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When did Adam and Eve live?

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Were Adam and Eve the first human beings? This seems highly unlikely. From the Torah’s description of Adam’s progeny, their subsequent generations and how long they lived, we can say that biblical Adam was born in about 3,760 BCE. (This is also the basis for the dating of the Hebrew calendar). Modern man, namely Homo sapiens, first appears in the fossil record hundreds of thousands of years before this.


The first humanoid was Homo erectus. He arose in Africa some 2½ million years ago and spread from Africa to Asia and Europe. He continued to exist until about 143,00 years ago. It is thought that Homo erectus gave rise to Neanderthal man who lived in Europe and parts of Asia from about 500,000 years ago until approximately 40,000 years ago.


Interestingly, there is evidence in Israel of all these early human-like beings, since it is likely that Israel was the southern-most location reached by Neanderthal man.

Neanderthal man was not dumb. He did not have the intellectual abilities of modern man, but he was smarter than say a guerilla. He could make flint and wooden tools, cook meat with fire, and prepare shelter and clothes for his family. He was smart enough to spread himself throughout much of the inhabitable parts of the globe. Nevertheless, it would not have been possible to hold a penetrating conversation with him, even if one could understand his language. A discussion about virtue and evil would have drawn a blank.


Modern man, Homo sapiens, arose in East Africa from Homo eructus about 200,00 years ago and spread throughout the world. Aborigines were in Australia at least 40,000 years ago, and possibly earlier. Homo sapiens migrated over the Boring Straits, and appeared in North America between about 40,000 to 17,000 years ago. 


For some 30,000 to 50,000 years, Neanderthal man and Homo sapiens coexisted. The two can be distinguished by their skeletal structure, and by Homo sapiens’ high rounded skull and relatively narrow pelvis. About 13,000 years ago, Homo sapiens became the sole surviving human species.

Homo sapiens lived initially as cavemen in small groups and supported themselves as gatherer-hunters. They are often described as hunger-gatherers, but in actuality early man spent most of his time gathering rather than hunting. Possessing only tools of flint, he did not have the resources to be able to safely hunt big-game, although he would have trapped smaller animals such as rabbits. Homo sapiens is believed to have been no different from us in terms of his and her intellect.

The Agriculture Revolution began about 12,000 years ago with the domestication of certain plants and animals. It was a gradual process. Homo sapiens did not suddenly decide that he wanted to become a farmer. Rather, he existed as a gatherer-hunter and at the same time cultivated a small patch of grain that had fortuitously come his way. Nevertheless, an agricultural existence gradually spread to almost all the inhabited world.

Why did early man decide to become an agriculturalist? The life of a gatherer-hunter was not a difficult existence. He would have had plenty of free time. His diet was a healthy one. There may have been conflicts between different cave groups, but they would not have been at the same intensity as modern conflicts, since no one had a home or much in the way of personal objects to protect. However, it was not an easy life for women, especially if the clan moved frequently seeking more sources of food. Because of this, women had few children. This meant that the world’s population did not increase by much.


What an agricultural existence offered the gatherer-hunters was the opportunity to have bigger families and to nourish these families in permanent housing within small agricultural settlements. Once the farmer settled in one place, he could also own more “things.” It is after all human nature to wish to accumulate possessions and gather wealth. This, it is suggested, is the basis of the Cain and Abel story.  

Nevertheless, as explained by Yuval Harari, the agriculturalist had entered a trap, since whatever he did to improve his life potentially made it more difficult.refer He was dependent on the weather for the success of his harvests. He could store some of his produce to protect himself from unfavorable harvests, but then he also had to protect his stores. His home also needed to be protected. The more children he had to ensure his long-term survival, the more mouths he had to feed and the harder he had to work. It was backbreaking work – clearing stones, removing weeds, watering his plants. Initially, his grains had to compete with weeds, and it was only when the plough was invented in Sumeria in the 4th century BCE that his grains were able to root deeper and have a competitive advantage. It was also an unhealthier existence, in that much of his diet consisted of grains but few vegetables. Nevertheless, it would be very difficult for him to extricate himself from this agricultural existence and go back to his cave.


The next stage in the development of society is that agriculture became sufficiently advanced to sustain large urban centers. These in turn coalesced to form kingdoms and empires. The first great civilization, the Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia, dates from approximately 5,300 BCE to 2,300 BCE.4 The first written document in the archeological record is from about 3,500 BCE (the Kish tablet).


We are now in a position to be able to place the Garden of Eden story into its historic context. Adam was driven from the Garden of Eden to become an agriculturalist, and his children Cain and Abel were also agriculturalists. By the fourth century BCE, which is when Adam and Eve lived, agriculture had become sufficiently advanced to sustain large urban centers.

The Torah recognizes that in the early stages of the Agricultural Revolution the ground was cursed, although it assumes that future technological advances will make farming easier.

To Adam he said: ” . . accursed is the ground because of you, through suffering shall you eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you, and you shall eat of the herb of the field. By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread until you return to the ground from which you were taken. . . ” (Genesis 3:17-19).


One can surmise that the Garden of Eden story is discussing the time before the invention of the plough, although even before this farmers were probably aware that the deeper they planted their grains the better they grew.

The plough was probably invented by the time of Noah. Following the flood, YKVK, the aspect of God that had cursed the ground at the time of Adam and Eve, says:

I [YKVK] will not continue to curse again the ground because of man, since the design of man’s heart is evil from his youth, nor will I again continue to smite every living being, as I have done. Continuously, all the days of the earth, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease (Genesis 8:21-22].


By the time the Torah was written, the plough had already been invented and was pulled by large farm animals.


There are a number of implications from this discussion. The notion of Adam and Eve being the first human beings can only be understood from an allegorical framework. It could be suggested that Adam was the first human being capable of achieving a certain religious sensitivity in relation to YKVK. He was also monotheistic and therefore able to communicate with God. However, this is unlikely since Homo sapiens were clearly people who sought religious expression, although not through monotheism.


This dating also explains why the Torah could call upon man and woman to multiply on the earth, since this would only have been possible with the onset of the Agricultural Revolution and its spread throughout the world.


It has been mentioned that Elokim calls upon man to procreate in the first creation story:

Elokim blessed them [male and female] and Elokim said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea, the bird of the sky and every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28)


We find almost identical wording to the creation account in the Noah story, again via the name of God Elokim:


And Elokim blessed Noah and his sons, and He said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land” (Genesis 9:1).


This was felt to be of such importance, that Elokim proceeds to make a covenant with Noah and all future humanity that there shall “never again be a flood to destroy all flesh”

This discussion does lead to the question – why does the Torah focus on this particular period in history and not any time proceeding it? Homo sapiens had already existed for hundreds of thousands of years.


I suggest the main reason is that the Torah is primarily a guide for civilization and for agricultural societies living within nations and/or living within empires. The societal challenges were then very different than they were for cave dwellers. This is the challenging world that the Torah was interested in. This is the world that needs guidance by means of a Torah and that needs a Jewish people to be the model for ethics and societal welfare in this type of society.



  1. Part Two The Agricultural Revolution in Sapiens. A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari, p87. Penguin Random House UK, 2011

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