Beginnings (2) – Puzzles of Genesis

Some people value specializing, or focusing on certain things to the exclusion of others.  Specializing, actually, is mentally unhealthy and antithetical to wholeness.  The "complete man" will not be a specialist — at least, not in any single thing.  He may "specialize" in a diverse group of subjects or interests.  But even beyond multiple specialties, the complete person will gain basic experience or working knowledge with all subjects that they ever come in contact with — and they will do so out of pure desire to learn, not necessarily any quest for material gain.
One of the larger gulfs in human completeness is that between "secular" and "sacred", or, taken farther, between "science" and "religion".  Most people have at least some spiritual sense or some reason, even if they’re totally blind to the other side.  Many have a combination of both.  But it’s more difficult to find those willing to take each side to its depth, because to many, the intervening gulf also seems to deepen.
But does the fissure really deepen, or does it finally close shut?
Everybody knows science can’t save a soul, and we who care about eternity of course rely upon God, who we know is able to fulfill his own scriptures in astonishing detail.
The thing we worry about is not whether to trust him, but whether to trust ourselves.  We have his word… but are we reading it right?  If we take it wrong, is anybody in heaven obligated to step down and correct us?  So far, it looks like we’ve mostly been left to our stupidity.
…Until Joseph Smith, that is.  That man, we can never praise enough, nor the God who sent him.  Where would we be without revelation?  We’d be digging in the fields like beasts for the tasteless roots of useless knowledge.  But God gave the boy Joseph a seed to plant, which sprang into a tree of life that bears the sweetest fruits even today.
So God answers the seeker, and leaves alone him who wants to be left alone.  And in answering that one boy in 1820, he has inspired millions more to seek, who may not otherwise have sought.

No, science has never saved a soul, nor ever nourished a soul nor filled it with unspeakable joy.  Yet we would be loathe to part with it, and would try to discover it again if we lost it; but then, most of our vacations are efforts to escape the world of gadgetry, recognizing the emptiness of materialism.

We as a newly revealed Church, who should be supremely concerned with the "sacred", have in fact already leapt the "secular" gulf several times.  While we are preferentially scriptural literalists who go for "plainness", we nevertheless accept the sublimity of the figurative, not to mention the ubiquity of it.
Some examples of a holistic approach:
  • Perhaps due to our place in history, we were never very happy with a "young earth", and that was an easy jump to make.  From the start, we even tracked the earth’s formation in "times" rather than "days".
  • Geocentrism was of course dead already, but we couldn’t have accepted it anyway, and it’s a bit surprising that even the Catholics could.
  • The "Great Flood" is well established, if not empirically then at least anthropologically across cultures, although, as I’ve written before, we have had to localize it to some extent.
  • Going from the old "steady-state" universe to the newer "big bang" didn’t make any difference to us, and a created universe actually is a better fit for Creationists.
  • While not exactly earth-worshippers like today’s scientists, we are animistic, and we like cleanliness in both character and environment.  It can even be argued that catastrophe by global warming is practically spelled out in the Bible, although somehow atheists have adopted that prophecy of doom more readily than Christians — and larger questions about it of course remain mostly unaddressed.
But with some issues, the balance has not been so easy to find — namely, the origin of man.
Now, I’ve made some arguments about the "evolution" of life, and have not been into monkey-veneration; but really, my ideas have mostly fallen against godless, dysentropic, Shelleyesque, ex-nihilist Darwinism, not against change itself.
Says the Bible,
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life …  And God created … every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind …  And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas …
Have we been reading it wrong, if we assume that life did not arise from the swamps?
Is the Bible not a science textbook?  Well, it is a science textbook, but its disciplines are sociology and psychology, not biology or astrophysics.  Why not?  Because, again, such dirt, rock, and mosquito science cannot save souls, and the Bible is a book of God’s covenants to save his people, a purpose that transcends the sinner’s pursuit of dead knowledge.  Any other science God gives is given independently to its seeker.  And where the Bible does mention other science, it does so in the context of historical understanding.  So, rather than using our modern, highly technical scientific jargon and saying "life started in the oozey, goopy swamps," the uncivilized, ancient Bible-writers could only say, "the waters brought forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life."  And we blame it on accident, while they credit it to intelligent, "extra-terrestrial" intervention.
Anyway, we can make that jump all right.
But what about Adam?  The Fall of man?
These, I think, are the last great rifts between revealed religion and inspired science, and the sooner we cross them, the better.  (There remain other doctrines, but science and its clunky, blind methods simply have no way of touching them…… yet.)
"Adam" was our first father, the first human "flesh".  There are things we were told about him, and a lot we were not told.  Primarily, we were told he was in God’s presence and then left, going into the world to populate it — leaving a deathless state to enter a world of death — and a world of birth.  …And of rebirth.  From Adam’s time was the promise of God’s Agent being born as a child into the world, dying, and being reborn.  Also from Adam has been symbolic death in remembrance of God’s holy child — man putting away his old life and offering himself to God, or offering his sacrifices to God.  These ideas have been preserved by the religions to this day, although that Agent reportedly has already come and gone.  Since the time of his departure, believers have awaited his return, to accept man’s sacrifice and offer it in turn to God, that man at last will be reborn as well, and leave this world of death back into a deathless world, but clothed with all the maturity of life that Adam once lacked.
Who is Adam?  He and his descendants, our fathers, are said to have lived to a great age, even centuries, which saying has been repeated in our time by the hand of Joseph Smith.
We’ve heard of old people.  We know that life-expectancy rolls like tides depending on many factors, and in our time, we may enjoy a doubled or even tripled age of life compared with earlier.  But, Adam?  How would a man live to such a great age as his, several times our own?
We have God’s word, yes, but are we reading it wrong?  Did we miss the symbol?
Says the scripture,
…All flesh shall die; yet [man’s] days shall be an hundred and twenty years…
…And this spoken to Noah, whose "days" were reported as far longer.  However, in another place and time, the tide rolled lower:
After that ye are seventy and two years old ye shall come unto me in my kingdom…
And another expectation:
…If thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man…
Any of these would work for us, but the 120 years looks like something of an upper limit to us, leaving us to deal with the much older ages of Genesis.
Although this verse would also seem to substantiate a literal reading of the record, the text itself separates earlier ages from later ones, when Jacob laments about his "few" years:
And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou?  And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.
As I see it, the Bible chronology tracks ages of patriarchs in three segments:
  • 1) Adamic – from Adam to Noah.  This period comprises nine generations.  These are the really long ages.
  • 2) Semitic – from Shem (Noah’s son) to Amram, the father of Moses; a good fourteen generations.  These are the medium-length ages, which mark the beginning of a decline that approaches what we have seen to be achievable by man.  Also, this period is characterized by the patriarchs (with the exceptions of Shem and Abram) having fathered children at ages common to us today — although a few Adamic fathers also sired at younger ages.
Now, it should be noted that Biblical history for the most part skips right over the first two periods.  Except for Adam (the creation) and Noah’s family (the flood), none of the patriarchs is mentioned in detail until Abram, and besides the diaspora and the great tower, we have almost no information about those people.  With Abram, the Biblical history starts to open up, leading into Moses, who lays the foundation of the Hebrew story.  Joseph Smith did give us a few additions that help to fill in the earliest gaps, and of course there are apocryphal Jewish histories.  Still, the whole picture remains fairly spotty until Moses.
  • 3) Modern – from Moses onward.  Beginning with Moses’ 120 years, these lifetimes concur with our own.  From this time we also are more or less able to connect Biblical and non-Biblical history, with discrepancies diminishing and vanishing as history progresses.
So, this third period presents no difficulty.  But what is the key to the previous ones?
As far as I can find out right now, Moses came in the 15th century before Christ.  The traditional count puts our first father at around 4,000 B.C. (some scholars have gone back a bit further) by starting at Moses and going the stated "four hundred years" in Egypt back to Jacob, and the roughly 2,250 years in Genesis back to Adam.  Perhaps there were other details involved in the old calculations, but you can reach the same figure in a few simple steps.
So, an obvious first exercise would be to stack the patriarchal ages rather than overlap them, as the Bible does.
Following Joseph Smith on Enoch’s age, if we stack everybody listed in the Genesis lineage (up to Jacob’s son, Joseph) and add three and a half centuries of the Hebrews’ Egyptian sojourn for good measure, we get… by my count… 12,598 years that elapsed before Moses, which instead puts Adam at roughly 14,000 B.C.  This is just my own hasty estimate, of course.
Why include everybody in Genesis?  Just because those are the pre-Mosaic people that the book includes before switching to Exodus; so if there were such an alteration, we might expect it to hold true for the entire book of Genesis.  If we chose to stack only until Abraham, we would get 13,600 or so; while if we stacked only until Shem, we would place Adam at about 9,000 B.C.
What justification might we have for stacking?  Well, again, ages longer than that scriptural "120 years" are unknown to us.  And then we need to ask again who Adam is.
Says the Bible,
Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.
So, God called "their" name Adam.  Who is "they"?  Adam and Eve?  Why call them both "Adam"?  Is "Adam" not a person, a man?  Or, like "Pharoah", "Nephi", and "Caesar", is he both a person and more than a person?
Says the scripture,
And the first man of all men have I called Adam, which is many.
And again,
And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living; for thus have I, the Lord God, called the first of all women, which are many.
So, here, God called the first man "Adam, which is many"; and he also labelled all women as "many", calling their mother "Eve, because she was the mother" of all.
Was it just an odd verb, and it should’ve read "Adam, which are many", referring to "all men"?  Or is the verb correct?
If so, then what is the meaning of "many"?  Well, without splitting any more semantic hairs… I would say that "many" means…
…A lot.  A big group.  A large number.  "Many" means "many".
And then, if "Adam", in addition to being a man’s given name, is a term denoting a large population of people, I would find in this some justification for reconsidering whether "Adam’s" great age was actually the age of a single man.  I would wonder if it were not instead the age of a population of people; perhaps a city or a civilization or an era.  And if "Adam’s" tremendous age were actually the age of many, why should not his children’s great age be a similar measure?
Why then were the ages overlapped in the Bible, and treated as a direct genealogy?  Well, I’d overlap them too if I didn’t know any better, or if the symbolism was lost on me.
Well, I called age-stacking a "first exercise", and it is, because when you step away from the literal reading of the ages, you’re really not sure if any of the numbers in connection with the ages can be relied upon; or, if reliable, whether there are any gaps or periods not mentioned.  But I think the rationale of the length of the ages would be just as valid no matter the figures, for the same reason that Joseph Smith distinctly called the earth’s creation six "times" instead of six "days".  The smaller shows the greater; the plain symbolizes the complex.  And if "years" are perhaps more than years, stacking would be a moot idea anyway.
But then, why did Joseph Smith describe the "seven seals" as corresponding to seven thousand years of "temporal" earth?  Doesn’t that point us back to an advent of intelligent man in 4,000 B.C.?
Well, taken literally, yes it does; or at least it means that St. John’s vision encompassed 7,000 years, whether or not it precluded things before or after that period.  One thing circa 4,000 B.C. has going for it is that it lines up better with the first time, as far as we know, that mankind had mastered a written language (perhaps the start of our "temporal" history?).  And while we can certainly call a "year" or a "millenium" an indeterminate space of time as easily as we can a "day", we still don’t really want to go around exploding every unit of time.  At some point we would like to be literal.  But at 4,000 B.C., we’re still left to face the question of lifespans, and other questions.  Even 14,000 B.C. wouldn’t solve some issues.
….That’s all I have to say about it at the moment.  I’d be happy to get a better idea, or have a definite reason to go back to a former theory, such as that Adam came at the traditional time but did not arrive on an empty planet, or that we do have the potential to extend life, rather than the factors of aging being absolute.  I am a member, not a head; but I’m a head to myself, at least, who has the obligation to try to understand things.  I of course don’t speak doctrine here, but I do give a consideration.
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3 Responses to Beginnings (2) – Puzzles of Genesis

  1. Steve says:

    Well, a pre-populated earth, while scripturally speculative, would do a lot to explain our genetic diversity — why some of us imagine a white God, some a Japanese God, some an African, others surely an Arabian, or Indonesian, or Indian, or some type of central Asian, et c. — and even within one race, we see differences that border on freakish, while we would rather find a single divine family line looking a little more like itself… which suggests its own possibilities…But supposing Adam did fall into the world, then we could also start reading our Moses 8:13-15 like some Biblists read Genesis 6:2-4, with their fantastic image of errant angels swooping down and abducting maidens. Suppose the "sons of God" and the "sons of men" in our usage were actually separated by more than religious belief.Even Cain and Ham, in that case, could have paved the way for the Lamanites, as more and more of us now see them — intermarrying with another race and changing their skin colour (although I notice that Hamism is increasingly discounted by a Church membership afraid to celebrate its differences, and insulted by the thought of somebody being impacted by the choices of an ancestor — yeah right). I must admit it was gratifying to hear the Lamanite theory shared by an Insitute teacher this spring in his Mayan religion lecture.

  2. Steve says:

    Hm, just imagine the implications……A soul walking the path of discipleship, following the footsteps of that great Mediator — not only of men and God, but of earthly and divine, the joining of heaven and earth in his very person — and that disciple possessing the same means as his Master to attain the eternal; the same melding of immortal with mortal. Jesus was able to receive power to die and to live because he was the son of man and of God, the Man of Holiness. And he can give us that power… …for like reason.Well, it\’s another consideration.

  3. Steve says:

    Well, reading Luke 3 again, some integral doctrines seem to fall behind a literal genealogy, leaving me to repostulate that, given a literal reading, Adam being the first flesh is still not to be understood as we have understood it.

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