51 Comments on “Mythic Adam

      • Really? I don’t think it is quite so overwhelming as you would like. You might not agree completely with Dr Robert Price who has come round to a mythicist postion but he shows that there are difficulties in explaining why some of the pagan sources omit any mention of a historical Jesus when they were on the spot in a way the Gospel and Acts writers and Paul were not. I am not saying I don’t believe he existed, by the way, but there are plenty of reputable scholars who think the picture we have in the NT is largely a literary creation. On the other hand, I do not believe we can reasonably assert that there was an Adam from which we all sprang. A case has been put by the Leakeys (I think) that there may have been an ancestral “Eve” mother of us all living in Africa, but it seems she had multiple partners.

        • I’ve never had a problem with the Gospels as an historical account, but it’s difficult to treat the creation story in the same way. You get into all kinds of circular problems – like how could there be days in which to measure the 6 days before there were days? or, the one you just came up with Tom – how could there be death after biology, rather than before?

          I know some people who take Mat’s view – because Jesus and Paul appear to refer to an historic Adam, and so they feel the whole Bible unravels if you start treating bits of it as allegorical. However, it’s always appeared to me to be clearly symbolic – a bit like Revelation.

          Either way, I’m not really bothered. Richard Dawkins massively exaggerates when he says teaching children 6 day creation is a kind of child abuse. He needs to lighten up and realise that most people have other priorities in their lives (like combating actual child abuse). I don’t need an answer to everything. I know that Jesus died for my sins, and that’s enough for me.

          • Teaching creationism as science is indeed wholly contrary to actual education, one reason it’s prevented in UK law. Lighten up? Dare one say that society ought to set its goals for children rather higher than “don’t abuse them”?

            • Ryan, did you see the documentary ‘Creationism – Conspiracy Road Trip’ on BBC 3 last week or the week before where a group of creationist young people from the Uk were taken by the Irish comedian Andrew Maxwell to the West coast of America to places like the Grand Canyon where they were challenged by experts? (A flood would not have created the ox-bows in the river that we see in the canyon – he provided a clear demo with a pail of water. It was rather informative about how tightly closed some people can keep their minds in spite of the clearest evidence laid before them – God must have changed the laws of physics just for the 40 days of the Flood, and so on). The film showed how they did not listen, even when they were in front of a world expert like Prof. Jerry Coyne and how furious one of their number, the good-looking boy from Northern Ireland, became when he thought the BBC producer was doing a divide-and-rule by introducing a discussion about why one of the members of the group, a young woman whose son was gay, as it happened, was keen on Jesus and the Bible but not the Church (because of its anti-gay stance and abortion, so it happened). He said he had been invited to discuss Creationism and evolution only and that the Producer was a “despicable human being” because he had tricked him by not getting “Creation Scientists” on the programme. They were about to go into church because it was a Sunday, but before he went in he checked with the bouncer that it was an evangelical non-denominational church – and was not gay! Afterwards he hardly spoke to anyone for the rest of the journey to San Francisco (of all places ;-). I don’t know whether it dawned on him at the time or he came to repent of it at leisure, but it wasn’t his hard-line creationism and reiteration of the simple mantra that “if it contradicts the Bible then it is wrong” that made him so unattractive as an apologist as the underlying menace of his huge sulk when he saw the group was nor longing cohering around his leadership. Another Northern Ireland politician in the making was all one could think.

              • I’m sure this made a great documentary, but I wish the media had better things to do with their time. I wish they would film the work that Vivanetwork does with children at risk and help us raise awareness of this problem around the world. This would be of much more use than taking grumpy, middle class American teenagers to the Grand Canyon.

                • Well perhaps you should get a camera and make your own documentary and then show it around. If it is good enough and challenging in the way you want it may get support. I imagine that’s how people get started. A friend of mine did just that and now makes training videos for politicians, academics and others. He has worked for Cambridge University with the vice-chancellor, various news broadcasters and various other ventures that require his services. He started by making a dvd about Cambridge for tourists which is still on sale in the gift shops about town, and went on from there. If your work can be presented in an interesting way I am sure you would find a sponsor.

                  • That’s not such a bad idea, Tom. Well, me making a documentary myself would be a bad idea. However, I might suggest it to my budding documentary making friends who know how to work a camera.

                    • Good to have a project. My GP runs a Christian medical centre in West Africa and now has gone there on a sabbatical….or longer….though he’s still technically on the books and my GP.

                      Afterthought: You could always start by putting up something on YouTube.

                • Oh please, if we’re going to play that game then: isn’t a true shame that conservative evangelicals spend so much time and money perverting science and persecuting teh gays when they could be tackling and publicising the kind of problems you identify?

                  Aside from which, dare one say that a quick glance at newspapers front pages this past week indicates that abuse of children is a perennial media hot topic.

                  • I’m getting rather sick of these silly replies, ryan. I am not playing any kind of game. Every time I make a comment, you write back saying ‘but the conservatives do this …’ ‘Miss! Miss! He took my pencil! But, Miss! Miss! They were doing it too!’. You really need to grow up, ryan.

                    • Not sick enough I fear, but there’s time.
                      I did no such thing. Tom referred to a documentary. You responded with an off-topic tangent about ”why aren’t they making documentaries of my pet cause?!?!”
                      My response to that was certainly a reductio ad absurdum – but of your views, not mine.

                      And you need to do better. Although I suppose patronising moral advice is an improvement on your previous Scweam and Scweam hysterics. At the point of greatest reduction, two notes are, I suppose, better than one.

                      And your ‘points’ tend to suffer from silly psuedo-gravitas. I’m reminded of the previous “death threats are bad” schtick. OMG really?! No kidding! Amen! I’m so glad someone pointed that out, bringing light to our darkened discourse. And so on.

                    • You’re right, ryan. I should have seen it before. You know, I’m beginning to realise, a lot of what I post here is actually about me. I couldn’t see it before, but a lot of what I do, and what I write is coming out of a need in myself. You know, I’m really a nobody, and I can’t really deal with that, but then I talk about my faith or the charity that I work for, and I get this warm glowing feeling, and I feel just a little bit special. The plight of children around the world – for a while I thought it was important, but now I realise that it’s actually just my pet cause. So I’m going to do something honest for once in my life. I’m going to admit that this is all just about me, and I’m going to drop it and concentrate on my own life, and stop sticking my nose in other people’s business.

                    • Ah, but the plight of children is only one good cause. Why not randomly mention world hunger? Or AIDS in Africa? Perhaps I’ll start doing that. Dispatching patronising missives from the unearned moral high ground looks like ‘fun’.

                    • because we were talking about the upbringing and education of chidren and the involvement of Christians (who might believe in six-day creation) in such upbringing …?

                    • 2 responses:
                      i) In that case, then my comment “Dare one say that society ought to set its goals for children rather higher than “don’t abuse them”?” and subsequent elaboration are relevant no?

                      ii) We were discussing a documentary. Again, you were the one who, rather than addressing it or even Tom’s response to it, responded with ‘why don’t they document my cause!’. I’m not taking issue with the importance or otherwise of your cause. As a fan of transactional analysis your game has some amusement, but I suspect it owes more to Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon ;-).

                    • As usual, this is a misrepresentation of what I was saying, and of who was responsible for getting us off track in the first place.

                    • Wrong, and – as usual – anyone can scroll up and see for themselves. Tom and I were having an interesting conversation about creationism and a documentary, till you showed up with your “wont’ anyone think of the children!” OT emotionalism.

                    • Here’s – when in Rome! ;-) – some proof texts:
                      Tom “cerebusboy: Ryan, did you see the documentary ‘Creationism – Conspiracy Road Trip’ on BBC 3 last week or the week before”

                      Followed by your dear self with
                      “Tom Jones: I’m sure this made a great documentary, but I wish the media had better things to do with their time”

                      What, all of the media? One is reminded of that tremendous exchange between the aliens and Woody Allen in Stardust Memories
                      Sandy Bates: But shouldn’t I stop making movies and do something that counts, like-like helping blind people or becoming a missionary or something?
                      Voice of Martian: Let me tell you, you’re not the missionary type. You’d never last. And-and incidentally, you’re also not Superman; you’re a comedian. You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes.

                    • Ryan, you are being malicious. If you really wanted to have a discussion about creationism, why didn’t you give a proper reply to my post about reading Genesis as symbolism, rather than accusing me of wanting to teach kids six-day creation in science class (which wasn’t what I was arguing)?
                      Just to let you know, I’m not going to reply to any of your posts any longer. It just derails the discussion. So don’t bother commenting on any of my posts. (unless, of course, I think you’re making a genuine effort to engage with the arguments, in which case I’ll make an effort with yours).

                    • Hurrah! Can I get that in writing? ;-)

                      The fact that you can’t see or (more likely) are pretending you can’t see particular connections does not meant that those connections do not exist or are not valid lines of discussion. For example, you have just posted a message which specifically links the gay lobby with Peter getting hate mail. No doubt if I’d replied by pointing out that many a gay liberal gets hate mail too, you’d accuse me (maliciously?) of engaging in “miss miss they’re doing that too!”. But of course any fair-minded reader would rather see that I’m challenging your argument and the connection it draws between hate mail and an ideological force. If you didn’t make this connection then I wouldn’t have need to address it, would I?

                      In any serious, fair discussion, all parties must be free to challenge not only arguments, but the presuppositions behind those arguments, the weight given to particular points, the claimed relationship between things, and so on. In contrast you appear to traffic in the kind of emotionalism that closes down avenues of enquiry that don’t suit your position (i.e.: most of them), making the Scweam and Scweam characterisation as accurate then as it is now.

                    • Neither does ”Please Miss!” or “grow up”. Presumably FS regarded them as accurate characterisations of my then-point, as I do with using Scweam and Scweam to characterise the emotional and dare one say somewhat (inadvertently) hectoring notion that invoking context, making analogies or drawing links are mere unhelpful tangents.

                      For the record, such characterisation of a particular and I’d maintain highly regrettable debating ‘tactic’ has nothing to do with FD as a person who, I’m sure, is lovely :-).

                    • That being said, I of course don’t mind apologising, unreservedly, and am sorry for any offence caused by people misperceiving my comments.

            • I think we’ve had (yet another) misunderstanding. I’m talking about parents or Sunday school teachers teaching six-day creation. If they take good care of the kids, that, for me, is pretty far down the list of what constitutes bad parenting or care giving. I work with churches who rescue kids from actually abusive situations (like prostitution or children’s armies). ‘How do you interpret Genesis?’ is not one of the questions we ask these churches before deciding whether to support them in their work with children at risk. If they’re going to teach the kids to read, I’m not bothered what they believe about creation!

              Science teachers in schools should, of course, teach science. That’s their job.

          • Though I think the Gospels actually were composed as theology rather than history, I do take your point that there is a literary-genre difference between the Synoptics, John and Paul’s corpus which is not at all interested in historical matters; he shows no interest in the earthly life and times of Jesus – even seems to use the name Jesus (before which every knee shall bow) as a kind of application or anointment at the taking up of his divine role.

          • I know some people who take Mat’s view – because Jesus and Paul appear to refer to an historic Adam, and so they feel the whole Bible unravels if you start treating bits of it as allegorical

            That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying quite specifically that Paul’s argument in Romans 5 unravels if you treat Adam and the fall as mythical while treating Jesus and the crucifixion and resurrection as historical. I do not dispute that many parts of the Bible are symbolic/allegorical/poetic/whatever. I just don’t think that these categories can be applied however we please.

        • Eve had multiple partners? Between that and Lilith, the biblical misogynist could claim to have good reason for blaiming it all on Eve ;) (one of the ironies of Evangelical churches is that they- having professional women as their primary target audience – are far more likely to engage in “aren’t men rubbish?” cheery talks than espouse a strictly OT view of gender roles…)

          • Ryan, why was Lilith rejected? I read somewhere that she taught Adam “unacceptable” sexual practices. What could that mean? She was on top? Or a proto-feminist?

      • What I mean is, Romans 5 draws such a stong link between one man Adam and his one sin and the fall on one hand, and one man Jesus and his one act of righteousness and salvation on the other hand, that if we are to accept that there really was one historical Jesus who really accomplished the work of salvation by being crucifed and raised again, then it seems to be perverse not to accept the other side of the equation that Paul draws. If we can interpret all the Adam talk as abstract and general, why can’t we interpret all the Jesus talk as abstract and general? Frankly, I think that the speakers in that video totally gloss over the issue by saying ‘well, I think the general overall point is…’ and not engaging with the specifics of the text.

        • mattghg, what can it mean when Paul says

          “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned”?

          “Death” as a persona didn’t “enter” the world, did it? Dying is a necessary part of the biological process of carbon-based life on this planet. There is no other kind of life, nor could there be, as far as I know. But Paul had no idea of biological processes so did he make it up, or expatiate on the story of the original Adam of Genesis to create his own new story? I’d be interested to know why you think Romans can present anything other than a myth.

          • Dying is a necessary part of the biological process of carbon-based life
            on this planet. There is no other kind of life, nor could there be, as
            far as I know.

            So will there be death in the new creation? Will there be a new creation?

            what can it mean when Paul says…

            Well at the very least it has to be alluding to Genesis 2:16-17. This
            might mean ‘all physical death’ or ‘human physical death’ or ‘spiritual
            death’, but whatever it means, the parallel between Adam and Christ completely fails if one is supposed to be mythical and the other historical.

            I’d be interested to know why you think Romans can present anything other than a myth

            Um, because I read the text on its own terms?

            • Thanks for your response mattghg. The problem is that this life is the only kind of life any of us can know about. As you suggest by the variant readings of what Genesis means by death, it is all too vague. You ask “will there be a new creation?” My problem with that idea and the conjecture that we have a soul which lives on without the body is to ask why life without a body wasn’t created in the first place? – it seems it could have been if there are such beings as angels – why would creating carbon-based life on earth have been contemplated by a deity at all? Such an impossibly slow and painful, not to say cruel, process, a timeline of some 4.6 million years from the most rudimentary cells to homo sapiens as we know him when a spiritual being would be simpler, without all the expensive messiness that pertains to the evolutionary process.

              Not wishing to be rude or flip but if Romans can be read on its own terms why not Alice in Wonderland? Surely even scripture has to based in a context – what makes it scripture and not apocrypha and so on?

              • I see. My argument depends on certain key assumptions that we don’t share. But I think that Peter does, and I also think that the video was aimed at least partly at people like me: people who do think that God created the world, that there will be a new creation and that Jesus really did come in the flesh to live, die and be raised again for our salvation. People who think that, in the light of that, Romans 5 does appear to be saying that Adam and Jesus are similar figures – similar enough to both be historical figures who both did one fateful thing (sin or do a righteous act) with consequences for a lot of other people.

                I would say that, on its own terms, Alice in Wonderland is a work of fantasy. And Romans isn’t.

                • Fiddle Sticks makes a good point (even a stopped clock…. ;)) when she refers to Revelation, though. Clearly if Revelation’s “own terms” (which I think might be a problematic assumption in any case) point to the symbolic/mythological then that would not necessarily negate it as Scripture. Indeed, I’ve known conservative evangelicals who quite explicitly state that Genesis (for example) is symbolic poetry, not history. This is surely a better approach than subscribing to the logic that leads to believing that subscribing to demonstrable untruths (e.g. the earth being 6,000 years old) are a necessary part of the H.C.F. per se.

                  • I just think of the mischief to Christianity that has been created by the author of Revelation. What on earth did the compilers of the Canon intend by its inclusion? Have you read Will Self’s introduction to it in the Canon Pocket Bible series? Worth reading.

                  • Clearly if Revelation’s “own terms” (which I think might be a
                    problematic assumption in any case) point to the symbolic/mythological
                    then that would not necessarily negate it as Scripture.

                    Indeed. But that’s not my point. I would say that the style of Romans is logical argumentation.
                    And I say that, if you take Adam to be mythical but Christ to be
                    historical, then Paul’s argument in Romans 5 doesn’t work. And I assume
                    that Paul’s argument does work, so I conclude (because I already
                    believe that Christ is historical) that Adam is historical. This
                    doesn’t commit me to the belief that nothing in Genesis is symbolic or allegorical, still less to the belief that the world is only 6000 years old or anything like that.

                    • You can no doubt formulate an argument which assumes the historicity of Romulus and Remus, but you couldn’t then logically conclude that those personages must be historical. Nor would it be reasonable to say that if Romulus and Remus were mythical personages, then perhaps Julius Caesar was also.

                    • If I were to formulate an argument that relied upon Romulus and Julius Caesar either both being historical or both being mythical, then (assuming that in fact Julius Caesar is historical and Romulus isn’t) my argument would fail. But as I’m a Bible-believing Christian (again, I assume that the video was in part aimed at people like me) I assume that Paul’s argument in Romans 5 does not fail. That’s the difference: I’m not writing scripture!

                    • Why not just say that an analogy which Paul found helpful is no longer necessarily helpful for us, and move on?

                • I think what you say is entirely reasonable, mattghg. I myself have come round to a position where I think we cannot ever recover the historical Jesus, hidden as he is behind the stained-glass wall of the NT, as Dr Robert M Price puts it. And I think if we did discover him he might not be much to our liking – perhaps like Albert Schweitzer found, causing him embarrassment. As for Paul, I am not sure I believe what he says about himself. I think Hyam Maccoby has made a convincing case that he was probably not ever a pharisee but a Righteous Gentile who worked for the Saduccee Roman-placeman High Priest, tried to convert to Judaism but found the enterprise too difficult, as did many who were not born into it, and found his own solution as a mythmaker. We may say he was eminently successful. We have seen in the history of religion even in our own times that just one man can generate a whole religion on his own, without any help from the Deity – Joseph Smith, Mrs Baker Eddy, Rev. Moon, Satya Sai Baba, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi the Hugging Mother……

        • The late eminent biblical scholar James Barr points out that this analogy is “very much Paul’s own property” and, although it became widely established in Christian thought and tradition, its basis within the New Testament itself is a narrow one.

          “The typology of Adam and Christ is absent from the teaching of Jesus, from the Gospels in general, from the other Johannine literature, from Hebrews, Peter and James, from everything. Jesus himself, though he noted some features of the early Genesis story in other respects, shows no interest in Adam and Eve as the persons who brought sin and death into the world. Apart from Paul, Adam is mentioned very little in the entire New Testament and only incidentally. And even in Paul the Adam-Christ typology is not so very widespread: explicit mention of it is confined to Romans 5, I Corinthians 15 and I Timothy. … It is a peculiarity of St Paul…. it was not an essential structure of the earliest Christian faith but was a part of the typology which one particular person or tradition found helpful for the expressing of an understanding of Christ.
          – JAMES BARR, The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality, 1992

          • “it was not an essential structure of the earliest Christian faith…”
            really? It’s hard to get much “earlier” than Roamns or 1 Conrinthians – a good deal earlier than the Gospels. Not for the first time Barr’s rhetoric ran away with him.

            • Yes, I think it is generally agreed that Paul’s epistles are the earliest of the NT documents. However, the use of this analogy in three epistles hardly establishes that it was an ESSENTIAL STRUCTURE of the earliest Christian faith. As Barr points out, “Clearly, the emphasis on the sin of Eve and Adam as the means by which death came into the world was not considered a universal necessity in New Testament Christianity; whole books were written which took no notice of it.”

              You say, “I find it pretty hard to avoid the conclusion that Paul believed in a historic Adam.” Agreed, but does Paul’s belief in a historical Adam and his use of an analogy based on it make that belief an indispensable part of Christian faith? I would have said not.

        • Couldn’t you also say, taking the text in ‘its own terms’, that Paul is all about the symbolic language, whereas the gospels themselves (even symbolic John!) profess to be historical records of sorts? Claiming that on date x Jesus did y is surely a different literary mode that abstract talk on Death and Flesh, and Christ (which is not to say that Paul’s writing does not also include historical-style writing)

        • To use your own analogy, one can surely say that the ‘Christ side’ of the equation is evidenced by books of scripture that present as histories (and also, as Peter said, by plentiful extra-biblical evidence), in a manner that Adam is not?

          • Absolutely,

            The key to interpreting Romans 5 is to get past the C21 idea that a document assumes the literalty of everything within it. If I read The Telegraph I don’t expect the foreign news to refer to fiction. However C1 documents could happily mix and match myth and reality. So we can have a Mythic Adam compared to a very real Christ and this works just fine. Mythic Adam is treated as though he is real but he isn’t in actuality.
            And of course this then lets you preach Gen 1-4 and beyond as though they were real, though they may not be. The Scriptures treat myth as real for theological purposes and this in no way undermines divine revelation. A divinely revealed myth is still Scripture that is God-breathed.

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