Tuesday, February 14, 2012

'Did Adam and Eve Really Exist' - Book Review

John Collins has produced a useful book, that while clearly achieving it's primary theological purpose, also has some interesting nuggets about how to approach Biblical texts along the way. His thesis is encapsulated in the subtitle: Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who they were and why you should care. When it comes to Genesis 1 to 11 I'm a fan of Blocher's framework approach with sympathies for Tolkein's idea of capital M, Myth. But what tends to happen is the importance of Adam and Eve is lost in the flurry of debates about the relationship between science and religion and the debate about how to exactly interpret Genesis.  In Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Collins focuses on Adam and Eve and finds a non-negoitable 'red-line' to borrow Middle Eastern negotiating parlance. In a short space he marshals both philosophical and exegetical evidence to show that Biblically we are to understand that Adam and Eve were real people, who one afternoon ushered sin and evil into the world. Collins argues that Genesis presents itself as history, a genre that is first and foremost concerned with truth, these things really happened. However he is open to events being described in shorthand or with a poetic structure. Although he warns that we are to be aware of our modern philosophical milieu which emphasises an undetermined beginning and chaotic development of the world. The primary theological evidence for Adam and Eve's reality is Original Sin, which seems vague and cursory if they're aren't real people. He cites Romans 5:18-19, Acts 17:26 and Hebrews 11:4-7 as important texts in this regard. Finally I enjoyed his observations about the role of the narrator in Hebrew narrative and the way in which Old Testament narrative focuses on showing rather than telling. 

6 comments:

Andrew Bowles said...

..."who one afternoon ushered sin and evil into the world". A compelling argument for the siesta if ever there was one. :)

Andrew Bowles said...

Seriously though, the question of the relationship between the empirical and symbolic sides of history is interesting. Not having read the book, I fear that the argument being made is that real history is what we get when we subtract the symbolic. But if you subtract the symbolic from the Adam and Eve story you are left with nothing. Even their names are symbols. The only way out is to propose a concrete and specific empirical account of what happened, which given our data set must needs be constructed out of nothing. If the purpose of asserting that they were 'real people' is so that they (or at least Adam) can serve as placeholders in a theological scheme of sin and salvation, then their concrete reality is not really being affirmed in a meaningful way. 'Adam' may just as well be 'every man' if he is just supposed to be the sinful counterpoint to Christ.

Luke Isham said...

It's short you should read it, I think you'll be surprised, in short that's not his argument.

Andrew Bowles said...

It sounds interesting, it'll go on my list. I've been thinking about the topic in general of the relationship between theological and empirical reality and I'd like to do a bit of work on it. I was thinking on reading this about the other end of the issue, which is the relationship between the empirical and theological elements of the work of Christ. In many ways we fall into the same problem. The epistles, particularly Paul's (and Hebrews) describe the work of Christ in a way that is not unlike the way that 'Adam' is described in Genesis, to the extent that if we did not have the Gospels themselves we could consider this to be an example of a Gnostic redeemer myth without historical reference (which is a pretty accurate description of a lot of evangelical preaching, for the very reason that the Gospels are not usually preached on). Which brings us back to ask what actually was happening when Jesus was on the cross? What does an 'historical' resurrection mean, any more than an 'historical' fall? I feel more and more like saying that this means that 'it actually happened' is a bit of a fig leaf over our ignorance. We feel that we're covered but there is a lot left over. :) Good to think about.

Luke Isham said...

That'll be an interesting topic, will you blog about it?

Andrew Bowles said...

I'm hoping to work it into a Master of Theology eventually.