Premortal existence of a “First Man” suggested in the book of Job

04.29.2013 | Matthew Roper

Note: Each month, we’ll feature posts from each of the Maxwell Institute’s initiatives. Today’s post is from Matthew Roper, a research scholar here representing the Willes Center. —BHodges    

One noteworthy Latter-day Saint teaching is that Adam, the “first man” (D&C 84:16; Moses 1:34; 3:7; 6:45; Abraham 1:3), had a premortal existence (Moses 3:5) and was present at the planning and creation of the earth (Abraham 3:22-26).[1] In a study of the biblical idea of Adam, Dexter Callender suggests that the idea of the premortal existence of the first man can be found in the book of Job.[2] Job’s accuser Eliphaz challenges the suffering man’s claims to wisdom, asking, “Are you the firstborn of the human race? Were you brought forth before the hills? Have you listened in the council of God? And do you limit wisdom to yourself? What do you know that we do not know?” (Job 15:7-9 NRSV). Eliphaz’s point is that Job cannot lay claim to such heavenly wisdom because he was obviously not “the firstborn of the human race.” Behind this question, however, rests a presupposition that the first man could indeed lay claim to such heavenly wisdom. Several elements in these verses lead to this conclusion.

First, the primal man is described in Job 15:7 as having been “brought forth” rather than “created” (bārāʾ) as in Genesis 1:27 or “formed” (yāṣar) as in Gen 2:7. The Hebrew verb in Job 15:7 is neither “created” nor “formed,” but rather it comes from the root ḥyl in the polal form and means “to bring forth (through labor pains).”[3] The usage of this verb seems to point to an event distinct from that described in Genesis. In Job, notes Callender, “the first human was thought to have been born before the hills” and is described as “as having come into existence through natural means, that is through birth.”[4]

Second, in Genesis man’s physical body is created on the sixth day, yet in Job the first man is said to have been born “before the hills” (Job 15:7), a phrase that is also used to describe the feminine personified figure of Wisdom in Proverbs, where wisdom is said to have been possessed by God “from the beginning or ever the earth was” and “before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth” (Proverbs 8:23, 25). This language, applied to both wisdom and the first man, seems to place the first man’s birth at the beginning of the creative period, rather than at the end of the sixth day.

Third, the question, “Have you listened in the council of God?” is informed by a context that places the first man in God’s heavenly council where he has access to heavenly wisdom. “According to Eliphaz, the wisdom of the primordial human came as a result of his presence within the council of God, and the fact that he ‘listened.’”[5] “The first man was wise,” notes Margaret Barker, “because he was in the council of God.”[6] Callender observes that the use of the verbs in this passage may be “alluding to a particular divine council [cf. Gen. 1:26] in which the plan of creation was revealed” or it may indicate continuing access, meaning “art thou wont to be a listener.”[7]

Finally, in Job 38-41, the Lord lists many things that Job, with limited mortal knowledge could not know, but which God does know by virtue of his wisdom as Creator. “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:4-7). The “First Man,” notes Herbert May, “was present at the creation of the world when the morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy. . . . The theme is wisdom and knowledge which Job, in contrast with God, does not have; he was not there (as First Man was there) when God laid the foundations of the earth and the members of God’s council (the morning stars, the sons of God) rejoiced.”[8]

In response to God’s question, Job would have to admit that he did not know, but the first man, a figure often associated with the ideology of kingship in the ancient Near East could have answered affirmatively, since as one associated with God at the creation he had access to divine wisdom about the creation of the earth.[9] He “was present at the creation and by virtue of that fact possessed wisdom in its most intimate details. The divine speeches in [Job] chapters 38-41 make clear that the secrets of the universe lie within the primordium, the epoch of creation. As one who ‘was born then,’ he knew the deepest and most esoteric of knowledge.”[10] Having once stood in the heavenly council where he learned the wisdom of creation, “he is numbered among the sons of God” spoken of who shouted for joy.[11] The idea that the first man was in some way born before the creation of the earth, took part in the divine councils and was among those who sang together and shouted for joy will resonate with Latter-day Saints, who understand through Latter-day revelation that not only Adam, but all humankind shared a premortal existence before the foundation of the world (D&C 93:23, 29).

 

FOOTNOTES

1. “The Priesthood was first given to Adam: he obtained the first Presidency & held the Keys of it, from generation to Generation; he obtained it in the creation before the world was formed as in Gen. 1, 26:28,–he had dominion given him over every living Creature. He is Michael, the Archangel, spoken of in the Scriptures.” Joseph Smith Discourse, 8 August, 1839, in The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook (Provo, UT: Grandin Book Company, 1991), 8. For several recent studies of the idea of premortal existence see Terryl L. Givens, When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Existence in Western Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), Job and Eliphaz are mentioned on pp. 13-14; Dana M. Pike, “Exploring the Biblical Phrase ‘God of the Spirits of All Flesh,’” in Bountiful Harvest: Essays in Honor of S. Kent Brown, ed. Andrew C. Skinner, D. Morgan Davis, and Carl Griffin (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2011), 313-27.

2. Dexter E. Callender Jr., Adam in Myth and History: Ancient Israelite Perspectives on the Primal Human (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2000).

3. Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 310-11.

4. Callender, 141.

5. Callender, 175.

6. Margaret Barker, The Older Testament: The Survival of Themes from the Ancient Royal Cult in Sectarian Judaism and Early Christianity (Sheffield: Phoenix Press, 2005), 244n4.

7. Callender, 147, citing Samuel Rolles Driver and George Buchanan Gray, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Job, vol. 2 (N.Y.: Scribner’s, 1921), 96.

8. Herbert G. May, “The King in the Garden of Eden,” in Israel’s Prophetic Heritage, ed. B. W. Anderson and W. Harrelson (New York: Harper, 1962),  170, 172-73.

9. N. Wyatt, Myths of Power: A Study of the Royal Myth and Ideology in Ugarit and Biblical Tradition (Munster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1996), 269-70.

10. Callender, 176.

11. Callender, 213.