An exploration of the portrayal of Adam throughout Christian history.
Former evangelical Christian Giberson (Science and Religion/Stonehill Coll.; Seven Glorious Days: A Scientist Retells the Genesis Creation Story, 2012, etc.) takes readers on an intriguing journey through the role and importance of the biblical Adam since the inception of Christianity. The author begins by explaining his own abandonment of the classic creation story as literal history, and his work is made to stand, mildly, against evangelical or fundamentalist teachings in this area. He explains that the Christian writer Paul was the man responsible for changing Adam from a character in Jewish lore to a central figure in Christian theology. “Paul’s Adam wrecked the world,” writes Giberson. If Paul placed Adam center stage, however, it was Augustine of Hippo who defined him for the remainder of history. Augustine’s concept of original sin, laid squarely on Adam’s shoulders, would color the West’s understanding of humanity from the fourth century onward. Whereas the world’s evils were once blamed on demons or the devil, after Augustine they would be blamed on humankind’s sinful and broken nature. Even as science began to assert its position in Western thinking, Adam’s role remained unchanged and unchallenged. Discussing the Middle Ages, Giberson writes, “one listens in vain for a whisper that Adam may not have been a real, flesh-and-blood character.” Of course, the age of Darwin and of biblical criticism began to change the thinking. Nevertheless, Christianity enters the 21st century with a largely unbroken literal view of Adam and his role as cause of the fall of humankind. Giberson provides a well-constructed survey of books throughout Western history, some famous, others obscure, and his fascinating historical account is brief yet comprehensive. His contribution to the modern faith vs. science debate is less certain.
An erudite exploration of the Bible’s first man.