And surprise, surprise, I fall behind right away. Serves me right for starting this on a Monday when I know Tuesdays and Wednesdays are my busiest days. I’ll try to play some catch up in the future.
Chapter two begins by announcing that “the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.”(v 1) Or, in the Japanese, “the ten thousand things of heaven-and-earth were completed.” The term “ten thousand things of heaven-and-earth” is what’s called a yojijukugo, a four-character compound describing a concept, usually taken from Chinese. In this case, “ten thousand” was the highest number in ancient China, so it basically meant “infinite,” and the whole expression means “the whole of creation” or “absolutely everything.”
After completion, God “rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.” (v 2) I love how the Japanese renders this; God steps back (hanare) from his work/job (shigoto) and relaxes (ansoku – the characters mean “peace” and “breath”). I so know that feeling, of finishing a job, stepping back and seeing what’s you’ve done and letting out this big sigh of “Wow, I got a lot done!” It’s just a great image to have of God, and it ties in well with this passage’s establishment of the Sabbath. Just like God took time off from work to look back at everything that happened and say it was “very good” (1:31), so too should we.
And then it starts all over again. People try to figure out ways to get around this, to say that Genesis 2-3 is just a retelling in close-up of events from Genesis 1, but it’s utterly clear that they contradict each other on many, many points. Heck, they don’t even call God the same name. In the first chapter, he’s Elohim, “all the gods as one god,” and now he’s the tetragrammaton, YHWH, the unpronounceable name that is substituted with Adonai, or “lord” in synagogue readings, and has continued as translation convention ever since. The NRSV renders this as the LORD God, and in Japanese it’s Shu-naru kami, the Lord God.
(Fun fact! The character for shu means master, owner, and is also a traditional word for husband. Yay for sexism!)
What follows is a very different sort of creation story. God makes a human before any of the plants and animals have been created, partly because he seems to need a human to till the ground (v 6) and name all the animals (v 19). That’s one of the first things I noticed re-reading this bit, how much more participatory humans are in this creation account. It’s also just a lot more earthy, with God digging in dirt and breathing into noses like some divine CPR.
There’s also a lot more geography in this one. God makes Eden in a very specific place, at the conjunction of (or is it root of?) four rivers. Two of them are the Tigris and Euphrates, in Mesopotamia; a third is the “Gihon” which flows through Cush (modern-day Ethiopia) and “Pishon” in “Havilah,” a place with gold, bdellium (the Japanese says “a kind of amber”) and onyx (lapis lazuli in the Japanese) that may or may not be Yemen. Trying to map coordinates with this is a mess, and maybe it’s better to see the “location” of Eden to be “as far away as our knowledge of geography at the time we wrote this story let us imagine.”
This part is also where the NCT starts doing something really neat. Rather than showing any puns via footnotes, the way the NRSV does, the NCT includes them parenthetically. If you were to do the same with the NRSV, it would read “then the Lord God formed man (adam) from the dust of the ground (adamah),” right there in the text. I’ve skimmed ahead and this continues for the rest of the translation.
Chapter 2 ends with God making woman out of man – or making a woman out of “the human,” since some interpretations of this account consider the original Adam (lit. “human being”) to have been androgynous (made in God’s image, male and female). The human/Adam has looked through every animal God made and hasn’t found “a helper as his partner.” (v 18-20). The Japanese here uses two verbs, au and tasukeru. The first means “to match or suit” and the second means “to help,” but in a very strong sense, like “aid” or “rescue.” So the first human is looking for someone “suitable to come to his rescue.” Another image from this chapter that I like. I am resisting the urge to use a smiley.
Japanese I learned this time: uruosu (irrigate), tagayasu (cultivate), and the aforementioned ansoku.