At the time of YHWH, God’s making of earth and heaven,
no bush of the field was yet on earth,
no plant of the field had yet sprung up,
for YHWH, God, had not made it rain upon the earth,
and there was no human/adam to till the soil/adama–
but a surge would well up from the ground and water all the face of the soul;
and YHWH, God, formed the human, of dust from the soil
he blew into his nostrils the breath of life
and the human became a living being.
YHWH, God, planted a garden in Eden/Land-of-Pleasure, in the east,
and there he placed the human whom he had formed.
Now YHWH, God, said:
It is not good for the human to be alone,
I will make him a helper corresponding to him.
So YHWH, God, formed from the soil every living-thing of the field and every fowl of the heavens
and brought each to the human, to see what he would call it;
and whatever the human called it as a living being, that became its name.
The human called out names for every herd-animal and for the fowl of the heavens and for every living-thing of the field,
but for the human, there could be found no helper corresponding to him.
So YHWH, God, caused a deep slumber to fall upon the human, so that he slept,
he took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh in its place.
YHWH, God, built the rib that he had taken from the human into a woman
and brought her to the human.
The human said:
Bone from my bones,
flesh from my flesh!
She shall be called Woman/Isha,
for from Man/Ish she was taken!
Genesis 2:4–23, The Five Books of Moses, Everett Fox
One of many nice things about Fox’s translation is that he takes the Bible seriously as a literary work. It has a poetry of alliteration, of repeated phrases, of rhythm, and he strives to preserve that in his English. He recognizes the words for what they are, the written forms of an oral tradition, spoken words trapped on a page, and he tries to set them free of the page again.
Among the things you find in reading Genesis this way is that the first human doesn’t become “Adam” until after the expulsion from Eden, that Eve is actually Havva (Life-giver), and you are more forcefully confronted with the mythical structure of the creation story. In most translations, you have to poke through the notes to be reminded that Adam’s name is the equivalent of naming him Everyman. And the fact that the name comes later matters. As Fox notes, “rib” could also be translated “side,” which connects with other Middle Eastern creation stories in which the first human was a hermaphrodite, with the two sexes created by a splitting of that first human. Adam doesn’t become a character by that name until after he’s named everything else, and been sent out from paradise. Until then, he’s just “the human.”
When you read a story (or hear it – Fox emphasizes that the Torah was meant to be read aloud) in which a character is named “the human” or “Man” or “Woman” and he or she is created from earth, then names all living things, then is split in two to create male and female forms, I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that the story may not be intended as historically and scientifically accurate. The same is true when a story invests itself heavily in wordplay and complex internal rhymes and rhythmic parallelism. Indeed, a story which begins (in Fox’s translation) “At the beginning…” tends, like stories beginning “once upon a time” or “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” – to involve laser swords and talking snakes and princesses with hair hundreds of feet long and bushes that burn but are not consumed. Which is to say, we tend to look at the plot itself as less important than the meaning imparted by the story. The use of such literary techniques suggests that there’s a literary truth that’s being imparted, and that the literal truth of each sentence may not be so crucial.
If you watch Star Wars and worry about where The Force comes from and start demanding explanations involving midiclorians and so forth, you’ve missed the point. The same is true of those who feel obliged to take the poetry of Genesis and work out exactly where Eden was, and exactly how many years ago Adam and Eve begat Shem.
The former gives us travesties like The Phantom Menace. The latter gives us the creationist obsession with proving all humans descended from exactly two people, and a US population in which about 44% think evolution has nothing to do with where humans come from.
Science literacy is part of the solution to that challenge, but I think English literacy has a sadly ignored role to play in ending scourges like creationism and George Lucas’s later movies.