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Adam's Ancestors

Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins

David N. Livingstone

Publication Year: 2011

Although the idea that all human beings are descended from Adam is a long-standing conviction in the West, another version of this narrative exists: human beings inhabited the Earth before, or alongside, Adam, and their descendants still occupy the planet. In this engaging and provocative work, David N. Livingstone traces the history of the idea of non-adamic humanity, and the debates surrounding it, from the Middle Ages to the present day. From a multidisciplinary perspective, Livingstone examines how this alternative idea has been used for cultural, religious, and political purposes. He reveals how what began as biblical criticism became a theological apologetic to reconcile religion with science—evolution in particular—and was later used to support arguments for white supremacy and segregation. From heresy to orthodoxy, from radicalism to conservatism, from humanitarianism to racism, Adam's Ancestors tells an intriguing tale of twists and turns in the cultural politics surrounding the age-old question, "Where did we come from?"

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

The idea for this book was born one afternoon in March 1999 at the University of California at Berkeley. I got into a conversation with Ronald Numbers, who mentioned an exploratory essay I had published a few years earlier on the idea of humans before Adam. Ron suggested that I might return to that theme to try to flesh out the story and write...

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1. BEGINNINGS: Questioning the Mosaic Record

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pp. 1-25

Ever since 1611, when the King James Bible first appeared, these words have introduced Bible readers to Adam, the father of the human race. With sonorous majesty these words give voice to a doctrine that has circulated since ancient times, stretching back through...

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2. HERESY: Isaac La Peyr

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pp. 26-51

In february 1656 thirty armed men reportedly burst into the Brussels lodgings of an emissary of the prince of Cond

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3. POLITY: The Cultural Politics of the Adamic Narrative

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pp. 52-79

For all the scorn poured on La Peyr

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4. APOLOGETICS: Pre-Adamism and the Harmony of Science and Religion

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pp. 80-108

As the nineteenth century dawned, the sense that strategies needed to be developed to keep scientific findings and religious faith in tandem gripped more and more minds. Challenges from geology, ethnology, and philology, supplemented...

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5. ANTHROPOLOGY: Adam, Adamites, and the Science of Ethnology

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pp. 109-136

The pre-adamites had certainly come to dwell with theologians and writers of popular apologetics. This does not mean, however, that they did not occupy other cultural spaces too. They showed up, for example, in works with little concern for accommodating theology...

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6. ANCESTORS: Evolution and the Birth of Adam

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pp. 137-168

In popular consciousness, if not in scholarly opinion, the theory of evolution finally killed off Adam. Widespread reports of “The Death of Adam,” as several books have been entitled, have cemented this impression. John C. Greene’s Death of Adam, for example, is subtitled “Evolution and Its Impact...

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7. BLOODLINES: Pre-Adamism and the Politics of Racial Supremacy

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pp. 169-200

Throughout the era when pre-adamism was undergoing its own evolution from polygenism to monogenism in response to Darwinian transformations, the theory’s potential to serve the politics of racial ideology was being fully exploited among...

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8. SHADOWS: The Continuing Legacy of Pre-Adamite Discourse

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pp. 201-218

While pre-adamism as a species of theological anthropology reached its heyday during the second half of the nineteenth century, it would be mistaken to think that it has since then become entirely extinct. To the contrary. It has continued to thrive...

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9. DIMENSIONS: Concluding Reflections

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pp. 219-224

The idea that all human beings are descended from Adam is deeply embedded in the thought forms of Western culture and of the monotheistic religions more generally. In both sacred and secular consciousness the assumption of the universal descent of...


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pp. 225-254


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pp. 255-285


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pp. 287-301

E-ISBN-13: 9781421401430
E-ISBN-10: 1421401436
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421400655
Print-ISBN-10: 1421400650

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 24 halftones, 2 line drawings
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context