Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Dating Adam: Paul H. Sheely Proposes a Solution

Paul H. Sheely is a member of the American Scientific Affiliation and lives in Portland, Oregon.  I agree with him on many points, especially his perceptive and sound arguments against Young-Earth Creationism.  He has written, "the way creation science squares the biblical account with the historical/scientific facts is by rejecting the overwhelming consensus of the best-trained scientists in the relevant sciences and substituting in its place private interpretations of the scientific data. In addition it finds evidence in Scripture for items which Old Testament scholars do not find there, like multiple volcanoes exploding at the time of the flood." (From here.)

Adam and Anthropology: A Proposed Solution


From: Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 22 (September 1970): 88-90

The perspectives of 20th century anthropology are incompatible with the acceptance of the literal historicity of Genesis 2 and 3. Anthropology's first man must be dated before Neolithic times; the literal man of Genesis 2 and 3 must be dated in Neolithic times. The legitimate use of anthropology resolves the conflict by leading to the recognition that Adam is a figurative person, who harmonizes with both anthropology and biblical theology.


The Bible says (Luke 3:38; Romans 5:12,14'; I Corinthians 15:21, 22, 45, 57) that Adam was the first man. Literally interpreted, his culture was Neolithic: he lived no earlier than 10,000 B.C. Anthropology says the first man's culture was Paleolithic: he lived far earlier than 10,000 B.C.1

The Christian anthropologist, James 0. Buswell III, writes:
Few authors of conservative evangelical stripe even so much as acknowledge the problem. One either has a recent Adam contemporary with the Neolithic-type culture found in Genesis 4, or else one is labeled as sliding toward liheralism.2
We propose a solution to the problem that is not liberal: Adam is not every mats; Genesis 3 is not a myth. We propose a solution that does not muzzle or frown on anthropology. We propose a solution that arises naturally when we relate anthropology to the Bible via the principles of standard hermeneutics. But first let us look more closely at the problem.

A Literal Adam Must Be Neolithic

The technique of dating Adam by dating the facets of culture that the Bible associates with him is basic in standard dating procedure. Ezra and Nehemiah are dated in the middle of the fifth century B.C. because the Bible associates them with the aehaemeoids, which archaeologists date in the middle of the fifth century B.C. Rehohuam is dated e. 925 B.C. because the Bible associates him with Sheshooq I, whom archaeologists date c. 925 B.C. The patriarchs are dated in the second millenium B.C. because the Bible associates them with a culture that archaeologists date in the second millenium B.C. Consistency demands that Adam also he dated by the culture that the Bible associates with him.

The Bible, literally interpreted, associates Adam with a Neolithic culture. So, one who wishes to use standard dating procedure is hound to date Adam in Neolithic times.

In attempting to avoid this Neolithic dating, T. C. Mitchell argued that the culture of Genesis 4 could have been Paleolithic rather than Neolithic. But finally he was forced to admit,
While must of the features might belong to a period from Upper Paleolithic to the Iron Age, two features, agriculture and animal husbandry, would seem to point to a period after the Neolithic Revolution" in Western Asia.3
Mitchell finally suggested that we wait in hope that a Neolithic-type culture might turn up in Paleolithic times. We agree with James Buswell's assessment of this possibility:
Of course archaeological discoveries have surprised us before, but from the present outlook it seems very unlikely that the Neolithic culture pattern will turn up on any horizon whose antiquity is radically different.4
Buswell's suggested solution is that Cain and Abel might only appear to be domesticators of plants and animals. But Moses could write of hunting (Genesis 25:27; 27:3, 30) and gathering (Exodus 16:16, 17, 21; Numbers 15:32). Couldn't he have described the hunting and gathering economy of Paleolithic times? If Genesis 2-4 is literal history, why should Moses make a Paleolithic culture look so very Neolithic?

Christian anthropologists are in agreement that men, who were truly human, existed in Paleolithic times before a Neolithic Adam.

Of course Cain and Abel only date Adam as Neolithic if Genesis 4 is immediately historically continuous with Genesis 2 and 3. We will show, however, that Genesis 4 is not immediately historically continuous. Nevertheless, if Genesis 2 and 3 are taken literally (Genesis 2:8, 9, 15, 19, 20; 3:2, 23) Adam is still a domesticatur of plants and animals: he still must he dated in Neolithic times.

True Men Existed Before Neolithic Times Christian anthropologists are in agreement that men, who were truly human, existed in Paleolithic times before a Neolithic Adam.5  It is quite difficult to refer to a ceature as just an animal when he buries his dead on laboriously collected mounds of flowers.In addition to the existence of fully human men in Upper Paleolithic times, there are true men in today's world who descended from Paleolithic ancestors. Their physical and cultural descent has not been interrupted. There is no place in their historical descent to insert a Neolithic Adam as their Father.

Men were in America, for example, 10,000 years before the times of a Neolithic Adam. There is no marked hiatus or discontinuity in racial type or cultural sequences in the Americas such as would exist if the Americas had been repopulated between 20,000 B.C. and the present.

Similarly, there is in the Shanidar Valley "an almost continuous sequence of human history dating from the times of the Neanderthals."7 Thus, Buswell writes:

I believe that Adam has to antedate the Neander thals. This seems warranted by the continuity at Shanidar as well as she American entrance date.8

Jan Lever adds that the Australian natives go hack to Neanderthal or even Pithecanthropus in features, and tribes like the African Bushmen and the Eskimos have probably lived very much longer in their present isolated biotype than 10,000 years.9

All over the world anthropologists find living men who have descended directly from Paleolithic ancestors, not from a Neolithic Adam. These men are true men. They have a culture; they have a language; they can be won to Christ. And when we look at their Paleolithic ancestors via fossils and associated artifacts, we find reason to believe that they were true men also.10 So, uninterrupted descent of various lines of true men from Paleolithic times to the present prevents us from saying that all true men descended from a Neolithic Adam.11

The Solution

We propose that this Adam-anthropology dilemma may be resolved if we recognize that:

1) Genesis 2 and 3 are not literal history; the Neolithic culture there is figurative and cannot date Adam.
2) Genesis 4 is not historically immediately continuous after Genesis 3; its Neolithic culture is irrelevant for dating Adam.
3) Adam is a symbol for the actual first man.

We see Genesis 2 and 3 as purely symbolic and figurative. In the words of Albertus Pieters,
The purely symbolical view ... looks upon the story as a whole, and accepts she underlying teaching as historical, but does not accept the form of portrayal as setting forth precisely what occurred. Most of the details are then considered to be pictorial and imaginary. It is then believed that there were, in all probabilty, no actual serpent, aprons, fruit, conversation, etc. as here recorded, but that something supremely important did really happen, which is here set forth in symbolical form.12
We see Genesis 2 and 3 as figurative because standard hermeneutics interprets any passage as figurative that (1) is not a literal account of a miracle, but (2) is contrary to scientific evidence. (Cf. Jeremiah 48:11, 12; Ezekial 1:4-14; Daniel 7:7, 8; Zechanab 6:1; et al.) That is, a passage must he taken

Proposed resolution of the Adam-anthropology dilemma: 
(1) Genesis 2 and 3 not literal history, (2) Genesis 4 not historically immediately continuous after Genesis 3, (3) Adam a symbol for the actual first man.
figuratively if there is no legitimate way to take it literally.

First, Genesis 2 and 3 are not a literal account of a miracle. At the points where supernaturalism enters the narrative (2:7, 5, 15, 19, 21, 22; 3:8, 21, 24), the language is anthropomorphic. Literal interpretation would reduce the Creator to a creature with hands, lungs, and legs. As for the talking serpent, there is no more reason to accept this literally than to accept the talking fish and animals of Revelation 5:13 literally.

Second, if Genesis 2 and 3 are taken literally, the first man must have lived in Neolithic times. This is contrary to the scientific evidence of anthropology. We must conclude that since there is no legitimate way to take Genesis 2 and 3 literally; it must be interpreted figuratively.13 We also see Genesis 2 and 3 as figurative because other passages that look at first like literal history are found to he figurative upon further investigation. The prima facie impression of literal history is given up when investigation shows that the true genre of the passage is figurative. (Cf. Genesis 1; Ezekial 4; Zechanab 2:1-5; Matthew 4:8; Luke 16:19-31; Revelation 21:10-27)

Investigation shows that the true genre of Genesis 2 and 3 is figurative. Its beautiful garden, magical trees, and river are found again in the figurative account of Revelation 22:1-3. Its creation of man from a clay figure and of woman from a rib cry out for figurative interpretation. Its name for the first man, "Mr. Man", also suggests a figurative account. Its cherubim, lion-eagle-man creatures, must be taken figuratively. 14 As for its literally historical rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, they' no more prove that Genesis 2 and 3 are literal history than the literally historical Arahab and Dead Sea of Ezekial 47:8 prove that the narrative in Ezekial 47 should be interpreted literally.

Standard hermeneutics forces us to give up the naive literal interpretation of Genesis 2 and 3. Genesis 2 and 3 are purely symbolic. The underlying history really happened; but the form in which that history is portrayed is purely imaginary. Genesis 2 and 3 tell us that God made the first man and this man sinned.15 The Adam of these chapters (and 5:2) is symbolic for the first man whoever, whenever, and wherever he was. The Bible gives us theological revelation. It is up to anthropology to supply the literal historical details.16

The Relation of Genesis 4 to Genesis 2 and 3

The "parabolic" or purely symbolic genre of Genesis 2 and 3 is in contrast to the rather straight-forward historical genre of Genesis 4. This contrast gives us reason to separate the narrative in Genesis 2 and 3 from Genesis 4. But the narrative in Genesis 4 seems immediately to follow the Adam and Eve of Genesis 2 and 3. 
If Genesis 4 is Neolithic, isn't the Adam of Genesis 3 Neolithic?

The interpretation of Genesis 2-4 as consecutive literal history is a prejudice of our times.

Isn't the Adam of Genesis 3 found in Genesis 4 as the father of the Neolithic Cain, Abel, and Seth? Our proposed solution gives a "yes and no" answer to this question. We propose that the "Adam" of Genesis 4 and 5:3 is the Adam of Genesis 3 and 5:2 in name only. The Adam of Genesis 3 and 5:2 is the forefather of the Neolithic "Adam" who actually fathered Cain, Abel, and Seth. The Neolithic "Adam" of Genesis 4 and 5:3 is so unimportant in comparison to his forefather, the first man, that he is called by the name of his illustrious forefather.

This sort of slighting of the actual father is not unusual in Hebrew historiography. "Sons of Asaph" live about 500 years after the death of the famous Asaph (Ezra 3:10). Shem is "the father of all the children of Eber" (Genesis 10:21). Moab is "the father of the Moahites unto this day" (Genesis 19:7), Josiah (c. 600 B.C.) walked in all the ways of David his father (c. 1000 B.C.) (II Kings 22:2). Illustrious forefathers are often credited with the paternity of lesser descendants who are the actual fathers.

There is of course some difference between the cases just cited and the parts of Genesis 4 which speak of Adam knowing his wife and Eve naming her son Seth. But such language is only consistent; it is just the giving of a few details. Even this detailed historiography is not unique in the Bible. In Exodus 6:20 (Cf. Numbers 26:59) where "Amram took Jochebed his father's sister to wife and she bare him Aaron and Moses", there is good reason to believe that Amram and Jochebed are really Moses' distant ancestors. 17 This is a very close historiographical parallel to the knowing and naming of Genesis 4.18

Judging by Hebrew historiography Genesis 4 can be separated in time from Genesis 3. The difference in genre between the two chapters suggests that they should be separated. And, there is another reason to separate them: Genesis 4:14, 15, and 25 indicate that a number of people lived outside of Cain and Abel's immediate family. It seems very natural to take these people as descendants of a Paleolithic Adam, but not of the Neolithic "Adam". From these people (to answer an old question) Cain got his wife. (Genesis 4:17)

Finally, it is not impossible for a symbolic account (Genesis 3) to blend into a more literal, historical account (Genesis 4). At the end of the Bible, where John is shown "the things which must shortly come to pass" (literal history), the things shown are symbolic (Revelation 1:1; 4: 1ff). Biblical history both begins and ends with a symbolic garden (Genesis 2:8-17; Revelation 22:1-5).


It seems that the interpretation of Genesis 2-4 as consecutive literal history is a prejudice of our times,
a reading of our ideal historiography into the Hebraic historiography of the Bible. We have to give up our prejudice and accept the Bible as it is. We cannot insist that revelation from the true God would surely use the historiography of our times and culture! As for Adam, the first man, let us accept the narrative for what it is: a purely symbolic history bearing theological truth. In this way we appropriate the message of Genesis 2 and 3 without negating the truth found in anthropology.


1See "The Age of Man", Journal ASA, March, 1966; and the letter of Dr. Custanee, Journal ASA, September, 1968.
2James 0. Buswell III, "Adam and Neolithic Mao", Eternity, February, 1967, p.29
3T. C. Mitchell, "Archaeology and Genesis I-XI", Faith and Thought, Summer, 1959, p. 42
4Buswell, op. cit., p. 48
5James Murk, "Evidence for a Late Pleistocene Creation of Mao", Journal ASA, June, 1965; Smalley and Fetzer, "A Christian View of Anthropology", Modern Science and Christian Faith, rev, ad., 1950
6"Neandcrthal Burial", Collier's Year Book, 1969, p.'08
7Ralph S. Solecki, "Prehistory in Shanidar Valley, Northern Iraq", Science, January 18, 1963, p. 179
8Buswell, op. cit., p.50
9Jan Lever, Creation and Evolution (Amsterdam: Free University), p.171
10Murk, op. cit.; Smalley and Fetzer, op. cit.
11Both our problem and solution are dependent upon the essential correctness of modern anthropology-which some would write off in order to protect a theological tradition. But, anthropology, like any other science, has a Biblical basis. It is commissioned by God (Genesis 1:28). It is undertaken in a world of essential uniformity (Genesis 1:14,28). It is not a delusion of sinful minds, but a product of men in God's image functioning by common grace (Genesis 9:6; Matthew 16:3). There is no reason to write off modern anthropology in order to protect orthodoxy: the loss of a traditionally literal Adam and Eve is theologically of no importance whatsoever, so long as the fall of man is retained.
12Albertus Pieters, Notes on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), p.95
131t once was traditional to interpret the parts of the Bible literally that said the earth did not move, but the sun did. The trained scientist, however, said the earth moved around a stationary sun. The theologian looked and looked but could not see the earth move; he could see the sun move. So, he clung for awhile to traditional interpretation. When the scientific facts became widely known, the theologian took those same parts of the Bible figuratively. Today it is traditional in Evangelical circles to take Genesis 2 and 3 literally. But the trained anthropologist says a Neolithic first man is impossible. The theologian looks and looks, but all he sees in anthropology is a "box of bones". When the scientific facts of anthropology become common knowledge, however, Evangelicals will, no doubt, take Genesis 2 and 3 figuratively.
14c. f. Bernard Ramm, "Science vs Theology-the Battle Isn't Over Yet", Eternity, October, 1965; Pieters, op cit.
15Fnr a fuller discussion of the theological content of Genesis 2 and 3 see Helmut Thielieke, How the World Began (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961)
16Exeept for the fact that Adam was the first sinner, the New Testament writers never depend upon the literal historicity of Genesis 2 and 3. As with Jesus' parables, the moral points made are valid regardless of the literal historicity of the story.
17Keil and Delitzseh, Biblical Commentary an the Old Testa ment, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), p.420
18Similarly in Genesis 46:18 we see that the great grandsons of Zilpab are included among "these she bare unto Jacob." Also in Isaiah 51:2 we read that Israel should look back over 1200 years to "Abraham your father and to Sarah who bare you."


Matt Viney said...


Alice C. Linsley said...

It is fascinating.

We meet the first historical rulers in Cain (Gen. 4) and Seth (Gen. 5) who must be placed in the late Neolithic.

Adam and Eve represent the first created couple and as such are meta-historical. Meta-historical does not imply unreal or fictional any more than meta-physical means unreal of fictional. An archetype conveys truth that lasts. People forget historical events fairly quickly or they are indoctrinated in some revisionist view, which happens so often today.

Anonymous said...

You provided many answers to many difficult questions about history in this article, and I could not agree with you more.

Alice C. Linsley said...


You are agreeing with Paul Sheely. I merely posted his paper, which I think is excellent. However, I don't agree with him on several points and intend to write why in an up-coming article.

Unknown said...

Hi Alice:

Love your work. Here is an explanation of the origin of Adam and Eve that satisfies those who look to the bible first and those who look to anthropology and evolution etc. first. Hope you enjoy the reading.