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Article Info:
published: 3/31/13
updated: 2/27/14

Adam



Who was Adam?

In the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament, Adam, meaning "man," is the first person God created according to the book of Genesis.

Scholars have exercised themselves much, but with little arrival at certainty, over the derivation of the name; a matter which, as it is concerned with one of the commonest words of the language, is of no great moment as compared with the writer's own understanding of it. The most plausible conjecture, perhaps, is that which connects it with the Assyrian adamu, "to make," or "produce," hence, "the produced one," "the creature."

The author of Gen 2:7 seems to associate it, rather by word-play than derivation, with Heb: ha-'adhamah, "the ground" or "soil," as the source from which man's body was taken (compare 3:19,23) The name Heb: 'adhamah itself seems to be closely connected with the name Edom (Heb: 'edhom, Gen 25:30), meaning "red"; but whether from the redness of the soil, or the ruddiness of the man, or merely the incident recorded in Gen 25:30, is uncertain. Without doubt the writer of Gen 2; 3 had in mind man's earthly origin, and understood the name accordingly.


Adam in Genesis

The account of the creation is twice given, and from two very different points of view. In the first account, Gen 1:26-31, man is represented as created on the sixth of the day along with the animals, a species Genesis in the animal world; but differing from them in bearing the image and likeness of God, in having dominion over all created things, and in having grains and fruits for food, while they have herbs.

The writer's object in all this seems to be as much to identify man with the animal creation as to differentiate him from it. In the second account, 2:4 through 3:24, man's identity with the animals ignored or at least minimized (compare 2:20), while the object is to determine his status in a spiritual individualized realm wherein he has the companionship of God. Yahweh God "forms" or "shapes" him out of the dust of the ground, breathes into his nostrils the breath of life, and with such special distinction he becomes, like other created things, a "living soul" (Heb: nephesh chayyah; compare 2:7 with 1:30).

He is placed in a garden situated somewhere among the rivers of Babylonia, his primitive occupation being to dress and keep it. In the midst of the garden are two mysterious trees, the tree of life, whose fruit seems to have the potency of conferring immortality (compare 3:22), and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, whose fruit is not to be eaten under penalty of death. Meanwhile, as in naming the animals the man finds no real companion, Yahweh God "builds" one of the man's ribs into a woman, and the man recognizes her spiritual unity with him, naming her accordingly.

The story goes on to relate, without note of time, how the serpent, the subtlest of beasts, urged on the woman the desirable qualities of the fruit of the forbidden tree, intimating that God had made the prohibition from envy, and roundly denying that death would be the consequence of eating. Accordingly the woman took and ate, and gave to her husband, who also ate; and the immediate consequence was a sense of shame, which caused them to cover their nakedness with girdles of fig leaves, and a sense of guilt (not differentiated by Adam from shame, 3:10), which made the pair reluctant to meet Yahweh God.

He obtains the confession of their disobedience, however; and passes prophetic sentence: on the serpent, of perpetual antipathy between its species and the human; on the woman, of sorrows and pains and subservience to the man; and on the man, of hardship and severe labors, until he returns to the dust from which he was taken. As the pair have chosen to eat of the tree of knowledge, lest now they should eat of the tree of life they are expelled from the garden, and the gate is guarded by flaming sword and Cherubim.

On the Historical Adam

It is impossible to read this story with the entire detachment that we accord to an ancient myth, or even to a time- and space-conditioned historical tale. It continually suggests intimate relations with the permanent truths of human nature, as if there were a fiber in it truer than fact. And this provokes the inquiry whether the author himself intended the account of the Edenic state and the Fall to be taken as literal history or as exposition. He uniformly makes the name generic by the article (the adam or man), the only exceptions, which are not real exceptions in meaning, being Gen 1:26 and 2:5, already noted. It is not until 5:3, where the proper name Adam is as it were officially given, that such history as is conditioned by chronology and genealogy begins.

What comes before this, except the somewhat vague location of the Eden region, 2:10-14, reads rather like a description of the primordial manhood nature not in philosophical but in narrative language . It is not fable, it is not a worked-over myth, it is not a didactic parable; it is (to speak technically) exposition by narration. By a descriptive story it traces the elemental movement of manhood in its first spiritual impact on this earthly life.

In other words, instead of being concerned to relate a factual series of events from the remote past, the writer's penetrative intuition goes downward and inward to those spiritual movements of being which are germinal in all manhood. It is a spiritual analysis of man's intrinsic nature, and as such must be spiritually discerned. An analogous manner of exposition may be seen in the account of our Lord's temptation in the wilderness, Mt 4:1-11, which account, if authentic, must have come ultimately from our Lord Himself.

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