Friday, April 13, 2012

Are the 'ādām in Genesis 1 and 2 Different?


The Hebrew word )ādām, usually translated as “man,” or “humankind,” has received a lot of attention over the years. Some today have argued that the term in Gen 1 refers to mankind in general and the term in Gen 2 refers specifically to a person named Adam. James Barr challenged this idea in his article, “One Man, or All Humanity?”, in Athalya Brenner and J.W. van Henten (eds.), Recycling Biblical Figures: Papers Read at a NOSTER Colloquium in Amsterdam, 12-13 May 1997 (Leiderdorp, The Netherlands, 1999), 3–21. He was then challenged by various scholars such as David J. A. Clines, “Md), the Hebrew for ‘Human’, ‘Humanity’: A Response to James Barr” VT 53.3 (2003) 297–310 and J.C. de Moor, “The First Human Being a Male? A Response to Professor Barr”, in Athalya Brenner and J.W. van Henten (eds.), Recycling Biblical Figures: Papers Read at a NOSTER Colloquium in Amsterdam, 12-13 May 1997 (Leiderdorp, The Netherlands, 1999), 22–27 (i.e., the same volume in which Barr’s article appeared). I think that the debate thus far has misunderstood what lines to pursue in determining what )ādām actually means. Barr seeks to argue that the term is “essentially male,”[1] but since it can refer to women as well, this line of argumentation, although possibly contributing to the idea that the woman is represented by the male )ādām in a patriarchal context, is probably not the best line of argumentation to pursue by itself (although, again, it has some important contribution to make). Clines simply defers to the majority of Hebraists and Hebrew lexicons, such as BDB, and notes that the terms )ādām and )îš are not interchangeable.[2] But both the methodology of these Hebraists, including Clines, is to look at the various texts in which )ādām is used, and determine whether all of humanity, including women, are inclusive to the term. Although Clines attempts to answer Barr’s accusation, i.e., that the term is essentially male, his methodology has the potential of simply begging the question, since Barr’s claim can include the idea of patriarchal representation (i.e., “man” representing men and women, not because the term “man” also means “woman,” but because the male represents both males and females in patriarchal language). Instead, what is needed is an understanding of the term )ādām in terms of asking the question as to whether it is meant to be a personal name in both the Gen 1 and 2 narratives, as well as throughout the Hebrew Bible. I’ll attempt to show here that the term is only a name given to the original (or representative) human made, and does not mean “human” itself; and hence, justify Barr’s contention that the term does not mean “humanity” in general. But I will go about this in a different way than Barr does.

First, it is important to note that the word is meant to function as a wordplay on the Hebrew word )ădāmā(h) “ground,”[3] both in Gen 2 and apparently in Israelite cultural memory as well, since the word refers to humanity in general throughout the Scriptures. Hence, some scholars have suggested that it should be translated as “groundling,” or “earthling” in Genesis 2 in order to catch that wordplay. However, because it seems more to function as a proper name there, Adam is more fitting. After all, one does not translate Jacob, whether referring to the person or the nation spawned from him, as “Swindler,” or “Supplanter” wherever it is found. The meaning of a name and its use as a proper name need to be understood as distinct, and translation should favor the proper name, since the nuances of the original derivation of the name are not commonly suggested. In fact, we might say that those nuances, in regard to )ādām, are only apparent in Gen 2 and not elsewhere in Scripture.

What we should then understand is that )ādām functions as a personal name, both in Gen 1 and 2, and this is seen within the context of the larger Genesis narrative.[4] For instance, the best example that )ādām functions as a personal name here is in 5:1–5:

This is the book of the generations of )ādām. In the day when God created )ādām, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them )ādām in the day when they were created. When )ādām had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of [a son] in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. Then the days of )ādām after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years, and he had [other] sons and daughters. So all the days that )ādām lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died.

There is a mixture here between the narratives of Gen 1 and 2. The generations of )ādām clearly refer to the specific person of Gen 2, using the same twdlwt language as Gen 2 and clearly in distinction from other genealogies (i.e., if )ādām referred to all of mankind here then it makes little sense to have different genealogies after this, and it would also make Seth the first known human who came from an unknown pool of humans described as )ādām).
The text also combines the “image” terminology of Gen 1 and the time reference of Gen 2 together: “in the day when they were created.”
Finally, it speaks about the same )ādām living, having a son in terms of the image terminology again, and dying, having only a certain amount of years that he lived. So seems to function here only as a personal name.

However, how do we explain the terminology both in Gen 1 and here in Gen 5 as it refers to both male and female? In other words, how do we explain that it seems to refer to humanity in general, and why this is also the case when the term is used throughout the Hebrew Bible?

It seems rather simple, but the term functions as an eponym in the same way that personal names are used throughout the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East. Jacob/Israel refers to the nation that is thought to physically derive from Jacob/Israel. Likewise, his brother Esau is used in texts like Obadiah to refer to the Edomites who were thought to have their physical origins in him. Hence, )ādām is used throughout the Scripture to refer to all of humanity, precisely, because it is thought that all of humanity has its physical origins in the first man named Adam. This explains why the woman is also referred to as Adam, since she is made from him.

Now, what do we do with the fact that Genesis is likely written after other more ancient Hebrew texts that use )ādām to refer to all of humanity? In other words, were the Genesis narratives, specifically what is referred to as J, being utilized by all of these other authors? I think instead it would be more plausible to suggest that Israel’s tradition knew of Adam, and had already named him such, due to the larger ancient Near Eastern understanding of man’s origins from the ground.

Hence, since it was widely understood that humans were made from the ground, either by clay taken from the ground, as in the Akkadian creation stories (e.g., Enuma eliš, Atra-h}asis, etc.) or by popping up directly from the ground, as in many of the Sumerian creation stories (e.g., Song of the Hoe).[5] The idea found in Gen 2, then, is a common tradition understanding that humans were derived from the ground. Hence, the name )ādām may have been derived independently from the Gen 2 narrative.

It is possible, then, that the author of Gen 2, simply took a name that generically referred to humanity all along and applied it to a specific individual; but it would seem odd that if this were true, and the term always referred to many, and was not an eponym, that it would not be plural, “earthlings,” “groundlings,” rather than “earthling,” “groundling.” Of course, collectives are seen in singular nouns often, but I can’t think of a collective referring to a people group, that is not an eponym, that is singular at the moment. Maybe one does exist and my memory is not bringing it to bear at the present time. If anyone can think of one and jog my memory, it would be much appreciated.

One might cite further evidence, however, that, at least at some point in Israelite history, )ādām was known as the personal name of the first (or representatively first) human from whom all of mankind was physically derived. We see this in 1 Chronicles 1:1; but this text is likely written well after the Book of Genesis is constructed, so it clearly bases its genealogy from that text rather than from a tradition that preceded it.

We are simply left with this: the term )ādām does not mean “mankind,” but only names mankind by the character of its creation (i.e., from the ground). The name likely has its origins in the ancient Near Eastern/Israelite tradition that eventually makes its way into Gen 2. And it is left to decide whether Gen 2 itself is that tradition that finds its way into the larger Genesis narrative or whether the tradition was something different (i.e., did not refer to an individual person, but only to all of humanity in general) before the creation of the Gen 2 narrative (otherwise referred to by scholars as J’s creation account).

In any case, we have some reason to believe that )ādām is eponymic, since it does not mean “humanity,” but only names humanity; and therefore, it may be that humanity is named after the person from whom it is believed all of humanity is derived rather than vice versa, where Adam is named after the humanity that he represents. But nothing is concrete here. The reasons we have to believe this are largely due to analogies with other eponyms and the fact that the word )ādām is a name, whether of one individual or all of humanity, not something that means “humanity” itself.

If this is true, and along with the fact that the narrative itself combines the two )ādām’s in Gen 5, it should be understood that the )ādām in Gen 1 (an eponym derived from the Adam in Gen 2) and the )ādām in Gen 2 are the same )ādām. This is not even to bring out the fact that the narratives themselves are parallel to one another, one presenting creation from above (the divine perspective, or the view from heaven) and one presenting creation from below (the human perspective, or the view from earth).

Hence, humanity, which is referred to eponymically as Adam, is made male and female, and that is seen in Gen 2, as Adam, the )îš “man,” being the origin of h9awwā(h) (i.e., Havvah, or “Eve”), the )iššā(h), for whom his personal name now represents as an eponym. The Adam of Gen 1 is the Adam of Gen 2, and they are both the Adam of Gen 5. Hence, regardless of Israelite tradition, Adam, as a person, represents all of mankind who is thought to be physically derived from him, and this discussion becomes important to clarify the variant uses of the term )ādām both in the Genesis narrative and throughout the rest of the completed canon of Scripture.


[1] “On Man,” 18.
[2]Md),” 308.
[3] The word )ădāmā(h) itself is likely derived from the Hebrew word Md), which means “red,” and refers to the color of the clay or soil of the ground. Hence, it is possible that the word naming humanity is also derived directly from Md) as a referent to ground clay.
[4] Although one might quibble that the original narratives made them distinct, such an observation is made only in assuming what the word )ādām is first. If one wants to say that the redactor combined them, it seems an irrelevant claim to anyone who takes the narrative as a completed work that now functions differently than its proposed individual parts may once have functioned separately.
[5] Although the Sumerian stories are diverse, where the Eridu tradition presents man as being created from clay (Enki and Ninmah}), and the Nippur tradition presents man as being made either directly from the ground or by slaughtering two gods (KAR 4, although, even here, humans are made in the “flesh-growing” place, retaining the imagery of their bodies popping up from the earth).

1 comment:

  1. Boo. My SPAtlantis font obviously isn't working here. Wish I knew more about how to embed it in the program, but for now, you'll have to put up with it. Sorry about that.

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