In part 9 I outlined Enns’ account of the development of critical scholarship as it relates to the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, and the Book of Genesis. I will complete that discussion today. Why does Enns’ mention the development of the Old Testament in a book about Adam and Eve? Because Enns wants to emphasize that the Bible was written to give Israel an identity post-exile, not to explore the science of human origins.
According to Enns’, “…the alleged ‘postbiblical’ period is actually the biblical period.” * The canon formed around the community after the exile. Enns begins to present his point by juxtaposing the theological message of Samuel-Kings with Chronicles showing how Chronicles reworked the material that made Samuel-Kings from a postexilic perspective. This perspective emphasized the throne of David a little less and the throne of YHWH a little more. When we begin looking for this emphasis we find it everywhere.
We have the Deuteronomistic editorial work, the obviously post-exilic books like Ezra-Nehemiah, the editorial and authorial changes to the poetic books including the creation of the Psalter, the editorial work on the prophetic books (e.g., 2nd Isaiah), and so forth and so on. Enns writes, “…there is a strong consensus that the postexilic period played a vital role in (1) the production of numerous books or parts of books and (2) the final editing of older material and eventually shaping of the entire Old Testament as sacred Scripture.”
It was after the exile that Israel’s sacred collection of books came to be–not out of dispassionate academic interest on the part of some scribes but as a statement of self-definition of a haggard people who still claimed and yearned for a special relationship with their God. The Bible, including the Pentateuch, tells the story for contemporary reasons: Who are we? Who is our God?
This is Enns’ emphasis: the Hebrew Scriptures were edited, written, and collected to give Israel an identity after exile, not to explore history as history or science as science. The creation story has the same purpose, especially the creation of humans. Adam and Eve were discussed to say something about Israel. Enns notes that the authors of the New Testament do the same thing: they access and reinterpret Scripture on the other side of the resurrection to give the church an identity.
What does this emphasis do for/to our reading of the Adam and Eve story in the Book of Genesis?
* Kindle locations will be added later.
Well, it’s quite a stretch, using the editorial reworking of Samuel-Kings by the authors of Chronicles to arrive at such a conclusion, but IF it were true would achieve two things; it would undermine a historical view of Adam, Eve, and Paul’s use of the Adamic paradigm vis-a-vis Christ, whilst providing a tidy, but alternate metaphor for understanding (at least) the person of Adam; and it would nicely undermine long-standing conservative interpretations of other doctrines (where the Adamic narrative re-emerges directly or indirectly: Adam and Eve as models for the levitical concept of family and microcosm model for ‘nation’; Adam and Eve as models for gender relations; Adam’s appointment as chief steward over creation as a model for man’s relationship to his environment; and most importantly man’s relationship to his creator).
I should clarify that Enns doesn’t use the relationship between Samuel-Kings/Chronicles to prove anything specific about Adam and Eve. He uses it as a case study to show that much of the OT is written to address the post exilic community. He then moves from that point to the point that the Adam and Eve story came into form for the same people and this influences how we understand the text. I just want to clarify what he means.
Most researchers think there was a final editor/redactor effort when the Jews returned to Israel from exile, so Enns’ suggestion here isn’t mindboggling. I think he overstates his case though, tons of the OT text is very embarrassing to the Jews, that militates against his theory. It isn’t a hero worship text except for Yahweh. Even the great men are greatly flawed.
Personally, I think we’re in way too big a rush to mythologize lots of the OT text and Adam is the target right now I think because of the genome project. Evolution doesn’t demand this because John Walton has demonstrated the Genesis narrative is not meant to be seen as creation EX nihilo.
Theologically in John’s Gospel and the Revelation, Jesus is the greater Adam, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David and even Jonah in the synoptics. If Adam is myth, are the others? Jesus is greater than a myth or maybe several myths. Ponder that.
This problem plus Paul is said to be in error on some of his theology if Adam is not the man who brought sin into the world. I think there is a solution here Peter is ignoring. Assume the genome is accurate.
Adam is the first sinner, sin entered the world of mankind via Adam, yet in the early text right there are other humans who are likely not his genetic seed. The people Cain is afraid will murder him and the people of the “land of Nod”. Just because they are not his genetic seed does NOT eliminate him as the human who brought sin into the human family. It just doesn’t have to be via genetics is all.
How does Enns know that the Hebrew scriptures were collated for the purposes of giving an identity rather than reinforcing an identity as the scriptures themselves suggest? Moreover, what light is to be gained by noting the relatively minor differences between Samuel-Kings and Chronicles for the purposes of interpreting older traditions in the Pentateuch? Barring additional information, these observations feel either irrelevant or speculative to me in the context of a discussion about the historicity of Adam.
I’ll agree with Enns that, “the postexilic period played a vital role in (1) the production of numerous books or parts of books and (2) the final editing of older material and eventually shaping of the entire Old Testament as sacred Scripture.” However, I don’t think the J story of Adam and Eve was postexilic. Brian,what do you think? Does your new Brill book address this? Is the original author or the final editor more important? It seems to me that the J view of God is very different from the P view. Both views are side by side in Gen. and the final editor did not try to harmonize them. Just reading the text by itself Adam is the ancestor of all humanity. This is surly what J thought(and most likely Paul). It’s not clear what the final editor thought, he might have seen Adam as Israel, but I don’t think there is enough evidence to be sure. But what ever he thought does it make that much difference.
Enns uses the Samuel-Kings/Chronicles relationship to highlight the difference between how the story was told prior to exile and how it was told after the exile. For instance, the promise to David in Samuel-Kings focuses upon the throne of David. Since the Davidic throne was abandoned during the exile the same story of the promise to David in Chronciles emphasizes YHWH being on the throne. This shift shows that some aspects of the post-exilic community influenced how Chronicles tells the story.
I have been studying the Psalms this summer and I can see where some formations of the Psalms and even some individual psalms are shaped by life after exile. This is what Enns is saying: much of the OT has this shape, including the form of Genesis we know now.
I don’t know (I am not well-studied in J,E,D,P), but I can see how J when integrated into Genesis would say this. In other words, J alone may not say this about Adam, but J integrated into the rest of Genesis could.
Couldn’t the Kings/Chronicles discourse be evidence the Jews before Christ had begun the theological process of more openly formulating the God-Man idea of ruling Israel by changing the throne from David to Yahweh? Would it have to be driven by exilic trauma as opposed to a progressive revelation theory?
I’ve read some OT researchers who think the text was meant to be flexible.
That is an excellent questions and it crossed my mind as well. Another way of looking at it might be that as later Christians read both sources as Scripture it came together for them that the descendant of David shares a throne with YHWH and if this is true there may be some sense in which we can speak of this King as being YHWH.
By the way, I’m loving the new changes to the site.
Brian, I see what you are saying about J integrated into Genesis but I think i would have to be more that just Genesis. Enns makes much of the Adam banished from the garden/ Israel exiled from the land, and the exile is not found in Genesis. I don’t want to get ahead of the book so I won’t continue on this track. My original question was more along the lines of hermeneutics. If J was the original author and the first hearers of the story were pre-exilic, then isn’t their understanding of the story more important than what the post-exilic Jews thought.
I guess it depends on what we are trying to interpret. If we want to know how pre-exilic communities understood Adam and Eve that is one thing. If we want to know how post-exilic communities understood Adam and Eve that is another. It seems to me that Enns’ concern has more to do with post-exilic interpretations as shaped by the canonizing form of Genesis that the views of those who created the earlier sources.
Brian, I’ve seen the argument before that much of the OT was written to address the post exilic community. I don’t deny this is partially true (for example the case for Chronicles is evident). If Enns holds this view, he isn’t alone.
Notwithstanding Chronicles, I don’t find it compelling that this is true for all of OT scripture (somewhat of a hasty generalization).
I recognise that some might point to Genesis’ use of Mesopotamian sources for the construction of its primeval history as evidence of exhilic influences, but also believe this interpretation to be typical of critical post-modern 20th century scholarship. Use of Mesopotamian sources could also be evidence of the codification of long standing pre-exhilic cultural oral history.
The way to differentiate would be to linguistically date the vocabulary found in those segments discerning Akkadian from Babylonian influence. Pre-exhilic sources would favour Akkadian influences, Post-exhilic sources would favour Babylonian. Enough research hasn’t been done in this area to decide one way or another what the source of Gensis is, even if the ‘popular trend’ in academia is to ascribe credit to Solomon’s Yahwists.
Similarly, people have seen the Babylonian influences in the Book of Job, (oft recognized linguistically as somewhat unique in the OT) becuase of the Babylonian text “Ludlul bēl nēmeqi”, but again there is an even older Sumerian text “lu2-ulu3 nam-mah dingir-ra-na” ( found here: http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section5/tr524.htm ) with the same motif. Those who favour the ‘Yahwist’ intrepretation of old covenant canonization are going to favour the Babylonian influences, while others will favour Sumerian/Akkadian influences.
Me? I choose to sit on the fence and be generally critical of 20th century scholarship – until more work is done.
I suppose I am saying I don’t believe Enns’ intrepretation that the Adamic story was purposed to give Israel an identity. (I’ve just given a reason above about why I’m sceptical Genesis was post-exhilic, but I’ll give a more theological reason).
Genesis works precisely because Adam and Eve were NOT specific; they represent prototypical man and woman, ultimately with unknown identities. Genesis suggests they were progenators of the Hebrew people, but the geneologies in Genesis also suggest they were progenators of all races – until at least the genetic bottleneck ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_bottleneck ) event that reduced humanity to a tiny population. This means that neither the Hebrews, the Israelites, nor the Judeans could lay claim to Adam and Eve as ancestors.
Theologically everyone lays claim to Adam and Eve as ancestors. The utility in this, is that theologically when Genesis lays out man’s relationship to his creator, it is doing so for ‘all man’, and not particular man. If Genesis indeed had Adam as a methaphore for Israel, all theological coherance would dissolve (Not just man’s relationship to his creator). There are other arguments that could be made about the detrimental effect this would have on the theology of the OT.
should have read ..
” …. could lay claim to Adam and Eve as ancestors solely.”
“Me? I choose to sit on the fence and be generally critical of 20th century scholarship – until more work is done.”
Taking a step back for a moment, would you agree with me that the whole project of OT historical-criticism is largely speculative and the wrong way to study the OT? From my point of view, it seems practically impossible to come to any firm conclusions about the provenance of perhaps the vast majority of the OT and that so much scholarly energy is wasted on questions that are impossible to resolve. What other explanation is there for the pervasive use of parallelomania in the discipline if not for the fact that scholars are trying to do too much with too little?
Against the atavistic historical-critical desires of the current crop of scholars, why not study the OT simply for what it is, that is to say a collation of theological-historical writings edited to communicate a particular theological perspective. From this perspective the important question is not “What is the provenance of this tradition?” but “How does the theology contained within this tradition function with respect to the rest of the OT?”
To give an example, if the garden of Eden in Gen 2-3 is intended to prefigure the eschatological abode of the righteous that is the garden of God in Isaiah and Ezekiel and the “death” that comes to the first man after he disobeys the commandment is a reference to punishment in Sheol (as I would argue in both cases) then what else could be symbolized by the banishment of the first man and the first woman from the garden of Eden if not the fact that our sin separates us from the eschatological garden of God. Again, if this is the primary theological purpose of the banishment from Eden within the larger “canonical” context of the OT then why care about the provenance of this part of the tradition other than to fulfill the atavistic desires of a previous generation of scholars?
residentoftartarus said “From my point of view, it seems practically impossible to come to any firm conclusions about the provenance of perhaps the vast majority of the OT and that so much scholarly energy is wasted on questions that are impossible to resolve.”
I completely agree.
That said, some will study certain areas of the bible for the pure purpose of study (pushing the bounds of knowledge): for heaven’s sake, there was a time when “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was the top doctoral thesis subject in English speaking universities. I have no issue with pushing the bounds of knowledge for the sake of pushing the bounds of knowledge, but the bible is different from all other subjects!
God is speaking to humanity through it – so not all idle study on biblical themes are inconsequential. We lack the scholastic filter to differentiate idle study from important study! It is indeed, as you point out, a “collation of theological-historical writings edited to communicate a particular theological perspective”, therefore study which gets us closer to the intended theological perspective is of more concern than that which does not.
Even there, there are still pitfalls. I would argue in trying to understand the theological perspective behind ‘prophecy’ one cannot avoid biblical history – where pursuit of knowledge about biblical history for its own sake is largely an academic exercise.
When we give strict academic pursuits too much weight in influencing our understanding of the bible theology – we impoverish ourselves.
(Incidentally, and without being controversial, Isaiah and Ezekiel are best understood prophetic-historically through the lens of the new covenant, just as the new covenant is best understood through the lens of the major prophets, Jeremiah (my favorite), Isaiah, Ezekiel etc ( IMHO ))
I agree, we cannot pursue the theology of the Bible apart from biblical history, the two are inextricably intertwined at important points (e.g. the exodus event, the resurrection of Jesus). At the same time, not all biblical history is created the equal as you well know.
Here’s another thought to throw into the pot. Because of Adam’s role, we are said to be 1 humanity, period. There is one race of “people”, the human race. Paul makes that case. Seeing the racism of earth’s history, we Christians need that admonition bad.
If Enns is right, Paul is also wrong on that as well as on the Adam/Jesus type, anti type stuff. There’s more tied up in this than just “Israel is Adam- Adam is Israel” logic.
I wrote this post as part of our conversation thread here: http://nearemmaus.com/2012/06/19/israel-and-other-adams/
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