Abraham as our literal Adam

February 14, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 11:58 pm   Category: Before Abraham,Scriptures,Theology

In my recent post on the figurative and allegorical aspects I see in the Noah story I admitted to a new thought that I have had as I’ve studied the scriptures recently:

I don’t know about you but I am having an increasingly difficult time seeing the pre-Abraham scriptural narratives as being literal in our modern Western sense. They seem to be symbols of truth rather than literal historical accounts. In other words – they seem like theology rather than history to me.

In this post I’ll discuss Abraham and the parts of his story that make me wonder if he plays the role of our literal “Adam”, or the role of our father and first literal prophet. As I’ve noted recently, I have begun to suspect that the narratives about Adam and successive patriarchs in the scriptures might be allegorical. (Note- I got the ideas for this post after studying the scriptures in Old Testament Sunday school lesson 7 which is about the Abrahamic covenant.)

Abraham, our literal father

First, let me remind you of a post I put up last year that highlighted a recent study indicating that in all likelihood every living person on the earth today is a literal descendant of Abraham to one degree or another. The point is that as we view ourselves as all being descendants of Adam we are also all descendants of Abraham.

Abraham, our spiritual father

Second, let’s look at how Abraham might be our first prophet and thus the father of our faith on earth as well. The Book of Abraham gives us our best insights into this. From Abraham 1:

2 And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.
3 It was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time, even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me.
4 I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed.

Notice here some key points from verse 2 alone:

1. It was revealed to Abraham (presumably through direct revelation) that “there was greater happiness and peace and rest for” him
2. He actively sought after the blessings and ordinations that “the fathers” had before him
3. He was already a “follower of righteousness”
4. He openly sought to “to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge”
5. He also openly sought “to be a father of many nations” and “a prince of peace”
6. He openly and willingly sought “to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God”
7. As a result of Abraham’s asking, knocking, and seeking he “became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers”

The fathers referred to here are usually thought of as the pre-Abrahamic patriarchs. My (perhaps radical) suggestion is that the term “the fathers” could be referring to our God and the others who have been exalted in the worlds without number that have preceded ours.

Key points from verses 3-4:

1. “The fathers” conferred this right on him directly (remember that the rights (of the priesthood) “belonged” to the fathers)
2. It came down from the fathers “from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth”
3. What Abraham received is defined as “the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father” and it came “through the fathers unto” him. (Couldn’t this mean he attained the right to play the role of Adam on our planet?)
4. He sought for this appointment and he received it.

Then we get more in Abraham chapter 2.

5 And the famine abated; and my father tarried in Haran and dwelt there, as there were many flocks in Haran; and my father turned again unto his idolatry, therefore he continued in Haran.
6 But I, Abraham, and Lot, my brother’s son, prayed unto the Lord, and the Lord appeared unto me, and said unto me: Arise, and take Lot with thee; for I have purposed to take thee away out of Haran, and to make of thee a minister to bear my name in a strange land which I will give unto thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession, when they hearken to my voice. …
9 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations;
10 And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father;
11 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal.
12 Now, after the Lord had withdrawn from speaking to me, and withdrawn his face from me, I said in my heart: Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee;

Things to note here:

1. Even though Abraham was called to be a prophet his father returned to his previous religion (idolatry). Perhaps this is a hint that this religion that Abraham was preaching was new and revolutionary on the earth? — So much so that his own father could not forsake his old religion for it?
2. In verse 6 the Lord personally appears to tell Abraham to move to a place to start and establish this new religion. Again, is it possible that it truly was brand new to the earth?
3. In verse 9 the Lord seems to be talking about this new gospel starting with Abraham and spreading from there to every nation. More hints that it is new religion not just another prophet in a long line back through a literal Noah to a literal Adam.
4. In verse 10 we get “for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father;” — very Adam-like, no?
5. Verse 11 explains how now the entire world will be blessed because of this priesthood he sought and received. This makes a lot more sense to me if the priesthood is new to the earth rather than something that had been around from the beginning. If everyone had it once (through Adam at least and through Noah for the global flood believers) then why all the hoopla about Abraham getting it?
6. “I said in my heart: Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee” Abraham, our father, became such of his own free will and choice. He sought to be a great prophet and father of the nations and because he sought to be the whole world is blessed.

Melchizedek

Some may object to this notion of mine and point to the enigmatic “King of Salem” Melchizedek as evidence that Abraham was not the first literal prophet because according to the records Abraham paid tithes to and received the priesthood directly from Melchizedek. My speculative theory is that Melchizedek might be a title that actually represents the Lord himself and not some enigmatic pre-Abrahamic mortal prophet. Abraham tithed to him and received the priesthood directly from him after all. Consider the striking similarities between the Enoch and Melchizedek tales as well:

18 But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father. (Alma 13:18)

57 And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son. (D&C 76: 57)

In addition to this Melchizedek-Enoch-Christ connection, consider the true name of the higher priesthood:

3 Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God.
4 But out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood. (D&C 107:3-4)

So Christ’s priesthood is called the Melchizedek priesthood – perhaps there is more to that than we originally thought.

Now I am aware that this idea is highly speculative. Perhaps it is an case of thinking too far out of the box. It is so out of the box that I don’t think Joseph had it in mind at all when giving us our modern scripture. But that doesn’t faze me too much – Joseph left us way too soon after all. Who knows what he would have given us had he lived another decade or two! (Maybe something like this… maybe not…) What do you think? Sure, I know it is speculative, but could it be true?

50 Comments »

  1. Geoff, while I commend you for thinking outside the box…the fundamental flaw with your premise is the Scriptures repeatedly refer to us in the latter-days as “gentiles” (i.e., not natural Israel) and loads of all sorts of people in Christ’s era as “gentiles”. If everyone is somehow descended from Abraham, then there wouldnt be any gentiles. Heck, even the poor Samaritans, known to be descended from natural Israel were kicked out of Israel and considered gentiles. Jesus even rejected the non-Israelites during his ministry, and only made an exception when one showed exceptional faith even after being rebuffed by him. Its OK with me if I am Abraham’s by adoption. Come to think of it, if we are all literal lineage of Abraham, then all that adoption stuff wouldnt be necessary either and Paul was just running his mouth for no good reason.

    Comment by Kurt — February 15, 2006 @ 5:14 am

  2. Interesting post Geoff, but I think Kurt trumped it.

    I do often wonder why Abraham is so important. Why must we be linked to him? Things seem to funel down to Noah and Adam, but why funnel down to Abraham if he was one of many descendents of Adam and Noah?

    I don’t really buy this non-literal pre-Abraham history, but Abraham is a curious character to be sure.

    Comment by Eric — February 15, 2006 @ 6:44 am

  3. even the poor Samaritans, known to be descended from natural Israel were kicked out of Israel and considered gentiles.

    Which makes the point rather than disproving it.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — February 15, 2006 @ 7:34 am

  4. The Abrahamic covenant is central because it is where the Lord switches from strictly behavior-based covenants with individuals to lineage-based covenants that affect populations. Prior to Abraham the punishments were designed to annihilate the wicked once they got to the point of being unredeemably awful and self-destructive. After Abraham things change because the Lord promises to maintain the literal lineage of Abraham no matter what, so the corporate covenant is designed to get individuals in the population to repent while weeding out the worst. There is no promise to preserve lineage outside of that one, so you have to be grafted into that in order to get it.

    Comment by Kurt — February 15, 2006 @ 7:39 am

  5. The basic methodoligcal problem I see with this is that if you reject the Book of Moses as literal history, you don’t have any good reason to think of the Book of Abraham as literal history either.

    Comment by Christian Y. Cardall — February 15, 2006 @ 7:46 am

  6. I dont get the impression Geoff is really intending to flat out reject it as historical as much as he is trying to see how far you can push non-literal readings and what you can get out of them before you cross the line into absudity.

    Comment by Kurt — February 15, 2006 @ 8:05 am

  7. Kurt and Eric – I tend to agree with Stephen M — the fact that people with the literal blood of Israel (Samaritans) can be kicked out of the “blood of Israel” club and be considered gentiles shows that the blood of Israel designation had as much to do with tribal association as anything else. Further, I don’t see what being blood of Israel or gentile has to do with being literal descendants of Abraham anyway. Jacob/Israel was only one of Abraham’s grandsons after all. All of his descendants count as the blood of Abraham.

    Kurt: The Abrahamic covenant is central because it is where the Lord switches from strictly behavior-based covenants with individuals to lineage-based covenants that affect populations.

    I can see his as yet more evidence that Abraham was the first literal major prophet on the earth. Why else would his be the first set of covenants that applied far beyond the single prophet that made the covenant?

    Prior to Abraham the punishments were designed to annihilate the wicked once they got to the point of being unredeemably awful and self-destructive.

    Again, it seems to me that the Noah story might allegorically reflect the destruction of a former inhabited planet and the creation of a new one, so that fits nicely with this theory.

    After Abraham things change because the Lord promises to maintain the literal lineage of Abraham no matter what, so the corporate covenant is designed to get individuals in the population to repent while weeding out the worst.

    Love it. This is true until the end comes for our planet too. The righteous will be saved from the final destruction — just like Noah and his family was saved. (Just staying out of the box with this for fun…)

    Christian – I’m not sure why it follows that if the tales of the great patriarchs in the Book of Moses that Joseph received while translating Genesis are largely allegorical that the Abraham story he received as a result of obtaining some ancient scrolls must be allegorical too. Why would you assume that?

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2006 @ 8:23 am

  8. Kurt (#6) – You are correct, sir. I’m not claiming this is the way things are at all. I’m mostly exploring the possibility that it may be so. If the theory is completely untenable I am hoping that discussions like these will prove that. If not, then we can flesh that out here too.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2006 @ 8:26 am

  9. Mr. WaaaayOuttaTheBox,

    Having some traceable lineage somewhere back to Abraham doesn’t make you of his lineage. Inheritance is solely through patriarchal lineage. If Abraham had daughters and they married Joe Gentile, then their kids would be Gentiles. The Jewish custom of tracing lineage through the mother is something they picked up somewhere in the middle ages because it was less problematic that way. But, that isn’t the Biblical perspective. So, while these Samaritans thought they were Israel, the fact is most, if not all, of them were not, operating on the assumption the bulk of the males were probably killed off in the Assyrian invasion and the subsequent births were a result of Gentile fathers.

    The Abrahamic Covenant isnt the only one that applies to us. The Noachide covenant does as well. This includes the command to multiply and replenish the earth, capital punishment for murder and being allowed to eat the flesh of animals. Not much compared to the Abrahamic Covt, but it is still in force.

    I dub you Sir Speculator, Knight of the Obtuse Table.

    Comment by Kurt — February 15, 2006 @ 9:07 am

  10. Hehe. Thanks Kurt.

    I have no objections to your points. But they are sort of unrelated to the point I was making in the post. That point was that Abraham matches up with our traditional views of Adam in important ways. 1.) We are all literally descendants of Abraham, and 2.) Abraham is the father of our religion and covenants and when we enter into covenants with God we become Abraham’s spiritual heirs and heirs to all that he was promised (upon conditions of obedience) as well.

    I am just saying that if we have Abraham we are set. It seems to me that the patriarchs before him become superfluous for us.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2006 @ 9:45 am

  11. From a soteriological standpoint, yes, the other patriarchs before Abraham are pretty much irrelevant to us. Just look at how little coverage they get in Genesis, and how much Abraham et al. gets. The chapters in Genesis leading up to Abraham are there to explain the context of the covenant with Abraham et al. more than anything else.

    Comment by Kurt — February 15, 2006 @ 10:01 am

  12. Geoff, I’m not saying it follows as a matter of logical necessity and rigor, but am now speaking (as physicists tend to do) in terms of plausibility. Possible theories are (1) both the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham are literal history as Joseph understood them, (2) both are uninspired fiction and Joseph doesn’t know it, (3) both are inspired fiction and Joseph didn’t know it, (4) one is literal history and one is inspired fiction and Joseph doesn’t know by revelation the true nature of either one. I find both (3) and (4) implausible: that God would go to the trouble to reveal precise texts and not bother to reveal their nature strains credulity. But I think (4) is even more implausible than (3), because it introduces an additional layer of complexity to the prophetic model. Adding complications to models should only be done when data demand it. My basic point in my previous comment is that since there are no data demanding Abraham be historical if Adam is not, why complicate the prophetic model?

    Comment by Christian Y. Cardall — February 15, 2006 @ 10:09 am

  13. Sorry, Geoff. Australian aborigines are not descended from Abraham (if by Abraham, you are speaking of a Middle Eastern man who lived about 4000 years ago).

    Comment by Ronan — February 15, 2006 @ 10:11 am

  14. Again, it seems to me that the Noah story might allegorically reflect the destruction of a former inhabited planet and the creation of a new one, so that fits nicely with this theory.

    So you are saying the ark was a spaceship and Noah came from a planet without rainbows? I smell an Orson Scott Card novel in here somewhere.

    Comment by NFlanders — February 15, 2006 @ 10:38 am

  15. Kurt – Good stuff. So apparently this idea isn’t crossing the line into absurdity quite yet.

    Christian – I am looking at this through a different lens than you are. Mostly I am looking at it intuitively. Abraham’s story reads like a real history of a real person to me. It feels real and familiar. His story actually has striking parallels to the life of Joseph Smith (a follow up post will discuss that.) The stories of the pre-Abrahamic patriarchs do not feel or seem real and historical to me. They have an epic, mythic feel to them. I get the feeling that they are more like plays describing much grander concepts than just the lives of literal mortal men. So from my intuitive perspective I find your 1-4 objections unconvincing. Plus my understanding of revelation makes it easy for me to imagine that God would flesh out the Genesis narratives for Joseph even if they are epic plays and not literal. As I said, Joseph was taken from us way too soon. Who knows what details he would have received had he lived…

    Ronan – You’ll have to take that complaint up with the authors of the study. For what it is worth, I think you are wrong. The study also said every living human is genetically connected to Confucius and Nerfertiti. It makes no claims about how much of a connection there is — only that the numbers say that via genetic mixing over many centuries we all get a portion of their blood in our veins. The aborigines in Australia had to arrive from somewhere. Further, it would only take one person from the outside to mix with them to connect the entire group genetically. Over thousands of years something like that happening is a given.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2006 @ 10:48 am

  16. So you are saying the ark was a spaceship and Noah came from a planet without rainbows?

    lol.

    Nice, Flanders.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2006 @ 10:53 am

  17. Hold on Geoff, maybe it’s a “mathematical” possibility that every human *today* has some Abrahamic (or Confucian, or whoever’s) blood in them. But that is the result of many centuries (millennia?) of genetic interaction. So, what of the many people at the time of Abraham who were not related to him? And what of those Aborigines who sailed to Australia 20,000 years before the “historical” Abraham? They cannot have the blood of a man who was born after them….

    Comment by Ronan — February 15, 2006 @ 11:33 am

  18. Geoff, Abraham could easily be seen as mythic too—his story contains many astonishing elements as well that cry out to be seen as fabulous (i.e. fable-like) rather than “real history” (whatever that means). Indeed the entire historical range of the OT has crazy-ass stuff that make it seem “epic” or “mythic.” (Do the sun standing still, Samson slaying multitudes with the jawbone of an ass, a floating ax, the prophet calling down bears on kids who mocked his baldness, a prophet alive inside a great fish, … seem like “real history” to you?) (This is not to say that none of the named individuals existed—in our own era we’ve seen how the lives of people we know historically existed nevertheless get heavily mythologized, like George Washington or Joseph Smith.) So if you are comfortable with seeing the Book of Moses as a revealed ‘fleshing out of an epic play,’ the same could easily be true of the Book of Abraham.

    If one is speaking from a believing perspective I don’t understand the longing for what Joseph might have produced had he lived longer, because I thought the point of legitimate prophetic succession was that the particular person didn’t matter—if God wanted to reveal more, he could have done so to Brigham or any of the others. (From an unbelieving perspective the dependence on particular personality would of course be entirely expected.)

    Well, if we don’t have Joseph, at least we have you Geoff! ;->

    Comment by Christian Y. Cardall — February 15, 2006 @ 11:34 am

  19. Geoff’s ark/spaceship idea is not as foreign to the Church as we might think. Here’s what President Young said:

    When you tell me that father Adam was made as we make adobies from the earth, you tell me what I deem as idle tale. … Mankind are here because they are the offspring of parents who were first brought here from another planet …

    Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 285 (1859)

    Comment by Polly — February 15, 2006 @ 12:11 pm

  20. Ronan – I suspect we are talking about different things. All I am saying is that every person today has literal blood of Abraham in them. I am not saying that every human to ever live did. (But then again, even if there was a literal Adam 6000 years ago I think the same thing would have applied…)

    Christian – I am drawing a line between embellished real life stories and grand epic allegories that are not based on the real lives of people here. You are free to draw lines wherever you want, but for purposes of this post I am drawing mine at Abraham in the scriptures. He seems like a real person to me whereas the tales prior to him seem to fit into the allegorical categories.

    Well, if we don’t have Joseph, at least we have you Geoff! ;->

    Very funny. Of course the difference is that I am not claiming any revelation behind this thought experiment. I am simply exploring it to see if it proves absurd or not. So far it has not. All you have provided is the complaint that if I suggest pre-Abraham scriptures are allegories then I somehow need to do so with all scripture. As you have noted — that doesn’t follow. Do you have personal objections to the idea that you haven’t expressed yet or something?

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2006 @ 12:21 pm

  21. Yeah Polly,

    I wasn’t going to go there but reportedly there are plenty of ancient sources that talk about colonizing new worlds/planets in one way or another. I personally think that has more to do with spirits (and the MMP model) than sci-fi though.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2006 @ 12:23 pm

  22. So let me get this straight. Are you speculating that Abraham was the first man (child of God, heir of salvation etc.) or that he was the first literal prophet?

    Comment by Eric — February 15, 2006 @ 12:43 pm

  23. Geoff, I’ll summarize and extend my questions.

    One question is whether a line between allegorical and historical characters is legitimate. In addition to the matter of theoretical parsimony regarding the nature and delivery mode of the scriptures Joseph brought forth (about which we apparently agree to disagree), there is the question of how to handle the fact that several sections in the D&C do not treat the earliest patriarchs as allegorical, for example geneaologies or lines of priesthood authority in Secs. 84 and 107, and a vision of Adam, Eve, etc. in D&C 138. These treat your “allegorical” and “historical” characters on an equal footing in a way that your suggestion would do violence to.

    The second question is, if a line is to be drawn at all, where shall it be? Without making a detailed textual case for where to draw the line it doesn’t seem convincing. (“Intuition” or “It feels like to me” cry out for specifics to make them credible.)

    Comment by Christian Y. Cardall — February 15, 2006 @ 12:52 pm

  24. Ooooo CYC said “ass”. BAN HIM!

    Geoff, I dubbed you “Sir Speculator, Knight of the Obtuse Table”, that should answer your question from #15 with respect to absurdity.

    Comment by Kurt — February 15, 2006 @ 1:18 pm

  25. Eric – I am speculating that Abraham was the first prophet. (I am assuming that the evolutionists are right about the appearance of humans here as well though…)

    Kurt – I see your answer in #11 as my answer about absurdity or not. In short — it could work. I see your answer in #15 as your opinion about the idea. In short — you ain’t for it.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2006 @ 2:03 pm

  26. Christian: One question is whether a line between allegorical and historical characters is legitimate.

    Seems legitimate to me. Either Adam, Noah, Enoch, et al literally and mortally existed on this planet or not. Now it is certainly possible they existed but that their stories have been mixed with allegories, but the question remains a legitimate one in any case I think.

    several sections in the D&C do not treat the earliest patriarchs as allegorical

    Yes. You might have noticed that I expected this objection and briefly addressed it in the post itself. I am not convinced that this model I have suggested is out of the question based on this though. Joseph was constantly learning new things that shed new light on old assumptions. His theological ideas on the early 30s had dramatically evolved by the 40s. So the fact that several revelations in the early to mid thirties are based on an assumption of literal patriarchs is not enough to make me dismiss this entire idea outright as absurd and impossible. Now I readily admit that it may be that the model is absurd and impossible — but this tact is not enough to convince me of it.

    “Intuition” or “It feels like to me” cry out for specifics to make them credible.

    This idea is about two days old for me. The purpose of this post is not to convince you or others that the idea is accurate, but rather to get the idea in the open to see if you and others could show me that I missed crucial points that make the model completely untenable. So far the model seems to be holding up well enough — even if it is not the most popular model I’ve ever suggested.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2006 @ 2:22 pm

  27. I think much of your reasoning would hold as well if Abraham is viewed as a dispensation head. I guess if we consider enough of the scriptures to be symbolic eventually anything is possible.

    One of the things which bugs me a little about all this is why would the Lord drill the creation narrative into us so often – Genesis, Moses, Abraham, Endowment, etc. if it were merely symbolic? It seems a long way to go to reinforce a symbol. Parables are parables, and they usually seem so general. But when you get people, with names, and the specific events of their lives played out again and again. When does the text stop being symbolic narratives and start being a pack of lies? When do the scriptures become like Paul H. Dunn stories? It really doesn’t matter to me much if the history starts with Abraham or Adam. Their names both start with A after all. What bothers me more is why the specific people and events reinforced over and again in a way which to me seems to be meant to be believed. I do not share your feeling about these stories not ringing true. It feels to me like we are supposed to believe that Adam was real. Why the name, why specific details, if intended for allegory only?

    Comment by Eric — February 15, 2006 @ 8:14 pm

  28. If all from abraham how do you explain race?

    Comment by ed — February 15, 2006 @ 9:49 pm

  29. Eric: why would the Lord drill the creation narrative into us so often – Genesis, Moses, Abraham, Endowment, etc. if it were merely symbolic?

    I know that treating those narratives literally is the standard interpretation of the scriptures in the church, but the Lord has never drill a literal interpretation in for me. That is just the traditional way of interpreting the narratives I think.

    It seems a long way to go to reinforce a symbol.

    If you think that is going a long way, what do you make of the temple narrative? We are told thatwe should place ourselves into that symbolic narrative.

    Why the name, why specific details, if intended for allegory only?

    The name Adam means “mankind” (or something) doesn’t it? These narratives were written thousands of years ago. The more important question might be why we (as lay believers) don’t go to more effort to understand the ancient narratives in the context they were given. Perhaps if we understood that, the reasons for sweeping symbolic narratives would make more sense…

    Ed – I think you missed the point. We all have some of the blood of Abraham through genetic mixing over thousands of years. “Races” existed prior to his birth.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2006 @ 11:48 pm

  30. Exactly Geoff, we are told that the endowment is a symbolic narrative. There is no confusion there. The sacrament itself, totally symbolic every week. There is all kinds of symbolism in the gospel, but usually it seems that it is clearly symbolism. But most of your motivation here seems to be how it ‘feels’ symbolic. For me when I start getting actual names, places, events, approximate times, lineage and posterity with names, and other references like Adam making sacrifices, Adam-Ondi-Ahman – all that feels like literal historical stuff to me.

    Comment by Eric — February 16, 2006 @ 6:37 am

  31. For me when I start getting actual names, places, events, approximate times, lineage and posterity with names, and other references like Adam making sacrifices, Adam-Ondi-Ahman – all that feels like literal historical stuff to me.

    Let me just point out that in terms of the list you gave – when it comes to Adam the names, places, events, and Adam making sacrifices are all part of that temple narrative that we have agreed is symbolic. Approximate times are not in the scriptures (as in the dates Adam lived) but are non-revealed guesses made much later. The lineage is in the scriptures, but Abraham had both physical and spiritual progeny. He had physical “fathers” and spiritual “fathers” like we all do. The question I am asking is if those are two separate groups for him with the spiritual fathers being Celestial beings. Also I don’t see anything in the scriptures that says Adam-Ondi-Ahman was the place where a literal mortal Adam did anything already (that was a non-canonical comment by Joseph) — rather Adam-Ondi-Ahman is prophesied to be the place of events surrounding the Second Coming.

    But I am not really interested in proving that Abraham was the first literal prophet in this post actually. I am mostly interested in testing to see if such an idea is even possible.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 16, 2006 @ 8:19 am

  32. It all depends on how much scripture we chalk up as being just symbolic stories. If we make enough of it symbolic then everything goes away. What is left to tie us down to anything?

    Comment by Eric — February 16, 2006 @ 9:39 am

  33. I can see that concern Eric. But on the other extreme we would insist that everything in scripture is strictly literal and then we have problems that are even more difficult to deal with. So if not everything is literal then we just have to decide where to draw the symbolic vs. literal line. I am not suggesting we make it all symbolic by any means — I am simply suggesting that it may be that literalism and history (even if there are some embellishments in the history) in the OT might start with Abraham. That line is just in a different place than most people in the church have commonly drawn the line. Maybe this isn’t an accurate theory, but so far I have not seen evidence to cause me to throw it out. And I see plenty of evidence that causes me to continue to consider it.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 16, 2006 @ 9:57 am

  34. This approach is an interesting way to tease out some additional meaning from the OT and Abraham scriptures, but I don’t think it’s probably possible to put ‘historical’ and ‘symbolic’ in nice neat boxes with the information available to us right now. I also don’t want to lose sight of the idea that what has been recorded about Abraham, whether actual history or whatever, is meant to be types and shadows intended to point us to Christ. (Not that I think that’s what Geoff is doing here.)

    Comment by C Jones — February 16, 2006 @ 10:40 am

  35. What evidence would it take Geoff? If we decide that the scriptures are symbolic, what else is left? About all I know of Adam and Noah I learned from the scriptures.

    Comment by Eric — February 16, 2006 @ 10:44 am

  36. C Jones – Good points. However, I think we can draw a bright line between allegorical people and real people. What I am suggesting is a bit radical for many — that Abraham might the first real real person and the first literal prophets we learn about in Genesis. But you are right that even in the stories of those who I feel confident really live — liked Abraham — there are types and shadows of Christ and other gospel truths.

    Eric – I could ask you the same questions about things I assume you might not take as literal and historical in the Bible. What evidence would it take for you to believe the earth was created in six literal days? What evidence would it take to believe Adam was literally made out of dust? Or that Eve was literally made out of one of Adam’s ribs? What about a literal worldwide flood that destroyed all life on earth (except for the Ark) a few thousand years ago?

    It seems to me that the answer to your question is, it would take “sufficient evidence”.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 16, 2006 @ 11:11 am

  37. I appreciate your patience with me Geoff. I am not very good with this type of debate yet. Hopefully I will improve with time. I was trying to learn what the terms of the debate are. I am not trying to zap the fun out of speculation.

    The examples you give (six day creation etc.) ‘feel’ more close to symbolic to me than a literal man named Adam, married to Eve, who offered sacrifices, who had this posterity with these names of people who lived this many years. You could be right of course, but a symbolic allegory that goes into as much specifics as the man Adam would take some explanation from the man upstairs and some time to sink in for me. I’m simply saying (eventually) that where you ‘feel’ Adam and Noah as people are symbolic, I ‘feel’ otherwise, and wonder what terms of debate we would have left if there is a beginning assumption that the scriptures about these men are symbolic. What can I use as evidence? Wait for Archeology? I am not trying to be sarcastic here.

    Comment by Eric — February 16, 2006 @ 12:41 pm

  38. No problem Eric. I’m not understanding the question you are asking in the last comment, though…

    Comment by Geoff J — February 16, 2006 @ 1:07 pm

  39. I think this might be the engineer in me coming out. I have to choose between competing design ideas all the time. I really like basing my decisions on facts when I can. And knowing what criteria to use to make a decision on. I hate it when my job comes down to a contest of wills and who is the most asertive.

    Is it fair for me to feel that any scripture that gets thrown at this theory of yours will bounce off with a symbolic thud and fall to the ground in an allegorical heap? I saw in Tachings on page 157 and 167 Joseph referring to Adam as the first man, and the oldest man, and the head of the human family, and the head of all dispensations, holding the keys to all dispensations. Not Abraham, Adam. It seems that Joseph at this point at least believed in a literal Adam.

    So I guess my last questions had to do with what would constitute evidence. In this discussion must we start by assuming symolic Adam and Noah and prove it false by only using non-scriptural sources since they may all be symbolic? And any comments by modern day church leaders as commentary on symbolic scriptures? I guess I just disagree with you, but I feel that the scriptures have been taken out of the debate since they may all be symbolic about any reference prior to Abraham.

    I’m not trying to beat a dead horse on this issue, just trying to learn the terms of speculative debate in general from the expert himself :). Does it come down to who is most asertive? I’m at a loss of where to go to even seek for evidence if we start with a symbolic scripture assumption.

    Comment by Eric — February 16, 2006 @ 7:14 pm

  40. Eric,

    I have already conceded that Joseph assumed a literal Adam throughout his ministry. But assumptions are different than direct revelations and the Lord doesn’t seem to immediately correct incorrect assumptions of his people even when there are prophets around. Rather the Lord seems help us out gradually and organically — line upon line and precept upon precept. So while Joseph’s assumptions certainly are not in favor of this radical idea, I don’t think they sink it either.

    The problem with disproving this idea of mine is that it is radical enough to not have lots of rebuttals already (and for some that is reason enough to scoff at it — the idea being that if it hasn’t been thought of and dealt with already it must be a bad idea. That is weak logic, of course.) There may be scriptures that work against it strongly though. That is largely why I posted on it — to have all you scriptural experts show me why the idea is untenable. But the best we have come up with is some passages that reveal the unchallenged assumption that all of those patriarchs were literal. Again, assumptions are not all that compelling to me. Joseph had lots of other assumptions that have since proven inaccurate too. We all know he was not infallible.

    I think the best evidence for this is in the scriptures themselves. In this post I began to really dig into to those verses in Abraham and this idea seems to really fit. What happened to the priesthood and church prior to Abraham? Who is this enigmatic King Melchizedek? Where was Salem? What became of Shem and Noah? Why did no one at Abraham’s time have the fullness of the Gospel? Where did all of the idolatrous religions come from? Why did Abraham have to seemingly start from scratch if he could have lived in Salem with the great high priest and could have been tutored by him? Why wasn’t it Melchizedek and his people who were spreading the gospel far and wide? What became of them?

    The best evidence in my mind is the utter silence and lack of answers on all these questions. If they had answers then I think the idea that Abraham was the first prophet (in the precursor model to Joseph Smith) would fall apart.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 17, 2006 @ 8:47 am

  41. OK. Here’s an attempt. What about Helaman 8:18?

    Yea, and behold I say unto you, that Abraham not only knew of these things, but there were many before the days of Abraham who were called by the order of God; yea, even after the order of his Son; and this that it should be shown unto the people, a great many thousand years before his coming, that even redemption should come unto them.

    Does this have any affect, or does it just bounce off again? Is it at least a good try?

    And then Geoff says …..

    Wow, what a great pull. I guess my theory is wrong after all. Oh well, thanks for setting me straight Eric. By the way, your recent posts at Small and Simple have been very good and I enjoy reading them.

    (The above statement attributed to Geoff is not a literal quotation but is symbolic and allegorical in nature. The chances of this actually being said are roughly equivalent to the creation happening in six 24 hour periods, Adam being made from dirt, Eve being made from a rib, the ark containing 2 of every animal, and a global flood – combined)

    Comment by Eric — February 17, 2006 @ 12:37 pm

  42. Eric,

    Helaman 8:18 is a good pull. It is evidence like this that keeps me from committing to the allegorical patriarchs idea. I see pretty good evidence on both side of of this issue so I remain open to the idea that either may be true. The reason I like the allegorical version is because the whole of scripture and my understanding of the theology taught there fits a little better with that assumption for me. But the evidence is not conculsive enough for me to commit one way or the other yet.

    By the way, your recent posts at Small and Simple have been very good and I enjoy reading them.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 17, 2006 @ 10:41 pm

  43. WHAM!

    (That was they symbolic sound of Eric falling out of his chair).

    Comment by Eric — February 18, 2006 @ 5:27 am

  44. Geoff,

    The fact is that (as Eric has pointed out rather well) all scripture is in agreement on the “story” of Adam and Eve being a literal history. We know from scripture that Adam died when he was 930 years old. We know from scripture some of the names of his children. We know from scripture Joseph and Mary’s lineage back to Adam. We know from scripture that the story of Adam and Eve was revealed to Moses by direct, face-to-face revelation from God. (Moses saw the history of the earth from the beginning until the end.) There is nowhere in scripture where it is even implied that this story is anything other than literal history. You said in #40 that the fact that not much has been revealed about Adam is an argument for his not having really lived. If that were a valid argument, we would have to really question the validity of the doctrines of the pre-existance, of the possibility of our becomming gods, and of the reason for our very “creation” by God as physical beings. Yet I cannot recall having seen anything in your postings that questions these three doctrines. Therefore, I must assume that, where revelation is concerned, you don’t really believe deep down inside yourself that lack of sufficient information is an argument against revelation. Hence, I am left to assume (correctly or not) that what you said in #37 about the story of Adam and Eve just feeling more symbolic than literal is the real motivation for this posting and other similar postings.

    Your feelings about the story of Adam and Eve being symbolic are shared by many Jews and Christians. I would venture a guess that if an honest pole were taken that not a few members of the church would also admit to sharing those feelings. Our honest feelings are important, because they are what we really base our beliefs on. Logic mearly builds on those underlying feelings to provide a structure for our beliefs. Logic allows us to believe; it does not cause us to believe. The order of progression is from feelings to logic to beliefs. Yes, I am over simplifying this in several ways. One is by not talking about the Holy Ghost. But it is important to realize that the Holy Ghost usually does nothing more than operate on our feelings and provide a structure of logic for our beliefs, which we in the church often mistakenly call knowledge. (I expect that many will disagree with this.)

    I think the bottom line here is that if you feel that the story of Adam and Eve is not history but symbology, then you are bound by your own integrity to build a logical structure that builds on that feeling–which it seems to me is what you are attempting to do in this posting. However, in order to build a logical structure on which to base your belief, you must somehow logically do away with the fact that scripture is rock-solidly in support of the story of Adam and Eve being 100% literal. Therefore, in order to succeed in this, you must come up with some logical way of determining what in scripture (and in revelation) should be interpreted literally and what should be interpreted symbolically.

    The problem I see with approaching this using logic alone is that I have seen so many others try to do this, and seen such twisted logic result from such attempts. Partly because of this, I have come to the strong conclusion that it cannot be done based on logic. In other words, logic is not an intellectually honest way of doing this, because there is too high a probability of our logic being wrong. I think that, as Joseph Smith learned first hand, it has to come from revelation. And by revelation, I don’t mean the usual day-to-day type of revelation that the general authorites talk about as impresssions, feelings, thoughts, etc. I mean the scary kind of standing face-to-face with God type of revelation that Moses and Joseph Smith experienced. That is because, if you are to legitimatly counter the standing-face-to-face-with-God type of revelation that Moses received, you have to have a similar type experience for yourself. You have to really know–not just believe and call it knowledge. Short of this, I don’t see any intellectually honest way of doing anything other than just saying to yourself, “Moses says Adam really lived, and all the prophets afterwards have backed him up on that, so I’m choosing to accept that.” However, in the end, belief–even belief that comes from personal revelation–is a choice that we make. We choose to accept the evidence–be it scripture, feelings, personal revelation, the word of the prophet, the appearance of an angel, whatever–or we choose not to accept it. Therefore, you could choose to simply not accept all the evidence that Adam really lived. The choice is yours.

    Feel free to pick appart what I said above as you see fit. I’m not infallible. Or even a good speller.

    Comment by Bill B — February 22, 2006 @ 3:35 pm

  45. Bill–great comment. I just wanted to mention something, though: I don’t know that the scriptures are “rock-solidly in support of the story of Adam and Eve being 100% literal.”

    It seems that you’re assuming here that because it is scripture, it is literal history. Now, it may be that Adam’s story is literal. But there are many forms of narrative, with many different social and spiritual functions. Literality/history is not always a primary concern with our scriptures in the way it is with what’s produced by the history faculty at a modern university. It doesn’t seem particularly “intellectually honest” to force the ancient text to conform to modern assumptions about historiography. What people consider “history” has varied throughout time and with social context.

    I’m not outright refuting what you say here. Nor am I endorsing Geoff’s speculations–I tend to think that many early OT stories (including Abraham) are a mixture of mythology and literal history that, once we take the time to investigate textual and literary praxis within historical context–and with the spirit of prophecy–teach us a great deal about our relationship with our Father.

    Comment by Justin H — February 25, 2006 @ 6:10 pm

  46. My two cents: This is an excellent post and debate. Thanks for the great reading.

    Some questions though: I thought we were all descended from blacks in Africa? If not, is it true that there were others living before Adam and Eve? Hasn’t the Bible been translated so many times that what we read must only be taken literally, ‘as far as it is translated correctly’?

    Comment by Ephraimitess — February 25, 2006 @ 6:38 pm

  47. Interesting…

    As I see it, this is an attempt to reconcile the story of Adam (with its pretty solid scriptural backing) with evolution (with its equally solid scientific backing). I’m not sold on it, but it’s one I’ll be kicking around for a while…

    Comment by Rick — March 5, 2007 @ 12:57 pm

  48. I don’t see a problem with Adam and Eve being real figures who lived on this earth. However, an Adam and Eve who are the sole natural parents of all living human beings would probably need to have arrived in mortality sixty rather than six thousand years ago.

    Comment by Mark Butler — March 5, 2007 @ 5:50 pm

  49. #37 (and #44) a literal man named Adam, married to Eve, who offered sacrifices, who had this posterity with these names of people who lived this many years

    Specifically, the part about the names of his descendants:
    Though the order is different, the names of Seth’s descendants (for the most part) are variants of Cain’s descendants. There are Methuselah and Methushael, Mahalalel and Mehujael, Jared and Jabal, Lamech and Lamech, and Enoch and Enoch (city and all!) which leads me to the assumption that they were both taken from the same list, and fleshed out (ever so slightly) in the narrative we have in Genesis, which makes it anything but a definite, literal description of actual history..

    Comment by Jason — April 11, 2007 @ 11:35 pm

  50. Good point Jason.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 11, 2007 @ 11:39 pm

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