As Christians, we’ve had a lot of anxiety over what science is telling us about Adam and Eve. But these conflicts are based on what science says about our genetic ancestors. If we focus on genealogical ancestors instead, there might be far less conflict than we first imagined.
One of the stickier parts of studying this history and thinking about populations living alongside Adam and Eve is that you’re forced to confront objections of racism in our understanding of these humans. What lessons have you learned from wrestling with this personally?
One thing I’ve learned is it’s really common for people to bring race into questions about human origins, often to attack those with whom they disagree. We all inherit that legacy of racism. Origins is often approached from a very whitewashed perspective. It doesn’t really engage the concerns of people of color, who are often underrepresented in the conversations. What I found, as a dark Indian, is that these questions of origins are actually very closely tied to our concerns about our worth and dignity in the world.
This conversation doesn’t have to be so whitewashed. There’s a real value in going back to that history of racism, to uncover it and work through it. There is an opportunity to work through our understanding of justice, mercy, and inheritance in a way that connects with the concerns of African Americans, Indians like myself, and many other people that are so underrepresented in the conversation.
The important thing to emphasize is that the science of origins is solidly against the idea of a biologically distinct race. This is something that really needs to be said more often. We have a better understanding of how we are all connected in one family. Genealogical science makes that clear.
Turns out they edited my comments a bit. I don’t agree with everything! For example, the article writes:
There are three main views on what it means to bear God’s image: the substantive, which refers to our capacity for thinking and feeling; the relational, which refers to our capacity to relate to one another and to God; and the vocational, which refers to our capacity to rule over creation.
But I would rather say:
There are three main views on what it means to bear God’s image: the substantive, which locates the image in our capacities, such as thinking and feeling; the relational, which locates the image in our relationships with one another and with God; and the vocational, which locates the image in our calling to rule over creation.
The article says:
Some scientists use the term Homo sapiens to refer to our species, or they expand the Homo genus to include other species like Neanderthals, too.
But it should say:
Some scientists use the term Homo sapiens to refer to our species, or they expand the meaning of “human” to include other species like Neanderthals, too.
Indeed, and in fact opening ones eyes to GAE brings into sharper relief the surprisingly universal message of Genesis itself. The ancient foundation of the Israelite religion and nation turns out make even the creation of those distinctive entities to be for the the benefit of the whole human race, as does the forming of Adam himself.
Please explain. The Babylonian myths seem substantially the same, in that people are created at one time and from them all nationalities descend. And the creation of the Israelite religion seems, right up until Paul, to be for the Israelites and nobody else.
This is very easy to explain. A striking feature of the Babylonian myths is that they’re not universal creation stories, but closely tied to the city states in which they originate. They’re about how the minor deities of, say, Eridu went on strike because of the work the senior gods imposed on them of irrigation and cultivation. Humans get created to grow the food to feed the gods in the cult of that particular city.
The most celebrated and complicated (and also late), Enuma elish, is all about the ascendancy of the cult of Marduk in Babylon, which partly explains the defeat or demotion of the other gods whose cults were celebrated in cities Babylon conquered - or at least intended to.
As I describe in the book, certain stories hint at savage people existing before that - not even worthy of being called “humans”: an interesting parallel to the GAE concept, and helping to explain, perhaps, something of the general worldview of the ANE, in which essentially “people” meant “our people.”
Now, in its obvious literary setting of the Torah the story of Adam and Eve has very clear reference to the origins of Israel, for which Adam is archetypal. That’s a similarity with the city-state origins stories. What is remarkable, and unique, is that it isn’t only that.
But the devil is in the detail, which is why I spent a few chapters on it rather than trying to detail it in one blog comment.
Well, my experience is that to be convinced by arguments you need to see how they develop - that would seem to have been true throiughout the history of thought. Otherwise we’d write tweets instead of books or papers.
I would actually say, though, that there’s only space in the book for an introduction to that particular topic. You really need to get acquainted with the orginal texts, both ANE and biblical, to make a full comparison and weigh the case. Fortunately the texts are online even where I don’t quote them, and the book is primarily for those who have a Bible already and want to study it.
But to give one example in Genesis unique in ancient literature, it’s the way that Adam’s race is described as spreading across the face of the land, whilst the focus is maintained on the line leading to Israel. It maintains an ethnic/cultic interest, whilst including the importance of the wider world The prime instance of that is the Table of Nations of Genesis 10, which on close examination, and in historical context, turns out to be more about genealogical infiltration across the region that anything - and implicitly to miss out known cultures that, at the time of writing, were beyond the scope of the passage.
Be that as it may, the other nations are, in themselves, only named to show Adam’s influence on distant peoples which, in most cases, have no part in the later biblical narrative. This universalist interest really doesn’t seem to happen in other cultures.