Was Adam a Real Person? Part 1

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September 2, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin

Today's entry was written by Denis Lamoureux. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Was Adam a Real Person? Part 1

The historicity of Adam and Eve is a critically important topic in the discussion of Christianity and human origins. Although BioLogos takes a firm stand on the fact that Adam and Eve could not have been the sole biological progenitors of all humans (see here), science does not rule out the possibility of a historical Adam and Eve. Indeed, there is a wide range of Christian perspectives on this topic, several of which have been explored here on the BioLogos Forum in posts from Tom Wright (here and here), David Opderbeck, Pete Enns, Daniel Harrell, and Alister McGrath.

In the final chapter of Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (2008), Christian scholar Denis O. Lamoureux presents another important perspective, stating, “My central conclusion in this book is clear: Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.” Also summarized in a slide-audio web lecture with a two page handout A and B, today's post is the first of a three-part series taken from Lamoureux's I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution (2009), in which he argues forcefully against the historicity of Adam, primarily on biblical grounds.

Part 1: The De Novo Creation of Life

De novo creation is the ancient conceptualization of origins found in the Bible. This term is made up of the Latin words de meaning “from” and novus “new.” Stated more precisely, it is a view of origins that results in things and beings that are brand new. This type of creative activity is quick and complete. It appears in a majority of ancient creation accounts and it involves a divine being/s who act/s rapidly through a series of dramatic interventions, resulting in cosmological structures (sun, moon, stars) and living organisms (plants, animals, humans) that are mature and fully formed.

Considering the limited scientific evidence available to ancient peoples, this conceptualization of origins was perfectly logical. As with all origins accounts, including those held by us today, the ancients asked basic etiological questions (Greek aitia: the cause, the reason for this). These included: Where did these things or beings come from? Why are they this way? Who or what is responsible for their origin? There was no reason for ancient peoples to believe the universe was billions of years old, and they were unaware that living organisms changed over eons of time as reflected in the fossil record. Instead, the age of the world was limited to the lengths of their genealogies, many of which were held by memory, and therefore quite short. Biological evolution was not even a consideration because in the eyes of the ancients, hens laid eggs that always produced chicks, ewes only gave birth to lambs, and women were invariably the mothers of human infants. Living organisms were therefore immutable; they were static and never changed.

In conceptualizing origins, ancient people used these day-to-day experiences and retrojected them back to the beginning of creation (Latin retro: backward; jacere: to throw). Retrojection is the very same type of thinking used in crime scene investigations. Present evidence found at the scene is used to reconstruct past events. In this way, the ancients came to the reasonable conclusion that the universe and life must have been created quickly and completely formed not that long ago. And this was the best origins science-of-the-day.

Grasping the notion of de novo creation is one of the keys to understanding Genesis 1 and the origins debate. This creation account refers 10 times to living creatures reproducing “according to its/their kind/s.” Young earth creationists and progressive creationists argue that this phrase is incontestable biblical evidence against biological evolution, because God created separate groups of organisms. They term these groupings “created kinds” or “baramins” (Hebrew bārā’: to create; min: kind). However, this popular anti-evolutionist belief that the Creator intervened dramatically in the creation of individual groups of plants and animals fails to appreciate the ancient mindset and its intellectual categories. The phrase “according to its/their kind/s” reflects an ancient phenomenological perspective of living organisms (Note: this is not to be confused and conflated with our modern phenomenological perspective. What the ancients saw, they believed to be real and actual, such as the literal movement of the sun across the sky. In contrast, what we see today, we understand to be only apparent and a visual effect, such as the “movement” of the sun). Ancient people always saw that birds reproduce birds, which reproduce birds, which reproduce birds, etc. They retrojected this experience back into the past and came to the logical conclusion that there must have been some first or original birds that the Creator had made de novo. Thus, the de novo creation of living organisms, such as birds in Genesis 1, is based on the classification of life in static or immutable categories, as perceived by ancient peoples like the Hebrews. More specifically, it reflects an ancient biology; and in particular, an ancient understanding of taxonomy. This biblical fact has a very challenging implication.

Ancient biology profoundly impacts the conceptualization of the divine acts that created living organisms in Genesis 1. Stated precisely, God’s creative action in the origin of life is accommodated through ancient taxonomical categories. In the same way that Genesis 1 filters divine events regarding the origin of the heavens through a 3-tier astronomy and the ancient notion of de novo creation (i.e., God using the firmament to separate the waters above on creation day two, and His placing of the sun, moon, and stars in the firmament on day four), the common phenomenon of seeing living organisms reproduce “according to its/their kind/s” profoundly shapes the events regarding the origin of life. The writer of Genesis 1 attributes the origin of the basic kinds of plants and animals to de novo creative acts by the Creator. In other words, ancient science directs the Holy Spirit-inspired biblical author’s conceptualization of divine creative activity. Ancient peoples saw that the basic kinds of living organisms around them never changed, and that these reproduced only after their kinds. It was perfectly logical for them to connect these two observations and then come to the reasonable conclusion that creatures must have originally been created quickly and completely formed. We would have arrived at the same conclusion had we lived at that time. So here’s the bottom line: Genesis 1 does not reveal how God actually created life.

To be sure, this idea is challenging and even threatening to many Christians. But the Message-Incident Principle sheds light on the situation. Accordingly, the Holy Spirit descended to the level of the biblical author of Genesis 1 and used his incidental ancient science regarding biological origins in order to reveal the central Message of Faith that He was the Creator of life. Of course, some are quick to ask: Did God lie in the Bible? Absolutely not! Lying requires a malicious and deceptive intention. The God of the Bible is not a God of malice or deception. Rather, by grace the Holy Spirit came down to the level of the ancient Hebrews and employed their ancient understanding of origins—the de novo creation of life—in order to communicate as effectively as possible inerrant, life-changing, spiritual Truths. The ancient origins science is a vessel that delivers “living waters” (John 4:10) to nourish our thirsty souls. To conclude, God accommodates in the Bible and simply does not reveal how He made plants, animals... and humans.


Denis Lamoureux is the associate professor of science and religion at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta. He holds a PhD in evangelical theology and a PhD in evolutionary biology. Lamoureux is the author of the books Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (2008) and I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution (2009). More on his work can be found here.

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Rich - #29171

September 10th 2010

Dick:

Your exposition is very confusing.  Are you saying that some of the Mesopotamian king lists include names of *gods*?  (Yes or no.)

Are you saying that we can verify, from independent sources (law codes, decrees, etc.), the existence of every single person named on every single Mesopotamian genealogical list?  (Yes or no.)

Are you saying that never in the history of ancient literature did anyone ever invent a name in a genealogy?  (Be clear.)

Finally, what difference does it make?  What difference does it make if every single name in the genealogy from Adam to Abraham was a real person of that name?  What would it prove?  That the first man who ever lived was really called Adam?  That Methuselah realy lived 969 years?  What relevance does knowing this have to Christian faith?  What problem does it solve?  Is it meant to deal with the genetic argument against Adam and Eve?  To confirm or deny the historicity of Genesis?  Your motivation, your goal, is murky to me.  All I see is a clutter of data from the ANE, a bunch of loose connections between Biblical and other names, and no thesis, no argument.  Could you state in 200 words or less what you are trying to *prove* with all this data?


hashavyahu - #29174

September 10th 2010

Dick,

Your claims that Adam=Atum=Adapa are not at all obvious.  You would have to substantiate that not only linguistically, but with a credible theory of cultural contact between these cultures in the right period.  Your lack of knowledge of Egyptian and Akkadian would prevent you from making a credible case here since part of your argument is linguistic in nature.

Your claim that the pre-diluvian kings in the sumerian king list “are real” would also have to be substantiated.  Their mere appearance on the list does not count as a point in their favor since myth and history are easily mixed in ANE literature.  Examples have already been cited.  Their long ages and the reference to the mythological flood strongly suggests their mythological status.

Your claim that “as Semitic history Genesis has credibility” is accepted neither by experts in Semitic languages, historians of the ancient near east, archaeologists, or biblical scholars.  You are making claims that you lack the academic expertise or competence to substantiate.


Andrew - #29195

September 10th 2010

John 8:44

“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

I do not have a problem with evolution.

I have problems with this. Jesus, when talking with pharisees, refers to the temptation and ultimate death of Adam here. What can anyone say about this; that is, if they believe Jesus and His teaching and preaching?


Dick Fischer - #29197

September 10th 2010

Hi Rich, you wrote:

“Are you saying that some of the Mesopotamian king lists include names of *gods*?  (Yes or no.)”

Yes and no.  Often times kings lived on after death as “gods” just as pharaohs became gods in the afterlife.  The SKL represents a list of human kings.  Part of its validity can be derived by the phrase “then the flood swept thereover” after Ziusudra/Noah who appears on some of the lists.

Other lists end in Ubartutu before the flood, but that is understandable if Methuselah and Ubartutu is the same person as Methuselah lived nearly to the flood.  Some lists were generated in cities that were either unaware or gave no credit for Ziusudra’s short term in office.

“Are you saying that we can verify, from independent sources (law codes, decrees, etc.), the existence of every single person named on every single Mesopotamian genealogical list?  (Yes or no.)”

Of course not.  What I thought I said was that for every epic tale about a king, that king’s existence can be found elsewhere on a kinglist.  Invented gods.  No invented kings.

Continued …


Dick Fischer - #29199

September 10th 2010

Rich also wrote:

“Are you saying that never in the history of ancient literature did anyone ever invent a name in a genealogy?”

I know of no such case.  Remember, we have today only a tiny fraction of all the literature that was generated in Mesopotamia prior to 2000 BC when Sumer was destroyed.  Libraries at Jerusalem and Babylon were destroyed.

“Finally, what difference does it make?  What difference does it make if every single name in the genealogy from Adam to Abraham was a real person of that name?  What would it prove?”

Honestly, it was never my intention at the beginning to “prove” Genesis trustworthy.  The more evidence I found that fell into place became part of a data trail that does indeed substantiate the credibility of Genesis 2-11.  The rest of Genesis doesn’t seem to be problematical.

“That the first man who ever lived was really called Adam?”

No, the first of our species lived in Africa 200,000 years ago.  Adam was the first of the Semitic race not the human race.

Continued ...


Dick Fischer - #29202

September 10th 2010

And Rich asked:

“That Methuselah realy lived 969 years?  What relevance does knowing this have to Christian faith?  What problem does it solve?”

YECs purport to take Genesis literally.  They don’t.  They rely on a mistranslation of Genesis, misinterpret further, and try to beat hard-working scientists over the head with it.  If they had a methodology that honored Scripture and actually worked some might fall away from their creationist cult.

On the other hand, relegating Genesis to allegory, or poetry, or mythology, or theology contained in symbolic, inaccurate history, only plays into the hands of those who don’t believe God’s word can be shoved into one of these categories.  This “either or” divide in Christian theology is polarizing and both extremes are derived from a failure to comprehend a simple answer.
 
Genesis is the history of one particular people group that is credible and seems to be decently accurate.

And the reason atheism is on the rise today is because it makes more sense to some than either of these popular Christian extremes.


hashavyahu - #29210

September 10th 2010

Dick,

“What I thought I said was that for every epic tale about a king, that king’s existence can be found elsewhere on a kinglist.  Invented gods.  No invented kings.”

It is simply a non sequitur to conclude that the attestation of kings in “epic” and king-lists establishes the historicity of those kings.  Even if it did, it wouldn’t establish the historicity of of other kings on the list.  Your conclusion “no invented kings” does not follow from any of the evidence you cited.


George - #29218

September 10th 2010

I respect the path Denis is taking but I find a real and historic Adam too plausible to too easily dismiss.  Thirty explicit references (KJV) to Adam, with none implying an obvious allegorical or mythical use, along with the arguments already made (e.g. genealogies) by Dick and others, are compelling lines of evidence favoring the possibility of a real Adam.

Just as Galileo’s telescopic evidence eventually helped force a new exegesis, so too has evolutionary evidence required another one.  It is very clear that a real Adam and Eve can not be progenitors of the entire human race, but few here are arguing such a position, especially Dick.

The biological evidence does not, however, preclude the possibility for a historical Adam (Gen: 2) especially given the possible, if not likely, reference to prior humans found in the preceding chapter.  “Who did Cain marry?” and other obvious questions are powerful arguments for pre-Adamites, assuming one holds to the likelihood of a real Adam. 

[Continued]


George - #29219

September 10th 2010

[continuing]

I have yet to see any arguments that handedly dismiss the claim that Adam was a historical figure.  The Adam=Atum=Adapa may not be obvious but it too can not be quickly refuted, especially since their equivalence are a subjective opinion, though it is based on some reasonably objective evidence.  Dick’s work is not above scrutiny, of course, but it is hardly lame.  Where is the scholarly scrutiny and critics?  His work is hardly superficial.

My compliments to everyone here.  It is enjoyable to learn from all of you, especially given the respectful demeanor in which your arguments have been presented.


John VanZwieten - #29224

September 10th 2010

Dick,

Thanks for hanging in on this thread.  I, for one, appreciate your working to provide a “third way” for those who cannot buy either the YEC interpretation or a mythic/symbolic/theological approach to Genesis.  I don’t really see a down side to looking into your approach.

I would like to see scholars in the appropriate fields interact with the connections you make.  It would prove interesting at the least, and might sharpen your work while allowing for greater acceptance of the best parts.


hashavyahu - #29232

September 10th 2010

George,

“The Adam=Atum=Adapa may not be obvious but it too can not be quickly refuted, especially since their equivalence are a subjective opinion.”

Actually, historical linguists study this kind of thing, so it isn’t correct to claim that its verification or falsification would be purely subjective.  You would have to give a reason why, for example, the /p/ became an /m/, or vice versa, or both came from another consonantal phoneme, etc.  In the process, you would have to show similar p/m interchanges in other Akkadian/Hebrew words.  The problem is Dick hasn’t offered a real linguistic argument, nor could he since he lacks competence in historical linguistics as well as the relevant languages.

Also, if Adam is historical, but not the first human, you would have to take the beginning of Gen 2 as allegorical or symbolic since Gen 2:4b ff. clearly situates the creation of Adam at the beginning of the world.  You haven’t really preserved a literal/non-allegorical reading here.


Denis O. Lamoureux - #29233

September 10th 2010

Trevor K. - #28982

“I’ll say it again - without a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 there is no need for Jesus.”

Dear Trevor,
I don’t believe in a literal Genesis 1, and I certain need Jesus.
The Lord completely changed my life 30 yrs ago.  And never
once have I ever regretted becoming a Christian.

There is sin in the world, and the only way to deal with it is
through the Blood of Lamb.

Blessings,
Denis


Rich - #29234

September 10th 2010

Dick:

Thanks for your answers to my questions.

The Adam of Genesis is represented as the father of the entire human race, not just of the Semitic race.  So I’m not sure what your point is.  That the Biblical writers misunderstood some old genealogies of the Semitic race as the genealogy of the whole human race?  The Biblical writers blundered?

I have to agree with hashavyahu.  Ultimately, your ideas can only be tested by those who know ancient near eastern history, religion, literature and languages extremely well.  Your thesis can’t be validated without being set before them.  You should be publishing parts of your book as articles in scholarly journals, to get expert reactions.

As I’m not particularly interested in the ANE aspect of Biblical studies, but more in literary questions, I won’t comment further on this.


George - #29244

September 10th 2010

hashavyahu said:  “The problem is Dick hasn’t offered a real linguistic argument, nor could he since he lacks competence in historical linguistics as well as the relevant languages.” Proof that Dick’s claim is correct may or may not be weak—I’ll have to let him tackle it— but is there objective “proof” that he is wrong?  Some views that are originally scorned become mainstream years later.  George Reed, of the Apollo days, predicted 1/2% to 1% mercury in shadowed Lunar craters and was, apparently laughed at, but LAMP discovered 1/2% was correct from the recent impact mission.

“Also, if Adam is historical, but not the first human, you would have to take the beginning of Gen 2 as allegorical or symbolic since Gen 2:4b ff. clearly situates the creation of Adam at the beginning of the world.  You haven’t really preserved a literal/non-allegorical reading here.”
Adam is subsequent to this passage, but it does raise the tough question of how “day” is being used, which is arguably figurative.  [Heaven and Earth were not formed in a single day.]


BenYachov - #29268

September 11th 2010

>if Adam is historical, but not the first human.

I reply:  Adam was the first human in that unlike his genetic contemporaries he had an immortal spiritual soul made in the Divine Image.

  The whole problem with this YEC Fundamentalism(i.e. the Earth is Young, Evolution is bunk, Adam was real) vs Liberal Christian Theistic Evolutionist Fundamentalism (i.e. the Earth is Old, Evolution is Dogmatically true & Adam didn’t exist) is both sides make the mistake of defineing “humanity” in strictly material & genetic terms.  Thus if Adam had biological genetic contemporaries (who where not his metaphysical peers) it is said he couldn’t have been the first human.

I call Bullocks!  Adam was the first human man even if he wasn’t the first of his biological species.

(BTW for those of you who are wondering the correct non-fundamentalist Biblical view is both an Old & Young Earth interpretation are consistant with the Bible, Evolution is compatible with the Bible & Adam was real so deal with it.  Really it’s not hard.)


BenYachov - #29269

September 11th 2010

If we accept both Evolution & an Old Earth there is no scientific, logical, rational, philosophical or Biblical reason to deny the existence of a real Adam. 

Making people choose between Evolution & a non-existent Adam Vs Fiat Creationist anti-evolutionism with an orthodox view of Adam is a false choice.


Dick Fischer - #29271

September 11th 2010

hashavyahu, wrote:

“It is simply a non sequitur to conclude that the attestation of kings in “epic” and king-lists establishes the historicity of those kings.”

The Sumerian king lists came from different scribes living in different cities yet with only minor differences they are all alike.  Dumuzi, for example, was recorded by at least six different scribes living in six different cities.  He and the other kings were known all over Mesopotamia.  Do you really think all the scribes and chains of scribes could have cooperated in some gigantic hoax to invent non-existent kings?  And for what purpose?

John wrote:

“I, for one, appreciate your working to provide a “third way” for those who cannot buy either the YEC interpretation or a mythic/symbolic/theological approach to Genesis.”

It’s nice to be appreciated, thanks!

Rich wrote:

“The Adam of Genesis is represented as the father of the entire human race, not just of the Semitic race.”

Simply put, I believe Genesis is a Jewish history book.  It was written for the benefit of their descendents.  They didn’t expect Gentiles to be reading it.  If it weren’t for the efforts of the Apostle Paul maybe we wouldn’t be reading it today.


Rich - #29274

September 11th 2010

Dick:

True, Genesis was written for the benefit of the Israelites.  (“Jews” is an anachronism for the first readers of Genesis.)

True, the authors didn’t expect Gentiles to be reading it.

Neither of these things affects my point that the authors *represented* Adam as the father of the whole human race, not just as the father of the Semites.  If one is to understand Genesis *as literature* and *as theology* one must acknowledge this, and conduct one’s interpretation within that understanding.

The notion that an ancient man named Adam was father not of the whole human race, but only of the Semites, if it could be shown to be historically true, would be quite interesting to anthropologists and historians, but would remain irrelevant to understanding the teaching of the Biblical narrative *in its present form*, and equally irrelevant to understanding historical Jewish and Christian theology.  And if we’re trying to harmonize faith and science, it’s the faith of historical Judaism and Christianity that must be dealt with.

OK, now I’m done.


Norm - #29327

September 11th 2010

It seems highly doubtful that even the original Jews took the Adam and Eve story seriously as a literal account of humanities origins.  First it appears obvious that they expected Cain to have encountered other people alive when he was banned from the rest of his clan to the east of Eden whom obviously would have been needed to help him build a city.  Second it becomes apparent that the Flood should be dated to around 2500-2900 BC and that the dividing of the Nations occurred in which all peoples of the greater Roman world (oikoumene in the Greek NT and Tay-bale in Hebrew OT) were codified. Even the Jews understood this origin of the Nations was a mythological application detailing their intertwined association with the various peoples that they were in contact with. 

A reading of the book of Enoch called the “Dream vision” written somewhere possibly toward the middle of the second Temple period is a highly stylized readers digest of the flood event onward depicting the Nations and Israel using the animal motif.  The Jews are the sheep and the Egyptians are the wolves and as they get off the Ark they and all others are represented by these animal figures. 

continued


Norm - #29328

September 11th 2010

It also becomes apparent that the animal motifs of Gen 1 and 2 and in the flood account are simply stylized descriptors representing those Gentile peoples surround Israel.  Genesis possibly predates Enoch by possibly only 2-300 years and so should be still considered somewhat contemporary thinking even during the second Temple period.

Lastly the barbarians, Scythians and other worlds such as India and China were already accounted for by the Jews because of extensive trade even during the late first Temple period in which Genesis was probably written.  The details then in the Biblical account are written primarily from theological perspectives whose nuanced purposes have simply been over shadowed by over literalizing. Their theology thus was written dealing mainly with their immediate neighbors and didn’t extend much beyond those realms apparently for their own practical purposes.  I believe we make a mistake in thinking that the commercial world of the first millennium BC was some sort of Neolithic reality and that Genesis was written from that perspective. The OT appears to be much more theologically inclined than as accurate history as its purpose.


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