I have been reading “Adam and Eve,” which is in The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden. The book is often known as “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan.” It is a Christian work, originally written in Arabic and translated into Ethiopic. Its date is uncertain, ranging anywhere from the fifth century C.E. to the ninth century C.E. (see here, here, and here.)
In reading “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan,” I was thinking of an argument that biblical scholar John Walton made in The Lost World of Adam and Eve (see here for my review). Walton argued that the Garden of Eden was God’s sanctuary, where Adam and Eve served as priests for humanity. By eating from the Tree of Life, within the context of a relationship with God, Adam and Eve could be immortal. Outside of the Garden of Eden, however, even before Adam and Eve sinned, people and animals killed each other. After sinning, Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, deprived of access to the Tree of Life, and thus got old and died; the implication may be that they were inherently mortal even before the Fall, but they could extend their lives as they continually ate from the Tree of Life. Once they were expelled from Eden and cut off from the Tree of Life, however, that possibility was closed to them.
This interpretation is an attempt to reconcile two concepts, or at least to show that they are not mutually contradictory: the Genesis 2-3 story about the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the existence of killing and death for millions of years, even before the date of the biblical Fall, which was only thousands of years ago (if there even was one). There are many Christians who believe that there was no death before the Fall of Adam and Eve, for Paul in Romans 5:12 states that Adam, by sin, brought death into the world. Notwithstanding the Christian view that death entered the world only after the Fall of Adam and Eve, numerous fossils appear to indicate that death and killing were around much longer than that, for millions of years. Is there a necessary contradiction between the biblical Fall story and the existence of death for millions of years? Walton does not think so, for he proposes a model in which the biblical story is consistent with the existence of death even prior to the Fall. According to this model, inside of the Garden before the Fall, Adam and Eve were living by partaking of the Tree of Life; outside of the Garden, there was death.
I heard a similar argument on the British radio program, “Unbelievable.” In the episode, “Is God the Best Explanation for Apparent Design in Nature?”, the host, Justin Brierley, was interviewing Jonathan McLatchie and Cory Markum. Markum is an atheist and a blogger, and McLatchie is a Ph.D. student in cell biology who believes in Intelligent Design. McLatchie was addressing the question of how there could have been death prior to the Fall, and, appealing to William Dempski, he suggested that the pre-Fall death was God’s retroactive punishment for the Fall. Revelation 13:8 states that that Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world, even though Jesus was actually killed later, in the first century C.E. Many Christians believe that some of the redemptive benefits of Christ’s death were applied retroactively, prior to Jesus’ life on earth and death, which would explain why God in the Old Testament is in a relationship with sinful humanity rather than killing all people for their sins. For McLatchie (if I am interpreting him correctly), something similar is going on with the Fall: God is retroactively punishing the world with death prior to the time of the Fall.
Walton in his book admits that there is not a whole lot of support for his model in the history of biblical interpretation. Indeed, the Jewish Book of Wisdom, in Wisdom 2:24, appears to imply that the Fall brought death into the world. Moreover, Walton does not believe that Adam and Eve were necessarily the first human beings, which would be consistent with what mainstream science and history say about the history of humanity. The history of biblical interpretation, by contrast, tends to say that they were the first human beings.
Now for the question that the title of my blog post raises: “Does ‘The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan’ Agree with John Walton?” Is this ancient Christian work an example from the history of biblical interpretation that would agree with what John Walton and Jonathan McLatchie propose? I have not read “The Conflict of Adam and Eve” in its entirety, but I do notice overlap in what I have read so far, as well as differences.
Allow me to highlight the overlap between “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan” and what McLatchie and Walton have proposed. First of all, the “Conflict of Adam and Eve” maintains that God designed the world in anticipation of the Fall. Even before God made the world and Adam and Eve, God knew that they would sin, and God designed the world accordingly. In 1:2-4, we read that God created a sea north of Eden in which human beings could wash themselves, for God knew that Adam and Eve would sin and leave the Garden. In 13:12-13, God said that he made the sun so that human beings could work during the day, whereas they would rest at night. But there was no day and night in Eden, for it was always light there, and that is why Adam and Eve are struggling to adjust to their new post-Fall reality, in which they have to deal with darkness at night and the blinding sun during the day. God, prior to creating Adam and Eve, created the sun and the moon knowing that Adam and Eve would sin and leave the Garden. God fashioned the way the world was with the Fall in mind. That somewhat resembles what Jonathan McLatchie was saying about God retroactively applying the effects of the Fall to the world before the Fall even took place.
Second, to repeat what I said above, life in the Garden is different from life outside of the Garden. Inside of the Garden, there is continual light. Darkness is not present there. Day and night are irrelevant inside of the Garden. But day and night do exist outside of the Garden; God, after all, created day and night, the sun and the moon, prior to creating Adam and Eve. That somewhat reminds me of Walton’s suggestion that Adam and Eve were living within the Garden of Eden, whereas people and animals were dying outside of the Garden. And what “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan” presents may be consistent with seeing the Garden of Eden as a sanctuary for God—-a place that is apart from the world, a place that is timeless.
There are differences between “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan” and Walton’s model, however. “Conflict” presents Adam and Eve as the very first human beings, whereas Walton does not. “Conflict” has Cain marrying his sister, whereas Walton appears to lean towards saying that Cain was marrying someone outside of his family (since, for Walton, there were more people besides the family of Adam and Eve). Walton does not see Adam and Eve as naturally or inherently immortal in the Garden, for their immortality came from eating from the Tree of Life. “Conflict,” by contrast, seems to believe that Adam and Eve lost something that was a part of their original nature in the Fall: prior to the Fall, they were luminous beings; after the Fall, they were flesh. In “Conflict,” the Fall of Adam and Eve does have profound natural consequences (or that is presented as a possibility): Adam and Eve after the Fall fear that the animals will no longer be subordinate to them, as they were in the Garden, as if the Fall changed the animals’ nature. Walton, by contrast, would argue that the animals outside of the Garden were already killing each other, even before Adam and Eve fell, which would imply that the Fall of Adam and Eve did not change the animals’ nature for the worse.
I do find the areas of overlap interesting, though.