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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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Alice C. Linsley - #6015

March 6th 2010

Whether historical or archetypal, Adam and Eve are the founders of the human race in biblical parlance. They failed to make communion with the Creator their first priority.  The prophets criticized Israel for this same failure.  Yes, there are patterns in Scripture, but these do not mean that Adam is Israel. 

The Apostle Paul, who knew the tradition of Israel very well, speaks of Adam as Humanity in need of redemption. 


Genesis 4 and 5 are the lines of descent of Cain and Seth, both rulers.  Their lines intermarried.  Lamech the Elder’s daughter, Naamah, married her patrilineal parallel cousin, Methusaleh, and named their first-born son Lamech, after her father.  This is a characteristic of the unique kinship pattern of Abraham’s ancestors and the pattern continues until the appearance of Jesus Christ.  Then it disappears.

spiderich - #6022

March 7th 2010


Thanks for the reply.  But does that mean you believe Wiseman’s hypothesis (of colophons in Genesis) has some merit?  I have very little knowledge of Sumerian & Akkadian, but I find it persuasive. 

Are you familiar with Don Stoner?  He also concurs with the hypothesis; see this article, with references to Kramer, Best, etc. (and at least one mention of yourself, in the 3rd section): 


Richard G.

Dick Fischer - #6030

March 7th 2010

Hi Alice:

I believe Adam is historical, a flesh and blood human being, who lived around 7,000 years ago in southern Mesopotamia.  That late time frame would make him the federal head of the human race not the biological head.  He would have been the first to be accountable for his actions and through his failure to obey sin spread to all mankind.

Whether Cain and Seth were rulers I don’t know but their sons apparently were as the en- prefix indicates ruler or king.  The city of Enoch is listed in the Sumerian king list and in other Near East literature as “unug.”

Jubilees lists Methuselah’s wife as Edna, the daughter of Azrial.  I don’t have any other sources.

Dick Fischer - #6032

March 7th 2010

Hi Richard:

I do see merit in early dates for sections of Genesis material with separate authors making contributions.  I presume Moses compiled and edited it either in Egypt or in the desert.

Yes I know Don but I can’t keep up with everybody who wants to dive into Genesis 1.  I have my own opinions, and I see no conflict with a scientific perspective when allowances are made for Hebrew manners of speech.

Pete Enns - #6098

March 7th 2010

Paul (5919, 5922). Let me interact with you, since you are hitting on some things of general benefit. Thanks for disagreeing with me 100% but being behind me 100%. Is that the new math?  

First, you may be the only person I know who takes such a stand against any sort of Adam/Israel parallel. I think you may be expecting too much from the idea of parallel, and certainly more than i mean by the term. There is clearly a “pattern” that Adam and Israel share. Second, the logical inconsistencies do not bother me in the least, including the presence of humans outside of the garden. *I* don’t think these things have to be solved, but I am pointing out that literalists DO. Third, yes Gen 2-3 is earlier than Gen 1. Gen 2-3 existed (in my opinion) independently of Gen 1 until the post-exilic period at which time the final canonical form of Genesis came to be (this is middle-of-the-road OT opinion here). Originally, Gen 2ff. function as Israel’s creation story (it is similar to Atrahasis and functioned that way). (continued)

Pete Enns - #6099

March 7th 2010

Paul (cont.)

In the exilic and postexilic periods, Gen 1 was written (dependent as it was on older traditions) and placed at the head of the early origins story. This canonical shaping gave the older origins story a different function, now no longer origins as in Atrahasis but Israel’s origins. Gen 1 became the “universal” origins story. The Israel parallels in the Adam story are strong, but one can also see elements of the story that served its earlier function as an origins story (e.g., Eve as the mother of all living, although even here I am not fully convinced it is talking about absolute human origins, but that is another story.) What remains is a grand creation story, beginning in Gen 1, where there are “inconsistencies,” as you mention. Again, these don’t bother me at all because *I* am not expecting that type of consistency, but a lot of readers are. Finally, as for “rabbinical” readings of Scripture, I’m not sure what you mean there. Perhaps making subjective, ad hoc connections? Remember, we’re all doing midrash. You too.

Gregory Arago - #6104

March 7th 2010


A solid argument has been made wrt Jacob’s role as ‘Israel’. You’ve not addressed this yet, though perhaps it will come in your next post that deals with the apostle Paul’s view.

Karl A. put it best in #5784.

You answered me:
“And yes, too, Jacob is Israel BUT—and I am not just “Adam happy” here: Jacob is an Adam figure—so are Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Christ.”

Jacob IS Israel & an ‘Adam figure’. But you didn’t suggest that pre-Jacob figures are ‘also Israel.’ Why not?

The ‘rabbinical reading,’ it seems to me, expresses over-concentration on Israel. I don’t think you’ve made your case, other than speaking of loose ‘parallels,’ which Chaka, Luke and others have addressed.

What can you say to show that you are not undermining ‘universal Humanity’ (#5662) by suggesting that Adam IS Israel? Who are the non-Israelites today that do *not* possess the image of God? Are they human, or not fully or…?

I get a sense in your perspective that ‘if everyone is with us, then no one is against us.’

Dick Fischer - #6105

March 7th 2010

The Sumerian word “ti” means “life” or “rib.”  Thus the Sumerian pun: “The lady of the rib is the lady of life.”

For our purposes “living” is an adjective modifying a missing noun.  We could pencil in “bipedal hominids” or “human beings,” but we could also pencil in “Adamites,” or even “Caucasians” if we wanted to make a racist statement.

I don’t think Eve as the mother of all living infers anything about ancestry or descendants.  The statement is about monogamy.  Adam had no other wives, hand maidens, or concubines.

spiderich - #6111

March 7th 2010

Hello Dick,

Thanks for taking the time to interact.

Richard G.

Andrew - #6122

March 8th 2010

@ “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.”

It’s pretty obvious to me that Israel’s history of creation/calling - covenant - transgression - exile - restoration fits that of Adam too.  And in my tradition (Reformed), this marks an essential part of covenant theology in delineating an overarching covenant of works God had with Adam/man/Israel.  But I believe Hosea 6:7, for one, shows that it is anachronistic to read the Adam story as a retelling of Israel, rather than vice versa.  “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant, there they dealt faithlessly with me” (ESV).  “Like Adam” could also be translated as “like mankind.” 

Hosea was written in the 8th century BC PRIOR to Israel’s exile.  How can the Adam-story of Israel’s covenant-breaking and subsequent exile already be referred to here prior to the exile itself?  This is an anachronistic reading.  Granted, we cannot know if this verse was a later addition to the text of Hosea, but I know of no manuscript evidence that suggests this.  (cont’d…)

Andrew - #6124

March 8th 2010


The whole point of Israel—from Genesis 11:27 onward—is that BECAUSE Adam fell and all of mankind with him (Romans 5), God needed to enact a plan of salvation for the WORLD (Gen. 12:2-3).  He began this with Israel, whom he formed to be his covenant people who, through faithful obedience to the Law, would reveal the light of God’s nature and demands to the rest of the world (cf. Isa. 42:6; 51:4; 60:3).  As Israel promulgated the Law, they would reveal God’s righteous standard.  They would show off his protection of his people and the blessings given them upon the obedience of faith.  As such, the nations would be drawn to God through her.  And the Law’s sacrificial system would act as a type pointing to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. 

An additional reason Israel was formed and patterned after Adam is to show that if even God’s blessed covenant people failed to enact the salvation and righteousness for which they themselves were saved and created in the Exodus, then salvation is a hopeless work from man.  It must be alone a work of God, which is the message of the New Testament.

For all these reasons (and more, I’m sure), I find it very unlikely that Israel’s history predates that of the Adam story.

Gregory Arago - #6154

March 8th 2010

Paul Seely wrote: “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.”

It seems people care who are engaging ‘science and religion’ dialogue. To us, ‘logical inconsistencies’ matter.

E.g. if one accepts a polygenesis of human beings, i.e. different groups, different places & times in natural history, one *inevitably* sacrifices ‘unity of Humanity.’ It then becomes easy to posit ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ races of human beings & use words such as primitive, savage & civilised. Neo-evolutionary anthropologists have rejected this categorizing.

Likewise, to say that ‘African tribes’ are ‘pre-scientific’ is in one sense condescending. These people certainly have ‘knowledges’ that others do not possess. Does ‘more science’ = ‘better’?

Also, Paul, please correct me if I misunderstood what you meant in saying Pete takes a ‘rabbinical approach.’ Adam *is not* Israel in a historical meaning?

Dick Fischer - #6176

March 8th 2010

Hi, Andrew:

I think you raise an excellent point that Adam’s saga if it was a historic event should precede Israel and not the other way around.  If Adam was a “creation” only for the purpose of story telling then the Israel first Adam second chronology would work.  The exile from Egypt, however, precedes the eighth century BC.  Scholars debate but two dates are in the mix so to speak - 1440 BC and 1290 BC.  The Babylonian exile can be dated beginning at 597 BC.

Paul Seely - #6217

March 8th 2010

Pete (6098, 6099), OK, I will back off a tad: I admit “there is clearly a pattern that Adam and Israel share”: (God’s man is given a geographical area to inhabit and a law; he breaks the law and is exiled.”). But is that pattern rooted in the context of Genesis? It looks to me like the pattern that exists between the six days of creation and the geological ages (just ignore the differences). But, I think exegeting Genesis on the basis of of these historical parallels is to distort Genesis. You say, ”The Israel parallels in the Adam story are strong.” Strong? Here is your opportunity to educate me: What essay(s) would you cite to support this idea?  Not essays which are themselves imaginative, but What is the hard evidence from the text that the final reviser was intending to speak to the Israelites about their pre-exilic sin and exile? Prove that the parallels with Israel are not being read into Gen 2 and 3 by subjective rabbinical-type imagination. I worry about replacing historical-grammatical interpretation with subjectivity

Pete Enns - #6247

March 8th 2010

Paul (6217). Thanks for your comment. I think I understand what you are saying now. You are concerned that the Adam/Israel connection is not based on “hard evidence” but on subjective rabbinical-type imagination” and so is untenable. You see little difference between this type of subjectivity and reagin geological ages into the days of creation. The problem with this, though, is that you are not accounting for the Bible’s literary quality. No piece of literature does what you expect of the Bible in order to allow literary/theological allusion. No piece of literature announces “Here are my themes, here is where you can find them, and here is how you put them together.” Literature does not not work that way. Rather, learned, skilled readers discern thematic connections, present them as such, and let other learned readers ponder the possibilities. You are free, of course, not to be convinced, but it cannot be o the basis of their failing to be an objective evidential anchor of sorts that we can appeal to. To expect such a thing is to turn a blind eye to the very nature of Scripture, where thematic connections are precisely what is happening between books—indeed, between testaments. (cont)

Pete Enns - #6248

March 8th 2010

(cont) The book of Revelation is unreadable apart from the author alluding to OT apocalyptic literature in order to foster a connection. he does not tell us what he is doing. He only expects us to be so immersed the literature to see them for ourselves. You cannot escape this in your interpretation of the flood. You show clearly that it does not work like modern science but ancient science. Absolutely. But, what is the story saying? Why is it there? What is the author drawing on to make his point? To fail to discern thematic connections between the flood and creation—or between the flood story in Genesis and Atrahasis—is to fault to read, even though the author does not tell us what those connections are directly. As soon as we say anything meaningful about a text that moves beyond its boundaries, we are inevitably in a world of “rabbinical imagination.”  I might add to that we can learn an awful lot from rabbis and other early interpreters about how the Bible works. Try it, it’s fun.

Aaron Christianson - #6333

March 9th 2010

You mentioned “other scholars.” I’m working on a paper about this at the moment, and I’m having trouble finding sources that draw parallels between Israel and Adam. It seems strange, since the parallels are so obvious, but I’m having a tough time of it. References would be great.

Paul Seely - #6373

March 10th 2010

First it was Sailhamer completely disregarding the context of Gen 1, and telling us the “earth” in Gen 1 is the land of Israel. They made him president of the Evangelical Theol. Society. Then it was Beale telling us no matter where you look, you will find the Temple. They made him also president of the ETS.  Now you are telling us Adam is Israel. You wouldn’t be bucking to become president of the ETS by any chance, would you?

Pete Enns - #6400

March 10th 2010

Haha, Paul. I will look into the presidency thing, but I think I have a better chance of becoming the president of Russia or resident theologian in an OPC congregation.

Yeah, I think Sailhamer is wrong (but interesting). I think Beale overstates and misunderstands temple ideology to promote a fundamentalist bibliology.

Re: Adam/Israel, I assume you understand I am not making a simple equation. When I say “Adam is Israel” that is a shorthand way of saying that the postexilic compiler of the Pentateuch subsumed Israel’s traditional creation story (Gen 2ff) under a larger, universal picture painted in Gen 1. I am not making an equation, but saying (suggesting, actually) that Gen 2ff. has become an “Israel story” in postexilic ideology. In other words,  postexilic Israelites, in response to the national crisis, are reading their history into primordial time. This fits well with the only other reference to Adam in the OT after Gen 5, 1 Chron 1:1, where Adam is the first name in what is a postexilic genealogy of ISRAEL.

Alice C. Linsley - #6474

March 10th 2010

“Nod” (נוד) is an etymological etiology intended to explain the apparent peripatetic lifestyle of Cain and his descendants, the Kenites. The Kenites were metal workers and Nok is the oldest site of metal working in Africa.

In 1984, Nigerian philologist, Modupe Oduyoye noted that the Hebrew words for Nod נוד and Nok נוך are virtually identical. Apparently the opportunity to play on words was too great to resist and the author of Genesis used it to suggest that the Kenites were without land holdings, like their ancestor Cain.

Oduyoye saw a connection between Cain and the ancient metal working civilization of Nok in the Jos Plateau of Nigeria.(The Sons of the Gods and the Daughters of Men: An Afro-Asiatic Interpretation of Genesis 1-11, Orbis, 1984, p. 21.) I agree that Nod is Nok.  Cain and Seth married daughters of Chief Nok.  This is the older African layer of the text.  Abraham’s ancestors came from this part of Africa.

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