Considering an ancient Adam

The Genealogical Adam and Eve paradigm, as described in my book and that of Joshua Swamidass, makes a recent Adam plausible in the context of the mainstream sciences. Some objectors to this “recent Adam” interpretation wants to put Adam and Eve much further back in the past (which is equally compatible with GAE), and their main reason is the status of the “people outside the garden” in our scenario.

It’s interesting to speculate that, had archaeology been on the scene earlier than geology and palaeontology, and the literature of the Sumerians discovered before deep time and evolution, the world would have immediately noted the literary connections between that literature and Genesis 1-11. The “proto-history” would have been firmly welded in the public mind to the third and fourth millennia BCE, and the arguments would have all been about which literature came first and to what extent both are historical recollection. The subsequent discovery (in my counterfactual universe) of fossil hominins would, in all likelihood, have focused attention entirely on the meaning of Genesis 1 with respect to the human race, probably generating a Gap Theory like that which actually did gain consensus support before Darwin, leaving the garden of Eden undisturbed in its late setting.

One old form of the Gap Theory

As it is, ancient chronology and Neanderthal man came first. All attention became focused on the emergence of the species, rather than on an Eden in a known historical period, and so speculation centred on whether Adam lived way back in the Palaeolithic or was fictional (all the cultural details of Eden, and the subsequent narrative, becoming sidelined in both strategies).

This was not too troublesome when little was known of ancient culture: the old view of the brutish and stupid cave-man gave some leeway for the sudden emergence of a truly intelligent species in, say, Cro-Magnon man, in the person of Adam and Eve. But the more that was discovered, the earlier sophisticated culture became, and the less likely speciation in a single pair. Not only is Homo sapiens far older than was suspected, but evidence for art and careful funerary customs goes back to Neanderthals, and Homo erectus is a far more intelligent tool-maker than was ever believed possible. Even the reality of the “great leap forward” in culture, dated to around 50,000 years, has come into doubt in recent years, and apart from culture, the possibility of true speech has been pushed earlier and earlier. We now know of extensive interbreeding between H. sapiens and Neanderthals and Denisovans. We also know that the worldwide coming and going of cultures reaches back pretty well as far as we can discern from the artifacts and fossils in the ground: even the fairly recent “Out of Africa” hypothesis seems to require revision on a regular basis.

In such an expanding view of the human past, basing a primordial couple on discernible attributes becomes very difficult, especially if conventional evolutionary gradualism is accepted. Genealogical science allows any such universal ancestors as Adam and Eve plenty of time to become universal ancestors, but says nothing about what distinguishes them from… all the other hominins outside the garden. Proponents of ancient Adam are left with exactly the same problems they have with a Neolithic or Chalcolithic Adam and Eve, except that they can make the problems disappear in the unknowns of deep time. They also need to explain why the problem of human sin they attribute to such deep roots was left unaddressed by God for so many tens of thousands of years until historical times, in the person of Abraham.

What are the problems that leads people to reject a recent Adam living alongside others, given that science certainly allows it, and Scripture, in my view, supports it too (as I discuss in The Generations of Heaven and Earth)? My understanding of their objections, broadly, is this: if there were people apart from Adam and Eve’s line who were rational and cultured, then what makes the latter special? Why should not outsiders too bear the “image of God” of Genesis 1 as much as Adam? And surely they should not be denied such benefits as fellowship with God and eternal life, if God is just?

I think part of the problem is the residuum of mediaeval Catholic Thomistic thought on what constitutes “humanity.” I am very sympathetic to Aquinas’s Aristotelian idea of the hylemorphic nature of the human soul, but Aquinas defined humanness, in contradistinction to other animals, as “animal possessing a rational soul.” Furthermore, in order to comply with Catholic dogma on the immortality of the soul, he said that since the intellect is immaterial, it must also be imperishable. On that reasoning, any rational animal is a human being with eternal life, and becomes a theological problem if not included “in Adam.”

But as ever, our theological touchstone should always be Scripture, with philosophy only in second place as its servant. The Bible does not define humanity by its rationality or by any other specific attribute. Furthermore the totality of Scripture, including Genesis 2, casts doubt on the intrinsic immortality of the soul, unless in the most shadowy of states in Sheol. Adam and Eve only gain access to immortality through the tree of life, and once excluded from the garden, they become liable to death. It is only because God himself actively raises the dead to life, at the return of Christ, the righteous to reward and the wicked to judgment, that the dead cease to be dead.

Nothing is said in the Eden narrative about Adam and the image of God. If, as I have suggested in my book, Genesis 2 follows sequentially from Genesis 1, which is in literary terms the setting for the drama, then the race of “men” which we may take as those “outside the garden” were created “in the image of God.” Adam and Eve share in this as true people, but are not unique in that respect. So why should it be a problem for humans to be in the image of God back to deep time? We need to consider the nature of that image, and how Adam and Eve differ.

There is an increasing, and I think correct, tendency to view the “image of God,” in a text with clear temple imagery, in terms of representation (like the image of a king of deity), rather than of “similarity,” though the two should not be completely divorced.

In Genesis 1, adam is one of the creatures of the animal creation, but made uniquely in God’s image. If I were an oil painter specialising in landscapes and animal studies, no doubt my character would be reflected in all my work. A self portrait, though, would represent me in a unique way. It might be a physical likeness (though less so were I a Cubist like Picasso, for example), but it would certainly be intended to say something about me directly. Yet it would still only be an oil painting, like all my other work. A TV documentary about me would perhaps reveal more about my appearance, my voice and my activities. But the painting would not thereby cease to be a true image of me – just the limit of what the medium can portray.

In the context of his creatureliness, rather than his sinfulness, Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 describes Adam as a “natural” man “of the earth,” and the Christian, “of heaven,” as a “spiritual” man. I take it that, had Adam not sinned, the latter would have become true of him as well, eventually. Somebody recently pointed me to a great quote from C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

God became a man to turn creatures into sons.

I therefore see no problem with the idea of “scientific humans” (those outside the garden as far back as you wish to trace them) being (mere) creatures, though created in the image of God, especially when that creation is viewed christologically: “in the image of the Image” to use Philip Edgcumbe-Hughes’s phrase. Genesis 1 describes that entirely in terms of ruling and subduing the earth, and perhaps in the complementarity and mutuality of the sexes too. We may suppose that humanity’s creaturely endowments included whatever was suitable for that purpose, including rationality, culture, and even the ability to recognise their debt to their Creator. If we see signs of all this in the remains, it is no surprise.

But Adam was called to be more than merely an earthly creature. There is nothing creaturely about dwelling in intimate relationship with God, or being the recipient of a covenant of obedience with him (creating thereby the possibility of sin), or ruling even the angelic realm (as Psalm 8, interpreted by Hebrews 2 and 1 Cor 6:3, intimate), or living eternally in his presence, or receiving his wisdom, “the knowledge of good and evil,” albeit in the event they gained it illicitly. Yet that was what was offered to Adam and Eve, and lost by them for their descendants, creating what we now call, ruefully, “the human condition.” All that is supernatural.

But why were these things not made available to the people outside the garden, both before Adam and after, prior to his becoming a universal ancestor of us all? Well, who fully understands the distinguishing grace of God? Why am I not a billionaire or a President, and why is my neighbour poorer than me? But as far as the Bible is concerned, God’s grace is always selective. During the whole Old Testament period, from Abraham to John the Baptist, covenant relationship with God was limited to Israel and a few proselytes: even many of Abraham’s descendants were excluded. And under the New Covenant, “he who has the Son has life. He who does not have the Son of God does not have life”: and yet even after 2,000 years much of the world has still not heard the gospel.

And so it is that many Christians have speculated (and it can be no more than that) that people are judged only on what they have heard, and that similarly the Old Testament pagans will be judged on their lights, although accounted sinners as children of Adam. Recently, writers like John R. Schneider and Robert J. Russell have even speculated that the work of Christ will bring eternal life to every sentient creature that has ever lived, in compensation for their suffering . And so one could by all means, if one had a mind to, imagine God’s grace of eternal life being extended, somehow, to every palaeolithic human who ever lived, and even to the Australopithecines, if you like. But your speculation would have no actual support from Scripture, any more than does the idea of judgement being conditional on having heard the gospel and actively rejected it.

But for me, just as there seems no injustice in God judging people by their inbuilt (?Adamic) consciousness of sin, as described in Romans 2, there also would appear to be no injustice in his giving a purely creaturely, mortal, existence to our ancient forbears before Adam. If, as seems entirely plausible, those who unlike Adam had never been offered eternal life didn’t even consider it, and those whose natural religion was the highest that the earthly nature can express whilst not being a son, then where is the problem? To be the pinnacle of the natural creation is a considerable privilege in itself.

Admittedly, to be a son bound for paradise is a far greater privilege: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are” (1 Jn 3:1). But those of us who are Christians know that we are only such by the undeserved grace of God, not because he owes it to creatures to adopt them as sons. If God’s freedom in such matters were not the case, then the Neanderthal would have a claim on God for not being H. sapiens, H. erectus for not being a Neanderthal, and so on back to the sponge that begrudges the trilobites their mobility.

“To be yourself is beautiful;
To be something else is strange.” (Daltry/Pumer, The Magic Zoo)

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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.
This entry was posted in Adam, Creation, Genealogical Adam, Science, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Considering an ancient Adam

  1. Hanan says:

    “But those of us who are Christians know that we are only such by the undeserved grace of God, not because he owes it to creatures to adopt them as sons. If God’s freedom in such matters were not the case, then the Neanderthal would have a claim on God for not being H. sapiens, H. erectus for not being a Neanderthal, and so on back to the sponge that begrudges the trilobites their mobility.”

    This is a question I constantly think about and the question of whether God owes something. We aren’t earthworms or algae. Believing humans (and I mean from all religions) have insisted there is something unique to being a human. ID articles always talk about how humans are unique in their ability to think of their existential issues and everything else that make us completely different from other animals. Think of the concept of “hope”. This is something all humanity share and no animals do. Imagine how much suffering has fallen on humanity both by our hand and by the hand of “God” and the only thing that helped people was the hope that there would be some semblance of justice or new life after. My point is, I feel – given the TYPE of creature humans are – that God DOES owe us something. Or else all these gifts of traits he gave ALL humans whether they believed in Him or not was an unfair waste. That hope God gave them, was no hope at all.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Hi Hanan

      In general, the “ultimate” question is whether God provides the ends towards which he directs the natures of his creatures. And that is a question one can only really answer by faith, since we have no real idea of those ends and to what extent, or not, he meets them. One can only say, “My God is the kind of God who would not create a creaturely need without its fulfillment.” If one requires further that all those fulfillments be manifest to oneself, one is desiring to be God.

      Mediaeval philosophers went further in suggesting that God “owed” existence to every species he was capable of creating on the principle of plenitude, but nobody believes that now, suggesting that much of our human reasoning on such matters is purely cultural.

      In the present context (Adam and other hypothetical hominins) we only actually know, in detail, the kind of creatures Adam’s chillun are, which is my point. If in some way Adam alone was suited to eternity, then the sponge or Neanderthal who, let’s suppose, was not so endowed has not been deprived in any way. In human terms, the fact that I might have an inner drive to control others does not mean God owes me my desire.

      Once we come to the case of Adam and his kind – our people – then we not only have people with a sense of eternity, but people with a capacity for accountability before God. That’s been endlessly discussed by the theologians and philosophers for good reason – we know what it’s like to be human, and we’ve sensed the appropriateness of divine judgement even long before Christianity: remember Tityus, Tantalus, Sisyphus, and Ixion in Homer.

      • Hanan says:

        There is still something I think is being left out. This isn’t so much about neanderthals, but about all humanity that God has created and all of them are created to be his imagers. It’s about that innate quality we all have that our existence is not meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Like I said, how much of humanity has suffered cruelty only to at least hope there is something else waiting for them. In the end, what is the difference to the myriad of humanity if there is a a god or there isn’t, if their good works were not worth something more than what it is meant on earth. That God ultimately can have a relationship with each one no matter what and that soul is worth something in the end to God.

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


          Big question, of course, but that’s one that’s been grappled with down history and in hell-holes around the world today. Does God know his job with regard to justice, or does he not?

          In other words, people outside the Garden of Eden raise no new problems, and possibly fewer, given that the children of Adam have not only gained a higher view of themselves (including, perhaps, hopeful expectations), but a peculiar sinful cruelty that may well have been absent from our distant forebears.

          • Hanan says:

            What I fear is that we may misunderstanding his justice.

            After all, had man stayed in the garden, what would the rest of man outside of the garden (that are also created in the image of God) been for? Background creations? Or maybe taking the Adam=Israel metaphor further, it was in order for Eden to be a “light to the nations”. But that still does not respond to everything. If mankind was put on earth against his will, given a particular “introspective soul” against his will, and told to spread all over, well the natural consequence of culture of different faiths are all in likelihood. In Genesis when God sets his covenant with Abraham, he doesn’t say the Amorite lacked proper faith, but lacked a certain moral character.

            In other words, the Eskimo, the Aboriginee or Incan are all created in the image of God an are where they are against their will but yet still possess a quality that any children of Adam were born with.

            • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


              You can’t be created against your will, by the nature of things, and there’s nothing in the Bible or history to suggest man is here against his will, apart from the sinful (and minority) suicidal impulse which, one way or another, arises from the Fall.

              To be an Eskimo, Aborigine or Inca involves, I’m sure, the same sense of belonging to a people and place that being American does (probably more) – the fact that sin makes some situations intolerable does not arise from place or race, but from human evil.

              Crucial to understanding Eden is that it was never an end in itself, but the beginning of the transformation of the cosmos. Nevertheless, the idea of “background creations” (much used by Creationists to ask what use dinosaurs were without man) ignores the fact that all that is created has its own, unique, “good.” It is, of course, up to God to decide what that “good” should be when he creates a cactus rather than a coyote, but it is not the “Adamic good” of being vice-regent of creation with God.

              The idea that a radiation of “Edenic life” would lead to a fragmented religion doesn’t take into account the nature of that life as intimacy with the true God, and its disruption through the breaking of the Covenant.

  2. Hanan says:

    But I do understand your point at how far can God “owe” his creatures. Does the earliest sponge also deserve a place by God’s side? Seems like in this instance it is a lot easier to be an atheist.

  3. Levi Fetter says:

    Hi Jon

    I can’t remember on which post I first commented on, but this one really gets to the heart of my own theory on natural hominization and theological man.

    I’m pleased to see you take up the Aristotlean-Thomist hylermorphic position on the unity of Form and Matter. This is important to your broader aim of rebuking evolutionary – empiricist or theological – arguments that are not compatible with Scripture. You wrote, “But why were these things not made available to the people outside the garden, both before Adam and after, prior to his becoming a universal ancestor of us all?” I would argue here, that hylermorphism and your/my general understanding of the universal genealogical ancestry of Adam and Eve reveals for all species the mechanism, manner and means by which things have their being and existence. That is, that as Form precedes Matter in the mind of God, new forms (with unique ends) enters existing matter and guides it. In the case of Adam therefore, the new Form being principally spiritual or intellectual, he would not to the naked eye be expected to be distinguishable from the “dust” or matter of those who share only his animal form.

    With some effort, this may be a tremendous and novel way to overturn evolution and defend the orthodox understanding us as Adamites. Further, it opens up the possibility of an anthropology of the Fall, and, I believe, a concrete understanding of Evil and of Original Sin if the story of Adam’s theological creation along the chain of hominization is understood in conjunction with the hypothesis of René Girard. For Girard, man is first set apart from the animals through the resolution of cataclysmic mimetic violence of all-against-all by an all-against-one transference, accusation and lynching of a scapegoat. The scapegoat, the evil cause of the crisis, becomes the miraculous bringer of peace, and the first god is born as the appearance of the sacred, religion (taboo, ritual, myth, sacrifice) the first “sign” and thus symbolic language and dialectical reasoning (“good and evil”) and the synderetic or proto-conscience.

    Adam inherits these attributes, but is more than merely this. Ireneus’ doctrine of recapitulation, then, is a way of revealing the error of believing that Adam is merely a “rational animal”; man of the archaic sacred is the rational animal, i.e. “knowing good and evil” and persists in being so. But in light of Christ, the Second Adam, Adamites ought to be rational in the service of self-giving Love (if I can be succinct). The archaic man, not having this spirit, does not sin when he sacrifices his sons to the gods at the beginning of his world (the first sacrificial crisis) or after he establishes order and culture through subsequent sacred violence, any more than is a lion when he tears apart a lamb. It is the arrival of this Adam, the spiritual hominin, specifically called not to partake in the sacrificial culture of archaic man, who brings sin into the world by “falling” precisely into this practice. We therefore continue to live under the influence of the archaic sacred, half aware in our heart that it is “wrong”, which is, as you say, what we call “the human condition,” but is more precisely the “Adamite condition”.

    So we can argue that “evil” can be said to precede sin in this archaic culture of the violent sacred (per Girard), but God is bringing Adam out of this, giving man its fruits (language, reason) but calling him to a new telos which, until Christ, he had totally lost by sinning, believing himself to be like the others, merely man.

    I’m convinced that there is something universally significant to be achieved in bringing these ideas to their full fruition.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Glad you enjoyed the summary, Levi. I’m unable to comment further on Girard’s theory, as events have conspired to prevent me getting beyond the preface of I see Satan Fall… as yet. It’s on my “to do” list though!

      On the more general issue of origins, hylemorphic or evolutionary, the philosophical challenge (which I’ve only glanced at over the years) is to account for the scientific evidence of species succession in terms of hylemorphism. But certainly, Aristotelian form covers more than physical characteristics – there is no reason why Adam should be regarded as being the same as apparently identical “humans outside the garden.” After all, even a Christian is said to be a “new creation,” not simply a human with changed religious opinions.

  4. Levi Fetter says:

    I look forward to an update on your progress with Girard’s oeuvre, and hope you get to Violence and the Sacred sooner, so that I can have your thoughts on what amounts to an empirical or natural explanation for the phenomena (language, reason, the sacred, culture etc) of that I’ve just described, without destituting these of their divine source and purpose.

    Your remark about Christians being a “new creation” occurred to me in a different context well before I ever encountered Girard or even Christianity proper; that is, I wondered whether or not the Christian dispensation wasn’t in fact “evolution” or speciation occurring before our very eyes (and yet we still have our eyes on microscopes instead!), given the radical change in telos of a Christian from a pagan, and the subsequent transformation of countenance as well as comportment of such men, it’s universality, and… it’s irrepressible rise and success. Now I wonder whether or not this, a new form, or more specifically, “a new, different telos” in an as-yet genetically unchanged body, isn’t the very mechanism of all organic change itself that is revealed. This might illuminate the emptiness of “missing links” between supposedly antecedent and precedent species.

    Intra-species adaptation and change is not controversial and you have treated the subject well. Darwin’s attempts to go beyond this and postulate adaptation as a theory of inter-species evolution always struck me as a type of a posteriori rationalisation and not a very convincing one, at that. I have long been convinced of its shortcomings (I recall physicist David Berlinski’s book, a withering tome against Darwinism) but lacking in a form alternative that was demonstrable empirically. Thanks to Girard and Aristotle/Aquinas, what seems to me more parsimonious and indeed plausible, now that we take man as the centre of our broader biological investigations, is that if a “species” becomes what it is only by individuals pursuing ends proper to that species, and we know how an such an individual as Adam can be infused or transformed with different ends – a different form, in other words – to those of his generation, then in pursuing (or or even failing to pursue) new formal ends, it will have for effect a slow change in the outward “nature” of his descendants and yes, eventually, in their genes. But in this case, the important distinction between species is no longer the the genes, nor the outward appearance, but in the teloi. This makes the search in nature for universal ancestors of organisms impossible, except for our own unique species. We have failed in this task principally because Original Sin has blinded us to our own proper nature and calling, and likewise, one error is the father of thousands of others.

    Re: Adamites replacing pre-Adamites

    The radical claim suggested by your theory here and elsewhere (“Adam and the yuk factor”), which is not explicit in the Bible except by what is suggested in the Flood narrative, is that the Adamites subsequently and over time become the sole remaining hominins, replacing entirely the others by interbreeding, by warfare, and/or otherwise by natural events, be they Sapiens antecessor, Neanderthal, Denisovan, Floresiensien or what have you.

    I understand that Joshua Swamidass has sought to show how this is mathematically possible for even a very recent Adam, and I confess, with him, that it is a relief that it be so, for obvious reasons. I wonder though: is this strictly necessary for a coherence with Scripture, or would Scripture theoretically allow that some pre-Adamite men continue to exist, despite the Flood or some other cataclysmic moment (for them) suggested in the Bible? If so, what might that mean for the universality of Revelation, and indeed for these existing pre-Adamite homo sapiens, conceptually (whether or not they actually do)?

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      The idea of the Christian as an “evolutionary” stage in the context of an Aristotelian idea of form is an intriguing one. It does, though, also need to be seen in the context of a radical continuity with the old humanity, for the “new creation” is individually achieved through repentance at the failure properly to fulfill the God-given ends of the Adamic nature.

      Also, it’s potentially confusing to view it in “evolutionary” terms, except in the context of the whole unfolding cosmic teleology of God. In biological terms, the new creation is a radical dis-continuity with nature, the physical becoming the spiritual in man as the “firstfruits”, but eschatologically involving the whole creation. In other words, the whole character of “nature” (in which biological evolution is set) is transformed from the “phusikos” to the “pneumatikos,” and that has the huge implication of some kind of new union with God, who is Spirit, not flesh.

      On the question of non-Adamic man now, Josh has speculated briefly on the possibility based on the way Scripture often uses universal language for generalities that have exceptions (“the whole world has heard the gospel…” etc). At the same time, much of his case, because of how his initial work was received, is in disarming the old racist ideas of early anthropology, in which polygenism implied that some races were not Adamic, ergo not fully human, ergo not ensouled, and ergo legitimately enslaved, or even annihilated. Love of neighbour springs from the acceptance of brotherhood – in Adam (hence the use of Cain and Abel as examples in 1 John and Hebrews).

      My own position is that the science makes the idea of isolated “pre-adamites” hard to claim – it’s less that “genealogical Adam” makes universal descent from Adam possible, but that whatever input goes into the model produces similar results, making universal ancestry from anyone 6K or more years ago almost inevitable by now.

      But even given the scientific possibility of “escapes”, theologically it seems to me that the universal claims of the gospel at c30AD imply that providentially God has made the Adamic story relevant to all whom we encounter. We find no people-groups in whom the gospel has no response, and we have no justification for deciding not to evangelise anyone on that possibility.

      Of course, if God knows of exceptions and justifies them, that is another matter.

      • Levi Fetter says:

        Thanks Jon. We agree on the problematic use of biological concepts and empirical methods alone to describe what amount ultimately to cognizable phenomena of ultimately spiritual significance. By “evolutionary” I of course only mean that we see how God works in real time in the changes in us described by the creation of Adam from amongst hominins and, similarly, the Incarnation of Christ from amongst Adamite sinners, and can postulate therefore that He is likely to work in an analogical manner with other creatures, accounting of course for the differences in degree of their complexity, with man, in Christ, at the head of the chain. Thus, there is no conflict between accepting a continuity of the old humanity, and the Spirit entering into Creation in the form of man, in order that, through man, all Creation be summed up, especially in the circumstances where that summing up initially failed to achieve itself under Adam’s stewardship, and is only beginning anew under the headship of Christ, with the “katechon” accounting for the delay.

        On the possibility of non-Adamic men being around, one could also argue against any warrant of supremacy by using this very genealogical hermeneutic of ours, pointing out that Adamites from Cain onwards (and possibly from Adam himself, according to certain Mishnaic points of view) appear to have inter-married rather than subjugated them, and so we would therefore arguably be called to ingraft all natural men by marriage – the most loving of all institutions – into the Adamic inheritance. This is, of course, if non-Adamic people did indeed still exist, but I agree with Josh’s hypothesis on the single parent transmission of that inheritance, which suffices to infect all men living today with it. As you suggest, it would be most absurd to find a people who were not responsive to the Gospel until first having to marry the missionary and have a fallen offspring.

        This leads me to my next question, which I think you’ve answered fruitfully elsewhere so I do apologise in advance (also knowing that you’ve closed this chapter of your intellectual life), namely, what if any distinction do you make between the two creation narratives in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 vis-a-vis “the man” and Adam and, in particular, what does this suggest about the content of “the image and likeness” of God? Perhaps it would be better to ask you after you’ve read some more Girard, but I’d be fascinated to have your take on it nevertheless.

        Thanks again!

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


          I deal with this question at length in GHE, and it’s probably too involved to do justice to here.

          Broadly, I take the accounts as separate, Gen 1 dealing with “mankind” (which one could take as “pre-adamic”), and Gen 2 with “THE man,” Adam.

          My answer to why the same word adam is used is, essentially, that there was no other word to use for a long-gone people at the time of writing (Moses or later). In just the same way, we have no definitive generic word for Neanderthals, although no doubt our Cro-Magnon ancestors did. We either have to call them intelligent animals, which doesn’t do their humanity justice, or “man” with all kinds of prevarications to show they are not us.

          In fact, even more recently a surprising number of tribal self-designations mean “the people” (eg “Bantu” in Africa and “Folk” amongst the Angles in Britain) so no doubt the Cro-Magnons described the Neanderthals with some such term as “barbarians” or “foreigners” (the meaning of “Welsh” is “foreign!”).

          The question is taken up by Josh in his book, in a long discussion about how problematic it is in any case to define “man” even within biology, let alone taking into account philosophy, anthropology and theology.

          Hebrew “adam” seems to derive from “red,” so maybe originally it was a self-designation for (perhaps) “people of the red soil,” and gradually just came to be the word for people, just as “Folk” became a generic word rather than a tribal term.

          My argument goes on to place the image of God in the creation of [pre-adamic] humanity, as per the text, and therefore to see Adam’s special status and calling as something over and above God’s image, though of course arising from it and intended to spread the new role to the whole race. That serves to maintain the God-given dignity of those before and alongside Adam, and refute any accusation that intermarriage was some kind of bestiality.

          • Levi Fetter says:

            Thanks for clarifying Jon, that’s more or less what I remembered vis-a-vis Adam having something unique over and above the existing people, rather than being their priest or federal head, which strains comprehension if the Genesis account of the Fall as interpreted by Paul is to be taken seriously.

            I do wonder, though, whether we aren’t making unnecessary concessions to the pre-Adamic people merely in order to avoid the rather impolitic conclusion that we would be their slave masters, and that we would be engaging in bestiality by intermarrying. Perhaps a better analogy might be as between the Jews and the Gentiles, or better, the baptised Christians and the unbaptised. No sane person considered these relationships to be master/slave or bestial, but many midwits did and still do.

            As you move through Girard, you’ll see where our thinking aligns because, like you, I’ve also thought that the “image and likeness” is an important step, and an empirically defensible one as I shall argue using Girard’s anthropology of the sacred, but still not the one that makes us who we are. We aren’t merely the “rational animal”, nor homo divinus, who are the same creature, but homo misericors, the loving, self-sacrificing man.

            Pre-Adamic men, as I argue, are engaged in religious worship of real gods/idols, albeit the false, Promethean ones. In this sense, it is not a stretch to say that they are creatures having the image of God, especially if we read Genesis 1 in light of the violent sacred as the origin of these people’s existence, deriving from gods (their existence, however violent, must also be a work of the true God, and first in intellectual form rather than merely the outcome of a spontaneous scapegoat lynching. This is why I also posited that the fall of Lucifer and the existence of Evil can be understood anthropologically and as preceding Adam. The effect of the Judeo-Christian Revelation, is to cleanse and liberate the Adamic people, originally gifted knowledge of the true God, of their orientation to the false gods of the archaic, violent sacred that, I suggest, is at the heart of the meaning of the Fall, as Adam was seduced into participating in the sacred cult of ritual sacrifices, against the novel divine prohibition not to (“do not eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on that day you shall surely have death”).

            Thus, the image of god is not in itself the important thing, but it is a necessary step and faculty to image the true God, which only the Adamic people are appointed for. Thus we have a movement from the Logos of Heraclitus, a Lord of War, to the Logos of John, a Lord of Love. God allows the pre-Adamic people, with all of their internecine violence, warmongering, human sacrifice, grotesque cannibalism etc – indeed creates them with a purpose – namely, to have these faculties of worship, the sacred, proto-reason, symbolic language, so that when He enters into Creation with the First Adam, He enters a body and mind fit for a God.

            • Levi Fetter says:

              I should like to clarify one thing. I said that it was God’s purpose to create the pre-Adamic people, whilst at the same time suggested that their culture was Satanic, and could be linked to the angelic rebellion of Lucifer/Satan.

              What I meant was that it was within God’s providential wisdom and permissive will, analogous to our own fall, that Lucifer fell to Earth and became “Satan” (the Spirit of Accusation/Prosecution) with the appearance of the archaic sacred in pre-Adamic man. I do not mean that God created this form of violent hominin, and indeed speculate, with Girard, Aquinas, and others, that such a hominin could also have abandoned his violence, but that would have to be by some divine intervention akin to the coming of Messiah, which would have no point if he came before the Fall. These hypotheticals are moot, however.

              My anthropological claim stands in any case, that this pre-Adamic culture is therefore Satanic, but it is not sinful. Rather, in the practice of sacrifices, taboos, myths and rituals, and in the foundation of hierarchy, with gods, kings and subjects, these men protect and perpetuate themselves from cataclysmic, anarchical violence… but they do it through propitiatory violence, including of course war and human sacrifice. It is evil in the natural sense, because these people do not have the divine gifts Adam received of full moral agency i.e. free will and grace, but it is not evil in the sense that Cain’s killing Abel is evil because, although it is Satanic they do not know God and therefore do not know sin.

              All this makes the temptation of Eve by a Satanic figure a far more tangible, anthropological event.

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