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Daniel Harrell on Adam and Eve

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May 5, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin

Today's video features Daniel Harrell. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

For many Christians, the biblical characters Adam and Eve can present a significant challenge to accepting evolutionary theory—that is, when they are cast as historical figures who are also the biological progenitors of the human race. In this video, the Rev. Daniel Harrell discusses how there may be some “middle ground” in the way that Christians understand Adam and Eve. Harrell points out that the historicity of Adam and Eve does not necessarily conflict with science.  Rather, the claim that conflicts with science is the idea that Adam and Eve were the first humans, the only original biological ancestors of all humans today.

Instead, another way to view them is as the first two people with whom God chose to enter into a covenant relationship, like He did with Abraham, for example.  In this view, Adam and Eve become representative of the kind of relationship that God intends to have with all people. This may be a point of possible convergence, says Harrell, “for those who are worried about a historical Adam and Eve to breathe easier, and those who are concerned about integrity with DNA and evolutionary science to also breathe easier.”

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.

Daniel Harrell is the Senior Minister of Colonial Church in Edina, Minnesota. He is the author of the books Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith, How To Be Perfect: One Church’s Experiment with Living the Book of Leviticus, and the forthcoming Wisdom of the Saints (And Near Saints): Christian Inspiration from A-Z. He also teaches theology at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul.

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David T. - #12713

May 7th 2010

So belief in a literal Adam requires us to accept, per Gen 2:7, that he was specially created, and not a product of evolution. My questions at this point are the same as Dick.

Nathan - #12723

May 7th 2010


It is inaccurate to claim that the Akkadians were the historical ancestors of Hebrews and Arabs.  They are all speakers of Semitic languages, of course, but that means that they share a common linguistic ancestor (Proto-Semitic), not that Arabs and Hebrews came from Akkadians.  In fact, Hebrew ancestry from Akkadian in linguistically impossible (all you need to look at is the consonantal inventory of the two languages in relation to Proto-Semitic).  The explanation for similarities between Hebrew and Mesopotamian thought has to be explained through cultural contact, not through Hebrews having Akkadians as ancestors.

Norm - #12770

May 7th 2010


Yes, I remember reading Carol’s work on that along with Biblical numerology. This is an area that I’ve researched fairly well for myself and am pretty comfortable with the idea that the Hebrew was quite at ease using numeral symbolism. It permeates their theology and appears at times as simply a way of expressing solidarity with certain themes. They presented themselves as representing celestial objects such as sun, moon and stars and in doing so we find numerology reflecting celestial measurements of the stars and planets. That IMO only touches on the numerology aspect of their literature. A good resource to start with is E. W. Bullinger’s work “number in scripture”.

You mentioned Abraham’s 175 years so let’s look at it through the eyes of Hebrew numerology. I first ran across this info in Bruce Waltke’s Genesis Commentary but have found it mentioned by other commentators as well.
Here is the numerical expression of Abraham through Joseph as related to their age at death. Notice that there is a clear sequence of numbers ascending and descending with all using significant Hebrew numbers.


Norm - #12771

May 7th 2010

continued from previous

The interesting thing to note is that all of the squared numbers of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob add up exactly to 110 years for Joseph.

Abraham 175 years = 7 X 25   52
Isaac     180 years =  5 X 36 62
Jacob     147 years =  3 X 49 72
Joseph   110 years =  1 X 25+36+49

Joseph is the focal point of second half of Genesis and it’s oft been noted that Joseph represents the Christ figure in that he feed the world and the 12 tribes during a famine. Also it may not be noted by many but the 110 years of life attributed to Joseph is considered the ideal life span to the Egyptians regarding Kingship. This having an Egyptian backdrop makes sense for items of interest from their culture to permeate these stories.

Here is an online article by James Jordan in which he deals with some of these similar issues including the one above.


Norm - #12772

May 7th 2010

Please note that the superscript 2 did not take in the previous formting and 52, 62 and 72 should read 5, 6, and 7 squared respectively.

Dick Fischer - #12820

May 7th 2010

Hi Nathan:

Noah would be the bottle neck since the flood would have dispensed of Adam’s generations.  If you view my web page you’ll see a depiction of the flood hero in typical Akkadian dress.  The cylinder seal was dated to about 3000 BC and was found in Uruk.

I can assure you the pre-llood Adamites and post-flood Semites would have spoken Akkadian.  All Semitic languages are rooted in the Akkadian language.


Nathan - #12849

May 7th 2010

Dick Fischer,

If your theory requires that “all Semitic languages are rooted in the Akkadian language,” then the theory must be rejected for historical linguistic reasons.  While this could be demonstrated from multiple linguistic angles, the consonantal inventories of the various Semitic languages is sufficient to prove the impossibility of Akkadian as a parent language of any of the other non-Akkadian Semitic languages.  Based on comparison of the consonantal inventories of Akkadian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Ugaritic, Arabic, Old South Arabian, Ethiopic, and others, we can confidently reconstruct 29 Proto-Semitic consonantal phonemes.  Akkadian only has 20 consontal phonemes (Hebrew has 23). In Akkadian, therefore, 9 Proto-Semitic consonants have either been lost or merged in Akkadian.  In other words, you cannot explain the consonantal inventories of the other major branches on the Semitic tree with Akkadian as a parent language.  It is, therefore, impossible for Hebrew, Arabic, Ethiopic, etc. to have developed from Akkadian.

Nathan - #12850

May 7th 2010


The claim that “all Semitic languages are rooted in the Akkadian language” would be equivalent to the claim that German is rooted in Latin.  German and Latin, and their daughter languages, are related by a common parent language, Proto Indo-European.  But German does not descend from Latin any more than Arabic and Hebrew descend from Akkadian.

I don’t want to bog this discussion down with too much more comparative Semitics, but if you need examples of specific lexical items that demonstrate the point, I could provide that.

Pete Enns - #12904

May 8th 2010


I can’t recall exactly, but don’t you advocate for a Sumerian (i.e., non-Semitic) historical Adam? I may be wrong, but if so, it adds another difficulty to your linguistic connection.

BenYachov - #12940

May 9th 2010

>To say he became a “living soul” means he became alive.

I reply: This is an interesting claim considering in the technical sense all living things have souls including animals.  The only thing is Man’s soul is spiritual, in the Divine Image & immortal.  The souls of other living things are mortal & material. 

>Gen 2:7 is not about endowing humanity with a soul in the way we think of a bipartite division between “body” and “soul” or “spirit.”

I reply: I think Pete’s problem here is he is taking a mere convention for breviaries sake to a defective conclusion.  We commonly say “Animals have no souls” what we really mean is “Animals do not have spiritual immortal souls”.  The soul is the form of the body.  God specifically breathed man’s
nephesh into him that makes the nephesh in essence different then what he gave the animal.  So i absolutely disagree with Pete this is clearly about man receiving his soul.  This becomes all too clear when one reads the Rabbis & the Fathers.  Cartesian dualism is a dead end but hylemorphic dualism rocks.

Dick Fischer - #12977

May 9th 2010

Hi Nathan:

Maybe sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees.  The University of Pennsylvania undertook the task of building an eight volume lexicon of Sumerian and Akkadian words.  You can use their online translator, I sometimes do.

I was told by Phil Jones the current curator that when one ot the translators was stuck on an Akkadian word he would turn to his book of Hebrew.  By the same reasoning you used we can’t be related to chimpanzees because we have a different number of chromosomes.

Hi Pete:

Ah, the old American custom of answering a question with a question.  Okay, you can take a little longer to answer if you need a little time.

The Sumerians for some reason seem to be sexy and hog all the press.  The Akkadians get no respect and it is difficult to get good, reliable information about them.  It is hard to condense all I know into these small responses.  I can give you many reasons why the biblical patriarchs are NOT Sumerian.  One quick example - a list of Sumerian slaves was called the “Adambi.”  Those from Adam.

Nathan - #13021

May 9th 2010


Thanks for your response.  For Akkadian, I usually use the CAD (26 volumes with 2 more on the way).  This can be downloaded in pdf form for free from the website for the Oriental Institute at U Chicago.

I don’t deny Akkadian and Hebrew are related in a similar way that German and Greek are related; they are both descendants from a common ancestor (Proto-Indo-European in the first case and Proto-Semitic in the second).  Cognates in related languages are expected but in no way demonstrate descent, and it is your claim of the descent of other Semitic languages from Akkadian that I am contesting.  In other words, though many cognates exist between Hebrew and Akkadian, and the Hebrew lexicon may sometimes help with the odd Akkadian word, it does not follow that Hebrew descended from Akkadian.  (By the way, I am no biologist, but isn’t this similar to what they claim about humans and chimps?  We did not descend from chimps, but we both share a common ancestor, right?).

Nathan - #13022

May 9th 2010

  So as I said before, it is impossible to account for the other branches on the Semitic tree if Akkadian is the parent language. To the extent that your theory requires Akkadian as a parent language of Hebrew, Arabic, etc., your theory has been falsified by extensive modern research in the Semitic languages.

These observations on the relationships between the Semitic languages and the consonantal inventory of Proto-Semitic, by the way, are uncontroversial in the field of comparative Semitics.

Pete Enns - #13023

May 9th 2010


Following on the train of thought Nathan has started (and he is completely correct) I am simply trying to understand/recall your thesis. You advocate an Adam who lived, what, about 7000 years ago?  I seem to recall that your Adam was Sumerian. Am I wrong in that? I am not advocating the Patriarchs are Sumerian (not sure why you brought that up). You don’t need to argue that point. No one thinks that anyway. I am just after who you say your Adam is, and if Sumerian how you can hitch that to Akkadian.

Pete Enns - #13024

May 9th 2010

Meant to add, Dick, if your Adam is 7000 years ago, can he be Akkadian—or even Sumerian?

Dick Fischer - #13033

May 10th 2010

Hi Nathan:

I’ll put your question to my expert at the University of Pennsylvania Museum who knows this stuff and post the answer to you.  Here is my email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).  Send me your email address and as soon as he responds I’ll forward his answer to you.  And we and chimps apparently do share a common ancester.

Hi Pete:

The Akkadians are dated to at least 4000 BC and lived largely along the Euphrates River with Eridu at the southernmost point.  They spoke a language precursor to Hebrew, Assyrian, Ugarit, Canaanite, Amorite, etc.  They are depicted with long hair and beards on cylinder seals.

Sumerians arrived on the scene a little later judging from their pottery and their cities began with Ur and stretched northwest from there.  Sumerians spoke an urelated language were called the “black-headed” people and are depicted as clean shaven, bald, and naked to the waist.

If Adamites were functioning in southern Mesopotamia as Genesis stipulates then they most likely were Akkadian, not Sumerian.

BenYachov - #13035

May 10th 2010

Now here is a book that caters to my needs written by a Thomist.

Origin of the Human Species by Dennis Bonnette

Description: conventional natural science that embrace either atheistic naturalism or theistic evolutionism that fails to support basic elements of Christian theology particularly the historicity of Adam and Eve and the reality of Original Sin.
-young-Earth creationism whose scientific credentials are suspect.

Origin of the Human Species differs in that is shows in great detail how conventional human evolutionary theory is entirely compatible with sound Scriptural interpretation and traditional theology. Dr. Bonnette explores the force of opposing views, but adds philosophical analysis that affirms the absolute need for God’s continuous creative presence in any metaphysically complete explanation of the world.

I can wait to read it.

Karl A - #13045

May 10th 2010

Nathan, I have a question for you since you seem to know what you’re talking about re. Semitic historical linguistics.  It seem from a diagram I saw (http://mathildasanthropologyblog.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/semitic-tree.jpg) that Caananite is considered the parent language of Phoenician and Hebrew.  Am I reading that correctly? 

Also, if Abraham were from Ur of the Chaldees wouldn’t we expect him to speak an East, rather than West Semitic language like Akkadian?  Then if he immigrated to a Caananite-speaking area with just his family, he (or his descendants) would have been hard pressed *not* to switch to Caananite from, say, Akkadian.  E.g. even if one’s grandparents came to the U.S. from Germany, one’s parents may have understood German but spoke English, and the third generation might not know German at all.  (Isaac and Jacob must have known Akkadian well enough to go back there for brides from extended family.)

So even if Adam is 1) historical, 2) within the realm of recorded ANE history, and 3) Akkadian, as Dick suggests, he still could have been the ancestor of Abraham and his Hebrew-speaking descendants, right?  (Now that wouldn’t make the assertion that Akkadian is the source of Hebrew any more correct though.)

Karl A - #13047

May 10th 2010

By browsing A history of the Hebrew language by Ángel Sáenz-Badillos on Google Books, I was reminded that Eber, considered an ancestor of Abraham (Gen. 11:14) was also considered to have lent his name to the language, which would mess up my language-switch hypothesis. But “Hebrew” as from “Eber” is nowhere near established.

gingoro - #13048

May 10th 2010

“Now here is a book that caters to my needs written by a Thomist. Origin of the Human Species by Dennis Bonnette Description: conventional natural science that embrace either atheistic naturalism or theistic evolutionism that fails to support basic elements of Christian theology particularly the historicity of Adam and Eve and the reality of Original Sin.”

Please report on what you think of the book.  While I don’t have a hard commitment to some kind of historical Adam I much prefer it as I wrote a while back on this blog.

By the way I speak Amharic the language of Ethiopia and pronounce your handle the way I would in that language.  Amharic is a Semitic language and as such is related to Arabic and Hebrew.  Some words are the same like gimel, wadi, souk, beit.  When I would travel home for school vacation we crossed the Awash river where near the lower river the famous Lucy was discovered.   gingoro is the name for the Black-and-white colobus monkey that we had in the area where we lived when I was very young in south western Ethiopia.

Dawit W

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