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Bereshis seems to imply that Adam was literally the first human being (at least according to the normal translation). Do any commentators (preferably not modern ones) disagree with this?

  • I think you mislead in your question. Bereyshit starts with Bereyshit, It says NOTHING about previous worlds, creations or whatever. So after Bereyshit there was only Adam and his descendants. What happened before or outside the Creation Bereyshis talks about - feel free to speculate. – Al Berko Sep 22 at 15:46
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R Israel Lipschitz, the Tiferet Yisrael, author of a classic commentary on the Mishna, wrote in 1842 in his essay Ohr HaChayim, that there were other men before Adam

The Kabbalah teaches that in ancient times several worlds of living creatures were created and destroyed on Earth. Humans were first created 974 generations before Adam. With Adam, the world was renewed to suit the light of Torah, and mankind became refined enough to receive the Torah (from here)

See also this longer description (taken from this essay on YUTorah, pp. 23ff)

In my humble opinion, those men who lived in prehistoric times, called Pre-Adamites in their [i.e., the scientists’] language, are really the people of a world before Adam of our world. These are the 974 generations mentioned in in Shabbat (88a) and Hagigah (13b) who were created before this world. ... Since their world was corrupt, they were cut off 26 generations before reaching twenty-six generations. ... If we reckon that each generation is seventy years, this means that their world was destroyed after 6,818 years from its creation. These twenty-six generations that were missing in their world were completed from Adam to Moses our Teacher ... in which the world was prepared and refined well in order to receive the Torah.

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R Uri Sherqi, citing the Zohar (Wayiqra 10A), states that humans existed before Adam. The Zohar there states:

ואִי תֵּימָא, הָא כָּל בְּנֵי עָלְמָא מֵאָדָם נַפְקוּ, (לאו הכי דלא)...

And if you will say that all mankind came from Adam (it is not so)...

  • That's definitely how Rabbi Sherki takes it, but I wonder if the Zohar means something else by בְּהַאי אַרְעָא עִלָּאָה דְּאִקְרֵי תֵּבֵל - it seems (though I am certainly no expert in the Zohar) that it takes Adam to have been the father of all mankind on this earth, but there are other "lower earths" with different progenitors – b a Sep 22 at 10:16
  • @ba I don't think the surrounding context is required and that's why I omitted it. The conclusion remains the same: that Adam Harishon did not physically father all of mankind. The commentary thereafter only expounds on the idea. – Lee Sep 22 at 11:55
  • @ba That is only addressing the concept of the order of creation. Prior to eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil Adam HaRishon was not clothed in physical, material existence in the fashion that we are today. That is what is meant by ארעא עלאה in this context. – Yaacov Deane Sep 22 at 14:26
  • @Lee The reason why I added it is because I found it odd that the conclusion relies on words in parentheses that don't make a complete sentence – b a Sep 22 at 15:03
  • @YaacovDeane My understanding of the Zohar here is that the land we live in is the ארעה עלאה and that there are literally other layers of other lands that exist below it in parallel, with people who live about 10 years, like the story of Rabbi Nehoray (at the bottom of the page) who fell into the sea and found little people under the sea, and it's those people who aren't descended from Adam... it might not be literal, but that would negate the proof for literal humans not descended from Adam – b a Sep 22 at 15:09

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