Thursday, February 24, 2022

An Anthropologist Looks at Genesis 2


Dr. Alice C. Linsley

God created the first parents.

Stories about first parents abound in Africa. The first parents of the Mbiti Pygmy are called Tole and Ngolobanzo.

The first father of the Maasai is known as Maasinta. He had a special relationship with the Sky God who gave the Maasai their first cattle.

Gikuyu and Mumbi are said to be the first ancestors of the Gikuyu of East Africa. Here is a portion of their story:

Now you know that at the beginning of things there was only one man (Gikuyu) and one woman (Mumbi). It was under this Mukuyu that He first put them. And immediately the sun rose and the dark night melted away. The sun shone with a warmth that gave life and activity to all things. The wind and the lightning and thunder stopped. The animals stopped moaning and moved, giving homage to the Creator and to Gikuyu and Mumbi. And the Creator, who is also called Murungu, took Gikuyu and Mumbi from his holy mountain to the country of the ridges near Siriana and there stood them on a big ridge. He took them to Mukuruwe wa Gathanga about which you have heard so much. But He had shown them all the land - yes, children, God showed Gikuyu and Mumbi all the land and told them: "This land I hand over to you, O Man and Woman. It is yours to rule and to till in serenity, sacrificing only to me, your God, under my sacred tree.


The historical Adam and Eve are the first parents of the early Hebrew. Some of their descendants appear to have inherited Adam’s red skin tone. It is noted that Esau a Horite ruler in Edom had a red or ruddy skin tone (as did David, the son of Jesse). Jeff A. Benner, an expert on ancient Hebrew, explains:

We are all familiar with the name "Adam" as found in the book of Genesis, but what does it really mean? Let us begin by looking at its roots. This word/name is a child root derived from the parent דם meaning, "blood". By placing the letter א in front of the parent root, the child root אדם is formed and is related in meaning to דם (blood).

By examining a few other words derived from the child root אדם we can see a common meaning in them all. The Hebrew word אדמה (adamah) is the feminine form of אדם meaning "ground" (see Genesis 2:7). The word/name אדום (Edom) means "red". Each of these words have the common meaning of "red". Dam is the "red" blood, adamah is the "red" ground, edom is the color "red" and adam is the "red" man. There is one other connection between "adam" and "adamah" as seen in Genesis 2:7 which states that "the adam" was formed out of the "adamah".

In the ancient Hebrew world, a person’s name was not simply an identifier but descriptive of one's character. As Adam was formed out of the ground, his name identifies his origins.


Adam's name refers to blood (dam) and the color red. His descendants are remembered as red people. One of those descendants is Abraham who ruled in the territory of Edom. The Greeks called Edom Idumea, which means "land of red people." Some of the red peoples are listed in Genesis 10. They are identified by the DD biradical, which refers to the color red. In ancient Egyptian didi refers to red fruit. In Yoruba, red is diden, a variant of the biblical word Dedan (Gen. 10).

A common belief among many pre-literate peoples is that skin tone comes from the soil where their first parents were created. This is called “autochthonous origin” and the belief is expressed in the Shilluk creation story. The Shilluk of Sudan call the Creator Jouk. Jouk made white people out of white sand and the Shilluk out of black soil. When the Creator came to Egypt, he made the people there out of the red silt of the Nile.


God places the first parents in Eden.

The term Eden is not originally Hebrew. "Eden" derives from the Akkadian term edinu, which refers to a fertile plain or a well-watered territory. Akkadian is the oldest known Semitic language and predates Hebrew by nearly 2000 years.

Eden was a vast well-watered region that extended from the sources of the Nile in Uganda and Ethiopia to the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia (Gen. 2:10-14). The Pishon flowed through Ha-vila (place of waters parting). The Gihon flowed around the whole land of Kush. The southern region of Eden was rich in gold, onyx, and bdellium. Bdellium is a semi-transparent oleo-gum resin extracted from Commiphora wightii and from Commiphora africana. These trees grow in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Humans become estranged from God.

After their disobedience Adam and Eve experienced fear and they hide from the Creator. Their distance from the Divine Presence grew greater when they were driven from Paradise. 

Many African narratives explain the distance between God and humans. Some speak of a time at the beginning when the sky was low. It was necessary for people to be careful while cultivating or pounding grain to avoid striking God's resting place with their hoes or pestles. The Akan of Ghana tell the story of how God once lived on earth, but an old woman kept striking Him with her pestle. Then one day, God withdrew to the sky.

Another African story tells how "in the beginning death had not yet entered the world. There was plenty to eat, but a woman became greedy and tried to pound more grain that she was allotted. This required using a longer pestle. When she raised it to pound the grain, it struck the sky and God became angry and withdrew far into the heavens. Since then, people must toil the earth, death and disease trouble the people and it is no longer easy to reach God." (Richard Bush, ed. The Religious World, MacMillan Publishers,1982, p. 38).

Consider the following story related to anthropologist Charles Kraft while he was studying tribal peoples in northern Nigeria. Kraft asked, "What did your people believe about God before the missionaries came?" In response, an old chief told this story:
"Once God and his son lived close to us. They walked, talked, ate, and slept among us. All was well then. There was no thievery or fighting or running off with another man's wife like there is now. But one day God's son ate in the home of a careless woman. She had not cleaned her dishes properly. God's son ate from a dirty dish, got sick, and died. This, of course, made God very angry. He left in a huff and hasn't been heard from since." (Charles Kraft, Christianity in Culture, Orbis Books, 1990, p. 153)

Related reading: An Anthropologist Looks at Genesis One; The Father of Adam and Eve; Three Portraits of Adam


Anonymous said...

Were Adam and Eve a separate creation from other humans, since you stated that they were the first Hebrews?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Separate creation? I do not understand your question. We don't know the origins of the Hebrew ruler-priest caste. Adam and Eve are posed as first parents, but the only lineages we know of descending from them are the descendants of Cain and Seth and their wives who were the daughters of Enoch, a contemporary of Adam.