The pre-Adamite hypothesis or pre-Adamism is the theological belief that humans (or intelligent yet non-human creatures) existed before the biblical character Adam. Pre-Adamism is therefore distinct from the conventional Abrahamic belief that Adam was the first human. Advocates of this hypothesis are known as "pre-Adamites", along with the humans who they believe existed before Adam.
The first known debate about human antiquity took place in 170 AD between a Christian, Theophilus of Antioch, and an Egyptian pagan, Apollonius the Egyptian (probably Apollonius Dyscolus), who argued that the world was 153,075 years old.:26
An early challenge to biblical Adamism came from the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate, who, upon his rejection of Christianity and his return to paganism, accepted the idea that many pairs of original people had been created, a belief termed co-Adamism or multiple Adamism.:6 :27-28,125
St. Augustine's The City of God contains two chapters indicating a debate between Christians and pagans over human origins: Book XII, chapter 10 is titled Of the falseness of the history that the world hath continued many thousand years and the title of book XVIII, chapter 40 is The Egyptians' abominable lyings, to claim their wisdom the age of 100,000 years. These titles tend to indicate that Augustine saw pagan ideas concerning both the history of the world and the chronology of the human race as incompatible with the Genesis creation narrative. Augustine's explanation aligned with most rabbis and with the church fathers, who generally dismissed views on the antiquity of the world as myths and fables, whereas Jewish and Christian claims were based on revealed truth.:27
Augustine did take a critical view of the young earth narrative in some aspects, arguing that everything in the universe had been created simultaneously by God, and not seven literal days. He was primarily concerned with arguing against the idea of humanity having existed eternally rather than a Bible-based chronology of human history.
In early Islam, a common belief held that mankind is actually the successor of other intelligent creatures such as Jinn and Hinn. Medieval Muslim traditions referred to the Jinn as pre-Adamites,:39 depicted as human-like in various ways. Although the notion of Jinn as pre-Adamites was generally accepted, the idea that other humans lived before the known Adam was controversial. From the mid-ninth century onward the idea appeared that God created several Adams, each of whom presides over an era lasting around 50,000 years. This concept was regarded as heretical, but was widely accepted by Ismailis and Sufis.:230–232
A book titled Nabatean Agriculture, written or translated by Ibn Wahshiyya in 904, collated texts about the activities and beliefs of Arabic groups such as the Nabataeans, in defense of Babylonian culture against Islam. The book discussed the ideas that people lived before Adam, that he had parents, and that he came from India.:28 It proposed that Adam was the father of an agricultural civilization, rather than the father of the entire human race.:7
The Jewish poet Yehuda Halevi wrote his Kitab al Khazari between 1130 and 1140, featuring a discussion where the King of the Khazars questioned three theologians (a Jewish rabbi, a Christian, and a Muslim) which was the true religion, and raised the challenge that people in India said they had buildings and antiquities which were millions of years old. The rabbi responded that his faith was unshaken, as the Indians lacked "a fixed form of religion, or a book concerning which a multitude of people held the same opinion, and in which no historical discrepancy could be found." The rabbi dismissed Indians as dissolute, unreliable people, whose claims could be ignored. Later in the book, Halevi rejected the Nabatean claims as these people did not know of the revelation in Scripture, and he dismissed Greek theories of an eternal world. In his conclusion, Halevi maintained that Adam was the first human in this world but left open other possibilities: "If, after all, a believer in the Law finds himself compelled to admit an eternal matter and the existence of many worlds prior to this one, this would not impair his belief that this world was created at a certain epoch, and that Adam and Noah were the first human beings.":27–28
The claims in Nabatean Agriculture were also disputed by Maimonides (1135–1204) in The Guide for the Perplexed. He attributed the concepts to the Sabians and said they were just legends and mythology which deviated from monotheism though drawing on Jewish sources, but in refuting the speculations, he circulated an outline of the ideas among other scholars::7–8 "They deem Adam to have been an individual born of male and female like any other human individuals, but they glorify him and say that he was a prophet, the envoy of the moon, who called people to worship the moon. and there are compilations of his on how to cultivate the soil." He noted the claim that Adam came from India, and went on to Babylon.:29–30
In 1591, Giordano Bruno argued that, because no one could imagine that the Jews and the Ethiopians had the same ancestry, God must have either created separate Adams or that Africans were the descendants of pre-Adamic races.:25–26
The 17th-century French millenarian Isaac La Peyrère is usually credited with formulating the pre-Adamite theory because of his influence on subsequent thinkers and movements. In his Prae-Adamitae, published in Latin in 1655, La Peyrère argued that Paul's words in Romans 5:12-14 should be interpreted to mean that "if Adam sinned in a morally meaningful sense there must have been an Adamic law according to which he sinned. If law began with Adam, there must have been a lawless world before Adam, containing people.":53 Thus, according to La Peyrère, there must have been two creations; first the creation of the Gentiles and then the creation of Adam, who was the father of the Hebrews.:152 The existence of pre-Adamites, La Peyrère argued, explained Cain's taking of a wife and the building of a city after Abel's murder in the Book of Genesis.:43
Lazslo Toth writing in Politica Hermetica states that "racial theory has as its official birthdate 24 April 1684," when François Bernier distinguished four or five races in an article titled A new division of the Earth, according to the different species or races of men who inhabit it published in the Journal des sçavans. Because of widespread theological opposition to the pre-Adamite theories of his friend La Peyrère, Bernier published his paper anonymously.:52–53
Age of Enlightenment
During the Age of Enlightenment, pre-Adamism was adopted widely as a challenge to the biblical account of human origins. In the 19th century, the idea was welcomed by advocates of white superiority. A number of racist interpretive frameworks involving the early chapters of Genesis arose from pre-Adamism. Some pre-Adamite theorists held the view that Cain left his family for an inferior tribe described variously as "nonwhite Mongols" or that Cain took a wife from one of the inferior pre-Adamic peoples.:154
In 19th-century Europe, pre-Adamism was attractive to those intent on demonstrating the inferiority of non-Western peoples, and in the United States, it appealed to those attuned to racial theories who found it unattractive to contemplate a common history with non-whites.
Scientists such as Charles Caldwell, Josiah C. Nott and Samuel G. Morton rejected the view that non-whites were the descendants of Adam. Morton combined pre-Adamism with cranial measurements. As Michael Barkun explains:
In such an intellectual atmosphere, pre-Adamism appeared in two different but not wholly incompatible forms. Religious writers continued to be attracted to the theory both because it appeared to solve certain exegetical problems (where did Cain's wife come from?) and exalted the spiritual status of Adam's descendants. Those of a scientific bent found it equally attractive but for different reasons, connected with a desire to formulate theories of racial difference that retained a place for Adam while accepting evidence that many cultures were far older than the few thousand years that humanity had existed, according to the biblical chronology. The two varieties differed primarily in the evidence they used, the one relying principally on scriptural texts and the latter on what passed at the time for physical anthropology.:153
In 1860, Isabella Duncan wrote Pre-Adamite Man, Or, The Story of Our Old Planet and Its Inhabitants, Told by Scripture & Science, a mixture of geology and scriptural interpretation. The book was popular among a number of geologists because it mixed biblical events with science. She suggested that the pre-Adamites are today's angels.:90 Since they were without sin, for sin did not enter the world until Adam disobeyed God, there was no reason for them not to have been at least raptured into heaven, anticipating what would again occur with the second coming of Jesus Christ. Duncan also believed that some angels had sinned and fallen from Heaven, which caused them to become demons. Duncan supposed that such an upheaval would leave geological scars on the earth. The concept of ice ages, pioneered by Louis Agassiz, seemed to provide evidence of such events, drawing the line between the pre-Adamic era and the modern one, which she posited began about 6,000 years ago.:142–144
Buckner H. Payne, writing under the pen name Ariel, published a pamphlet in 1867 entitled The Negro: What is His Ethnological Status? He insisted that all the sons of Noah had been white. This created a problem then regarding non-white races if the Flood had been universal and the only survivors were white. Payne's solution was to suggest that the Negro is a pre-Adamic beast of the field (specifically, a higher order of monkey), which was preserved on Noah's Ark. According to Payne, they were a separate species without immortal souls.:149
The Irish lawyer Dominick McCausland, a Biblical literalist and anti-Darwinian polemicist, maintained the theory to uphold the Mosaic timescale. He held that the Chinese were descended from Cain and that the "Caucasian" race would eventually exterminate all others. He maintained that only the "Caucasian" descendants of Adam were capable of creating civilisation, and he tried to explain away the numerous non-"Caucasian" civilisations by attributing them all to a vanished "Caucasian" race, the Hamites.
A. Lester Hoyle wrote a book in 1875, The Pre-Adamite, or who tempted Eve? He claimed that there had been five distinct creations of races, and only the fifth, the white race, of which Adam was the father, had been made in God’s own image and likeness.:150 Hoyle further suggested that Cain was the "mongrel offspring" of Eve's being seduced by "an enticing Mongolian" with whom she had repeated trysts, thus laying the foundation for the white supremacist bio-theology that miscegenation was "an abomination.":197
In an unusual blend of contemporary evolutionary thinking and pre-Adamism, the Vanderbilt University theistic evolutionist and geologist Alexander Winchell argued in his 1878 tract, Adamites and Preadamites, for the pre-Adamic origins of the human race, on the basis that the Negroes were too racially inferior to have developed from the Biblical Adam. Winchell also believed that the laws of evolution operated according to the will of God.:50
In 1891, William Campbell, under the pen name "Caucasian", wrote in Anthropology for the People: A Refutation of the Theory of the Adamic Origin of All Races that the non-white peoples were not descendants of Adam and therefore "not brothers in any proper sense of the term, but inferior creations" and that polygenism was the "only theory reconcilable with scripture." Like Payne before him, Campbell viewed the Great Flood as a consequence of intermarriage between the white (Adamic) and nonwhite (pre-Adamic) peoples "the only union we can think of that is reasonable and sufficient to account for the corruption of the world and the consequent judgement.":43
In 1900, Charles Carroll wrote the first of his two books on pre-Adamism, The Negro a Beast; or, In the Image of God in which he sought to revive the ideas previously presented by Buckner H. Payne, describing the Negro as a literal ape rather than human. In a second book published in 1902, The Tempter of Eve, he put forth the idea that the serpent was actually a black female, and that miscegenation was the greatest of all sins.:277 Carroll claimed that the pre-Adamite races, such as blacks, did not have souls. He believed that race mixing was an insult to God and spoiled God's racial plan of creation, and that the mixing of races had led to the errors of atheism and evolution.:150
The Scottish millennialist George Dickison wrote The Mosaic Account of Creation, As Unfolded in Genesis, Verified by Science in 1902. The book mixed science with a scientifically enhanced reading of Genesis and lists geological discoveries that showed that men existed before Adam had been created and that Earth was much older than the 6000-year-old span of the Adamic race. Dickison welcomed scientific discoveries from fossil evidence and the palaontological record and used them as evidence for pre-Adamism.:165–166
The doctrine known as British Israelism, which developed in England in the 19th century, also sometimes included a pre-Adamic worldview but that was a minority position. The model viewed pre-Adamites as a race of inferior bestial creatures apart from Adam, who was the first white man and consequently the first son of God. In the narrative, Satan seduces Eve, and the resulting offspring is a hybrid creature, Cain. Later, Cain flees to East Turkestan to establish a colony of followers intent on realizing the Devil’s plan for domination of the earth. A further elaboration of this myth involved the identification of the Jews with the Canaanites, the putative descendants of Cain, but the eponymous ancestor of the Canaanites is not Cain, but Canaan. It followed that if the tribes of Judah were supposed to have intermarried with Cain’s descendants, the Jews were both the offspring of Satan and the descendants of sundry nonwhite pre-Adamic races.:150–172
In the United States, philo-Semitic British Israelism developed into the anti-Semitic Christian Identity movement and the serpent seed doctrine. Identity preacher Conrad Gaard wrote that the serpent was a "beast of the field," was the father of Cain, and since Cain married a pre-Adamite, his descendants were a "mongrel, hybrid race.":177–178
The occultist Paschal Beverly Randolph published Pre-Adamite Man: Demonstrating The Existence of the Human Race Upon the Earth 100,000 Thousand Years Ago! under the name Griffin Lee in 1863. The book took a primarily scientific view of pre-Adamism, relying on evidence from linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, paleontology, and ancient history. Being a polygenist, Randolph argued that the color of races, particularly black, was not the result of climate and was proof of separate, pre-Adamite origins.:110-111
Pre-Adamite theories have also been held by a number of mainstream Christians such as the Congregational evangelist R. A. Torrey (1856–1928), who believed in the Gap Theory. Torrey believed it was possible to accept both evolution and biblical infallibility, with the pre-Adamite as the bridge between religion and science.:202
Gleason Archer, Jr. was a believer in pre-Adamism. In his 1985 book A Survey of Old Testament Introduction he wrote,
"To revert to the problem of the Pithecanthropus, the Swanscombe man, the Neanderthal and all the rest (possibly even the Cro-magnon man, who is apparently to be classed as Homo sapiens, but whose remains seem to date back at least to 20,000 B.C.) it seems best to regard these races as all prior to Adam’s time, and not involved in the Adamic covenant. We must leave the question open, in view of the cultural remains, whether these pre-Adamic creatures had souls (or, to use the trichotomic terminology, spirits).":204
Archer asserted that only Adam and his descendants were infused with the breath of God and a spiritual nature corresponding to God himself, and that all mankind subsequent to Adam’s time must have been literally descended from him. Regarding the concept of pre-Adamic races (such as the Cro-Magnon man), he says: "They may have been exterminated by God for unknown reasons prior to the creation of the original parent of the present human race.":205
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