Models for a historic Adam – 6

David L Wilcox’s penultimate model for Adam is this:

Experimental Head – Sin was already there, but we don’t know how – that’s why the garden was needed, the perfect environment. Adam was the experimental proof of the human condition – he showed we humans are all sinners by nature – that it is not environmental.

In a comment on another thread, our friend Cal quoted Karl Barth:

Barth once responded to an incredulous question about Genesis 3 with, “It doesn’t matter if the snake existed, but what he said”.

But actually, even in (or especially in) foundation myth, it does matter what actually happened. The story might still work if the snake, for example, were a symbol of Eve’s hearing an inner voice from Satan – but it won’t bear the weight of biblical doctrine if the words were said by, say, the author’s black-sheep cousin. If they were not actually said at all, the myth loses as much of its meaning as would debunking the story that the Christians destroyed the library at Alexandria because they hated knowledge … woops, that has been debunked; and doing so helps knock the ground out from under the feet of the scientistic worldview. Facts matter, even in myth.

Accounts like this model, that do away with an historic fall from primaeval innocence, conveniently foreclose the problems that modern science seems to make for such an event. Theistic evolutionists, in particular, can for a while at least have their cake and eat it too. Theologically, evil exists: some such temptation as Adam’s perhaps did happen – or it happens at least in a story – which demonstrates that fact to mankind today. But we can bypass that whole awkward genealogical question.

But the devil, of course, is in the detail. If Genesis 2-4 were only there to teach that we are all sinners by nature, it would only be saying what is common knowledge – and certainly was absolutely common knowledge in Israel, the original target audience. Their whole religious system was about the need to atone regularly for sin in order to enjoy the presence and blessing of Yahweh.

The Genesis account was self-evidently not written to affirm the universality of sin, but to show its origin, and its relationship to death and eternal life. And of course, not only that, but as we’ve seen repeatedly, it was written also about the origin of human beings in covenant relationship with God, which duality (covenant and sin) makes sense of the whole of the rest of torah, and of the whole Bible thereafter including the gospel.

Specifically, the account was written to show that sin was not an original part of human nature – that it did not come from God either in creation or in relationship – indeed, rather it destroyed that creation (death) and broke the relationship (exile).

It was also written to show that sin was not necessary. Much ink has been spilt on this in the last few decades, often by pitting Irenaeus’s emphasis on the story – of Adam’s sin being the result of deception, ignorance and immaturity – against Augustine’s emphasis on self-willed rebellion. Sin becomes, in this view, an inevitable part of God’s intended “soul-making”, and even therefore perhaps a good thing. I say that this misrepresents both Irenaeus, who saw sin as a heinous evil, and Augustine, who was on board with God’s secret counsel encompassing the fall as the means to an even greater good.

You see, if Adam, as some kind of authorised representative of the race, did only what comes naturally in the garden, we are inevitably left asking why it came naturally. The commonest layman’s answer is that we all just happen to sin like Adam – but that is simply to say that God created us with a massive bias towards sin, which the whole Bible denies, not least the culmination of the Genesis 1 account, which says that creation, with man, was “very good.”

Evolution provides a get-out for this – but only if we follow the modern TE trend to make it (or “nature”, an equally indefinable concept) autonomous. George Murphy, for example, seeing the whole survival-of-the-fittest thing as innately selfish, views mankind as inevitably tainted by selfishness (though in Genesis, sin is not selfishness but disobedience to God*). An event like that in the garden might well, for the first man taken into covenant relationship to God, demonstrate man’s fallibility. But it would do so only by showing the whole living creation to have failed, and therefore its Creator, too, who set up the evolutionary process.

Those who hold to such views have failed either to exonerate God from bad planning, or to avoid frank dualism, in which the choice, or chance, of a “free creation” are independent of God’s providence.

So although rejection of Genesis’s explanation for the origin of sin ostensibly leads to a humble agnosticism on the matter, in practice the void will inevitably be filled with theological monsters of our own, or demonic, making.

This model, according to the abstract, shows that sin is from our nature, and is not “environmental.” What does that actually mean? Does not evolutionary theory say that our nature itself is the product of our environment? And even in the Genesis account, was it not the existence of a particular environmental factor – the snake – that deceived Eve and led Adam astray. So it seems to see sin as something that, in a way it doesn’t venture to spell out, happened to us, not as something we chose. Why then does God, and even our own conscience, blame us?

But perhaps others can see strengths in this model that I can’t.

* Footnote: It’s well worth pointing out that the casual assumption that Adam’s sin was “selfishness”, or any other concept not directly related to offence against God, is another instance of reading modern concepts back into ancient texts. It is absolutely no less illegitimate than reading evolutionary stages into the days of creation, the kind of concordism that liberal writers are only too ready to berate in others. Israel’s concept of sin was far more ethically based than that of the surrounding nations, but though Babylonian confessional prayers are addressed to gods who get offended for far more arbitrary reasons than Yahweh, they are in other ways identical to penitential psalms – sin is, by its very nature, offence against God. It is only the ethical nature of Israel’s divine law (summed up as love God, love your neighbour)that makes an offence against others also an offence against God.

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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4 Responses to Models for a historic Adam – 6

  1. Levi Fetter says:

    Hi Jon,
    sorry for posting on a number of different OPs, I’m going through all the Adam & Eve ones at once and thought that posting all of my thoughts on only one would betray your future readers, and possibly confuse you. In any case, you are free to respond or not as you wish on our main discussion chain, or after each of these discrete posts. Indeed, this post may have been better placed on the previous post on the 5th Model for Adam, as “Cultural Head”, in which you dealt ably with the problem of Imitation.

    The only strength in this model, as I see it, although it doesn’t spell it out at all here, comes I think with appreciating the importance of interaction, mimesis, reciprocity in nature (Wechselwirkung, in Kant’s categories of the understanding), and accepting a Kierkegaardian view of Adam’s God-given freedom, one that implies an anxiety, rather than positing sin outright, but an anxiety that Kierkegaard thinks leads all of us, like Adam, invariably to sin (cf. the Concept of Anxiety). With this in mind, a few tweaks to this model could be rendered to explain “how” Adam came to make his terrible mistake, without either excusing him or inculpating God, but it would still have a number of important weaknesses.

    Firstly, mimesis or reciprocity is a fundamental aspect of reality, both in the objective relations between forces, matter, and organic life including between ourselves; and in our subjective cognition of reality. It is a key or perhaps the key mechanism by which we learn and develop and find our being, and is for this reason why Aristotle called us “the most mimetic of the animals.”

    Now, rather than positing pre-existing sin, one merely has to posit natural and pre-existing evil, incarnated by the pre-existent hominins and their violent sacrificial culture, for example, represented by Satan. In addition, if Adam is in a state of anxiety, which is in Kierkegaard’s typically abstruse manner of speech, “freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility,” then finding himself amongst another or others like him but not quite, i.e. the snake, also in the Garden, also walking, also talking, having some knowledge of the moral function of the tree, who act as models of imitation that Adam must resist by reference only to the opposing will given him by God. Even if the snake is not, as I’ve supposed here, a pre-Adamite man, the mimetic role this satanic character plays is still important in suggesting a somewhat natural inclination that is drawing Adam toward disobedience and into the vortex of sin. It is the natural inclination to “follow the crowd,” to seek in others our own being and end.

    The mimetic interaction is clear in Genesis 2: The snake’s cunning is to be a model of imitation by showing his greater experience and knowledge of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (which I as it happens take to represent the archaic, violent sacred, the source of culture of the pre-Adamite men), so the woman is first to see the eating of the fruit of tree as desirable in the way and for the reasons the snake has suggested, and simply because the snake has modelled this desire; Adam, who would otherwise perhaps be less credulous or tempted, nevertheless also is induced to eat if not by imitating the snake, then by imitating woman, either because she is more like him and/or perhaps from his stronger desire to please her.

    Add to this Kierkegaard’s idea that Adam is in anxiety as a concomitant condition of his freedom and faced with uncertainty over the credibility of the divine prohibition that he has received under strong (natural) mimetic influence, and it is easier to see how the combination of this and the spiritual anxiety leads Adam to forego his own will under divine command and partake of the tree, whose fruit is death.

    Now, I think here of the scene in Matthew 16, Peter suggesting to Jesus that he escape his coming ordeal in Jerusalem, and of Jesus’ famous rebuke, “Get Behind me, Satan! For you are a stumbling block to me” and especially the subsequent line, “For you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” – Peter was unwittingly suggesting to Jesus to follow Peter’s earthly desires rather than Jesus’ divine will. Christ is resisting what Adam had not resisted: the temptation here (and elsewhere) to succumb to the desires of the world, whose ultimate source is the pre-Adamic archaic sacred, or as is it is called by Jesus, “the devil”, the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning.

    But in this very act, and across the Gospels generally, Jesus proves that the first sin under conditions of mimetic desire or anxiety was not inevitable, therefore not exculpated or excused, but merely explained by this interaction between the environmental and the intrinsic. Freedom is good, but one must first know – and keep hold of – what one ought do with it. Mimetic desire is essentially good, but one must have the proper model. Despite his divine paternity, Adam modelled Eve, who modelled the snake, who was evil; Jesus offers their fallen descendants his own self as the both the universal Word and eternal model of perfect sonship in obedience and faith.

  2. Jon Garvey says:


    Since this discussion is spread over a decade of posts, I need to say here that I’ve still not had time to grapple with Girard (currently asked to do a book endorsement, so reading for that).

    Two brief comments on your argument here, though. The first is to question this historical assumption about pre-Adamic man:

    Now, rather than positing pre-existing sin, one merely has to posit natural and pre-existing evil, incarnated by the pre-existent hominins and their violent sacrificial culture, for example, represented by Satan.

    I’m not sure that we have actual evidence that religion before Adam was sacrificial at all, let alone violently so. Hard evidence for sacrifice – and especially human sacrifice – seems to come from cultures well into the Neolithic. Amongst the earliest are the Mesopotamian cultures that tap into the same narrative sources as Genesis, and so cannot predate that narrative. There seems a fair amount of evidence that violent human sacrifice is a late, degenerate, development of ineffective religion at times of crisis, eg the the worship of Moloch, the Aztec system and so on.

    Secondly, the reality of mimesis may well be a way to go in understanding sin – though the degree to which, in mankind’s primal state, the urge to conformity constituted “anxiety” must be demonstrated rather than assumed. Even in a state of sin we are anxious to avoid imitating some examples. Indeed we are complacently certain about our disdain for those who practise violence, until occasionally we find ourselves caught up in violent warfare, riot or blood feud.

    But imitation is not actually what we find in the Eden account. The serpent is presented as a figure of authority, somehow wiser than a mere man. Whether Eve gains that impression from foolishly believing a snake or “non-adamic” man, or legitimately from a divine being (as in Heiser), “serpent” implies otherness. You might be inclined to believe an alien superintelligence, but I’m not sure one would necessarily be inclined to imitate.

    In fact the serpent does nothing evil, and certainly nothing violent, merely seducing them verbally to disbelieve God and disobey him. He even uses incomplete truths to do so: they don’t immediately die, and they do become, in a limited and ironic way, like God in knowing good and evil.

    Wilcox’s conundrum (not his own – he is just presenting the models) is that sin already exists in a world Genesis describes as “very good.” The TEs speculate on its origin in evolutionary terms – Girard, as I understand him so far, seems also to give it earthly origins from a different line of speculation.

    The Bible leaves the question open, but comes to identify the snake firmly with Satan, suggesting that sin originates in the realm of spiritual beings. I’ve argued in Generations that there is a good case for placing its origin in Satan’s interaction with Adam and Eve, rather than in a prior Satanic fall of unclear cause.

  3. Levi Fetter says:

    Thanks for your quick reply, Jon. We of course agree that neither mimetic desire nor ontological anxiety constitute nor justify sin, but only the conditions in which sin comes into existence.

    You said:
    “I’m not sure that we have actual evidence that religion before Adam was sacrificial at all, let alone violently so.”

    I’m indeed relying on Girard’s work to support the assertion, which is why I’m so excitably insistent on you taking up and reading Girard again, particularly his deeper works (Violence and the Sacred; Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World). Until then, my assertions may seem just that, assertions. However, I strongly believe that the unity of our theories form a profound and complete whole, and that you will recognise its significance. It depends on you discovering, through Girard, that violent collective scapegoat murder, and its ritualisations, is precisely what has been hidden by myth since the origin of pre-Adamic man and, relevant to the question of mimesis, sin and anxiety, why our desires are often therefore ambivalent, here avoiding taboo violence, there enjoined into ritual violence. There is desire, and there is the sacred.

    You said:
    “But imitation is not actually what we find in the Eden account. The serpent is presented as a figure of authority, somehow wiser than a mere man. Whether Eve gains that impression from foolishly believing a snake or “non-adamic” man, or legitimately from a divine being (as in Heiser), “serpent” implies otherness. You might be inclined to believe an alien superintelligence, but I’m not sure one would necessarily be inclined to imitate.”

    I admit that, for brevity’s sake, I ran rather too quickly and roughshod over this point, which needs a great deal more precision. Again, to understand the subtle distinction between “mimetic desire” and mere imitation, one would have to undertake to read Girard. Either way, my point is that Eve in fact is seduced by the snake (I say mimetically, not imitatively) into desiring what was previously not seen as desirable, and we know from experiments, for example, that even species as different from us as chimpanzees will follow our human gestures to the sweets hidden under a cup. The point of mimesis is that we model our desires on those of others, because we feel in ourself a lack of being, which is in essence the same thing Kierkegaard is describing by his concept of anxiety.

    Now, although I referred to the “snake”, I ought to have used the term “nachash”, which is a triple-entendre meaning also “diviner” and “shining one”, from other references in the Bible. Etymologically, it may be linked to the serpent-men “Nagas” of Indian mythology, or to the Mesopotamian Anunnaki, and I would like to go in the Girardian direction of demythifying these types of characters to show that, behind them, is just this archaic culture of the sacred, practiced by pre-Adamic men. It is noteworthy that “serpent” elsewhere in the Bible is S-R-P, as in Seraph, but I won’t belabour the point. The identity of the “nachash” as a pre-Adamic diviner may simply have been pressed into this more allegorical triple-entendre and, over time, decayed into merely “snake” in common usage, for several mythological reasons, which I won’t go into here, though I think Girard helps to show how and why.

    To support my supposition – although I’m happy to leave the “nachash” as an ambiguous allegorical figure (and wholeheartedly disagree with Heiser on here as with on the Nephilim) then aside from the decidedly human attributes I had already mentioned, the nachash is also described as being “arum”, crafty, the shrewdest, intelligent or cunning in the sense of knowing, above all the wild animals, i.e. like a homo sapiens. This word plays again when Adam and Eve eat the fruit and fall, discovering that they are “arummim”, naked, exposed to their bestial nature, i.e. mere homo sapiens.

    The final point about evil, is not that the nachash (or pre-Adamic men, generally) is evil, but that what he desires is evil FOR man. This is the essence of sin nature – to be oriented toward something other than the good – but the first sin is disobedience. That is, the archaic sacred is the species-character of the pre-Adamic men, but is prohibited to Adam, it is not his species-character, if I can use the unwieldy term for a uniquely spiritual individual. Thus, it is not evil to for pre-Adamic men to make sacrifices according to their gods (which give rise to internalised auditory command hallucinations and the concepts of “good” and “bad”, “sacred”, “profane” etc. in a pre-conscious bicameral mind, according to Julian Jaynes) and yes, to eat the flesh. But it is evil, to Adam, and he is explicitly prohibited. Why should this be so? Because one does not disobey God except by idolatry, and it is idolatry that is the root of the evil, not the sacrifice itself, as I shall try to show briefly in the next paragraphs. The stronger point I wish to make, is that although any disobedience is essentially idolatry, it could only be this type of prohibition against actual idolatry (I repeat that I equate the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, whose fruit is death, with the worship of the archaic sacred) that Yahweh could give Adam, unless the prohibition, and Yahweh, be completely arbitrary, like “but you shall not not make cakes”, which are the prohibitions we do indeed find amongst followers of the false gods of the archaic sacred. My position is, I think, justified by the first half of the Decalogue but particularly the first prohibition there; my position on mimetic desire is justified by the second half of the Decalogue, but particularly the last and most extraordinary prohibition.

    So in sum, evil is in the Earth prior to Adam but it only takes on a pejorative character because Adam appears in the Garden and capable of sinning, of disobeying God. The same would be true of lions killing lambs, if there appeared on the African savannah a lion that preferred to lay down with them. The culture of the archaic sacred is, I insist, “satanic” in the literal and metaphysical sense, because it is based on the the system of violent expulsion to control violence via the accusation against what we now call scapegoats, but it is only evil if and when Adam and his descendants participate in it, because in so doing, he corrupts his nature. First, he has fallen into idolatry or at least double-mindedness (the etymology of “bad” is “baedden”, two-spirited; hermaphrodite); second, he actually disobeys God because he obeys the idol (whatever induced his desire), which is to say he replaces the authority of God with gods (who are stand-ins for his own pride); and finally because, in doing so, he permanently corrupted his relationship to all authority by the mere transgression, and remains both constitutionally vulnerable to idolatry and weakened in the faith of his own conscience. Further, with the Fall comes blindness or forgetting of the radical difference between Adamites and these men, who have a ready-made culture, worship and authority to offer him in place of the one he has just lost (thus St Paul says that the Law is also Sin, reigning from *Adam* until Moses) and so the Bible is a collection of stories both of men being punished by, or for failing to conform to the strict requirements of, the law of the archaic sacred (Cain, for example; Job; Moses et al) yet of God redeeming these men in their many failures, victimisations or attempts to hold to the truth of a non-mythical, loving, forgiving non-violent God of all Creation (Abraham, Lot, Jacob, Joseph/Judah, Jonah, Job et al.).

    This theory explains, I believe, why immediately after the Fall (away from God’s authority and into this sacrificial culture commanded by the gods of the archaic sacred) God himself interjects on behalf of Adam & Eve as they left the garden, by making them a “good” sacrifice when he provided them skins (presumably of a sacrificed goat, according to Talmud) – assimilating the culture of sacrifice that they have just fallen into, with a salvific rather than propitiatory end in mind, with Jesus’ final Atonement. Notably, this scene is followed by propitiatory sacrifices of Cain and Abel (who taught them to make sacrifices if not the pre-Adamic surrounding culture? Adam was not called to make sacrifices in the Garden, before the Fall.), where Abel’s offering of the blood and fat of the firstlings is pleasing but not Cain’s (to a Christian’s eyes, more noble) bloodless vegetable sacrifice. Why should this be so, unless we are in fact dealing with old gods who desire blood sacrifices, rather than what Yahweh ultimately wants, which as Ezekiel and Amos reveals later is mercy and friendship? Further, Christ reveals the whole truth of a non-violent, loving God, and this is the hermeneutic with which since the Early Church Fathers we try to re-read the Pentateuch from the beginning anew, having to illuminate and deconstruct much of its ambiguity and admixture of myth (of a violent or mysterious God). As such, what the Fall and Original Sin stories are, I believe, are the falling back into the culture of pre-Adamic men and their gods of the archaic sacred; and what Yahweh is doing, is steering man ever so slowly out of that culture and back to His holiness that Adam lost.

    The Bible is a text in travail, and there are signs everywhere that Yahweh is competing with the false gods (false for Adamites) of the blood sacrifices for the attention of fallen men, as in the examples of the goat-skins of Adam & Eve, and the offerings of Cain & Abel. Once Adam falls, he has condemned himself to serve two masters, or really only one – the Satan – until Abraham is called to be the patriarch of salvation, and Isaac the example of perfect sonship, out from the power of the satanic, sacred gods (“Take your son,” God said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”) and back into the authority of the true and Holy God (“Abraham! Abraham!…Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him… for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from me.”)

    I final word on Girard: my own hypothesis, which relies so heavily on the work you and Josh have done, is to redeem Girard from a reasonably perceived naturalist account of evil. Girard was indeed a titan, writing profoundly across many disciplines, but either didn’t have the time or preferred ambiguity on matters explicitly theological, and for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, he left no clear position – or rather many contradictory comments – on Adam, the nature of Original Sin and the event of the Fall. It is my task as a follower of his theory to correct him, and I think I have done just this by assimilating his naturalistic account of the transition (via mimetic rivalry) from animal to hominin with symbolic culture, language and gods (“the image and likeness of God”; “Satan”) with the account of a theological Adam as a genealogical ancestor of all men living today, born amongst these hominins after many thousands of years and perhaps only recently, but a man having a unique telos, which he corrupted.

    My task is made all the more important and urgent, I think, because Christians fail to speak in a manner comprehensible to atheists and empiricists like I had been, whereas Girard fails to speak to Christians (and, I suppose Muslims and to a lesser extent Jews) steeped in either a too allegorical or too literal interpretation of the Bible. I strongly believe that united Girard’s hypothesis with an orthodox reading of Genesis, will not only bring many more people like me to the Faith, but will bring many people already in the Faith to a deeper and more tangible understanding of who God and Man really are, how extraordinary therefore the story of Man truly is, and how urgent is our need to be redeemed from Satan by the One who has already defeated him on the Cross.

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