In a comment on a recent parshablog post, SPACE wrote the following:
What's your take on: Talmud Chaggiga 13b-14a states that there were 974 generations before God created Adam.My take on this is that I probably do not understand that cryptic gemara, but that I think that those who take it as Talmudic support for evolution or an old earth are quite possibly mistaken and overeager. As a sample, here :
And this:A small minority of classical rabbis believed that the world is older, and that life as we know it today did not always exist. Rabbis who had this view based their conclusions on verses in the Talmud the midrash. For example:
- Talmud Chaggiga 13b-14a states that there were 974 generations before God created Adam.
- Some midrashim state that the "first week" of Creation lasted for extremely long periods of time. See Anafim on Rabbenu Bachya's Sefer Ikkarim 2:18; Midrash Bereshit Rabbah 9.
Around 974 generations before Adam, or some 25,000 years ago, man developed all the physical and mental capabilities that we possess today" (Kaplan 187). The difference between Adam, and his human ancestors, was that Adam was given a "divine soul."The gemara in question:
ר (איוב כב, טז) אשר קומטו ולא עת נהר יוצק יסודם תניא אמר רבי שמעון החסיד אלו תשע מאות ושבעים וארבע דורות שקומטו להיבראות קודם שנברא העולם ולא נבראו עמד הקב"ה ושתלן בכל דור ודור והן הן עזי פנים שבדור
It sounds mystical and kabbalistic, and I'm sure the kabbalists have interpreted this to good end. Here is what Soncino has to say, and I think it is pretty convincing:"Who pressed forward before their time, whose foundation was poured out as a stream. (Iyov 22:16)" It is taught: R. Simeon the Pious said: These are the nine hundred and seventy four generations who pressed themselves forward to be created before the world was created, but were not created: the Holy One, blessed be He, arose and planted them in every generation, and it is they who are the insolent of each generation.
According to this, there were no predecessors to humankind in 974 generations. There was some initial plan for 1000 generations, which was held back from coming into being. Therefore, there is no real indication from this gemara that the world is much older than would be indicated by a simple reading of Bereishit, or that there was an evolution of the species.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). The translation here follows the text of MS. M. 2 (v. D.S. a.I. n. 20) viz. עצמן להיבראות (pi'el), שקיטמו, curr. edd.: להיבראות (pu'al) שקוטמו
Unfortunately, oftentimes sources like this are cryptic, and cryptic sources are great for proving whatever it is one wants to prove.