Adam: The Man, The Myth

I have occasionally paraphrased a quote that I have attributed (possibly erroneously) to LDS Apostle B. H. Roberts. It goes something like this:

God has give us two accounts of the creation of the earth. One is written on the pages of the Bible and the other is recorded in the layers of crust of the earth. It is only due to our misunderstanding of each that they disagree.

(If anyone  has a source, please let me know.)

I like this view because it points to our ignorance in both scriptural knowledge and physical knowledge. In both realms, certainty often reigns when uncertainty should be the rule.

My post entitled Of Creation, Questions, and Functions, presents some thoughts on John H. Walton’s book entitled The Lost World of Genesis One. His follow-on book, The Lost Wold of Adam and Eve, tackles the specific issue of human creation.

In tandem, these books present a case for understanding the creation accounts in the book of Genesis (and arguments of Paul) in a way that allows for just what Roberts hoped: space for ignorance so that knowledge may grow.

Walton’s Foundational Principles

As in the previous work, Walton presents a case for how we have imposed our modern, materialistic baggage onto ancient texts and have come away confused, disturbed, or mislead by this shallow reading. He shows that we lack the cultural and linguistic background to understand the intended message; a deeper knowledge is required if we want to be faithful to the text.

Several of the initial propositions in The Lost World of Adam and Eve rehash the foundation laid in the The Lost World of Genesis One. The principle overlapping point: Genesis is an inauguration or dedication story, not a material creation story.

Through linguistic and cultural analysis Walton explains that ancient Near Eastern peoples understood something to be “created” only when its purpose was declared by God. Chaos is uncreated in the sense that it has not been ordered, given function and purpose, and named. So, materially, something can be extant to our modern understanding, but, to ancient Near Eastern cultures, it is uncreated.

With this ontological distinction in mind, Walton delves into the nuances of the text, teasing out original meanings from the Hebrew text, correcting our misreadings, and correlating the Bible to ancient culture.

From the audience: “What??”

If we read Genesis as a material creation account, like we typically do, then we are reading it wrong; we are imposing our own understanding on the Bible rather than letting the writers speak.

From the audience: “So, you’re telling me that God didn’t create the heavens and the earth?”

No, God is Creator, but the Genesis account isn’t a story of the material creation. Unfortunately, this leaves us in a position where, we don’t have a material creation story in scripture, only a dedication story.

From the audience: “But, but, …”

Yeah, its hard to wrap your head around the implications, but once you do, it opens up a new perspective that leaves space for religious and scientific thought.

Creation Quotes

The following are some interesting points from The Lost World of Adam and Eve.

Christianity has been forced to be content with a number of alternatives on the table for interpreting the early chapters of Genesis, it is sadly true that some have adopted a view that only their particular parochial reading is legitimate for a “real” Christian. We must confess to our corporate shame that blood has even been shed. (pg 12)

Either information from the literature of the ancient world or new insights from scientific investigation may appropriately prompt us to go back to the Bible to reconsider our interpretations. … The Bible must retain its autonomy and speak for itself. But that is also true when we hold traditional interpretations up to the Bible. The biblical text must retain its autonomy from traditions. We must always be willing to return to the text and consider it with fresh eyes. (pg 14)

If we read modern ideas into the text, we skirt the authority of the text and in effect compromise it, arrogating authority to ourselves and our ideas. This is especially true when we interpret the text as if it is making reference to modern science, of which the author and audience had no knowledge. The text cannot mean what it never meant. (pg 19)

From the Audience: “So, what does it mean?”

Walton uses the analogy of “home” and “house” to compare distinctions of functional and material creations. A house is a physical construction, but a home implies a place of refuge without regard for the type of structure or how it was built.

In the ancient world people were far more interested in the origins of the home than in the origins of the house. It is a question of which story to tell. They were not interest in how the material objects of the house came into being—God did it and that was enough for them. Of much more interest to them was how this house (the cosmos) had become a home for humans but even more importantly how God had made it his own home. The seven-day origins account in Genesis is a “home story”; it is not a “house story.” It is a different sort of origins story than we expect in our modern world, but it is not difficult to understand why it should be important. (pg 45)

Many have believed in the past that the seven days related to the age of the earth because they read the chapter as a house story. … If this is a home story, however, it has nothing to do with the age of the physical cosmos. A period of seven days does not pertain to how long it took to build the house; it pertains to the process by which the house became a home. (pg 51)

Adam and Eve

From the Audience: “So, I thought this post was about Adam?”

Sorry for being so slow to get to the important stuff, but an understanding of the misunderstanding of the creation account is key to the rest.

Now to Adam…

First, Walton identifies two different uses and translations of ͗ādām.

Understanding the varied use of the term ͗ādām is essential to sorting out the early chapters of Genesis. … the world ͗ādām is a Hebrew word meaning “human.” (pg 58)

This means that the first account of human creation in Genesis 1 is a creation of humankind, not a specific, single individual.

Beginning in Genesis 2:4, the creation account seems to be repeated, including references to Adam, a person. Walton argues that this account is a specific creation of (or ordination of) Adam—and eventually Eve—as priestly caretakers of sacred space.

Adam and Eve are also used as archetypes. Those familiar with the LDS temple endowment liturgy will recognize the archetypal role of Adam and Eve in the creation story; they represent each of us as we build a relationship with God.

In English, if we read that someone’s name is “Human” and his partner’s name is “Life,” we quickly develop an impression of what is being communicated … . These characters, by virtue of their assigned names, are larger than the historical characters to whom they refer. They represent something beyond themselves. (pg 59)

Humankind and Adam

If we allow for Genesis 1 to be a corporate creation of humankind (or ͗ādām) prior to the person of “Adam” in Genesis 2, we resolve some difficulties in our scriptural understanding. Walton points out:

If Genesis 2 is a sequel, it would mean that there may be other people (in the image of God) in Genesis 2-4, not just Adam and Eve and their family. That has certain advantages when reading Genesis 4. In Genesis 4, Cain has a wife (Gen 4:17). The option that he married his sister has never been an attractive one, though many have embraced it as seemingly the only possibility. We also find that Cain fears that “whoever finds me will kill me” (Gen 4:4) when he is driven from the Lord’s presence. Who is he afraid of? If he is driven away from the Lord’s presence, then he is also being driven away from his family. This suggests that there are people other than his family in the land. Finally, we note that Cain builds a city (Gen 4:17). The term city would not be appropriate unless it was a settlement of some size for many people. We would conclude than that the text actually implies that there are other people. (pg 64)

The above logic is parallel to that used with the Book of Mormon to demonstrate that the Lehites arrived to a populated continent. (Previous assumptions held that they were alone.) But, a more critical reading of the text shows that cities were founded and wars fought at a time when the transported population would not have supported such. This official recognition lead to a change to the introduction a few years ago.

Creation of Eve

Okay. Let’s get back on track and talk about Eve.

In Genesis 2, Adam is alone, and this is not good. He is then shown the animals and he gives them names, but he still does not find a helper or partner.

Walton demonstrates that the Hebrew word that is translated as “rib” is more properly translated as side, similar to left or right side, as in “side of beef.” Also, “deep sleep” is not modern anesthesia but “untimely sleep or stupefication, not normal sleep at night.”

Together this all suggests that Adam (after a Godly dope slap, or vision) recognizes Eve as, literally, is other half, his full compliment. She is what makes him complete, not the animals.

Adam’s sleep has prepared him for a visionary experience rather than for a surgical procedure. The description of himself being cut in half and the woman being built from the other half (Gen 2:21-22) would refer not to something he physically experienced but to something that he saw in vision. (pg 80)

All womankind is “from the side” of all mankind.(pg 80)

From the audience: “I don’t mean to be rude, but can you wrap this up? I’ve got a life.”

Okay, okay. I’ll few more of more points from Walton that I found interesting.

Adam Inaugurates “The Sacred”

Even though any human population possibly preceding or coexisting with Adam and Eve may well have been engaged in activity that would be considered sin, they were not being held accountable for it: where there was no law or revelation, there was no sin (no consciousness of relationship, no immortality). In that scenario, the sin of Adam and Eve would be understood as bringing sin to the entire human race by bringing accountability. From Romans 5:13 we infer that, in Paul’s view, sin comes into the world when accountability comes into the world. Any humans prior to Adam did not have a personal, conscious relationship to lose (though as God’s creatures they were related to him), so nothing that they did could jeopardize relationship. (pg 155)

Christians Should Be Strong Environmentalists

A Christian view of salvation, death, and resurrection can lead us to think that this earth is a place from which to escape. It is a temporary place. God snapped his fingers and “Poof” it was there. In the end, once it is spoiled and we are in heaven, God can fix the earth if he wants to keep it.

But …

Christians should care about the environment because we have come to understand that God has appointed us as caretakers of his world. As vice-regents, we have been charged with subduing and ruling, but that leaves no room for exploitation or abuse, We have the responsibility to maintain the space that is ultimately sacred and ultimately his. (pg 207)

LDS theology goes even deeper. Evolving Faith, a book by BYU professor Steven L. Peck, explores how we are more closely tied to this earth than we (Mormons) typically acknowledge.

Bible And Science Should Coexist

Scriptural creation is often read from one of two extremes, as literal, in which case it is wrong, or as myth, making it meaningless to a modern, materialistic reader. For Walton, neither is accurate or helpful.

By positioning [the Bible] as being in conflict with science, we force people to make a choice. Certainly we make a choice when we affirm that God is the Creator. But when we tell the young people reared in a Christian faith that there is a war between science and faith and that if they accept certain scientific conclusions, they will be abandoning the Bible, they often believe us. Then, when they are confronted with a very persuasive presentation of an old earth or a case for common ancestry from the genomic record, they decide that the Bible must go. (pg 209)

When we can step back and read the text as ancient writers recording an ancient story, we can better appreciate the intended message. Ironically, this also creates a better theological story and allows us to explore scientific knowledge that is unencumbered with religious tension and a sacred story that is unencumbered by tradition.


Whew! I done with that book.  Next: New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. (I’m already on Chapter 6.)


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