I have given much attention to Peter Enns’ book. Now it is time to return to C. John Collins’ work Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care. Collins will expound upon passages from the Hebrew Scripture, other Jewish literature, and the New Testament that mention or allude to Adam. Today we begin with his take on Genesis 1-5.
As for the question of separate sources, the arguments for and against such sources will forever be indecisive, since none of these putative sources is actually known to exist (p. 52).” Against those who seem to think that the person(s) who put together the Pentateuch were inferior minds to our own he writes, “…we have no reason to expect that whoever did put these passages together was a blockhead (or a committee of blockheads), who could not recognize contradictions every bit as well as we can (p. 52).” Rather, Collins emphasizes the unity of the text. He notes that the mention of “God” in Genesis 1 and “YHWH” in Genesis 2 aims to connect the two: Israel’s YHWH is the Creator God.
Why do we have “two creation narratives?” According to Collins:”…we should see Genesis 1:1–2:3 as the overall account of the creation and preparation of the earth as a suitable place for humans to live, and Genesis 2:4–25 as an elaboration of the events of the sixth day of Genesis 1.3 (p. 53).” He elaborates:
“The purpose of Genesis 1:1–2:3, in my understanding, is almost “liturgical”: that is, it celebrates as a great achievement God’s work of fashioning the world as a suitable place for humans to live. “The exalted tone of the passage allows the reader to ponder this with a sense of awe, adoring the goodness, power, and creativity of the One who did all this.” Possibly the best way to read the passage is in unison, in a service of worship (p. 54).”
“…we read Genesis 1 and 2 together when we take 2:4–25 as filling out details of the “sixth day,” amplifying 1:24–31.8 (p. 54).”
After noting several other thematic connections throughout Genesis 1-5 that emphasize the unity of the text he addresses the name “Adam.” Of course, Adam means something like human or man. But the text does put the emphasis on one individual. So Collins is not convinced that we should read Adam as a mere representative. A representative, yes, but a real person too. His first clue is that Adam is part of the genealogy of 5.1-5, so it seems quite apparent that Genesis 1-5 see “the man,” Adam, as a real person (p. 55).
Adam and Eve are seen as the first pair. Yes, like Adam, Eve’s name means something like “Life-Giver,” but Collins doesn’t see the symbolism of the name as equating to a deshistoricized first couple. Adam and Eve matter for the story of Abraham: “The genealogies of Genesis 1–11 link Father Abraham, whom the people of Israel took to be historical, with Adam, who is otherwise hidden from the Israelites in the mists of antiquity (p. 57).”
Yes, the Hebrew story sounds a lot like the creation narratives of Israel’s neighbors. Does that cause Collins concern? No, he writes:
“I see no reason to dispute the view that Israel’s narrative of prehistory bears a relationship with the narratives of prehistory found in Mesopotamia, already mentioned above. This implies that, like those other stories, Genesis aims to tell the true story of origins; but it also implies that there are likely to be figurative elements and literary conventions that should make us very wary of being too literalistic in our reading.19 That is, the genre identification for Genesis 1–11, prehistory and protohistory, does not mean that the author had no concern for real events; far from it, it implies that real events form the backbone of his story (pp. 57-58).”
One obvious difference between the stories of other Mesopotamian cultures and the Hebrews is the Hebrew story doesn’t merely attribute the creation of “humanity” to their God, but a particular pair of humans. This emphasizes God’s role in the creation of individuals, not just a big lump. This story serves to introduce Abraham (as noted above). Collins says,
“Genesis 1–11 is the backcloth of the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob story, which is the backcloth of the Exodus story. This prehistory grounds the call of by showing how all human beings are related, and therefore equally in need of God’s blessing, and equally reachable with that blessing. Abraham is God’s answer to this universal need (Gen. 12:1–3): he is to be the vehicle of blessing to “all the families of the earth,” starting the family through which all mankind, which is now estranged from God, will come to know the true God (p. 59).”
Collins expects Adam to be compared to Israel (something I have discussed when sharing excerpts from Enns’ book). He says,
“There is every reason to expect that Genesis portrays Adam with goals like this in mind: that is, he is “like” an Israelite, so that each member of God’s people will see himself or herself as God’s “new Adam” in the world (p. 60).”
Yes, Eden is a lot like the Promised Land as well, but again, Collins doesn’t see this as mythologizing Eden as much as creating anticipation for the land. What about “death” in Genesis 1-3? Collins says,
“And what shall we make of the “death” that God threatens in Genesis 2:17? I have argued that the primary reference is “spiritual death,” as exhibited in Genesis 3:8–13. But that is not all: it would appear (to me at least) that this is followed by their physical death as well (v. 19). …it looks like the author presents them as two aspects of one experience. In other words, physical death is not any more “natural” for human experience than spiritual death is (p. 62).”
Collins realizes that some of the language regarding the serpent, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life seem mystical and magical, but he seems to affirm their reality as well. This is his caveat that ends his discussion on Genesis 1-5:
“In sum then, we have plenty of reasons from the text itself to be careful about reading it too literalistically; and at the same time we have reasons to accept an historical core. The historicity of Adam is assumed in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1:1 and Luke 3:38. Similarly, although the style of telling the story may leave us uncertain on the exact details of the process by which Adam’s body was formed, and whether the two trees were actual trees, and whether the Evil One’s actual mouthpiece was a talking snake, we nevertheless can discern that the author intends us to see the disobedience of this couple as the reason for sin in the world. It explains why the Mosaic covenant will include provisions for the sins of the people: Mosaic religion, and Christianity its proper offspring, is about redemption for sinners, enabling their forgiveness and moral transformation to restore the image of God in them. This story also explains why all mankind, and not just Israelites, need this redemptive, healing touch from God (p. 66).”
There isn’t much to say about Collins’ view. It is fairly traditional while cautious about being hyper-literal. Yet Collins seems to see things like the serpent, Eden, the trees, and so forth as real things in history coated in the language of “pre-history.” In my next post I will relay Collins thoughts on Adam and Eve in the rest of the Old Testament. In the meantime, thoughts anyone?