The Search for the Historical Adam 5

We have been working through the recent book by C. John Collins entitled Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. This book looks at the question of Adam and Eve from a relatively conservative perspective but with some nuance and analysis. The questions he poses and the answers he gives provide a good touchstone for interacting with the key issues. Later this fall we will look at the question of Adam from an equally faithful, but less conservative perspective, in the context of a new book coming out by Peter Enns entitled The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.

Chapter 3 of Dr. Collins’s book looks at the biblical and extra-biblical texts concerning Adam. In the last post we looked specifically at Dr. Collins’s discussion of Gen 1-5. In the post today we will look at the rest of the Old Testament and at references to the creation narrative in other second temple Jewish literature. In the next post we will move on to consider the references to the creation narrative in the New Testament.

In this section of his book Dr. Collins makes the point that there is a coherence to the Hebrew scriptures and to the interaction with these scriptures in the second temple literature. On this point I agree with Dr. Collins – when we try to divide and dissect the Old Testament we will fail. The Old Testament is better thought of as a library than a single book, but it is a coherent cultural library with a purpose … not an accidental collection of disparate texts tacked together and thus preserved. The general academic endeavor  that divides, dissects, and analyzes the text can miss, it seems to me, the main point. The conclusions may be correct in many cases – but are only of value as they are reconstructed to help inform us of the way the entire text works together. In fact, this view of the text as a coherent whole plays a significant role in my view of scripture as authoritative and from God.

This leads to an important question though. The question really has to do with the form of our reasoning from the texts to  an understanding of our faith. We need to consider and evaluate the form that the argument for or against a historical Adam takes. There are many references to the Genesis creation narrative in the OT and in the extra-biblical second temple Jewish literature. There are at least two ways these references can be interpreted in the context of the consistent narrative of scripture

Do these references attest to the historicity of the account in Gen 1-5?

Or

Do these references attest to the significance of the creation story in Jewish culture and thought?

These two approaches may seem to reflect a minor distinction – but I think it is actually the root of much of the problem we have in our church today, both with the Genesis account of creation and with our understanding of scripture as inspired by God. Dr. Collins seems to imply in his writing that these references and more significantly, the opinion of the OT and second temple Jewish writers regarding the historicity of Adam, should be a determinative factor in our approach to the question of Adam.

The Old Testament. Dr. Collins cites many allusions to the creation narrative in general and to Genesis 1-5 in particular scattered throughout the Old Testament. References to creation are not rare – if one is looking for them. Creation and the role of God in creation is part of the world view of the original authors and audience of the text.  The role of God in creation is an important component of the message of the text – explicit or assumed. Some examples are given below:

Psalms 8:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

Psalms 104: …O LORD, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all;

Mal. 2:15-16 refers back to the God ordained institution of marriage.

Exodus 20:11 refers back to Genesis 1, the six days of creation and the day of rest.

References or allusions to Eden are found in Ezekiel, Isaiah and Joel. References to the Fall may be found in Ecclesiastes 7, Hosea 6, and Job 31, although these are disputed by some. Reference to Adam is found in the genealogy in 1 Chronicles.

This list of OT references or allusions to the creation narrative is not exhaustive, but it does include the most significant references and many of the less explicit references.  Dr. Collins makes his point that reference to Genesis 1-5 are not absent from the rest of the OT. However, it does not appear that the references are profound or extensive in their importance. Most, if not all, of them reflect an assumed background or are of a general nature.

Extra-Canonical Second Temple Literature. References to Genesis and creation are also common in the second temple literature – and here the reference to Adam, Eve, and the Fall is developed more completely.  Dr. Collins considers references in Tobit, Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, The Wisdom of Solomon, 2 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and in the writings of Josephus and Philo of Alexandria.

There is a theme here – Dr. Collins makes the point that these second temple authors, along with some of the more specific OT references, take Adam and Eve as historical individuals in the same way they consider Abraham, Moses, and David historical figures.

However, the citation in Sirach 49:16 makes it clear that he did take Adam to be an historical person. He is recalling worthies from the history of Israel in chapters 44-49  … He begins with Enoch and Noah as the first named “famous men,” then goes on to Abraham and so forth through Biblical history. … He completes the run-up to Simon in 49:16:

Shem and Seth were honored among men, and Adam above every living being in the creation.

The way he mentions all these men in this context indicates that he took all of them as historical figures. (p. 75)

Philo of Alexandria may be an exception, but Josephus wrote in a manner that intends to relate history and does not take an allegorical approach to scripture or the Jewish tradition. In the Antiquities (1.2.3, line 67) he calls Adam “the first man, made from the earth.”

The second temple literature also contains specific references to the Fall. Dr. Collins quotes the Wisdom of Solomon 2:23-24 which refers to the creation of mankind in the image of God and the introduction of death through the devil’s envy and Sirach 24:25 which references the introduction of sin and death through a woman.

Dr. Collins sums up this section:

Thus in the period that bridges the Old Testament and the New, the Jewish authors most representative of the mainstream consistently treat Adam and Eve as actual people, at the head of the human race. (p. 76)

Evidence for Historicity of Gen. 1-5. The underlying current in Dr. Collins’s discussion of these references to Adam and Eve, or to Eden and the Fall is that the perspective of the OT and second temple writers on the historicity of Adam should influence our thinking about Adam and the Fall. Certainly there are some who will claim that the text of Gen. 1-5 was never meant to be interpreted literally and that the literal interpretation that causes us so much grief was a relatively late invention. Therefore we can and should abandon this interpretation. I am not an expert on this literature and cannot put all of the references into sufficient context to judge the belief of the various writers about the historicity of Adam.

I will contend, however, that all of the writers are sufficiently distant from the actual events of the past, hidden in the mists of antiquity, that the beliefs of these writers are not a determinative factor. Dr. Collins may very well be correct in his analysis that they believed their cultural history and wrote with the assumption that Adam was a unique historical individual. But this belief does not provide evidence on any level for the actual historicity of Adam.

There are two points to consider here. First the period of time from the origins of humanity, to the development of civilization, to the very early history of Israel (say 1000 to 2000 years BC) was without much in the way of concrete record. Stories were passed along. Sumerian and Akkadian texts have been found – and their relationship to the OT narratives help us understand the context of the OT. But the connections are tenuous and distant.

Second, the authors of the OT and the second temple literature had nothing to go on except the stories of their cultural history. They also had no reason to question the historicity of their cultural story. Without impetus to question, the fact that the story was generally accepted and assumed in their writing is unsurprising. In many respects the background is incidental to primary intent of the OT and second temple texts.

I expect that there will be some significant difference of opinion here, and some who will want to question, clarify or refine the issues, so I will stop here and ask the question.

Does it matter if the writers of the OT and second temple literature thought the creation narrative of Genesis 1-5 was historically accurate?

Does it matter if they thought Adam was a historical individual? Why or why not?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If you have comments please visit The Search for the Historical Adam 5 at Jesus Creed.

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