Posted By MSH on August 2, 2012
A Naked Bible reader, Bryan Hodge, asked permission to post his thoughts on the Adam issue (it picks up on my previous post about ‘adam with or without the definite article). They are below. I presume that reader comments will be answered by him. Once again, the transliterations will not be precise, as I can’t get WordPress to do them correctly. PN = proper name in what follows.
Adam Is the Man
Mike’s recent post concerning whether the definite article on the word ‘adam prompted me to think a little further about whether such has any significant contribution to the current debate over the historicity of Adam, and whether Genesis 1 and 2 communicate such a person or such a person is only something developed later in subsequent redactions. The two things I noted were that the understanding that the article with ‘adam cannot indicate a PN (although eponyms often appear with or without the article even though they are PN’s) is not enough to argue one way or the other concerning the issue; and the other was to say that the use of the article does play a role in deciding whether to take the ‘adam in Gen 2 as a singular or collective. I would like to thank Mike for his graciousness in letting me guest post as we work through this interesting issue.
The articular ‘adam should not be translated as a proper name. When it is used, it names the species of one or more individuals (e.g., the lion can refer to either the entire species of Panthera leo or to a specific individual lion). When we approach a text like Gen 1 and 2, we need to remember that the grammar by itself gives us room to translate ‘adam either as “the man” (as a collective expression for an entire species, as in “mankind”) or as “the man” (referring to a particular individual being described within the narrative). However, we need to also remember that grammar functions within a context, and articles can only, therefore, point to references within that context. They cannot point to references beyond it. Hence, the key to understanding whether ‘adam with the article refers to a single man or to larger humanity in Genesis 2 is bound up with the logic of the language used within that particular context (i.e., it is not a matter of what grammar can do, but what it is doing in a particular text). If the context seems to indicate with more probability that a single individual is being spoken of, then the article must be understood to refer to the/this man, as opposed to referring to humanity as a whole.
What complicates the matter is that the indefinite use of ‘adam can also be translated as “man” in the collective species sense (cf. Gen 5:2 in relation to 1:26–27). The issue then becomes the way we go about discovering whether the indefinite used in 2:20 refers to the same ‘adam to whom the articular ‘adam has been referring within the rest of the narrative. In order to do this properly, we need to take the section of text that has been traditionally referred to as J within the academy, and use that as the basis of what boundaries we set on the immediate context. From there, one can branch out to the surrounding text of Gen 1–11, and then go beyond that to the whole book, similar narrative within the Pentateuch, contemporary narrative in the Hebrew Bible, and then the entirety of the OT canon; but I’m obviously not going to go that far. Instead, I want to simply discuss the context within J’s creation narrative and merely show the consistency with that in terms of how the rest of the context of the Primeval History understands ‘adam.
So let’s first look at whether ‘adam in 2:20, if indefinite, can still refer to the collective within this particular J passage. If ‘adam in fact is indefinite here, as the pointing suggests, then taking it as anything other than a proper name, or referring to a particular individual, goes against the grain of the logic of descriptive narration. When narrative describes a species with the definite article, it does not then refer to that same species in description with an indefinite. Instead, an indefinite is used only in non-descriptive statements (i.e., statements that are perhaps poetic or generic pronouncements, as we have in2:24). But this suggests a break from the narrative. To give an example in English, one might give the following narrative description concerning his encounter with a lion.
A lion appeared upon the horizon. The lion roared from a distance. The lion began to approach. I threw a rock at the lion, but a lion came toward me.
Likewise, if the definite article was generic, it would sound even more out of place. For instance, if I said instead, “He placed upon the grassland the lion, and the lion ate up the deer. Then he gathered the lion to himself, but a lion had no more food,” the indefinite would still indicate that an individual lion, one disconnected from the larger group, was now being described in distinction from the species.
If one wanted to communicate that X is the same as Y within the narrative, this is not how he would describe it. The indefinite is fine to start a narrative or begin the story, but from thereon out, the definite is used to refer back to that individual to which the indefinite originally referred. To give a biblical example of this, the Deuteronomic laws are clearly broken by a pattern that is governed by this logic. The subject is introduced with an indefinite, but each subsequent scenario uses the article to refer back to that original subject. Hence, “if an ox” does X” is subsequently placed in different scenarios, rather than forming a new law to speak of a completely different ox, by the anaphoric use of the article. In other words, if an ox does X then do Y, if the ox does C then do D, if the ox does M then do N. The article exists to refer to the one individual ox placed within different circumstances. But when an indefinite is introduced after a definite, it refers to a different individual and situation, i.e., a new law with a new subject different from the former subject of the previous law(s). In the same way, if we were to say that ‘adam in the narrative description of2:20 is indefinite, we would have to say that this is a different man now than the one to whom the rest of the narrative, and indeed even the previous clause, has been referring, and this is just not a logical option to take.
Hence, the next issue becomes whether we should consider the MT pointing as incorrect. Unfortunately, the LXX offers us no help, as it often translates the articular ‘adam as “Adam” anyway, and I have not found a text within theDSS corpus that would help either (2:20 is lost from the biblical literature we have from Qumran and I don’t remember if it is quoted somewhere within the sectarian literature). Hence, we are left with just the MT text.
Now, ironically, one can use what I said above to argue a case that the indefinite cannot be used here, and therefore, the pointing is wrong. The original must have been articular. And I would agree with this if ‘adam is not a proper name. If that is the case, it would likely be a case of the MT needing an emendation (hey, it wouldn’t be the first time).
But I think the larger narrative of 2–3 helps here. Is Md)l used elsewhere in the narrative, and is it used with or without the article? The next time we see Md)l it is in 3:17 and 21, both seeming to indicate that ‘adam is a proper name here, and therefore anarthrous (the direction of the rebuke is very much to a singular man who specifically did X with his wife and for whom God made a covering, along with his wife). In light of this, it is likely that the anarthrous ‘adam in Chapter 3 is a personal name, and this then is likely the use in 2:20, a text that also deals with the man getting his wife in the first place (note that the next time we see the prepositional phrase within the tetrateuchal narrative, it refers to collective humanity, and is pointed with the article, Exod 4:11).
Now, again, it is possible to take Chapter 3 as talking about Adam and Eve specifically (I mean, obviously, the entirety of women within the larger group of humanity is not given the designation “Eve” as a personal name), and Gen 1–2 are talking about man as a collective; but the flow of J by itself, not even including the rest of narrative within Gen 1–11, seems to link the couple called Adam and Eve to the people in the garden (I don’t know of anyone who would break up 2 and 3 in such a way though, as both make up the single J account). Chapter 3 assumes 2 (not to mention that Chapters 4ff. assume 2–3). And this is where reference comes into play. Even though the grammar itself is open, the context is not going to be as equally open to either option. And the narrative seems to tilt toward seeing the articular ‘adam as describing a specific individual, i.e., a particular man.
To give another example of something that may indicate the correct reference, it is odd that if men had existed in general without women, that we would find in the scene depicted in2:19–20 that God does not bring other men to men? In other words, the point the narrative is making there is that animals aren’t humans, and therefore, do not make appropriate companions to the man. Hence, God must make someone who is “according to his side” (i.e., someone who is likewise human). The issue is clearly procreation in the larger context, but the argument is only made that another human must be made. It is not until the woman is made that we see that this must be a different kind of human; but if other humans existed at the time, one would think the author would have noted that another man is not an appropriate companion either for purposes of procreation. Instead, there is silence in the text, and the only justification given of the woman’s creation is that another human needed to be made. Again, why is this the reasoning if other humans (albeit only males or androgyns) already exist? In other words, it would seem to be a misplaced argument to say that the reason why woman was created was because humans need humans as companions if, in fact, other humans already exist.
This brings me to another indicator of reference, and that is the Hebrew word l?bad. Contrary to contemporary interpretation, the word really has nothing to do with loneliness. Instead, it describes the separation of something from a class or group to which it belongs (Gen21:28–29; 30:40; 32:17; 32:25; 42:38; 43:32; 47:26). Hence, the issue in2:18 is not that man needs another human to keep him company. The issue is separation from a larger group to which he was to belong. “It is not good for the man to be separated [from the larger group]” would be a better translation.
Now, one can say that man has been separated from the woman, but this would be odd, since it is God who actually separates the woman from the man when He makes her. It is likely, and in more continuity with the more common use of the term, that the term refers to humanity in general. It is not good for the man to be a single unit, a singular man, but he needs instead to become one of a larger group of his kind, i.e., other humans. In other words, the issue is procreation and man needs to become more than one. If this is true, however, the implicature is that man is only one, not many (i.e., there is no group of humanity created, just this single individual man).
The logic of J, therefore, seems to be that this is a single individual, and that the l’adam in 2:20 should be understood as “for Adam,” even if one wants to translate it as “for man.” The logic of the J narrative, then, would indicate that the man is a reference to the one man (i.e., Adam) in the context, not a larger collective. The appearance of the article is to reference the singular man in the context (not to mention the nature of the man, as many have noted it would be better to translate it as “the earthling,” displaying his limited perspective of the cosmos as he looks up in his finitude, rather than down at the entirety of the cosmos as God does in Gen 1). The further context of the Primeval History (e.g., 5:1ff.) indicates that the author/editor believed Adam to be the single individual who was created with his wife in the garden (displaying that this interpretation goes all the way back to the formation of the book itself), and I believe the evidence tilts in the direction that he got this from J itself, rather than it being an artificial connection he later created.
Hence, what this all boils down to is that the issue must be solved by reference. It cannot be solved by noting the options the grammar allows divorced from its referents within a text, as grammar, like the meaning of words themselves, is semantically geared toward its referents within a particular context.
Now, just to make a further observation concerning the historic Adam debate, we must ask the question, Does all of this prove that Adam was a historical individual? And to this question one must answer, No. The internal logic of a story does not necessarily correspond to what that story intends to teach/communicate to its audience (and that is true even if the author were to assume the literalness of the story itself). The historical Adam debate needs to center on what questions the Genesis text and the Bible as a whole are answering. It is possible for the Adam story to merely represent something that occurred with larger humanity. As I noted in my book, Revisiting the Days of Genesis, the pigs in the tale of the “Three Little Pigs” are literal pigs within the logic of the narrative, but they represent human beings outside of the narrative.1 The internal referents are to literal pigs, but the external referents (i.e., those they represent in real life outside of the text) are not literal pigs at all, but types of human beings. In the same way, the best trajectory to take for those who want to see Genesis as compatible with various origins theories is to understand that mythic narrative represents something real, but is not necessarily a literalistic description of what is real. In other words, the internal logic of the Adam story is that Adam is a single human being who does X with his singular wife; but it is possible to see Adam as representative within the narrative of a larger group of humanity outside of the narrative that does X with their wives (what the X may be is something I’ll likely argue at another time). This is actually something that all Christians can agree on, since one does not have to affirm or deny the existence of a literal Adam in order to see Adam in the story this way.
Instead, the debate of a literal Adam is going to be a debate about hamartology, soteriology, etc., and which theological trajectory the Bible either teaches or its teachings essentially must assume.
- B. C. Hodge, Revisiting the Days of Genesis: A Study of the Use of Time in Genesis 1–11 in Light of It Ancient Near Eastern and Literary Context (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), 97–98. ↩