does the genealogy of Adam make Adam a real person (Lamoureux on genealogies part 5)

Today we continue with part 5 of a 6-part audio-slide series by Denis Lamoureux on biblical genealogies (part 1 is here).

This episode is called “Adam and the Biblical Genealogies,” and to address this issue, Lamoureux brings together two factors: (1) early Israel and oral traditions (which included short genealogies of real people), and (2) ancient science and origins (which involved retrojecting their experience of how reproduction works, reasoning back to a first couple). Connecting these two parts requires thinking (as much as we can) as ancient people rather than modern.

The audio-slide show can be accessed here.

Lamoureux holds three earned doctoral degrees (dentistry, theology, and biology) and is associate professor of science and religion at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta (full bio here). He is the author of I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution (see first of the audio slide series on this book here) which is a great introduction to his view of origins called “evolutionary creation.”

The Historical Adam: It's Time to Stop Hiding Under a Theological Security Blanket
Adam’s Fall and Early Christian Notions of Sin
11 recurring mistakes in the debate over the “historical Adam.”
creating Adam, again and again
  • Ross

    Thanks for another episode Denis.

    I don’t personally have any major problems about Adam not being an actual person, nor the need for him to bring imputed original sin into the World, as it doesn’t really challenge my trust in the bible being “inspired” and “authoritative”. However there are a couple of instances, including a harangue elsewhere on this site, where it might help to think a bit more around that issue.

    Currently I’m thinking the doctrine, or interpretation of “original sin” which links the need for a real Adam to necessitate Jesus’ atoning death, hangs a lot on St. Paul and what he says. I don’t think “original sin” such as this is, or ever was a “Jewish” doctrine. Could you or anyone point me to anything which may help me explore these issues, particularly if it only relates to a few sayings of St. Paul. Or is that argument more to do with doctrines raised after the apostolic age.

    • Denis O. Lamoureux

      Hi Ross,
      Your timing is impeccable! And you “get it” completely. With no Adam, the next issue is original sin. And I’m about 3/4s of the way through a paper entitle: “Original Sin Revisited: The Inevitability of a Theological Paradigm Shift?”
      If our good friend Dr. Enns would like to post an early draft, I’m game. But if not, I could send you or anyone interested the draft when done.

      I’ve been impressed with your comments in this series and would much value your thoughts.

      Blessings,
      Denis

      • Rick

        Do you address how it is viewed in Eastern Orthodoxy?

        • Denis O. Lamoureux

          Hi Rick,
          I don’t. I stay within the Western Church.
          d

          • Rick

            ok thanks.

        • Seraphim

          Hi Rick. I’m EO. There’s a similar debate going on within my tradition. Personally, I accept the idea of a “first human couple” imbued with the divine image and graced with the Holy Spirit. However, I don’t think Gen. 2-3 is a historical account of that couple. Rather, it is an artistic painting of primeval reality that draws on other Near Eastern stories in order to make its point. The Fathers say that Paradise is ineffable to postlapsarian experience, so that it is presented to us in imagery and symbolism. In particular, Israel is presented as recapitulating Adam’s experience of disobedience and exile- our iconography of the Fall usually includes the words “the exile” and our Lenten cycle revolves around the theme of exile and restoration. We begin by praying Psalm 137 (By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept), and the fast ends with the Feast of the Resurrection, which is the end of exile and the restoration of Paradise. I think that “Adam” after his disobedience, took other wives from homo sapiens so that we shouldn’t expect to find genetic evidence of all humans going back to one couple.

          • Rick

            Thanks Seraphim for this. I knew some of this, but forgot about the emphasis on exile. Good point. Since he is writing about a potential paradigm shift, regarding original sin, I am thinking the EO perspective would be worth at least touching upon, since it brings to mind a type of orthodox (small o) theology that is removed from the impact of Augustinian O.S. theology.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

            “first human couple”

            No such thing.

            Sheehan et al., building on earlier work by Li and Durbin (references in margin*), calculated that the minimum population size associated with the worldwide expansion of humans out of Africa roughly 100,000 years ago was 2,250 individuals, while the population that remained in Africa was no smaller than about 10,000 individuals. For population geneticists, this is the “effective population size,” invariably smaller than the census size, so these are minimum estimates, and ones derived from conservative assumptions….

            Note: 2,500 is larger than two.

            Li, H., and R. Durbin. 2011. Inference of human population history from individual whole-genome sequences. Nature 475:493-497.

            Sheehan, S., K. Harris, and Y. S. Song. 2013. Estimating variable effective population sizes from multiple genomes: a sequentially Markov conditional sampling distribution approach. Genetics 194:647-62.

            Scientists Try to Reconcile Adam and Eve Story, Whiff. Again.
            Jerry A. Coyne, Professor of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago
            newrepublic.com/article/115759/adam-eve-theologians-try-reconcile-science-and-fail

      • peteenns

        If you have a blog-length (or 2 or 3) version of it, absolutely.

      • Ross

        I’d be honoured to get a copy.

      • mark

        Denis, I’m glad you intend to follow out your line of thinking in this important direction, and would also be among those who would be happy to see your paper. To my mind–coming from a Catholic perspective–the continued influence of Augustinian thinking (among both Catholics and Protestants) on “original” sin is nothing short of scandalous–a major stumbling block to real Christian faith for many. For anyone who follows theological thinking, a “Theological Paradigm Shift” re original sin has been developing for some time in Catholic thought. Of course, a paradigm shift of this sort would also lead us on to a reconsideration of the theological wars over Nature/Grace that have torn the Western world apart for well nigh two millennia.

        I’ve done this before but, with Pete’s indulgence, I’ll reference my own blog. During March and April of 2011 and did a three part series re these issues. I don’t pretend that my discussion is somehow exhaustive or definitive, but the topics discussed may prove useful to those–who appear to be numerous–who are wrestling with the whole notion of original sin. Here are the titles of those posts:

        ▼ April (4)

        Original Sin: The Later Fathers

        Early Christian Thought on Original Sin

        ▼ March (1)

        Paul and the Yetzer Ha-Ra

        • Denis O. Lamoureux

          Thanks Mark. There is development in Catholic circles (I know I teach in a Catholic college), but officially (eg Catechism) the tradition remains intact.

          I could not find the documents you cite. Can you send them to me privately? dlamoure@ualberta.ca
          Thanks,
          Denis

          • mark

            Re development in Catholic circles, you’re absolutely correct. It’s a complicated topic, of course, but even the statements in the Catechism (as well as Benedict’s statements re “Limbo”) are certainly an implicit rejection of the full Augustinian position–although nowhere near enough to suit me. My take is that those responsible for “official” Catholic thought are hoping this issue will gradually go away, for somewhat complex ecclesiological reasons. I like to recommend Leszek Kolakowski’s book God Owes Us Nothing for an historical insight into the malign influence these controversies have had on Christian thought.

            Re those posts on original sin, it may be as well to simply link them here:

            Paul and the Yetzer Ha-Ra

            Early Christian Thought on Original Sin

            Original Sin: The Later Fathers

          • mark
          • Ross

            Thanks for the links Mark. I’m currently using David H Stern’s “Complete Jewish Bible” and am intrigued by his comments. I’m thinking about the paradigm shift and how this relates to a Second Temple Judaic reading of scripture and not over-attributing or using a Greek mind-set, just because some things may, or may not have been originally written in Greek.

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

        I think Mennonite theologian Ched Myers has the “original sin” narrative nailed, based on well-documented paleoanthropology.

        “The Fall”(Myers, 2005) is a story of the Neolithic revolution, which is depicted secularly as “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.”(Diamond, 1987) Several salvation religions were then invented to attempt mitigating this human calamity.(Quinn, 1996, 2000)

        References:
        Ched Myers. (2005) The Fall. Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. Edited by Bron Taylor. NY: Continuum. chedmyers.org/articles/ecology-faith/%E2%80%9C-fall%E2%80%9D-and-%E2%80%9Canarcho-primitivism-and-bible

        Jared Diamond. (May 1987) The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race. Discover Magazine. pp. 64-66. discovermagazine.com/1987/may/02-the-worst-mistake-in-the-history-of-the-human-race

        Daniel Quinn. (1996) The Story of B. The Boiling Frog. pp. 258-259 oilcrash.com/articles/frog.htm

        Daniel Quinn. Our Religions: Are they the Religions of Humanity Itself? Fleming Lecture in Religion. Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas (October 18, 2000) ishmael.org/Education/Writings/southwestern.shtml

  • Seraphim

    Hmm. I accept the idea that the primeval geneologies are an artistic creation of the ancient Israelites, but I think the idea that a “first couple” is just an inevitability of ancient thought is too simplistic. To my knowledge, other ANE origin stories usually involve the gods creating a population of humans rather than a single couple- the Bible is unique in that regard. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Denis O. Lamoureux

      Hi,
      It varies. For example, the Epic of Atrahasis has the creation of 7 males and 7 females (note the mystical number 7).The point still being is that humans are created de novo (quick and mature).
      d

  • Matt Jacobs

    Great look at the OT genealogy. I kind of figured that the oral tradition probably also tended to skip the less-interesting ancestors. After all, the travelers, warriors, and great leaders would be the ones you’d typically remember, while it might be easy to forget the relatively unremarkable ones.

    • Denis O. Lamoureux

      Hi,
      I think you are absolutely right. But here’s the problem we have. Oral communication is exactly that–oral and we haven’t got any records of it. I’ve been influenced by the work of cultural anthropologists and their findings with preliterate (oral) peoples in the 19th and 20th century. And there is certainly a “fluidity” (to use their term) in oral genealogies as you correctly point out.
      Thanks,
      Denis

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

        What evidence do you use to differentiate an oral tradition that has been later written down from an oral tradition that has later been written down via inspiration? Can inspiration be as figurative as creation?

  • Bobby

    Denis,

    Thank you for the slideshow. I can’t help to think though that this is a very naturalistic discussion – something you might get in a history class or cultural geography class. That is, it seems you are implying that a bunch of writers were writing some fun stuff to tell a moral story – much in the same way that Homer wrote, or the Grimm fairy tales.

    Or, maybe like you and I sitting down and writing a story about creation and ascribing it to God.

    I don’t want to misrepresent you. Do you think that God had something to do with these genealogies, or do you think they were just written stories by people trying to get their head around why they were here? In other words, one of the greatest books ever written, but not anything divine.

    • Denis O. Lamoureux

      Hi Bobby,
      In my view, the Bible is 110% the Word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit. God in inspiring the biblical writers accommodated by employing their literary techniques, like their techniques in forming genealogies.
      Hope this makes my view clear.
      Best,
      Denis

  • Darryl Stringer

    That’s a great presentation, Denis. Thank you.

    It seems to me that if evolution is the means by which God created the world, how would He explain that process to an ancient people? How would God explain that, over a very very long period of time, organisms large and small can adapt and change based along genetic variation? It seems as though such an explanation would be completely beyond the understanding of ancient people groups, and would therefore be unhelpful.

    Secondly, what would be the purpose in explaining evolution to the ancient Israelites? How is that going to help them? It might have helped us 3000 years later, now that we understand the science a lot better, but what good would it do for them? I see no benefit at all. The story they have, though not exact history, serves the purpose it sets out to achieve – explaining the connection between God and Israel, and why God ought to be followed above all other idols.

    • Denis O. Lamoureux

      Hi,
      I think you are absolutely right. Evidence of the effectiveness of the Text as it is, is that we are still talking about it today.
      Best,
      Denis

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

    With biological evolution disproving humans came from a single breeding pair, it’s difficult to maintain the connection between “sin” and soteriology when one attempts to maintain this:

    For as in [figurative/literal] Adam all die, so also in [figurative/literal] Christ all will be made alive. ~1 Corinthians 15:22

    For just as through the [figurative/literal] disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the [figurative/literal] obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. ~Romans 5:19

    Perhaps original sin will have to be re-worked into some sort of simultaneous societal sin? And when in human history did this evolution into sin take place?

    And eschatology may have to be revamped too, with the Flood being disproven by science.

    Just as it was in the days of [figurative/literal] Noah, so also will it be in the days of the [figurative/literal] Son of Man. ~Luke 17:26

    • Denis O. Lamoureux

      Hi Brian,
      Thanks for this comment because it allows me to clarify my position. Paul believed in a literal and historical Adam. So I would not agree to all your brackets [figurative/literal].

      But what else did Paul believe? He embraced a 3-tier universe as seen in Phil 2:10-11 (At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord [1] in heaven, [2] on earth, and [3] in the underworld. So unsurprisingly, Paul accepted an ancient science. I don’t think the spiritual truth in Paul’s writings rest in his ancient views of the natural world, like the 3-tier universe and the de novo creation of Adam.

      You are astute in raising some issues regarding systematic theology (eg the categories of soteriology and eschatology). With no Adam, we will need to revisit these since in the past Christians have conflated an ancient science (Adam) into their creeds.

      Best,
      Denis

    • TJ

      I actually think there’s a pretty reasonable way to maintain traditional soteriology if you allow that there was a real Adam and Eve. By real I don’t mean a literal interpretation of Gen 1-3 but nevertheless real people. I think you could reasonably argue that whatever Paul’s understanding of ancient science may have been his theological understanding of Adam is as the federal head or representative of all of humanity. The fact that Adam evolved does not seem to negate this role to me. Adam could have been chosen by God from among all people to enter into a covenant with him promising life for all people if Adam obeyed and warning of spiritual death if he disobeyed. This seems to fit the covenantal pattern of the OT. It also makes sense of the command to “subdue the earth” which has been convincingly argued would have meant to spread the worship of God over all the earth. Adam’s mission, if he had obeyed, would have been to bring the life God promised to all the world. But when Adam disobeyed God’s covenant with him and the promise of life for all people was broken and the warning of (spiritual) death was realized. This seems to make the parallel between Adam and Christ even stronger.

      That seems like a reasonable option that still holds to traditional (at least reformed) soteriology based on federal headship. This is something I’ve been thinking about. I’d love some feedback on whether this is a workable possibility.

      • Ross

        That’s a good idea, which I’d ever heard or thought about. It does seem very plausible, however In terms of being a workable possibility I’m not sure. I think we would need to see clearer documentary support from scripture or tradition, to say it is any more than speculation.

        I would say that if its purpose is just to support a hypothesis of imputed “guilt” from an ancestor, which is necessarily part of Jesus’ death and redemption of man, then I would say it is too weak and weaker than the traditional belief in Adam as the universal progenitor. So I think we would still have to come back to looking at and rethinking “original sin”.

        • TJ

          It’s definitely a speculation and lacking any specific support a this point. I’ve been considering the question of whether Paul’s understanding of ancient history is actually a basis for his theology or merely the context of it. If it is merely the context of his theology then I don’t think his lack of knowledge about human origins invalidates it, or makes traditional interpretations of it necessarily invalid. This is something I want to put some work into.

          • Ross

            I would think the best place to start is in Jewish Talmudic scholarship, particularly in the Second Temple era. I find this gives a fascinating insight into theological issues, but I can’t see myself devoting much time to it at the moment. I would say this is the overwhelming source of Paul’s theology not Greece, although there will be some cross pollination.


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