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(Original: Are there any traditional Jewish sources that state that the story of Adam Harishon is a metaphor and/or that there were other intelligent human beings already on the earth prior to Adam’s creation/birth?)

EDITED:

I have two different but related questions:

  1. Are there any traditional Jewish sources (by that I mean any writings by a Torah observant Jew from antiquity to present day) that that say that the story of Adam and Chava is a metaphor?

  2. A related, but different question: are there any traditional Jewish sources that say that intelligent humans lived on earth prior to Adam’s creation?

In case you’re curious as to my MO, I’m an Orthodox, Yeshiva educated Jew. I have my own opinion on the matter, which isn’t really relevant. I’ve been curious as to the literature on this for a while.

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    Your question contains several aspects which are exclusive of each other. Traditional sources say what is found in the text of the written Torah must be understood and accepted according to their plain meaning. That means for you that the story of Adam HaRishon is not a metaphor. But what that plain meaning is actually saying is related to the 2nd part of your question (were there other individuals already on earth). Who they were & how they differed from Adam HaRishon is a very large subject. You should probably try to limit your question to a single detail. Dec 16, 2020 at 19:58
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    Answer=no there aren't
    – Shlomy
    Dec 16, 2020 at 20:47
  • judaism.stackexchange.com/q/31408/13438
    – Alex
    Dec 16, 2020 at 21:39
  • @YaacovDeane "Traditional sources say what is found in the text of the written Torah must be understood and accepted according to their plain meaning." I find this difficult to believe.
    – The GRAPKE
    Dec 17, 2020 at 3:00
  • Related, possibly duplicate: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/77190/…
    – Alex
    Dec 18, 2020 at 4:16

3 Answers 3

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The story of Adam can be accepted as a metaphor & as an actual person. Do you mean "just a metaphor"?

As far as life before Adam, Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadok compiled the list below of seforim that include info about those that lived before Adam:

  • Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan quotes the Tiferet Israel in "Immortality, Resurrection & the Age of the Universe" on this topic.

  • The Yalkhut Reuveni, Sefer HaTemunah, Sefer HaKana, Ma’arekhet Elokut, Shatul Mayim on Sefer HaIkarim, Sefer Livnat HaSapir of Rabbi David ben Yehuda HaHasid (Sefardi), Sefer Shoshan Sodot. And the Tikunei Zohar makes reference to it in Tikun 36.

  • Among the famous Sages who reference it include the RaMBaN, Rabbeynu Bahya, Rabbi Yitzhak D’Min Acco, Recanati on the Torah, Tziyuni on the Torah, the Radbaz, Rabbi David Zimra (the Kabbalistic teacher of the Ari’zal)

He does point out though that R' Chaim Vitale believed that the people before Adam never actually physically manifested, but that they stayed in a spiritual state. However, the Arizal was silent on the matter.

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  • Hi Just Me. Very nice collection of sources. Regarding your last paragraph, since it refers to Rabbi Chaim Vital who transmitted the teachings of the Ari z"l (kabbalistic teachings) it is worth mentioning a general teaching from the Ari z"l and the kabbalists who preceded him. There is nothing manifest in the physical, material world that doesn't have its source in the spiritual. We know today through numerous archeological examples that these physical creatures existed in this world. If Rabbi Vital truly held the view stated, it is more a testimony to his unawareness of the physical reality. Dec 21, 2020 at 20:11
  • Thanks for clearing that up about the teaching among the kabbalist...yes, there is a lot of evidence (& even evidence of cover-ups) of these physical creatures having existed & still existing in this world. For instance, Graham Hancock is a great source on the topic of evidence for humans having existed 100,000 years ago & how cover ups in the scientific community began over this subject. And Islamic & Native American teachings are a great source of the abilities & background of some of these creatures. However, he wanted "traditional Jewish sources", so I stuck with that.
    – anon
    Dec 22, 2020 at 22:19
  • But there is a very important point to note and reflect upon. The Torah of Moshe is also required to be understood according to its plain meaning. That means that Adam HaRishon was created 5781 years ago. And if this is true, it requires understanding (or trying to understand) what exactly was created at that time and how did it differ from those beings who preceded this creation? And that is more in keeping with the idea that Adam (the name given this 1st human) is similar (דומה לעליון) to G-d above like is understood according to the plain text of the Torah. Dec 23, 2020 at 0:34
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Regarding Question One.

Are there any traditional Jewish sources (by that I mean any writings by a Torah observant Jew from antiquity to present day) that that say that the story of Adam and Chava is a metaphor?

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (The Ramchal) writes in Da'as Tevunos that all that took place in the story of Adam and Chava in Gan Eden is literal, but it took place on an unimaginably refined, higher spiritual plane. (Musing on that, I wonder if perhaps that could be considered an embodied metaphor?)

The link to explore the piece in the Ramchal is below and I have extracted a few relevant sections that shed light on the matter and translated one of the most pertinent sections.

https://www.sefaria.org/Da'at_Tevunoth.126.7?vhe=%D7%A1%D7%A4%D7%A8_%D7%93%D7%A2%D7%AA_%D7%AA%D7%91%D7%95%D7%A0%D7%95%D7%AA&lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

ונמצא שבתחלה קודם חטאו של אדם היה הוא במעלה גדולה, ראשונה - בעיקר מציאותו, פירוש, בתולדות מעשיו, שהיו מגיעים לרום העולם, כמו שכתבנו; והשנית - בצורתו ובצורת מעשיו בתבנית גופו ממש, כי כבר היה זוך גופו כמציאות המלאכים ממש

ונמצא שבתחלה קודם חטאו של אדם היה הוא במעלה גדולה, ראשונה - בעיקר מציאותו, פירוש, בתולדות מעשיו, שהיו מגיעים לרום העולם, כמו שכתבנו; והשנית - בצורתו ובצורת מעשיו בתבנית גופו ממש, כי כבר היה זוך גופו כמציאות המלאכים ממש

ותראי, כי גן עדן - מה שהיה הוא שיהיה - ודאי מקום דק ורוחני, ששם חונות הרוחות גם עתה; והתורה העידה על אדם שהיה שם, והיה אוכל ונהנה מן הפירות הצומחים שם. ואמנם כיון שהמקום אנו רואים שהוא עכשיו מדור לנשמות, צריך שהפירות שהיו שם לא היו דברים גשמיים וגסים, כמו שהם הפירות של העולם הזה, אלא יותר דקים מאד מאד,

ותראי, כי הגופניות של אדם הראשון קודם חטאו היה בערך הרוחניות אשר לו עתה

אמנם זה כלל ענין שני העצים - עץ החיים ועץ הדעת; שודאי אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו, והעצים - עצים היו, והפירות - פירות, והאכילה - אכילה, אך פירות דקים ואכילה דקה, מה שאין מחשבתנו מציירת

Couldn't easily find an english translation online so I will translate the last sentence as,

"However this is the totality of the matter, the two trees, the tree of life and tree of knowledge, certainly the words of the Torah do not depart from their simple meaning. The trees were trees, the fruit was fruit, and the eating was eating. However the fruit was on a subtler level as was the eating, in a way that we can't imagine"

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In She'elot U'Teshuvot of the Rashba (volume one, responsa 417), is published the 3rd Cherem (excomunication) the Rabbis of Barcelona are pronouncing on those who ridicule the Torah, as well as banning their books. The Rashba is also one of the signators of the Cherem.

In there, it says (my translation):

...They ridicule the sages, as the other nations do...and they fill their houses with empty vessels, saying that from Creation until the giving of the Torah is purely allegorical.

You can read there for more accusations and context.

So we see that the Rashba and the other rabbis of Barcelona said it was forbidden to say that the stories in Bereshit were a metaphor.

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