Alice C. Linsley
This essay should be read along with this essay: Are Adam and Eve Real?
In this short entry we explore the nature of the biblical figures Adam, Eve and their relationship. I believe that Adam and Eve are archetypal ancestors, or meta-historical figures, who represent the first created couple. In this sense they represent something true and real, but the Biblical details that pertain to them should not be taken as history.
Archetypes in the ancient world were regarded as real in the Platonic sense. Plato, who studied for 13 years in Egypt, likely borrowed the concept of Forms or Archetypes from the ancient Egyptians.
Whether taken as historical or meta-historical, Adam and Eve represent the first created humans in the Bible. Since the oldest human fossils are about 3.4 million years old, we would have to place Adam and Eve back at least that far, if they are historical. If they are meta-historical it would be futile to attach a time period to them. Either interpretation leads to the conclusion that these were the ancestors of the Genesis Kings and the Mighty Men of Old.
Archbishop James Ussher believed Adam and Eve were historical and he attempted to calculate the age of the Earth using the generations listed in Genesis. Ussher failed to recognize that these lists are not generational. They are regnal, that is to say, they can't be used to count generations because they are king lists and some kings ruled simultaneously, others ruled for short periods, and still others ruled for longer than a generation (40 years).
Most of the rulers had two wives so there were two first born sons. Ussher didn't take this into consideration, which is another reason his chronology cannot be used to determine the age of the Earth. The children of the first wife (a half-sister) were born when the royal heir was a young man. The children of the second wife (a patrilineal cousin or niece) were born after than heir had ascended to the throne. Typically, there was a span of about 30 years between the two marriages.
In fact, the first verifiably historical persons in Genesis are the kings listed in the Genesis 4 and 5 king lists. Analysis of the Gen. 4 and 5 kinship reveals that the founder of the lines descending from Cain and Seth is not Adam, but Enoch.
Sorting the historical from the legendary and the mythological
Sometimes it isn't easy to sort the historical from legend or from myth. King Menes probably lived, but he is veiled in legend and myth to the degree that some believe that he was not historical.
In the ancient world people didn't make sharp distinctions between mythological and historical. For example, the ancient Egyptians began their official history with a king named "Meni" or Menes. Menes was credited with founding the First dynasty of Egypt, around 3100 BC. He may have been an historical figure or he may be a mythical founder similar to Romulus and Remus for ancient Rome. We don't know, but that doesn't lessen the significance of his story or minimize the reality of founders of whole civilizations.
The name Meni or Meri has associations with Noah. Mount Meri is likely the mountain where Noah's ark landed, probably in the area of modern Kenya or Tanzania.
Whether historical or archetypal ancestor, Adam and Eve are the founders of the human race in biblical parlance. They are the first Father and first Mother, the first Husband-Wife relationship. It is self-evident that the human race propagates through biological reproduction and this involves a father and a mother. Clearly, at some point in the past there was at least one original set of parents, but their names are not known as they lived many millions of years ago.
The Afro-Asiatics from whom we receive the Bible called the first parents Adam and Eve. These names intend to explain the function of the Father and the Mother. Adam is of the earth/dust yet he lives by the breath of God. He is the one from whom Eve receives her material substance since she is made from his body. Eve is the “mother of all the living” which indicates her function as the birth-giver. The meaning of these names is not prototypal, but archetypal. An archetype has symbolic value. It represents all the others in a group or class, in this case all humanity.
It is genius to use an archetype to represent humanity when there is no knowledge of the prototype of humanity. And the archetype stitches biblical theology together, for without the First Adam (humans in the condition of sin) we would not be able to understand the Second Adam (humans as they are in Christ).
The relationship of Adam and Eve serves as the archetype for the relationship of Christ and His Church, for just as Eve received life through Adam’s body, so the Church receives life through Christ’s Body. The symbolism is so rich! The kinship pattern of Abraham's Horite people speaks of many mysteries revealed in Jesus Christ.
The relationship of Adam and Eve gains further dimension when they are explored in light of the Patriarchal narratives. To receive his own kingdom, Abraham had to leave his father’s house. Likewise, Genesis 2:24 says, “For this reason a man will leave his Father and his mother and cleave to his wife…”, so Christ left His Father’s house to become one with His Bride.
Before Isaac could receive the kingdom from his father, he had to marry. Likewise, Christ will marry His bride before He receives the eternal Kingdom from His Father. As Abraham and the rulers of his people had two wives, it is likely that Isaac married a sister-wife as well as Rebekah, his patrilineal cousin. This was the pattern of the Horite ruler-priests. This is why Abraham went to great pains to see that Isaac married his second wife before he died. Here is a wonderful mystery: before the Father delivers the Kingdom to the Son, the Son must marry his Bride, the Church. Christ has said that until that great day He shall not drink of the fruit of the vine.
Related reading: Adam Was a Red Man; The Genesis King Lists; The African Cultural Context of Genesis 1-11; The Genesis Creation Stories; The First Historical Persons in Genesis; Adam and Eve: The Blood and the Birther