For those who consider the Bible to be the flawless word of God, the Primeval History in Genesis 1-11 provides some tough challenges. Where did Cain get a wife from? Who was Cain scared of when he went to settle in the east? Why do the races look different if all share a common ancestor in Adam (and in Noah, who lived not much longer than 4000 years ago)? And who were the sons of God in Gen 6:1-4: divine beings, angels, or merely humans, and – if human – were they descended from Seth or from the cursed lineage of Cain? Famously, Isaac La Peyrère (1596–1676) answered these questions by claiming that, before Adam had been created, there were other human beings alive on earth. For La Peyrère, these other humans were all Gentiles; Adam was not the first human being, but he was the first Jew.
A recent article by geologist Gregg Davidson, “Genetics, the Nephilim, and the Historicity of Adam“, also attempts to address some of these issues. Its aim is to account for the conflict between the Bible’s claim that Adam and Eve were the first humans created by God and the scientific consensus that the human species is descended from other animals. The article was published in the self-claimed “academic journal” of the American Scientific Affiliation, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (vol. 67 no. 1, March 2015: 24-34). Gregg Davidson’s theory follows La Peyrère’s in claiming that there were hominids before the creation of Adam and Eve. But Davidson also claims that God distinguished Adam and Eve from all the other hominids due to the fact that he endowed them with souls. It appears that the other hominids were soul-less. And how did the Nephilim get created? When there was cross-breeding between the en-souled humans and the soul-less hominids, this resulted in the creation of the Nephilim, a group that Gen 6:4 describes as the result of breeding between the “sons of God/gods” and the “daughters of men”.
In the proposed model, God chose an individual hominid pair to endow with souls, separating them spiritually, relationally, and cognitively from their otherwise biologically equivalent contemporaries. After being removed from Eden, limited (and forbidden) interbreeding took place between Adam and Eve’s progeny and still-extant hominids, including more distantly related hominid species such as Neanderthals, resulting in offspring with unique characteristics referred to as Nephilim. Such unions can potentially account for a present human population that derived from a genuine first human couple, while also carrying genetic evidence of contributions from a much larger hominid population. This model simultaneously offers a plausible explanation for Cain’s fear at the time of his banishment, and the enigmatic identity of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6.
The article by Gregg Davidson displays much of the typical anxiety about the boundaries of the human which we find in many historical and contemporary discussions of those liminal creatures, the Nephilim. Davidson insists, in one particularly consternated passage, that while the lower animals might be “soulish”, only humans have actual souls:
The higher animals are often spoken of today as soulish creatures, meaning that they possess some degree of decision-making capacity and conscience experience that goes beyond simple instinct. Soulish characteristics may include loyalty, affection, pleasure, excitement, curiosity, sadness, or a measure of self-awareness. The reason we have such a word in our theological vocabulary is that we assume the behavior of the higher animals resembles that of a soul-bearing human, though lacking the spiritual identity that makes them subject to eternal reward or punishment after death. A soul-bearing creature – what we think of today as a human – has mental and relational capacities that go well beyond soulishness, such as a cognitive understanding of justice and mercy, the ability to create and appreciate art, the desire to understand why things are the way they are, the ability to ponder and communicate abstract ideas, the desire to know truth, and the sense that there is a realm or existence that is beyond the physical. When the Bible speaks of creation in the image of God, it is not a physical appearance, but possession of such characteristics that allow human beings to be God’s relational representatives on this earth. As creatures lacking a soul, hominids living at the time of Adam and Eve may well have had behaviors that were much more soulish than those of the most advanced primates of today, but still only soul-ish.
Soulish, but not soul-bearing. Got the difference?
But what is most interesting – for avid Remnant of Giants readers – is Davidson’s proposed explanation for the creation of the Nephilim. They resulted from the divinely prohibited interbreeding of humans and Neanderthals. Or, failing that, Davidson adds, there was inter-breeding between humans and some other soul-less hominids. This, incidentally, explains why they were Giants!
… if the timing of Genesis 6 coincides with the period of overlap between humans and Neanderthals, the heavier musculature of the Neanderthals could certainly have resulted in offspring with enhanced strength or unique physical characteristics that made it natural to refer to them by a special name. (If farther back in time, then a similar argument can be made for an earlier variety of hominid.)
The genetic basis is simple (not to mention highly improbable):
Though this model equates the “sons of God” with hominids and the “daughters of men” with humans, it works equally well if these are reversed. Such a scenario perhaps fits better with the tendency for males to bring females back to their tribe. To preserve the ancestry of all living humans back to mitochondrial Eve, this simply requires that the progeny of all female-hominid/male-human unions eventually failed to produce daughters.
So if one simply accepts a literal understanding of Genesis 1-3, and Paul’s belief in an historical Adam, the existence of souls in humans, and the non-existence of souls in non-human animals, then Davidson has provided a logically possible way also to accept the findings of modern genetic science.
The model preserves an understanding of a first sin (whether original or ancestral) as described both in Genesis and in the writings of Paul, and also potentially resolves the biblical conundrums of who Cain was afraid of in Genesis 3 [sic], and the enigmatic identity of the “sons of God” and the Nephilim in Genesis 6.
It’s a fantastic theory. Literally.
It seems that La Peyrère’s Pre-adamite theory has experienced something of a comeback in 2015. Pre-adamites also featured – although conceived somewhat differently – in the book authored earlier in 2015 by John H. Walton and N.T. Wright, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2–3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015). What many other people see as the clear conflict between Bible and modern science has prompted some highly creative harmonizations.