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Gen 2:6-7 ... A mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground ...

Is there an explanation why there is still dust on the ground although God previously ordered a mist to water all of the ground?

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  • cf. Gen 26:15, filling the wells with "dust".
    – Susan
    May 27, 2016 at 19:57

4 Answers 4

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+500

The watering of the ground was imperfect in aspect because of the waw consecutive appears here with the perfect tense (and so “flips” the aspect from perfect to imperfect in alignment with the preceding verb in context, which is imperfect in aspect). Please click on the image to view the full source document, which comes from Gesenius, § 112 3(a)(α), who makes this observation of this passage.

enter image description here

So the “rising” of water (mist) and “watered” ground were imperfect in aspect, which already (as noted by Gesenius, above) was recurring or repetitive action. In other words, the emergence of water and the soaking of the ground were cyclical events, because they were repetitive.

The same idea appears in the Aramaic of the Targum Onqelos, which appeared in 1st Century. The rabbis who translated from Classical Hebrew into the Aramaic used the past progressive; that is, they used the Peal perfect of the linking verb with two masculine singular participles (one Peal and the other Hithpeel) in order to create the past progressive tense.

Please click the image below to enlarge.

enter image description here

The past progressive reinforces the rabbinic view that the verbs in Hebrew were imperfect aspect, and thus repetitive irrigation cycles keep occurring.

In this respect, the other rabbis saw this watered ground as clay, from which the Almighty had created man. For example, the following citation from the Talmud Yerushalmi mentions the following in Tractate Shabbat, Chapter 2.

enter

Please click on the image (above) to view the full source document in Aramaic - cf. paragraph beginning with the phrase, דף כ,א פרק ב הלכה ו גמרא. (English translation from Neusner.) Rabbi Shlomo Yiztchaki (Rashi) mentions the same analogy of bread dough as man was an admixture of dust and water.

In summary, man is composed of water and dust. That is, the Almighty created man during an irrigation cycle when the ground was wet, and so man is a vessel of “clay,” or an admixture of water and dust.

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    In basic agreement with Gesenius, see also the explanation of Joüon-Muraoka, similarly using Gen. 2:6 as an example of the w-qataltí continuing the action of the preceding yiqtol, though they see it as "durative" rather than "repetitive".
    – Susan
    May 29, 2016 at 6:07
  • @Joseph Is there any connection with water that can be made with Genesis 3:19? May 29, 2016 at 11:59
  • @RevelationLad - the apparent connection is that man is comprised of water-saturated dust (pr clay), which is water + dust (from the ground).
    – Joseph
    May 29, 2016 at 23:49
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    +500 This answer was accepted and received the most votes. It also explains the continual watering conveyed by the Hebrew. This is the most important connection to the man's physical body which is made of "dust" that does not dry out as long as water remains in his body. Jun 3, 2016 at 16:53
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There are two reasonable explanations that may apply here.

First, when ground is watered, that water both drains into the ground and evaporates back into the air. The surface of the ground does not forever remain wet from a mist. So that watering by mist occurred does not mean dust did not come again. The text in Gen 2:6 is not explicit as to exactly when the watering happened, but in conjunction with v.5, two verbs are in the perfect tense, indicating it is a past time statement to what is about to be said in v.7 (v.5-6, NKJV):

5 before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the LORD God had not caused [הִמְטִ֜יר; perfect tense] it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; 6 but a mist went up from the earth and watered [הִשְׁקָ֖ה; perfect tense] the whole face of the ground.

Additionally, the whole statement starting at "For the LORD..." appears to be explaining matters in conjunction to it starting "before any plant ... before any herb ... had grown," which contextually places the timing between Gen 1:10 and 1:12 of the 3rd day of creation (NKJV, emphasis mine):

9 Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. 10 And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

So the watering of the earth by mist is implied to begin in day 3 as preparation for the plants caused to grow later that day.

Gen 2:6 does indicate where the water came from, as it rose "from the earth," which pictures a form of radiation fog that typically occurs as night falls, but is specifically related to temperature of land vs. air. Typically such mist does "not last long after sunrise," and it is day 4 of creation that sees the Sun come forth (Gen 1:16).

Such a fog could have continued to come in the evenings of days 4 and 5 as well. In any case, during the sixth day of creation, when mankind is formed, the earth is likely as typically dry as any other sunny day that might have had fog in the previous evening, especially if only watered by mist upon ground that was fine dust to begin with, as fine earth does not take long to drain water (consider the beach, after the high tide, by the time of low tide, the sand that was once covered with water, especially on a sunny day, is quite dry again).

Second, even if the "dust" was "wet" from water, the Hebrew word עָפָר (ʿāp̄ār) has a range of meaning beyond just "dust," as the HALOT lexicon notes (emphasis theirs):

  1. fine dry top-soil, dust
  2. loose earth, soil
  3. misc. ... a) rubble ... b) a layer of clay used as plaster for the wall of a house ... c) the fragments of a crushed cultic effigy ... d) ashes of the burned sin offering
  4. the grave and the world of the dead

Here in Gen 2:7 we know it is not #3 or #4, since it is specifically noted "dust of the ground." But #2 definition does not demand as "dry" of an earth as what we consider "dust" to be, and certainly any light misting that has been watering the soil does not imply that soil is too saturated to be called עָפָר.

So either explanation makes perfect sense in the context of Gen 2:6-7. The water was evaporated from it completely back to "dust" or what water there was did not disqualify it from being a "loose earth."

That God "formed" man from the dust leaves much unsaid about the process. Potters add water to dry clay to form wet clay and make it malleable. It is likely that extra water was added at this time of forming for the purpose of shaping the elements of the dust, but also the chemical composition of the dust was obviously rearranged at this time to form skin, muscle, bone, blood, mucus, hair, eyes, etc., so much "changing" of the state of the dust (including no doubt, water composition) occurred in the "forming" process. The details of all this are not given.

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  • Excellent analysis of the connection with the events of the third day in Genesis 1. However, the natural state of the body of the man (60%) water and (40%) substance makes the conflict between watered and dry dust a necessary coalescence on/during the sixth day. IOW if the dust was once again dry, how does water get into the body? May 28, 2016 at 15:03
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    @RevelationLad: God does not give the details of what He does when He formed Adam. He added as much as needed to the dust to form him; He made of the dust skin, blood, bone, eyes, etc.; i.e., there are a lot of details not given about how the dust was shaped, so there is no need to determine precisely how/where/when the water composition of the human body was introduced and what quantity it was at what time in the process.
    – ScottS
    May 28, 2016 at 15:32
  • @ScottS - Would you not agree that the the waw consecutive appears in this verse, which would “flip” the aspect of הִשְׁקָ֖ה from perfect to imperfect?
    – Joseph
    May 28, 2016 at 23:48
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    @Joseph Yes, I agree, and as I noted, I see it as a "repetitive" idea (at least daily through days 3 to 6). But the emphasis on the repetitive idea is still on the completion of it (in phases). Hence, the fact that the dust may have been dryer or wetter; the point being that there is no conflict between the cyclical watering and the "dust" statement, as the ground was at some undeterminable level of water content.
    – ScottS
    May 30, 2016 at 1:56
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I understand that this question is looking for an extremely complicated answer, but those have already been given, so I will just come and state an extremely obvious fact.. Dust cannot be molded, it is too dry and wont stay together, therefore it would be safe to assume that the writer (who was a genius at his time as almost all literate people of the time was) figured that anyone capable of reading the passage would know that simple fact and therefore didn't consult a dictionary to find the word "clay", but rather simply continued using the word "dust" as it was firstly more poetic to not change the words, and secondly not necessary until reading became a mainstream activity.

I hope this simplistic answer helped a bit. (Occam's razor)

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  • Are the component elements of the human body comprised of anything other than minerals found in the ground?
    – Joseph
    Jun 1, 2016 at 1:08
  • I don't think the answer needs to be complicated. The human body is made up of water and dust. They are brought together uniquely in that the "dust" is continually watered and so stays pliant; at the same time some of the dust hardens (despite the continual presence of water) to form bones. Bone is then used to form the woman. When the man is told he will return to the dust, his bones do not decay. So the expression "dust to dust" is not quite right. Jun 2, 2016 at 4:32
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First man Wasn’t created from dust! If you diagram the sentence it’s an object

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    Hi Dr. Davis, welcome to BH.SE. Please do take the Site Tour when you get a chance, to learn more about the SE format and how the site works. Due to its length and content this has been flagged as a Low-Quality post, and whilst it doesn't merit deletion it could be expanded to become much more helpful to the asker and any other users who view this question in future.
    – Steve can help
    Aug 13, 2020 at 10:22

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