“the man” vs. “Adam”

I want to explain why it’s not in keeping with the way that the story is told in the Bible to refer to the man in the Garden of Eden as “Adam.” The main problem is that, in the story itself, he is never called “Adam.” He is only ever called “the man.” Some might say, “Now hold on a minute. Isn’t the Hebrew word for “man” in the story (with the exception of “man” in Genesis 2:23, where the Hebrew word is ishadam?” Yes, it is. So, what’s wrong with calling him “Adam”? What’s wrong with it is that the term adam is always preceded by the definite article (Hebrew ha, “the”). The story never calls him just adam but ha-adam. Because the story itself always includes the definite article with its use of adam, I conclude that it doesn’t want the reader to think of this figure as having a proper name — it wants the reader to think of him only as “the man” (or, possibly, “the human,” but whether it should be “the man” or “the human” requires another lengthy discussion that I will bypass for now). I should hasten to point out that some scholars might disagree with me here because of how the word adam is used in Genesis 2:20, 3:17, and 3:21, where the word is paired with a preposition. (A quick Hebrew lesson. The definite article is represented by a single letter in Hebrew, which is attached to the beginning of the word that it is modifying. The same thing happens with several prepositions. When a letter that stands for a preposition is added to the beginning of a word, it makes the letter standing for the definite article disappear, even if the author wants both the preposition and the definite article to be understood as coming directly before the word, e.g., “in the land.” So, how do you know if a definite article is present when a single-letter preposition is attached to a word? Keep reading.) When this story was originally written, it was written only with consonants and no vowels. Certain markings representing vowel sounds were added in the Middle Ages, many centuries after the original writing. When looking only at consonants, it is impossible to know, in instances where a noun like adam is preceded by a single-letter preposition attached to the beginning of the word, whether the writer intended for the definite article to be present or not. You would know only if someone were to pronounce the word for you. For example, if English were written with only consonants, when you came to hll, you wouldn’t know if you were supposed to read “hall,” “hell,” “hill,” or “hull.” If someone were to pronounce the word for you, then you would know for sure what word hll was meant to represent. The vowel marking that now accompanies the preposition in these three verses stands for a sound that indicates the absence of the definite article. We know, however, that the scribes who added the vowel markings made a number of mistakes, and I believe that this is one of those. That adam everywhere else in the story occurs with the definite article strongly (really strongly!) suggests that we should understand the definite article also to be present when adam is preceded by a preposition in the story. And this would mean that, throughout the story of the Garden of Eden, the man is always called, simply, “the man.” The proper name “Adam” doesn’t come until Genesis 4:25, long after the story about the Garden of Eden has come to an end.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: