No one quite hates a beginning like a creative writing professor can. In workshop, they can be merciless. It doesn’t matter where you, the writer, thought your story began. No, it begins where the professor says it does, whether that be page two, or five, or eight (out of eight, naturally). You have to earn that beginning, or it’s trashed.
No creative writing professor in their right mind would let something like Genesis 1 and 2 happen.
Telling the same story different ways twice in a row? What are you doing? You’re just going to set a very muddled stage, set up an unreliable narrator, set yourself up for failure. Don’t you know anything?
So perhaps it would be best to ignore the dual creation story. Take a red pen and combine the two. That rib stuff sure sounds pretty at weddings, let’s keep that, but the pacing and the sequence of the first story is probably more accurate. At least it feels better. So get back to work, stop wavering. And cut some of those “God saw that it was good.” Crack out your thesaurus to clean that up.
For a television show, a new beginning is dangerous territory that not everyone survives. Take for instance the case of Firefly, the space opera/western from Joss Whedon. The show only had fourteen episodes ten years ago, and those fifteen hours of television include three hours of pilot. There is the original pilot, “Serenity,” that was deemed unfit for an introduction by the network, and the one that was written in a weekend, “The Train Job,” to take its place. “Serenity” would be aired, as the very last episode of that show.
The double dip is almost distracting on the DVD, with the bits of exposition the audience just learned being reiterated “for the second first time,” as Whedon says in the audio commentary for “The Train Job”. In the same commentary, Whedon also mentions his rule to treat the first six episodes of a series as if they were the pilot. Don’t assume your audience has been watching your show this entire time. Make sure they know what’s going on if they just decide to tune in.
What if we looked at Genesis like this? What if, somewhere along the line, some new, frazzled writer had to put together a second pilot for the show because there wasn’t enough human drama and emotion in the first one? What do we gain from the first narrative, and what does the second one then have to offer us?
The first narrative, offers the reader the story of epic proportions. This is the Bible that will give us floods and famine and wars, the Bible of the vault for heaven and earth. It is concerned primarily with the age of the world, the scene that could have come out of The Fellowship of the Ring.
This narrative establishes the power of God, and his epic proportions. There is power embedded, not just in the actions described, but the time frame discussed. The entire universe in merely six days? It’s unfathomable.
The second story, however, is much more intimate. This is more the God of the fables, and the God who forms close and personal relationships with his followers. If the Bible were a television show, this would be the creation story that set up the bottle episodes. This is the God that begins to form a close, personal relationship with his creation. He hovers like a helicopter parent, making sure that his new child has a suitable companion. This is the God that recognizes the power of equals, of people with common interests. This is the God that does the detail work without complaint.
The mere fact that the stories diverge suggests something about this book and its subjects that is beyond normal human experience. The reader needs to hold contradictory elements in her head, to balance two ideas and two sequences. Politics, religion, philosophy all require this talent. This is not the world of absolute truths and scientific fact, and it can be hard as a modern reader to accept that. The double story forces the reader to lay all of that mental baggage down and come to the table with an open mind, free of assumptions. Look at both spots on the wall, but don’t try to stare at either, lest you lose the other one.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was originally entitled First Impressions. It is a novel about a couple that meets, and meets again, and meets again, and meets again just as much as it is a novel about a couple blinded by their own pride and prejudice. As Mark Schorer writes:
If we read the implications of the earlier title from the final product, Jane Austen’s concern in that early work was to point out the first impressions are not to be trusted, that unexamined or inexperienced impulses are treacherous, that the true life of the feelings rests on their education.
It’s easy to come to the Bible with prejudice. If it looks like a religious book, talks like a religious book, and certainly weighs like a religion book, that must be its sole identity. And if it starts to contradict itself at the second chapter, then obviously it is rubbish.
But if Elizabeth Bennet has taught us anything, it is too early to be making judgment calls now.
 Joss Whedon, “The Train Job,” Firefly, Audio commentary, (2003; 20th Century Fox), DVD.
 Mark Schorer, “Pride Unprejudiced,” The Kenyon Review 18(1) (1956): 72-91, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4333636 .