Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Answers to High Schoolers' Questions About Adam and Eve

Alice C. Linsley

It is ironic that people insist on reading Genesis 1-3 as history and and yet ignore the historicity of Genesis 4-11. In this later section we find data that is verified by the sciences, especially kinship analysis, DNA studies, migration studies, climate studies, archaeology and linguistics. Were we to pursue the picture of Abraham's ancestors presented in Genesis 4-11 we would better understand the Nilo-Saharan context of the Genesis 1-3 accounts. Only when we put this material in its proper cultural context will we be able to reconcile science and Scripture.

This continues the series on Answers to High Schooler's Questions About Genesis

Q: How did Adam come to earth? Was he made on earth or in heaven and poofed to earth?

A: Genesis tells us that God formed the man from the dust of the earth. The word human reflects this belief. Human is related to the word humus, meaning soil or dirt. Likewise, in many places in the Bible the word Adam is a synonym of human being.

Q:  Were Adam and Eve real?  I  mean did they really exist?

A:  Adam and Eve represent the First Couple created by God.  If this is historically true, they would have lived before 3.6 million years ago.  That is when A. Afarensis lived in tropical Africa. There is no reason to assume that A. afarensis were not human. The morphology of the hyoid that suggests this population had air sacks in the throat like apes is not indicative of them being apes. The same hyoid bone shape has been found in other human populations as an adaption to jungle or tropical environments such as existed in Israel around 60,000 B.C. Similar hyoid structure was found with the archaic population that lived in the Kebara Caves in Israel. All other traits of A. afarensis indicate that this population was fully human, including evidence of controlled fire.

Since Genesis tells us that Abraham's ancestors came out of Africa and that is where the oldest human fossils have been found, we may accept that God created the first humans in Africa. Further, the names Adam (ha-dam, the Blood) and Eve (ha-vah, the Birther) and the creation stories of Genesis 1-4:16 are traceable back to Abraham's Nilo-Saharan ancestors.

Q:  Eve is called the "mother of all living" in Genesis 3:20. Why is Adam never called the "father of all living"?

A:  It is also possible that the ancients from whom we received the information in Genesis knew more than we recognize about the durability of the Mt-chromosome, and the loss of the original Y-chromosome. The most recent male ancestor of all males today lived in Africa around 59,000 years ago. The so-called "Mitochondrial Eve" is dated to about 143,000 years ago. She is considered the mother of modern humans. She is not the mother of archaic humans. That Eve would have lived much earlier.

Q: What fruit did Adam and Eve eat?

A: This information is not found in Genesis. In many works of art the fruit is shown as an apple. An older tradition maintains that the fruit was a fig from the Sycamore Fig tree (Ficus sycomorus) which was abundant along rivers in the region where Eden was located. This tradition is also represented in paintings by the fig leaves covering Adam and Eve's private parts.

The Syacmore fig is a large edible fruit which ranges from green to yellow or red when ripe. In its natural habitat, the tree can bear fruit year round, peaking from July to December. Jesus “cursed” the Sycamore Fig tree when it failed to produce fruit, suggesting that the tree's failure to bear fruit was an effect of the corruption of creation (the Fall).

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. (Mark 11: 12-14)

Range of the Syacmore Fig tree

The Sycamore Fig grew in abundance along the Nile, the region from which Abraham's ancestors came. It was cultivated by the Egyptians and the Kushites. Zohary and Hopf, authors of Domestication of Plants in the Old World (Oxford University Press), assert that Egypt was "the principal area of sycamore fig development." They note that "the fruit and the timber, and sometimes even the twigs, are richly represented in the tombs of the Egyptian Early, Middle and Late Kingdoms. In numerous cases the parched sycons bear characteristic gashing marks indicating that this art, which induces ripening, was practiced in Egypt in ancient times."

In ancient Egyptian iconography the Sycamore stands on the threshold of life and death, veiling the threshold by its abundant low-hanging foliage. The caskets of some Egyptian mummies were made from the wood of the Sycamore Fig tree. Pharaohs called the Sycamore Fig trees Nehet.

Q: Why did Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit?

A: Eve ate the forbidden fruit first and then gave some to Adam. She was tempted by the serpent who appealed to her God-inspired appreciation of beauty. Genesis 3:6 says that the woman saw that the fruit was “pleasing to the eye.” Here we see how the Good in us can be used to make us sin. This is why Genesis 3:1 describes the serpent as “more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made."

Q: Why didn't Adam stop Eve from sinning?

A: Genesis 3:6 says that "her husband" was with her when she took and ate the fruit, but does not offer an explanation as to why he failed to stop her. The book of Genesis typically does not speculate about why men failed to do right. For example, we are not given an explanation about Noah’s drunkenness that led him to curse his son/grandson, or about Lot’s drunkenness that led to incest with his daughters. Both stories indicate that drunkeness is a condition that leads to bad things. Perhaps the moral of this story is that moral weakness in husbands and fathers leads to bad things.

Q: Why did God have to punish all of us if only Adam and Eve sinned?

A: God does not punish us. We suffer the consequences of sin and death because these are characteristics of the fallen world in which we live. God's gifts of forgiveness, strength, wisdom, patience and joy enable us to live in the fallen world as people who grow in the image and likeness of God, according to our original blessing.

Q: Why did God place the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden?

A: Genesis does not answer this question. However, Genesis 3:3 tells us that this tree was in the middle of the garden, which means it was at the sacred center. Among many tribes, the sacred center is where knowledge is revealed. For example, the Lakota vision quest (Hunblecheya) requires that the participant remain at the center of the circle drawn by the shaman until he receives a vision from the Great Spirit about his role and destiny.

Q: Who did Adam and Eve's children marry?

A: God commanded Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth and subdue it." (Gen. 1:28) Abraham's ancestors obviously took this command seriously because their rulers had two wives and usually two concubines. Marriage partners were carefully selected, especially for rulers and their heirs.  We do not know what rules governed the selection of marriage partners among the earliest humans 3.4-3.6 million years ago, but analysis of the Genesis King Lists reveals a sophisticated marriage and ascendency structure for Abraham's ancestors.

Q: What was going on between Adam and Eve and Noah? How can that be enough time to populate the earth?

A: If Adam and Eve are the first created humans, they lived at least 3.6 million years ago since that is the age of  the oldest human fossils. Noah lived much later, between 2490-2415 B.C. when the Sahara experienced a wet period (Karl W. Butzer 1996).

Before Noah's time there were already human populations dispersed around the world. There were numerous river populations in China between 7000-2000 B.C. In southern Africa, there were forest populations who mined red ochre from the Lebombo Mountains more than 30,000 years ago.  This blood-like substance was used to bury nobles in the hope of life beyond the grave. The practice was widespread, perhaps global, before the time of Noah.

Noah's immediate descendants included Shem, Ham and Japheth, whose lines intermarried. This means that these ruling lines were genetically related.

Ham lived between 2438-2363 B.C. and became the father of Kush. Kush lived between 2417-2342 B.C. and became the father of Raamah and Nimrod. Kush ruled in the Upper Nile and his son Nimrod established a kingdom in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley (Gen. 10:8-12).

Obviously, there is a gap of time between Adam and Eve and Noah, plenty of time for populations to migrate. The Kushite marriage and ascendancy structure drove the migration of peoples out of Africa.

Q: Were there other people on earth besides Adam and Eve that God created too?

A: Genesis does not address this question. The material in Genesis comes to us from a people who spread far and wide. This is refered to as the Kushite migration out of Africa, although there were various migrations both in and out of Africa before the time of Kush (Gen. 10). Findings in molecular genealogy indicate that most of the peoples of the world are their descendants, but perhaps not all people. More research needs to be done.

Q: Why did God create the man first

A: So that the stronger of the species could protect the weaker of the species. Unfortunately, Adam failed to protect his wife from the serpent's wiles.

Q: How long were Adam and Eve in the garden before they sinned?

A: This is not answered in Genesis, but the suggestion is that they lived there a good while as caretakers of the ground, the plants and the animals. Eden time probably seemed different than our time since they enjoyed perfect communion with a timeless.

Q: When they were in the garden before the fall, did Adam and Eve have sex

A: Very likely. They were told to bring forth offspring. Sex is not an effect of the Fall. Shame and sexual perversion are.

Q: Why did Adam name the animals. Why didn't God name them?

A: Naming is a way of making sense of our world. Perhaps God thought that this was important for Adam's cognitive development. God alone could create the animals, but by allowing the man to name the animals, God grants him a way to share in the creative process.

St. Anthony the Great offers this explanation:  "God, by His Logos, created the different kinds of animals to meet the variety of our needs: some for our food, others for our service. And He created man to apprehend them and their actions and to appraise them gratefully. Man should therefore strive not to die, like the non-rational animals, without having attained some apprehension of God and His works."

Related reading: Adam and Eve: The "Blood" and the "Birther"DNA Confirms the Kushite Migration Out of Africa; Questions High Schoolers Ask About GenesisAnswers to High Schoolers Questions About God


Michael Healy said...

Maybe Adam didn't stop Eve from sinning because he agreed with her decision. Maybe they mutually decided to eat the forbidden fruit, and Eve just happened to more proactive about reaching out and grabbing it.

Alice Linsley said...

That is possible, Michael, but rather speculative. You have to read a good deal back into the text to come to this conclusion, in my opinion.

I believe that the order of events is significant. The female was the first tempted. The Woman (not Eve) is the one by whom God will bring redemption through the birth of the "Seed" who crushes the Serpent's head. (Gen. 3:15)