Barry Newman's Blog

March 3, 2011

Science and Genesis 2: 4 – 3: 24 (part VI)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 9:50 pm

Genesis 2: 5-7 – Setting the Scene (cont)

The “shrub of the field” and the “plant of the field”

Futato argues that “shrub of the field” is a reference to wild vegetation “that grows spontaneously after the onset of the rainy season” and that “plant of the field” refers to cultivated grains. Walton (pp. 163, 164) has a similar view. This suggests that verse 5 is fundamentally indicating that in that “world” there are two deficiencies – wild plants and cultivated plants are not in existence.  Furthermore the text gives the reason for these deficiencies and it is two-fold – Yahweh Elohim has not sent rain on that earth and there is no man to till the ground. Futato then sees vv. 6, 7 as God dealing with the deficiencies. He causes rain to fall and he forms man.

The “streams”, “mist” or “rain cloud”

Now the text doesn’t actually say that God caused rain to fall.  The text says, “So ed (the Hebrew word) rose up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground (Hebrew: adamah). The word, “ed” is normally translated “mist” or “streams”.  It only occurs once elsewhere in the Old Testament (Job 36: 27).  Rendering “ed” as “streams”, enables one to understand “streams came up from the earth” as a reference to subterranean waters making their way to the surface and then spreading out upon the earth – particularly obvious in the wet season when rivers flooded.  These waters were believed to underlie the earth. Rendering “ed” as “mist”, means that no explanation is required that appeals to a subterranean source. 

Yet, given the general character of verses 5 – 7, one might well expect there to be an explicit reference to rain in v. 6. There are two explicit references to man in vv. 5 – 7; why not two explicit references to rain? However the next time that the Hebrew word for “rain” makes its appearance is in Gen 7: 4 where God announces to Noah the forty days and forty nights of the great flood.  Understandably there is an argument that this is the time when rain first fell and that the rainbow of Gen 9: 13 is the first rainbow.  If this is what the account intends to convey then indeed according to the account no rain fell for thousands of years.

Futato makes a case for “ed” to be understood as “rain cloud”.  He thinks that is the sense of Job 36: 27 – in his view a reference to the “water cycle”.  In our terms, water evaporates, forms rain clouds and then the clouds precipitate rain upon the ground (and elsewhere) where the water evaporates again.  Futato envisages the rain cloud as coming up from the earth in the sense of its being seen on the horizon in contact with the earth (then drifting towards the viewer with the potential for rain falling and watering all the surface of the ground).  As part of his argument he mentions that the ancient Targums consistently render “ed” with the Aramaic for “cloud”. He also points out that if ed is understood as “streams” then the creation of streams by themselves does not result in the appearance of cultivated plants.  In that part of the world, that he envisages is relevant, it was the construction of canals utilising streams that enabled the growth of crops.  He also maintains that those of the ancient world knew by simple observation that rain added water to streams. It is difficult to believe that the ancients were not aware that when it rained, even if that were far away, then the rivers even, if understood to have been fed from the underground sea, became swollen.  When there was no rain, the rivers could become a trickle.  Though Genesis verses 10 to 14 will focus on rivers, that in itself does not to automatically suggest that “ed” refers to “streams”. The rivers are the force they are substantially because of rain.

For me Futato’s point of view is very persuasive.  There were two problems – no wild vegetation and no cultivated plants.  There were two reasons – no rain and no man. The first solution – rain comes!

The “rain cloud” polemic

Futato also claims that understanding “ed” as a reference to “rain cloud” enables one to see it as a polemic against Canaanite religion.  For the Canaanites, Baal is “‘the rider on the storm clouds’ the storm god whose rain is considered absolutely necessary for the growth of crops and hence for life itself”. The worship of Baal was a source of great sinfulness for the people of God throughout the bulk of their history.  For the writer of this text, Baal does not bring rain, Yahweh Elohim does – as Elijah was to demonstrate so powerfully as recorded in 1 Kings 18.



  1. Hi Barry, I think it makes more sense to see both references to vegetation in Gen 2:5 as references to crops or cultivated plants of some type. There are a few reasons for this: (1) their absence is linked to the absence of the man who works the ground; (2) the generally anthropocentric focus of the chapters (see, in particular, Sailhamer); (3) the qualifying phrase “of the field.” For more discussion see Hamilton, The Book of Genesis 1–17, 154; cf. also U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Part I: From Adam to Noah, tr. I. Abrahams, Jerusalem, Magnes, 1961, 101—103; Harris, TWOT vol. 2, 700b; Stordalen, JSOT 53, 11.

    Comment by Martin Shields — March 7, 2011 @ 11:56 am | Reply

    • Thanks Martin

      You could be right. Being no expert myself perhaps I am sometimes too easily persuaded by those who are.

      However I was impressed by Futato’s argument on this matter and was interested to see that on this point Walton agreed. Let those who have insights continue to do engage in helpful discussion.

      Thanks again


      Comment by barrynewman — March 7, 2011 @ 10:21 pm | Reply

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