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FaithHistoryScience

The History of Adam and the Case for Prehistoric Humans in the Scripture and Hadith

Some hadith may point to the fact that Adam could be the forefather of Homosapiens – could this mean there might have been a different race of humans before that?

Current scientific literature dates the appearance of modern human species, namely the Homosapiens, to anywhere between 65,000[1]-300,000[2] years ago.[3] Do these findings contradict religious teachings about the creation of Adam (p)?

In answering this question, I will present two potential scenarios:

  1. Adam as the first member of the Homo sapiens;
  2. Adam as the first member of a subgroup of the Homo sapiens. That is, the father of the current generation of humans present today.

In each scenario, I will assess its conformity with religious texts of the Bible, Quran and Ḥadīth – with a heavier focus on the Shīʿī tradition.

Adam as the First Homosapien

The Bible

According to the Masoretic Text, which is the basis for the Jewish and Christian Bibles, Adam (p) appeared on Earth about 6000 years ago.[4] In Chronicles 1:1–27, Matthew 1:1–16, and Luke 3:23–38, we are provided with the genealogy of Jesus (p) back to Adam (p), and from the book of Genesis the birth and death of each man is given from which his age can be known.[5] Some Christian scholars believe there are missing names in the chain, and consequently extend the age of Adam (p) to 10,000-12,000 years ago.[6] If Adam is the first man God created, as the Bible teaches, these readings clearly contradict the scientific data.

In hopes of avoiding this conflict, other Christian scholars, like William Henry Green, believe the Bible is not to be a used a source of history, noting that “the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 were not intended to be used, and cannot properly be used, for the construction of a chronology”[7].

But even if we accept Green’s proposal, there are other historical facts mentioned in the Bible other than the genealogies that make it difficult to date Adam (p) back to 300,000 years ago. For example, in Genesis 4 and 5 we read about the presence of towns, agriculture, metallurgy, and music.[8] These are signs of human civilization that are only believed to have appeared between 4000-10,000 BCE; many thousands of years after the appearance of the first Homosapiens, and not contemporaneous with them.

Quran & Hadith

In contrast to the Bible, the Quran and Hadith corpus do not provide us with exact dates about Adam (p). In fact, the tendency of the Quran is to be silent about such details on the basis that their mention derails from the central mission of the Quran which is guidance (Q2:2), not recounting of history.[9] Despite their silence about the date of Adam’s creation, there are other textual observations that make it unlikely he was the first Homosapien. Fatemah Meghji in her paper Becoming Bani Adam[10] mentions two such observations:

i) Burial

Ayatullah Jawadī Amuli believes Adam neither existed prior to other Homosapiens nor descended from them. He contends that Adam and his offspring constitute a unique progeny and adds that “had Adam’s family been the offspring of previous Homo sapiens, Qabīl would have known what to do with the body of his brother who he had murdered.”

His confusion with how to deal with the corpse would initially suggest that they were the first of the Homosapiens. Meghji asserts this argument is weak because “fossil record shows intentional burial by Homo sapiens, as early as 100,000 years ago” and it would be unlikely that “burial disappears from the fossil record for at least 100,000 years…[given] one would expect this knowledge of burial to continue with their descendants”.

I think there are some points to consider here:

  • That scientists have not found earlier records of burial does not necessarily mean earlier burials did not take place. Consider the latest fossil records of Homosapiens which have only been found as recent as 2017.[11]
  • The fossil record that Meghji is referring to is for the burial of a group of 15 people. It can be assumed that earlier humans did not necessarily bury their dead ones in the same location in groups. This is strengthened by the fact that earlier humans were hunter-gatherers and nomadic by nature, not residing in one location, and consequently burying their deceased ones solitarily in different areas.

ii) Agriculture

In al-Kāfī, Qābīl is narrated to have been a farmer and Hābīl a shepherd.[12] In another report, we read:

عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اَللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ اَلسَّلاَمُ قَالَ: لَمَّا أُهْبِطَ آدَمُ إِلَى اَلْأَرْضِ اِحْتَاجَ إِلَى اَلطَّعَامِ وَ اَلشَّرَابِ فَشَكَا ذَلِكَ إِلَى جَبْرَئِيلَ عَلَيْهِ اَلسَّلاَمُ ، فَقَالَ لَهُ جَبْرَئِيلُ يَا آدَمُ كُنْ حَرَّاثاً

From Imām al-Ṣadīq (p): When Adam (p) descended onto Earth, he was in need of food and drink. So, he complained of this to Gabriel (p) who told him “Oh Adam, be a farmer![13]

These two reports clearly show Adam and his sons were involved in the domestication of animals and farming. If they were the first Homosapiens this would contradict with the archaeological evidence which dates the first signs of agriculture amongst humans to 12,000 years ago.[14]

I also add two further observations:

iii) Language

During their stay at the pre-worldly garden, Adam and Eve had conversations with God and Iblis. These exchanges contain sophisticated and abstract meanings only an advanced and capable language could communicate. For example, in one encounter Iblīs swears by an oath that he promises the two goodness and eternal life if they were to eat from the prohibited tree. Promising by oath, speculation about the future and eternity are complex notion and naturally require an appropriate means of communication:

وَقَالَ مَا نَهَىٰكُمَا رَبُّكُمَا عَنْ هَـٰذِهِ ٱلشَّجَرَةِ إِلَّآ أَن تَكُونَا مَلَكَيْنِ أَوْ تَكُونَا مِنَ ٱلْخَـٰلِدِينَ  وَقَاسَمَهُمَآ إِنِّى لَكُمَا لَمِنَ ٱلنَّـٰصِحِينَ.

And he (Iblīs) said: Your Lord has not prohibited you from this tree except that you do not become angels or become eternal. And he (Iblīs) swore an oath for them that he was one of the advisors (of good). (Q7:20-21)

Thereafter, we read of Adam and Eve’s cries of repentance to God, which like above, contain complex layers of meaning:

قَالَا رَبَّنَا ظَلَمْنَآ أَنفُسَنَا وَإِن لَّمْ تَغْفِرْ لَنَا وَتَرْحَمْنَا لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ ٱلْخَـٰسِرِينَ.

They said: Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves and if you do not forgive us and show us mercy we will surely be one of the losers. (Q7:23)

It is possible to argue that these conversations occurred in a non-material or semi-material realm, and accordingly are symbolic of the internal states of the speakers, not that actual words were pronounced and exchanged.

Even if we accept this argument, despite its incompatibility with the apparent meanings of the verses, the same cannot be argued for their communications on Earth. After all, Adam was a messenger of God and the vessel for the promulgation of the first-ever divine legislation for humanity. This would have included commandments, prohibitions, and other general guiding principles to govern earthly life in all its dimensions. It would be difficult to imagine that these concepts were communicated from Adam (p) to his followers without a capable language.

The examples from the Quran[15] and Hadith[16] showcasing this point are too many to cite. Ultimately, Adam and his children were speaking an advanced language and the Quran categorically proves this for all Prophets:

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن رَّسُولٍ إِلَّا بِلِسَانِ قَوْمِهِ لِيُبَيِّنَ لَهُمْ.

We did not send forth a messenger except in the language of his people so that he may clarify (our message) to them. (Q14:4)

In a long hadith related by both Shīʿī and Sunnī sources the famous companion Abū Dhar narrates from the Holy Prophet (p) that Adam, as well as three other prophets[17], were siryānī (Syriac):

أَرْبَعَةٌ مِنَ اَلْأَنْبِيَاءِ سُرْيَانِيُّونَ آدَمُ وَ شِيثٌ وَ أُخْنُوخُ وَ هُوَ إِدْرِيسُ عَلَيْهِمُ السَّلاَمُ وَ هُوَ أَوَّلُ مَنْ خَطَّ بِالْقَلَمِ وَ نُوحٌ عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَمُ.[18]

In another narration, it is quoted that Adam (p) originally spoke Arabic in the pre-worldly garden (as is the language of Paradise) but God changed that to Syriac on his descent to Earth.[19]

Syriac is said to have emerged around the first century AD[20] and is therefore unlikely to be the same Syriac intended by the hadith. It is more probable that the Prophet was referring to the parent language from which Syriac is derived, namely, Aramaic (~1200 BC) or an even earlier predecessor such as Semitic (~3500 BC[21]).

The following hadith can reinforce this suggestion as it refers to the language of the writings available to Idrīs (p) (an early descendent of Noah and Adam) as ancient Syriac. The report is very long so I will suffice with the segment which has this reference:

صَحِيفَةِ شِيثٍ اَلْكُبْرَى اَلَّتِي مِيرَاثُهَا إِلَى إِدْرِيسَ عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَمُ وَ كَانَ كِتَابَتُهَا بِالْقَلَمِ اَلسُّرْيَانِيِّ اَلْقَدِيمِ[22]

Even with this information it is difficult to give a final verdict on what language he spoke but were we to treat these reports as authoritative,[23] it would be unlikely that Adam (p) existed ~300k years ago considering the historical dating of the aforementioned language. The upcoming observation about the history of writing can assist us in this conclusion.

iv) Writing and tablets

 The earliest records of human writing[24] date to 3400-3100 BC[25] in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) while entire writing systems would have emerged not long after, around 3200 BC[26] in Egypt.

Several reports attribute the possession of ṣuḥuf (plural for ṣaḥīfa) to Prophet Adam, Prophet Shīth, the son of Adam, and other prophets after them (peace be upon them all). According to Lisān al-ʿarab, the word ‘ṣaḥīfa’, which is usually translated as ‘scripture’, is defined as ‘any material on which writing is made’. Given the advent of paper is only recent, these were probably tablets made of clay, wood, or other basic materials that Prophets used to record divine teachings, messages, and commandments. We read in the Quran:

وَالْآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ وَأَبْقَىٰ  إِنَّ هَـٰذَا لَفِي الصُّحُفِ الْأُولَىٰ  صُحُفِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَمُوسَىٰ

Surely the hereafter is better and more enduring (than this world). This (message) is indeed (mentioned) in the former scriptures (ṣuḥuf). The scriptures of Abraham and Moses. (Q87:17-19)

In the same report of Abū Dhar we read:

قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اَللَّهِ كَمْ أَنْزَلَ اَللَّهُ مِنْ كِتَابٍ قَالَ مِائَةَ كِتَابٍ وَ أَرْبَعَةَ كُتُبٍ أَنْزَلَ اَللَّهُ عَلَى شِيثٍ خَمْسِينَ صَحِيفَةً وَ عَلَى إِدْرِيسَ ثَلاَثِينَ صَحِيفَةً وَ عَلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ عِشْرِينَ صَحِيفَةً وَ أَنْزَلَ اَلتَّوْرَاةَ وَ اَلْإِنْجِيلَ وَ اَلزَّبُورَ وَ اَلْفُرْقَانَ

I (Abū Dhar) asked O Messenger of God how many books has God sent down? He replied: 100 writings and four books. He sent down upon Shīth 50 scriptures, Idris 30 and Ibrahim 20. And he sent down the Tawrāt, Injīl, Zabūr, and Furqān (Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms of David and the Quran).[27]

In another variation cited in Nūr al-Thaqalayn, 10 scriptures are also attributed to Adam (p).[28]

Once again, if we can take these reports as authoritative and minimally accept that Shīth, the representative of Adam, son, and next in line for Prophecy had received scriptures, it would be sensible to assume these tablets were produced in a time where writing was present amongst humans. That would naturally imply that Adam and his offspring did not live on Earth in a timeframe of 300,000 years ago.

Adam as the Father of Modern-Day Humanity

The alternative scenario in answering the original question is to assume Adam (p) was the father of the current generation of humans, but not the first of the Homosapiens. Adam and his offspring would be considered as the latest subgroup of Homosapiens, whom the Quran refers to as banī Adam (children of Adam).

If found compatible with the religious sources, this view will have no contradictions with current sentiment around archaeological findings. This is because the archaeological records are only proof of the presence of humanoids before Adam (p). In what proceeds, I will assess whether we can adopt this position based on the different religious viewpoints.

Bible

This view can be compatible with the Bible if two premises are accepted:

  1. Adam was not necessarily the first man.
  2. The creation of the universe in 6 days (Genesis 1,2) is not taken literally.

The two premises are essentially related to each other. Without allowing enough time between the creation of the universe and the appearance of the first man (as opposed to assuming that man was created one literal day after the creation of the universe), it is not possible to assume that mankind existed before Adam. There would be just no time for them to exist.

The same concept of “creation in days” exists in the Quran but it is not taken literally and is widely accepted to mean “periods” whose duration can be very long. The Quran allows for this flexible understanding of “day” when explaining that each day in the afterlife is equal to 50,000 years Earth-time, letting it be drawn that “day” can just mean any period:

تَعْرُجُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَالرُّوحُ إِلَيْهِ فِي يَوْمٍ كَانَ مِقْدَارُهُ خَمْسِينَ أَلْفَ سَنَةٍ.

The angels and the Spirit will ascend to Him during a Day the extent of which is fifty thousand years. (Q70:4)

This position has its supporters among some Christian thinkers as well and is referred to as the day-age view, whose earliest advocate is the Anglican theologian George Stanley Faber. This view enables Faber and his likes to accept the Biblical chronology of Adam (p) dating back to 6,000-12,000 and the existence of pre-Adamite humanity if they can agree to premise (i). My research has not been exhaustive, but the wording in Genesis and the scholarly consensus appears to reject the existence of previous humans.

In the other camp is the Young Earth view, which adheres to the belief that the universe and man were created in 6 literal days. This implies that planet Earth has only existed, at best, a few days longer than the emergence of humans. Such a proposal runs not only contrary to the fossil records dating human existence up to 300,000 years ago, but also other scientific evidence pointing to the formation of Earth as early as ~4.5 billion years ago and the Big Bang as early as ~14 billion years ago, all of which are far longer than multiple 24-hour days.

Quran

Passages of the Quran that relate the creation of Adam (p) and his descent onto Earth (Q2:30, 7:11,20:115) are silent about the existence of humanoids before him. They neither confirm nor negate this matter, leaving the door open for such a possibility. As a result of this, some scholars of exegesis have opined that Q2:30 hints to their creation:

And [recall] when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth a representative authority.” They said, “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?” Allah said, “Indeed, I know that which you do not know.”

They reason that the questions posed by the Angels to Allah (s) demonstrate their foreknowledge and experience with earlier humans who had caused corruption and bloodshed on Earth. Some Sunni thinkers such as Dr Ahmad Showqi Ibrahim[29] and Dr ʿAbd al-Sabur Shahin hold this opinion.

The latter argues in his book Abī Adām[30] that we need to distinguish between the term bashar (mankind) and insān (human) in the Quran. He argues that the first is a general term used to refer to all groups of human species that have existed on Earth, whereas the second refers to the generation which stemmed from Adam (p).

However, many Sunni scholars of the Quran do not accept this reading. With regards to Q2:30, one of these proposals is usually brought forward:

  1. God had previously informed the angels of the future of human activity on Earth.[31]
  2. The angels compared humans to Jinn who lived prior to humans on Earth and caused bloodshed, as supported by some reports.[32]
  3. They predicted this via an understanding of the material natural of human beings and Earth. Both of which invites conflict and killing.

It is natural for Ibrahim and Shahin’s explanations to be rejected by the classical scholars, given that predominant orthodox sentiment is that no man existed before Adam (p).

Shīʿī commentators of the Quran, on the other hand, have been more comfortable with accepting it as a legitimate interpretation. The main reason behind this can be certain reports which explicitly speak of the existence of humans before Adam and Eve.

ʿAllāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī, a contemporary scholar of the Quran, mentions:

و أما القرآن الكريم فإنه لم يتعرض تصريحا لبيان أن ظهور هذا النوع هل ينحصر في هذه الدورة التي نحن فيها أو أن له أدوارا متعددة نحن في آخرها؟ و إن كان ربما يستشم من قوله تعالى: و إذ قال ربك للملائكة إني جاعل في الأرض خليفة قالوا أ تجعل فيها من يفسد فيها و يسفك الدماء الآية: «البقرة: 30»، سبق دورة إنسانية أخرى على هذه الدورة الحاضرة

The Holy Quran has not explicitly attended the question of whether this current species is limited to our cycle, or were there multiple cycles such that we are it’s last? And a fragrance of this understanding (previous humans) may potentially be discovered from “And recall when your Lord said to the angels ‘I shall place on Earth a representative authority’” (Q2:30), hinting that a previous era of humans preceded us.[33]

While ʿAllāmah does not reject the hermeneutic and theological acceptability of previous humans causing the foreknowledge of the angels, it appears he eventually leans more towards the explanation that angels predicted corruption by an understanding of human nature:

إنما فهموا وقوع الإفساد و سفك الدماء من قوله سبحانه. إني جاعل في الأرض خليفة، حيث إن الموجود الأرضي بما أنه مادي مركب من القوى الغضبية و الشهوية، و الدار دار التزاحم، محدودة الجهات، وافرة المزاحمات، مركباتها في معرض الانحلال، و انتظاماتها و إصلاحاتها في مظنة الفساد و مصب البطلان، لا تتم الحياة فيها إلا بالحياة النوعية، و لا يكمل البقاء فيها إلا بالاجتماع و التعاون، فلا تخلو من الفساد و سفك الدماء

They (angels) only discovered the occurrence of corruption and spilling of blood from God’s speech “And surely I will place on Earth a representative authority”, given an earthly being is material, composed of faculties of lust and anger, and the abode (Earth) is one of conflict, limited in its aspects, abundant in conflict, its constituents at the danger of dissolution, its institutions and corrective systems prone to corruption and falsity; that life shall not persist therein except via collective existence, and survival will not be perfected except through congregation and cooperation; therefore, it will not be free from corruption and bloodshed.[34]

In addition to this Quranic argument, ʿAllāmah refers to a reverse application of the rate of human fertility to calculate how far back we must calculate to reach the time period of our first human parents. He mentions this calculation produces a figure of about 10,000 years ago, making it more likely that Adam and Eve, the parents of the current generation of humans, lived around such a timeframe. This figure also matches that of the Bible.

Shīʿī Hadith

As mentioned earlier, what makes belief in the existence of previous humans from the Shīʿī perspective easier to accept is the presence of certain reports outlining this reality:

عن الباقر (ع): لَعَلَّكَ تَرَى أَنَّ اَللَّهَ إِنَّمَا خَلَقَ هَذَا اَلْعَالَمَ اَلْوَاحِدَ وَ تَرَى أَنَّ اَللَّهَ لَمْ يَخْلُقْ بَشَراً غَيْرَكُمْ بَلَى وَ اَللَّهِ لَقَدْ خَلَقَ اَللَّهُ أَلْفَ أَلْفِ عَالَمٍ وَ أَلْفَ أَلْفِ آدَمٍ أَنْتَ فِي آخِرِ تِلْكَ اَلْعَوَالِمِ وَ أُولَئِكَ اَلْآدَمِيِّينَ

Narrated from Imām al-Bāqir (p): Perhaps you assume that Allah has only created this one world and assume that He has not created mankind except you. Yes! By Allah, He has created a thousand-thousand (million) worlds and a thousand-thousand Adams, for which you are the last of these worlds and Adams.[35]

There is a discussion amongst linguists and exegetes on the meaning of the term ʿālam (“world”), inspired by the second verse of the opening chapter of the Quran “Praise belongs to Allah the Lord of the Worlds” (Q1:2). The debate discusses whether the term refers to the world of all intelligent living entities, or to the world of all things. The author of Lisān al-ʿArab (an authoritative lexicon) writes:

والعالَمُ الخَلْق كلُّه…وفي التنزيل: الحمد لله ربِّ العالمين؛ قال ابن عباس: رَبِّ الجن والإنس، وقال قتادة: رب الخلق كلهم. قال الأزهري: الدليل على صحة قول ابن عباس قوله عز وجل: تبارك الذي نَزَّلَ الفُرْقانَ على عبده ليكون للعالمينَ نذيراً؛ وليس النبي، صلى الله عليه وسلم، نذيراً للبهائم ولا للملائكة وهم كلهم خَلق الله، وإنما بُعث محمد، صلى الله عليه وسلم، نذيراً للجن والإنس. وروي عن وهب بن منبه أنه قال: لله تعالى ثمانية عشر ألفَ عالَم، الدنيا منها عالَمٌ واحد، وما العُمران في الخراب إلا كفُسْطاطٍ في صحراء

And ʿālam is the creation, all of it…and in the Quran: “Praise belongs to Allah the Lord of the worlds”. Ibn ʿAbbās has said: The Lord of humans and the Jinn, and Qatāda has said: The Lord of creation, all of it. Al-Alazhari says: The evidence for the validity of Ibn ʿAbbās’s opinion is the verse: “Glory be to the one who has descended the Furqān unto his servant so that he may be a warner to the worlds”; and the Prophet (p) is not a warner to animals nor to the angels, while they are also part of God’s creation. Muhammad (p) has been evoked as a warner only for the humans and the Jinn.  It has also been narrated from Wahab b. Munabbih that the Prophet (p) has said: Allah the Most High has 18,000 worlds, our dunyā’ only one of them; and the building in ruins is nothing but like a tent in the desert.[36]

Despite this difference of opinion, both usages of the term are permitted and found in authentic texts. In some verses of the Quran, both can be applicable, as is the case with Q1:2[37]. In other verses, we must look for indications to each meaning.

In an extended version of the aforementioned report of Imām al-Bāqir (p) which is  recorded in a different hadith collection, the following addition clarifies that by ʿālam the more general definition is intended:

أَنَّ اَللَّهَ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ إِذَا أَفْنَى هَذَا اَلْخَلْقَ وَ هَذَا اَلْعَالَمَ …جَدَّدَ اَللَّهُ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ عَالَماً غَيْرَ هَذَا اَلْعَالَمِ وَ جَدَّدَ عَالَماً مِنْ غَيْرِ فُحُولَةٍ وَ لاَ إِنَاثٍ يَعْبُدُونَهُ وَ يُوَحِّدُونَهُ وَ خَلَقَ لَهُمْ أَرْضاً غَيْرَ هَذِهِ اَلْأَرْضِ تَحْمِلُهُمْ وَ سَمَاءً غَيْرَ هَذِهِ اَلسَّمَاءِ

When Allah (s) annihilates this creation and this world…He (s) will renew a world besides this and will create a world without males and females who worship Him and attest to His Unity. He will create for them an earth besides this Earth which will carry them and a sky besides this sky.[38]

As the reader would have noticed with the aid of the extended version, this narration is only partially helpful to our cause. It does support the general thesis of the existence of not only previous intelligent beings but also future ones. But its descriptions are more compatible with the creation of a new universe and a new Earth-like planet as home to a new generation of humans; not the existence of previous humans or human-like beings on this Earth.

This report is more useful for making arguments about the continuation of the sunnah of divine ibtilā’ (trial) and imtiḥān (testing) of intelligent volitional beings as a means of worship and their journey to perfection. In addition, proponents of the cosmological hypothesis of the Big Bang Cycle may find this report interesting.[39]  

Further scrutiny on the meanings of the terms ‘arḍ (earth) and samā’ (sky) could also prove fruitful. It could be argued that in this instance the former means land (not a new planet) and the latter means the observable portion of them (as opposed to the entire universe itself). This choice of meanings would entail that God will place the new breed of humans in new lands on this same planet beneath a new sky. The lands are new by virtue of the landscape having changed over time and the skies are new by virtue of the new inhabitants observing a different portion of the sky given the position of the planet in the universe has changed by the time a new cycle of humanity has arrived. Given the mental gymnastics required, the earlier reading is preferable.

It is also worth noting that the chain of this report consists of a weak narrator (ʿAmr b. Shimr).

The second report is narrated from Imām al-Ṣadīq (p):

روي عن الصادق (ع) :لَقَدْ خَلَقَ اَللَّهُ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ فِي اَلْأَرْضِ مُنْذُ خَلَقَهَا سَبْعَةَ عَالَمِينَ لَيْسَ هُمْ وُلْدَ آدَمَ خَلَقَهُمْ مِنْ أَدِيمِ اَلْأَرْضِ فَأَسْكَنَهُمْ فِيهَا وَاحِداً بَعْدَ وَاحِدٍ مَعَ عَالَمِهِ ثُمَّ خَلَقَ اَللَّهُ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ آدَمَ أَبَا هَذَا اَلْبَشَرِ وَ خَلَقَ ذُرِّيَّتَهُ مِنْهُ

Surely Allah has created on Earth since its creation seven worlds who were not from the children of Adam. He created them from the surface material of the earth and resided them therein one after another, each with its own world. Thereafter, He created Adam (p) the father of this mankind and created his offspring from him.[40]

This credible report, free from ambiguities of the last, delivers the point with stronger conviction. Here ʿālam can only mean the realm of intelligent beings for multiple reasons:

a) There is mention of only one Earth and the creation of multiple worlds/realms therein which is perfectly synchronous with cycles of humanity.

b) All these beings were created from the same material Adam (p) was created from.

c) All these beings lived on this Earth.

d) Adam (p) and his offspring are the latest (if not last) members of this long chain of Adams.

The third report, with specific reference to Q2:30, is also narrated from Imām al-Ṣadīq (p):

 في تفسير العياشي، عَنْ هِشَامِ بْنِ سَالِمٍ قَالَ قَالَ أَبُو عَبْدِ اَللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَمُ: وَ مَا عَلِمَ اَلْمَلاَئِكَةُ بِقَوْلِهِمْ أَ تَجْعَلُ فِيهٰا مَنْ يُفْسِدُ فِيهٰا وَ يَسْفِكُ اَلدِّمٰاءَ  لَوْ لاَ أَنَّهُمْ قَدْ كَانُوا رَأَوْا مَنْ يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَ يَسْفِكُ اَلدِّمَاءَ

What would have made the angels know to say “Will you place therein someone who will cause corruption and shed blood”, had they not been witnessing those who cause corruption and shed blood therein?[41]

The rhetorical tone of the Imām leads us to believe that beings capable of corruption and bloodshed clearly did exist on Earth before Adam (p). However, the key point is that he does not clarify whether they were humans or other groups of intelligent beings. One may argue that the siyāq (context) of the report naturally prepares and draws the listener’s mind[42] to the existence of previous humans and had the Imām intended otherwise, he would and should have clarified it. This is plausible.

The obvious problem with the report is its incomplete chain (irsāl), given it has been mentioned in ʿAyyāshī’s commentary[43]. It is possible to overlook this issue given the meaning of the report is in line with the second, whose credibility is determined.

Thus, as far as Shīʿī sources of hadith are concerned, belief in the presence of humans on Earth before Adam is clearly acceptable.

These reports clearly can be used to substantiate the scenario that Adam and his offspring are a subgroup of the Homosapiens (scenario B). Nonetheless, they can also be used to argue for the existence of even earlier human species such as the Neanderthals, and thereby substantiate the scenario that Adam was the first Homosapien (scenario A). Having already discussed the difficulties scenario A suffers from, it is more reasonable to side with scenario B.

Sunnī hadith

Sunnī sources have not recorded a credible Prophetic saying referring to pre-Adamite humanity. The best that can be presented is the opinion of some commentators from the companions and tābiʿīn who have posited the existence of certain creatures known as ḥinn and binn, as well as Jinn before humansIbn Kathīr writes:

قال كثير من علماء التفسير: خلقت الجن قبل آدم عليه السلام ، وكان قبلهم في الأرض ( الحِنُّ والبِنُّ )، فسلط الله الجن عليهم فقتلوهم وأجلوهم عنها وأبادوهم منها وسكنوها بعدهم

Many scholars of exegesis have opined that the Jinn were created before Adam (p), and that before them ḥinn and binn roamed the Earth; so Allah (s) empowered the Jinn over them; so they killed, distanced and destroyed them from it; and resided after them on Earth.[44]

The existence of Jinn before humans is a sound matter, but that of the earlier two is dubious. Ibn ʿĀshūr, critical of this opinion, writes that this view is closer to the myths and superstitions of the Persians or Greeks than to factual truth:

إذا صح أن الأرض كانت معمورة من قبل بطائفة من المخلوقات يسمون ( الحِنُّ والبِنُّ ) بحاء مهملة مكسورة ونون في الأول ، وبموحدة مكسورة ونون في الثاني ، وقيل : اسمهم ( الطَّمُّ والرَّمُّ ) بفتح أولهما ، وأحسبه من المزاعم ، وأن وضع هذين الاسمين من باب قول الناس ( هيّان بن بيّان ) إشارة إلى غير موجود أو غير معروف ، وَلَعَلَّ هَذَا أَنْجَزُ لأهل القصص من خرافات الفرس أو اليونان ، فإن الفرس زعموا أنه كان قبل الإنسان في الأرض جنس اسمه الطم والرم ، وكان اليونان يعتقدون أن الأرض كانت معمورة بمخلوقات تدعى ( التيتان ) وأن ( زفس ) وهو ( المشتري ) كبير الأرباب في اعتقادهم جلاهم من الأرض لفسادهم.[45]

Concluding Remarks

To summarise, in this paper I discussed whether the archaeological findings which date Homosapien fossils to as early as 300,000 years ago can be compatible with religious teachings about Adam. I presented two possible scenarios in this endeavour:

  1. Adam as the first member and father of all Homosapiens. This meant he lived ~300,000 years ago.
  2. Adam as the first member and father of a subgroup of Homosapiens; namely the current subgroup which thrives until today. This meant he lived around ~10,000-15,000 years ago.

“A” is a theologically more comfortable position for Christian and Sunni thinkers given it validates the idea that Adam was the first human. However, this view was found to be not entirely coherent, historically and hermeneutically, with the Bible, Quran, and Ḥadīth.

“B” on the other hand faced less of these incoherencies and was found to be more readily extrapolatable from the Shīʿī Hadith corpus in particular. This was due to the vocal nature of the reports on this matter.

What I covered here with respect to the Sunni and Christian positions is clearly not final, as there is ongoing research on this matter. The likes of David Solomon Jalajel, Shoaib Ahmed Malik and William Lane Craig (whose book on this topic is due to be released later this year) are engaging critically with the literature and modern science to arrive at a textually coherent picture of evolution, Adam and pre-historic humans in the context of their respective theologies.

I leave the reader with two intriguing questions that are born on the back of this writing and may be the subject of further inquiry and discussion:

  1. Did these prehistoric humans hold divine responsibility and accountability for their deeds?
  2. What makes the children of Adam exclusively different to the rest?

و الحمد لله

Related readings: Becoming Bani Adam 1

This article was originally published on Iqra Online, found here


FOOTNOTES

[1] Based on archaeological evidence of tools found at the Dhaba site, India: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-14668-4

[2] Based on the 2017 fossil record found in Jebel Irhoud, Moroco: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature22336

[3]They are thought to initially have co-existed with other human species such as the Homo Neanderthals, but for reasons still debated between scientists, the latter have become extinct. Interestingly, some modern-day humans still possess up to 2% of Neanderthal DNA in their genes, which may signal a form of interbreeding between the two groups:

R.E. Green et al., “A draft sequence of the Neandertal genome,” Science, 328:710–22, 2010.

[4] https://web.archive.org/web/20081022070746/http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones/agsptrng.html

[5] ibid

[6] See John C. Whitcomb Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977 reprint of 1961), p. 474–489, quotes on p. 477.

[7] William Henry Green, “Primeval Chronology,” Bibliotheca Sacra 47 (1890): 286

[8] https://web.csulb.edu/~mbiedeba/ch10.html

[9] Refer to the story of the People of the Cave and the debate about their number for an example of this approach (Q18:22).

[10] Becoming Bani Adam 2: https://www.iqraonline.net/becoming-bani-adam-part-2

[11] Based on the 2017 fossil record found in Jebel Irhoud, Moroco: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature22336

[12] Al-Kāfī, v.8, p. 113

[13] Wasā’il al-Shīʿa, v. 19, p. 34

[14] Read about the Neolithic evolution

[15] The sacrificial duty placed on the sons of Adam is a clear example

[16] The previously mentioned report of Adam complaining to Gabriel about food is one example

[17] Noah, Shīth, Idrīs and in another account also Ibrāhīm (peace be upon them all)

[18] Al-Khisāl vol. 2, p. 233; Ṣaḥīh b. Ḥabbān, vol. 2, p. 78

[19] Bihār al-Anwār, vol. 11, p. 56

[20] The Cambridge Ancient History 13, “Syriac Culture”, p. 708

[21] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2839953/

[22] Bihār al-Anwār, vol. 26, p. 309, citing Tafṣīl al-Imāmah of Ḥasan b. Sulaymān.

[23] Given some ambiguities in the chains of some

[24] This should not be confused with proto-writing, system of ideographics to recall objects in the world, or symbolic recording of numbers which have both have a longer history

[25] Sumerian cuneiform: https://lrc.la.utexas.edu/eieol/hitol/10

[26] The Egyptian hieroglyphs: https://www.museum.upenn.edu/sites/egypt/writing.shtml

[27] The same report which mentioned Prophet Adam as Syriac: Al-Khisāl, vol. 2, p. 233; Ṣaḥīh b. Ḥabbān, vol. 2, p. 78

[28] Nūr al-Thaqalayn, al-ʿArūsī, vol. 5, p. 562

[29] موسوعة الاعجاز العلمي في الحديث النبوي احمد شوقي ابراهيم ج2 ص 31-32

[30] litMy father, Adam

[31] Ibn Taymīyah in Majmuʿ al-Fatāwā, vol. 7, p. 382, considers as the view of the majority of Sunni commentators

[32] Will be discussed later.

[33] Al-Mīzān fī Tafsīr al-Qurān, commentary under verse 4:1

[34] Ibid, commentary under verse 2:30

[35] Al-Ṣadūq, Al-Tawḥīd, V1 P277

[36] Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-ʿArab, entry under علم

[37] Although perhaps the general definition is more suitable.

[38] Al-Ṣadūq, Al-Khiṣāl, vol. 2 p. 652.

[39] Read more: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-recycled-universe/

[40] Ibid, V2 P358

[41] Tafsīr al-ʿAyāshī, under Q2:30

[42] A linguistic process referred to as inṣirāf

[43] A book of hadith-based commentary well known for quoting narrations without complete chains

[44] Ibn Kathīr, al-Bidāyah wa al-Niyāhah, V1 P55

[45] Ibn ʿĀshūr, al-Taḥrīr wa al-Tanwīr, vol. 1, p. 228.

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