Throughout history many explanations have been given about the creation of the human species. The monotheistic Abrahamic traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—believe in the Creation story of Adam. This account is found in the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Torah, which comprises the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (for Christians, the Old Testament). The word genesis in Latin means birth, creation, or beginning. According to the Book of Genesis, God created the entire world in 6 days. On the 6th day he made in his own image Adam, the first man, out of dust from the ground. He was given dominion over all things on earth, both great and small. God then decided that Adam should not be alone, and from his side created Eve, the first woman. God told them to be fruitful and multiply, and all of humankind descends from their union.
All of the Abrahamic faiths are proponents of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing). This is the belief that nothing in the universe but God and the heavens existed before the Creation. However, each faith emphasizes different aspects of the story. There are two versions of the Creation story offered in Genesis. This dichotomy seems to stem from the fact that the Books of the Torah are compiled from various ancient stories and not written by one author. The first chapter is known as the “P” or Priestly version and was written in about 715–687 BCE. The second chapter is the “J” or JHWH version, from the Hebrew word for God, written between 922 and 722 BCE. This explains why Genesis 1 and 2 offer two similar but slightly different accounts of the same event and why the language used does not always match up.
The J story describes the Creation of man simply. “And Yahweh God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Gen 2:7, Revised Standard Version).
In the P version it is written, “Then God said, Let us make man in our image. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:26–27). The language of this passage has caused debate among scholars and theologians. First, the use of the plural tense when describing the creation implies that more than one man was made. Second, it says “male and female,” implying that men and women were made at the same time.
Some believe that man was made to be, like God, a hermaphrodite (God having no gender). Then God decided it was not good for this human to be alone and thus removed a piece of it, leaving two separate parts, male and female. There are Jewish scholars who bring these two stories together by emphasizing the passage in the J version, “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). This language suggests that man and woman were once one and need to be together as partners to be whole again.
The origin of the name Adam is also a topic of discussion. There are two popular explanations. In the Sybilline Oracles, verses composed from the 2nd century BCE to the 5th century CE, it is said that the name is an acronym for the four directions in Greek: anatole (east), dusis (west), arktos (north), and mesembria (south). A 2nd-century (CE) rabbi put forth the idea that the name comes from the words afer, dam, and marah, Hebrew for dust, blood, and gall.
Most branches of Christianity accept the version of Creation in Genesis. There is debate as to whether the text should be taken literally or figuratively. Some Christians join together the ideas of modern science with the biblical account—for example, saying the Creation happened as described but over billions of years, thus supporting geological evidence. However, strict biblical proponents believe Creation actually occurred in six 24-hour days and that the earth is only a few thousand years old. The Christian belief in original sin also derives from this story. Christians believe that at Creation humans were infallible but that through their own weaknesses evil came into the world. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom 5:12).
The Islamic tradition states that Adam was created from mud from all over the earth and that is why there is such diversity in humans’ physical appearances. The story in the Qur’an claims that after God made man, he was inanimate for 40 days and then sprang to life. Muslims agree that Adam was given power over all other things. Because God spoke to him directly, he is also considered a prophet of the Muslim faith.
Many theologians consider Adam and Eve to be analogies for all people who challenge God. Their story of banishment is a stark warning for people of faith. However, others view them as real people from history. The Book of Genesis contains a genealogy of their descendants, who include historic kings and leaders of the ancient world. Early European Christians interpreted the Bible as being historical fact, and early scientists even calculated the time of their creation to be approximately 4000 BCE.
Modern archaeological finds have aged the earth closer to 4.5 billion years and disputed the concept that all things on earth were created at the same time. The classical theory of evolution denies the creation of man directly by God and suggests a slow progression of life from simple one-celled organisms to complex life forms like human beings. The study of genetics suggests that if the population of a species is ever only two, the species would inevitably become extinct. But the Bible’s description of Adam and Eve’s old age at death, nearly 900 years, suggests a way in which two could have created enough offspring to perpetuate the species.
Jessica Masciello See also Bible and Time; Christianity; Creationism; Genesis, Book of; Islam; Michelangelo Buonarroti; Time, Sacred
Further Readings Filby, F. A. (1964). Creation revealed: A study of Genesis chapter one, in light of modern science. London: Pickering & Inglis. von Franz, L. M. (1995). Creation myths. London: Shambhala.