Two Tales of Creation

This week we begin reading the Torah again from the beginning, starting with the two famous creation stories in Genesis 1 – 3. We call this first Torah portion in the Bible after its first word: Bereshit. (It’s pronounced buh-ray-SHEET.)

That’s right, two stories. They aren’t long. For this exercise, go read them both. One begins at Genesis 1:1, and the other starts at Genesis 2:4. Take notes as you read, just a quick list of what happens in each. Then compare the two lists for the two stories.

See anything interesting? These are two different stories! They contradict each other in many ways. We are often conditioned by Sunday school classes to “blend” the two stories to avoid seeing the differences, but I encourage you to look for those differences.

Now ask yourself: why are there two stories that contradict each other? (Please, I would love to hear your answers in the comments!)

OK, now I am going to be a pushy teacher and instead of leaving you with your own delightful thoughts about that question, I’m going to offer you an idea of my own about it. If you’d rather not, by all means, just stop reading at the little line below.


My theory: those two conflicting stories are there as a clue that we were never intended to read these stories as history. They aren’t “what really happened” – they can’t be, they contradict.

What they are is a collection of  basic ideas about the world, a Jewish worldview:

  • The world is not chaos, there is an underlying Unity of some kind.
  • Human beings are constructed to live in relationship with one other.
  • Human beings  do not “own” creation.
  • Life is not easy.
  • … and many more.

I imagine you can distill other ideas from these stories, ideas about the world and our place in it. I hope you’ll share those ideas in the comments.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

9 thoughts on “Two Tales of Creation”

  1. I’ve heard this view, or understanding many times, but to me they seem to rely on a fundamental assumption. And this assumption isn’t explained as I see it: Where do you find enough arguments that there are two stories on the creation? If we read the text as it is – it seems far more likely that the second part goes back to where God created the plants and before he created man. Then the story goes on to how the seeds was watered and could grow and the plants came to be – and then He created man. No contradiction so far? And then He planted especially the garden of Eden – apart from all the other growings on the Earth. We are reminded that God created all living animals from verse 19, and we now get to know that he created them as he did with man – from the soil if the Earth. And now he lads them to man for him to name them. Still no contradictions – that is; unless you really want there to be… ? 🙂

    1. Well, you could start with the order of creation. In Gen 1, mankind (earth-creatures would be an even better translation since adam comes from adama) is created last. In Gen 2, it happens first. In Gen 1, men and women are created simultaneously; in Gen 2, woman is created after man. Etc. etc.

  2. In genesis it says a beginning (beray sheit)not necessarily the beginning which leads me to think that there was more then one beginning. What is your take on that.

  3. How about:
    • Sometimes we have to try more than once to achieve the result we desire.
    • The truth of creation is more complex than we could ever begin to comprehend.
    • All of life is about finding peace between multiple conflicting stories, so we may as well learn that “in the beginning.”

  4. I read this last night when I was in the middle of insomnia (KJV was what I had to hand on the tablet) and WOW. Those really are two different stories.

    Perhaps it indicates that creation is tough work, no matter who does it — and the actual process is a mystery.

    1. Lurk, your messages are pithy and wonderful. KJV is actually a pretty decent translation, by the way, and of course the English in it is sublime.

  5. I really love Rabbi Soloveitchik idea of the 2 Adams (and 2 Eves) being parts of us that must be integrated. We live in an world that is both, “spiritual and material, mystical and scientific” and we struggle all our lives to integrate both.

  6. I (I am) look at Creation as an order or process; with Mosses or any human being we have to reckon with our wonderful sensory mind, that can go to infinity in both directions, past and future yet IT can not stay in the moment. Yes, I see some issues with the Genesis 1 but if you factor out Mosses ignorance and recalibrate with Natural Law it becomes less then a speedbump less than a mile marker.

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