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Genesis 1:9-13 DAY 3
Let the Earth Sprout Vegetation

Hebrew Text

avd /yrah avdt - Let the earth sprout vegetation

The earth is commanded to sprout forth young plants, or vegetation. This is not an ex nihilo creation. The herbage comes from the earth. Some read evolution of plants from this, but the ancient Near Eastern culture would understand something different. Other ANE creation stories have not only plants sprouting from the earth, but animals, and humans as well. It is like magic, or supernatural powers of the earth-god or other gods that plants grow from the earth. This will be looked at in more detail below.

There seems to be just two types of plants mentioned here, not three as older translations suggest (Wenham 1987, 20). There are plants and trees which both start out as young plants. The Hebrew word avd refers to the whole, both the plants and trees (Westermann, 124). Generally avd describes budding plants (Ibid) of which there are two kinds, plants that are small, and trees which are large.

The plants and trees are said to produce after their kind. This should not be equated with "species" in the Linnean system of classification used in science. "Species" would be too narrow a term for the Hebrew /ym, "kind." It would also include "genus." The Hebrew /ym is used ten times in Genesis one. It is used again in the flood narrative and then again in Leviticus to distinguish between clean and unclean animals (Lev. 11:14,22,29 and parallel passage in Deut. 14:13-15,18).

Sumerian Literature

In Tree and Reed heaven impregnates earth probably with rain to produce plant life. There also seems to be two kinds of plants, tree and reed. The Text says:

An, high heaven, consummated marriage with vast Earth,
He implanted the seed of the heroes Tree and Reed in (her womb).
Earth, the good cow, received the good seed of An.
Earth gave herself to the happy birth of the plants of life.
Earth joyously produced abundance; she exuded wine and honey.
Having given birth to Tree and Reed (Clifford 1994, 26).

In the Hymn to E’engura men sprout from the earth like plants. It says, "when An had engendered the year of abundance, when humans broke through earth’s surface like plants, then built the Lord of Abzu, King Enki" (Ibid, 29-30). In KAR 4,54 it says, "they (mankind) sprout from the ground like barley" (Ibid).

In a prayer to the moon-god Sin it says, "When you have spoken your word on earth, the vegetation flourishes luxuriantly" (Beyerlin 1978, 105).

Akkadian Texts

The Chaldean Cosmogony was the preamble to a now lost prayer that was recited during the procession of the Akitu Festival at Uruk. It describes the precreation condition. It says, "A reed had not come forth, a tree had not been produced" (Clifford 1994, 62-63). Then later in the text it says, "He creat[ed (banu) the reed], he created (banu) the tree" (Ibid.).

Egyptian Texts

In the great Hymn to Aten it says, "All beasts browse on their herbs; Trees, herbs are sprouting" (COS, 45). There seems to be two kinds of vegetation mentioned here. In the Hymn to Osiris it says, "Plants sprout by his wish, earth grows its food for him—Tree of life, all plants" (COs, 41-42). In the Hymn to Amon-Re it says, "(Amon-Re) who created the tree of life, who made the herbage—Who made the herbage [for] the herds, The tree of life for the sunfolk" (COs, 38-9).

Jewish Literature

According to Josephus the "plants and seeds sprang forthwith from the soil" (LCL 242, 15). There is no mention of God divinely ordering this, but Franxman sees a downplay of the MT’s idea that the earth used its own power to produce life (1979, 43). The word "forthwith or immediately" may imply that the plants grew to maturity fast.

Philo also agrees with Josephus that the plants grew fast and the trees bore fruit almost immediately. Philo says, "And, after a fashion quite contrary to the present order of Nature, all were laden with fruit as soon as ever they came into existence" (LCL 226, 31).

Next - Genesis 1:14-19 - Creation of Sun, Moon, and Stars