FLOR. 1: Gn. 2:5
The Creation of Adam and Eve
On the sixth "day" of creation, before bringing creation to its consummation in the sabbath rest, God created Adam (man) from adama (the ground) and, thereafter, created Havva, the mother of all the living (from the hebrew hay, or "living") to be the wife of the first man (NABRE). God, in the creation narrative, brings forth Adam from pre-existent matter and, since it is "not enough” (NABRE) for him to be mere matter, God breathes spirit into him, ensouling his flesh, making him a composite of matter and spirit. It is at that precise moment, when God blew into his nostrils the breath of life (Gn. 2:7), when flesh was adorned with spirit and when spirit was sublimely enrobed with flesh, that "man became a living being" (Ibid.). The implantation of the rational soul in the image of God (Gn. 1:26-27) made adama truly adam.
While the narrative set forth in the Book of Genesis "uses figurative language,” it, nevertheless, “affirms a primeval event, which mysteriously took place at the beginning of the history of man” (CCC 390). It is presented in "simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of people” who were “little cultured” compared to people in this present age, yet it states “principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation” under the “help of divine inspiration” (Humani Generis 38-39). Its essence—if not its accidents—indeed “pertains to history in a true sense” and “must in no way be considered on a par with” mere myths, even though the use of mythological language—often similar to, or even derived from, the myths of other surrounding cultures—is employed in order to convey essential truths concerning human nature (HG 38, 39).
While scientific concerns “are not the primary interest of the sacred author," (Bergsma and Pitre, 2018), there are some clues in the text as to when we might be able to periodize the historical setting of the Eden narrative.
According to the narrative itself, Adam's role in the garden was to "till'' (Hebrew: abad, or "work") and "keep" (shamar, or "guard") it, giving him a primarily horticultural and agricultural function (Bergsma and Pitre). Prior to Adam, “there was no man to till the ground" (Gn. 2:5). The use of agricultural terminology here is of great significance for periodizing the events of this narrative because the sacred author takes care to note the "absence of cultivated plants,” for “agriculture had not yet started” (Bergsma and Pitre).
Consequently, it seems likely that the loose chronology of the narrative depicts man some time during the Neolithic period. I am of the opinion that the fanciful, yet well intentioned, view that the narrative is set around the well-established emergence of homo sapiens as a species some 300,000 years ago is inadmissible. If it is to be believed that the pair of homo sapiens called Adam and Eve existed as historical persons—not merely as literary and theological plot devices—it seems probable that they existed fairly recently in human history, certainly not as the first homo sapiens but as the first to have received the distinguishing quality of rational souls, making them, in this sense, the first "true" human beings. Though they shared their material nature with the homo sapiens who preceded them, it is this unique grace of possessing rational souls which allowed them to exercise agricultural dominion over creation in imitation of, and in communion with, their creator.
The Evolutionary Record
If the “origin of the human body" is derived from “pre-existent and living matter,” which the Eden narrative itself states to be the case, man's body being formed from the ordinary ground (which is to be interpreted not as the literal ground but as pre-existent matter), then “the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God” and infused in to the body by an extraordinary act (HG 36).
Of course, such a claim is not purely in the domain of scientific inquiry, since it would be difficult to attempt to falsify such metaphysical claims with recourse to physical means, but such an assertion seems, at least, to be more in line with the scientific record of the evolutionary origins of the human species, being “distinct from, but in harmony with the results of observation" (St. John Paul II, Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences: On Evolution, 4).
Such a view accords with God's act of extending creation over six "days"—or 13.7 billion years—instead of in an instant: a "divine pedagogy" through which "God communicates himself to man gradually," preparing him "to welcome, by stages, the supernatural revelation that is to culminate in the person and mission of the incarnate word, Jesus Christ" (CCC 53), willing to create a world “‘in a state of journeying’ towards its ultimate perfection" (CCC 310) in him, guiding all of creation "to that definitive sabbath rest for which he created heaven and earth" (CCC 314).
Even further, taking into account the complete history of salvation, as set forth plainly in the whole of Sacred Scripture, it is "reasonable" to "expect" (Rev. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., "Defending Adam after Darwin") that creation would "not spring forth complete from the hands of the creator (CCC 302) but would gradually, in "the fullness of times... sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth” (Eph. 1:10), that "God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28).
In my view, it would seem utterly incoherent to claim that all things were created already in a state of completion, for such a claim would seem to negate the necessity of the "happy fault," the truly necessary sin of Adam, which “earned, so great, so glorious a redeemer" as Christ (from the Exsultet). It is clearly ascertained from the annals of salvation history that this was not at all the case. The history of man, using the word of Servant of God Hans Urs von Balthasar, is a “theodrama” consisting of the patient manifestation of God's providence. As God, surely, “does whatever he wills" (Ps. 115:3), he could have willed otherwise, but he did not.
The Historical Record
Only fairly recently in the history of this grand theodrama did human beings begin to exercise agricultural dominion over creation, the genesis of agriculture occuring during the Neolithic period, which dates from c. 10,000-4,500 BC (12,000-6,500 years ago). Significant events which occurred either during or around the Neolithic period include:
Founder Crops Cultivated
Emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, barley, peas, lentils, bitter vetch, chickpeas, and flax (Zeder, 2011)
Globally, the rise of agriculture "caused unusually high rates of population growth" (Gignoux, Henn, and Mountain, 2011; Biraben, 1980; Armelagos, Goodman, and Jacobs, 1991).
These events lead me to strongly believe that the Eden narrative is set some time very close to the emergence of human civilizations, not the mere appearance of homo sapiens in the evolutionary record. Civilization—at least to some degree—implies the presence of rational souls, and agriculture—at least in the view of Sacred Scripture—requires the infusion of rational souls into homo sapiens. Why is this so?
Sharing in the Divine Nature
Humanity's destiny—its very essence—is bound up in agriculture because agriculture is an exercise of spiritual and material "dominion" over creation (Gn. 1:26, 28), which belongs to God principally (Ps. 24:1) and to Adam and his offspring instrumentally, for humanity's destiny is "to share in the divine nature (2 Pt. 1:4) and in the plenitude of sacerdotal and regal authority as a "royal priesthood" and a "holy nation" (1 Pt. 2:9, cf. Ex. 19:6).
The Divine Scriptures speak of the purpose for which humans were created when they proclaim: "You have given [them] rule over the works of your hands, put all things at [their] feet (Ps. 8:7) and, elsewhere, "In your wisdom, [you] have established humankind to rule the creatures produced by you and to govern the world in holiness and righteousness” (Wis. 9:2-3).
Following the Eden narrative, the words used to denote Adam's agricultural function of working in and guarding the garden appear next in Scripture to describe the function of the Levitical priests (Bergsma and Pitre). In essence, Adam's role is to be the “mediator of a covenant between God and creation," the first priest (Bergsma), eventually coming to fruition in the high priesthood of the good things that have come to be” in Jesus Christ, the "one mediator between God and the human race" (1 Tm. 2:5, cf. Heb. 9:15, Heb. 9:11). Indeed, in the book of the prophet Ezekiel, Adam is "portrayed as wearing priestly attire," specifically the stones on the breastpiece of the High Priest of Israel (cf. Ex. 28: 17-21; Beale, 2018). Adam was the first priest, and the Garden of Eden was the first temple (Beale; Wenham, 1987; Barker, 1991; Kingsmill, 2009).
Similarly, the authority given to Adam to name creatures in the garden is a function which "fully belongs to God" but is "deputed to Adam as vicegerent,” the first creature to exercise a regal function over creation (Bergsma and Pitre). Man's ability to govern the earth—to "subdue it" and "have dominion over it” (Gn. 1:28)—is what distinguishes him from all other creatures, for "man is, by nature, a political animal” (Aristotle), endowed with reason and created for the purpose of being able to share in his creator's infinite beatitude as "heirs" (Rom. 8:17), for "God willed creation as a gift addressed to man, an inheritance destined for and entrusted to him” (CCC 299). It is no wonder that, some time following the development of agriculture, human beings began to organize themselves into civilizations with political hierarchies. Adam's dominion extends to the whole of creation, tending to it as a vicegerent and son of God, coming to fruition in the messianic kingship of Jesus Christ, the "King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rv. 19:16).
Agriculture is a locus around which spirit and flesh are intertwined, human beings only rightfully being called so when they were able to till and keep the garden of God, in contrast to every other creature who could not because they were not created in the image of God, infused with rational souls, able to exercise loving dominion over the world in holiness and righteousness. The genesis of agriculture was the first event which demonstrated that humankind could exercise a sacerdotal and regal function over creation because the Garden of Eden, itself, "was a kind of primordial garden temple for the worship of God and communion with him" (Bergsma and Pitre). In Genesis, man finds his beginning in the Garden of Eden; in the Revelation, man finds his consummation in the garden of Heaven (Rv. 22:1-2).
Armelagos, George J., Alan H. Goodman, and Kenneth H. Jacobs. The Origins of Agriculture: Population Growth during a Period of Declining Health. Population and Environment 13 (1991): 9–22.
Barker, Margaret. The Gate of Heaven: The History and Symbolism of the Temple in Jerusalem. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 1991.
Beale, G.K.. Adam as the First Priest in Eden as the Garden Temple. The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 22, no. 2 (2018): 9-24.
Bergsma, John and Brant Pitre. A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2018.
Biraben, Jean-Noël. An Essay Concerning Mankind's Evolution. Population, Selected Papers 4 (1980): 1–13.
Gignoux, Christopher R., Brenna M. Henn, Joanna L. Mountain, ed. Ofer Bar-Yosef. Rapid, Global Demographic Expansions after the Origins of Agriculture. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108, no. 15 (April 12, 2011): 6044-6049.
International Commission on English in the Liturgy. Roman Missal, Third Edition. 2010.
John Paul II. Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The Quarterly Review of Biology 72, no. 4 (Dec. 1997): 381-383.
Kingsmill, Edmée. The Song of Songs and the Eros of God: A Study in Biblical Intertextuality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Pius XII. Humani Generis. Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1950.
St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. "Rev. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P.: "Defending Adam After Darwin." YouTube Video, 1:07:16. December 12, 2017.
von Balthasar, Hans Urs. Theo-drama: Theological Dramatic Theory: Prolegomena. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988.
Wenham, Gordon J.. Genesis 1-15, Volume 1. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987.
Zeder, Melinda. The Origins of Agriculture in the Near East. Current Anthropology 52, no. S4 (October 2011): S221-S235.