In which we discuss the ensoulment of a pre-existing hominid with the creation of Adam.
Genesis 2 describes a created man formed from dust that God subsequently breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living creature. As I read that, I understand that to say there was a man formed out of dust in order to be created for the specific purpose of making us in His image. I agree that our spiritual identity is truly what defines us as in His image, but I stop at the notion that there were physical human beings identical to Adam beforehand that he simply ‘utilized’. As Genesis 2 documents the account, God didn’t go looking around to select some pre-soul ‘animalized’ version of a man that had already been created and arbitrarily deemed him fit to put a soul (the image of God) into him.
For those who haven’t gone through it, my slideshow is based on Gerald Schroeder’s bestselling book, The Science of God. Schroeder does not claim that a man was ‘animalized’; that’s a misleading term. Animal is the initial state of man, followed by ensoulment, and it is ensoulment that transforms him from animal to human being.
Now, do we know for certain from the Genesis 2 account that God didn’t select a pre-soul version of a man for Adam? Schroeder explains that, according to the great Torah commentators and some leading Jewish theologians, there is room for that interpretation. It hinges on two things:
1. The distinction between “making” and “creating” in Genesis. The former means to form something out of preexisting material; the latter means to bring something into existence that did not exist before. From Chapter 9 of Schroeder’s The Science of God:
The fact that Adam was first “made” (Gen. 1:26) and only later “created” (Gen. 1:27) informs us unequivocally that some amount of time passed during which Adam was fashioned. The neshama was implanted only after that vessel was complete. Whether that time was measured in microseconds or millions of earth years is not certain from the text. What is certain is that the making of Adam’s body was not instantaneous and that its making preceded the introduction of the neshama. Making takes time. The ultimate change from the final form into human was instantaneous, the creation of the neshama.
2. A subtlety in the text that is overlooked in English translations of the Bible. From the same chapter:
The closing of Genesis 2:7 has a subtlety lost in the English. It is usually translated as: “… and [God] breathed into his nostrils the neshama of life and the adam became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7). The Hebrew text actually states “… and the adam became to a living soul.” Nahmanides, seven hundred years ago, wrote that the “to” (the Hebrew letter lamed prefixed to the word “soul” in the verse) is superfluous from a grammatical stance and so must be there to teach something. … He concludes his extensive commentary on the implications of this lamed as: “Or it may be that the verse is stating that [prior to receiving the neshama] it was transformed into another man.”
Another man! According to Nahmanides, who is the major kabalistic commentator on the Bible, the biblical text has told us that before the neshama there was something like a man that was not quite a human.
Maimonides also comments on the soulless man. In Part I, Chapter VII of his book, The Guide for the Perplexed — written over 800 years ago, long before he could have been influenced by modern science — he describes the sons of Adam who came after Cain and Abel, but before Seth:
Those sons of Adam who were born before that time were not human in the true sense of the word, they had not “the form of man.” With reference to Seth who had been instructed, enlightened and brought to human perfection, it could rightly be said, “he (adam) begat a son in his likeness, in his form.” It is acknowledged that a man who does not possess this “form” (the nature of which has just been explained*) is not human, but a mere animal in human shape and form.
* In Chapter I, Maimonides explains that “form” means “essence.” Adam’s essence was that which made him distinctly human — the neshama. In other words, the pre-Seth sons lacked a soul. These are the sorts of “mere animals” that would have preceded Adam, and into which God breathed a human soul to create the first human.