What is the Origin of Man?
by Dr. Maurice Bucaille
Chapter 3: The first answer of the Holy Scriptures: The Bible
The need to know the Origin and History of the Texts
Owing to the narratives of the Creation to be found in the Old Testament, the Bible represents the first Scripture of a monotheistic religion ever to provide data concerning the origins of man. Not until the advent of the age of science, in which the question is viewed in the light of material facts, has the subject been approached in the West from any angle other than that of various philosophies or considerations based on the teachings of the Bible. For many centuries, the latter were held to come from God Himself, for the Bible was regarded as the Word of God. There could be absolutely no question, therefore, of disputing a single statement it contained.
If today we still preserved the same general approach toward the Bible, the contrast between scientific data and the ideas on the subject set forth in the Book of Genesis would not only be glaringly obvious, but also insurmountable. Those who still uphold this classic approach to the narratives of the Creation contained in the Old Testament would not be able to accept the idea of evolution: They would be extremely incensed as far as man was concerned, and they would not tolerate for the rest of the animal kingdom any concept other than the traditional notion of the fixity of species as laid down in the Bible.
It is not so long ago that any comparison between an opinion expressed in the Bible and secular data of any kind was violently rejected as a potential danger to religious belief. Criticism of a statement contained in the Bible invariably led to scandal, for it implied that certain assertions were wrong. Even today, I have often noticed the considerable embarrassment of educated Christians when confronted with certain questions on this subject.
Let us immediately mention one problem, which perfectly illustrates the uneasiness certain assertions can cause:
Earlier in the present work, we stated that the average lifespan of a human generation was twenty-five years, constituting four generations per century. This is the average figure, which can be deduced from genealogical tables when established over several centuries. Assuming the Australopithecus was the first representative of the hominids, that he appeared roughly five million years ago and that he disappeared at the earliest two million years ago, we must conclude that 80,000 to 200,000 generations separate us from our first ancestor (although the figure may indeed be higher.) What can we say, therefore, of the genealogy that appears in the Gospel According, to Luke (3, 23 38), which traces the ancestors of Jesus back to Adam, and from which it would appear that seventy-six generations of humans preceded Jesus?
A number of answers have been put forward to explain this, and they vary considerably. Many people simply ignore Luke's text, while others reply that the text has been mistranslated, claiming that the phrase `son of...', repeated in Luke's text, perhaps means for certain of the lineage, that two names which thus follow one another may not, however, refer to two succeeding generations... There are very few commentators who think that in view of the circumstances in which this Gospel was written, and in particular the sources at Luke's disposal, the text ought not to be taken literally, any more than other passages in the Gospels. In the light of our present knowledge of the history of the texts, however, this explanation seems to be the most in keeping with reality: Any reply that evades this obvious difficulty is illogical and might raise doubts as to the authenticity of the entire text, in the case of those who are unable to accept totally irrational explanations.
We are not mistreating the Gospels when we point out the existence of passages that can no longer be accepted in the twentieth century because they contain statements that have been proven wrong. On the contrary, we are in fact doing them a service by highlighting the factors that led the Biblical authors to write inaccurate information. In so doing, we are rendering more plausible the existence and mission of Jesus Christ. A genealogy of Jesus that reaches back to Adam by way of Joseph is, moreover, totally illogical, for Joseph had absolutely nothing to do with the arrival of Jesus in the world. What Luke's Gospel in fact gives us is the supposed genealogy of Joseph, whereas the only logical genealogy for Jesus would obviously be that of Mary.
This extended example clearly illustrates the logicalities to which a stricto sensu interpretation of certain Biblical texts can lead. It indicates the need to possess detailed knowledge of the origin and history of the texts, in order to understand the reasons why we must today read the Bible differently from the way we have read it until fairly recently. Unless we are aware of certain facts concerning the texts, we shall not be able to proceed to a commentary of particular passages, nor shall we learn the lessons that must be drawn from them.
Modern Approaches to the Books of the Bible
The Old Testament
The Old Testament has many authors, and the history of the texts is as confused as it is unknown. In my previous work, The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, I provided extracts on this aspect of the Bible taken from works written by members of the clergy. In particular, I turned to the modern edition of the Bible, translated into French under the supervision of the Biblical School of Jerusalem [Published by Editions du Cerf, Paris, 1972] and published in separate volumes.
Originally, there were several texts and not just one. In the first century B.C., there was a tendency toward the establishment of a single text, bit it was not until a century after Christ that the Biblical text was definitively established. The most ancient Hebrew version of the Biblical text probably dates from the ninth century A.D. The Septuagint was most likely, the first translation in Greek. It dates from the third century B.C. and was written by Jews in Alexandria. It was on this text that the New Testament was based. It remained authoritative until the seventh century A.D. The basic Greek texts in general use in the Christian world are from the manuscripts catalogued under the title Codex Yaticanus in the Vatican City and Codex Sinaiticus at the British Museum in London. They both date from the fourth century A.D.
All of these versions have enabled specialists to piece together so-called middle of the road' texts, a sort of compromise between the different versions. The same process is still carried on today: The `Traduckion Ecumenique de I'Ancien Testament' [The Ecumenical Translation of the Old Testament] [Published by Editions du Cerf et les Bergers et les Mages, Paris, 1975] is a work of synthesis compiled by over one hundred Catholic and Protestant specialists. The aim of this edition is to establish a text that is acceptable to Churches which do not always share identical ideas on certain meanings and commentaries.
The Old Testament is a collection of works. of greatly differing length and many different genres. The works were written in several languages over a period of more than nine hundred years, and they were based on oral traditions. Many of them were corrected and completed in accordance with events or special requirements, often at periods that were very distant from one another. The first texts probably appeared at the beginning of the Israelite monarchy, around the eleventh century B.C. It was at this period that a body of scribes was formed among the members of the royal household. These early texts constitute fragments scattered here and there throughout the various collections of the Old Testament.
It was not until slightly later in the tenth century B.C. according to some, in the ninth century B.C. according to others that the so-called `Yahvist' text appeared, in which we find the first five books of the Bible, known as the `Pentateuch'. The text derives its name from the fact that in it God is called `Yahveh.' [We must note, however, that, in the Yahvist narrative of Creation given by the English Revised Standard Version of the Bible, God is not named 'Yahveh' but 'The Lord God', as we shall see in the next chapter.] Later, the so called `Elohist' text was added, for in this text God is known as `Elohim', and in the sixth century B.C. the `Sacerdotal' version appeared; named after the priests of the Temple at Jerusalem who composed it; this version was also added to the previous two texts.
The Pentateuch is of particular interest to our present study because it contains the Book of Genesis. Here we find not just one, but two narratives of the creation of the world and of man: The most recent narrative is taken from the Sacerdotal version, and it is this narrative which figures at the beginning of today's Bibles: The earlier text, the Yahvist version, comes after the. Sacerdotal version and is extremely short. Most people think wrongly that there is only one narrative of the Creation on the Old Testament. The two different origins of the narratives are fully acknowledged by Christian exegetes, most notably Father de Vaux, who was at one time the Head of the Biblical School of Jerusalem. In his commentaries on the Book of Genesis, Father de Vaux clearly indicates the sections of text, which belong to each respective version. The ancient idea that Moses himself was the author of the Book of Genesis is, of course, unacceptable. Nobody knows who actually wrote the Yahvist and Elohist versions.
The numerous books of prophecy cover the period reaching from the eighth to the second centuries B.C. The first of these were the Book of Elias and the Book of Elisha.
The historical books provide an account of the entire history of the Jewish people from their entry into the Promised Land, which probably took place toward the end of the thirteenth century B.C. to the second century B.C. While the events of the second century B.C. may seem to be correctly related, in many books dealing with other periods historical accuracy has by no means been respected: Religious and moral considerations outweigh any fidelity to history such as we understand it today.
The final category is reserved for the books of poetry and wisdom, such as the Psalms, which were composed by several different authors: David, as wells as various priests and levities. The authors of many books remain unknown.
We may therefore state that the Bible is composed of books whose contents are extremely disparate: The texts have undergone considerable rewriting in the course of time, especially with regard to the subject at hand. Christianity received the heritage of the Old Testament, to which the authors of the Gospels adhered very strictly. We should note, however, that during the first centuries of Christianity, a very stringent selection was made of texts relating to Jesus. This was not the case for the Old Testament, which was more or less accepted in its entirety.
The first five books, among which we find Genesis, constitute what is called by the Jews: the Torah or Law; they relate the events that took place from the origin of the world to the death of Moses. It is perhaps the questions raised by these books that have caused the most embarrassment; for centuries, there was absolutely no discussion either of the text or of the idea that it should be attributed to Moses.
How could the situation have been otherwise? There are passages in the books themselves, which indicate that Moses wrote particular narratives or laws. Moreover, God Himself commanded Moses to describe a certain event in the book of Exodus. Philo of Alexandria, a secular author writing at the time of Jesus, supported this theory. In the first century B.C., Flavius Josephus seconded it. Above all, the Gospels themselves (John 5, 46 47) tell us that Jesus himself bore witness to the origin of these narratives.
In his `Introduction Generale au Tentateuque' [General Introduction to the Pentateuch], Father de Vaux has provided an extremely detailed historical study of the criticism the text has raised from this point of view. I have outlined it in `La Bible, le Coran et la Science' [The Bible, the Qur'an and Science]. Apart from the objections raised in the twelfth century by Abenezra, traditional ideas concerning the origins of the Pentateuch were never questioned. In the sixteenth century, a protestant named Carlstadt noted that. Moses could not have written the account of his own death, which appears in Deuteronomy (34,5 12), even though, as Carlstadt adds, it is written in the same style as the rest of the book. Father de Vaux goes on to cite other critical works which refuse to attribute to Moses at least part of the Pentateuch. Prominent among these is the `Histoire critique du Vieux Testament' [Critical History of the Old Testament] (1678), by Richard Simon, a father at the Oratory. In it, Simon emphasized the chronological difficulties, the repetitions, the confusion of stories and stylistic differences in the Pentateuch. The book caused a scandal, and Simon was dismissed from his order. His theory was not followed, and Moses continued to be considered the author of the Pentateuch. In history books published at the beginning of the eighteenth century, we thus find references to antiquity which very often proceed from what `Moses had written.' It was obviously very difficult to contradict a theory strengthened by Jesus Himself in the Gospels (John, Matthew, Luke) and the New Testament (Acts of the Apostles, Letters of Paul), as cited by Father de Vaux.
Jean Astruc, the physician of King Louis XV, reopened the debate in 1753 by publishing his `Conjectures sur les Memoires originaux dont il parait que Moyse s'est servi pour composer le livre de la Genese' [Conjecture's on the original writings which it appears Moses used to compose the Book of Genesis]. He pointed out that two texts, each distinguished by the way in which God was either called Yahveh or Elohim, were present side by side in Genesis: The latter quite obviously contained two juxtaposed texts.
Father de Vaux cites other, more recent commentators who are inclined to divide the Pentateuch into four main texts:
Commentators have, however, distinguished various sources in each of the texts. Nine of them exist in the Sacerdotal text, which contains one of the two accounts of the Creation, not including the additions spread out among eight different authors" (Father de Vaux.) Thus the Pentateuch is showing to be formed from numerous traditions brought together by `editors' who either juxtaposed their compilations or adapted the stories for the sake of harmonization.
Modern Christian exegetes of the Old Testament note that this multiplicity of sources remains perfectly compatible with the general concept of the inspired nature of the books of the Bible. In the chapter entitled `La Revelation de la Verite, La Bible et les Evangiles' [The Revelation of the Truth, The Bible and the Gospels] which appears in Jean Guitton's work 'Mon petit catechisme' [My Little Catechism] [Published by Desclee de Brouwer, Paris, 1978] we read that "God did not write these books Himself, instead He had them written by breathing into the apostles and prophets the things He wanted us to know. This breath is called `inspiration'. The books written by the prophets are called `divinely inspired books'."
These authors all wrote their works at different periods and according to the manners and customs of their day. We therefore find various `literary genres' scattered throughout the Bible. This notion has gained general acceptance so that we are not surprised, on reading either the Old Testament or the Gospels, to find divinely inspired subjects side by side with affirmations derived from certain secular beliefs carried over from traditions whose origins are often obscure.
This approach to the books of the Bible, which takes account of modern data on the texts, is very different from the position held by commentators until fairly recent times: In days gone by, it was not possible to acknowledge the possibility of such a preponderantly human role in the written compilation of what were originally oral traditions.
Today, it is easy to explain the existence of historical inaccuracies, implausible statements or blatant contradictions: They should no longer cause any embarrassment, even though we are fully aware of the incompatibility that is to be found between secular knowledge and certain statements in the Old Testament, bearing on the subject of the present work as well as other topics.
The Second Vatican Council (1962 1965) clearly acknowledged the imperfections and obsolescence of certain texts in the Bible, as reflected in the Conciliar Document No 4 on the Revelation [Published by Le Centurion, Paris, 1966]. The following two sentences define the position of the Catholic Church on the overall worth of the text, as well as the impossibility of taking literally certain passages "In view of the human situation prevailing before Christ's foundation of salvation, the Books of the Old Testament enable everybody to know who is God and who is man, and also the way in which God, in his justice and mercy, behaves toward men. These books, even though, they contain material, which is imperfect and obsolete, nevertheless bear wittiness to truly divine teachings."
The New Testament
The only passages from the Gospels to which we shall later refer are mainly extracts taken from the Gospel According to Luke. They are essentially a rewriting of Old Testament material with 'a few adjustments. Christian researchers have themselves discovered in the composition of the Gospels such a complex variety of sources that as for the Old Testament we must once again be aware of the circumstances present at the time the texts were written, in order to gain a more accurate idea of the reality of the situation.
It is a great shame that until very recently, the Gospel writers have always been presented as eye witnesses to the facts they relate. Commentators have provided such a wealth of detail on these authors their professions, for example that we, should apparently be in no doubt as to their status as direct witnesses. In fact they were nothing of the sort. As Cardinal Danielou has shown in his studies of the early days of Christianity, doctrinal rivalries found their expression in the different ways events were related.
Each writer seems to have approached the facts in the light of his own opinions and adapted the texts accordingly. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, who composed their texts between 70 A.D. and 110 A.D., provide narratives that are often quite different. Paul wrote his Letters many years before them. According to modern exegetes; not a single one of the authors of the New Testament actually witnessed the events he describes. The Gospel writings did not become known until relatively late. In the introduction to the `Traduction Ecumenique de la Bible, Nouveau Testament' [Ecumenical Translation of the Bible, New Testament] which appeared in 1972, we read the following: "Before 140 A.D., there was, in any case, no account by which one might have recognized a collection of evangelical writings. "
O. Culmann, in his book 'Le Nouveau Testament' [The New Testament] [Published by Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1967], notes that the evangelists were only the "spokesmen of the early Christian community who wrote down the oral tradition. For thirty or forty years, the Gospels had existed as an almost exclusively oral tradition the latter only transmitted sayings and isolated narratives. The evangelists brought them together, each in his own way, according to his own character and theological preoccupations. They linked the narrations and sayings handed down by the prevailing tradition... It must be noted that the needs of preaching, worship and teaching, more than biographical considerations, were what guided the early community in writing down the tradition of the life of Jesus. By describing the events of Christ's life, the apostles illustrated the truth of the faith they were preaching. Their sermons are what caused the descriptions to be recorded in writing ".
This is exactly how the commentators of the `Traduction Ecumenique de la Bible' [Ecumenical Translation of the Bible] describe the writing of the Gospels: "The evangelists... have collected and recorded in writing the material givers to them by the oral tradition. " The Gospel According to John does not contain nearly so many episodes in common with the other three. The Gospels According to Matthew, Mark and Luke are highly euphemistically called `synoptic' Gospels, because Luke, and to a lesser degree Matthew, contain a number of very important verses which do not appear in any of the other three texts. [According to the Ecumenical Translation, Luke contains 500 out of a total of 1,160 verses]
In their book `Synopse des quatre Evangiles' [Synopsis of the Four Gospels] [Published by Les Editions du Cerf, Paris, 1972-1973], Fathers Benoit and Boismard, both professors at the Biblical School of Jerusalem, stress the evolution of the text in stages parallel to the evolution of the tradition. In an extremely helpful diagram, reproduced in `La Bible, le Coran et la Science' [The Bible, the Qu'ran and Science], they explain how the final versions of the texts were preceded by intermediate versions, which were themselves drawn from basic documents, certain of which originated in various Pagan or Jewish communities that were at first quite distinct. This would explain the variation in tone that we find in the original preaching. Thus we see how an intermediate document influenced the final version of several Gospels, and it becomes clear that John undoubtedly remained the most individualistic author: His text deals with subjects that are quite different from those contained in the three other Gospels. Father Benoit is clearly aware of the doubts that these new approaches to the texts may engender in certain people's minds: "Some readers of this work will perhaps be surprised or embarrassed to learn that certain of Jesus' sayings, parables, or predictions of His destiny were not expressed in the way we read them today, but were altered and adapted by those who transmitted them to us. This may come as a source of amazement and even scandal to those not used to this kind of historical investigation."
To return to the question previously raised concerning the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospels according to Luke, it is imperative to take into account the following fact when examining the discrepancy between Luke's Gospel and established reality: The evangelist presents his work as the result of a genuine inquiry, composed of the information he has gathered and which he intends to set forth. The following is Luke's own statement which appears in the prologue to his Gospel: "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed, good to me also, having informed myself about all things from their beginnings, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning things of which you have been informed."
When Luke wishes to show that he and his community consider that Jesus was descended from Abraham and David, he turns for information to the Old Testament. There he finds a genealogy indicating the lineage 9f the first men from Adam to Abraham. Drawing his inspiration from tradition, Luke then proceeds to provide us with data on the time of man's first appearance on earth those are hopelessly wrong.
As we shall see in a moment, Matthew also makes a major error in his Gospel, for exactly the same reasons. While there is a strong possibility that Abraham lived between 1850 1800 B.C., or at least at roughly this period, Matthew records forty one generations between Abraham and Jesus, a figure that for eighteen or nineteen centuries is a gross underestimation. Here again, we have an example of an evangelist adapting data from the Old Testament, and taking liberties in the process.
For our present purposes therefore, we may state that the inaccuracies discovered in the Gospels basically arise from errors in the Old Testament more precisely in the Sacerdotal version that forms part of the Book of Genesis which the evangelists merely repeated in their own works.
The Creation of Man according to the Bible: The narratives and their Context
In contrast to the Qur'an, the Bible does not contain statements on various natural phenomena which, at any time in man's history, could form the subject of observation and which might give rise to commentaries on God's omnipotence, accompanied by certain specific details. As we shall see later on, such texts are unique to the Qur'an; they are expressed in a form, which permits us to compare many data with secular knowledge. The Bible confines itself to relating certain events from the past; the narrations it contains are peppered with details which, for one reason or another, interest the scientist on account of the fact that they either agree with or contradict data which are today firmly established or at least highly probable. While their number is small, I have mentioned several of them in `La Bible, le Coran et la Science' [The Bible, the Qur'an and Science] for they nevertheless constitute points of considerable interest. In the Biblical narrative of the Flood, for example, we find in this description of a universal inundation, which in the Book of Genesis is precisely located in time, certain data which prevent us from considering that a cataclysm could have taken place on this scale at the period indicated. On the other hand, when we come to the narrative describing the Exodus,, we find extremely valuable data, confirmed by Egyptian archaeology, which enable us to locate Moses in the history of the Pharaohs.
The Biblical accounts of the creation of man and the religious history of the first descendants of Adam and of the Jewish people, provided the Biblical authors with an opportunity to expand on two subjects which are of interest to us in the present work. The first is the origin of man, which is explicitly described in the Old Testament, and the second is the date of man's first appearance on earth. The latter is deduced from the numerical data contained in the Old Testament, which were provided for reasons other than to supply information directly related to the subject: In addition to this, although in a different guise; we find a reference to the subject in a work of the evangelists the Gospel According to Luke.
The origins of man are explained in the Book of Genesis in the verses dealing with the Creation as a whole. In order to understand the subject properly, therefore, it must be placed in its proper context.
The Creation of Man According to Genesis
As acknowledged by Father de Vaux, Genesis "begins with two juxtaposed descriptions of the Creation." The existence of two texts must be stressed, for it is not generally known:
The first is integrated into a text composed by the priests of the Temple at Jerusalem. It dates from the sixth century B.C., and is called the `Sacerdotal' version. The longer of the two texts, it figures at the beginning of Genesis and forms part of the long narrative of the Creation of the heavens, the earth and living beings; the creation of man is emphasized as its crowning achievement, even though it is only briefly described:
- The second text is taken from the Yahvist version. It dates from the ninth or tenth century B.C. and is very short. It follows directly after the Sacerdotal version, and devotes more space to the creation of man. The text reproduced below is taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible [Published by W.M. Collins and Sons for the British and Foreign Bible Society, 1952] :
The first narrative (Genesis, the entire first chapter and chapter 2, verses 1 to 4a.)
- Chapter One, verses 1 and 2:
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. "
- Verses 3 to 5:
"And God said, `Let there be light', and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day:"
- Verses 6 to 8:
"And God said, `Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters'. And God made the firmament and separated the waters, which were under the firmament from the waters, which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day."
- Verses 9 to, 13:
"And God said, `Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.' And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
"And God said, `Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind upon the earth.' And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding saved according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day."
- Verses 14 to 19:
"And God said, `Let there be lights in the firmaments of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth.' And it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day."
- Verses 20 to 23:
"And God said, `Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens.' So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swam, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them saying, `Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth'. And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day."
- Verses 24 to 31:
"And God said, `Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds : cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.' And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
"Then God said, `Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion [sic] over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.'
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
"And God blessed them, and God said to them, `Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.' And God said, `Behold, I have given you every plant yielding, seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life; I have given every green plant for food.' And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day. "
- This narrative of the Creation comes to an end with verses 1 to 4a of Chapter Two:
"Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host [sic] of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work, which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work, which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on if God rested from all his work, which he had done in creation.
"These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created."
The second narrative follows directly after the first
- Chapter Two, verses 4b to 7:
"In the day that Yahveh God [In this passage of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, God is called 'the Lord God', whereas in older texts that served as works of reference, God is known as 'Yahveh God'. The name of the 'Yahvist Version' is derived from this fact. In the present work, the original name has been reinserted.] made the earth and heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up for Yahveh God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground then Yahveh God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being."
There then follows a description of Earthly Paradise (verses 8 to 17) after which the narration continues with the creation of the animal kingdom and woman:
- Chapter Two, verses 18 to 25:
"Then Yahveh God said, `It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.' So out of the ground Yahveh God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. So Yahveh God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib, which Yahveh God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said
"`This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.'
"Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed."
An Examination of the Two Narratives : Of the Creation in the Light of Modern Knowledge
The two narratives vary on more than one point: In particular, the origins of man and woman, whether mentioned or not, and, the order in which man appeared compared with the various species of animal. Furthermore, the sense attributed by the Bible to the creation of man cannot be understood in all its shades of meaning, within the same version, unless it, is replaced in its general context; that is why the full text of the two narratives has been quoted above. In order for us to proceed to a comparison with established, or highly probable, data, we must first examine each text separately.
The narrative found in the Sacerdotal version
The image of the empty earth used in the first two verses to describe the state of the universe before the creation would simply seem to signify that creation started from the void. The Biblical author nevertheless devotes a place to the waters over which the spirit of God moved: We may perhaps be allowed to see in this a reference to the tradition of the `primordial' waters, the source of all life.
The account of the first day (verses 3 to 5), and the description of the creation of light, along with the existence of an evening and a morning, suggest the following comments
The light circulating in the universe is the result of complex reactions in the stars. At this stage in the Creation however, according to the Bible, the stars were not yet formed. The `lights' of the firmament are not mentioned in Genesis until verse 14, when they were created on the fourth day, `to separate the day from the night', `to give light upon the earth'; all of which is quite accurate. It is illogical, however, to mention the result (light) on the first day, when the cause of this light (`two great lights') was created three days later. The fact that the existence of evening and morning is placed on the first day is, moreover, purely allegorical; the existence of evening and morning as elements of a single day is only conceivable after the creation of the earth and its rotation under the light of the sun.
The reference to a `firmament' separating the waters (verses 6 to 8), on the second day, is a reflection of the ancient belief that a dome existed which contained the waters above the firmament : These were the waters which; in the narrative of the Flood, were to pass through the dome and fall in torrents on the earth.
The third day (verse 9 to 13) is devoted to the appearance of the dry land, once the waters had gathered together into one place an idea that is perfectly acceptable. The third day also saw the earth put forth vegetation, in the form of trees bearing fruit which is no longer acceptable at all, for vegetation requires sunlight, and the sun had not yet been formed. What is more, these verses contain a reference to the fixity of the vegetal species ("plants yielding seed according to their own kinds").
Verses 14 to 19 describe the creation of the sun and moon on the fourth day, after the creation of the earth on the third day. Our modern knowledge of the formation of the solar system does not allow us to state that the sun became a luminous star after the earth came into being, as it is claimed in the Bible. The origins of the sun and moon cannot be separated from those of the earth.
The first representatives of the animal kingdom, which according to verses 20 to 23 populated the seas and sky on the fifth day, are described in terms that suggest that they came before the existence of terrestrial animals, which did not appear until the sixth day. There is good reason to think that the origins of life are indeed aquatic and that 'the dry land was `colonized' later on. Nevertheless, the Bible states that the birds existed before the terrestrial animals, whereas in fact the birds appeared after a certain group of reptiles: The birds came after the mammals, and were the very last group to appear. This therefore constitutes a case of a statement contradicting the established data of palaeontology.
According to the narrative (verses 24 to 31), the earth brought forth terrestrial animals on the sixth day, and although his origin is not specified God created man in His own image on that day. Woman was also created, though no details are given concerning her origins. This contrasts with the Yahvist version, which predates the Sacerdotal text, in which man's origins are described he was formed from the ground and those of woman created from man. He is placed at the pinnacle of creation with dominion over the rest of the animal kingdom. The fixity of species is emphasized in the case of the terrestrial animals, just as it had been stressed with regard to the marine animals created on the fifth day.
The Sacerdotal version judiciously places man's appearance on earth after that of the other categories of living beings, but, as we have noted for the rest of the animal kingdom, the order of appearance described in the narrative does not conform to the clearly proven facts of palaeontology.
The account of the seventh day refers to God's day of rest, for that is the meaning of the Hebrew word `Sabbath; this is the origin of the Jewish day of rest, known as the `Sabbath.
The division of God's labour of creation into six days followed by a day of rest is not without explanation. We should bear in mind that the description of the Creation examined here is taken from the so called `Sacerdotal' version, written by priests and scribes who were the spiritual successors of Ezekiel, the prophet of the exile in Babylon, writing in the sixth century B.C. The priests took the Yahvist and Elohist versions of Genesis and remodelled them after their own fashion, in accordance with their theological and liturgical preoccupations. Father de Vaux has noted that the `legalist' character of these writings was absolutely essential.
The Yahvist version of the Creation, which appeared at least three centuries before the Sacerdotal text, indeed makes no reference whatsoever to God's Sabbath, to any question of days, or to the phases of the Creation, judging from what remains of the text today. On the other hand, the Sacerdotal version divides the Creation into days. There can be absolutely no doubt as to the meaning of these days, because for each day, we are reminded that there was an evening and a morning. We are also told that the Creation took place over a period of six days, with a seventh day of rest, known as the `Sabbath'. There is good reason to think that this is an example of a narrative written with the aim of inciting people to respect the religious observance of the Sabbath, a fundamental aspect of Judaism. We should therefore view the Sacerdotal version first and foremost as a text designed to influence religious rites, without any claim to set down events with the rigorous accuracy of a historian.
The narrative found in the Yahvist version
The creation of the earth and the heavens is only mentioned once in this version, for the text primarily deals with man.
It begins with a statement that does not square with modern knowledge of the history of the earth: The absence of any vegetation at the moment God created man. "Yahveh God had not caused it to rain upon the earth and there was no roan to till the ground."
The narrative stresses the fact that God formed man of dust from the ground. Hence in this instance, man's origin from the earth is emphasized, with all the symbolical significance this origin suggests. None of this is mentioned in the more recent Sacerdotal text, examined above.
As for the origins of the animals, the Revised Standard Version of the Bible (1952) simply states that "Yahveh God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air" (verse 19) without saying where they came from. In contrast, the 'Traduction Ecume'nique de la Bible' [Ecumenical Translation of the Bible], states quite clearly in the French text that: "God again moulded from the ground all the wild beasts and the birds of the air". Thus, according to the French version, all living beings, man and animals were formed from the ground. Neither the English nor the French translation seems to provide an exact period for the appearance of the animals as compared with the creation of man [The two Biblical texts mention the fact that God "brought them to the man to see what he would call them", but that does not mean to say that the animals were created either before or after man.].
The final verses refer to the creation of woman from a part of man's body, a detail, which the Sacerdotal version does not record.
The Yahvist version is distinguished by its symbolism, for its author emphasizes the formation of man from the ground. This symbolism is present even in the choice of vocabulary: The name of the very first man, `Adam', is in fact a collective noun in Hebrew meaning `man'. The word comes, from 'adamah' which means `ground', for man is indeed dependent on the ground for his existence. There is however another symbolical meaning present, which is repeated in other parts of the Bible as well. In Ecclesiastes (3, 19 and 20), the Biblical author stresses the common destiny of the sons of Adam and of all living beings: "... All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again." Man's return to the ground is repeated in Psalm 104 (verse 29), and we find the same idea present in the Book of Job (34, 15).
A profound religious meaning is therefore inherent in these Biblical reflections on man's fate after death. In the Yahvist version of Genesis, it is introduced by the notion of a place of origin, which is also the place of return after death. This specifically religious concept must not be confused with the narration of material events from which no precise religious meaning is to be inferred.
We must bear in mind that in their day, the Biblical authors could only express themselves in images that would be readily understood. They were obliged to use the language of their period and to refer to the traditions current at the time they wrote. If we compare the two versions the Yahvist version pre dating the Sacerdotal text by three hundred, if not four hundred years, we shall see the difference between them quite clearly: The view point expressed . by the authors of the more recent (Sacerdotal) text has changed. This fact emerges in spite of any legitimate doubts we may entertain as to whether the texts we possess today are the same as the ones written at the time. Additions may have been made, and there may also have been sections cut from the texts: It is astonishing to note that in the Yahvist version, the earth and the heavens are referred to in simple terms, without any mention of the actual way in which they were created.
Right up until the age of science, the text of the Creation contained in the Book of Genesis was the only acknowledged historical source of information on the events leading to the appearance on earth of man and living beings. In days gone by, the Biblical text was therefore considered to be a basic point of reference. When naturalists wished to harmonize the ideas that arose from an examination of the first discovered fossils with the teachings of the Bible on the fixity of the species, they imagined that the existence of the flora and fauna found in extremely ancient terranes could only be explained by the intervention of successive cataclysms, such as the Flood, which must have destroyed everything and been followed by new creations. This is what Cuvier thought at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The influence of these theories persisted long after Cuvier, for in 1862; Alcide d'Orbigny mentions twenty-seven successive creations following repeated cataclysms!
It is in fact an error to suppose that the Flood, as described in the Bible, destroyed absolutely everything on earth at a certain period. According to the Biblical narratives, there most definitely was a universal cataclysm, but it nevertheless spared a few human beings. The latter found refuge with Noah in the Ark, and with them the animals belonging to the species that had entered it. The earth is said to have been, repopulated by the animals and humans who were thus able to escape the Flood. The Bible does not, however, speak of the newly created species, which were later to appear.
The Date of Man's First Appearance on Earth
The Bible deals with this subject in two different ways: First, it provides us with the genealogical tables of the earliest men, in which we find figures indicating the duration of their lives, and second, it supplies us with the number of the generations that intervened between Adam and the birth of Jesus.
Data from the Biblical Genealogies
The Jewish calendar is the most authoritative source in this instance, for it is based on Biblical as well as non-Biblical sources. The calendar starts with the Creation, which it states took place 5,742 years ago (counting from the last third of A.D. 1981). Calculated according to the traditional Jewish calendar, man therefore appeared on earth 5,742 years ago a statement that quite obviously contradicts reality.
Leaving aside the data contained in the calendar, it is possible to arrive at an extremely accurate estimate of the time separating Adam from Abraham, using as sole source the Biblical text and taking into account the period at which Abraham most probably lived [According to certain details contained in the Bible (Father de Vaux, 'Histoire Ancienne d'Israel' The History of Ancient Israel, Published by J. Gabalda et Cie, Paris 1971]. In this manner, it is possible to arrive at the approximate date of man's first appearance on earth according to the two sources. The Bible does not in fact provide numerical genealogies that continue uninterrupted beyond the period of the Patriarchs.
Genesis supplies extremely precise genealogical data in chapters 4, 5, 11, 21 and 25. They concern every one of Abraham's ancestors in direct line back to Adam. They give the length .of time each person lived and the father's age at the birth of the son. Thus it is easy to ascertain the dates of birth and death of each ancestor in relation to the creation of Adam. As we already know, the genealogies ascribe to Abraham and his nineteen ancestors back to Adam lifespan that are incredibly long: In the case of Methuselah, the figure is 969 years, compared to which the lifespan of Abraham was a mere 175 years! Once all these data have been assembled and the lifespan have been added together as each successive generation appeared, the conclusion to be drawn from the Bible is that Abraham, who was born 1,948 years after Adam could theoretically have known Noah (born 1,056 years after Adam and who died 2,006 years after him), and that in similar fashion, Lemek, who was Noah's father; could have known Adam! The Biblical genealogies referred to here were compiled by priests of the sixth century B.C. By citing abnormally long lifespan, the priests may have hoped thereby to express the idea of divine omnipotence.
Theoretically, one might suggest a correction, for time was originally calculated in lunar years, whereas today's calendar is based on solar years. Since the difference between them is only 3 % or thirty years per millennium, however, it is so minimal that it is not worth considering.
At what period should we situate Abraham? Present day estimates indicate that he probably lived in either the eighteenth or the nineteenth century B.C. If we accept the second estimate, and combine it with detailed Biblical data on the interval separating Adam from Abraham, according to the Bible, we should situate Adam at a period near the thirty eighth century B.C. This estimate is in perfect harmony with the data contained in the Biblical calendar. We may therefore conclude that man's appearance on the sixth day of Creation as related in the Sacerdotal version must have occurred during the thirty seventh or thirty eighth century B.C: expressed in round figures, fifty seven of fifty eight centuries before our own period. It is to be noted that the Yahvist version of Genesis does not contain any numerical data on which to base this estimate.
Older editions of the Bible often contained their own chronological tables, which tended to vary from one edition to another: the famous Walton Bible, for example, which was published in London in 1657. This edition, which was distinguished by the fact that it contained Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Syriac, Aramean and even Arabic versions, presented numerical estimates that were more or less in agreement with the data cited above. The Vulgate Clementine, a Vulgate edition of the Bible, published in 1621, situates Abraham at a slightly earlier period, placing the Creation at roughly the fortieth century B.C. This estimate was for many years used as the basic point of reference in the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Genesis states that the universe and man were both created within the same week. If we wish to compare this statement with modern knowledge, however, it is difficult to refer to precise data concerning the period in which the universe was created, for present knowledge ` on this subject is somewhat approximate. This is not the case, however, for the solar system. Here, the age of the earth has been estimated at some 4.5 billion years, with a margin of error of some one hundred million years. As for man's first appearance on earth, we shall simply recall the fact that some 40,000 years ago, a man exactly similar to present day man was already in existence, while less evolved forms of hominids have been found which in the present state of research most probably go back some five million years. It is not possible to provide definitive figures, for the discoveries made by palaeontology are subject to change, but we know for certain that men with fully developed brains were already in existence at a period far in advance of the era considered by the Sacerdotal version of Genesis to be that of man's first appearance on earth.
Data contained in the New Testament
Matthew's and Luke's Gospels both contain a genealogy of Jesus; the first traces His ancestors back to Abraham, and the second provides a line that goes back to Adam. Both of them are in fact genealogies of Joseph who had absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Jesus which renders the genealogies illogical, to say the least. The two evangelists in fact based their texts on data in the Old' Testament, which they arranged to suit their own purposes, thus taking liberties with the Biblical Scripture Matthew in particular which explains the notable differences that exist between the two genealogies.
The genealogy, which interests us, the most is the one according to Luke (3, 23 38), which contains seventy-six names of ancestors of Jesus, going back to Adam. Earlier, we said that the average lifespan of a human generation was roughly estimated at twenty-five years; this would mean that Adam was situated at the beginning of the second millennium B.C., which is simply not possible. Even if we take into consideration the period of some two thousand years that the Bible attributes to twenty generations descending from Adam to Abraham, we are still a very long way from the data supplied by palaeontology (described earlier) concerning the date of man's appearance on earth.
A comparison of the names which appear in Luke's text and the data contained in the Bible indicates that, in many instances, the list supplied by Luke does not agree with the informati6n set forth in the oldest copies of the Bible. Names have been added by Luke to fill the gaps between the groups of genuine descendants of David mentioned in the Old Testament and Joseph. Scattered through Luke's text, we find names corresponding to those of the descendants of David, which figure in Matthew's text. For this same period of time, however, Matthew mentions twenty-six names, while Luke refers to forty-one.
It is possible that Matthew and Luke did not possess the same source material from the Old Testament. Whatever the case, both of them used their sources with the evident intention of showing that Jesus was descended from Abraham and David. It is a pity that Luke went even further than this, for his total of seventy-six generations between Jesus and the first man is totally implausible.
The Inevitability of Scientific Error in the Bible
Luke, and indeed the authors of the Old Testament, composed their texts using the sources at their disposal, drawing on the traditions they had inherited, and expressing themselves in the language of their time. All of them were motivated by an essentially religious aim; they naturally had no other intention than to transmit ideas, which, in their eyes, carried a basically religious meaning. In view of this, it would be a misreading of the purpose of the Bible to search through its books in the hope of finding any scientific data whatsoever that might be usable in practical terms. This applies, moreover, to all the Holy Scriptures.
In this context, the fact that there are errors in the Bible was inevitable. How could the men of the period have failed to make such blunders? They most definitely had no access to the information required for them to refer to events such as those discussed in the present work without committing mistakes. An extremely relevant comment on this subject is made by Jean Guitton in 'Mon petit catechisme' [My Little Catechism], published in 1978, It reads as follows: "The scientific errors in the Bible are the errors of mankind, for long ago man was like a child, as yet ignorant of science." Neither Jews nor Christians should be surprised, embarrassed or shocked to find scientific errors in the Bible. It would indeed have been most astounding had there been no inaccurate statements, considering the circumstances present when the Biblical books were written. Until very recently, those circumstances were unknown, for any commentary on the text of the Bible which might cast doubt on the fact that God was its indirect author was judged intolerable by the various Churches. Nowadays, however, the discovery of scientific errors is in perfect keeping with the ideas of exegetes Christian exegetes, at least. They regard the Biblical authors as writers who, while undoubtedly inspired by God, nevertheless expressed themselves in the language of their day, in the absence of any serious scientific knowledge. Thus we come back to the point originally made at the beginning of this section: One has to know the history of the texts in order to arrive at a valid assessment of their contents.