November 16, 2018

The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve (3)

On Fridays, we’re doing a series on Stephen Greenblatt’s The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve. In this book, he examines how “the story of Adam and Eve has over centuries decisively shaped conceptions of human origins and human destiny.”

In chapter 4, Greenblatt writes about a first century Jewish midrash on the early chapters of Genesis, “The Life of Adam and Eve.” This work focuses upon the problems Adam and Eve encountered after their expulsion from Eden.

Probably originating in a Jewish milieu and composed in a Semitic language, this account of the first humans quickly migrated to early Christian communities and appeared in an array of other languages, from Latin to Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, and Slavonic. It continued to be read for centuries. (p. 67)

The popularity of this work, along with a “massive body of commentary, both rabbinic and patristic,” show an increasing interest in questions about what happened to Adam and Eve beyond the few details recorded in Genesis.

This period, in the early centuries CE, was a time when people of faith of many varieties speculated on many aspects of this story. Some communities even blamed God and celebrated the serpent. In The Life of Adam and Eve, the first humans came to understand their kinship with the animals because, after being exiled from the garden, they found they had to forage for food like them. It explains the devil’s deception as a reaction to having been cast from heaven because he refused to bow down before the humans as superior beings. The work tells of Adam and Eve being separated because of marital conflict but reunited when Cain was born. Works like these “wanted what in the theater is called a backstory, a hidden history that would make sense of behavior that in the Bible’s terse narrative seemed to come from nowhere” (p. 70).

Some focused on certain theological questions in the early chapters of Genesis. When God said, “Let us make humankind in our own image,” what did the plural “us” indicate? Some created other elaborate backstories of angelic rebellion behind Satan’s temptation of the first couple. There are stories about Adam and Eve’s deaths and other conflicts between them. Eve is even credited with the idea of writing so as to transmit their story to future generations.

Some, like Marcion, ultimately concluded that the God depicted first in Genesis and then throughout the Hebrew Bible was an evil creator. His views were deemed heretical and other Christian interpreters developed typological interpretations that read the first Adam’s story in the light of Jesus, the last Adam, who was the firstborn of a new creation.

Still, others found the details of the story difficult to swallow and, taking their cues from the Jewish philosopher Philo and later from Origen read the story allegorically. This was a much more culturally acceptable way of reading the texts, akin to the way Hesiod and Plato were understood.

But though allegory seemed to some like the perfect solution to the discomfort and risk of literal readings, soon after Origen’s death treating the story of Adam and Eve as an allegory came under sustained and devastating attack. Contemporary surveys indicate that many millions of people even now, in the wake of so much scientific evidence, still profess to believe int he story of Adam and Eve not allegorically but literally. The reason for this literal belief has little or nothing to do with ignorance. It has everything to do with the history of Christianity, a Christianity stamped by a still more durable philosopher than Origen the Unbreakable: Augustine of Hippo. (p. 79f)

Next time, we’ll look at Augustine and his legacy.

Comments

  1. –> “The reason for this literal belief has little or nothing to do with ignorance. It has everything to do with the history of Christianity, a Christianity stamped by a still more durable philosopher than Origen the Unbreakable: Augustine of Hippo. (p. 79f)

    “Next time, we’ll look at Augustine and his legacy.”

    What!? Don’t leave us hanging!!!

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Cliff Hanger!

    • Bp. Berkeley says:

      I thought Augustine read them largely metaphorically too. I mean, he thought there was an Adam who brought sin into the world, but that’s from Paul in Romans.

  2. Susan Dumbrell says:

    “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief”.

    Augustine of Hippo.

    • john barry says:

      Like many people from Hippo , St. Augustine was a hungry , hungry Hippo who gobbled up knowledge.
      We grow , we learn, we grow to learn to trust that in the end God is love . Is there such a thing as unoriginal sin?
      We learn to become human from birth onward.

  3. On the subject of the ‘meaning’ of Adam & Eve, readers might find this article interesting: http://potiphar.jongarvey.co.uk/2018/02/07/three-testaments/

  4. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    “””that would make sense of behavior that in the Bible’s terse narrative seemed to come from nowhere”””

    This! So understandable; trying to look at the A&E narrative(s) solely on their own… there is not much there there.

    It is also interesting how much of the “interpretations” of the story depend heavily on very specific details of language choice of the authors|writers|translators. That is a perilous business when applied to a document translated from one language to another [possibly multiple times].

  5. senecagriggs says:

    ” Contemporary surveys indicate that many millions of people even now, in the wake of so much scientific evidence, still profess to believe in the story of Adam and Eve not allegorically but literally.”
    __

    Count me in.

    • Count me out.

      • senecagriggs says:

        Tom, and others; if you discount the reality of two human, Adam and Eve, at what point do any of the “begats” actually indicate real flesh and blood people?

        Are Cain and Abel real?

        Is Enoch real?

        Is Noah real?

        How do you determine where myth ends and real people begin?
        ___________

        Muy Problemo if Adam and Eve are not real flesh and blood people.

        • The same as you determine where symbolism ends (eg Jesus being a vine/plant, a sedimentary rock, an actual gate, etc.) and literalism begins (eg Jesus being the Messiah, flesh and blood, etc.): through context and wisdom. I honestly don’t understand why that’s so difficult, we all (including you) already apply that same reasoning to everything in Scripture and in life. The Bible isn’t “all” literal or “all” allegorical” — it’s a beautiful tapestry of both.

          (Note: I’m not even necessarily declaring that A&E weren’t real people — I don’t know myself for certain, but it’s certainly reasonable, nor is it un-Christian to think so).

        • Seneca, I don’t see the problem. See last weeks post on the Babylonian motifs of Gen 1-11.

        • –> “Muy Problemo if Adam and Eve are not real flesh and blood people.”

          I understand why you struggle with that.

          Others don’t.

          • That was a dual-meaning “Others don’t.”

            1) Others don’t understand why you struggle.

            2) Others don’t share in that struggle, and some of us here have no problem with allegorical Adam and Eve. Thus, there’s pushback when you insist we see it the same as you do.

            • senecagriggs says:

              Rick Ro, I absolutely do NOT insist people see it my way.

              I do, however, like to make the case for the Evangelical mindset. There is logic involved pointing out the difficulties of picking and choosing what Scriptures you chose to believe and which Scriptures you deny as authoritative.

              Internet monk is not a theologically conservative website; I’m in the minority here.

              • –> “I’m in the minority here.”

                Yep. And I do appreciate you hanging out and sharing your viewpoints. At times you come across a bit strongly, thus my wording of “insist.”

                I’m guessing you see the other side as pretty insistent at times, too…LOL.

              • Dana Ames says:

                “Internet monk is not a theologically conservative website”

                Well, Sen, Internet Monk is actually a middle-of-the-road website, tending toward “little-o” orthodoxy. It’s also a web site where people can voice their opinions and are not shut down for simply disagreeing.

                “Conservative” and “liberal” are becoming problematic terms, because people toss them around without defining them. In so doing, in keeping with the polemic spirit of our age, the terms have turned into insults. I’ve come to appreciate the term “orthodox” when describing a person’s faith, and not simply because I’m EO 😉 It’s more precise about a person’s relationship to the core beliefs of Christianity, rather than describing a set of opinions about those core beliefs that also includes opinions about hot-button sociological issues.

                You are quite capable of expressing yourself clearly. Stick around and have a conversation, and hopefully we will retain Michael Spencer’s spirit in trying to avoid throwing problematic terms at one another.

                Dana

        • “Muy Problemo if Adam and Eve are not real flesh and blood people.”

          That’d be “muchos problemos”. Muy problemo being “very problem”.

          And it seems like it’s a problem for you, not me.

        • john barry says:

          sencagriggs, I believe God sent his Son Jesus to be my personal Savior and I accepted him as such as you do. I am with you as I know you profess and believe it also. Whether Adam and Eve are “real” people changes nothing in my faith in Christ nor yours if you believe that are real in the physical sense.
          The truth of the Bible is Jesus, whom we both believe in. At the end of the day I am with you in belief/faith and you with me, we both are saved though Jesus. I got to know and learn about Jesus though the Bible like you and then He Lives, He Lives, You Ask Me How I know Its True, I am sure you can finish the words to the hymn for me.
          As the young people say or use to, whatever works. I never met a phor I did not like. I appreciate your comments as you add a different perspective many times.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Again, the Direct Link between Adam & Eve YEC literalism and Christ and Resurrection in ONE all-or-nothing package.
          (And it isn’t just Adam & Eve; Noah’s Flood and once even Flat Earth was part of the package.)

          If one falls, all fall.
          And you lose your Salvation and Eternal Life; that’s why they will fight to the death for it.

          • Ronald Avra says:

            The demand for an all or nothing acceptance of the package is a very significant part of the problem in attempting to relate to fundamentalists. My impression is that many of them are more desperate to be right than to be Christian.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              “For in the Devil’s theology, the most important thing is to be Absolutely Right and to prove everyone else to be Absolutely Wrong. This does not lead to peace and harmony among men.”
              — Thomas Merton, “Moral Theology of the Devil”

              And we also see this in a totally-secular context, with Social Activists and their Cause Du Jour.

              “New England Puritans, seven-times distilled down to eliminate any hint of God while keeping intact all the Righteousness and Moral Fury.”
              — Burro in an older IM comment thread

      • Count me out as well. Came across something on a young Catholic scholar’s blog years ago. Wish I remembered his name. He said something to the effect that the Bible is true, all of it, and some of it actually happened.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Fundamentalism is a personality trait independent of the actual belief system it connects to.

          It’s possible to flip from Evangelical Fundamentalist to Catholic Fundamentalist to Atheist Fundamentalist.

          “My grandfather preached the Gospel of Christ,
          My father preached the Gospel of Socialism,
          I preach the Gospel of Science!”
          — don’t know the source, only the quote

    • “Count me in” or “Count me out.” Do we need to really fight over that? Does it really matter?

      It does only when one of those two sides DEMANDS that it matters.

      • Ronald Avra says:

        It is very easy for me to lapse into thinking that my particular cultural bubble at this moment in history is the correct perspective from which to order truth and faith. Whenever I’m required to attempt to develop understanding from a different viewpoint (a wife and children may be helpful here), I’m offered the opportunity to consider and reflect upon alternatives that haven’t occurred to me. I’ve become much slower to demand that people who disagree with me should abruptly toe my line.

      • Rick, you are so correct. This is nothing more than an exercise in telling one side that they are stupid for believing what they believe. This question has nothing to do with with a life in Christ. It is all about judgement of a persons views. Leave well enough alone. If I believe in a literal Adam and Eve or believe it’s a story telling of our beginnings what difference does it make except to foster a “” us againt them “ exchange where tolerance and love have no place

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          But how else can the Righteous count coup on the Unrighetous?

          The secular version is called “Virtue Signalling”, and we get a LOT of the secular version here in Cali.

      • Rick, you are so correct. This is nothing more than an exercise in telling one side that they are stupid for believing what they believe. This question has nothing to do with with a life in Christ. It is all about judgement of a persons views. Leave well enough alone. If I believe in a literal Adam and Eve or believe it’s a story telling of our beginnings what difference does it make except to foster a “” us againt them “ exchange where tolerance and love have no place

      • john barry says:

        “Count Me In or Count Me Out” shout out to Gary Lewis and The Playboys song which was the only song on their greatest hit album. Gary son of Jerry Lewis not Huey but that is not News.
        Just to keep on topic, Adam 12 was based on reality.

        • Had not thought about those guys in a while. I had that album too. My head’s been playing it since reading your post an hour ago. Now am ready for it to stop. Brought back some pleasant memories but am surely glad I’m not a teenager any more.

          • john barry says:

            SteveA. I did Gary Lewis and the Playboys a disservice. Other hits were Save Your Heart for Me, Sure Gonna to Miss Her, Everybody Loves A Clown and the classic This Diamond Ring. Once I start down memory lane I I recall more than I thought I could. Looked this up but the group had eight gold singles back when records cost a good penny. I am glad I grew up in that time period. I think there is a lot of pressure on being a teen now and it was at least in my mind the good old days.
            I even remember Dino, Desi and Billy , My wife always thought Dino was so good looking, died in Air Force F 4 crash, great memories filtered though time and perspective. Seems like yesterday.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Do we need to really fight over that?

        Nope, and I quite successfully side-stepped and equivocated on this issue when necessary for ~15 years.

        And I never lost a wink of sleep over doing so.

        I also know that many many others are also side-stepping and equivocated on this issue and others.

    • Truth by polling? Really?

  6. Off Topic. CM, are there plans to update the website to have https? Google just announced some big changes that are coming, and I’m wondering what the plans are with the developer.

  7. Genesis is not the problem. And the problem didn’t begin with Augustine. THE PROBLEM IS PAUL. In his letter to the Romans Paul bases his interpretation of Christ on the foundation of a historical Adam. His argument makes no sense unless you assume this. That’s what you have to deal with. Everything else is interesting but it skirts the issue.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Nope, not really. Paul was using typology, which is a subset of allegory that allows for but does not necessitate an actual historical event in the OT.

      In our Modern Age, we have eschewed typology, which is so incomparably rich and conveys what volumes of books cannot. We have turned to the all-or-nothing attitude of scientism (not true Science) to try to prove our various fundamentalisms.

      Dana

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        As Rob Bell put it in his older blog, the difference between Poem Truth and Math Truth and today’s reading of Poem Truth as Math Truth.

      • Dana, yes, typology. But Paul’s typology is mutual and reciprocal. In his argument he is comparing the natures of of Adam and Christ in order to contrast the divergent outcomes of their actions. The divergence of outcomes is highlighted by and founded on their similarities of nature. Christ is a type of Adam because Adam is a type of Christ. Is Christ allegorical?

        Well the answer to that last question is yes. But Christ is a real person too. Just like Adam is both allegorical and real.

        The hardest thing for moderns to understand is that the ancients weren’t just less technologically advanced than we are but that they didn’t think the way we think. We are not just separated from them by time. Between us lies a profound intellectual and conceptual revolution which we can amuse ourselves I suppose by calling “The Enlightenment”. Moderns spontaneously resort to categories and make distinctions that would have been totally alien to the ancients.

        The example of the latter that is relevant to this discussion is the distinction between “literal” and “figurative”. Or “math truth”and “poem truth”. This is a completely modern distinction. The ancients believed in truth. They believed in reality. But reality had meaning. Reality wasn’t particles and forces, it was a story that had meaning. We call these stories myths but for the ancients the whole universe was a story. A real story. We have a special category of phenomena called “miracles” but for them the whole world was a miracle.

        The fixed boundary between the divine and the human did not exist for them. Humans could become gods and gods could become humans. Animals could become wise and speak. Dreams were portents.

        Yes Paul believed Adam was a real human being. But he also believed Adam was a type And he could be a type because he was a real human being. Just like Christ. Our modern fundamentalists err not because they read these texts literally but because they read them only literally. Our modern liberals (sorry I can’t think of a better word) err not because they read these texts figuratively but because they read them only figuratively. We live in an “either/or” world and the ancients lived in a “both/and” world.

        • The example of the latter that is relevant to this discussion is the distinction between “literal” and “figurative”. Or “math truth”and “poem truth”. This is a completely modern distinction. The ancients believed in truth. They believed in reality. But reality had meaning. Reality wasn’t particles and forces, it was a story that had meaning. We call these stories myths but for the ancients the whole universe was a story. A real story. We have a special category of phenomena called “miracles” but for them the whole world was a miracle.

          You are making a sweeping generalization about the way the ancients thought about and experienced truth and reality. Not all ancient societies, or individuals, were working from the same playbook. To assume that all the ancients had the same epistemology is to reduce worlds of considerable variety to monochrome; I don’t see how you can justify it.

          In addition, it seems clear that, with regard to miracles, at least some ancients did distinguish between special deeds of power, miracles, and normal everyday events. That is why throughout the New Testament those deeds of power are presented as occurrences that were relatively rare, rather than constant. Granted, the New Testament writers may have seen such deeds of power where we would instead find natural causes, but by referring to them as special rather than normal events they indicate that they did not view everything that happened in their world as miraculous. You are unjustifiably denying their ability to make the kind of commonsense observations and distinctions that, though systematically utilized by the Enlightenment in an unprecedented way, long preexisted it.

        • Stephen, the text does not say if Paul believed Adam was a “real human being” – that is not the point.

          “In his argument he is comparing the natures of of Adam and Christ in order to contrast the divergent outcomes of their actions.”

          Actually, in his argument Paul is comparing not the different natures of Adam and Christ, because he calls them both “one man”; look at how many times he says “one man”! The divergent outcome of their actions is indeed the comparison, but it is between disobedience, death and condemnation on the one hand, and obedience, the free gift of grace and the ability to be in right relationship with God on the other, the contrast between **death** reigning and grace and the ability to be in the proper relationship with God reigning.

          The point is not whether Adam was “real”. You’re mostly right that the ancients had a more holistic view of reality than we do; however, please notice that after the first chapters of Genesis, Adam virtually disappears from Scripture. There are a few references in the deuterocanonical books of the OT, and a few in the Gospels. It is only Paul who references Adam particularly, and only in contrast to Christ. Not only that, but in 1Cor 15.22 it says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” In the Hebrew sense of the word “Adam”, Paul could just as easily have been saying, “In their humanity all die,” which of course is observably true. And then he says in Christ – also human, in fact the First True Human – all shall be made alive. The contrast Paul is making is ultimately between Death and Life, not that Jesus is divine (though he certainly writes about him elsewhere as if he were).

          Typology is not exactly the same thing as allegory. With typology, the Type may indeed have been a historical being, but that’s not the point. The point is THE MEANING. With typology, with Jesus Christ as the Antitype, when you come on certain passages in the OT – like, for example, Ps 2.7 or Ps 110.1 – it’s a facepalm moment: “Oh, THAT’S what that means!!!” It’s all about meaning and interpretation, not establishing historicity/who is “real”.

          Dana

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Paul bases his interpretation of Christ on the foundation of a historical Adam.

      Nope.

      • To be fair, that is exactly how i was taught to interpret it in the Reformed tradition. Quite emphatically.

  8. Surveys?

    Survey Conducted by Young Earth Polling and Research Consulting, LLP. Ken Ham. President.

    • Question #1: Are you a Born-Again Elected by God and going to Heaven because you believe in a literal 6-day creation, or are you a heathen destined for Hell?

  9. Dana Ames says:

    One of the greatest theologians of Christianity, Athanasius of Alexandria, wrote in the early part of the 300s that “…the first of men created, the one who was named Adam in Hebrew, is described in the Holy Scriptures as having at the beginning had his mind to God-ward in a freedom unembarrassed by shame, …. which he enjoyed in the place where he was — the place which the holy Moses called figuratively a Garden.” Get that? Figuratively. It doesn’t mean that it’s not “true”. It means that the truth is in the Figures, not the Historicity.

    It was the consensus of all of the rest of the Greek Fathers that God created our first parents, that they were not perfect but had to grow into humanity, that that growth took another tack than what God originally planned, and that it was always in God’s intention to become united with humanity and effect the redemption of humans and everything else. The Fathers (including Irenaeus, whose sphere was the western end of the West and who was even earlier than the GFs) read Scripture typologically, which means that the Reality of Christ, who he is and what he did, was unquestioned and viewed as including what we today would call “historical”, AND that there was some sort of “historical” component to the events of the OT, but that God’s purpose in seeing that they were recorded was NOT to establish “Historicity.”

    Not all problems can be laid at Augustine’s feet (his devotional writing is beautiful and orthodox) but a lot of them can, due to his own background and previous studies, the über-conservative sensibility of most Latin theologians of his day, and his lack of familiarity with the Greek Fathers’ writings. No Eastern theologian who came after him and was able to access his work took him, aside from the devotional writing, to be expressing the consensus of the Church. His writings spread throughout the western Empire because he was indeed a brilliant man, wrote a lot, and could afford to pay many scribes to take down his thoughts and make a lot of copies.

    Once again, the contributions of the Greek Fathers regarding this subject have been overlooked. Sigh.

    Dana

    • Dana you’re not wrong but you’re only half right. See my response to your first post.

      • Stephen, I am in line with the earliest Christian interpreters of Scripture wrt what Jesus’ actions meant and what his purpose was. If I’m wrong, I’m in good company; it took me 50 years to find them, and I’m parked with them for the duration. Their interpretation was actually the common understanding of all Christians (except Augustine and a very few others) until about AD 800. It not only makes the best sense to me: it elevates both Jesus Christ and all human beings, and it actually engenders more thanksgiving to God – a truly good God! – for his deliverance of and care for us. Since some other interpretation seems to make better sense to you, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

        Dana