NPR and the “Historical” Adam & Eve

by jdavidcharles

NPR has put up a post on the so-called “historical” Adam & Eve debate. Let me just come right out and say it: I do not believe in a historical Adam & Eve. Although I respect people who hold that position, in the sense of respect them as persons, I find such a position to be, well, silly. I just see the whole issue as, well, a non-issue–this is not what Genesis is about. Historical and scientific grounds aside, I mean, do we really think the author of Genesis (who could very easily have lived well after Moses) was actually trying to write a history text devoid of social mythos and meaning? S/he did a pretty lousy job then. I mean, there is a constant telling of stories and interpreting them throughout Genesis and the Torah as a whole. Just one obvious instance, when the author posits “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh,” (2.24) etc. Here the author presupposes an understanding of masculinity, femininity, marriage, kin, sexuality, et al. Just on an obvious narrative level, s/he is clearly not talking about the motherless and fatherless Adam & Eve—further, Adam never had to leave anyone or thing, Eve was separated from him. The author is presenting a view of sexuality, masculinity, femininity, et al via a story.

The creation myth is presented as an anecdotal means of presenting the author’s moralistic and metaphysical conclusions on the myth (which, as themes, play out throughout Genesis as a whole). Granted, this doesn’t de facto mean the myth can’t be true, but it means that the truth-content of the myth is irrelevant to the conclusions presented. The author doesn’t seem to care if it happened. The text doesn’t seem to care if it happened. So why as a reader should you? It’s like thinking the parables of Christ of the New Testament are historically valid and then deriving doctrine from the parable rather than from what they were meant to communicate (to those people, in that culture, at that time). Who reads the parable of the sower and the seed and thinks, “My God, what a fabulous agricultural technique?” or the shepherd and the sheep and thinks, “I should leave my flock behind to be scattered and devoured to find just one sheep! Flawless shepherding!” I know I certainly don’t trust Jesus’ science as regards the mustard weed.

The book of Genesis is first and foremost a story. It’s about a historically real people group, their cultural and religious experience, the oppression they faced, and how they became a nation. This story is told from within that rich culture, full of religious meaning and mythic stories that flow in and out of the text itself. This is hermeneutics 101. This is not only how you read fiction and fairy tales (Brother’s Grimm), but fictionalized history (Shakespeare’s Richard III) as well as histories (Thucydides).  This has nothing to do with what genre the book of Genesis is “in,” it has to do with the fact that the author of Genesis acts as if s/he is telling a story. The whole tone of the thing has a grandparent telling a child, perched on hir knee, the “story of our people” tone.

The question of whether it is true misses the whole point of what type of truth it’s trying to communicate.  Even Thucydides is trying to get at something—ideals of virtue and masculinity, etc. Shakespeare quite clearly is not interested in portraying the historically accurate account of Antony or Brutus. Likewise the author of Genesis doesn’t seem to care about presenting us with the “historical” Adam. Perhaps it’s a valid question to delve into how historically accurate these things are, i.e. “is the Genesis creation myth more of a Grimm fairy tale or Shakespeare history” (SPOILER ALERT: I’m pretty sure it’s the former), but this question is far from essential to asking the question of what the myth is about or means.  If the myth doesn’t really care if its textuality corresponds to “historical reality,” why should we?

A TOTAL SIDE NOTE: This is for those theistic non-evolutionist friends of mine: I’ve always wondered how you reconcile speciel and racial variants given how short you claim the earth to have been around (and DO NOT toss out the micro/macro distinction like that solves everything). I mean, let’s say humans have been around for 8,000 years or whathaveyou and we all came from two people. Am I really to believe that all racial distinctions we see today happened in a mere 8,000 years? And if we toss in the fact that racial distinctions have been recorded for, oh, I don’t know, since we started recording history AND the fact that “the flood” happened well after “creation,” we are left with anywhere from 0-2,000 years for every racial variant of every species to suddenly emerge. That is rapid. You have to have a MUCH firmer belief in evolution, its capabilities and rapidity, than I do to think that all racial varieties happened in, at best, 2,000 years. I am sure there must be an answer to this—surely I am not the first to ask this question. I’m just curious what a non-evolutionary response to this would be.