Adam and Eve – Part 2

In the post Adam and Eve – A Parable? I pointed out a troubling statement made by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in a public, televised debate with Richard Dawkins. Lord Sacks stated that Adam and Eve were not real, flesh-and-blood people. Rather, according to Lord Sacks “… Adam and Eve is clearly a parable, because there was no first human… obviously, the Bible is telling us about the first dawn of civilisation.”

I believe that there is no way to justify this statement through appeal to classical sources. Not only do we find that all authorities considered Adam and Eve to be real people, we also find that Rambam/Maimonides maintained, in the third section of The Guide for the Perplexed, that such a belief is fundamental to Judaism:

It is a fundamental belief of Judaism that the world was created ex nihilo and that a specific human being, Adam, was initially created and that from his creation until the time of Moses approximately 2500 years elapsed.[1]

At the end of the post, I pointed out that, when challenged by Richard Dawkins regarding how he (Sacks) distinguishes between literal and allegorical passages, Lord Sacks makes an intriguing statement. He responds by saying that the rabbis of the tenth century established a rule that if a Biblical narrative is incompatible with established scientific fact, it is not to be understood literally. I commented that the only tenth-century rabbi I could think of that Lord Sacks could have had in mind is Rav Sa’adiah Gaon, and to present his viewpoint the way Lord Sacks did is inaccurate and misleading.

A reader asked me to describe Rav Sa’adiah Gaon’s position regarding the allegorisation of verses. A second reader asked about verses that appear to sanction lex talionis – An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and similarly gory justice. In this post, I will address these points. [Disclosure: I was first acquainted with Rav Sa’adiah Gaon’s approach by reading a manuscript of a book by Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, still not published as of this writing.]

Rav Sa’adiah Gaon (882–942) addressed allegorisation in his classic Emunos Ve’deos (אמונות ודעות). His discussion takes place in the context of the resurrection of the dead (תחיית המתים), which he understood to be a literal event which will take place when God so chooses.

Rav Sa’adiah Gaon’s point of departure is that every verse in the Bible must be understood literally, unless there is one of four reasons to interpret it in non-literal fashion.[2]

The first reason is that a verse is contradicted by simple experience.[3] Hence, the verse that Eve was the mother – the progenitor – of all life is contradicted by the fact that we see that women do not give birth to other forms of life. Hence, Rav Sa’adiah Gaon concludes that the phrase “all living things” is not to be taken literally, but must mean all human life.

The second reason to deviate from literalism, according to Rav Sa’adiah Gaon, is that a verse is contradicted by simple logic.[4] Rav Sa’adiah Gaon is not referring to philosophical speculation, but rather to simple syllogistic logic. His example of contradiction by simple logic is the verse that says that God is a consuming fire. This is impossible not because God’s incorporeality has been established philosophically. Rather, it is impossible for simple syllogistic reasons. God created everything ex nihilo, including all physical phenomena. Hence God cannot be identified with a physical phenomenon. That which created the physical universe ex nihilo must be distinct from that created world. Hence, this verse must be interpreted metaphorically. Here comes a crucial point. Having rejected the most literal meaning of the verse, Rav Sa’adiah Gaon did not proceed to invent whatever struck his fancy as a nifty interpretation. He suggests that the verse is referring to God’s vengeance, which is like a consuming fire, because another verse (in Tzefaniah) states that “as fire shall my anger consume the entire earth.” His alternative interpretation to the literal one is not arbitrary. It is based on the Torah. There is no license to interpret the Torah in accordance with one’s whims or philosophical leanings, even when necessity dictates deviation from literalism. The metaphor itself must be rooted in the Torah.

The third case in which we do not interpret a verse literally is when the literal meaning of one verse contradicts the literal meaning of another verse.[5] Rav Sa’adiah Gaon gives the following example. The Torah prohibits us from testing God. But a verse in Malachi says that one may test God. Therefore, we understand the verse in the Torah to be limited in accordance with the parameters imposed by the verse in Malachi. Here, the interpretation lies in the verses themselves and is corroborated by the Talmud – we may test God in matters relating to tithing (I shall not elaborate on the technicalities).

The fourth case of rejecting the literal meaning of verses is when the Oral Law explicitly instructs us to do so.[6] Thus, even though the Torah speaks of forty lashes in the context of flagellation, Chazal tell us that it means thirty-nine.

We have explained, briefly, Rav Sa’adiah Gaon’s position. As far as lex talionis, it fits into the fourth category. Chazal tell us explicitly that the verses which speak of an eye for an eye refer to monetary compensation.

***

Where does all of this leave Lord Sacks? Rav Sa’adiah Gaon is the last person in the world who would have understood Adam and Eve as a parable for the emergence of culture. He – and all classical authorities before and after him – understood Adam and Eve to be real, flesh-and-blood people. There is no classical authority who advocated Lord Sacks’ approach – that whenever the scientific community reaches a consensus, the Torah must bow before that consensus and re-interpret verses. I surmise that Rav Sa’adiah Gaon would be appalled if he knew that his approach was associated in the slightest fashion with evolutionary biology.

But if not Rav Sa’adiah Gaon, who did Lord Sacks have in mind when he spoke of those tenth-century rabbis? We await a response from the Chief Rabbi.

References:

[1] מורה נבוכים חלק שלישי פרק נ: כאשר היתה פנת התורה שהעולם מחודש ואשר נברא תחלה היה איש אחד ממין האדם והוא אדם הראשון, ולא היה באורך הזמן אשר מאדם עד משה רבינו רק אלפים וחמש מאות שנה בקרוב.

[2] ספר האמונות והדעות מאמר ז והוא שאנחנו כל בני ישראל מאמינים, כי כל אשר בספרי הנביאים, הוא כאשר נראה ממשמעו והידוע ממלותיו, אלא מה שהנראה והידוע ממנו, מביא אל אחד בארבעה דברים.

[3] שם: אם להכחיש מוחש כמו שנאמר על חוה, כי היא היתה אם כל חי.

[4] שם: או להשיב מה שיש בשכל, כמו שאמר כי ה’ אלקיך אש אוכלה.

[5] שם: או לסתור דבר אחר כתוב, כמו שנאמר ובחנוני נא, אחר שאמר לא תנסו את ה’ א’.

[6] שם: או להכחיש מה שקבלוהו קדמוננו, כמו שאמר ארבעים יכנו לא יוסיף, ואמרו רבותינו שהם שלשים ותשע מכה.

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9 Responses to “Adam and Eve – Part 2”

  1. Danny Says:

    Dear Yoram, firstly when you translate the Rambam “It is a fundamental belief of Judaism that the world was created ex nihilo and that a specific human being, Adam, was initially created and that from his creation until the time of Moses approximately 2500 years elapsed.” It makes the Rambam sound like he is saying it is a fundamental belief that 2500 years elapsed from Adam to Moshe, however were you put a full stop, there should be a comma, Rambam explains that because only 2500 years passed people will doubt that we all came from one man. This is important to point out because I don’t think Rabbi Sacks denies that we all have a common ancestor, he says there is no first human being because it could be traced back before we evolved into human beings. Obviously Rambam believed that the “Mitochondrial Eve” lived 2500 years before Moshe but it really does not seem like he is saying it is a fundamental belief. Secondly, as you know, the Rambam did not believe that creation ex nihilo is a fundamental belief, rather Aristotle’s eternity is against the fundamentals of Judaism, but Plato’s philosophy could in theory fit into Judaism.

    And the Rambam does indeed seem to say that if Plato was proven correct by science then we would have to reinterpret the Torah “…First, the Incorporeality of God has been demonstrated by proof: those passages in the Bible, which in their literal sense contain statements that can be refuted by proof, must and can be interpreted otherwise…”… If, however, we accepted the Eternity of the Universe in accordance with the second of the theories which we have expounded above, and assumed, with Plato, that the heavens are likewise transient, we should not be in opposition to the fundamental principles of our religion; this theory would not imply the rejection of miracles, but, on the contrary, would admit them as possible. The Scriptural text might have been explained accordingly, and many expressions might have been found in the Bible and in other writings that would confirm and support this theory” my point is simply that science does indeed affect the way we interpret the Torah.

    You might say that we still need to fit the “scientifically accepted” interpretation into the passages. Now obviously we won’t find references in the rishonim and in the Talmud to the universe being billions of years old. In those days no one knew about such things, nor would we find references in the Torah, because the Torah is not a science text book G-d forbid. But we do indeed find that the adam and eve passages can very often be seen as referring to mankind. For example Adam being referred to as “haadam” “the man” why is he not given a name? Another example (if you don’t take the midrash literally) the Torah says “he called their name Adam on the day that Hashem created them”. Your question “Are there any rishonim (medieval classical authorities) who believed that Adam and Eve were anything other than flesh and blood human beings?” is not relevant because they had no reason to believe that!
    (please see next post)

  2. Danny Says:

    In any case if people will ask who is Lord Sacks to give his opinion on the Rambam or any rishonim? I will point out that one of the greatest disciples of the Chazon ISh, Rabbi Gedalya Nadel understood the Rambam in a similar way. “The solution that Rambam gives to the aforementioned perplexed person is that there are things in the Torah that are not as their simple meaning…we have different problems and these are the contradictions between the simple meaning of Scripture and scientific knowledge…”

    Regarding the Rashba, it is not the “same type of claim made by Lord Sacks” the Rashba was referring to people that for no good reason allegorized a lot, and even allegorized in order to lessen the burden of some mitzvoth. See Teshuvas HaRashba 1:414 and 1:416.

    Another interesting source is the Ralbag (I don’t think it’s fair focus only on 10th century commentators, and I am sure Lord Sack would agree, maybe he was nervous, or whatever but it is a trivial thing to pick at, it takes away from the brooder issue) the Ralbag writes “we must believe what reason has determined to be true. If the literal sense of the Torah differs from reason, it is necessary to interpret those passages in accordance with the demands of reason.” Thus the Ralbag, because of his understanding of philosophy interpreted much of the garden of Eden episode allegorically.
    A final point to ponder is this: Rabbi Sacks feels that evolutionary science is very compelling, yet he is still an observant, believing Jew, if you believed in evolutionary science, how would that influence your religious belief?

    We await a response from you.

  3. r gornam Says:

    Rabbi Bogacz wrote: “But if not Rav Sa’adiah Gaon, who did Lord Sacks have in mind when he spoke of those tenth-century rabbis? We await a response from the Chief Rabbi.”

    The answer to Rabbi Bogacz is that Sacks obviously refers to Maimonides in Guide to the Perplexed where Maimonides states explicitly that if we found philosophical demonstrative proof ( reason) to dispute a literal meaning of Biblical verses then we must abandon the initial interpretation of the literal meaning for another interpretation because science beats the literal traditional interpretation.

    Guide to the Perplexed Section 2, part 25: “If we were to accept the Eternity of the Universe as taught by Aristotle, that everything in the Universe is the result of fixed laws, that Nature does not change, and that there is nothing supernatural, we should necessarily be in opposition to the foundation of our religion, we should disbelieve all miracles and signs, and certainly reject all hopes and fears derived from the Bible, unless the miracles are also explained figuratively…. ”
    “If, however, we accepted the Eternity of the Universe in accordance with the second of the theories which we have expounded above ( part 23), and assumed, with Plato that the Heavens are likewise transient, we should not be in opposition to the fundamental principles of our religion; this theory would not imply the rejection of miracles, but, on the contrary, would admit them as possible. The Biblical Text might have been explained accordingly, and many expressions might have been found in the Bible and in other writings that would confirm and support this theory. But there is no necessity for this expedient, so long as the theory has not been proved. As there is no proof sufficient to convince us, this theory need not be taken into consideration, nor the other one; we take the text of the Bible literally, and say that it teaches us a truth which we cannot prove; and miracles are evidence for the correctness of our view.”

    Maimonides ( Guide to the Perplexed Section
    2, part 26, “For if the Creation had been demonstrated by proof, even if only according to the Platonic hypothesis, all arguments of the philosophers against us would be of no avail. If on the other hand, Aristotle had a proof for his theory, the whole teaching of the Bible would be rejected”.
    ( on this last point Maimonides is saying that the the whole teaching of the Bible ( Judaism) would be rejected because – as he discusses- there are no alternate interpretations of the Biblical passages available to us; unlike with the Plato claim about the Eternity of the Universe for which, Maimonides claims, there are alternative passage interpretations available ( according to Maimonides own rules of finding another interpretation outside of the literal one)

    ( and referring to Sacks use of a footnote doesn’t imply it is the one on which lies the whole discussion).

    • Marc Says:

      Rabbi Bogacz wrote: “But if not Rav Sa’adiah Gaon, who did Lord Sacks have in mind when he spoke of those tenth-century rabbis? We await a response from the Chief Rabbi.”

      r gornam Says: The answer to Rabbi Bogacz is that Sacks obviously refers to Maimonides

      Marc: but surely the Rambam didn’t live in the 10th century?!

  4. Boruch V. Hoffinger Says:

    Interesting Blog.
    Yes, the statement made by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that ‘Adom’ ve ‘Chava’ was a parable is very upsetting.
    Jonathan Sacks and Richard Dawkins at BBC RE:Think festival 12 Sept
    Simply must be the rabbi’s (?) ‘yetzer hara.’
    Very sad.

  5. Menachem Says:

    Yoram,

    I wonder what you think of this youtube presentation of geological evidence for a catastrohpic global flood in recent history by a fellow South African James Robertson:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/ProofOfGlobalFlood?feature=watch
    http://eti-ministries.org/

  6. Menachem Says:

    A statement from a Catholic Creationist website about the historical reality of Adam and Eve:

    http://www.tanbooks.com/doct/death_evolution.htm?vm=r

    Christians cannot lend their support to a theory which involves the existence, after Adam’s time, of some earthly race of men, truly so called, who were not descended ultimately from him, or else supposes that Adam was the name given to some group of our primordial ancestors. It does not appear how such views can be reconciled with the doctrine of Original Sin, as this is guaranteed to us by Scripture and Tradition, and proposed to us by the Church. Original Sin is the result of a sin committed, in actual historical fact, by an individual Adam, and it is a quality native to all of us, only because it has been handed down by descent from him. (Par. 37). (A footnote reference to Romans 5:12-19, and Council of Trent, session V, can. 1-4, indicates that this is well established Church teaching.)

    • Menachem Says:

      Fuller context of above quote from same webpage:

      Any idea of a god evolving with the universe was condemned by the First Vatican Council. In the 20th Century, with the growth of evolution ideas, Pope Pius XII made clear the Church’s position: Firstly, in 1941, in an Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pope said that Genesis attested these certainties, with no possible allegorical interpretation:

      (1) Man’s essential superiority to other animals because of his spiritual soul.
      (2) In some way the first woman was derived from the first man.
      (3) The first man could not have been generated literally by a brute beast in the proper sense of the term, without divine intervention. Secondly, in 1950 Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Humani Generis, which dealt with various modern errors. He pointed out how evolutionism can lead to serious error:
      A glance at the world outside the Christian Fold will familiarize us, easily enough, with the false directions which the thought of the learned often takes. Some will contend that the theory of evolution, as it is called—a theory which has not been proved beyond contradiction even in the sphere of natural science—applies to the origin of all things whatsoever. Accepting it without caution, without reservation, they boldly give rise to monistic or pantheistic speculations which represent the whole universe as left at the mercy of a continual process of evolution. Such speculations are eagerly welcomed by the Communists, who find in them a powerful weapon for defending and popularizing their system of dialectical materialism; the whole area of God is thus to be eradicated from men’s minds.

      These false evolutionary notions, with their denial of all that is absolute, or fixed or abiding in human experience, have paved the way for a new philosophy of error . . . (Pars. 5-6). He referred to reliance on “the positive sciences” and said that this is “praiseworthy” when they deal with “clearly proved facts”; but we must be cautious when they are “hypotheses, having some sort of scientific foundation,” which involve Church doctrines. He continues, and applies this to man’s body and soul: For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church . . . (Par. 36). He then deplores the rashness of those who abuse this liberty of debate by treating evolution of the body as if proved beyond doubt. Next he moves to Polygenism:

      Christians cannot lend their support to a theory which involves the existence, after Adam’s time, of some earthly race of men, truly so called, who were not descended ultimately from him, or else supposes that Adam was the name given to some group of our primordial ancestors. It does not appear how such views can be reconciled with the doctrine of Original Sin, as this is guaranteed to us by Scripture and Tradition, and proposed to us by the Church. Original Sin is the result of a sin committed, in actual historical fact, by an individual Adam, and it is a quality native to all of us, only because it has been handed down by descent from him. (Par. 37). (A footnote reference to Romans 5:12-19, and Council of Trent, session V, can. 1-4, indicates that this is well established Church teaching.)

      Note: Father McKee (in The Enemy within the Gate) summarizes that the clear intention of the encyclical is to exclude polygenism from theology. He adds that this part of the encyclical teaches that Adam was an individual man, not a group, and his sin was an actual historical sin which is passed on to us by blood descent.

      Further note: Humani Generis expressly states that, in encyclicals, a Pope is teaching as Vicar of Christ, clarifying what the Church already teaches, and this removes the subject from free debate among theologians. Despite this, many theologians still strive to outflank Humani Generis in efforts to reconcile Original Sin with polygenism.

      “Mystici Corporis” (1953): Pius XII reinforced Humani Generis with this encyclical. Part of its teaching is summarized by Father McKee: It includes (1) Adam was the father of the whole human race; (2) he was created in perfection; (3) all mankind inherited the stain of his sin. Address by Pope Paul VI (1966): Paul VI addressed a group of theologians and reminded them that “Catholic doctrine on original sin was reaffirmed in the Second Vatican Council” (in Lumen Gentium and in Gaudium et Spes) “in full consonance with divine revelation and the teaching of preceding Councils of Carthage, Orange and Trent.” (Ref. Lumen Gentium section 2, Gaudium et Spes sections 18, 22 and 24.) He reproved some modern authors whose explanations of Original Sin seem “irreconcilable with true Catholic doctrine.” He affirmed Church teaching “according to which the sin of the first man is transmitted to all his descendants, not through imitation but through propagation” (i.e., through human descent).

      He also reaffirmed the special creation of each human soul by God. The Catholic Catechism (Fr. J. A. Hardon, S.J.) states on page 106:

      While never formally defined, the fact of a direct creation of each individual soul belongs to the deposit of the Christian faith. Implicitly taught by the Fifth Lateran Council . . . it is part of that vast treasury of revealed truths which are jealously safeguarded by the Church. This was brought to the surface in Humani Generis, in 1950 . . . “Credo of the People of God” (1968): Pope Paul VI again clarified the Church’s teaching that our first parents were established “in holiness and justice and in which man knew neither evil nor death,” but that Adam’s sin caused “human nature, common to all men, to fall into a state in which it bears the consequences of that offense, and which is not the state in which it was at first in our first parents . . .” He explains the transmission of Original Sin: It is human nature so fallen, stripped of the grace that clothed it, injured in its own natural powers and subjected to the dominion of death, that is transmitted to all men, and it is in this sense that every man is born in sin. We therefore hold, with the Council of Trent, that original sin is transmitted with human nature, “not by imitation, but by propagation” and that it is thus “proper to everyone.”

      And Redemption: “We believe that Our Lord Jesus Christ, by the sacrifice of the Cross, redeemed us from original sin and all the personal sins committed by each one of us . . .”

      The Fall: The Catholic Catechism by Fr. Hardon (pp. 100-101) states: Since the beginnings of Pelagianism and up to the most sophisticated theories of rationalism, the Church has never wavered in her essential doctrine about man’s original condition as he left the creative hand of God, and of what happened when the first man disobeyed his Creator. It explains that “Augustine’s doctrine on original justice, the fall, and original sin was many times confirmed by successive Popes.”

      It refers to the Second Council of Orange and then says: A thousand years later, the Council of Trent returned to the same subject . . .[and] . . .the Church’s doctrine at Trent becomes more sharply defined. Thus “the first man Adam immediately lost the justice and holiness in which he was constituted when he disobeyed the command of God in the Garden of Paradise.” The Catechism says that Trent wished: to carefully distinguish between two states of man’s existence, before and after the fall. Before the fall, Adam enjoyed the gift of integrity, which meant absence of the conflict we now experience between our natural urges and the dictates of right reason. After the fall Adam lost this gift for himself and his posterity, since even those who have been regenerated in baptism are plagued by an interior struggle with their unruly desires and fears. So, too, Trent repeated in more explicit terms what earlier Councils had taught. Adam was to have remained immortal in body, but, when he sinned, he became subject to death. Trent confirmed St. Paul’s doctrine that Adam’s sin injured not only Adam himself but also his descendants. The consequences of Adam’s sin were not only death of the body, but also the loss of grace—spiritual death—which passed from one man to all the human race.

      What is Original Sin?:
      As Aquinas was later to explain, the essence of original sin is the deprivation of what God would have conferred on all Adam’s descendants if the first man had not sinned. It is not some inherent evil in what God produces. (Catholic Catechism by Fr. Hardon, p. 105.) Trust in Bible truth has been eroded lately. The point of entry of the erosion is Genesis, particularly regarding Adam and Eve. From there it has spread through the Bible. We conclude with the warning of Pope Leo XIII, which should be heeded by today’s teachers of young minds: “. . . for the young, if they lose their reverence for the Holy Scripture on one or more points, are easily led to give up believing in it altogether.”

  7. Boruch Nissim ben Tzvi HaKohane Hoffinger Says:

    Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is a ‘kofer.’ He is NO rabbi and doesn’t represent ‘Torah,’ or anyone worth quoting.
    He sounds like he’s either (‘Lehavdil’) Conservative or Reform.
    He has done a great disservice ahis listeners by spreading lies.

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