Thursday, December 10, 2009

Historical Genesis: From Adam to Abraham

By Richard James Fischer, 227 pages.

“Adam was a real-live, flesh-and-blood human being – or else he wasn't. As much as we might like an intermediate position, something in between, or a happy compromise, it's not possible. We either can believe there was an Adam wearing his fig leaf, or we can have an Adam who was only a figment,” the author asserts in Historical Genesis.

He believes that Adam did exist, but that this is not exactly the same Adam that Christianity has traditionally posited. Fischer, who holds degrees in both science and theology, is not satisfied with the two generally competing positions.

The first argument states that the Bible is right and science has gotten many important things, such as evolution, wrong. The second argument claims that much of the Bible must be mythological considering its impossibility in the face of such overwhelming scientific evidence. In this game, either science or biblical cosmology fail. They cannot co-exist.

Fischer sets out to prove that biblical theology and science can indeed co-exist. He sifts through thousands of pages of archeological, theological, and biblical texts to situate the physical location of Eden, the general time of The Flood, and the human and physical ecology surrounding Adam.

Where did Adam come from? He came from the surrounding neolithic culture. Isn't this deeply disrespectful to the Bible? Well no, since Fischer gets a lot of his information from the Bible itself. Or more specifically, unlike most biblical scholars, rather than reading his ideological or theological agenda into the Bible, he is very good at allowing scripture to speak for itself:

“References to tents, farming, and raising livestock (Gen. 4:2, 20) suggest Adam was not in the company of cave-dwelling hunter-gatherers.... Adam's placement in the Neolithic Period from the Genesis genealogies, coupled with the mention of farming in the Genesis text, makes this a compatible time frame, putting Adam in relatively recent history – not ancient history.”

Speaking in anthropological terms, “recent history” means putting Adam into the “stream of civilization” rather than at the beginning of it. Adam was a man of his time. Eden was probably irrigated, as many gardens and growing areas were at the time. Again, he uses the biblical record as the primary basis of his musings, then follows up with archeological and scientific evidence for this irrigation. Eden's sacred tree paralleled sacred date palm trees found throughout the cultures of ancient Mesopotamia.

Again, letting the Bible speak for itself, Fischer wonders about the Cain story, and the man's concern for his safety after having killed his brother:

“Is it likely that he was worried about being chased and killed by future unseen and unknown generations from Adam, or was he concerned about approaching others outside his family who would have been potentially unfriendly?”

In other words, Cain was living in the midst of a fully-developed civilization that had traditions for dealing with outsiders and trouble-makers such as murderers – probably enslavement or execution. The Bible itself implies such a civilization from the unease Cain has with striking out on his own, knowing that civilization, and the capacity to murder him, already exists.

One strong point of Historical Genesis is Fischer's respect for the Bible's assertion that something was special about Adam despite some closeness to other neolithic cultures. Historical Genesis only hints at or half-develops some theories here, which may sound like a serious drawback to the book. However, the challenging thesis Fischer develops cannot be fully explained and understood in one work. Even Fischer himself stumbles and occasionally fails to maintain a perfect balance between science and religion, as he briefly and unexpectedly allows for the possibility that Eve was made from Adam's rib, and that Adam lived for over nine centuries.

Having said that, Fischer offers a solution to the implausible records of other peoples in the region, such as the Sumerians, whose royal lists indicate that individual kings lived for up to 28,800 years. The sexagesimal system and other ways of counting time that we no longer use or understand explain that some of these figures indicate monarchical reigns of length that we today would consider normal.

Fischer doesn't spend loads of time detailing his own theology around Adam. Early in Historical Genesis, he adopts Saint Paul's theology of salvation through Christ from Adam's sin. Fischer uses other ancient records from the time to show that neighboring cultures had similar ideas about an Adam (or “Adapu” / “Adamu”) and resulting catastrophe.

Fischer pictures Adam as a kind of supercharged Abraham, as the father of a group or groups of people, the Adamites, who followed the same religion. The holes and half-leads that Fischer produces make the reader hungry for more detective work, rather than cynical or more confused than before.

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