Which tree comes first in the Garden of Eden?

I posted twice last week on children’s bibles and their unhealthy focus on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I was also preparing last week to speak at a men’s breakfast on the discipline of work. As I read Genesis 2 again, I was struck by the awkward syntax of Genesis 2:7-9:

Genesis 2:7-9 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Gordon Wenham states that some have surmised that there may have been only one tree at the centre of the garden in the original Paradiesgeschichte and that the other tree of Gen 3:3 was added at Gen 2:9 later:

This could be corroborated by the awkward way “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” is tacked on this verse.

Wenham also shows that this is not unusual syntax as it occurs elsewhere in Genesis and the Pentateuch:

Genesis 1:16 And God made the two great lights- the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night- and the stars.

Genesis 34:29 All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered. [I’m not sure which one applies here]

Numbers 13:23 And they came to the Valley of Eshcol and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they also brought some pomegranates and figs.

Could it be that the syntax is deliberately awkward in order to highlight the primacy of the the first tree? The equivalent in English being something like “Sandra was at the party, oh yes, and so was Pete”, the story being primarily about Sandra.

If this is the way the Hebrew syntax functions then our accounts of the creation narrative should focus more heavily on the tree of life and how Adam and Eve missed what they were really meant to have; eternal life.

If you have a grasp of Hebrew, I’d be grateful for your comment.

About neilrobbie

I am a 6'6" formerly ginger Scot, in a cross cultural marriage to my lovely Londoner wife. We've lived in SE Asia and since 2005, I have served as an Anglican minister in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
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