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"In the beginning:" Where and
When Did the First Humans Live?

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Where did our first ancestors live?

According to many conservative Jews and Christians:

The book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament), states that the first humans -- Adam and Eve -- lived in the Garden of Eden.

There has been much speculation about the exact location of the Garden. No hard evidence of its existence has ever been found. Its exact location is not given in the creation story in the Bible, but the names of four nearby rivers are listed: Pishon, Gihon, Chidekel (the Tigris), and Phirat (the Euphrates).

Some conservative theologians now believe that the authors of Genesis believed that Garden was located either:

  • At the head of the Persian Gulf,

  • In southern Mesopotamia (now Iraq) where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers run into the sea, or

  • In the Armenian Highlands or Armenian Plateau. 2

Early leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- often referred to as the Mormons or the LDS church -- taught that the Garden of Eden was located in Jackson County, in western Missouri, near Kansas City in what is now the midwest United States.

According to many Muslims:

The Qur'an states that both Adam and Eve originally lived in a heavenly Garden of Eden when they ate the fruit from the only tree there: the tree of immortality. Because God had instructed them not to eat the fruit, they were both banished from the Garden, and sent down to Earth: Adam landed on the al-Safa mountain peak where he wept for 40 days, and repented of his sin. Eve landed on al-Marwah mountain top. They reunited on the plain of Arafat near Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia. Here, Cain and Abel were born. There is also a legend of a third son: Rocail.

A major difference between Islam and conservative Christianity is that Muslims believe that God forgave Adam and Eve for eating the forbidden fruit.

Many Christians have a different interpretation of the original couple's sin. They believe that God never forgave Adam and Eve. Due to scapegoating, the "Original Sin" has been passed down the hundreds of generations until the present day, and will continue in our future. They believe that one result of Original Sin is that the default place after death for humans is the torture chamber of Hell, unless they had first attain salvation while on on Earth.

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When did our first parents live?

According to many conservatives Jews and Christians:

There are a number of estimates of the time when the first humans lived on Earth. Some even including the exact month and day. Unfortunately, the estimates differ significantly. Scientific estimates are usually much earlier that religious estimates. There is little possibility that people with differing religious and scientific beliefs will ever be able to compromise on a single value.

  • The Jewish calendar is based on a creation date for the universe that was computed during the 2nd century CE by Rabbi Yose ben Halafta. He concluded that the first day of the creation week was on 3761-OCT-07 BCE -- some 5,779 years ago.

  • Some "young earth creationists" accept the estimate of former Bishop James Ussher of the Church of Ireland and Primate of All Ireland. During the year 1650 CE, he started his analysis with the date of an event in ancient Hebrew history that he believed was accurate. Then he worked backwards through various "begat" statements in the Hebrew Scriptures to find an estimate of the date of creation: 4004-OCT-23 BCE, at "the start of the evening" -- some 6,022 years ago. 3 How he selected October 23 is based on the fact that Jews and other ancient groups started their year in the fall. He consulted astronomical tables and seelcted the first Sunday after the Fall Equinox to start the year 4004 BCE. 12

    Dr. John Lightfoot, an Anglican clergyman, rabbinical scholar, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge used the same method to arrived at a slightly different estimate near the time of Autumnal Equinox in late 3929-SEP BCE, -- some 5,947 years ago..

  • Unfortunately, there is every likelihood that some of the "begat" statements referred to a man and his grandson, rather than a man and his son. Thus, an unknown number of generations may have been overlooked. This analytical method probably produces a date that is too recent. Many conservative Christians who believe in the Young Earth Creationism estimate that creation occurred at sometime up to 10,000 years ago.

According to many scientists who study evolution and many liberal Jews and Christians, etc:

Scientists have been able to estimate the time that our first male and female ancestors lived. They measured the rate at which human mitochondria has evolved over time. Mitochondria are often referred to as the "powerhouses of the cell." They "... turn sugars, fats and proteins that we eat, into forms of chemical energy that the body can use to carry on living." 9,10 Over tens of thousands of years, human mitochondria DNA (mtDNA) has evolved. By noting the variability of mitochondria today among humans and by estimating their rate of change, they can estimate how long ago the very first humans lived.

"Mitochondria Eve" (a.k.a. mt-mrca or African Eve) is:

"... the name given by researchers to the woman who is the matrilineal most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of all living humans."

That is, she is the first human female on Earth to whom all humans who have lived since her are related.

Similarly, "Y-chromosomal Adam," was the patrilineal MRCA -- the most recent male common ancestor.

Geneticists estimate that African Eve lived about 160,000 years ago. She lived somewhere along the eastern coast of Africa, in the area that is currently Ethiopia, Kenya, or Tanzania. 7,8,10

By analyzing DNA from people in all regions of the world, geneticist Spencer Wells has concluded that all humans alive today are descended from a single man who lived in central-north-west Africa around 160,000 to 300,000 years ago." 11

These findings have two factors that many people will find difficult to handle:

  • Having been separated geographically by thousands of miles and probably many tens of thousands of years, there is no possibility that African Eve or African Adam ever met. That implies that the first part of the book of Genesis cannot be interpreted literally.

  • All humans alive today have ancestors who lived in Africa! That is a very difficult concept for many white supremacists to accept.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. David B. Green, "This Day in Jewish History: 3761 BCE: The World Is Created, According to the Hebrew Calendar and an Obscure Sage," Haaretz, 2015-OCT-07, at: https://www.haaretz.com
  2. "Garden of Eden," Wikipedia, as on 2018-OCT-06, at:https://en.wikipedia.org/
  3. "Ussher chronology," Wikipedia, as on 2018-OCT-06, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  4. "How Long Ago Was Adam Created!?," About Islam, 2016-JUL-04, at: http://aboutislam.net/
  5. "Dating Creation," Wikipedia, as on 2018-APR-27, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  6. "Garden of Eden in Islam,"CloudMind, at http://cloudmind.info
  7. "Mitochondrial Eve," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  8. "Y-chromosomal Adam," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  9. "What are Mitochondria?," Mitochondrial Biology Unit, University of Cambridge, 2915, at: http://www.mrc-mbu.cam.ac.uk/
  10. "Mitochondrial Eve," Wikipedia, as on 2018-NOV-12, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  11. "Y-chromosomal Adam," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  12. "The World: Born in 4004 BC? Ussher and the Date of Creation," Answers in Genesis, 2006-APR-27, at: https://answersingenesis.org/

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Copyright 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2018-NOV-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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