Two accounts of the Creation of Humankind

In this unit we will look at a second version of the creation of Adam found in chapter 2 of Beresishit, and explore various approaches that reconcile this with the version in chapter 1.

Resource Ages: 15-18


Bereishit 1:26-28

26. And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.”

27. And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

28. God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.”

26. וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱ-לֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכׇל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכׇל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

27. וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱ-לֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃

28. ויְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱ-לֹהִים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱ-לֹהִ֗ים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכׇל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

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Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How can I experience moments of connection to God?
  • How is the Torah story my story?
  • How do Jewish texts help me grapple with questions of life, the universe and everything?
  • How is Jewish text a vehicle to help us access connections to God?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • How do the first two chapters of Beresihit differ in their description of the creation of Adam, and what might this teach us?
  • Why are there contradictions in biblical text and what can we learn from them?
  • How can we reconcile being created ‘in the image of God’ with being created ‘from the dust of the earth’?
  • What can we learn about the essential nature of humanity from the Torah’s description of creation?

Background for Teacher

Note to the educator:  The subject matter of this unit compares the two accounts of the story of the creation of humankind in the first two chapters of Bereshit. The texts in this lesson represent distinct approaches to  textual inconsistency following the traditional approach...

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Note to the educator: 

The subject matter of this unit compares the two accounts of the story of the creation of humankind in the first two chapters of Bereshit. The texts in this lesson represent distinct approaches to  textual inconsistency following the traditional approach that the Torah is a literary whole.  There are alternative approaches that deal with textual inconsistencies of this type. The following background provides information on the traditional approach and biblical scholarship such as the Documentary Hypothesis.

Traditionally it was assumed by both Jews and Christians that the Five Books of Moshe are a literary whole, all written by the one hand of Moshe at the direction of God. Although there were individuals here and there that made remarks leading one to wonder what they really thought about the authorship of the Torah, the first person of import to critique and question the Torah was undoubtedly Baruch Spinoza. However, as a field of study, Biblical Criticism did not come into its own until the 19th century.

Biblical scholars who entertain the idea that there were multiple authors of the Torah text focus on perceived inconsistencies and differences between tellings and retellings of narratives or of laws, focusing on vocabulary (including the use of different names for God) and literary style, and apparent theological and historical differences between sections.

There are thus some scholars who apply this technique to their analysis of the first and second chapters of Bereshit and raise the possibility that these stories were written by more than one author. While the texts in this lesson come from the traditional approach that the Torah is the word of God authored by Moshe,  the thinkers and scholars presented in this lesson try to understand why there are two separate accounts and what the differences can teach us.


Bereishit 1:26-28 and Bereishit 2:7, 15-23

Comparing the creation of adam in Bereishit 1 and Beresihit 2: As one reads of the creation of humankind in Bereshit 2, an entirely different perspective from that appearing in Chapter 1 is revealed. What appears to be different about the story as well as the status of humanity vis-à-vis God?

Balancing two aspects of humankind: In Chapter 1 the Torah stresses the creative act of God. It also suggests that humankind bears a striking resemblance to the divine. Yet, in Chapter 2, adam, the human, is “formed” (not “created”) from a pre-existing substance. That substance is “the dust of the earth.” Furthermore, the original Hebrew text reveals the close etymological relationship between the word אדָָם (adam) and the word אדֲָמהָ (adamah, earth) from which the adam was formed. The Torah is clearly trying to underscore the humble origins of humanity. It is true that God breathed life into this earthly creature, but this creature nevertheless remained inextricably bound to the earth. This is supported further by the description of humanity’s function and purpose.

Human’s relationship to the world as conveyed by both versions: In Chapter 1, humankind was told to “be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it . . .” Conquest and domination are entirely absent in the second account of the creation of humankind. In Chapter 2, the adam, whose origins are from the ground, is placed in Gan Eden and told “to till and tend it.” He is authorized to eat of the fruit of the trees that are pleasant to the sight and delectable in taste, but these are gifts provided through God’s benevolence, and due to the human necessity to eat to survive. The fruit that the land yields is not a result of his exercising his intelligence to devise methods by which he may best benefit from it. In fact, in this context, humankind is not even created betzelem Elohim. It is formed from the earth and commanded to live in harmony with it. A further difference between the chapters is that in Chapter 1 humankind is given free reign to rule and master the earth, while in Chapter 2, it is placed within the confines of Gan Eden and the fruit of at least one of the trees there is forbidden to him. Upon scrutiny of the text, one can see a sharp contrast between the first two chapters of Bereshit. If the Torah wishes to convey clear directives, how can it present such radically different accounts? Is humanity lofty because it was created in God’s image? Or is it lowly, having been created from the earth? The following texts represent distinct approaches to this textual inconsistency.


Philo of Alexandria, On the Creation of the World 46

The concept of humankind vs.  the reality of humankind: Philo suggests that the Chapter 1 creation of humankind, “the first man who was made according to the image of God,” presents an idea, a concept, but not a real creation, while the second story describes humankind as a composition of elements from above and below, “a composition of earthy substance and divine spirit.” In this  way, Philo applies one of the most central concepts of Plato’s philosophy to Bereshit. 

The Soul and the Body: And so, while Chapter 2 speaks of the human being “perceptible by the external senses,” and as such is part of the rest of the corporeal world that can be perceived by the senses, and is therefore fallible, Chapter 1 speaks of the idea or form of the human being, the human being that is real, “perceptible only by the intellect, incorporeal, neither male nor female, imperishable by nature,” and thus indestructible and perfect. In this way, Philo explains the difference between the first two chapters of Bereshit, but at the same time, models the best of what the Hellenized world had to offer the Jew – borrowing from Greek philosophy and concepts to use them to understand better God’s word and law.


Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith

Two types of human (found in each of us): Soloveitchik offers a remarkably insightful approach to our textual dilemma. These two biblical versions of the creation of humankind symbolize, to his view, “two  representatives of humanity” – two distinct types of human beings.

Adam the first: the adam of the first chapter of Bereshit, who was created in “the image of God,” was endowed with intellect and the power of creativity, and was given the mandate to use these faculties to gain control of nature and subdue it (see Bereshit 1:28). He is “aggressive, bold, and victory-minded. His motto is success, triumph over the cosmic forces.”

Adam the second: the adam of the second chapter of Bereshit, is not concerned with conquest and power. This being is intrigued by the mystery of Creation and by God the Creator, whose true nature is never revealed. Having been created from the ground, “from the dust of the earth” (Bereshit 2:7), this adam looks at the world with humility, with the “awe and admiration of the child who seeks the unusual and wonderful in every ordinary thing and event.” Rather than trying to master the world, this being is driven to try to understand its meaning and purpose.

Both Adams are God’s will: The novelty of Soloveitchik’s position is that both Adam the first and Adam the second, both areas of endeavor, are legitimate expressions of God’s will. Human beings are expected, on the one hand, to utilize their power and intelligence to dominate and gain control over nature. On the other hand, they can also reflect on the purpose and meaning of that which they behold. They must “till,” “tend,” and preserve the world (Bereshit 2:15), and retain their humility in the face of the wonder of the universe and the cosmic forces. This tension within humankind is one of the great paradoxes of existence. Which direction should an individual choose? How can a person know what is right for them? Or should a person follow their natural inclinations to one type or the other? Alternatively, could it be that Soloveitchik means for each person to try to somehow live as both personality types? Yet another way of understanding this is that Soloveitchik might not actually be discussing each and every individual and is instead more concerned that both types be amply represented in society as a whole? 

In Soloveitchik’s read of the biblical account of Creation, more than being a narrative or poem of the beginnings of the world, these verses actually reveal some important ideas about the nature and purpose of the human being in this world. At the same time, his perspective opens the door to more questions.


Rabbi David Kimchi (Radak), Bereshit 1:27

Three Hebrew words for create: Radak analyzes three verbs in this brief excerpt from his extensive commentary to the first chapter of Bereshit. He notes that two of the three verbs, ברא (baro) and עשה (asoh), can be used to describe the construction of anything – whether it is corporeal or not. Not so the verb יצר (yatzor), a verb that is used only with the formation of the corporeal, the physical, the tangible. In this way, Radak differentiates the two accounts of creation, especially the creation of the human being. 

Creation of the soul in chapter 1, and the body in chapter 2: The second chapter uses the verb יצר specifically, as it says, ויַיִּצֶר (vayitzer; Bereshit 2:7) in telling of the formation of the human from the dust of the ground. For Radak, the use of the verb יצר here signals that the verse is speaking of the formation of the physical aspects of the person. The first chapter uses the verb ברא, as it says, ויברא (vayivra; Bereshit 1:27). For Radak, this verse could also be speaking of the creation of the physical aspects of the person. However, there the verse speaks of the creation of the human being “in God’s image.” Radak allows his theology to inform his interpretation of the verse, and thus he moves to see “God’s image” as being something that is incorporeal. Given that the verse is speaking of the creation of something modeled after the incorporeal, it must be discussing something that is itself incorporeal, and so he introduces the idea that the verse must be telling of the creation of the soul. As such, the verb יצָֹר could not be used there, and only בּרָאֹ or עשֲֹׂה would have syntactically fit into the context.

Like Philo and Soloveitchik, Radak reconciles the two chapters by showing how each chapter speaks of a different matter, a different aspect of the creation of the human being. There is no contradiction between the chapters. 

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
  • Divide your students into small groups. Give each group a container with a small amount of dirt for them to interact with (using all their senses). Show them the verse Bereishit 2:7 which describes the creation of humankind “from the dust of the earth”. Ask them to write together on a piece of paper what dirt may represent and what message the verse may be bringing us. Bring the class together to share their ideas and interpretations, and then explain that together we will explore three approaches to this that contrast this with the description of the creation of humankind found in chapter 1 of Bereishit.
  • If you think your students will not connect to the above activity, Before reading the verse from Bereshit 2, a simpler alternative could be to have each group write “The Dust of the Earth” on the center of a page and brainstorm what they associate with this image.

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

The first text found in this unit is the second version of the creation of Adam found in the Torah, in the second chapter of Bereshit. There are several differences between the accounts, forcing scholars and students of the bible to account for these differences, and find meaning in the texts from them. These questions may help your students to embark on this journey themselves:

  • What are the main differences between this account of the creation of Adam and the one in the previous chapter of Bereishit?
  • What possible explanations could there be as to why the two accounts differ?
  • If each version is teaching us something else about what it means to be human, then what can we learn about these two different aspects of being human?
  • Which account resonates more with you? Why?

The first approach we find to reconciling the two contradicting accounts is Philo, the ancient Hellenistic Jewish philosopher. His approach is that the first chapter of Beresihit is describing the concept of Adam (and humankind), in it’s perfection and abstraction. The second chapter is the reality of humanity, with its potential for flaws and imperfections (and hence this is where we see Adam sinning). The following questions may help your students explore his approach:

  • If you are asked to think of a table, do you think about the idea of a table, or a specific table? Is the table in your mind perfect or does it have imperfections? 
  • Plato (the Greek philosopher) said all things have an ideal form that exist in our minds in a perfect state, and then real examples of these things that we encounter in life. Which of the two accounts of the creation of humankind is the ideal and which is the real?
  • Can we strive and achieve to be the perfect model of humankind described in chapter 1?
  • Why do you think the Torah has both descriptions?

 In the next text, Rabbi Soloveitchik uses the two different versions of the creation of Adam to show there are two different models of humankind, both found in each of us, and both sanctioned and encouraged by God. You can use the following questions to explore Soloveitchik’s Adam 1 and Adam 2 with your students:

  • Can you think of anyone (a type of person or a specific person you know)  who resembles Adam 1?
  • Can you think of anyone (a type of person or a specific person you know) who resembles Adam 2?
  • Is everyone more like one than the other, or do you see them both in every person?
  • Which do you most connect to?
  • Which do you think God wants us to be more like?

Finally, the Radak takes the approach that chapter 1 is describing the creation of the spiritual soul of Adam and chapter 2 describes the creation of the physical body of Adam. The following questions explore this approach:

  • According to Philo, why does the Torah have two different accounts of the creation of Adam?
  • What does this teach us?
  • What is the relationship between the soul and the body?
  • Can one exist without the other?
  • Why do you think God created humankind with both?
  • Pair your students into chavrutot and ask them to take an in-depth look at the description of the creation of humankind in the first two chapters of Bereishit, charting all the differences between the two accounts. They should insert these into a table so the descriptions can be seen side by side. You may wish to help your students by telling them what to look for, including the following details:
    The hebrew words used for ‘create’
    – The source (or description) of Adam’s creation
    – The mandate (commands) given to Adam from God

    – The name of God appearing in the account
    – The description of Eve’s creation (and her role)
    Tell your students to have these differences in mind when considering the texts in this unit and how the thinkers here use these to explain the two different accounts
  • As a concluding assignment for this unit, you could ask your students in small groups or as individuals to represent Adam from chapter 1 and Adam from chapter 2 in art (in whatever medium they prefer, such as drawing, painting, digital media or sculpture) for each of the three approaches we have explored in this unit (so all in all each student or group will produce 6 pieces of art). This would be a great opportunity to hold an art exhibition for other students or parents.