Not so naturalistic? – The 974 generations

Two people who think more of the stories that some of those human who are labelled “scientists” make up than I do, they approached me with a claim to show that their ideas are not simply the product of human imagination mixed with circumstantial evidence. They told me that the belief that the world was much much older than thousands of years was clear and apparent in Torah. And the evidence that they produced? It was the statement that there were 974 generations before the creation of man.

Let me say that again, because it’s important that I see for myself the wording of their claim:

There were 974 generations before the first man.

Now before it is said that I am misquoting, one of these good people (and they are good people – just because they esteem the products of human imagination mixed with circumstantial evidence, that doesn’t make them bad or evil) happened to write a fantastic book. In this fantastic book, he attempted to put forth his belief that somehow the notion of billions of years is somehow the point of view of Torah or Judaism. Let me quote him.

The Sages of the Talmud taught that there were 974 generations of pre-Adamite man, that modern man has been around for 44,731 years. This is approximately the same time as the appearance of Cro-Magnon man, when “human history … took off around 50,000 years ago, at the time of what I have termed our Great Leap Forward.” (pg 31, Secular by Design – A Philosophy of Noahide Laws and Observances, by Alan W. Cecil)

Again, I would recommend this book to anyone. There is loads of good stuff in it. I would recommend a book like “The Divine Code” to anyone as well. But, with either book, it doesn’t mean I agree with everything in it.

So pay attention! There were “974 generations of pre-Adamite man” and “modern man has been around for just under forty-five thousand years”. He then promotes the story created by the imagination of some people who may have found some bones some place. This is quite a concrete claim. Someone else told me more or less the same thing, that the Talmud teaches that there were 974 generations of humans before Adam.

Again, the claim is that the Talmud teaches that there were 974 generations of humans living on this planet before Adam.

Now what I had neglected to do before walking away from these claims is to actually look at what the Talmud says. That was awfully silly of me, wasn’t it? (I agree, David! That was silly of you!) So, after I’ve been doing some digging, I was prompted to read this section. Do you know what it actually says when translated into English?

It’s taken from Tractate Chagigah 13b-14a. And this is what it says in the Soncino edition.

It is taught: R. Simeon the Pious said: These are the nine hundred and seventy four generations who pressed themselves forward to be created (52) before the world was created, but were not created: the Holy One, blessed be He, arose and planted them1 in every generation, and it is they who are the insolent2 of each generation.

Hmmm … Do you see what I see? Who am I talking to anyway? I guess I’m talking to myself again. I need to stop typing my introspection. Or maybe not. I’m doing it again, aren’t I?

Now to be blunt, I don’t know how literal this is. But I’ll just comment on what it actually says. Now it’s true that it mentions 974 generations. But what does it say about these generations? It says that generations “pressed themselves to be created.” But that would mean that these generations were not yet created. Anyway, so it says that these generations pressed to be created, but they were not created. Huh? So they wanted to be created before the world was created but they weren’t created? Seems so. But the text itself seems to suggest that these generations did not come into being. In fact, if you read the text, it says what bacame of these generations. It says God planted these 974 generations in each generation (that has existed on the earth), and they are the ones who are the insolent in each generation. So these are not the pre-Adamite man. They are not previous earthly animals who had the chance to be “ensouled,” as some teach. They become the people who live the times and generations after man’s creation who are insolent. That leads to a further point.

You can see that I kept the the number “(52)” in the text. This refers to a footnote. Let’s see what that footnote says.

(52) According to the Rabbinic interpretation of Ps. CV, 8, the Divine Plan originally envisaged the creation of a thousand generations prior to the giving of the Torah, but foreseeing their wickedness, God held back nine hundred and seventy-four generations, and gave the Torah at the end of twenty-six generations from Adam (cf. Gen. V, XI, Ex. VI,
16-20, and Seder ‘Olam Ch. 1).

So based on this, the 974 generations has nothing to do with “pre-Adamite man”, nor previous animals that weren’t ensouled. This links to the word “insolent” seen in the text of the Talmud itself. It has no inkling about generations who lived before man.

So if I get this right, the text of the Talmud itself doesn’t speak of people or many generation of animals (or chimp-like creatures) existing before Adam. The understanding given in the footnote says nothing about people existing before Adam. So … well there’s not much to the claim.

I gotta say though, it was interesting reading what tractate Chagigah had to say about the days of creation. Apparently, 10 things were created on the first day, not just light. They include water and the length of a day (a period of light and a period of dark). Very interesting. It answers a few questions that were put to me.

Anyway, back to business …

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2 Comments

  1. This is why “reading the Talmud” without a teacher (or even the main commentaries) is a bad idea. It wasn’t meant to be learned that way, and will only lead the reader to misunderstand what’s being said and the proper conclusions.

    • I agree. The Talmud definitely needs to be taught by a rabbi or read with rabbinical guidance.

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