4/27/2005

Adam as (First) Prophet in Evolution

In our quest to find a version of Adam which can stand up to scientific scrutiny and at the same time be worth wanting, we have already considered two options. First, we investigated the possibility of Adam having been the first human and father of all, but we saw that this view simply cannot be maintained while endorsing evolution. Next, we considered Adam to be a symbolic myth and saw that this version could stand up to scientific scrutiny and was, to a large extent, worth wanting. From a Mormon perspective, however, this version may be a bit lacking since modern revelation has commited us to a historical Adam. Now we should try to give our Adam some historicity.

Perhaps Adam, while not being the father of us all physicallly, might have been the first father of the faithful, similar to Abraham. This version of Adam has numerous benefits as we shall see.

First of all, we get to speak of a real Adam, who actually existed. We can accept the stories, at least the post-garden ones, as more or less authentic. This Adam could have had children named Cain, Abel and Seth. This Adam could have gathered all of his posterity together near the end of his life to give them a blessing. This Adam could have possessed the priesthood which he could have passed on to his childre, and so on down to us. This Adam could have been baptized. Most of all, this Adam could have lived more or less 6,000 years ago, maybe even on the American continent. We must note, however, that the reason why we believe Adam was on the American continent had more to do with the location of the Garden of Eden as a place of paradise than with historical accuracy.

We should not get carried away though. I would be VERY hesitant to say that he actually past the age of 70, let alone 900. I would also be disinclined to treat the Garden story as historical for reasons we mentioned in my last post. This Adam was not responsible for the fall of mankind, let alone the entire earth. In other words, a separation must still exist between what we can term the historical Adam and the mythic Adam.

Could he have been the first prophet? It is not unnatural to want this since surely we must believe that Adam was the first something or another. I would not have a problem with my collegues accepting him as such, but I for one will refrain. This is not due to some desire of mine to emphasize my reterodoxy, but for other reasons.

For one, such a reading would force us to abandon one of the Mormon evolutionist's favorite quotes from Hyrum Smith: "There were prophets before Adam, but Joseph has the spirit of them all." Thus, if we are to accept this quote as having any validity at all, we must confess that not only were there people before Adam, but there were prophets as well.

The second reason for my rejection of Adam being the first prophet has to do with the context which such a scenario would require. Could we believe that after having ignored the other men around Adam, who differed from him in no essential manner, God suddenly breaks silence with Adam? While of course God had to speak to somebody first, I would suggest that God's influence which He exherted over people gradually over the years started to become inspiration which in turn became, further down the line, revelation. God, I propose would always give what these hominids were capable of and willing to recieve from Him.

The third reason why I believe that there were prophets before Adam would come from the vast amounts of evidence which suggest that men had gradually took upon themselves religious beliefs prior to Adam. Pascal Boyer noted,
Obviously, we all know taht it is slightly absurd to wonder who invented religion or when this happened, since what we call 'religion' is a composite reality... The question... only makes sense if you decide which parts of this composite reality are crucial to religion...
The time when human brains established more connections between different inference systems, as we know from hunting and toolmaking techniques, was also the period when they created visual representations of supernatural concepts. Cave paintings and other artifacts began to include evidence of totemic and anthropomorphic representations as well as chimeras...
So it would seem that we know when people 'invented' religion: when such representations could occur in people's minds and exert enough fascination to be painstakingly translated into material symbols.

Boyer dates this to about 100,000 to 50,000 years ago. (See Pascal Boyer's "Religion Explained" and Steve Mithen's "Prehistory of the Mind" for more details.) It was in this context of religious beliefs having evolves over many thousands of years when Adam was able to become what I would call the first great prophet.

We should here make clear what differences existed between Adam and his peers. 1) We cannot maintain that Adam had a spirit while those before and contemporary with him did not. This breeds essentialism as we have seen. 2) Adam was not the first person to receive religion in a vacuum. Instead, it was due to the religiousity developing in his proto-culture which would have led him to become the first great prophet. 3) Adam was not the first person to receive the light of Christ, inspiration or even most form of revelation. (See here for more details.)

What I do believe set Adam apart from his peers, making him the first great prophet, was his receiving the fullness of the priesthood bestowed by the highest form of revelation, actual physical contact with the Lord. It was thus that Adam received, what we can anachronistically call, the Abrahamic Covenant. This made him the first father of many nations, made him the first father of the faithful and gave him the promise of an inumerable posterity. It was this event that sections 84 and 107 refer to.

This also makes the symbolic Adam more meaningful as well, for it is in the temple that we symbolically become the mythic Adam and Eve in order to receive the Abrahamic Covenant along with all the promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is there that we too become, quite literally, mythic Adam and Eve's.

Summary: Considering Adam to have been the first great prophet has many advantages. It allows for a historical Adam, while also enriching our views of the mythic Adam as well. Surely this is an Adam worth wanting.

22 Comments:

Very interesting.

In this model, how do the stories of the creation and the flood and most importantly the Atonement, find their way into many different cultures and religions? Who told the original stories? Was it this great prophet Adam, the first to have personal visitation with God, or was the source the prior prophets who as proposed also had the Light of Christ and access to some sort of revelation?
 

Posted by Mike Wilson

4/27/2005 04:05:00 PM  

I'm not sure I can express it at the moment, but don't see why this Adam could not be responsible for the Fall--especially if the historic event of the Fall is moved to premortality. In other words, our fallen condition somehow centers on the choices of this Adam, but not necessarily immediately preceeding his mortal existence.

4/27/2005 04:18:00 PM  

Mike,
It would be a combination of the two. The stories told by other people before Adam led to his developing faith to receive his revelations.

Jared,
There could not have been any fall of the world because the earth has always been fallen. The fall you are talking about is very different from the one which Mormon commonly talk about (but so is mine). Once the fall of the world is done away with, I see no reason for believing that one man who was not our common forefather somehow caused us to fall. I prefer to liberate this Adam to the mythic status so as to make in more meaningful for each of us. Positing such a spiritual fall caused by Adam seems to be holding on to traditions that aren't worth holding on to.
 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

4/27/2005 04:29:00 PM  

Mike, I think if you think about it all those stories as myths have obvious counterparts in nature. i.e. the seasons as resurrection and rebirth; sleep as awakening on other levels; there are floods; we are born out of fluids;

I think there are structural possibilities for most stories without assuming diffusion, as I know Nibley sometimes did. That's not to deny diffusion as a real possibility. But I think there are other reasons to have similar stories. Further the similarity of stories ought, over time and cultures, contaminate our stories. There will be, what we'd call semiotic drift.

4/28/2005 12:10:00 AM  

For those inclined to legalistic adherence to the 1909 statement, there may be enough in this kind of perspective to satisfy the language about Adam being our "primal parent." (One must also avail oneself of the wiggle room provided by the phrase that reads something like "whether we take this to mean the spirit, or the body, or both.") There's still some trouble with the "first flesh" scripture, of course. 

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

4/28/2005 07:51:00 AM  

I find this fascinating, and even possible.

The main issue I have with it is the difficulty with explaining why, over the past 3500 years, the prophets who have written about Adam have consistently set him in a different situation than is being proposed here.

Is it because they didn't know who he really was? Is it because Adam was inspired to represent himself in such a way (as the father of the human race) to those who came after?

It seems that the potential misrepresentation of who Adam is in the scriptures is unnecessary.

4/28/2005 10:53:00 AM  

The approximate 6000 year chronology assumes not only extreme lifetimes for early mankind, but that the bible genealogies are complete. The latter assumption borders on absurdity. On the more likely assumption that these genealogies are a written version of an ancient oral history, they are only listing people of renown. The nobodies (most generations) are skipped. Under that assumption, an historical Adam could have easily lived 60,000 years ago, 100,000 years ago or even further in the past.

4/28/2005 11:37:00 AM  

I think Steve(FSF) makes an interesting point. Even with our enthusiasm for geneology, how many of us can trace back any line of our geneology even 1000 years? Not that I'm much of a geneologist, but it seems your best bet at such a goal is if you are descended from royalty. 

Posted by Jared

4/28/2005 11:54:00 AM  

Jared,
Regarding your first comment: The Adam that is being proposed here isn't naturally the father of very many people at all (comparatively speaking) until many generations later. The way in which he would be the first father of mankind here is by spiritual adoption, meaning that after  our falls into mortality he becomes our father. This is why I'm not too excited about attributing a fall to this Adam.

Christian,
The first flesh scripture (Moses 3:7) is only one verse which comes from the JST which JS and BY considered to be incomplete. I would consider it to be JS speaking with liimited knowledge, on his way, however, to a better understanding.

Mike,
I would imagine that is was because they didn't know who he was. The Adam stories were very legendary in nature borrowing a awful lot from neighboring cultures. I personally feel no need or desire to consider it all authentic. We should keep in mind that not one person that wrote anything at all claims to have known this Adam, or to have known anybody who knew him and so on. It's only when we consider scripture to be more than it actually is that we run into problems.

Steve,
I had always considered the extended lifetimes to be compensating for gaps in the geneological record. This would seem to accord with what we know about both record keeping and human lifetimes. Could Adam have lived long ago? Sure why not, but I'm not sure I would push it back more than a 1,000 years or so. We should recognize the major difficulties we bring upon ourselves, doctrinally speaking, if we put Adam more than about 6,000 years ago. We would have to reject the idea of the earth 7,000 probation (not that big a deal) and consequently the idea that the 2nd coming is anytime near (a really big deal). It was based on the 7,000 model of the earth that JS believed that the 2nd coming was anytime soon and therefore gave us the name "of latter-day saints." 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

4/28/2005 12:14:00 PM  

Christian,
The verse I mentioned deserves a little more attention.

Moses 3:5-7
For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth... And I, the Lord God, had created all the children of men; and not yet a man to till the ground; for in heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth , neither in the water, neither in the air...
And I, the Lord God, formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul, the first flesh upon the earth, the first man also; nevertheless, all things were before created; but spiritually were they created and made according to my word.

The term first flesh is used here to emphasize that we are no longer speaking of a spiritual creation. This interpretation can be kept, while rejecting the idea that Adam was somehow the first living thing on this planet.

I should also mention that in the temple we are taught that Adam was not created in the Garden of Eden. Instead, he is introduced into it. This, I feel, fits nicely with a prophetic Adam and my version of the mythic Adam as well.



 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

4/28/2005 01:32:00 PM  

Jeffrey: I’m not familiar with the earth 7,000 year probation, sounds like some ridiculous McConkieism from his Messiah series. Scripture references to 1000 years or periods thereof most probably means a very long time, not a literal 1000 earth years any way. Also, a 1000 year leeway on Adam's chronology seems way too small if indeed we're talking about an ancient oral history as the original source of the mythological construct. I think an order of magnitude or greater on an historical Adam's chronology makes much more sense. And I always thought the "Latter-day Saint" appellation was to distinguish us from the ancient church of JC, not a reference to a rapidly impending second coming. Many false prophets have erroneously placed dates on the second coming. Those that say it’s very soon are on the edge of false prophethood. The LDS church doesn't even seriously try to spread the gospel in the most populous areas of the world. We put up ridiculous non-scriptural roadblocks like the WofW in the way of entrance into the Kingdom. How could the second coming be close when we aren’t seriously trying to do as commanded to spread the word in preparation for it? The present non-urgent caretaker mode of our GAs tells me they too figure it’s a long ways off. 

Posted by Steve (FSF)

4/28/2005 02:24:00 PM  

I don't know if too many members will be willing to write off the many verses in the D&C which seem to say otherwise. That 7,000 year thing comes from section 77, and only section 77 I might add. While we do us the LDS to distinguish our church from the former one today, that is not what JS meant when he used it. The earliest Mormons were very millenniarian, and while I'm glad we aren't so fanatical today, I don't think many will be willing to forfeit the idea that the millennium is in some unspecified yet near future.

Just to clarify, I don't think that it would be wise to suggest that all legends found through out the world which speak of the first man refer to Adam. There are two other possibilities. 1) Each legend refers to the founder of their society or something along those lines or 2) each society (including the Hebrews' Adam) took the name of their first lengendary heroe and gave that name to this first person which you refer to and lived 50,000 years ago. Thus, all cultures are talking about the same person, but this person was probably not "Adam" as I have defined him.

The further back we place Adam, the more primitive he will be. If we go back too far, like 30,000 years, we really can't claim that we are talking about a prophet in any sense of the word that we use now. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

4/28/2005 02:38:00 PM  

Mike, in what sense do you think the last 3500 years of prophets have asserted something different of Adam? Could you be specific?

Personally I think the only real controversial issue is whether Adam fell or whether the whole world fell. 

Posted by Clark

4/29/2005 04:25:00 PM  

Jeffery: I had a chance to read through section 77 this morning, and I afraid I have to conclude the earth 7,000 year probation interpretation is indeed a McConkieism of sorts. The same section also speaks of the 6 days of creation, which can’t possibly refer to six literal earth days; therefore, the language of the seven 1000 year periods can’t mean a literal 1000 years but must just mean a long undefined period of time. As far as when the world will end, I like the Cabbalist interpretation that deity is a spiritual union of male and female that produced a finite number of souls. When the last soul is born, that brings on the end, but the end is just a new beginning. I once had an orthodox Jew tell me that JS obviously studied under cabbala master, but then got messed up in his Christian roots.

I’m also perplexed by your concern about pushing an historical Adam back too far. Are you saying modern man kept evolving between the small group of hunter-gatherers from which we all descend and the agrarian revolution/civilization? That just doesn’t jibe with evolution of a new species as currently understood (Stephen Gould, Quantum Leap Model, etc). Our evolution as a species stopped with the people from which we all descend. Hence why there is so little deference between races, we are a single species, not a genre of species, etc.

4/30/2005 12:21:00 PM  

I think it was Joseph Fielding Smith who popularized the model of 7,000 years, but it didn't originate with him. I recently read a portion of a letter from James E. Talmage to his son where he refers to this scripture. So I don't think we can fairly attribute the interpretation to the overly-literal general authorities.

I agree that its juxtaposition next to the 6 days of creation suggest that it can be interpreted figuratively. Even if it is interpreted figuratively, I don't see why that must mean the second coming is not relatively soon. (In his recent article on the Flood , Duane Jeffery made the point that the early saints often misunderstood the future timing of the Lord--so maybe they also misunderstood his past timing as well.)

But even the literal interpretation has its problems when combined with the concept of Christ coming in the meridian of time. Now meridian can mean highpoint, but some (JFS, etc) have interpreted this to mean the middle of time. But this doesn't quite work with the 7,000 year scenario since Christ was born 4,000 years after the Fall. JFS's solution was to essentially stretch the "little season" after the millenium in to another thousand years. This interpretation is a little forced, IMO. 

Posted by Jared

4/30/2005 07:56:00 PM  

Being able to reject the whole idea of the 7,000 probation would be nice, but I think that a lot of member would have real problems with that. That, of course, has never been a problem for me. I tend to accept the 7,000 years ago dating for Adam for other reasons. Putting him back further simply makes him more of a myth instead of a real person in my opinion. 35,000 years ago there wasn't any culture or writing. I think placing a prophet, especially on the order of Adam, is simply stretching things a bit too much for me. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

4/30/2005 11:13:00 PM  

This is my attempt to fill in details of Adam as (First) Prophet in Evolution that are helpful for me. As Jeffrey said in comments regarding Adam/God, I am much more comfortable with this than that. I may be completely wrong about everything, but this has been a helpful exercise.

1. An historical Adam, a prophet.
2. An old, genetic (about 60,000 years) Adam.
3. A fall from a paradisiacal existence and the presence of God.
4. Agency in use
5. Two commandments that appear to contradict each other.
a. Not to partake of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (for in the day thou shalt eat thereof thou shalt surely die). Why is this a bad thing? Why did God command against this?
b. Multiply and replenish the earth.
6. Unable to do b. without a.
7. Subjecting self (voluntarily) to the problems inherent in mortality (we each do this when we come to earth). Therefore Adam’s transgression (whatever it was) is really ours also.
8. Provision of a Savior to overcome the world and the effects of the fall (sin and death).


Humans (fallen by leaving the presence of God) had been on the fallen earth with the Light of Christ and inhabited by spirit children of God. Perhaps they lived a simplified version of the gospel (preparatory version) as the children of Israel did for 1200 years. The situation had been such since the first homo sapien evolved and existed in the image of God. However, when historical Adam (prophet Adam) arrives on the scene, the Lord reveals to him the ritual play of the creation and fall in order to better teach him and his descendents details of the plan of salvation, (leaving God’s presence voluntarily, taking upon themselves death and corruption by coming to this mortal existence, making decisions regarding right/wrong without the direct influence of the Father, making covenants and entering into ordinances for remembering those covenants, and the absolute need of a Savior to come back into the presence of God).

The scriptural story is then recorded as Adam being first man since he is the first to make these specific covenants with God and since his descendents are those writing the stories.

This explanation allows for all of the above except it doesn’t explain why God didn’t want Adam and Eve to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil or even what that fruit might be.

There are also interesting comments in the ceremony that may have significant bearing on what we are discussing here, but I don’t want to go there.

5/02/2005 12:10:00 PM  

Mike,
I would interpret God's not wanting Adam and Eve to partake as God's not wanting us to partake in sin which is an inherent part of the mortal experience. Thus, while He doesn't want us to sin, He wants us to experience mortality which involves sin. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

5/02/2005 02:57:00 PM  

Mike, you comment almost looks like your "notebook," with posts to fill out the details! 

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

5/02/2005 04:05:00 PM  

Mike I'd agree, although I don't know if I require an Adam 60,000 years ago if you mean it as the same being who lived 6000 years ago. If you simply mean some group of homo sapiens who then had spirits, then I'd agree.

Regarding events in the garden. I honestly don't think they have much to do with mortality. I personally think they took place in some other existence. Why it was necessary is a whole other kettle of fish. But it seems that isn't a scientific issue primarily.
 

Posted by clark

5/04/2005 04:58:00 PM  

I'd like to see more on the Hyrum quote. Thanks! 

Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

5/04/2005 07:36:00 PM  

The statement as we now have it in the History of the Church reads something like: "there were prophets before, Joseph has the spirit of all of them"

The original,however, said: "there were prophet before Adam."

See Quinn's Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power pg. 644 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

5/04/2005 07:42:00 PM  

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