you are like a god" (34) ; and she marks his new status by improvising some clothing for him …. It would be rash to dismiss so much detailed correspondence as mere coincidence.

This is not to imply that J had direct access to the Gilgamesh Epic, even though J's account of the Flood reflects a still closer tie with the same Akkadian work…. Such affinities, however, lend added support to the assumption that in his treatment of Primeval History J made use of traditions that had originated in Mesopotamia. Now derivative material of this kind is sometimes taken more literally than the original sources intended it to be; note, for example, the narrative about the Tower of Babel. It is thus conceivable that the poetic "You are wise Enkidu, you are like a god" … might give rise to the belief that in analogous circumstances man could become a threat to the celestials. And if the concept reached ancient Hebrew tradition, in common with patriarchal material, J would in such an instance be no more than a dutiful reporter. He could only articulate the transmitted motifs. The concluding verses of the present section appear to be a case in point. On the evidence of vs. 22, the serpent was right in saying that God meant to withhold from man the benefits of the tree of knowledge (vs. 5); the same purpose is now attributed to Yahweh. Yet all that this need mean is literal application of a motif that Hebrew tradition took over from Mesopotamia centuries earlier. In any event, the specific source and the precise channel of transmission would remain uncertain; nor have we any way of knowing how the author himself interpreted these notions.

We are on slightly firmer ground when it comes to the subject of God's resolve to keep the tree of life out of man's reach. In later narratives, starting with Abraham, the point is never brought up, since man knows by then his place in the scheme of things, and Yahweh's omnipotence precludes any fear of competition from whatever quarter. In other words, here is again a motif from the Primeval Age based on foreign beliefs. And once again, the center of dissemination is Mesopotamia, which provides us this time with at least two suggestive analogues: the tale of Adapa (ANET, pp. 101 ff.) and, once more, the Epic of Gilgamesh with its central emphasis on man's quest for immortality. Inevitably, both attempts end in failure….

As a whole, then, our narrative is synthetic and stratified. Thanks, however, to the genius of the author, it was to become an unforgettable contribution to the literature of the world.


N Sarna - Understanding Genesis

The allegory of the Garden of Eden …  is complicated by its rich symbolism expressed in fragmentary form, and by its being an interweaving of many and varied mythic strands. Several of these are redolent of well-known ancient Near Eastern motifs, while some appear to be distinctly Israelite.

There cannot be any doubt that some popular Hebrew story about a "Garden of God" existed in early times[33]. … Furthermore, the Genesis version itself still bears, traces of an earlier edition. The language and style contain several classical features of rhythm, phraseology and paralelistic structure characteristic of Hebrew poetry. The use of the definite article with the first mention of "the tree of life," "the tree of knowledge" (2:9), "the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword" (3:24), indicates an allusion to something already well-known to the reader.

As a matter of fact, this situation should not really be surprising, since the notions of paradise and a garden of God are familiar themes in the literature of the biblical world. The Sumerians[34], … have left us the myth of Enki and Ninhursag[35]. This story tells of an idyllic island of Dilmun, a "pure," "clean" and "bright" land in which all nature is at peace and where the beasts of prey and the tame cattle live together in mutual amity. Sickness, old age and, apparently, death also are unknown…. 

The two outstanding features of the Garden of Eden are the "tree of life" and the "tree of knowledge of good and evil." The former of the two, whether it be a tree or other plant, is a motif widespread throughout the ancient Near East….    The naturalizing tendencies of the (Genesis) writer are once more apparent … in the treatment of the two trees. They possess no magical properties which operate independently of God. They are in no wise outside of the divine realm, and their mysterious powers do not exist apart from the will of God. The eating of the fruit of the "tree of knowledge" did not endow the man and his wife with any special supernatural powers. They were unable to hide from God or to conceal their sin. They made no effort to oppose the divine judgment, and the absolute sovereign will of God is never called into question. The magical element is entirely and conspicuously absent.

However, the most remarkable break of all with Near Eastern mythology lies in the subtle shift of emphasis. As far as is known, the "tree of knowledge" has no parallel outside of our biblical Garden of Eden story. Yet it is upon this tree, and not upon the well-known "tree of life," that the narrative focuses its main attention. The divine prohibition makes no mention of the "tree of life." The dialogue of the serpent and Eve likewise ignores it, as, too, does God's questioning of Adam after the latter had eaten from the forbidden fruit. It is mentioned again only at the end of the narrative in explaining the expulsion from Eden. All this cannot be accidental, particularly in view of the great prominence of the "tree of life" motif in Near Eastern religion and the absence of the "tree of knowledge" idea outside of the Bible... The quest for immortality seems to have been an obsessive factor in ancient Near Eastern religion and literature…. By relegating the "tree of life" to an insignificant, subordinate role in the Garden of Eden story, the Bible dissociates itself completely from this pre-occupation. Its concern is with the issues of living rather than with the question of death, with morality rather than mortality. Its problem is not the mythical pursuit of eternity, but the actual relationships between man and God, the tension between the plans of God and the free-will of man. Not magic, it proclaims, but human action is the key to a meaningful life.”

Sarna, Nahum M. Genesis; The JPS Torah Commentary pp. 18-19

The two special trees are brought to our attention in a deliberately casual manner; their significance will become obvious later on. The "tree of life" is mentioned first, the "tree of knowledge" second. Only the first is given prominence in the garden, while the second gives the appearance of being an appendage to the verse. Yet as the narrative unfolds, the sequence is reversed. Only the "tree of knowledge" comes into focus, only its fruit is prohibited, only it is mentioned in the subsequent dialogues.

This shift in emphasis signals another breach with the central pagan theme of man's quest for immortality, as illustrated, for example, in the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh Epic and the Story of Adapa. It is not the mythical pursuit of eternal life but the relationship between God and man that is the primary concern here. It is clear from 3:22 that the fruit of this tree ("tree of life") was understood to bestow immortality upon the eater. What is uncertain is whether a single bite was thought to suffice or whether steady ingestion was needed to sustain a process of continuous rejuvenation. Either way, the text presupposes a belief that man, created from perishable matter, was mortal from the outset but that he had within his grasp the possibility of immortality. The "tree of life" is not included in the prohibition in verse 17.

The tree of knowledge of good and bad The interpretation of this enigmatic designation, which is unparalleled anywhere outside the present narrative, hinges upon the definition of "knowledge" and the scope of "good and bad." Ibn Ezra, followed by many moderns, understood carnal knowledge to be intended since the first human experience after eating the forbidden fruit is the consciousness of accompanied by shame; moreover, immediately after the expulsion from Eden it is said, "Now the man knew his wife Eve."

Against this interpretation is the fact that at this stage woman is not yet created, that sexual differentiation is made by God Himself (cf. 1:27), that the institution of marriage is looked upon in verse 25 as part of the divinely ordained order, and that, according to 3:5,22, "knowledge of good and bad" is a divine characteristic. Thus it will not do to take "good and bad" as the human capacity for moral discernment. Aside from the difficulty of understanding why God should be opposed to this, there is the additional argument that a divine prohibition would be meaningless if man did not already possess this faculty. Indeed, from 3:3 it is clear that the woman knows the meaning of disobedience; that is, she is already alert to the difference between right and wrong, which can have no other meaning than obedience or otherwise. It is more satisfactory, however, to understand "good and bad" as undifferentiated parts of a totality, a merism meaning "everything." …


. From Wallace

The universalism of J has long been recognized. It is especially evident in the promise repeated to the patriarchs: "I will bless them that bless you, and those who curse you, I will curse. All the families of the earth will find blessing in you…. It is only natural that in a document … with a strong universal outlook the national story should begin with an account of primeval history where Yahweh is seen as creator and ruler over the cosmos…. The association of Yahweh with El traditions also implied the concept of Yahweh as creator. The form of the … primeval history of J possesses many of the traditional motifs and elements of other cosmologies and cosmogonies of the Ancient Near East…. 

There are several references in the Ancient Near East to places which are, or are associated with, the dwellings of one or more deities. The descriptions of these frequently contain references to springs and trees, many possessing divine attributes, and to the great beauty and fertility of the spot…  the description of the garden of Eden contains many of the motifs used in the description of divine dwellings in Mesopotamian, Canaanite and other biblical material. They include the unmediated presence of the deity, the council of the heavenly beings, the issuing of divine decrees, the source of the subterranean life-giving waters which supply the whole earth, abundant fertility and trees of supernatural qualities and great beauty…. We have two well-defined themes in Gen 2-3, the garden of God and the creation theme. … As is the case elsewhere in the J narrative, Gen 2-3 contains a blend of mythic and historical element. The mythic background of the garden theme, however, breaks through the surface of the narrative enough to show that the garden of Eden is not just an earthly paradise in which it was the privilege of the first humans to live until they broke the rules. Rather, because of the use of the theme of the garden of God, this earthly abode has been designated a divine dwelling. One could alternatively say that the divine dwelling has been "historicized." In all events the garden of Eden is a place set apart from the world as humans have experienced it as long as they can remember. It plays a role, albeit a passive one, in the story of the first couple. It sets the scene for the exploration of the relationship between the divine and human worlds….

… The tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are of central importance in the present form of Gen 2-3. They are located in the midst of the garden and there is a prohibition against eating from the tree of Knowledge (2:17). In 3:1-24, desire for this tree gives rise to the disobedience of Yahweh' s command while the tree of life becomes the key to the expulsion of the humans from the garden…. trees of supernatural quality were one of the motifs of the garden of God theme. In Gen 2-3 it would seem that in the development of the narrative one of the motifs of the garden theme has been elevated to a place of major importance.

In the present narrative, two distinct trees are mentioned (2:9 and 3:22, 24), but there are some points which suggest this might not always have been the case. The two trees are named together in 2:9. In 3:22, while only the tree of life is specifically referred to, it is clear that the man and woman have eaten from the tree of knowledge because they have become like 'elohim, "gods," knowing good and evil. The tree of life is again mentioned in 3:24 where Yahweh establishes a guard to protect the way to it.

Elsewhere in the narrative only one tree is mentioned (2:16-17; 3:3, 6, 11, 12). In 2:16-17 it is called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but in the other references the term haceç,  "the tree," is used. It is clear that the tree of knowledge is meant in these cases as well. This can be seen in the fact that in 3:3 and 11, Yahweh's prohibition against eating from the tree is mentioned, a point directly dependent on 2:16-17. Further, the promised and actual effect of eating from the tree is the gaining of the knowledge of good and evil (3:5, 22a; cf. v 6 where the tree is said to increase one's understanding, lehaŚkil). In 3:5 and 7, the use of the root ydC, "to know," plays on the name of the tree. In spite of these rather clear indications that the single tree is the tree of knowledge, the matter is complicated in 3:3. There the woman, in reply to the serpent's question, states "but from the tree (haceç) which is in the midst of the garden (betok-haggan), God said, 'You will not eat of it nor touch it, lest you die. '" The ,tree of knowledge has been the only one prohibited (2: 17), but the tree of life was the one described as being in the midst of the garden (2:9). It could be argued that betok haggan does not mean strictly "in the middle" but rather "within the garden" (cf. betok in 3:8), but the specific reference in 3:3 to the one tree betok haggan alongside the other trees in the garden suggests that the strict sense of the phrase is meant.

While two trees are mentioned in the present form of the narrative, it is clear that only one tree is essential for its development. For the most part, that tree is referred to simply as "the tree" and only the context designates it as the tree of knowledge. The tree of life plays an important role only at the very end and the details regarding its placement and access to the man and woman remain obscure for the most part. In addition there is the small confusion over which tree is in the midst of the garden.

It could be argued from these factors that the two trees of the present narrative were not part of the story as it was originally told. This position has been put forward by scholars in the past and many suggestions as to how the two trees have been combined have been made. Each suggestion has been closely linked to the overall method of analysis adopted by the scholar in studying Gen 2-3. In the most recent discussions it has generally been recognized that the uncertainties surrounding the two trees have arisen in the pre-J stages of the story. The duality of the trees is usually attributed to a combination of different traditions…. (I)f we accept that the original form of the story contained only one tree, then the two trees in the present narrative could be the result of the combination of variants of the one motif. At some stage in the history of the narrative, the variants have been joined and the story has developed the concept of two trees side-by-side in the garden. The small contradictions and inconsistencies are the result of this process. This seems to us the most reasonable explanation of the present situation, especially considering that only one tree is essential for the story and that there is some confusion between the trees…. 

The Tree of Life

… in the Epic of Gilgamesh … Gilgamesh is told of a plant at the bottom of the sea through which he can regain his "life's breath" (line 279). It is clear that the issue here is one of regaining one's youthful vitality….

Although the substances are somewhat different, we note the similarity with the Gilgamesh event. Through the eating or drinking of something special, humans can gain life beyond that which is normally allotted. The special substances are indeed the gifts of the gods but, by one means or another, humans are deprived of the gift of superhuman life and are destined to live out their life on earth…. 

Asherah can be seen as the great mother-goddess, the source of life for others. In 2 Kgs 23:7 Josiah breaks down the houses of the qedestm where women weave garments for the Asherah. If qedešim indicates male cult prostitutes, then there is a link between the Asherah symbol and fertility rites. The connection of the palm tree with fertility can be seen in the fact that the tree is typically depict ed bearing fruit. Thus we can see that there is an association between Asherah and trees or symbols related to trees although the full details of this association are unknown. Since Asherah herself is the great mother-goddess, chief consort of the Canaanite high god El, it stands to reason that the cultic symbols of the goddess could be associated with fertility or the gift of life in some manner. This is not to say that we can equate the Asherah symbol with the tree of life in Gen 2-3; after all, in the present narrative the tree of life concerns eternal life and not the fertility of womb and field. Nevertheless, if the figure of Eve can be seen to bear some relationship to the Canaanite mother-goddess … it is not out of place that she be associated with (a) sacred tree(s). It is not impossible that a tree which is associated with fertility and the mother-goddess figure in one level of a story could take on other life-giving aspects, also a divine gift, at another level, especially when we remember the broad spectrum covered by the word "life."

… Neither biblical nor non-biblical material offers anything similar to the tree of knowledge…. The various interpretations of the tree of knowledge can be categorized into three broad areas: (a) the acquisition of human faculties, (b) knowledge of sexual relations, and (c) universal knowledge….  What can we conclude … about the expression "to know good and evil" and specifically about its use in Gen 2-3? We have argued that the interpretations dealing solely with the development of "human faculties" or sexual experience are inadequate for Gen 2-3 in its present form. The concept of "universal knowledge" offers the best alternative…. From our discussion of the tree of knowledge it can be seen that the main concern of the narrative as recorded is the penetration of the divine realm by the couple. This is given as both the motivation for, and the result of, their eating from the tree of knowledge (3:5, 22). It is also the reason for the final banishment of the couple from the garden (3:22-24). Yahweh acts to prevent the possibility of them eating from the tree of life and becoming immortal. Also bound up with this is the punishment of the couple described in 3:16-19 when Yahweh discovers that they have disobeyed him. They are destined to suffer the hardships of human existence. The life described is also one that is experienced outside the garden… We could note here that also in Gen 6:1-4 and 11:1-9 the prevention of human and divine mixing is connected to Yahweh's imposition on humankind of the limitations of earthly existence….

Eve and the Serpent

… Of course there are two so-called namings of the woman, the first in the poetic fragment Gen 2:23 where the companion for the man is called 'išša, "woman," with a deliberate play on 'iš/'išša.  In 3:20 the woman is called Hawwa. There is no need to see here a doublet. The name 'išša is given in the context of the man's naming all the other creatures which Yahweh formed in order to find a "helper corresponding to him" (cezer kenegdo, 2:18, 20). 'išša clearly stands as a generic term as the frequent use of it with the article or the 3d m. sg. Suffix demonstrates. It is not to be understood as a personal name as is the case with Hawwa in 3:20…. The name Hawwa has exercized the minds of scholars as far back as one can trace. The etymology recorded by J is based on the wordplay between Hawwa and Hay. At J's level of the text, this etymology was undoubtedly associated with the role of Eve as first woman and progenitress of humankind. For several reasons it has been regarded as suspect…. One of the most ancient and relatively persistent lines of interpretation has seen a close connection between Eve and the serpent. Early Rabbinic interpretation noted the similarity between the name Hawwa and the Aramaic word Hewya’, "serpent."… The argument received added momentum with the publication of a Punic tablet dated to the third to second centuries B.C.E… Several scholars have sought to develop the proposed connection between Eve and a goddess. Some of these have taken the epithet "mother of all living" more seriously and have proposed that behind the figure of Eve stands not only a figure associated with serpents but also that of a "mother-goddess."… Enough has been said above to show the general trend of investigation of the name and figure of Eve. The etymology of Hawwa, the connection with Punic Hwt and the possible association with mother-goddess figures need further consideration.

We have mentioned the difficulty of the etymology proposed by J for the name Hawwa. The relation between Hawwa and Hay in the present form of the text depends more on euphony than on any philological connection evident in biblical Hebrew. An association between the word for "serpent" in other languages and Hawwa has been proposed. In later Aramaic the word for "serpent" is Hewya’/ Hiwya’' Hiwye, pl. Hiwwayya’/ Hiwwin. In early Aramaic it apparently is Hwh…. 

Heb. Hawwa would derive from *Hwt. From the data above, Hwt could be related to words for either "serpent" or "life."… Either of these etymologies is appropriate if Hwt in KAI 89 is seen as a title of Tannit/Asherah. The derivation from Hwt, "life," fits Tannit/Asherah's function as mother-goddess. This aspect of Tannit/Asherah is well known and we have already cited some of the evidence in reference to the connection of Asherah with sacred trees.

The other possible etymology of Hwt is from the word for "serpent." The evidence connecting Asherah/Tannit with serpents is less certain than that for her role as mother-goddess, however there are some connections which ought not to be neglected…. 

From the lengthy argument above, it could be suggested that the name Hawwa (<*Hwt) in Gen 3:20 has some direct connection with Asherah. We do not mean to imply a simple equation between Eve and Asherah. The possible etymologies for Hawwa suggest that the name and the connection with Asherah are part of a long tradition. One could posit that Gen 2-3 was derived from some myth involving Asherah but we have no direct evidence for this.

We prefer to think that in the development and retelling of the narrative an allusion to the Canaanite goddess has been made. It had greater significance in earlier forms of the story but has not been highlighted in the present rendition. Thus the one who was initially called 'išša, "woman," in her correspondence to the 'iš, "man, husband," is more specifically related to the great goddess. In this context the origin of the designation of Eve as the "mother of all living" becomes clear with its similarity to epithets of Asherah as the mother goddess, namely "creatress of the gods" and "nurse of the gods." Further, the association of Eve with the sacred trees recalls the association of Asherah/Tannit with trees, and of course the motif of fertility also found in Gen 2-3 is to be associated with the mother-goddess. If the connection of Asherah/Tannit with serpents has validity, then one could see another connection between Eve and the mother-goddess….

We would expect a connection between Eve and Asherah to be reflected in the circumstances of the narrative. What we find in Gen 2-3, in fact, is that all which we might anticipate … is completely reversed. Rather than the productivity and fertility associated with the mother goddess, we see death, sterility, and hardship. Eve, the "mother of all living," is designated to suffer in childbirth. The interaction between Eve and the serpent, also a symbol of fertility, as we shall see, ultimately leads to death….  This reversal of expectations supports the identification of Eve and Asherah but it also suggests that the identification has been made with a polemical purpose in mind….

The association of the serpent with prolonged life has long been recognized….  The associations of the serpent with wisdom are extensive. The association of the serpent with fertility has been recognized by many scholars. The evidence for this is principally artistic. The serpent is frequently seen in close association with naked goddesses. Often the reptile is placed in a position near the genital area leaving little doubt as to the sexual significance. In some of these works the serpent is associated with the mother-goddess…. 

This brief survey shows the variety of functions and attributes associated with the serpent. … in Gen 2-3 … Wisdom, immortality and fertility are all interconnected in a story in which a serpent plays an important role. As in the case of the connection between Eve and Asherah, all which we expect from the mythic associations of the serpent is reversed. The beast of fertility leads the woman and man into disobedience and subsequent hardship, especially in childbirth and working the ground. The serpent itself is cursed, and is destined to a life of humility and enmity with humankind. Thus the serpent fits into the story not only by virtue of its connection with Asherah but in its own right. The treatment of it once again reveals a polemical trend in the narrative….

… we can get some idea of the possibility of fertility cults in Canaanite religion…. Sexual activity among the gods at Ugarit is fairly common and it has some possible connections to earthly fertility....  There is in the OT a small but consistent body of material which touches on the question of fertility rites or sexual activity in relation to the Israelite cult. There is a consistent polemic against, or resistance toward, such practices which are considered akin to Canaanite ones…. The story (Gen 2-3) could have been used as a polemic against fertility practices in the Canaanite cult. The couple seeks to imitate the gods in sexual activity. The setting for this is described in terms of the garden of God, the location of the divine marriage itself. The passage is replete with terms and concepts reminiscent of the Canaanite mother-goddess, the serpent with its mythical associations, and concepts of fertility of womb and field. The final outcome, however, is the reverse of what could be expected. Instead of fullness of life and abundance, there is expulsion into a world marked by sterility, toil, pain in childbirth, and ultimately death itself. The sexual activity leads only to shame. The trees of life and knowledge also fit into this rendition of the story. The former is appropriate in a situation in which elements associated with the mother-goddess are present. The sexual aspect of the tree of knowledge, suppressed somewhat in the present form of the narrative, could have been more prominent in earlier tellings….In the form of the narrative recorded by J, the sexual aspect of the polemic has been reduced….  A broader interpretation of the sin in the garden has been introduced. The attempt at becoming like the gods is seen in the narrative recorded by J as an attempt to gain the total knowledge of the gods. In this context the trees of life and knowledge have come into prominence. The divine qualities available in them, and especially in the tree of knowledge, are now the object of human desire. The knowledge which the tree offers certainly has a sexual aspect … but it is no longer the only, nor the central feature.

Remnants of sexual and fertility language used in earlier forms of the narrative have remained. Many of these are employed in aetiological roles, for example, the woman's desire for the man is alongside the reference to the husband's rule over the wife (Gen 3:16), thus broadening the issue to one of social and familial structures. The nakedness of the couple is associated with the origin of clothing. Others, such as the concept of the fertility of the earth, still maintain something of their original position in the narrative. The sin of the couple leads to a curse upon the ground, but the direct link between the nature of the sin and the fertility of the earth that was once there has been severed.


Select Bibliography

Ackerman, Susan, Under Every Green Tree: Popular Religion in Sixth Century Judah, Harvard Semitic Monographs - HSM 46

Becking, Bob Only One God?:Monotheism in Ancient Israel and the Veneration of the Goddess Asherah (Biblical Seminar)

Binger, Tilde Asherah: Godesses in Ugarit, Israel & the Old Testament (JSOT Supplement)

Cross, Frank Moore, Canaanite myth and Hebrew epic; essays in the history of the religion of Israel (Chapter Yahweh and El), Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1973.


Friedman, Richard Elliott, Who Wrote the Bible, Harper & Row, 1987

Gaster, Theodor H., Myth, Legend, and Custom in the Old Testament: A comparative study with chapters from Sir James G. Frazer's Folklore in the Old Testament, HARPER & ROW, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK AND EVANSTON, 1969

Hadley, Judith M. The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess (University of Cambridge Oriental Publications, Vol. 57)


Herrick, Greg, Baalism in Canaanite Religion and Its Relation to Selected Old Testament Texts                 

Hooke, S. H., Genesis in Peake's Commentary on the Bible, General Editor Matthew Black, Nelson 1962

Kletter, Raz  The Judean pillar-figurines and the archaeology of Asherah (BAR international series)

Long, Asphodel P. The Tree of Life and the Menorah : Continuity of a Goddess symbol in Judaism?

Mattfeld y d la Torre,Walter Reinhold Warttig, The Garden of Eden and Its Mesopotamian Prototypes, Including the Serpent who Offered Immortality to Man and Christ's remarkable Parallels

Mattfeld y d la Torre,Walter Reinhold Warttig, Genesis' Genesis, The Hebrew Transformation of the Ancient Near Eastern Myths and Their Motifs.

Mattfeld y d la Torre,Walter Reinhold Warttig, The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life in the

Garden of Eden (The Ancient Near Eastern Motifs behind)

Olyan, Saul M. Asherah and the Cult of Yahweh in Israel (Society of Biblical Literature Monograph Series, No. 34)

Pettey, Richard J. Asherah: Goddess of Israel (American University Studies, Series VII, Theology and Religion, Vol. 74)


Sarna, Nahum M. Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary, The Jewish Publication Society, 1989

Sarna, Nahum M. Understanding Genesis by Schoken Books. New York 1966 

Smith, Mark S. ed. The Ugaritic Baal cycle, Leiden ; New York : E.J. Brill, 1994-

Speiser, E. A. Genesis, Anchor Bible, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York 1964

Steinberg, David Israelite Religion to Judaism: the Evolution of the Religion of Israel

Steinberg, David Ugarit and the Bible: Ugaritic Literature as an Aid to Understanding the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)


Wallace, Howard N The Eden Narrative (Harvard Semitic Monographs, No 32), 1985

Wiggins, Steve A A reassessment of 'Asherah': A study according to the textual sources of the first two millennia B.C.E (Alter Orient und Altes Testament)

Wilson, Leslie S. The Serpent Symbol in the Ancient Near East: Nahash and Asherah : Death, Life, and Healing (Studies in Ancient Judaism)

Canaanite and Phoenician religions

The Temple of the Deities - Room One - The Major Deities in the Myths of Ugarit

Canaanite/Ugaritic Mythology FAQ, ver. 1.1

Official Religion and Popular Religion in Pre-Exilic Ancient Israel

“The text is at pains to point out the creatureliness of the serpent, describing it as one "of all the wild beasts that the Lord God had made" (3:1, 14); it is distinguished from the other beasts only by its shrewdness (3:1). Its insignificance is underlined in 3:9–19, where God interrogates Adam and Eve, and both respond, while the serpent is not questioned and does not respond. In view of the prominent role played by serpents in Ancient Near Eastern religion and mythology this treatment of the serpent amounts to desecration and demythologization, quite possibly intentional. As a result, the source of evil is denied divine or even demonic status: evil is no independent principle in the cosmos, but stems from the behavior and attitudes of God's creatures.

From early times the serpent has been seen as a symbol, whose meaning is widely debated. Some have stressed the serpent's well-known phallic symbolism and fertility associations, taking the narrative to reflect an attitude toward human sexuality, fertility cults, and the like. Others see the serpent as representing man's own shrewdness. Since in Ancient Near Eastern mythology the forces of chaos which oppose the forces of creation and cosmos are widely represented as serpents, many see the serpent here, too, as a personification of the forces of chaos. According to this view, disobeying God undermines the cosmic order. Alternatively, the serpent may represent ethical evil in general, a meaning that serpentine mythological motifs are given elsewhere in the Bible (e.g., Isa. 26:21–27:1).”




The Hebrew Bible commences with a majestic cosmological account of the genesis of the universe. According to Genesis 1:1–2:4a (the P account according to the documentary hypothesis), God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. The verb br$ used in the very first sentence of the creation story does not imply, as most traditional commentators believed, creatio ex nihilo, a concept that first appears in II Maccabees 7:28, but denotes, as it does throughout the Bible, a divine activity that is effortlessly effected. The opening sentence in the story—many commentators think (but see Cassuto, Genesis, 1, pp. 19–20)—begins with a temporal clause, "When God began to create the heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1), continues with a circumstantial clause telling of the existence of the darkness and void (1:2), and then in two main clauses (1:3) relates the first act by which God, by divine fiat, created cosmic order out of primeval chaos: "God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light." The six days of creation fall into a symmetrical pattern of three days each, in which the creation of light and of day and night on the first day, of the sky on the second, and of dry land, seas, and vegetation on the third are complemented by the creation of the luminaries on the fourth day, living creatures in the sea and sky on the fifth, and land animals and man on the sixth. The refrain "And God saw that it was good; and there was evening and there was morning" usually follows the completion of each day's activity. The final act of creation, man, is preceded by a solemn declaration of purpose announced in the heavenly council, "Let us make a man in our image, after our likeness" (1:26). Man is then blessed by God, "Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it," and entrusted with sovereignty over the "fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth" (1:28). God, having found that all He had made was very good, ceased from further acts of creation and blessed and sanctified the seventh day (2:2). Another story of creation, Genesis 2:4b–24 (the J account according to the documentary hypothesis), describes a much more anthropocentric version of the origin of life on earth: with the ground watered at first only by a subterranean flow; the first man formed from the earth of the ground and animated by a breath blown into his nose, the first woman created from a rib of the man; and the two placed in the Garden of Eden. The main differences between the two accounts, whose sources reflect different epic traditions, are

(1)      the names of the deity: Genesis 1, ‘elohim; Genesis 2, YHWH;

(2)      in the first account the creation of plants (1:11ff., third day) precedes the creation of man (1:26, sixth day), but in the second before man there was no shrub in the field and the grains had not yet sprouted (2:5–7), trees being created only after the creation of man (2:8–9);

(3)      in Genesis 1:20–21, 24–25 animals were created before man, but in Genesis 2:19, after man;

(4)      the creation of man is repeated in the second account, but whereas in Genesis 1:27 male and female were created together, the woman was fashioned from a rib of the man in 2:21ff. The second account does not mention the creation of day and night, seas, luminaries, marine life, but commences immediately with the forming of man from the dust of the earth.

Conception of God

Though the style of the first account is much more hymnic and sublime than the second, it does not reflect, as is usually assumed, a completely abstract, transcendental conception of God. First of all, though creation by divine fiat is found in connection with light (1:3), firmament (1:6), gathering together of the waters into one place and the appearance of dry land (1:9), vegetation (1:11), luminaries (1:14), marine life and fowl (1:20), animal life (1:24), there are also references to the actual making or creating of the firmament (1:7, wa-yaas), luminaries (1:16, wa-yaas), sea monsters, fish, and fowl (1:21, wa-yivra), land animals (1:25, wa-yaas), and most important, the pinnacle of creation, man (1:26ff. naaseh, wa-yivra). Moreover, creation by divine fiat is not an abstraction first conceived by the author of the P account, but is found in earlier Egyptian (Pritchard, Texts, 5) and Babylonian cosmogonies. Second, that man was created in the image and likeness of the divine beings (Gen. 1:26) is interpreted by many modern exegetes in a physical sense, although the expressions must have lost their original corporeal sense in the biblical context (see Cassuto, Genesis, 1, p. 56). (For the image of the deity, cf. Ex. 24:10; 33:20–23; Isa. 6:1; Ezek. 1:26.) The terminology employed here has Near Eastern prototypes: In Egyptian literature, specifically in a cosmogonic context, man is described as being the image of his creator god (Wildberger; Pritchard, Texts, 417); in Mesopotamian literature the king is sometimes called the "image" (Akk. \almu, Heb. zelem) or "likeness" (Akk. mu22ulu, Heb. demut) of his deity (for the views of Horst, Loewenstamm, and Wildberger, see bibliography). In Israel a "democratization" (Horst) took place in that not only the king but all of mankind is conceived as being created in the divine image. If this idea originally goes back to royal ideology, it would further explain man's unique task on earth. Just as the divine likeness of the king in Mesopotamia empowers him to be the sovereign of his people, so mankind is entrusted "to rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth" (Gen. 1:28). Finally, the plural verb naaseh ("let us make") and plural nouns be-zalmenu ("in our image") and ki-demutenu ("after our likeness"; Gen. 1:26) may refer to the divine council with which God consults before the important step of creating man; though other feasible explanations have been advanced (see commentaries). (For other references to the divine council, see Gen. 3:22; 11:7; I Kings 22:19ff.; Isa. 6:2 ff.; Job 1–2; Dan. 7:10; for the deity's taking counsel before creating man, see Enuma Elish 6:4, in Pritchard, Texts, 68.)

Mesopotamian Prototypes

The two versions of the creation story have often been compared to Mesopotamian prototypes. The translation given above in Genesis 1:1ff. and 2:4bff., "when... then," is analogous to the introductory style of Mesopotamian epics. Tracing a theme to the creation of the universe is a feature also found in as trivial a work as the "Incantation to a Toothache" (Pritchard, Texts, 100–1), and in as major a composition as the Sumerian King List (ibid., 265–6), "history" commences with the dynasties before the Flood.


For specific cosmogonic details the most important piece of Mesopotamian literature is the Babylonian epic story of creation, Enuma Elish (ibid., 60–72). Here, as in Genesis, the priority of water is taken for granted, i.e., the primeval chaos consisted of a watery abyss. The name for this watery abyss, part of which is personified by the goddess Tiamat, is the etymological equivalent of the Hebrew tehom (Gen. 1:2), a proper name that always appears in the Bible without the definite article. (It should be noted, however, that whereas "Tiamat" is the name of a primal generative force, tehom is merely a poetic term for a lifeless mass of water.) In both Genesis (1:6–7) and Enuma Elish (4:137–40) the creation of heaven and earth resulted from the separation of the waters by a firmament. The existence of day and night precedes the creation of the luminous bodies (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, and 14ff.; Enuma Elish 1:38). The function of the luminaries is to yield light and regulate time (Gen. 1:14; Enuma Elish 5:12–13). Man is the final act of creation—in Enuma Elish, too, before his creation the gods are said to take counsel (Enuma Elish 6:4)—and following the creation of man there ensues divine rest. There is, furthermore, an identical sequence of events: creation of firmament, dry land, luminaries, man, and divine rest. Thus, it appears that at least the so-called P account echoes this earlier Mesopotamian story of creation.

Another reflection of very ancient traditions is found in Genesis 1:21. Since the entire story of creation refers only to general categories of plant and animal life, not to any individual species, the specific mention of "the great sea monsters" alongside, and even before, "all the living creatures of every kind that move about, which the waters brought forth in swarms" is striking. It is most likely part of the biblical polemic against the polytheistic version of a primeval struggle between the creator god and a marine monster which was the personification of chaos (see below). In Genesis this story has been submerged and only appears in the demythologized reference to the sea monsters as being themselves created by God, not as rival gods.

The second creation story, too, has Near Eastern prototypes: The creation of man from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7) is analogous to the creation of man from clay, a motif often found in Mesopotamian literature, e.g., the Gilgamesh Epic; the Hebrew name of the underground flow, ed, that watered the Garden of Eden, is related to either a cognate Akkadian word edu or to the Sumerian word 2D, "river"; and the creation of woman from a rib may reflect a Sumerian motif (see Kramer).

Differences between Genesis and Enuma Elish

Nevertheless, the differences between the biblical and the Mesopotamian accounts are much more striking than their similarities; each of them embodies the world outlook of their respective civilizations. In Genesis there is a total rejection of all mythology. The overriding conception of a single, omnipotent, creator predominates. Cosmogony is not linked to theogony. The preexistence of God is assumed—it is not linked to the genesis of the universe. There is no suggestion of any primordial battle or internecine war which eventually led to the creation of the universe. The one God is above the whole of nature, which He Himself created by His own absolute will. The primeval water, earth, sky, and luminaries are not pictured as deities or as parts of disembodied deities, but are all parts of the manifold works of the Creator. Man, in turn, is not conceived of as an afterthought, as in Enuma Elish, but rather as the pinnacle of creation. Man is appointed ruler of the animal and vegetable kingdoms; he is not merely the menial of the gods (Enuma Elish). The story in Genesis, moreover, is nonpolitical: Unlike Enuma Elish, which is a monument to Marduk and to Babylon and its temple, Genesis makes no allusion to Israel, Jerusalem, or the Temple. Furthermore, the biblical story is non-cultic: unlike Enuma Elish, which was read on the fourth day of the Babylonian New Year festival, it plays no ritual role whatever in the religion of Israel.

Egyptian Analogues

In addition to Mesopotamian substrata, there are several Egyptian analogues to the biblical stories of creation, e.g., the existence of primeval water and its division; the breathing of life into the nostrils of man; man's being formed in the image of the creator god; the creation of plants, animals, fowl, and fish; and the light of day (see "Instruction for Meri-Ka-Re," Pritchard, Texts, 417; Junker, Hermann in bibl.).

Other Biblical Traditions

Outside Genesis there are a number of allusions to the vanquishing by YHWH of a great sea monster and his minions, with some traces of a belief that this was connected with the creation of the world. In the biblical version of this combat, known from Mesopotamia (Marduk-Tiamat) and Ugarit (Baal-Yamm), the forces of the watery chaos, called Yam, Nahar, Leviathan, Rahab, or Tannin, are either destroyed or put under restraint by God (cf. Isa. 27:1; 51:9–10; Jer. 5:22; Hab. 3:8; Ps. 74:13–14; 89:10–11; 104:6–9; Prov. 8:27–29; Job 7:12; 9:13; 26:10–13; 38:8–11). Recently it has been suggested (see Jacobsen) that this epic account, whose source was thought to be in Mesopotamia, may actually have originated in the West (though where in particular is not clear), and subsequently influenced both biblical and Mesopotamian literature. It is noteworthy, however, that the stories of Genesis meticulously avoid the use of such legendary material, even eschewing metaphorical figures of speech based on this mythological conflict.

Another poetic version of creation is reflected in Proverbs 8:1–31, where Wisdom relates that she attended God during the creation.

Weinfeld has drawn attention to the fact that four mythological motifs of Genesis 1—the existence of primordial material (1:2); God's working and His rest; the council of God (1:26); and the creation of man in God's image (1:26–27)—are repudiated in the cosmogonic doxologies of Second Isaiah.

[Shalom M. Paul]

[1] Of course, the Eden story was never meant to be taken as history as we know it. The following quotes are from THE PAGAN CHRIST: Recovering the Lost Light by TOM HARPUR, Thomas Allen Publishers, Toronto, 2004

a) “My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.”  JOHN DOMINIC CROSSAN, Who Is Jesus?

b) "Frye reminded his students that when the Bible is historically accurate, it is only accidentally so: reporting was not of the slightest interest to its writers. They had a story to tell which could only be told by myth and metaphor: what they wrote became a source of vision rather than doctrine."

c) Here are three brief quotes from Kuhn to underline this salient point in my argument:

  • "What was known of old. . . is that the myth as employed by ancient illuminati in Biblical scripture is not fiction, but the truest of all history!"
  • "The myth is the only true narrative of the reality of human experience. It is the only ultimately true history ever written. . . as it is the actual experience of life in its evolution. Real as history is, it is finally less true than the myth.  The myth is always and forever true; actual history is never more than an approximation of the truth of life.".
  • "Myth was the favourite and universal method of teaching in archaic times."

[2] “Critics generally hold that the Eden narrative stems from a different source than the preceding creation narrative (Gen. 1:1–2:4a or 4b). Divergent authorship is indicated, according to the documentary hypothesis, by the two narratives' contradictory orders of creation (ch. 1: trees, animals, man and woman; ch 2: man, trees, animals, woman). On the basis of vocabulary and content the first narrative is assigned to the Priestly Document (P), while the second is assigned to the Jehovist, or Yahwist, Document (J; for a contrary view see Cassuto, Genesis I, ad loc.).

The Eden pericope in itself appears to combine more than one narrative of the same events. Many doublets in the text point to at least two parallel recensions. The following are some of the doublets which have been suggested: 2:5 and 6 (primordial irrigation), 2:8 and 9 (planting the garden), 2:8 and 15 (placing man in it), 2:23 and 3:20 (naming the woman), 3:7 and 21 (clothing the couple), 3:18b and 19a (man's future food), 3:18a and 17c, d, 19a (man's future occupation), 3:19b and 19c (man's return to the earth), 3:23 and 24 (expulsion from paradise). Other seemingly disjunctive elements are 2:9b (the two trees clumsily seem attached to the verse) and 10–14 (the rivers). On these points there is general agreement, at least in principle. However there is no unanimity at all when it comes to regrouping the variants in order to reconstruct the hypothetical earlier recensions.” Jeffrey Howard Tigay in Encyclopedia Judaica

[3] Harper’s Biblical Dictionary, ed. P J Achtemeier, Harper & Row 1985

[4] ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN MYTHOLOGY by Robert Wexler in Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary by David L. Lieber (Editor), Jules Harlow (Editor) 2001

[5] “The Eden narrative's affinities with primitive folklore and other biblical and Ancient Near Eastern, especially Mesopotamian, compositions are many, yet there is no single piece of ancient literature which resembles the narrative as a whole, either in its details or theological significance.

The primordial absence of produce and standard forms of irrigation resemble the immediately postdiluvian conditions, which presumably duplicate primordial conditions in the Sumerian "Rulers of Lagas" (in: JCS, 21 (1967), 283). The notion of a divine garden, paradigm of fertility, is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible (Gen. 13:10; Isa. 51:3; Ezek. 36:35; Joel 2:3); a fragmentary passage in the Gilgamesh Epic (Pritchard, Texts, p. 89c) and a fuller passage in Ezekiel 28:11–19 speak of its jewel-bearing trees; the Ezekiel passage is a narrative and reflects a different version of the Eden story (cf., also Ezek. 31:5–9, 16–18). Yet another paradise narrative is the Sumerian tale of "Enki and Ninhursag" (Pritchard, Texts, 37–41), which describes the land (or island) of Dilmun, east of Sumer, as a pure, clean, and bright land, where there is neither sickness nor death, and where the animals live in harmony. One episode in the narrative involves the sun-god's watering Dilmun with fresh water brought up from the earth, thus making it fertile. The earth-goddess Ninhursag gives birth to eight plants, which the water-god Enki proceeds to devour. This leads Ninhursag to curse Enki; this nearly causes the latter's death, but ultimately Ninhursag is made to heal him. Aside from the Eden narrative's manifest similarities to these stories, the differences are also significant; most noticeable is the far more natural configuration of the narrative in Genesis 2–3, in contrast to the fantastic or supernatural nature of the other accounts, including Ezekiel's. Placing man in the garden "to till and tend it" faintly echoes the Mesopotamian creation stories according to which man was created to free the gods from laboring to produce their own food (Pritchard, Texts, 68; cf. W. G. Lambert, Atrahasis (1969), 42–67; A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis (1942) 69–71; S. N. Kramer, The Sumerians (1963), 149–50). In the Bible this is not seen as the purpose of man's creation—in fact, the creation of man and the placing of him in the garden are separated by several verses; and there is no suggestion at all that God or the other heavenly beings benefit from man's labor. The theme of lost immortality appears briefly near the end of the Gilgamesh Epic. From the bottom of the sea Gilgamesh brought up a plant which contained the power of rejuvenating the aged; he called it "The Man Becomes Young in Old Age," declaring, "I myself shall eat [it], and thus return to the state of my youth" (in Pritchard, Texts, 96). Later, however, Gilgamesh set the plant down while bathing, and a serpent made off with it and subsequently shed its skin (11. 285–9; in 1. 296 the serpent is referred to as "ground-lion"; some take this as simply an epithet of the serpent, but others, following the testimony of Akkadian lexical texts, take "ground-lion" as "chameleon" (which etymologically means "ground-lion")). The belief that snakes, or lizards, regain their youth when they cast their skins is common among primitive peoples (cf., the analogous belief about molting eagles in Isa. 40:31; Ps. 103:51). This is a reflex of the well-known folklore motif of how the serpent cheated man out of immortality, for the significance of which see below. The loss of immortality is treated in great detail in the Akkadian Myth of Adapa (Pritchard, Texts, 101–3). Priest and sage of the city of Eridu, Adapa had been given "wise understanding... to teach the patterns of the land" (A, 3 (this apparently means to teach mankind the patterns of civilization), had been shown "the heart of the heaven and the earth" (B, 57–58)). The god Ea "had given him wisdom, eternal life he had not given him" (A, 4). While he was fishing in the Persian Gulf to supply Ea's temple at Eridu with fish, the south wind swamped Adapa's boat, so Adapa broke its wing with a curse. As Adapa was summoned before the chief god Anu in heaven to account for this behavior, Ea warned him not to eat and drink the bread and water of death that would be presented to him there. However, Anu had been disposed favorably to Adapa by another of Ea's strategems, so that he in fact desired to supplement Adapa's wisdom by offering him the bread and food of life. Unaware, Adapa refused it, accepting only a garment and some anointing oil Ea had approved; and so he lost (eternal) life. Adapa is to be identified with Oannes, known from other sources to have been the first of approximately seven antediluvian sages who taught humanity civilization, paralleling the culture-founding Cainite genealogy from Adam through Lamech's children (Gen. 4), with Oannes-Adapa occupying the position of Adam. To this some have added the evidence of an Akkadian synonym list which supposedly equates Adapa, written a-da-ap/b, with "man" (E. A. Speiser in Pritchard, Texts, 101 n. 1; see also M. Civil (ed.), Materials for the Sumerian Lexicon, vol. 12, p. 93 line 20); however it is doubtful that this is Adapa, whose name is not written this way, and the very significance of the equation is uncertain. Not all details of the relationship of the Myth of Adapa to the Eden narrative are clear or necessarily convincing, but some relationship does seem indicated. The contrasts, aside from obviously wide divergence in details and plot, are most profound and characteristic in the area of underlying religious outlook. Although the Myth of Adapa does not make it clear whether Ea simply erred or purposely deceived Adapa, it expresses in either case a resigned acceptance of death as a situation beyond rational human control. The biblical narrative, on the other hand, assumes that death and other forms of misfortune in this world are the earned results of human behavior whose consequences man knew in advance. The theme of man's being cheated out of immortality by the serpent or some other skin-sloughing animal appears in the folklore of several peoples. Another frequently occurring motif is that of the perverted message, wherein God sent to man a message of immortality which the messenger perverted into a message of mortality, thus dooming mankind ever since. At times these two motifs are combined: God's message instructed man to rejuvenate himself by casting off his old skin, but the faithless messenger gave this information to the serpent instead, and told man that his life would end in death. On the basis of these motifs, J. G. Frazer surmised that an earlier version of the Eden narrative related as follows: The garden contained two trees—the tree of life and the tree of death (cf. the food and drink offered Adapa). God sent a message, through the serpent, that man should eat from the tree of life, not the tree of death. The clever serpent, however, reversed the message, leading the human couple to eat from the tree of death (cf. the deception of Adapa), while he himself ate from the tree of life and thus gained immortality (cf. Pritchard, Texts, 96 referred to above).

The material surveyed above leads to the conclusion that the biblical Eden narrative has roots in Ancient Near Eastern literature. Yet, as noted above, these parallels are fragmentary, dealing with only a few motifs each, and the discrepancies in detail are often great. How these gaps were bridged cannot be said with certainty, presumably because of ignorance of the process of transmission of Ancient Near Eastern literature to the Bible. Quite possibly these stories became known to the biblical authors in proto-Israelite versions which they molded, with creative editorial skill, into a unique narrative with a wholly new meaning.”

Jeffrey Howard Tigay in Encyclopedia Judaica

[6] “There are a number of biblical words that go back in all probability to Sumerian origin: anak (Sumerian naga), "tin"; eden (edin), "Eden"; gan (gan), "garden"; hekhal (egal), "palace"; hiddeqel (idiglat), "Tigris"; Hikkar (engar), "farmer"; kisse (guza), "chair"; malah (malaO), "sailor"; perat (buranum), "Euphrates"; shir (sir), "song"; tammuz (dumuzi), "Tammuz"; tel (dul), "mound"; tifsar (dubsar), "scribe"; tomer (nimbar), "palm-tree." Far more significant are the literary motifs, themes, patterns, and ideas that go back to Sumerian prototypes: the existence of a primeval sea; the separation of heaven and earth; the creation of man from clay imbued with the breath of life; the creative power of the divine word; several "paradise" motifs; the Flood story; the Cain-Abel rivalry; the Tower of Babel and confusion of tongues; the notion of a personal, family god; divine retribution and national catastrophe; plagues as divine punishment; the "Job" motif of suffering and submission; the nature of death and the netherworld dreams as foretokens of the building of temples. Not a few of the biblical laws go back to Sumerian origins and in such books as Psalms, Proverbs, Lamentations, and the Song of Songs there are echoes of the corresponding Sumerian literary genres. Sumerian influence on the Hebrews came indirectly through the Canaanites, Assyrians, and Babylonians, although to judge from the Abraham story and the often suggested Babiru-Hebrew equation, the distant forefathers of the biblical Hebrews may have had some direct contact with the Sumerians. The Biblical word for Sumer is generally assumed to be Shinar (Gen. 10:10). It has also been suggested that Shinar represents the cuneiform Shum(er)-ur(i), i.e., Sumer and Akkad, and that the biblical equivalent of Sumer is Shem (from cuneiform Shum(er)); hence the anshe ha-shem of the days of yore in Genesis 6:4.”

[8] "Explanation," Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 [Word Biblical Commentary, 2 vols.], Word Books, Waco, Texas 1987, ISBN 0-8499-0200-2), p.37, Vol. 1,

[9] “Adapa in Mesopotamian mythology, legendary sage and citizen of the Sumerian city of Eridu, the ruins of which are in southern Iraq. Endowed with vast intelligence by Ea(Sumerian: Enki), the god of wisdom, Adapa became the hero of the Sumerian version of the myth of the fall of man. The myth relates that Adapa, in spite of his possession of all wisdom, was not given immortality. One day, while he was fishing, the south wind blew so violently that he was thrown into the sea. In his rage he broke the wings of the south wind, which then ceased to blow. Anu (Sumerian: An), the sky god, summoned him before his gates to account for his behaviour, but Ea cautioned him not to touch the bread and water that would be offered him. When Adapa came before Anu, the two heavenly doorkeepers Tammuz and Ningishzida interceded for him and explained to Anu that as Adapa had been endowed with omniscience he needed only immortality to become a god. Anu, in a change of heart, then offered Adapa the bread and water of eternal life, which he refused to take. Thus mankind remained mortal.” Encyclopedia Britannica

[10] “The Hebrews have merely "reworked" and given "a new twist" to the ancient Mesopotamian myths which attempted to explain how man lost a chance to become immortal. Yahweh-Elohim is Enki who tells Adapa/Adam not to eat or he will die. The Genesis serpent offered man knowledge, but in the original myth Enki gave man forbidden knowledge but not eternal life. Genesis' myth has the serpent offering knowledge when he as Ningishzida, "Lord of the Good Tree," offered immortal life to mankind (as Adapa). Man as Adapa is ordered to _return_ to "his earth" by Anu, and in Genesis, man _returns_ to dust (to the earth from which he was made, at death).

“Now the Serpent. Genesis portrays the serpent as possessing two rather amazing characteristics, it has the ability to walk on legs, and it can carry on a conversation with humans. This serpent is also portrayed as dwelling in an earthly paradise with God, Adam and Eve.

“Although Anu allows Adapa to become immortal, it is his servant, Nin-Gish-Zida, who actually put in a good word on Adapa's behalf, and who is instructed to actually present the food and drink to Adapa. Ningishzida was a guard at the heavenly gate with Tammuz (both had in earlier myths, been dwellers of the underworld, who achieved a resurrection to heaven). Some myths call Tammuz, "Damu, the child Ningishzida," so both gods are aspects of each other. No humans got to Anu's presence without first having “Tammuz/Ningishzida take them by the hand and present them, putting in a good word for them.

“Ningishzida was not only an alternate form of Tammuz, he was also called "The Great Serpent-Dragon of Heaven," being identified with the star constellation Hydra (Hydra being a creature with multiple serpent heads). He was alternately associated with the winged and horned serpent dragon called "Mushussu." Mushussu apears standing on hind legs, holding a staff (or a gate ?) in his forepaws (Langdon p.285, fig. 88). A cylinder seal of Gudaea of Lagash, shows Ningishzida in human form, taking Gudaea by the hand and presenting him as a petitioner before the god, Enki (the source of the "waters of life"). Arising from  Ningishzida's human shoulders are two horned dragon heads. Behind Gudaea, on the same seal, we see Ningishzida in animal form as a horned, winged, serpent-dragon, walking on all four legs (cf. "Ningishzida" in Stephen Herbert Langdon, M.A. The Mythology of All the Races, Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).

“Ningishzida, however, is not the only serpent behind the Genesis narrative, another serpent also lurks, the serpent who deprived man of "long life" in the Epic of Gilgamesh.  Gilgamesh searches the world for the Land of Dilmun in which dwells the ONLY humans to obtain immortality, the survivors of the Great Flood which the gods sent to destroy the world and mankind (Utnapistim, wife and Pilot). He fails to attain immortality, but is given a consolation prize, a magical plant, which if consumed will lengthen one's life. While bathing in a pool, enroute to his home (Uruk in southern Mesopotamia), a serpent appears and consumes the plant. As  the serpent slithers away it sheds its skin, it has rejuvenated its life, because of the plant. Gilgamesh bemoans his fate, all his effort has come to nought.  So, apparently TWO SERPENTS are behind Genesis' serpent, Nin-gish-zida of the Adapa myth and the serpent of the Gilgamesh myth” Mattfeld y d la Torre,Walter Reinhold Warttig, Genesis' Genesis, The Hebrew Transformation of the Ancient Near Eastern Myths and Their Motifs.

[11] “The first stage represents the world as being full of gods whom man encounters at every step and whose presence can be experienced without recourse to ecstatic meditation, In other words, there is no room for mysticism as long as the abyss between Man and God has not become a fact of the inner consciousness. That, however, is the case only while the childhood of mankind, its mythical epoch, lasts, The immediate consciousness of the interrelation and interdependence of things, their essential unity which precedes duality and in fact knows nothing of it, the truly monistic universe of man's mythical age, all this is alien to the spirit of mysticism, At the same time it will become clear why certain elements of this monistic consciousness recur on another plane and in different guise in the mystical consciousness. In this first stage, Nature is the scene of man's relation to God.

“The second period … is the creative epoch in which the emergence, the break-through of religion occurs. Religion's supreme function is to destroy the dream-harmony of Man, Universe and God, to isolate man from the other elements of the dream stage of his mythical and primitive consciousness. For in its classical form, religion signifies the creation of a vast abyss, conceived as absolute, between God, the infinite and transcendental Being, and Man, the finite creature. For this reason alone, the rise of institutional religion, which is also the classical stage in the history of religion, is more widely removed than any other period from mysticism and all it implies. Man becomes aware of a fundamental duality, of a vast gulf which can be crossed by nothing but the voice; the voice of God, directing and law-giving in His revelation, and the voice of man in prayer. The great monotheistic religions live and unfold in the ever-present consciousness of this bipolarity, of the existence of an abyss which can never be bridged. To them the scene of religion is no longer Nature, but the moral and religious action of man and the community of men, whose interplay brings about history as, in a sense, the stage on which the drama of man's relation to God unfolds.” Gershom G Scholem

[12] “This narrative has often been interpreted as a reflection of the traditional conflict between the farmer and the nomad, and its supposed bias in favor of the latter is seen as representing a nomadic ideal in Israel. This is unlikely. The evidence for such an ideal in biblical literature is extremely flimsy. Further, there is not the slightest suggestion in the text of any comparative evaluation of the vocations of Cain and Abel, nor is there the slightest disparagement of the tiller of the soil. On the contrary, agriculture is regarded as the original occupation of man in the Garden of Eden as well as outside it. The sentence upon Cain is restricted to him alone; his sons are not made into vagrants or stigmatized in any way. Finally, the three pillars of seminomadic culture, as set forth in verses 20-22, are actually said to have originated with the descendants of Cain.” Sarna JPS p. 31

On the other hand –

“The Biblical writer did not know, or did not care, about the original purport of the story or the true character of Cain. To him it was simply the story of the first murder, and the protagonists are therefore represented as a "tiller of the ground" and a "keeper of sheep." Whether this change was his own innovation, or whether the story had come down to him in this form, we cannot tell, but in any case the change was in line with a well-established literary tradition, for tales of the rivalry between shepherd and farmer appear as early as the second millennium B.C. in the popular literature of the Sumerians.

One such tale, for instance, describes an altercation between Enten, the genius of cattle, and his brother Enmesh, the genius of crops, as to which of the two should be recognized as "steward of the divine estate" par excellence. Each recites his merits and accomplishments. In the end, the supreme Enlil chooses the former.

Another tale revolving around the same theme relates how Dumuzi, the divine shepherd, and Enkimdu, the divine farmer, both sue for the hand of the goddess Inanna….

Tales of this kind belong to a widespread literary and dramatic genre known as the debat. 

This opens up an interesting speculation. In all the examples we have mentioned-and, in fact, throughout this genre-the actual debat is of the essence of the tale. In the Biblical version, on the other hand, it is strangely absent.  But it is just possible that it has been deliberately suppressed, as irrelevant to the writer's purpose…. As we have seen, in the original story this was intended to account for the nomad status of the itinerant smith (qayin, Cain). Gaster pp. 53-54

[13] “It is clear that the story of Cain and Abel has been drawn by the Yahwist from a different source of Hebrew tradition from that from which the accounts of Creation and the Fall are drawn. That the connection is an artificial one is shown by the fact that the story assumes the existence of other people an the earth; Cain says, 'whosoever finds me will slay me', whereas the context in which the Yahwist has placed the story supposes no other human beings on earth but Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. The story presupposes the existence of a clan or tribe who will take up the blood-feud far the slaying of Abel (4:15), also of a tribe among wham Cain may find refuge and a wife. The story also assumes the existence 'Of the institution of sacrifice which implies a settled form of community life and same degree of religious organisation. The name Cain is generally taken by Semitic philologists to mean smith and regarded as the patronymic of the Kenite clan of smiths. … But the main body 'Of the story in its present form is made up of two strands: vv. 1-15 containing the story of the slaying of Abel by Cain, and the circumstances under which it took place; in this strand Cain is condemned to nomadism and is a different figure from the Cain of the second strand in vv. 16--26 in which Cain is a city-builder, and his descendants develop the various arts and crafts of a civilised community.” Hooke p. 181

“KENITE, a large group of nomadic clans engaged chiefly in metal working. The root qyn has the same meaning in cognate Semitic languages, e.g., in Arabic qayna, "tinsmith," "craftsman"; in Syriac and Aramaic qyn'h, qyny, "metalsmith." In the Bible the word kayin (qayin) also means a weapon made of metal, probably a spear (II Sam. 21:16); and the proper noun "Tubal-Cain, who forged all the implements of copper and iron" (Gen. 4:22) is a compound name in which the second noun indicates the trade. There is a connection between this trade and the story of Cain who wandered from place to place and was protected by a special sign: "Therefore, if anyone kills Cain, sevenfold vengeance shall be taken on him" (Gen. 4:15). Among primitive tribes to the present day there are clans of coppersmiths and tinsmiths whom it is considered a grave offense to harm.

“The Kenites came from the south: Midian, Edom, and the Arabah. Hobab (Jethro), son of Reuel the Midianite, who aided the Israelites in the desert and served as their pathfinder (Num. 10:29–32), was also known as the Kenite (Judg. 1:16; 4:11). Enoch, son of Cain (Gen. 4:17), is also mentioned among the Midianites (Gen. 25:4; I Chron. 1:33). Balaam's prophecy about the Kenites, "Though your abode be secure, and your nest be set among cliffs" (Num. 24:21) appears to be a reference to the mountains of Midian and Edom (cf. Obad. 3–4), and Sela ("cliffs") designates perhaps the Edomite mountain-fortress Sela (today al-Sal near Ba\rah) around which rich copper deposits were located. The house of Rechab, which had preserved traditions of the time of the Exodus, was related to the Kenites (I Chron. 2:55), and apparently also to Ir-Nahash and Ge-Harashim (I Chron. 4:12–14), modern Khirbet Nahas ("copper ruin," or "ruin of the copper city") in the Arabah, a copper mining center.

“The Kenites were enumerated among the early peoples of Canaan, together with the Kenizzites and the Kadmonites (Gen. 15:19). Relations between the Israelites and the Kenites were good, but B. Stade and others have exaggerated the latter's influence on Moses and the religion of the former. This theory holds that YHWH was not originally the God of the Hebrews and was not even known to the Hebrews. He was originally a Kenite tribal god who became known to Moses through his Kenite father-in-law, Jethro. Moses then made YHWH known to the Hebrews, who accepted Him as their God. However, the important role of the Kenites in early Israelite worship has been emphasized by the discovery of an Israelite sanctuary at Arad. This explains the note of Judges 1:16 about the Kenite family related to Moses (according to the Septuagint descendants that this venerated family served as priests in the sanctuary. They entered the region from the "city of palm trees," which cannot here indicate Jericho, but more likely refers to Zoar or Tamar in the northern part of the Arabah. Also, Heber, the Kenite husband or clan of Jael, who was at the time of the Deborah battle in northern Erez Israel near Mount Tabor belonged to the Hobab family (Judg. 4:11). It is hardly incidental that they pitched their tent at the oak (Heb. elon) in Zaanaim or Zaananim, evidently a holy tree. Their connection with early Yahwistic worship does not exclude the assumption that for a good part they made their livelihood as metal craftsmen (Judg. 5:26).

“Other Kenite families evidently occupied the region in the south, centering around Arad. This is the Negev of the Kenites and the cities of the Kenites referred to in the stories from the time of David (I Sam. 27:10; 30:29). These settlements apparently included Kinah near Arad (Josh. 15:22), and possibly Kain on the border of the wilderness of Judah (15:57). In the same region were also found the Amalekites, who wandered in Edom, Sinai, and the Negev, and among whom the Kenites lived. According to the Septuagint, Judges 1:16 should read "and dwelt among the Amalekites" (MT, "among the people (am)"). In view of the kindness the Kenites had shown to Israel during the Exodus (I Sam. 15:6), Saul gave them friendly warning before attacking the Amalekites.”

[Yigal Allon, Encyclopedia Judaica


[14] “S. H. Hooke suggests (in Folk-Lore 50 [1939], 58-65 also in Hooke p. p. 181-182)  that our tale originated in the primitive rite of performing a human sacrifice for the fertility of the crops and of then banishing the officiant from the community for a short period, as being potentially defiled. Analogies to this latter practice are found in the Babylonian Akitu (New Year) ceremonies and in the ritual for the Hebrew Day of Atonement described in Lev. 16. In both cases, the dispatcher of the scapegoat (or scape-ram) was sent away until the conclusion of the festival. This theory (partly anticipated by A. Brock-Utne, in ZAW54 [1936], 202 if.) leaves too much to later transmutation by the Biblical writer, for all of the supposed original elements are read into the narrative, rather than out of it. In the Scriptural version, the land is rendered barren, not fertile, by the slaying of Abel; and Cain is put away not merely temporarily, until the rite of the new life have been completed, but permanently.”  Gaster p. 74

[15] “in several Semitic languages, denotes "to form, fashion, forge."! In fact, in Arabic and Aramaic, kayn means a "smith." However, there is evidence of a secondary stem, k-n-h, meaning "to produce, create," which appears in Hebrew, Ugaritic, and Phoenician. It is present in the divine epithet used in Genesis 14:19, which is discussed in Excursus 8, as well as in the name Elkanah. In Ugaritic, the goddess Asherat bears the description qnyt ilm, "progenitress of the gods." Sarna JPS p. 32

[16] “Cain and his descendants are now listed, seven generations in all…. The list constitutes a silent polemic against the mythological concepts of the ancient world, which attributed the advance of culture to divine or semi-divine figures. Mesopotamian tradition knew of the seven Apkallu or mythical sages, half-fish and half-man, who rose out of the sea to reveal to man the sciences, the social system, writing, and art…. In the Ugaritic-Phoenician area, the god Koshar, the divine artisan and smith, was credited with the discovery of the use of iron and the fishing tackle…. This phenomenon, known as euhemerism or the divinization of the benefactors of humanity, was common to the ancient world. In this chapter it is tacitly rejected. The development of human culture is demythologized and historicized. The seven-day divine creation of the cosmos is paralleled by these seven generations of human creativity. Man became a copartner with God in the world of creation. At the same time, the ascription of the origins of technology and urban life to Cain and his line constitute an unfavorable, or at least a qualified, judgment of man's material progress on the part of the Narrator, a recognition that it frequently outruns moral progress and that human ingenuity, so potentially beneficial, is often directed toward evil ends. The line of Cain is not mentioned again in the Bible. No details are given of his span of life, and even the fact of his death is not noted. The same is true of the list of his descendants. The entire line passes into oblivion. Sarna JPS pp. 35-36

To the modern reader, as to the Biblical writer, the story of Cain and Abel is the story of the first murder. Behind it, however, lies an older and more primitive tale which has been skillfully adapted to a new purpose.

“The character of the older tale is betrayed by the very names of the protagonists. Cain means "Smith," and Abel "Herdsman." Its original purpose, therefore, was to account for the pariah status of the smith in a pastoral society. He is at once an outcast and a wanderer, but the very qualities which make him so endow him at the same time with a certain aura of mystery and awesomeness which render him sacrosanct and untouchable. To indicate this, he is sometimes marked or branded with a special sign.

This peculiar status of the smith is attested from one end of the world to the other. It derives partly from the fact that the smith is very often an alien and intruder…. he is often an itinerant tinker coming from the outside and possessed of a strange and potent technique …. The belief that iron and metal - the stock-in-trade of smiths - can avert demons is universal… Gaster p. 51

[17] “Hebrew hevel means "breath, nothingness." The name may augur his destiny; or, if it was given after his death, it may be a reflection of his fate. Hevel is often used to express the fleeting nature of life. The name may alternatively, or perhaps simultaneously, contain a reference to his vocation in that Syriac hablii means a "herdsman." Sarna JPS p. 32

[18]Seth The name is here connected with the stem sh-y-t, «to place, put, set." The birth of Seth compensates for the loss of Abel. Since the noun shat means "foundation," as in Isaiah 19:10 and Psalm U:3, there may lie behind the name the notion that, as Genesis Rabba 20:29 has it, "With him the world was founded [anew]." It is probably no coincidence that Seth, in turn, named his son Enosh, which, like Adam, means «man" but which puts the emphasis on the basic frailty of man because the stem '-nosh means "to be weak."” Sarna JPS p. 39

[19] “If we compare the genealogy of Cain's descendants given by the Yahwist in 4:17-18, with the Priestly genealogy of Seth in ch. 5, it becomes clear that the two genealogies are parallel forms of the same tradition about the descendants of the first man.  This may be seen if we set them out side by side:




































If these two lists are compared it will be seen how close is the parallel between them. First, the father of Kenan in P's list is Enosh ; but this is merely another Hebrew word for 'man' and a synonym for Adam, the first man. Kenan is another Hebrew form of Cain, so that in the original form of both lists the first man was the father of Cain. Then Irad is the same as Jared; Enoch occurs in both lists;…  Lamech occurs in both lists. Hence it is certain that we have two different versions of the same list, and that J's list is really the genealogy of the first inhabitants of the earth, together with the account of the origin of the various elements of early civilisation. We have thus three distinct elements which the Yhwist has either woven together into a connected narrative and linked up with the Paradise story, or found brought together already in the traditions of the Kenite clan, and used for his special religious purpose. The long-standing connection of the Kenites with the Hebrews goes back to the saga of Moses, who is represented as having married into the Kenite clan … and this may explain how the Yahwist could find and make use of Kenite traditions in his story of the beginnings of the salvation history.…” Hooke p. 182

[20] Sarna JPS p. 32

[21] From THE WISDOM OF THE LYRE Soundings in Ancient Greece, Cyprus and the Near East by John Curtis Franklin

[22] In order to accommodate his own view to that of the Yahwist, the Priestly writer subscribed to such a fairly abstract view of duality, even though we have reason to suspect that he borrowed the idea from older poetic tradition. The one does not contradict the many in this conception of God. When the first human being was created he/she was as complete as God himself, both male and female. Whether or not the double nature of this God was the end product of a long development in which the sole One El gradually absorbed his former wife Asherah …. What we are encountering here is rather the realization that in the highest divine being who created everything the principle of everything must have been present. Or conversely, that every lower deity or creature could be regarded as a manifestation of the almighty Creator/Creatress.

“In Ugarit, both Ilu and Athiratu could be designated as the Creator /Creatress of the gods (qny 'ilm / qnyt 'ilm). Now that we have found ample reason to suspect that a dyad of mixed gender was what the poet whom the Priestly writer quoted had in mind when he wrote Gen. 1:26-27, it is certainly not without significance that in creative processes the Ugaritic pair Ilu and Athiratu was at work simultaneously. In an Ugaritic incantation the priest prays that the two of them shall re-model a young man who is thought to be possessed by an evil spirit into a normal human being ('adm / bn 'adm), KTU 1.169:16-17

 hn.bnpš.'atrt.rbt.                                 Lo, in the soul of Athiratu, the Lady,

bl[b.yç]rk.lttm,                                    in the h[eart]of your [Potte]r may you be moulded!


“What is striking in this formula is the high level of abstraction. Even though the verb lwt "to mould" as well as the epithet yçr "Potter" evoke a rather realistic image of two deities busy modelling clay, the real creative act is described as an interior psychological process. The highest pair of Ugaritic deities was acting in tacit understanding when creating a typical specimen of the human race. Small wonder that such an elevated concept of the creation of mankind suggested an elegant solution for the earthy account of the Yahwist in Gen. 2:7…”


[24] Given the strong Mesopotamian influence on this part of Genesis, the following may be relevant

“… the personal god was a supernatural power that would inspire a man to action and generally lend success to what he was doing. We should also note that our earliest examples from the third millennium make it clear that the ancient Mesopotamians were never in doubt as to the identity of any personal god and could identify him or her as a known figure of the pantheon….. Furthermore, any god, even the great cosmic powers, might take on the role of personal god for an individual…. Just as the center of the concept of the personal god, the caring and concern for an individual, stands apart in Mesopotamian religious literature as something quite special, so the "inner form," "image," or - to be precise - "metaphor" under which the personal god was seen is also quite unique: it is the image of the parent divine father or mother - an image for the gods in their relation to man which we meet nowhere else. Normally, the image of the god in relation to his worshiper is quite a different one, that of master and slave…. In considering this concept more closely we may distinguish some of the various strands that make it up. First, its physical aspect: the father as engenderer of the child; the mother as giving birth to it. Second, the provider aspect: the father as provider for his family. Third, the protector and intercessor aspect. Fourth, the claim parents have upon their children for honor and obedience.

We may consider, then, the physical aspects. A common way of referring to the personal god is as "the god who 'created' or 'engendered' me" or "the divine mother, who gave birth to me." … As a divine power dwelling in the man and causing him to succeed, the god would naturally be present and active in the most decisive and necessary achievement of fulfilment for the ancient Mesopotamian, that of engendering a son. Without children, without sons, there could be no personal adequacy, no success in life. Thus it was the personal god and goddess, incarnate in the father and mother, who engendered the child and brought it into being. … father and son invariably had the same personal god…. The word "father" suggests not only an engenderer but also a provider for the family, and this aspect is prominent in the concept of the personal god, as is natural since the god is power for effective, successful achievement. Since this element runs through so many of the passages we have already quoted and still have to quote, we shall restrict ourself to one pithy statement … "Without the (personal) god man eats no bread." It could hardly be said more succinctly. As the father is provider, so he is also protector and intercessor with higher powers…. Lastly, there is the point that the personal god has as much claim as a human parent to be honored, obeyed, and provided for by his son…. the inner "form" or "metaphor" of the parent, of "father" or "mother" under which the personal god came to be seen … serves as psychologically possible bridge to the great and terrifying awesome cosmic powers. For it is within human experience that even the highest, greatest, and most terrifying personages in society have a mild, human, and approachable side in their relations to their children. Children, in their immediacy, their certainty of being loved, can overcome

- being entirely unaware of it - the terror and awe of power and status precisely because they seek and see only the personal in the relation. Thus the possibility that even the cosmic powers could be personal gods, could have an unfrightening, loving, ever-forgiving side toward their little human children, is psychologically conceivable. But if we can thus, by following personal religion back to its original setting, see more clearly how its attitude could be psychologically possible, this does not change or remove the original and basic paradox with all its inherent contradictions. As the attitude began to permeate religion generally, as it could be assumed not only toward one's personal god, but toward any god, even the one and only God, it was inevitable that its paradoxical nature should become apparent. There is a stage in childhood when parents are all-powerful and divine to the child. The child (to grow up) has eventually to adjust to the disturbing realization that parents are after all only other human beings with human limitations. But in this case such adjustment was excluded. The divine parents were, and had to remain, divine. Thus experience could not but drive its cruel wedge ever more deeply between the dispassionate, terrifying, cosmic aspect of the divine which governed the way things really are and really happen, and the personal, concerned, angry, forgiving, loving aspect in which I, the individual, matter so profoundly that love for me must sway the universe off its course to help and sustain me.

This is the problem of the righteous sufferer. It forces itself upon religious consciousness in Mesopotamia about the middle of the second millennium and is dealt with in two remarkable works … "Let me praise the expert" and the Babylonian Theodicy.


[25]The etymology of the word ‘adam is ambiguous. The feminine form ‘adamah designates the ground or soil, and the play on the two forms ‘adam and ‘adamah in Genesis 2:7 suggests for ‘adam the meaning “earthling." The root … (‘dm) is also connected with the color “red," which might apply to the color of the soil from which man was formed. The word adamu is used in Akkadian for “blood," adamatu for “black blood" in pathological conditions, and the plural adamatu for “dark, red earth [used as dye]." The word admu/atmu (“child") probably has no relation to ‘adam but is rather to be connected with a root wtm and related to Hebrew yatom (“orphan"). In Old South Arabic ‘dm has the meaning “serf." The occurrence of ‘dm as the apparent theophorous element in few personal names such as ‘bd'dm (“servant of ‘dm"; MT, Obed-Edom; II Sam. 6:10ff.), suggests a deity ‘dm, but there is little additional direct evidence for this. In an Akkadian synonym list the word adamu is equivalent to an “important, noble person." The personal names A-da-mu, A-dam-u also appear in Old Akkadian and Old Babylonian (Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, 1, part 1 (1964), 95, s.v. adamu B; cf. also W. von Soden, Akkadisches Handwoerterbuch, 1 (1965), 10).”

Marvin H. Pope, Encyclopedia Judaica

[28] A woman being formed of a man's rib is unknown in Mesopotamian myths, but a goddess is formed to heal Enki's ribs, rib being "ti," she is called Nin-ti, "lady of the rib" (but she is not made of Enki's rib). Ti also means "life," so the Lady of the rib is the "Lady of life." The setting of this story is in Dilmun, the paradise island in the marshes of Lower Mesopotamia. Some scholars have suggested that the Hebrews have transformed Nin-ti into Eve (cf. pp.58-59, Samuel Noah Kramer. Sumerian Mythology. Harper & Row. [1944], 1997).

[29] For ‘ed see Akkadian Loanwords in Biblical Hebrew by Paul V. Mankowski, Eisenbrauns 2000.

[30] 'pour out, downpour', Aram. Ezek. 1. 24, II Sam. 1. 21; see text, p. 235. Gordis, JTS xli (1940) 34 ff.; Driver, ibid., 168, and VT iv (1954) 239 f.

[31] Pfeiffer, Charles F, Ras Shamra and the Bible, Baker Studies in Biblical Archaeology, Baker Book House, 1962: Gray p. 281

[32] C.f. the Mesopotamian myth in which When Adapa came before Anu, the two heavenly doorkeepers Tammuz and Ningishzida interceded for him and explained to Anu that as Adapa had been endowed with omniscience he needed only immortality to become a god.

[33] U. Cassuto in Schorr, pp. 248-258; Adam, 44ff.

[34] On the relationships between Sumerian culture and the Bible, see A. M. Van Dijk in L'Ancien Testament, pp. 5-28; S. N. Kramer, SBO, III (1959), pp. 185-204.

[35] ANET, pp. 37-41; Kramer, HBS, pp. 144 ff.; SM, 54 ff.