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The destruction of humanity by drought before the Flood

 

Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are traditionally thought to contain two conflicting accounts of the creation of man: divided waters in Gen1:7, herbs in 1:12, man in 1:26, and waterless land, no herbs, no man in Gen2:5. Numerous attempts to reconcile them do not answer a basic question: what kind of redactor would put two contradictory accounts of a major event side-by-side in his narration? The writers of Tanakh show nothing like the stupidity necessary for such blunder.

Some appeal to odd piety of the writers who preserved both contradictory stories at the cost of the narration’ credibility. That might explain why the redactors did not omit the important story of Eden altogether. Why, however, they kept inessential, but highly controversial pieces, like Gen4:14: Cain, expelled from Eden, is afraid of other people outside the garden though no such people exist?

The ostensibly second account of the creation also poses theological problems: forming a man from dust and blowing life into his nostrils is patently primitive, and incompatible with otherwise pronouncedly abstract concept of the divine.

The traditional reading, however, seems wrong. Gen2 plausibly relates the story of destruction of mankind by drought. That story is consistent with the myth, popular in many cultures, of the destruction by fire that preceded the destruction of the next civilization by flood.

 

Reading Genesis 2:5, “There was no shrub, because there was no man to till the ground” makes no sense. “Siah,” if a plant at all, means, “bush,” not cultivated plant. The writers obviously knew that shrubs grow without human assistance, and likely thought that they grow in desert altogether without water.

Translating siah as “shrub” is questionable. The word predominantly means “talk, complaint,” and several other entries in the sense “shrub” could be explained by the writers’ misunderstanding the word in Gen2:5. Workers in the field very characteristically chat, or at least poets often idealize the situation thus.

 

That “For the Lord God did not cause it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to work the land” forms a parallel, and means that neither natural, nor artificial irrigation was available is unlikely, since avod is not normally used in the sense “to irrigate.” Parallel phrase in Gen3:23: “to work the land from whence he was taken” has no sense of irrigation; rather, the man was forced back to till the ground for living, instead of enjoying the fruits of Eden. Irrigation does not operate, anyway, if there is continuously no rain. The writers of Tanakh hardly imagined irrigation projects large enough to transform the waterless land. Rather, the relation is consequential: since there was no rain, no people were left to till the land. If irrigation were the problem, then reasonable solution is to irrigate the land where the people live, not to move them to naturally irrigated Eden. That the man was provided with everything in Eden also does not imply his ability to irrigate.

 

The common translation, “No shrub was *yet* in the earth” is misleading. Hebrew terem has Arabic cognate tarem, “stop, cease.” The word is very rare in Tanakh, and common translation “not yet” is tentative.

The understanding of terem by later writers could be influenced by their reading of that word in Gen2:5. In 1Sam3:7, “Now, Samuel yet did not know the Lord,” “yet” is arbitrary; the phrase reads equally well without it. Num11:33, “They put the meat between their teeth, stopped to chew.” God disliked people who in their greed swallowed meat as fast as possible without even chewing and tasting the Lord’s gift. Num11:33 does not need “yet” to translate terem. In Joshua3:1, “they lodged there before they would pass over” could equally mean something like, “they lodged there, and stopped their pass” without the need for “before.”

The reading, “there was no herb of the field” is unwarranted; it is rather, “All herbs in the field did not exist,” implying that they were there originally, but ceased. This is, of course, a hyperbole, like “All fish has gone from this pond” does not mean that few fishes did not remain.  Some bushes, though rarely herbs, survive in dry land, but the writer convenes that they predominantly ceased.

 

Hebrew has two words for rain: matar and geshem. Usually, matar is used in the sense of light rain. Watering the whole earth implies strong rain, geshem. When 2:5 mentions absence of matar, it likely relates of drought: God did not send even a light rain.

 

The phrase “there was no man to work the ground” does not imply that there was no man at all. A reading that there was no taker for the particular purpose of farming is plausible.

 

Genesis 2:6 opens with the word ‘ed, commonly translated as “mist” or “inundation.”

The last translation, alluding to the flooding of Mesopotamian plains, relies on the Akkadian edu, “flood.” Aristotle wrote that Nile floods are related to rains in Ethiopia, and others likely knew that as well; 2:5 states that there was no rain yet, and the meaning “flood” is thus unlikely. Flood is associated with destruction, not creation. Hebrew has an attested word for “flood,” mabul, etymologically linked to iaval (to flow), and sharing root cell with mebucha (confusion), mavo’ (intrusion), mevusa (trampling), and mevuka (desolation).

Egyptian reportedly (A.S.Yahuda) has a word i3d.t meaning “dew.” Interpretations of edu and i3d.t, however, themselves rely on the Hebrew ‘ed, and are tentative. Notwithstanding that caveat, Akkadian edu and Egyptian i3d.t may have common semantic, like return of water, or some change in the state of water.

That Hebrew borrowed an Akkadian or Egyptian word without converting it to three-letter root is unusual. Hebrew has a well-attested word for “dew,” tal. Steinberg reconstructs ‘ud (to turn) from ‘eid (calamity), ‘ud (firebrand; charred from all sides), and ‘odot (because; Russian, by way of). The sense of “turn” could be behind ‘i as misfortune (change), jackal (dodging animal), and island (wrapped by sea).

The only other instance of ‘ed in Tanakh is in Job 36:27-28, “For he would pile the drops of water; they would percolate [as] rain, *by the way [by]* which the clouds would pour down.” The common translation of l‘edo as “from his [divine] vapor” presumes that the ancient writer equalized mist with clouds. Moreover, “his vapor” ignores that “his” is not used in the context for more important things, like water and rain. The translation “vapor” also runs into a problem of preposition le, which it very unusually renders “from.” 36:28 starts with “which”; if ‘ed means “vapor,” it should be the antecedent, yet, vapor cannot be plausibly poured down.

Rendering ‘ed as “mist” is illogical. The writer could not imagine mist coming up from the sun-scorched earth. Few deserts have dew from sea winds, and such dew is very short-lived. Moreover, mist is clearly insufficient to water the earth for agricultural purposes. Negev desert receives 0.1mm of dew per day in late summer, the year-highest level, that is, below 3.5cm of dew per year, while even inland Sahara receives 1.5cm of rain, and very arid deserts rarely receive below 5cm. Dew suffices to preserve vegetation in short rainless periods, but not to make it significantly grow – the fact empirically known to the ancients. To make the account merely plausible, the writer would have had something like, “the rivers came up,” not mist. Haggai1:10-11, “the heaven has kept back, so that there is no dew… and I called the drought upon the corn…” does not imply that dew would have sufficed to water the plants, but rather that there was no even dew. If the entire earth was watered in 2:6, and thus fertile, there was no point to accentuate by moving the man specifically eastward, to Eden in 2:8. Since the dust (presumably, from arid ground) is emphatically mentioned in 2:7, it is unlikely that the whole earth was watered in 2:6.

If ‘ed is a noun, then syntax is irregular: “and noun, yiqtol noun.” Comma, transcribing a pausal mark, often follows “and adjective noun” construct, or separates noun from infinitive or participle. A pause between a lonely noun and yiqtol verb is unusual.

Other words with the first root cell ‘d relate firmness, strength, foundation—nothing like the mist.

The meaning of ‘ed seems to be “to turn, by the way of, because.” If so, then the antecedent for “would rise/leave” in Genesis 2:6 is the man.

The reading “mist emerged from the land” is dubious because alah min means “was uprooted from [the land]” in the attested sense of migration. Dew is universally described as descending, not ascending (alah). The verb is never used in the sense “percolate,” as the mist might be imagined to appear from the earth. The word alah relates meaningful distance; thus it is used in Ex16:14 where the dew evaporated. That the same verb means both appearance of dew and its evaporation, is unlikely.

Translation of hishka as “watered” obscures the connotation of giving a drink to the thirsty, not irrigation. Using hishka for a large-scale event is implausible. The writers knew about deserts, likely considered them eternal (not fluctuating with climate change), and hardly imagined all land watered. Rather, the relation is one of negation: on the whole land, nothing received even a drink of water.

 

The reading of wayitzer in 2:7 as “formed [from dust]” is implausible. Physical creation is denoted with br’, the verb reserved for acts of God. The root itzr has strong connotation of mental process: image, thought, thus figurative meaning, “to form” (like “formed in the womb”) which many cases should be rendered, “intended, dedicated.”

The meaning of itzr as “make something from something else” is unattested.  In Isaiah 44:12, itzr means that smith fashions an already semi-processed axe, not makes it from a piece of iron. The participle iotzer, “potter,” seems to appear late, and possibly stemmed from the fact of pottery being the most common art. Potters intend the things, imagine and cause them. The common rendering of yetzer as “idol” is incorrect; it is rather “thought, image.”

The word wayitzer is open to several interpretations. One is that it is ‘atzar, “to keep, preserve.” The same transformation ‘tzr – itzr may be seen in Zech11:13 which means either “potter” or “treasury.” Another possibility is natzar (branch out, bring forward, protect from, conceal) which shares the future form itzor with the root itzr. The meaning, “to protect from,” may be relevant: “The Lord God protected the man, [almost] ashes, from the [hostile dry] land.” This sense unlikely derives from ntr allophone, because ‘tzr sense is similar. The roots ‘tzr, itzr, and ntzr, at any rate, have much in common semantically.

The most plausible readings seem, “to bring forward” or “protect” with the common semantics of “to intensely think about something, to care and perhaps to work to that end.”

A logical argument against the reading that the man was made from earth is that the same turn is employed of animals in Gen2:19, “The Lord God formed all beasts of the field and all birds of the skies from the earth.” The wordplay, adam (man) – adama (earth) does not work for animals and birds. Making of men, animals, and birds from earth is so primitive a notion that it opposes the entire sense of the Torah. Moreover, if that is the account of creation, why fish is not mentioned? Gen1:20 explicitly mentions creation of fish along with birds. If already existing men and animals were placed in the garden, then omitting fish is reasonable: draught did not endanger the fish, predominantly living in sea and in still-existent large rivers, such as that of Eden.

Regarding the trees, Gen2:9 uses zmh root verb, “caused to grow from the ground,” with no implication of forming trees from ground.

In Gen3:23, the man is expelled from Eden “to work the ground out of which he was taken.” The turn misham, “out of which,” universally relates to place, not substance. 

Translation of Gen2:7, “formed the man *from* the dust of the ground” adds “from,” absent in the Hebrew text. Omission of the preposition in such environment is implausible. In fact, the preposition is used (“from/of the ground”), but in a way that opposes the common translation: aphar min-haadama (lit., formed/protected the man, dust of the ground) rather than, min-aphar haadama (from the dust of the ground).

 

The translation of 2:7, “God breathed into his nostrils” is implausible. Ezekiel 37:9 employs nph b in the sense “breathe on them that they may live,” but that line is certainly modeled on Ezekiel’s understanding of Gen2:7 where the life was ostensibly similarly given to the man. The meaning “to breathe into” is otherwise unattested. With preposition b (“in”), the verb puah means “reject” (blow into someone’s face), thus in Haggai1:9. A common meaning is, “to fan” (fire, commotion). The root seems related to pahim (“burning coal”).

The preferred rendering “nostrils” is unsupported. This meaning is extremely rare among many entries of ‘aph, and even those instances could be plausibly rendered as “face.”

In common translations, the man is related to “dust of the ground” (2:7), while animals – to ground (2:19). The distinction disappears if reading, “Dust of the ground blew into his face.” Animals were “taken from the land.”

The translation, “became a living soul” ignores preposition le, “became *for* a living soul.” The preposition is consistently dative, e.g., "That Ishmael might live for you!" (properly dative, “consecrated to you”). There is a slight possibility of using le in comparative sense, like 1Kings2:2, “Be strong, and show yourself as a (le) man,” or Exodus4:3, “[rod] became a (le) serpent.” Such usage of le is consistent with dative: “as a man, as a serpent” (similarly to; Russian ïîäîáíî). The connotation is, “similar, but not the same”; Solomon, according to David’s estimate, was not a man yet, but should behave like one. The man, however, is universally referred to as “living soul”; here identification replaces mere similarity. The comparative sense of le is not employed when something (a pile of dirt) actually becomes something else (a man). Even if the meaning is indeed, “became as a living soul,” the connotation is not becoming a live person (in which case le in the sense of "as" would be improper), but turning from "as dead" (from the drought) to "as alive" (in Eden), revived.

 

The reading of mkdm in 2:8 as “eastward” is open to doubt. More people likely knew the name of the place than its direction, so that explaining that Eden is in the east is of no help. The regular sense of kdm is “front,” thus “in front of.” That reading makes sense: the writer clarifies the garden was marked out in the front of Eden.

The same mikedem in Gen3:24, "at the east of the garden," is meaningless. The angel was placed at the entrance to prevent the man from reentering.

In Ex14:21, God pushed the Red Sea by kadim, supposedly east wind. That wind, however, would have blown straight in the face of Israelites, and bring the water upon them. West wind would make water shallow at the shore, but still impassible a bit further. North wind would blow the masses of water into the gulf. The only way to rend (“break”) the waters was to blow from north, pushing water from the gulf into the sea. Kadim, thus, means “front wind,” wind from the (Mediterranean) sea.

If, however, retaining the sense of mkdm as “eastward,” then - of what? The reference point may be the land that became arid, and which the people had left.

Eden need not be a name of the place. Tanakhic usage of eden in the sense of pleasure derives from the perception of Eden as the ultimate place of pleasure. The etymology of eden is related to ed-edh root, and means direction (like, come to), whether spatial or chronological. This sense generally corresponds to Aramaic edn. Garden of eden means that the garden made somewhere or for some time.

The location of Eden is clearly indicated: at the point close to where one large river becomes four. Ptolemaic map shows Nile becoming four rivers. Ancient cartographers, possibly taking Egypt or Greece as reference point, incorrectly assumed that Nile flows from north to south and becomes split “like four heads” rather than “joined like four tales.” No comparable one-to-four river system exists for Tigris and Euphrates.

Gihon and Pishon branches of the river of Eden cannot circle the lands of Cush and Havilah, as commonly mistranslated; rivers do not flow in circles. Rather, Gihon and Pishon wind through the lands.

Eden must be located around the 3rd cataract in Nubia, a region washed from both sides by Nile on the Ptolemaic map. Egyptians assumed in their myths that their ancestors came from south, and that corresponds with Eden. The region has plenty of high-quality gold, mentioned in Gen2:12; translation of the other two commodities as bdellium and onyx is tentative. The land of Cush (Gen2:13) is universally identified with Nubia. Gen25:18 mentions Havilah “before Egypt on the way to Assyria,” which correlates better with Nubia rather than Mesopotamia.

 

God brought the man to oasis he planted in Eden, where the climate was good. That man became a progenitor (essence of life) for other humans. This is the first destruction and salvation – by drought. The Flood was the second one. Eden was the ark of the old.

Later writers embellished the story of Eden, as they understood it (forming the man of the dust), and so appeared Gen3:19: “For the dust you are, and in the dust you will settle.” Even that could be read as a pun, “For [mortal] ashes (aphar) you are, and in the [arid] dust (aphar) you will settle.”

Definite article in ha-adam is clear: it is “the man,” a particular human out of the whole race, not a proper name Adam. If, however, the person in question was the only one on earth, then definite article is ungrammatical. Similarly, use of definite article with adama, “the ground,” makes sense: it is the particular land affected by drought.

 

Biblical chronology dates the Creation of the world 5767 years from now. That is certainly incompatible with scientific findings. The dating, however, is established by adding consecutive lifespan of the biblical figures. The count begins with Adam.

The account of Cain (Gen4:14) being afraid of other people suggests that Adam was not the first human on earth. Reading Gen2:7 as an account of drought, not the Creation, resolves the dating controversy. Adam, indeed, could be born 5767 ago. He could even start a new civilization: the third and the fourth millennia B.C.E. saw technological advances which are highly unusual by evolutionary standards. The Torah does not specify the time lapse between the Creation of the world and the Edenic account of Adam. They could be billions of years apart.

 

The writer employs yiqtols in 2:5-6 in a consistent manner of “historic future”: talk ceased, herbs did not grow, people left the land. The events that could, but did not happen (drizzling, giving drink) are described in the past tense.

Use of wayiqtols in 2:7 is conspicuous; normally they initiate clauses. One way is to mark clauses according to the wayiqtols. Another – to consider the possibility that scribes misunderstood the narration and erroneously changed qatals into wayiqtols.

 

The account of Creation ends with Gen2:4.

Gen2:5: “All talk in the field would be not in the land, and all herbs of the field would grow not, for the Lord God did not cause it to drizzle on the land (and there was no man to work the ground

6: because he would leave the land) and give drink to the whole ground.

7: The Lord God would bring forward the man. Dust of the ground, [it] blew into his face. The essence of life, [that] became the man to a living being;

8: the Lord God marked out a garden from the front of Eden, and placed there the man whom he had brought forward.”

2:19: “The Lord God brought forward [into the garden] every beast from the land.”

 

Alternative 2:6: Mist left the land, [the mist that] watered the whole ground.

Alternative 2:7: The Lord God would bring forward the man, the dust of the ground (idiom). It blew into his face, [the face of] the live being. The man lived for (to preserve) a living being.

Alternative: The man became as a live being (revived).

Minimal changes, 2:7: The Lord God fashioned the man, the dust of the ground, and blew the breath of life into his face (by sending him to Eden). The man lived for (to preserve) a living being.