"These are the generations of . . ." So begins many Old Testament genealogies (Exod 6.16, 19; 28.10; Num 1.20‒42; 3.1; Ruth 4.18; 1 Chron 1.29; 5.7; 7.2; etc.). Curiously, this same phrase is a significant textual marker in the book of Genesis. The specific phrase 'ēleh tōlĕdōt occurs eleven times in Genesis (2.4; 5.1; 6.9; 10.1; 11.10, 27; 25.12, 19; 36.1, 9; 37.2). Technically, Gen 5.1 actually reads, "This is the book of generations of . . ." zeh sēper tōlĕdōt. Unlike the use of this phrase elsewhere in the OT, often tōlĕdōt's introduce sustained narratives in Genesis (2.4‒4.26; 6.9‒9.29; 11.27–25.11; 25.19–35.29; 37.2–50.26). So, Old Testament scholars recognize the tōlĕdōt's of Genesis as a significant structural marker.
Genesis 2.4, then, begins a new section in the book. Unlike Genesis 1.1‒2.3, which describes God giving function and purpose to creation, Genesis 2.4‒24 describes the God-intended function of humanity. Chapter 3 describes the human predicament and chapter 4 shows its ever deteriorating effects. Unfortunately, it is often assumed that these two passages represent two different and conflicting creation stories. Even if they do represent different creation accounts, which I have my doubts, they were put together in their final edited form. So, at least in the mind of the final editor of Genesis, these two narratives were compatible. I believe that a more sensitive reading of the text shows that the two narratives serve different purposes. The goal is not to harmonize Genesis 1.1‒2.3 with 2.4‒24, as many a Biblicist has tried. Instead, these two narratives, read carefully, look to make two different statements about God and humanity. Genesis 1.1‒2.3 is concerned with describing the function of the earth as God's sacred space. Genesis 2.4‒3.24 shows how humanity, the crown jewel of God's creation, was intended to function in the sacred space, how that intention was distorted and the ensuing results of distortion.
Within the tōlĕdōt markers of 2.4 and 5.1 falls the narrative of 2.5‒4.26. There are three distinct narratives between these markers: the Garden of Eden (2.5‒3.24); the murder of Abel (4.1‒16) and Cain's family (4.17‒26). The Garden story has two phases. First, there is the creation of man and his wife (2.5‒25). Second, there is the temptation and fall from the garden (3.1‒24). Following Jerome Walsh, Gordon Wenham suggests a "seven scene" structure that illuminates the passage nicely (Genesis 1‒15, 49‒50).
(1) 2.5‒17 Narrative God is the sole actor; man is a passive character
(2) 2.18‒25 Narrative God is main actor; man minor; woman and animals passive
(3) 3.1‒5 Dialog Snake and Woman
(4) 3.6‒8 Narrative Man and Woman (Centerpiece à eating the fruit)
(5) 3.9‒13 Dialog God, man and woman
(6) 3.14‒21 Narrative God is main actor; man minor; woman and snake passive
(7) 3.22‒24 Narrative God sole actor; man is passive character
Scenes 1 and 7 are connected by the dust and garden. In scene one, man is shaped from the dust of the earth and "rested" in the garden (2.7‒8) to work and keep it (2.15). Then in scene seven, man is ejected from the garden he was supposed to rest in (3.24) and returns to work the dust he was taken from (3.23).
Scenes 2 and 6 are connected by four actors: God, man, woman and animals (the snake serves as a representative of the animals in the entire narrative). Both scenes are concerned with man's relationship with the rest of creation. In scene two the ideal is portrayed with animals being named by man and his companions (2.19‒20) as well as woman being man's perfect partner (2.21‒25). In six, however, this ideal is distorted. There is conflict between mankind and animals (3.14‒15), men and women are at odds (3.16) and the perfection of the Edenic environment is replaced with thorns and thistles (3.17‒19).
Scenes 3 and 5 are both dialogs concerning consumption of fruit from the tree of knowledge and its ramifications. Both occur in the garden though not in the middle of the garden near the tree of knowledge (3.3, 10‒11). In scene 3, the woman and the snake make three comments about the tree. First, the serpent asks, "Did God say . . ." (3.1). Then, the woman responds that she is able to eat from any tree except the one in the middle (3.2). The serpent challenges her claim and God's motives (3.4‒5). In scene 5, God asks three rhetorical questions: "Where are you?" (3.9), "Who told you?" (3.11) and "Have you eaten?"(3.11).
As the centerpiece of the story, Scene 4 stands apart. Man and woman are alone. Neither God nor the serpent appears in this scene. Adam and Eve's physical location has moved to the middle of the garden. The two choose to disobey God's only command and eat of the forbidden fruit. God is moved from his rightful place of authority and the serpent is elevated, Eve is deceived and Adam follows his wife's deception.
The good creation God intended is distorted into shame and brokenness. A story that ought to have paradise at its center has hell instead.