In Genesis 4, after Cain kills his brother Abel, Yahweh (the god of the Hebrews) puts a mark on Cain’s forehead to “protect” the murderer.  In exploring this puzzling story, I ran into the term “Pre-Adamites” (see wiki) and a few other interesting ideas:

Julian the Apostate, the son of Constantius. Marble. Rome, Capitoline Museums.Emperor Julian the Apostate (331-363)

Julian wanted to return Rome to neoplatonic paganism and away from the state religion of Christianity.  Constantine before him had made Christianity the religion of the empire.  If Julian had not died at 32 years-old and succeeded in separating  church and state,  Christianity would have ceased being protected under the State, I imagine it would have withered like so many other religions. But we shall never know. What do you think — good thought experiment material, eh?

Anyway, Julian believed in “Pre-adamite” doctrine that rejected the “single pair (Adam & Even)” doctrine of Christians and Jews.

Interestingly, Gore Vidal wrote a novel based on him: “Julian

Biblical Adamism & Fundamentalism

But well before Julian, the Biblical story of Genesis was defended as literally true.  In 170 AD, the Christian Theophilus of Antioch refuted an Egyptian Pagan who argued the world was 153,075 years old.  Theophilus was a young earth Biblical literalist.   Even  St. Augustine argues in “The City of God” (400s AD) that old earth ideas were “abominable lies”.

All this made me consider the claims of many liberal Christians that the ancients weren’t fundamentalists like today’s fundamentalists and instead Liberal Christians try to tell us that the ancients took the Biblical stories as only stories and not science. Well, these examples seem to show such historical revisionism to be false.

cain_kills_abelThe Mark of Cain

While working on some poetry today for my poetry site, I played with an image of “The Mark of Cain.”  When I re-read the Genesis 4 story, I realized that I didn’t understand the story.  God marks Cain only to protect him — not like the Scarlet A, as a sign of guilt, but to protect.

Steve over at “Undeceptiontakes a stab at Cain’s Mark.  Steve is a non-literalist Christian — he does not take the fundamentalist position that the Bible is the exact words of God nor that it is meant to be taken as accurate by their exact wording.  Steve offers three suggested ways to interpret the story:

    1. Cain’s Mark is a ‘plot device’ to allow ungodly descendants of Canin as opposed to the godly descendants of Set — keeping the evil vs good folks theme in the OT.
    2. Cain’s Mark may just be an old story that the redactors wanted to make sure got tucked in the Bible — to preserve a favorite folk story.
    3. Cain’s Mark may be a literary tool to put forward the doctrine that “the wicked can only live and prosper because God allows it.”

Can anyone point me to other of the various interpretations that must have been generated over the millenium on this story?  I wonder what the common sermon positions on this story are.

Anyway, that was my interesting read this morning. What are your thoughts?


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

19 responses to “Pre-Adamites

  1. Thanks for mentioning this old post of mine. You’ve just about got it, but I wouldn’t call it a “non-literalist” view; the redactors no doubt intended it to be read “literally”, and may have even assumed its historicity had the question come up. Nevertheless, it is an unhistorical, legendary account that was included in Genesis because of some theological or moralistic value the redactors thought it had. Cheers!

  2. Thanx Steve, I edited my post to clarify what I meant by “non-literalist” — perhaps you agree now.

  3. TWF

    I hadn’t heard of “pre-Adamite.” Thanks for sharing.

    I don’t know of a convenient place to point you to here. Although, Gill’s commentary on the verse is worth a look. One option he discusses is the alternate interpretation that it was not a mark that God made on Cain, but rather that God showed Cain a sign as a promise to avenge his death seventfold if necessary.

    While I haven’t heard it directly applied, I’m sure I know some Christians who would say that this mark of Cain, whatever it was, is just another demonstration of God’s great mercy and love.

    I get a kick out of the fact that God promised that Cain would be a restless wanderer in v12, yet in v17 he is settling down and building a city! 🙂

    Anyway, I would offer this alternate as well:

    4. God graciously protected Cain, letting sin go unpunished (at least, not punished in equal measure to the crime). This approach soon let evil propagate throughout the entire earth, such that God felt He had to flood it just 2 chapters later.

  4. I’m currently reading Ron Fritze’s “Invented Knowledge”. Fritze discusses how the idea pre-Adamites was used to explain the existence of the different races encountered as Europeans discovered the new world. More recently, the idea has been used within white racist ideologies to explain the superiority of whites over other racial groups, which would be hard to justify if you read the Bible as saying that all humans are descended from Adam and Eve.

    Nikos Kazantazakis also wrote a novel about Julian the Apostate.

  5. Julian the Apostate is an old favorite of mine. His Greek name is Ιουλιανός ο Παραβάτης, i.e. Julian the Offender. Julian was emperor of the eastern Roman empire (a.k.a. Byzantium) a bit after Constantine the so-called Great or, Saint Constantine who established Christianity. (Constantine presided the first Synod of Nicaea and decided what Christians should believe and what they should not. He also had the vision to adopt Christianity as the empire’s religion, even though himself was not converted until almost at the end of his life. The reason is that he wanted to get rid of some of his relatives and, had he been Christian, he would not have officially been allowed to do so.)

    Sorry for the long parenthesis. Back to Julian. He was upset at how the newly established status quo would persecute everybody who tried to think and use his/her reason. “To think is to become friend with the devil”, declared Augustine around the time of Julian. Julian could not stand to see the decline of centuries of progress. He was in favor of neoplatonism and viewed the religion of the Greeks (which later became religion of the romans) more as a collection of allegorical myths. He was a “man of letters” and tried to cleanse the bureaucracy of the empire. Anyway, as you read, he died young.

    Every Greek schoolchild learns (several times) that Julian was a vile person. That he was the Offender; the Transgressor; the Apostate. The bad guy. He tried to get rid of our religion which Constantine established. (Well, we don’t like to say that Constantine established Christianity, but it’s true. The religion should be called Constantinianity or Paulianity — as it was through Paul that reached Greece and Rome. Anyway. People call it, by convention, Christianity.)

    During the Renaissance, Julian has been admired by many who asked the question you did: What IF he had succeeded? Unfortunately, one of the great 20 c. poets, Cavafy, wrote several poems about Julian, trying to remove the glamour associated with Julian during the romantic era, even though Cavafy himself was not particularly in favour of Christianity.

    (A propos Cavafy, if you have not read any of his poems, I suggest Ithaca; the link contains a translation of the poem in English and a recitation by Sean Connery; btw, Cavafy is in the same league as Yeats.)

    Sorry for the many digressions in this reply…

  6. @ TWF:
    Thanx, mate. Gill’s theory that the “mark” was actually a “sign” which meant miracle seemed very stretched and made no sense to me.

    Thanks for pointing out the contradiction of a wanderer who settles down.

    I like your theory of a plot tool to allow evil to continue so that the flood story made sense. Very nice.

    @ Paul Regnier:
    Thanx. Interesting view of the racial use of the term. So the “mark” would have been skin color –> from pig-pink to all the others.

    @ Takis:
    Thanks so much for the info on how Julian is taught in Greece!
    And thank you for pointing me to Cavafy — I will put him on my reading list and think about doing something about him and Julian on my poetry site.

  7. Ian

    The passage from Augustine that deals with the lies of ancient myths, is amusing, partly because Augustine is accidentally right. The claims of hundreds of thousands of years of Egyptian culture were politically motivated inventions. I suspect he was as much motivated by the need to beat down what he saw as rival claims to authority as he is by concern for historicity. Especially as elsewhere he cautions against Christians using the scripture to argue about origins, and looking stupid next to secular natural philosophers.

    Still, I think you’re dead right. There’s a disingenuous bait-and-switch that is used by some liberal Christians. They correctly argue that ancients didn’t see Genesis (say) as historical in the sense we think of history today. And then switch that to the wholly false premise that ancients didn’t think it was what actually happened.

    Somewhat akin to saying that, because ancient people didn’t have modern medical science method, when they claimed that health was regulated by the four humours, they were only speaking metaphorically.

    No, they were just wrong.

  8. Atheistic_Theist

    I adore this site. Since I was a preteen, I was a passionate atheist. People who know me cheer me up by talking theology. It has always been difficult to deal with Theists and Atheists for me due to a large amount of hate on both sides. Recently I find myself converting to Hinduism of all things, as far as Cain, there have been stories from the literalists that he was capable of murder due to being a child of Satan, although non literalists imply that it was a show of mercy, that even the evil can be forgiven. Holy books have a wide variety of Meaning, especially in translation.

    My favorite is that in the first chapters of the Bible God says the plural of Gods name Elohim, And one of His names in Hebrew is El, Elohim is also one of the names of the Caanaanite pantheon, and El is the Father God of that religion. One interpretation of The Dead Sea scrolls, even shows that El did not say Abrahams sons would rule the Earth, but Els children will rule over people across the world, but the Hebrews were Els people alone, and thus His chosen people.

    Religion can have so many ways of thought, while I don’t believe in any of it literally, I don’t think religion is supposed to be literal to be any good. There is a reason the text has meaning it is up to the spiritually curious, or at least the intellectually curious whether those meanings have personal value. I believe Cains message was one that murder does not excuse murder, but will bring unhappiness all the same, which is good, but say the message of Eve and thus women being lower than men spiritually and punished by God for it as a bad message of how men are greater than women and women will tempt men into being evil. Religion gives a message, some are meant to be taken literally and are silly because of it, the Earth being only so old for example, but as a guide to live, it can be enlightening

  9. GaryD

    Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, plainly stated that Adam was “the first man” (1 Corinthians 15:45), and that through Adam’s sin, death entered the world (Romans 5:12; 8:20-22; 1 Corinthians 15:21).
    The “Pre-Adamite” idea does not square with the idea that sin brought death into the world.

  10. @ GaryD: Beware that if you want an ear here, or dialogue, you may want to remember that I don’t believe in a Holy Spirit and your religions favorite books carry no weight for me. Just a heads up on dialoguing here if you continue.

    Concerning Genesis theories, I am sure, using literal vs figurative typing, different explanations could be made to allow Pre-admites. People can be very clever with their theologies — since there is no way to test if any theology is accurate or not.

  11. GaryD

    @Sabio Lantz: Please accept my humble apology. I was not trying to be controversial in any way. I am a Christian and I was expressing an argument I have heard against “Pre-Adamites”. If you allow me to continue posting I will try to learn how to express my ideas in a way that is not offensive.
    I am a fan of John Lennox. I heard John say that he has always tried to make friends with those who do not share his beliefs as a way to insure that his beliefs are not just the product of his family, environment, education or place of birth.
    I share your values:
    • The reflective life
    • The felt need to constantly improve ourselves & discipline our moral habits
    • A community where we watch and encourage each other: “Accountability”
    • Nurtured Virtues: Love, Forgiveness, Compassion and many others
    • A culture that does not accept the values thrown at us by our commercial societies
    • Transcending the limits of our human nature
    • Love for classic literature and the Bible is one such example
    • Many of Jesus’ teachings
    • A few of Paul’s teachings

    I might say all of Paul’s teachings.

    But like you said in:
    “Subversive Patience”
    “All Christians are not alike. Just as Christians find certain types of atheists more tolerable than others, so I also like certain types of Christians more than others.”
    “So even if I may not agree with your beliefs, when taken literally, I may be trying to understand how you use your own beliefs to improve your own life.”
    You may like me if you get to know me and I could be a good source for:
    “Blog Material”
    “Heck, talking with you guys also can give me great blog material. Smile.”

  12. Atheistic_Theist

    @Sabio Lantz
    I don’t think you understand what I mean by figurative, and you make it sound as if it is a game. I think there is a reason people created religion. And I like to give people more credit than they are delusional. It isn’t about proving it true, of course it isn’t true, I get uncomfortable every time someone says it is, because I respect their beliefs but it just isn’t so. Point is a lesson can be gotten from it.

    I believe saying something that has inspired whole countries, heroes, villains, ordinary people every day is more, by that very fact than just delusions. Religion has a psychology to it. And that psychology is very important for good or ill. I feel believing a religion to be absolutely real is of course wrong and missing the point, and I feel believing all religion is hogwash is equally missing the point. Religion does give us a structure of beliefs in the world and a sense of morality, not the only source of course, any belief can do. A belief in empirical evidence, or a political party is the norm these days in this country.

    A man has a dream about his married neighbor, one person says this is a prophesy of the future and unavoidable, or even worse, the powers that be wish them to have sex with him, another says it means nothing and is just a scenario he had no control over, a third admits he lusts after his neighbor and should watch himself around him. It is a poor analogy, but I feel religion is similar.

  13. @ GaryD:
    I was not offended — that is very hard to do to me. Instead, I just wanted to remind you to pay attention to who you are talking to. Otherwise it sounds like a canned monologue. I ignore monologues usually, and as my policy tab shows, I tolerate religious proselytizing — that is, using my threads for that purpose. But it seems you understand.

    BTW, where is your web site? This is you, no?

    @ Atheistic_Theist,
    How could I have misunderstood you if I did not respond to you?

    (1) You are right, I think theology is largely a game. Since there is absolutely no way to test the propositions put forward in theology, it is ‘gamish” to me. But games serve people’s needs, of course.

    (2) I am careful to not call people delusional — but any given activity of any of us may be self-deluded, self-deceptive, mistaken and delusional. I write about this in many of my posts.

  14. rautakyy

    One interresting angle at Julianus Apostata is that he was a renown military leader allready when he was the “Caesar” of Gallia. It was he who won the great battle of Strasbourg and stopped an all out retreat. Though it had been surmised beforehand, that the book reading “geek” would not gain the trust of the troops. It has also been said that he was pushed into the civil war with little choise, wether or not to sieze power. His fame as a military leader loved by his troops had made the emperor very suspicios of him and ready to remove of him.

    Anyway, it is possible, that the spear wich killed him, was actually thrown by one of his own men. Allthough it was not uncommon for even generals to join close combat in those days, they were usually very well protected. Accidents do happen, but Julianus had made enemies among religious demagogues and fanatics. And you know how those people are…

    After the death of Julianus the Roman empire grew ever weaker. One reason was, that land previously owned by the state was given to the church. The problem in this was, that this land was used by the state to fund the armies required to keep up the empire. Slowly the legions were diminshed and what was once a mighty army of the empire almost dissappeared and was replaced by independend armies of the bishops and other warlords. Such armies could at best be reactionary, but could not withstand any real invasion. And so the Roman empire and a good deal of its science succumbed, but Christianity prevailed to the dark ages.

    (Building special elite armies behind and at the cost of the regular army is allways a bad idea, as we can see from how it served the nazies to neglect the Wehrmacht in favour of the SS.)

    As for Cain and Abel, this is just one of those stories, that in light of modern science can not be an accurate description of reality, but as a metaphor is so ambigious, it can mean just about anything people want it to mean. For example how should we interprete the metaphorical content, of the idea, that god favoured the “nomad” over the “farmer”? Why? It seems to me that this is a very lame attempt to communicate with the humanity, from a god that alledgedly is able to produce galaxies by thought into existance. Really, is it arrogant of me to expect better performance from this god for me to find the attempted communication plausible and not just a folk tale among other such folk tales?

  15. Atheistic_Theist

    I thought your statement about metaphors was at me, I apologize for misunderstanding.
    1) I would say that love and kindness is a game as well put in those terms, not that goodness comes from religion, but the play at morality is neither proven to be empirically correct and can backfire, and if said in those terms maybe non existant. I feel toward morality the same about religion, that it is something you have to interpret. Not moral relativity yuck! But how to live in this world. I think religion is like psychology and in part, a part of our psyches. Many say morality is in our own heads too. It certainly has no proof other than its affect on others and acts, which I would say religion is similair to in that regard, and in that regard alone.

    2) I have seen you call people delusional several times on here, not that it is a bad thing, sometimes they really are, but the reason I stopped being an atheist is the same reason you became one, I felt atheism is too exclusive.

    3) Sorry if I monologued your site. I actually rarely find interesting theological sites not spewed with hate. I got a little message happy as I get too eager to dive into conversations. My apologies.

  16. @A_T:
    I repeat about “calling PEOPLE delusional”

    (2) I am careful to not call people delusional — but any given activity of any of us may be self-deluded, self-deceptive, mistaken and delusional. I write about this in many of my posts.

  17. Hi Sab,

    I wanted to add another interpretation for the ‘mark’ of Cain. It looked long for a comment, so instead I posted it here –

    If you prefer these kind of links in a private message, let me know for future reference.

    Hope this helps the conversation. Likely not the ‘common sermon’ interpretation. Not particularly interested in what that would be.

  18. Atheistic_Theist

    Understood, I misinterpreted that is my fault.

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