Re: [asa] Was Adam a real person? (more advanced thought-forms)

From: Vernon Jenkins <>
Date: Thu Apr 10 2008 - 11:13:04 EDT

Hi Phil,

In his denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, the Lord is reported by both Matthew and Luke to have referred to Abel, and his murder at the hands of Cain, his brother (Mt.23:35, Lk.11:51). We read (Gn.4:1,2) Cain was Adam's first-born; and Abel, the second. If, in the Lord's understanding Abel was 'flesh and blood' then, surely, so was his dad ! QED.

It is clear to me that the Holy Scriptures represent 'fair game' for those who are either interested, or innocently complicit, in its destruction. Much confusion reigns ! That is why, in my view, confidence in the truth of what God tells us can only be restored by observing what He has manifestly accomplished in the opening eight words of the Hebrew Bible and the artefacts we find around us which map onto these data (I speak particularly of the metric dimensions of the A4 sheet of cut paper, and the design of the music keyboard). Isn't it time that these empirical truths were properly acknowledged and investigated by those who, in the words of the late Carl Sagan, '...(are) prepared to follow the truth - no matter where it may lead.' ?


  ----- Original Message -----
  To: ;
  Sent: Thursday, April 10, 2008 1:25 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Was Adam a real person? (more advanced thought-forms)

    There is only one reason for taking it as myth: because it can be disproved by science. There is no hermeneutic at all possible to indicate it (Gen. ch. 2: creation of first man named Adam) as a myth, I think.
  I disagree. It was already known at the time of the Exodus (even without science) that snakes generally don't talk, that eating fruit from trees doesn't generally make you see that you are naked, and that (in Gen. 1) plants don't grow out of the ground and bear fruit in less than a day. So there are some elements that certainly feel mythical in the account and the ancients weren't stupid: they would have noticed this, too.

  Also, when you look at the line of Cain and compare it to the line of Seth, it's obvious that Cain's line is constructed for literary purposes as a contrast. All the names in the Cain line are negative distortions of names found in Seth's line and tell a story of mankind's corruption and curse despite great advances in civilization. It tells the story of "Cain" (meaning "smith" or "builder") who is under God's curse and yet continues to "build" until at last his cursed works are destroyed in the flood. This is so obviously a literary construction that I don't think Moses' original audience (or Abraham's anscestors, who probably told the same story) would ever have failed to notice.

  Then also notice that a long period of time elapses between Cain and the end of Cain's line. We like to think Seth's line is happening in parallel with Cain's line (because in our Western way of thinking we try to rationalize the text as if it were literal), but the text itself doesn't seem to indicate the lines are parallel. To the contrary, it indicates they are sequential, with Seth's line beginning after Cain's line has gone on for a long, long time. After all the darkness and curse of Cain, it says that then Adam knew his wife Eve and they conceived. After Seth and his son Enosh are born, at last men began to call on the name of the Lord. The idea is that there has been a long time during which nobody was calling on the name of the Lord. It's really remarkable how we Westerners fail to grasp this point, considering that this long delay is actually a major theme of the text. Our Western way of thinking blinds us to what an ancient person would have found obvious. At long last, men began to call on the name of the Lord; the Lord has done a marvelous thing by bringing the line of Seth into existence in this world of darkness that had been built by Cain.

  But if this is so, then Adam and Eve can't be literal, since they themselves knew God and there never would have been a time during which men were not calling on the name of the Lord if they were literally the parents of Seth. In order for the text to make sense that there was a long period of darkness then you have to understand that when it says that Adam knew his wife Eve and she conceived it simply means that humanity brought forth a unique child, different in character than those being born in the line of Cain, but yet not literally from the same pair of parents who gave birth to Cain. Seth would have been born into Cain's world and been as much a descendant of Cain as anybody else at that time. But Adam and Eve are introduced as the parents to indicate that something new is happening, distinct from the line of Cain. If you try to rationalize a mythological account and make it literalistic you will get all kinds of internal difficulties and contradictions; but if you accept the genre for what it is then it works perfectly well within its own set of rules. (E.g., why would the Greeks' girl Pandora be given a box with all the diseases and evil inside of it in the first place; and why would Adam and Eve be put in a garden with a tree that plays the same role as Pandora's box in the first place? We aren't suppsed to ask those questions because the genre of myth was never intended to answer them.)

  Part of the reason we fail to understand the text is we try to compare it with the geneologies, and unfortunately the dates in the geneologies have not been translated properly. We know that they absolutely must have been mis-translated because at the time of Abraham and earlier this base-10 system we see in the text didn't even exist. So it must have originally been a different number system. There are many arguments to claim why it was originally a Mesopotamian-style system with each base having a different value (not always 10 or 6 in each digit). So the ages were probably just normal human lifespans, and somewhere along the way the Jews lost the knowledge of how to translate the numbers. In the intertestamental period the text of the OT was fixed and the numbers were cleaned up and converted to spelled-out words to avoid future arguments over them. In the process, we lost the evidence to un-translate the numbers to their original form. Well, if we could put them back to ordinary lifespans, then we'd have Seth being born after some 18 or 20 years into Adam's life. The ancients, reading that Seth was born after so short a period, would understand that the period of darkness in the line of Cain prior to the birth of Seth was not presenting us with a literal timeline. They would understand that there was myth involved in the account of Adam and Eve and Cain, and it would not have been a great pressing issue to harmonize the account with literal history.

  I've sketched out my thoughts on this, above, but I feel there is much work to be done in understanding the text and that we will make progress as we keep trying.


  -----Original Message-----
  From: Dehler, Bernie <>
  Sent: Wed, 9 Apr 2008 7:49 pm
  Subject: RE: [asa] Was Adam a real person? (more advanced thought-forms)

  To your comment below, Phil:
  To me it seems clear what the original author meant- that God formed man from dirt and named him Adam. I think that part is easy, the difficult part is determining if that is literally true or not—true in the sense of whether the event happened as explained and could have been video-taped if they had a camcorder. There is only one reason for taking it as myth: because it can be disproved by science. There is no hermeneutic at all possible to indicate it (Gen. ch. 2: creation of first man named Adam) as a myth, I think.

  Phil also said:

  “No. I believe the Adam of Genesis 4 was a real person who lived in the neolithic period. He had a son named Seth and lived a certain number of years and then died.

  But Abraham's anscestors borrowed his name from the geneological record in order to invent a mythological figure "Adam" to be the first human in their creation account. They borrowed the name of that particular individual because he happened to be the first name in the geneology and because the name "Adam" can be understood to refer to mankind.

  So Adam wasn't a "real" individual if you are thinking of him as being the first human living in a garden and progenitor of all mankind; but he was completely real if you are thinking of the first name in the Sethite geneology, a person who is treated as a historical figure in Genesis 4 and subsequent chapters.

  I say that it is the same Adam (in Gen. 2 and Gen. 4), according to the author who wrote it. Therefore, either he is real or myth—can’t be one in one chapter and another in a different chapter.


  From: []
  Sent: Wednesday, April 09, 2008 4:16 PM
  To: Dehler, Bernie;
  Subject: Re: [asa] Was Adam a real person? (more advanced thought-forms)

    However, I think our western way of thinking is superior, separating fact from fantasy and being clear about whether something is literal or figurative.
  But to understand a piece of communication, you have to start out by asking what the author meant. You have to start with the author's way of thinking. If you skip that step, then you won't find out what was originally intended.


  -----Original Message-----
  From: Dehler, Bernie <>
  To: ASA <>
  Sent: Wed, 9 Apr 2008 5:27 pm
  Subject: RE: [asa] Was Adam a real person? (more advanced thought-forms)
  I’m sure the Rabbi’s have their debates, but also their disciples. I have talked to some Rabbi’s- some believe in a literal Adam, some not.

  You may have a good point about the Hebrews not caring about factuality- but instead caring for the “morale of the story.” However, I think our western way of thinking is superior, separating fact from fantasy and being clear about whether something is literal or figurative. As Dawkins might say, I think the “western meme” for thinking is more evolved (a higher thought-form).


  From: [] On Behalf Of Jim Armstrong
  Sent: Wednesday, April 09, 2008 2:07 PM
  To: ASA
  Subject: Re: [asa] Was Adam a real person?

  Yeh, just so! Even today, the rabbinical tradition exists (at least in my limited experience) of telling stories that may at times be ..well... even fanciful, yet attributed to some esteemed figure of the past (often a rabbi, if in the relatively near past). The expectation seems to be that you will relate to the point the teller is making, and not dwell on or get sidetracked by the factuality of the story as related (a propensity of our western-biased way of thinking). The attributions seem to be part of the contexting for the nature of the story, rather than a fact that may be later vetted to lend authority to the story.

  These same teachers do not seem to be concerned about winning any argument by conclusively establishing any particular disputable fact. Rather their tradition of arguing the various positions is more a vehicle for teaching and learning, keeping those arguments alive and using the various perspectives to illuminate the several sides of the matter under discussion.

  Interestingly, that seems to serve reasonably well as a description of nature and consequence of the discourse on this ASA resource. But I also notice that the tensions between differing ideas - and the discussions that proceed therefrom - bring a wealth of new honest-to-goodness facts into play, enriching us all in that department! :-)

  Regards - JimA [Friend of ASA] wrote:

    For one thing, they had to use the stories that carried currency in their culture.
  An example would be if we quote Hamlet. Since Hamlet is an important figure in literature, we can speak of him as if he is a real person but without really implying that he is. When the NT quotes Enoch, it may be quoting him as a literary figure. Likewise with Adam.

  the issue is whether we think the people were sufficiently sophisticated to quote a literary figure without confuisng him with a real person. It comes down to what Lewis called "chronological snobbery." I think the people in the past were actually much more attuned to literary devices than we are, since they grew up with oral storytelling as opposed to the great literary institution known as television.


  -----Original Message-----
  From: Bethany Sollereder <>
  To: Chris Barden <>
  Cc: David Opderbeck <>;;;
  Sent: Wed, 9 Apr 2008 12:12 pm
  Subject: Re: [asa] Was Adam a real person?

  I feel that we should be careful about too hastily ascribing historicity to biblical characters simply because other biblical authors refer to them. For one thing, they had to use the stories that carried currency in their culture. People would have been familiar with who Enoch was (meant to be) and what he stood for. That would have been enough to use him as a powerful symbol. I might talk about 'herculean efforts', but that doesn't mean I think Hercules was a historical figure. Same thing with Adam. They used him as a type, and even perhaps believed that he was a true historical figure, but that doesn't mean that we must also ascribe historicity to him.

  Even if Paul and the other biblical writers did not think of Adam as a 'real' person, what other story could they have used? If they are talking about one man dealing with the sin of the world, and in your tradition you have the story of one man who brought sin into the world, you'd be a fool not to use that sort of imagery. We all use the stories and myths and real histories that give shape to our world view. We can hardly expect the biblical authors to do otherwise.

  Bethany Sollereder
  On Wed, Apr 9, 2008 at 8:07 AM, Chris Barden <> wrote:

  I don't disagree with anything you say here, indeed I think I said
  some of it. Perhaps I was unclear.

  The notion of truth as history vs coherence with the traditions is
  probably too complicated for any straight yes/no answer to your
  questions. The Ethiopian coptics were clearly persuaded to say "yes"
  to your question as to whether the Watchers tradition was historical,
  as they decided to put 1 Enoch in their canon. But the majority were
  not persuaded. If the criteria was for everything to be unambiguously
  historically true, then Jude should be left out for alluding to
  apocryphal materials (not just Enoch, but also probably the Testament
  of Moses, a document we have only in part and in double translation).
  Indeed, some in the early church did so argue, but the majority view
  was that Jude was to be kept as it was apostolic, edifying, and
  contained no heresy.

  My guess? The authors of Hebrews and Jude probably believed Enoch was
  a historical figure. Peter may well have viewed Enoch as a "type of
  Christ" just as Adam was to Paul, though whoever wrote 2 Peter excised
  the quotations when relying on Jude. Does that mean Enoch must
  definitely be a historical figure? I'm inclined to think that the
  teaching of Hebrews would be blunted if he were not, but on the other
  examples I'm open to the notion that appealing to the tradition of
  Enoch is enough to make the writers' respective points.


> We have to ask, then -- did the writers of Jude and 2 Peter consider 1 Enoch
> to be true? Would the writer of Hebrews have considered texts such as 1
> Enoch to be true? If so, do the allusions to and quotes from non-canonical
> books such as 1 Enoch in the canonical scriptures suggest that these
> non-canoncal books are valid sources of "history?" Are we as Christians
> obligated to accept the whole of the "Watcher" tradition? Or is there at
> least some sense in which the writers of scripture are seen here to be
> drawing on the "history" of their day?
> At the end of the day, I'm with you in affirming an essential historicity to
> "Adam." But, even the NT references to OT personages clearly aren't a
> simple matter once the literary and cultural context of the NT documents is
> brought out.
> On Wed, Apr 9, 2008 at 7:26 AM, Chris Barden <> wrote:
> > It certainly does seem in the NT as though Adam is treated at least as
> > "given" through revelation and a rich tradition of Judaism. We do not
> > have any easy way of unpacking the position of the NT writers on this
> > point; was Adam's importance really tied to his historicity, or was it
> > the tradition of Adam proving a certain theological or homiletical
> > point that held first precedence? Take Enoch as an example (Bernie, I
> > agree the list can be somewhat desultory but I feel confident this is
> > not a rabbit trail!).
> >
> > Enoch was "the seventh after Adam", according to Jude 14, and he "did
> > not experience death ... for God had taken him away" according to
> > Hebrews 11:5. Moreover, Jesus is descended from Enoch according to
> > Luke 3:37. All of this coheres with Genesis 5:18-24, so all writers
> > are in agreement on the specifics of the tradition. Fine, so if we
> > could stop there we could explain it as merely referring to that
> > tradition. But Enoch's mysterious translation into heaven was the
> > subject of much discussion in Jewish circles in antiquity. Further,
> > extrabiblical traditions arose, perhaps as late as the 1st century BC,
> > that had Enoch's trip to heaven tied in with a mission he was given.
> >
> > This mission, according to 1,2,3 Enoch, involved Enoch proclaiming a
> > message of doom, a la Jonah, to the fallen angels who had children by
> > the "daughters of women" in Genesis 6. And it is the background of
> > this mission that makes sense of Peter's peculiar preaching at 1 Pet
> > 3:18-22. 1 Enoch 1:9 is even _quoted_ in Jude 14-15 as a true
> > prophecy of "Enoch, the seventh after Adam" though Enoch most probably
> > did not write 1 Enoch. The Ethiopic Coptics still have 1 Enoch in
> > their Bibles! All this means that we have to take seriously the
> > notion that the weird stories about the Nephilim, arguably weirder
> > than the Garden of Eden, were at the very least considered edifying to
> > the point of (almost) rising to canonical status in the early church.
> >
> > I find it hard to believe that all of the early Christians were so
> > steeped in Jewish traditions that they credulously accepted the
> > historicity of all of it; in fact, I believe wholesale acceptance of
> > these speculations were perhaps behind Paul's letter to the
> > Colossians. But certainly some of them did, and it wasn't a fringe
> > view at all, judging from the diversity of writers in the NT who refer
> > to this material. If Adam wasn't a real person, how could Enoch be
> > the seventh after him? This line of thought is why I accept the
> > historicity of someone named Adam, and I think Dick's explanation is
> > probably the best out there.
> >
> > Granted, this explanation does not satisfy some, and might even be
> > faith-shaking. But consider: for at least 20 years, the earliest
> > Christians did not have the NT, and may not have had all of the OT.
> > Their focus was on Jesus and his teaching, and they did just fine.
> > Maybe (and I know this isn't the forum to expect too much approval of
> > this idea) our nattering about the loose ends and how they fit
> > sometimes get in the way of edifying our fellow believers.
> >
> > Chris
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > On Tue, Apr 8, 2008 at 11:41 PM, <> wrote:
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > > Not only does the NT refer to Adam as a real person, but in my opinion,
> the
> > > OT also does… by naming his offspring, ages lived, etc.
> > > First of all, one of things that can be discouraging on the ASA list
> is
> > > that so many discussions rapidly go off into rabbit trails. This was
> > > originally a great question Bernie raised, but almost all the posts so
> far
> > > have been discussing Abraham and Jonah instead of what Bernie had asked
> > > about. David's point in bringing up Abraham and Jonah was not to
> question
> > > their historicity -- so there is no purpose in arguing about their
> > > historicity -- but just to point out that the Bible itself should be
> taken
> > > as a valid testimony at some point, and that this applies as well to the
> > > question of Adam as to any other person that anybody has ever questioned
> in
> > > the Bible. In doing so, David's post was making an outstanding point
> and
> > > it was well written and thoughtful and highly interesting. The details
> of
> > > just how much Abraham can or cannot be questioned was never important to
> > > David's point! I was very disappointed when the replies to David
> > > immediately chased the rabbit (to no value!) instead of continuing to
> > > address Bernie's real question. I think there needs to be a little more
> > > restraint in not chasing the rabbits so that we can maintain a
> meaningful
> > > conversation here. Or maybe the "subject" line should be changed
> whenever a
> > > rabbit is chased.
> > >
> > > Bernie, one way I've been thinking about the historic treatment of
> Adam in
> > > the OT is with the idea that the Adam, father of Seth, in Genesis 4ff
> was
> > > the earliest person listed in the Hebrew geneologies and therefore Moses
> (or
> > > prior authors) took the opportunity to reflect him backwards as a
> literary
> > > device to "become" the first human ancestor in their creation mythology.
> > > (BTW, I don't use the word "mythology" in a negative way.) Thus, Adam
> in
> > > Genesis 4ff may have been a historic individual as the geneologies and
> > > subsequent accounts imply, and yet Adam in the garden may have been a
> > > theological symbol. I think it's pretty obvious there is a genre change
> > > between the garden account and the geneologies/historical sections that
> > > follow. Therefore the treatment of "Adam" may have likewise been
> different
> > > in the two sections. We needn't assume that because the name identifies
> a
> > > literal individual in one genre therefore it refers only to a literal
> > > individual in all genres.
> > >
> > > As an example, Ephraim is treated as a literal individual in Genesis,
> but
> > > his name symbolically represents an entire people group later in the
> Bible.
> > > The Hebrews were accustomed to using an individual name to represent an
> > > entire group. IMO, it is not too difficult to believe they did the
> similar
> > > thing _backwards_ to refer to the origin of man by using a _later_
> literal
> > > individual Adam, who just happened to be the first in their geneology as
> > > well as possessor of a name that was highly symbolic of mankind.
> > >
> > > This doesn't address the issues with Adam being treated as a historical
> > > person in the NT, but then I think we can question if we really know
> that he
> > > was being treated as a historical person in the NT. Just because _we_
> > > thought Adam was literal while we were reading Paul doesn't give us the
> > > right to impose our assumptions onto Paul. Paul may have been more
> > > sophisticated about the myth genre than we have been. After all, he
> lived
> > > in a Greek culture that was seeped in theology taught through myth, with
> > > strong contacts to the identical Egyptian, Babylonian, and Roman uses of
> the
> > > genre. How could we be smarter than him in recognizing that genre and
> > > knowing what's normative for it?
> > >
> > > Regarding your model for resolving this conflict: Personally I
> wouldn't
> > > pick the "clearer scence" over the "foggier Scripture" in determining
> what
> > > Genesis 1 was supposed to be telling us. To do so is equivalent to
> saying
> > > the Bible is just plain wrong and therefore we will reject it wherever
> > > necessary and keep the better science in its place. Instead, I'd want
> to
> > > use conflicts with science to clue me in to where we may have
> misunderstood
> > > Scripture and then take a closer look at its internal evidence to see if
> > > indeed we have. IMO, when we look at Genesis 1 in the light of science,
> we
> > > can break out of our prior hyper-literalism and recognize that by golly
> it
> > > actually isn't of a genre that we would normally have taken as literal
> > > history.
> > >
> > > Phil
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > > ________________________________
> > > Get the MapQuest Toolbar, Maps, Traffic, Directions & More!
> >
> --
> David W. Opderbeck
> Associate Professor of Law
> Seton Hall University Law School
> Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
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Received on Thu Apr 10 11:17:44 2008

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