We continue our review of the book, Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science, by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight. Today, Chapter 6.
One of the elements of reading Genesis 1-11 in its ancient near East context is to realize that, despite the pre-modern science, the people of the ANE were observing, testing, thinking, and drawing conclusions about reality. What they say about various elements in the cosmos and how it works are their perceptions and were as much “facts” to them as DNA reveals “facts” to us. In that respect, the Bible’s opening chapter is a form of ancient near East science, Scot thinks. I see his point, but ever since Kant and the rise of modernism a sharp distinction is now drawn between the natural and the supernatural, the physical and the metaphysical, and the that which can be verified, or better yet, falsified, and that which will always remain in the realm of speculation. It seems to me that to the modern mind, spiritual truths are no longer truths at all, but culturally derived matters of opinion.
According to Old Testament and ANE scholars, the ancients did not draw that distinction, or certainly not as sharp as moderns do. That is why Scot calling the first chapter of Genesis “science” gives me the heebie jeebies. Science has become the “sine qua non” of modern thought. It is why YEC is so strong in some people’s minds, and so manifestly a modern invention. If the Bible doesn’t CONCORD to modern science then the Bible is false, untrustworthy, not God’s eternal Word; that is why they fight so vehemently to say the earth can only be 6,000 years old, Noah’s flood had to drown every living human being, and, of course, Adam and Eve were the first two and ONLY humans. To say the Bible contains ancient science, despite being so manifestly obvious, is nevertheless, tantamount to saying the Bible (and God) are liars in their view.
Scot then gives four brief sketches of other ANE creation stories. The first is the Enuma Elish (“from on high” the opening line), the Babylonian creation story. From Wikipedia: “The Enuma Elish exists in various copies from Babylon and Assyria. The version from Ashurbanipal’s library dates to the 7th century BCE. The composition of the text probably dates to the bronze age, to the time of Hammurabi or perhaps the early Kassite era (roughly 18th to 16th centuries BCE), although some scholars favor a later date of c. 1100 BCE”. The tl;dr version is that the god Marduk kills the god Tiamat and creates the earth and the sky from her body. Marduk then creates the calendar, organizes the planets and stars, and regulates the moon, the sun, and weather. The gods who have pledged their allegiance to Tiamat are initially forced into labor in the service of the gods who sided with Marduk. But they are freed from these labors when Marduk then destroys Tiamat’s husband, Kingu, and uses his blood to create humankind to do the work for the gods, that is humans were created to be the god’s slaves.
Scot then sketches the story of Gilgamesh. In the epic, Gilgamesh is a demigod of superhuman strength who builds the city walls of Uruk to defend his people and after the death of his friend Enkidu travels to meet the sage Utnapishtim, who survived the Great Flood. Prior to his death, Enkidu is taught to be a human and acquire reason by prolonged sexual concourse with the prostitute Shamhat. Grieving his friend, Gilgamesh sets out on his epic journey to achieve immortality and finds out that the gods sent the Great Flood to drown all humans. Although Gilgamesh ultimately fails to win immortality in the story, his deeds live on through the written word and, so, does he.
The third story is Atrahasis. The Atrahasis is the Akkadian/Babylonian epic of the Great Flood sent by the gods to destroy human life. Only the good man, Atrahasis (his name translates as `exceedingly wise’) was warned of the impending deluge by the god Ea who instructed him to build an ark to save himself. Once again humans are created because the gods are lazy and want human slaves to do their toil for them. The fourth story Scot calls the “Assur Bilingual Creation Story” which didn’t bring up anything on a Google search and by Scot’s description in the book is like Atrahasis only slightly different.
Scot then presents his twelve theses for reading Adam and Eve in context.
Thesis 1: God is one, and this one God is outside the cosmos, not inside the cosmos as the gods of the ancient Near East are. The God of Adam and Eve is unique as the superior one. Genesis 1-2 is more about God than Adam and Eve or the creation of the world. This one true God of Israel, as the New Testament will state explicitly, creates the universe through the Son of God, who is the Wisdom of God.
He contrasts the gods of Mesopotamia to the one God of Israel. The religions of Israel’s neighbors were polytheistic, mythological, and anthropomorphic, describing their gods in human forms and functions. Whereas Genesis 1 is monotheistic, scornful of mythology and engages in anthropomorphism only as figures of speech. That doesn’t mean there isn’t borrowing of ideas and terms. There is the idea of the divine counsel, God surrounded by supernatural “advisors” hinted at in Genesis 1:26; “Let us make mankind in our image”. The opening of the book of Job shows this idea even more explicitly. The personification of Wisdom in the book of Proverbs foreshadows Jesus as that personified Wisdom, who is also the Creator.
Thesis 2: There are occasional elements of theomachy in the Bible, even if the Bible routinely minimizes and perhaps even deconstructs the ideas of theomachy. Adam and Eve are not the result of a cosmic battle but the product of God’s good design for the cosmos.
“Theomachy” being the term used to describe “conflict among the gods”, and is a common feature of Mesopotamian creation stories. Scot says there are hints of this in the Bible, for example, the battle with a kind of Tiamat called Leviathan, in Psalm 74:13-16 (NIV).
13 It was you who split open the sea by your power;
you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.
14 It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan
and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert.
15 It was you who opened up springs and streams;
you dried up the ever-flowing rivers.
16 The day is yours, and yours also the night;
you established the sun and moon.
An honest reading of this scripture admits that the biblical author was influenced by the thoughts and concepts of his time and culture. It doesn’t necessarily mean the biblical author bought into them, but it does acknowledge he was familiar with them.
Thesis 3: God orders creation into a temple. Adam and Eve are designed by God to worship and to lead all creation to see its God.
Here Scot brings out John Walton’s theses in “Lost World of Genesis One” that ANE people were more interested in function and purpose than raw materialistic explanations. Genesis is not so much a description of scientific material origins as a description of God ordering all creation for a purpose. This is a fair exegesis; thus when God creates light the issue is not so much the material origin of light but the function of light as ordering day into night as markers for seasons. Compare Genesis 1:14-18 (NIV):
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness.
The key to understanding the temple motif that Genesis represents is given in Genesis 2:2: And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
A reader from the ancient world would know immediately what was going on and would recognize the role of day 7, and would conclude this is a text of a temple inauguration. For example consider:
1 Kings 8:65 And at that time Solomon held a feast, and all Israel with him, a great congregation, from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of Egypt, before the Lord our God, seven days and seven days, even fourteen days. And…
2 Chron 7:9 And in the eighth day they made a solemn assembly: for they kept the dedication of the altar seven days, and the feast seven days.
In the ANE when a palace or temple was dedicated the king or god was said to sit on his throne and “take his rest”. It means he has completed his tasks, set everything in order, and now begins his normal rule and reign… For example:
Psalm 132:7 We will go into his tabernacles: we will worship at his footstool. 8 Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength. 13 For the Lord hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation. 14 This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it.
Hebrews 4:10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
Isaiah 66:1 Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?
The 7 days relate to the Cosmic Temple Inauguration. Man is installed in the temple as God’s Image i.e. His likeness, representative, priest, caretaker.
Thesis 4: All humans—male and female—are made in God’s image. Adam and Eve are unique and special and carry both great freedom and great responsibility for the earth.
This is in contrast to many ANE creation stories where humanity has been created as slave labor for the gods. Only the kings and pharaohs had value. In addition, pharaohs, kings, and heroes were often seen as sons of gods, or at least as special mediators between the divine and human spheres. Human existence in Genesis is emptied of any intrinsic divinity – while at the same time all human beings, from the greatest to the least, and not just pharaohs, kings and heroes, are granted a divine likeness and mediation. Humankind has the royal office or calling or vocation to be God’s representative and agents in the world, granted authorized power to share in God’s rule or administration of the earth’s resources and creatures.
Thesis 5: Humans are distinct from the rest of creation. Adam and Eve are unlike other creatures and therefore have a responsibility for them.
In many places in the Bible, man is said to be like other creatures in terms of his physical existence, but only humans are said to be made in “God’s image”. Scot makes the point that the task of humans over creation is to participate in creations flourishing, not its exploitation. Also this dignifies each and every person in the world for all time, but it carries with it an awe-inspiring responsibility to respect one another.
Thesis 6: Humans are gendered for procreation (one flesh) and mutuality. Adam and Eve are to multiply in order to populate the earth with more and more “images of God” to rule and govern and nurture the earth.
Scot make a case for mutuality from Genesis 1:27; So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. He notes all theologians today acknowledge that both men and women are made in God’s image. He says God genders humans into male and female so they can relate to one another in mutuality and reproduce. Mutuality flows out of being images of God and expresses what being an image of God means at its deepest core.
Thesis 7: Humans are called to work the earth for its flourishing. Adam and Eve are not like the ancient Near Eastern gods desiring leisure, nor are Adam and Eve like the humans whom the ancient Near Eastern gods want as slaves, but instead are called to co-create and co-nurture as part of God’s design for this earth.
Scot’s point in this thesis is that work and labor are not post-fall activities. That God “worked” and created as an artisan and so decreed that for man as part of the image of God.
Thesis 8: Humans are called to name creatures in order to understand fit and function so that creatures might flourish. Adam and Eve, following in the way of God, are to name creatures a result of observing and knowing them in order to nurture them into their divinely ordained functions.
Naming is an important function in ANE culture. God creates and names showing his sovereignty over all creation. The God brings all the creatures before the man so the he may name them. Naming them will give the creatures a known existence, and the man will, by naming the creatures, be given a role as the governor (or sub-governor under God) of those creatures. Naming involves observation, discernment, labeling, and therefore relating. And then, of course, after naming all the animals the text says no suitable helper was found for the man. God then creates the woman by taking her from the side of the man or half the man as some interpret it. The man then names her as “woman” for she was taken out of man speaking of a relationship of both sameness and yet distinction. God names her “ezer kenegdo” which KJV translates as “helpmeet” but Scot says the Hebrew means “helper corresponding to” which means someone to be with him, someone to work alongside him, and someone with whom he can form mutuality. The idea is that the man needed an “ally”.
Thesis 9: Humans want to be more than they are and to extend their reach. Adam and Eve, designed by God to sub-govern and sub-nurture creation in leading it to God, have the freedom to choose to defy God and the arrogance to think they can be “like” God.
God creates Adam and Eve and shares with them divine responsibility for creation. This sharing of responsibility implies freedom. Like God, humans have the power of choice. We are all too familiar with this story and the certain way of interpreting it since Augustine. It is hard for us to read it any other way. But Scot asserts, after NT Wright, that neither the Old Testament nor Romans 5 ever blames Adam for the sin of others or blames Adam for our death. We sin by choice, we die because we sin. The text, in the context of the ANE, speaks of sin in terms of pride, arrogance, and a failure to trust the loving word of God. And here is the fundamental tension of the first three chapters of Genesis when read together. Adam and Eve are images of God, but that means they are to follow through on the divine assignment of governing the earth on God’s behalf. The can be godly by doing so, but they are not designed to become godlike.
Then Scot deals with the consequence of their choices, in particular 3:16b: Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you. Is that descriptive of what will happen or is it prescriptive of what is now ordered by God to happen. Those familiar with Scot’s blog know he is a champion of egalitarianism over against complementarianism, hence he believes it is descriptive only. Scot quotes Walter Brueggemann:
“In God’s garden, as God wills it, there is mutuality and equity. In God’s garden now, permeated by distrust, there is control and distortion. But that distortion is not for one moment accepted as the will of the Gardener.”
Adam and Eve are depicted as the literary characters in a story that goes wrong. We see them as imaging-but-failing Adam and Eve.
Thesis 10: Humans are called by God to relieve suffering, to undo the curse, and to labor in a creation now tempted to return to chaos. Adam and Eve are called by God to continue in their role as God’s images in this world: co-creating, co-governing, and co-nurturing one another and the created order.
The question left hanging after the “fall” is: But after they sinned, did they remain images of God? The answer to that question, Scot believes is in Genesis 9:1-7:
6 “Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.
7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”
Scot says the mission remains. They are not God’s slave labor, as in the Mesopotamian texts, but still summoned to see the earth as God’s cosmic temple and to mediate that knowledge to all creation.
Thesis 11: To read the Bible in context means to know where the Adam and Eve story will go in the pages ahead. What will become evident to the one who reads the whole Bible is that Adam and Eve are not just two individuals but representatives of both Israel and Everyone. Hence, Adam and Eve’s sin is Israel’s prototypical sin, their “exile” is Israel’s exile, and they therefore represent the sin and discipline of Everyone.
As Pete Enns said in “The Evolution of Adam”, the Adam story mirrors Israel’s story from Exodus to Exile. God creates a special person, Adam; place him in a special place, the garden; and gives him law as stipulation of continued communion with God. Adam disobeys and is exiled from the garden. Israel is “created” at the Exodus, given a special land, the land of Canaan, and a law to obey. Israel disobeys and goes into exile as a result. Adam is to be a blessing to the whole earth and Israel, in Genesis 12:3, is called to be blessing to “all peoples on earth”. What happens to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-3 is that they become archetypal Adam and Eve, not only for Israel, but also for universal humanity.
Thesis 12: No matter how much emphasis is given to a literary, archetypal, and image-of-God reading of Adam and Eve, the fact remains that Genesis 1-2 presents Adam and Eve as what might be called the genealogical Adam and Eve.
Again Scot brings up the point that any reference to a “historical” Adam must deal with what the science of genomics has revealed. And that scientific conclusion is that our DNA does not come from either two or eight humans only; the minimum number is somewhere around 10,000 hominins. Scot says:
“Having observed that all talk about a ‘historical’ Adam emerges more from modern sciences and history than from the world of the ancient Near East and early Judaism, I must add that an honest reading of the Bible also leads at least to what might be called a genealogical Adam. I would contend first, though, that the genealogical Adam is rooted in the literary portrait of Adam and Eve over against their ancient Near Eastern contexts. That is, the literary Adam and Eve are the ‘front porch’ to the genealogical Adam and Eve.”
That seems a fair point to me, if you are going to take the science seriously, and I firmly believe we must. And as I said in post #7, based on the reasonable computer modelling of Rohde and others, it is scientifically possible that a common ancestor to all of humans could have existed just several thousand years ago. Adam of the Bible could very well have been the ancestor of all Israel, even if that is shrouded in the mists of time and legend. As biblical anthropologist, Alice C. Linsley, says in her article, “Are Adam and Eve Real?”
“…it is not necessary to insist that Adam and Eve are the progenitors of all humanity. Instead we may understand them as the first ancestors of the people who gave us Genesis. This concept of the first ancestors or heads of tribes and clans is found throughout the Bible. Midian is the head of the Midianites; Jacob is the head of the Israelites, and Lot is the head of the Moabites.”
As Charles Fines remarked in the comments to that post: “And not only the people who gave us Genesis, but the people who gave us Jesus.” Then I noted in the comments; If Jesus is truly God incarnate, then the incarnation MUST be tied to real human beings, otherwise we are Docetics. Jesus had real human ancestors, or he wasn’t a real human.
So, is Adam literary? I think yes. Is Adam legendary? I think yes. But behind the literary and legendary figure, was there a real human being? Again, I think yes.
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