John H. Walton (with a contribution by N.T. Wright). The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate. Downers Grove, IVP Academic, 2015. See here to buy the book.
In The Lost World of Adam and Eve, biblical scholar John Walton presents an intriguing interpretation of Genesis 1-3, one that does not contradict scientific conclusions about human origins and history.
In his scenario, God in Genesis 1 is fashioning the cosmos as a Temple for himself and a home for human beings. As Temple ceremonies often concluded with placing an image of the god in the Temple, so likewise does Genesis 1 conclude with God creating human beings in God’s image. The human beings are to be God’s vice-regents, contributing to order in the world.
At some later point, Walton argues, God set up the Garden of Eden as his sanctuary on earth. (Gardens could be places for the gods in the ancient world, Walton argues.) God appointed two human beings, Adam and Eve, to be his priests there, and somehow to contribute to the expansion of God’s sanctuary. According to Walton, Adam and Eve were not the only human beings existing at that time, nor were they the very first human beings, for God had created humanity earlier, in Genesis 1. Have you ever wondered whom Cain was afraid would kill him (Genesis 4:14), or where Cain got his wife (Genesis 4:17)? For Walton, there were other human beings in the world at that point besides Adam and Eve and their family. Walton addresses questions some of you may have, such as “Was not Eve called the mother of all living in Genesis 3:20?”, and “Why are there genealogies in the Bible that start with Adam, if Adam was not considered to be the very first man?” In addressing the first question, Walton refers to the statement in Genesis 4:20 that Jabal was the father of those who dwell in tents. Walton does not believe that the author was meaning that to be taken literally, and Walton also does not think that Eve in Genesis 3:20 was literally said to be the ancestress of all living. If that were the case, she would also be the mother of all animals, since they too are among “all living.”
Adam’s formation from dust in Genesis 2 is not a literal material creation of him de novo, Walton seems to be arguing, but rather is the formation of him for the role of priesthood. Walton refers to an Egyptian story that depicts the god’s formation of a king on a potter’s wheel as a possible parallel. The Egyptians probably recognized that the Egyptian king originated through birth, and yet an Egyptian story was depicting him being formed on a potter’s wheel by a god for a purpose, to convey that the god is forming a king. My impression is that Walton thinks something similar is going on in Genesis 2, but that God is forming a priestly representative of humans.
While Walton does not believe that Adam and Eve were the very first humans, he does hold that, according to Genesis 2-3, they, as priests, were archetypes and representatives of humanity. According to Walton, Adam being formed from the dust is simply an indication that he was mortal, as are all human beings. Walton refers to biblical passages in which human beings after the time of Adam are said to be made of dust, or created by God. Walton also refers to the story of Adapa as a possible ancient Near Eastern parallel of a human being for whom “by virtue of his priestly position, his actions have ramifications for all of humanity” (page 121).
For Walton, death existed prior to the Fall, which coincides with evolutionary scenarios that depict human beings and animals dying for thousands and thousands of years (long before Genesis’ genealogies depict Adam and Eve existing). Adam and Eve could live forever, however, by partaking of the Tree of Life, in relationship with God. The serpent, who is associated with many things in ancient Near Eastern literature, but one of whose associations is chaos, tempts Adam and Eve to seek to uphold order and wisdom apart from a relationship with God. Adam and Eve are then cut off from the source of life, and their sin has profound ramifications on the world, bringing greater disorder.
But, according to scientific accounts of human history, were not humans killing each other prior to the time that Genesis presents Adam and Eve existing? In addressing this question, Walton refers to Paul’s statement in Romans 5:13 that sin is not imputed when there is no law. Walton appears to question whether God held those humans long before the time of Adam responsible, since they may not have had light. Walton could have been clearer on this point, for Walton does argue that human beings prior to the time of Adam were made in God’s image and had a commission from God to bring order to the world. Is that not light? Or is Walton talking about proto-human beings when he is discussing those whom God did not hold responsible? I should also note that Paul in Romans 5 appears to be arguing that it was between the time of Adam and Moses that there was no law, not the time between proto-humans (or pre-Adamic humans) and Adam.
Walton raises other interesting considerations. For example, he contrasts Irenaeus’ view of Adam and Eve’s sin with the Augustinian view that became widespread. For Augustine, Adam and Eve passed down original sin to succeeding generations—-both the guilt of original sin and the propensity to sin. Irenaeus, according to Walton, had more of a “Pandora’s box” view of Adam and Eve’s sin: they sinned, and that released disorder into the world.
Walton’s view made more sense to me as I was writing this blog post than it did when I was reading his book. Walton admits that he is going against centuries of interpretations of Genesis 2, which hold that Adam and Eve were the first human pair. I can understand if many may see Walton’s interpretation as a stretch, or question whether it is the only viable way to interpret Genesis 2-3 in light of ancient Near Eastern literature (Walton himself does not make such a bold claim). Moreover, when I look at Genesis 2-3 and certain stories in ancient Near Eastern literature, I think that I am seeing etiologies of how the writers believe things came to be as they are—-how marriage originated, why women have painful childbirths, etc. Walton’s scenario seems to undercut that, though Walton does not appear to dismiss Genesis 2-3 as an etiology altogether: he still sees it as an explanation for chaos in the world. While I do not agree with everything that Walton argued in this book, I still think that Walton did well to highlight that there may be more to Genesis 2-3 than many might think.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Intervarsity Press, in exchange for an honest review.