Adam and Eve in Seventeenth-Century Thought

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Adam and Eve in Seventeenth-Century Thought. By Philip C. Almond. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, 240 pp., $54.95 hardcover.

Philip Almond's book examines the reception of the Genesis account in seventeenthcentury thought. During this period the Scriptures provided the foundation of intellectual query. Apparent difficulties in the creation account furnished the impetus for biological, philological, and geological study. The book is unique in its spectrum of study, yet draws upon and develops Christopher Hill and Richard Popkin's explorations in seventeenth-century thought. It appears to be an outgrowth of Almond's lectures at the University of Queensland, Australia.

The work begins with an examination of Adam and Eve's created state. How precisely were they preeminent? Answers range from metaphysical conceptions of giantism to ultranatural speed, strength, and intelligence. The extended life spans of the antediluvians is considered. Diet, atmosphere, and supernatural preservation are all posed as possible explanations.

Almond then turns to Eden's location, Viewing allegorical interpretation as the normative understanding of the creation account in the Western tradition, Almond apparently indicts the translators of the King James version of the Bible for their literal rendering, a rendering that framed the seventeenth-century discussion. Given the literal parameters etched out by the King James translators, geographical speculation was common. While some felt that the flood's effects made the question mute, the majority offered various locations. Depending upon one's identification of the four rivers that flowed out of the garden, Eden was to be found in the tropics, China, Assyria, or Armenia. Nonterrestrial explanations were also offered; the lunar landscape was scrutinized with "Galileo's tube" in expectation.

Regardless of where Eden was located, all seventeenth-century intelligentsia were agreed that Adam performed special functions in the garden. He tended the land and ruled over the animals. Questions concerning vegetarianism were the rage of popular literature. Adam's encyclopedic knowledge of plants and animals had to be communicated, either through words or hieroglyphics. Yet Adam was not to perform his work alone; Eve was brought forth. The majority of seventeenth-century speculators were convinced that this proto-marriage was not consummated on Edenic soil.

As Almond draws the reader's attention to the fall, his affinity for allegory rises again. Barring such allegorical exegesis, the nature of the serpent was addressed. Many identified it with Satan, some opting for the medieval conception of a serpentine body with a woman's head. …