restricted access 3. POLITY: The Cultural Politics of the Adamic Narrative
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52 3 5 Polity The Cultural Politics of the Adamic Narrative F or all the scorn poured on La Peyrère and the idea of nonadamic races, the political significance of the narrative of human origins and diversity reasserted itself with ever greater force during the eighteenth century. Certainly, refutations continued to surface. Itemizing the strategies that several of his critics mounted in their effort to preserve received wisdom about Adam as the father of all humankind will help to convey something of the disquiet La Peyrère’s heresy continued to induce. These reflections will serve as background to a consideration of debates congregating around the role that climate was thought to play in the processes of racial differentiation. The politicization of human origins that preoccupied pre-adamism’s proponents and detractors throughout the eighteenth century will thereafter command attention as we examine something of the ways in which scientific inquiry, linguistic diversification, moral philosophy , race relations, and cultural politics were intimately interwoven. Criticism and Conjecture In 1718 the French Catholic apologist and orientalist Eusebius Renaudot (1648–1720) used his translation of two ancient Arabic travelers to snipe at La Peyrère’s theory. Numbered among those chronologists who had “put Weapons into the hands of Libertins and Free-thinkers,” he told the readers of his appended dissertation on Chinese learning, was “the Author of the Preadamite System.” Although La Peyrère’s acquaintances themselves re- Polity: The Cultural Politics of the Adamic Narrative 53 ported that “he was so ignorant that he scarce understood Latin, yet having formed a System by wresting some Passages of Scripture to his own mind . . . he laid hold on it not only as a very valid Proof of his own Whims, but also of the infinit [sic] number of Years the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians reckoned, which the very Heathens themselves rejected as fabulous.” Many had been “insnared thereby,” Renaudot judged, “not to become Preadimites [sic] indeed, but to harbor other Notions equally subversive of Religion.”1 Still, those who sought, even with seeming casualness, to refute the speculation found themselves having to multiply ever more extreme conjectures in the effort to preserve literal readings of the Genesis text. Illustrative here was the doctrinal conspectus by the minister of the independent church at Three Cranes in London, Thomas Ridgley (1667–1734). A proponent of strict Calvinism , Ridgley rejected what he saw as various liberalizing tendencies in the Anglican Church and produced a number of publications on creed making and other religious subjects. In his two-volume Body of Divinity of 1731, Ridgley turned his readers’ attention to the adamic origins of the human race and paused to attack the “bold writer” who “about the middle of the last Century, published a book, in which he advanced a new and fabulous notion ; that there was a world of men, who lived before Adam was created; and that these were all heathen; and that Moses speaks of their creation, as what was many ages before Adam, in Gen. i. and of Adam’s in Chap. ii. whom he supposes to have been created in some part of the world, which was then uninhabited.” Ridgley found this theory offensive and subversive of the entire doctrinal structure of Christianity, and it was therefore no surprise to him that, even though “Peirerius’” book was “not much known in the world, yet the notion is propagated and defended by many Atheists and Deists.”2 Accordingly, he felt compelled to attack the idea in several catechetical responses to questions about the adamic world. And here the need for increasingly speculative extravagance to save biblical appearances manifested itself. In seeking to explain global demography, for example, and to account for the populating of Cain’s city from Adam’s own offspring, Ridgley resorted to what might best be described as Edenic hyper-fecundity. In primeval days, he surmised, procreation took place “in an uncommon degree, the necessity of things requiring it.” Indeed, he did not consider it “absurd to suppose, that, at least, as many children were generally born at a birth, and in as early an age of the mother’s life, as have been or are, in any uncommon instances in later ages.” In addition to this natal prodigality, Ridgley added that “the time of child-bearing continued many years longer than it now doth . . . and, if the age of man was extended to eight or nine hundred years, we may conclude that 54 adam’s ancestors there were...


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