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Adam and Eve were historical persons. Who were they? (Part 3)

September 22, 2014
Image: by me. Feel free to use, just link back to this post.

So here is my theory on Adam and Eve, summarized from the previous two posts: Adam and Eve were not the first humans or the only humans to live in their time. Instead, they were the first ones to be made in the image of God, and they eventually became recent common ancestors to all of humanity. "Ancestors" here should be understood in the spiritual sense: we inherit from them both the image of God and the effects of their original sin. Because this is a spiritual heritage, it is not limited to transmission only through biological reproduction. It can be transmitted through any loving relationship that shapes the identity of the beloved. This most commonly takes place between parent and child, but it can also happen in any other analogous relationship.

In this post, I will explore how the spiritual descendants of Adam and Eve - the ensouled bearers of the image of God - might have spread through the Earth in my theory. I will then evaluate the overall state of the theory.

Adam and Eve were created in a spiritual vacuum, in that everyone else around them were merely biological humans. With their spiritual awareness, Adam and Eve and their descendants would have wielded great influence among the neighboring people, allowing them to bear many spiritual children. The number of their descendants through identity-shaping spiritual relationships may have been far greater than their descendants through biological reproduction. The "image of God" among the merely biological humans would have therefore spread very quickly, turning them into fully human spiritual descendants of Adam and Eve. They would in turn further transmit the image of God with similar ease, and much like the rapid spread of Christianity in its early days, the propagation of the image of God through humanity would have spread like wildfire.

I am undecided on how to interpret the long lifespans recorded in the genealogies of Adam's line. They may be numerological. Or they may be real, or be real but with gaps, or maybe something else altogether. If real, maybe all antediluvian biological descendants of Adam and Eve had phenomenal longevity. Or maybe these lifespans only applied to the male heirs in the messianic line. In any case, whether you take the numbers literally or as an expression of the fact that these were remarkable, important men, the net effect for the descendants of Adam and Eve would be to further enhance their fecundity.

I am undecided on how to interpret the long lifespans recorded in the genealogies of Adam's line. They may be numerological. Or they may be real, or be real but with gaps, or maybe something else altogether. If real, maybe all antediluvian biological descendants of Adam and Eve had phenomenal longevity. Or maybe these lifespans only applied to the male heirs in the messianic line. In any case, whether you take the numbers literally or as an expression of the fact that these were remarkable, important men, the net effect for the descendants of Adam and Eve would be to further enhance their fecundity.

On top of all that, Adam and Eve, and later Noah and his family, are divinely charged to 'be fruitful and multiply'. Additionally, there are multiple events in the early chapters of the Bible which scatters the children of Adam and Eve, such as Cain's exile, the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel, and the calling of Abraham away from his homeland. All of this would have had the net effect of quickly spreading out Adam and Eve's descendants, drastically reducing the time necessary for them to become the spiritual common ancestor to all of humanity.

This rapid propagation of the descendants of Adam and Eve solves some of the objections that may be raised against the theory. First, the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of humans living today is estimated to have lived very recently (2000 to 4000 years ago), but this is only because of the European expansions since the Age of Discovery. Their explorations and the resultant co-mingling of lineages is what allows the recent date to the current MRCA. But before the Age of Discovery, it is suspected that the MRCA of living humans might have lived tens of thousands of years ago. While this does have some small overlap with when Adam and Eve might have lived, it is incompatible with the commonly given date of 4000BC. Could Adam and Eve really have become the common ancestor to all of humanity by the time of Jesus, even if they lived around 4000BC?

At this point it's important to remember that the time to MRCA estimates only come from computer simulations, which only traced descendants through biological reproduction. With that limitations it seems unlikely that Adam and Eve could have become recent common ancestors by the time of Jesus, or spread to each ancient civilization before it began to flourish. However, with the much faster propagation of descendants that I described above, this is no longer an issue. There is no reason to think that the descendants of Adam and Eve could not have spread quickly enough.

What about the human migration to the Americas? Didn't humans first cross the Beringia land bridge something like 15,000 years ago? How could Adam and Eve then be ancestors of Native Americans before Europeans got to the Americas? Well, it's true that 15,000 years is likely to be beyond the upper bound for when Adam and Eve lived. However, we're forgetting that one does not need to be the first member of a group in order to be the MRCA of that group. We're making the same mistake as thinking that Adam and Eve must have been the first anatomically modern humans. So, remembering that the MRCA of a group could be a recent arrival, the date we should be concerned with is not when humans FIRST migrated to the Americas, but when they LAST migrated to the Americas before the Europeans got there.

Now, I am not qualified to give an estimation for the pre-European MRCA of the Native Americans. The details of the human migration to the Americas is still being debated even among the experts. Like many other aspects of my theory, there is still much to discover. I will, however, note that even after the Beringia land bridge disappeared, people could have easily moved from Asia to America. Crossing the Bering Strait is risky for a single attempt, but easy for a people group over the course of many millennia. You can even just walk across the frozen sea if the conditions are ideal. So overall, there is no insurmountable barrier to the idea that a descendant of Adam and Eve could have crossed over into the Americas as recently as 5000 years ago, then become the spiritual MRCA of the Native Americans.

How about isolated peoples, such as the Sentinelese? The Sentinelese live on a remote, isolate island while maintaining a prehistoric society, and violently resist contact with the outside world. Due to their isolation, little is known of their history, but they may have been living on their island for tens of thousands of years. Could they still be the descendants of Adam and Eve?

There are simply too many unknowns to say for certain. Were they always as resistant to outside contact as they are now? Were they perfectly consistent in their "death to outsiders" attitude, for thousands of years? Did anyone ever leave the island, receive the image of God, then go back? Given that there has been nonlethal contact with the Sentinelese people just in the last fifty years, it would be premature to say that they definitively cannot be the descendants of Adam and Eve.

In dealing with any of the questions above, keep in mind that even if Adam and Eve could not become humanity's common ancestors by the time of Christ, it's not fatal to my theory. My theory could even handle merely biological humans existing today. Even if one of the above objections were shown to be valid, it would only make my theory slightly less robust, as I would then have to address the issue of "merely biological humans" with more care.

Still, isn't there a lot of opportunity for something to go wrong with the theory? For instance, what if it could be conclusively demonstrated that the Americas were completely isolated after 15,000 years ago? Or what if a better estimation for the time to MRCA gives a value of 100,000 years in the past, making Adam and Eve far too recent even after taking spiritual propagation into account? These potential problems are actually good things: that means my theory is falsifiable. And I do expect the details of my theory to be falsified to some extent. Right now there is simply too much missing information. We don't know the details of human migration into the Americas. We don't know the history of isolated peoples, or their frequency of contact with outsiders. We don't know what better and more extensive genetic testing may reveal about the history of humanity. The estimations for the time to the MRCA could use a great deal of improvement. As I am not a geneticist, anthropologist, archaeologist, or a historian, I will submit my theory to possible modifications based on future discoveries in these fields. I may have to modify details such as exactly when Adam and Eve became ancestors to all humans, or exactly how their descendants spread out. I believe this to be the wise course of action: to wait for the science with a willingness to revise my theory, rather than declaring the correctness of my theory with insufficient information.

But having said all that, I believe that the core of my theory is pretty solid. While it's still falsifiable, it rests on well-established biblical, historical, and scientific facts which are unlikely to be overturned. Overall, I consider my theory about Adam and Eve to be more certain than a "working hypothesis", but perhaps not quite certain enough to be a full "theory". I will therefore conclude, with some significant confidence, by restating the summary that began this post: Adam and Eve were not the first humans or the only humans to live in their time. Instead, they were the first ones to be made in the image of God, and they eventually became recent common ancestors to all of humanity. "Ancestors" here should be understood in the spiritual sense: we inherit from them both the image of God and the effects of their original sin, and this inheritance is propagated through identity-shaping spiritual relationships, rather than just through biological reproduction.


You may next want to read:
Interpreting other Bible passages (Part 1: Cain and Abel) (Next post of this series)
Adam and Eve were historical persons. Who were they? (Part 1)
What is "evidence"? What counts as evidence for a certain position?
Another post, from the table of contents

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