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Adam is Israel

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March 2, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin
Adam is Israel

Today's entry was written by Pete Enns. You can read more about what we believe here.

For a related discussion of this post, see our recent video blog with N.T. Wright: "On Genesis 2 and 3".

For the past few posts we’ve been looking at creation in the Old Testament as a cosmic battle, and we’ve spent a lot of time seeing how that idea works itself out in the book of Exodus.

There is much more to Exodus and creation in the Old Testament than cosmic battle. I am not trying to say that cosmic battle is some magic key to unlock the mysteries of the Bible. But it does open a new window to seeing the ”ancient ways” in which the Israelites thought of creation.

It also helps us look at the Adam story from an angle that might be new to some readers here: Adam is the beginning of Israel, not humanity. I imagine this may require some explanation.

Israel’s history as a nation can be broken down as follows:

  • Israel is “created” by God at the exodus through a cosmic battle (gods are defeated and the Red Sea is “divided”);

  • The Israelites are given Canaan to inhabit, a lush land flowing with milk and honey;

  • They remain in the land as long as they obey the Mosaic law;

  • They persist in a pattern of disobedience and are exiled to Babylon.

Israel’s history parallels Adam’s drama in Genesis:

  • Adam is created in Genesis 2 after the taming of chaos in Genesis 1;

  • Adam is placed in a lush garden;

  • Law (not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) is given as a stipulation for remaining in the garden;

  • Adam and Eve disobey and are exiled.

There are two ways of looking at this parallel. You could say that the Adam story came first and then the Israelites just followed that pattern. But there is another way. Maybe Israel’s history happened first, and the Adam story was written to reflect that history. In other words, the Adam story is really an Israel story placed in primeval time. It is not a story of human origins but of Israel’s origins.

Everyone has to decide for themselves which of these readings of Genesis has more “explanatory power.” I (and other biblical scholars) come down on the second option for a number of reasons, some having to do with Genesis itself while others concern other issues in the Bible. Let me give one reason from Genesis.

If we see Adam as a story of Israelite origins, it will help us make sense of at least one nagging question that begins in Genesis 4:13—one that readers of Genesis, past and present, have picked up on. After Cain kills Abel, he is afraid of a posse coming after him, which casually presumes the existence of other people. So God puts a mark on Cain and exiles him to Nod, a populated city to the east. There he takes a wife and they have a child, Enoch, and Cain proceeds to build a city, named after his son, in which others can live.

Some have solved this problem by saying that Adam and Eve had a lot more children that Genesis simply neglects to mention, and so Cain married his sister. I suppose if one must, one can take refuge in this explanation. But this scenario seems a bit desperate—not to mention uncomfortable. Plus, this explanation is completely made up. Genesis neither says nor hints that the residents of Nod are Adam and Eve’s offspring. They are just “there.”

If the Adam story is about the first humans, the presence of other humans outside of Eden is out of place. We are quite justified in concluding that the Adam story is not about absolute human origins but the beginning of one smaller subset, one particular people.

The parallels between Israel and Adam that we see above tell us that the particular people in mind are Israel. Adam is “proto-Israel.”

Some might object that Genesis 1-11 deals with universal matters, not merely one people: the entire cosmos created in Genesis 1, the flood, the disbursement of the nations after the flood. Absolutely. No question there. But the point is this: after the creation of humanity in Genesis 1, Genesis 2 begins to tell the story of “proto-Israel.” In other words, Israel was not a latecomer, coming into existence only in the exodus. Israel was always there as God’s specially chosen people since the beginning.

Look at it this way. The word “adam” is ambiguous in Genesis. Every commentator notes that sometimes “adam” represents humanity (so I will use the lower case); other times it is the name “Adam” (upper case) representing one man. What does this back and forth mean? It means that Adam is a special subset of adam.

The character “Adam” is the focus of the story because he is the part of “adam” that God is really interested in. There is “adam” outside of Eden (in Nod), but inside of Eden, which is God’s focus, there is only “Adam”—the one with which he has a unique relationship.

The question in Genesis is whether “Adam” will be obedient to “the law” and stay in Eden, thus continuing this special relationship, or join the other “adam” outside in “exile.” This is the same question with Israel: after being “created” by God, will they obey and remain in the land, or disobey and be exiled?

Having said all this let me take a step or two back. I am not saying that this is ALL there is to the Adam story. There are all sorts of angles one can take to get at that extremely rich and deep piece of theology. But the “Adam is Israel” angle is at the very least a very good one—and in my opinion a much better angle than seeing Adam as the first human and all humans are descended from him. Genesis does not support that reading.

This “Israel-centered” reading of Adam is not a stretch. It is widely recognized, not only in modern scholarship, but by pre-modern interpreters. And you have to admit there is one distinct advantage of this reading that readers of BioLogos will recognize immediately: if the Adam story is not about absolute human origins, then the conflict between the Bible and evolution cannot be found there.

The conflict is found elsewhere in the Bible—namely in the New Testament and specifically in two of Paul’s letters.

We’ll get to that next.

For a related discussion, see our recent video blog with N.T. Wright: "On Genesis 2 and 3".

Pete Enns is a former Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for The BioLogos Foundation and author of several books and commentaries, including the popular Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, which looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional views of Scripture.

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Jeffrey L Vaughn - #5776

March 3rd 2010


There is a 1250 character limit and your questions really don’t make sense in the paradigm I am pushing.  So I’m trying to redirect your questions appropriately.

I used Israel because Peter Enns’ said “Adam is Israel.”  All of my development has been in terms of the old covenant started in Genesis 1 with Adam.  Adam is either the original covenant person or the “federal head” of the original covenant people.

In that sense, it is appropriate to say “Adam is Israel,” just as it is appropriate to say that the Church is the new or true Israel.  We have Biblical precedence.  Levi tithed to Melchizedek.  Didn’t Abram precede Levi?  Does that answer Q1?

I believe I answered your Q2 H&E is people, not land.  Specifically, God’s covenant people.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #5777

March 3rd 2010


I don’t think Dick Fischer’s view of Adam as the father of Akkad holds up.  Instead, I think placing Adam as a Sumerian in Sumer near the city of Eridu / Eden around 4000 BC works better.  (Wiseman, Ancient records and the structure of Genesis, Best, Noah’s Ark and the Ziusudra Epic)

Both Wiseman and Best demonstrate by different means that Adam was likely the author of a portion of early Genesis.  Add to this the results of Radday’s statistical linguistics and all of Genesis appears to be a series of accounts by human witnesses to the events recorded.

This makes Adam a historical person in the strictest sense.  He wrote down his own account of his own life.

Gregory Arago - #5778

March 3rd 2010


I re-read Matt 24. Not really sure how it relates to this thread, but thanks for directing me there.

You wrote: “Adam is either the original covenant person or the “federal head” of the original covenant people.”

Yes, I would agree. Again, the issue here seems to be: when does Genesis ‘get historical’? In your recent post, you answer this: you believe Adam *was* historical. Some here don’t.

eVo science is serious in discussion here.

Isn’t there Israel the person, born with the name Jacob & also the ‘Land of Israel’ or Zion? Are you an Israelite &/or a child of Adam? So Adam’s covenant was historical & Israel’s symbolical?

Btw, thanks for being honest in saying: “your questions really don’t make sense in the paradigm I am pushing.”

Hopefully we can benefit each other. I’m trying to understand when/where the science of anthropology comes into play. This may be the most important field to help evangelicals ‘accept biological evolution,’ while retaining their extra-natural, traditional faith.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #5780

March 3rd 2010


Those who believe Moses wrote Genesis have a problem.  How did Moses get his material?  Oral traditions?  Visions from God?  That’s the Fundamentalist view.  If you hold to Moses authorship, how can a person honestly hold Genesis as historical?  Any of it?  It is either myths or visions?

I’d say that most people here are trying to honestly face that predicament.  They believe in a late date for Genesis and are trying to understand what that means.

With an early date, we have to come to terms with how and why Adam would have known how to write.

There was a man Jacob, renamed Israel.  I am not his biological descendant, nor am I Adam’s biological descendant.

Adam’s covenant was historical and so was Jacob’s.  They were the same covenant.  The covenant must be re-ratified with each generation.  Similar to how many Christians do things today.  Baptism to add babies to the covenant.  Confirmation when the child becomes of age.

In my view, Genesis has nothing to do with physical creation.  Therefore, the science that OEC, YEC, TE, and Gap-theory attempt to apply to Gen. 1 is completely irrelevant to the problem.  Anthropology comes into play in Gen. 1:1.

Please send me an email and we can discuss it offline.

Karl A - #5782

March 4th 2010

I had not previously thought of the “image of God” as being a result of covenant (cf. Norm’s posts) rather than inherent to humanity.  But it reminds me of a similar paradigm shift I underwent a number of years ago.  I had grown up with the (what I now consider) Hellenistic belief that humans are imbued with an immortal soul at conception, until someone pointed out the passages that taught that, whereas we have sinned and been cut off from the Tree of Life, only God/Christ inherently “hath immortality” (I Tim. 6:16), but we can seek it (Romans 2:7) and indeed are granted it in Christ alone (John 3:16).  (Search the Internet for “conditional immortality” if you want to read more.)

I realize this is somewhat off the subject but it is healthy to re-examine our assumptions, which are often very Hellenistic (following Augustine and others) as we approach theology and particularly the Old Testament.

Karl A - #5783

March 4th 2010

Regarding Gregory’s legitimate question (my words), “If Adam is Israel why isn’t Israel
‘Adam’?”, would an analogy with another nation (United States of America) be helpful?  We speak of “Founding Fathers” of our country.  Usually this refers to people like Washington, Franklin and Jefferson, but sometimes we refer to the Pilgrims this way.  Often this founding narrative also includes people like Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci.  So, which set of people were the “Founding Fathers”?  Which time period?  Yes, yes, and yes, at least according to the narrative.

Karl A - #5784

March 4th 2010

But there does seem to be a qualitative distinction between Jacob and the others before him.  I think you are right, Gregory, to be picking on that.  Jacob seems to be a pivot point - forward from him you have the nation of Israel, a group of people.  Backward from him you have not a group of people but a series of individuals through whom a lineage is passed.  Adam has children but only one (Seth) is key to the lineage.  Lamech had many children but only Noah is the recipient of the special covenant.  Until Jacob the Genesis narrative is about a single line, then after him it branches out.

There is (at least) one other pivot point in the Scriptures: Jesus.  The genealogies of Matthew and Luke trace the lineage of Jesus, naturally, through a number of individuals involving David’s kingly line.  After Jesus we get, not another lineage, but the church, the new Israel.

Much of the debate in these posts centers around whether Adam was also a pivot/branching point.  Were there people before him, but Adam was singled out as a covenant recipient?  And was the branching out of descendants from Adam considered by the Biblical writers to encompass all of humanity, or was the focus solely on Adam as an early founding father for Israel?

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #5799

March 4th 2010

Karl A - #5783,

Excellent observation.  Thanks.

Karl A - #5784,

Yes that is, to us, a major qualitative distinction.

Yet look how Jacob is discussed in the New Testament?  To that people at that time, Adam, Abraham, and Moses were the big breaks.  Especially in Paul’s letters.  Noah and Jacob were second rung.

This is one of those little clues that tells me I am not reading and understanding the Gospel the way Jesus and the Apostles did.

Janice - #5801

March 4th 2010

Norm wrote at #5755:


“...The question is did Adam fall from the Image of/for God or did he fall from his lesser state of mortality as defined by Paul. Adam/Israel was waiting redemption from the mortal state to the immortal.”

To the Pharisees Jesus said, “If you were blind [i.e., didn’t know], you would have no sin, but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains” (John 9:41).

“The Fall”,  I think ,  was a fall from “innocence .” (not “perfection” as is widely taught).

Rom 5:12     Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

Rom 5:13     (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Rom 5:14   Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

Norm - #5803

March 4th 2010


Very good point. It appears to be a matter of “conscience”. The conscience was originally clear for Adam before the commandment but once it or in Israel’s case the Law was instituted they sinned and came under a “guilty conscience”.  Their eyes being opened ties in nicely with the statement of Christ “if you were blind” and matches well with what Paul says about the end of the Old Covenant world where their will be another change in perception using the eye metaphor again. This language is in regards that under Christ there is again no shame due to a guilty conscience as His blood now covers us.

1Co 15:51-53 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed,  (52)  in a moment, IN THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and THE DEAD SHALL BE RAISED incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  (53)  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, AND THIS MORTAL MUST PUT ON IMMORTALITY.

Dick Fischer - #5869

March 5th 2010

Hi Jeffrey, you wrote:

“! don’t think Dick Fischer’s view of Adam as the father of Akkad holds up.  Instead, I think placing Adam as a Sumerian in Sumer near the city of Eridu / Eden around 4000 BC works better.  (Wiseman, Ancient records and the structure of Genesis, Best, Noah’s Ark and the Ziusudra Epic)

The Sumerians spoke an entirely different unrelated language to the Akkadians who spoke a Semitic tongue.  Hebrew derives from the Akkadian language as do all the rest of the Semitic languages.  The first two names on the Sumerian King List are Semitic, or Adamic, names at Eridu.  According to Babylonian tradition the Garden of Eden was located near Eridu.

The cylinder seal on my web site (http://www.historicalgenesis.com) of a king standing in a boat with crates and animals is in Akkadian dress.  Sumerians are depicted with shaved heads and large noses.  This cylinder seal dates to 3000 BC and was found at Uruk, the biblical Erech.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #5883

March 5th 2010


I don’t dispute any of your evidence.  The Origins Solution disturbed me so much, I spent six months reading, re-reading, and checking your facts.  (Your new book came in yesterday’s mail.  I look forward to reading it this weekend.)

There are details in the Biblical text that you did not address in The Origins Solution.

According to Wiseman, Genesis 1-11 has several features that indicate it was originally compiled in ancient Sumer, in Sumerian pictographs.  Genesis 12-36 has several features that indicate it was originally compiled in Akkadian.  And Genesis 37 on were compiled in Egypt in another form.  These literary features were unique to those peoples in that time.

The Genesis account places Genesis 1-11 in ancient Sumer.  Terah left Ur in Sumer for Haran in Akkad at the same point where the text changes from a Sumerian source to an Akkadian source.  The Akkadian source ended when Joseph was taken to Egypt.

Coincidence?  It is what you would expect if Genesis was written by the people who lived it.  If Moses (or anyone later) wrote it, why would he use an extinct Sumerian form?  Why change forms when Terah left Sumer?  Why change again for the Joseph narrative?

Dick Fischer - #5887

March 5th 2010

Hi Jeffrey:

I’m glad somebody besides me is checking and rechecking.  I continue to do it.  Just yesterday I was at the University of Pennsylvania Museum tracking down some additional details.  Philip Jones, one of the Sumerian-Akkadian translators there, told me about an earlier curator who whenever he was stumped on a translation would turn to his book of Hebrew.

The Sumerians and Akkadians lived side by side and in some cases intermingled from at least 4000 BC until 2000 BC when Sumer was destroyed.  Initially the Sumerians were the dominant partners and the official language in the entire region was Sumerian until 2371 BC when Sargon came to power and the official language became Akkadian from then on.

It is not easy to determine whether someone was Akkadian or Sumerian from their name only because even Akkadian names are converted into Sumerian in Sumerian literature.  Thus Utnapishtim in Akkadian becomes Ziusudra in Sumerian, but both translate into “he who found long life.”  This throws a lot of people off.  I had much correspondence with Bob Best and even borrowed a little from his book.

Paul Seely - #5919

March 5th 2010

There is a third way to deal with the parallel between Adam and Israel: Deny it exists..

Rather than “Israel is “created” by God at the exodus through a cosmic battle (gods are defeated and the Red Sea is “divided”),” say,
IIsreal was not created by God at the exodus. Israel was created over hundreds of years in Egypt prior to the exodus. Before the exodus, the Israelites are “my people, the children of Israel,” (Ex 3:10) They are a unit with elders (Ex 3:16). They were God’s son before they left Egypt (Hosea 11:1)

Rather than, “The Israelites are given Canaan to inhabit, a lush land flowing with milk and honey,” say,
Canaan is not a lush land like the garden of Eden. The only lush area that was like the garden of Eden was around the Jordan. “ Cf. Gen 13:10.

Rather than, “They remain in the land as long as they obey the Mosaic law,” say, they remained in the land long after disobeying the Mosaic law, particularly with regard to idols.

Rather than, “They persist in a pattern of disobedience and are exiled to Babylon,”: say,
Unlike Adam they disobeyed over and over again before being exiled (Cf Judges and Kings.)

Paul Seely - #5922

March 5th 2010

Make no mistake: I stand in back of Pete 100%, But I resist his rather rabbinical approach, popular though it is in some academic circles, because I think it leads us away from a solution that will stand up to close examination.  (I am also puzzled as to why and how Gen 2, which has usually been understood to be pre-exilic, is being interpreted as post-exilic?)

The reason Gen 2 does not agree with modern science is the same simple reason Gen 1 does not agree with modern science: God did not reveal history or science; he used the “history-science” of the day to reveal spiritual-moral-theological truths.

As for the people living outside of Eden, I agree with Chaka 5744. I once read an account of a missionary to a pre-scietific tribe in Africa, who after listening to their origin stories, commented that they contradicted each other. The natives were amazed that anyone would care.

spiderich - #5972

March 6th 2010

Gregory Arago - #5983

March 6th 2010

Btw, Karl A., let me thank you for #5784. You said it better than I could have.

This question is apt: “If Adam is Israel why isn’t Israel ‘Adam’?”

Also, you wrote: “Jacob seems to be a pivot point - forward from him you have the nation of Israel, a group of people.  Backward from him you have not a group of people but a series of individuals through whom a lineage is passed.”

This is precisely a major problem in Dr. Enns interpretation: distinguishing groups from individuals. It seems to me that to say ‘Adam is Israel’ is to give up the individual man ‘Adam.’ Perhaps Pete could clarify on this?

Your two closing questions in #5784 offer a good challenge for the problems that Dr. Enns raises in stating his current position.

chaplain Mike - #5994

March 6th 2010

Another aspect that confirms this is to realize that the “land” (earth in most translations) in Genesis 1 is not the globe but the Promised Land. This is the land that is in view all throughout Genesis 1-11, until the nations are scattered from it to settle throughout the earth in Gen 11. John Sailhamer’s commentary is helpful in seeing this in Genesis 1, but I don’t think even he goes far enough in seeing the geographic limitations in Genesis 1-11.

Before Genesis 1-11 introduces the Bible, it introduces the Torah. The message of Adam and Eve was meant as a warning to Israel, about to enter the land at the end of Deuteronomy. If you read Deut 30, you will see that this is the exact message of Moses to those people.

Dick Fischer - #6002

March 6th 2010

To Richard:

The account of the sons of Seth in Genesis 5 is identical in form and format to the account of the sons of Shem in Genesis 11.  I think we can infer that a single individual Semite in the Line of Promise compiled both, or a later scribe living at the time of Abraham was influenced by the previous pattern in Genesis 5 and used the same pattern for Genesis 11.  It could have been Abraham himself or someone in his entourage.

Cain’s line of descendants in Genesis 4 is described in an entirely different format, rich in detail as compared with the repetitious, boring litany of patriarchs in the line of Seth and Shem.  A likely explanation is that the narrative of the line of Cain was contributed by someone in his line of descent and he had to be living before the time of Noah.

Any of Noah’s three sons are possible repositories of this information as they lived a hundred years before the flood.  Also, according to legend, clay tablets were buried before the flood that were intended to be available following the flood, but I don’t remember reading anything about their retrieval.

Continued ...

Dick Fischer - #6003

March 6th 2010

When Abraham went to Egypt with whatever entourage he may have had, his band of Semites was not entirely isolated in a land of ethnically distinct native Egyptians.  We know that Noah’s grandson Mizraim went to Egypt after the dispersal of Noah’s kin.  All of Mizraim’s sons have been identified with parts of Egypt.  The Hebrew word for Egyptian is “Mizraim.”  The Arabic word is “Musri.”

It is possible that the entirety or at least part of Genesis 1-10 could have been brought to Egypt and stored there either in the Egyptian library, or resting in the care of Hamitic descendants, available for Abraham or Moses centuries later.

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