With several of us writing now on The Hump, ongoing series like this one are going to be harder to link together. It’s not a problem I’m going to lose sleep about! But here is the third “theory” about Adam named by David L Wilcox, as introduced here.
Tribal Head – Adam was the “head man” of a small tribe put in the garden. The tribe was put to the test, and they all followed Adam’s lead into sin. We are all descended from that tribe (alone?) and have inherited their sinful nature.
To be honest, I’ve not heard of this view before, and so am not quite sure what issues it is intended to address. If anyone has read a fuller account, please feed back. But I can think of a few possible reasons for proposing it.
In the first place, perhaps it is intended to circumvent the genetic bottleneck that seems to preclude a first couple, by converting it into a first tribe. Wilcox in his notes references several estimates of Ne (effective population), thought to be applicable for a significant period of mankind’s existence. All are in the region of 10,000. Perhaps the idea is that this number could have been concentrated in one area – or at least a sufficient number of them to “leverage” the problem of sin throughout the human breeding population, presumably at a time before mass migration. This would help explain the universality of sin.
Or perhaps it’s intended to mitigate the rather undemocratic idea that one man made the whole race accountable, by making their chief’s sin a living example that this supposed tribe emulated, whilst giving a brief nod to Paul’s concept of federal headship.
If either of these interpretations represents the views of the proposers of this model, they seem to leave the really significant problems as badly, or as well, answered as the first “generic head” model, begging the question of how sin spread throughout the race to the present, genetically or otherwise. As I said above, perhaps there are others familiar enough with this model to defend it.
But there is one sense in which it’s well worth considering the implications of the “Tribal Head” model. It’s all too easy from the viewpoint of a universal Christian Church – especially when trying to read Genesis 2-4 as a quasi-scientific anthropological text – to forget that Genesis was written for neither reason, directly.
In Genesis – and even in the Pentateuch as whole – The Adam story serves to show how by God’s grace Adam’s sin did not prevent him being the father of God’s people, Israel. In other words, the focus of Genesis is on Adam as the ancestor of the tribe of Israel, not the first of the people of the whole earth. It was published in the wilderness or in Jerusalem, not in Rome or Geneva.
Now, let me divert an obvious objection immediately – there is an astonishing universalism to the Hebrew Scriptures from the start, and the table of nations in Genesis 10 shows Noah’s line spreading out amongst a wide range of the nations known in the ancient near east, which justifies the apparent New Testament assumption that, in the gospel age, the whole human race is descended from Adam.
But the parallel genealogies of Seth and Cain in ch 4-5 are linear records of closely related tribes – even assuming Cain’s people remained somewhat apart from the “holy” line leading to Noah. So perhaps Adam was, indeed, a representative chosen from one Mesopotamian people as a priest of Yahweh. Through him, both the blessing of election, and the curse of sin, came into his immediate line (however we understand it to have been transmitted), leaders of this Yahwist tribe. This makes the call of Abraham, the giving of the Law and so on all part of one story of the call, and salvation, of the true God’s people, not a global aetiological tale tacked on the front of Israel’s law for encyclopaedic completeness.
Meanwhile, though, the Old Testament often stresses the relatedness of the peoples around Israel, not only through the table of nations, but in the patriarchal narratives, the conquest accounts and so on. When Abram is called in Genesis 12 it is partly to bring ultimate blessing to the nations. One way of seeing this is as a spreading of the knowledge of God from the chosem line to the whole of mankind – Israel were to be a kingdom of priests to the nations. Another way of seeing it is as lifting the curse that Adam brought upon the nations as well as upon his own people when he was intended to bring blessing.
Either way, Adam is a tribal priest-king whose ultimate role was, in God’s planning, to make the whole world God’s people. And so, by a circuitous route involving a new Adam (Jesus Christ), that has still proved to be the case, as the Gospel burst the bounds of the national identity of Israel to become a message for all mankind.
So I don’t think the Tribal Head model gives us much help in reconciling genetic science with the theology of sin. As I suggested in the piece on the Generic Head model, I’m not sure they are necessarily as hard to reconcile as many claim today: we have a large number of universal common ancestors, and Adam, scientifically speaking, might have been any one of them.
Yet the model is useful theologically to remind ourselves that God’s plan of salvation came through one tribal group, and a particukar historical narrative: as Jesus himself said, “Salvation is from the Jews.” And the particular ethnic origin of that salvation may, perhaps, go back raight to chapter 2 in the Bible record, rather than commencing only with Abraham.