This article originally appeared in Christianity Today XVI.24 (1972) 6-7 [September 15, 1972]
The interest Canadians have shown in Erich von Däniken's books - Chariots of the Gods (Bantam, 1971) and Gods From Outer Space (Bantam, 1972) - has been heightened by a television program on his archaeological puzzles. Even if we dismiss his comparisons of cave drawings to men in space suits, the identification of Ezekiel's wheels within wheels as flying saucers and Lot's angels as planetary visitors to Sodom, there is still much to think about. Archaeologists and ancient historians will be forced to make some attempt to answer von Däniken's puzzling questions about the pyramids, the astronomical data on very ancient monuments, the 2,000-ton cut stone blocks of. Baalbeck, and so on. His theory assumes that these and many other achievements of the ancient world must be explained by the visits of superior beings who came in spaceships.
Unfortunately many Christian scholars who otherwise take the Bible seriously have pushed the date of the first human beings too far back to make any sense of the marvels of our ancestors in the third millennium B.C. They have assumed that Adam and Eve must have preceded the first cavemen. The difficulty is that archaeologists and anthropologists have traced the origin of bunters that looked like modern men to, say, 50,000 years B.C. And lower Paleolithic creatures may have roamed this earth a million years ago. Where then would we fit Adam and Eve?
It is wise to remind ourselves that the Bible tells us nothing whatever about the first animals that stood upright, or that may have looked like men. The Bible begins with a very particular species of person. Let us call him Genesis Man. This is the race that began with Adam.
Genesis Man has three defining characteristics. First of all, he is said to be dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7). This indicates that chemically he is made up of the 105 or so atomic elements, and whatever glory he may have while alive, he reverts at death to the dust from which he came. Second, Genesis Man is a creature that breathes; he has the breath of life (Gen. 2:7). This breath of life is a purely animal function, as is evident from the fact that the beasts of the earth, reptiles, and birds are said to have the same breath of life (Gen. 1:30).
What distinguishes Genesis Man from all other animals, and this could include all sorts of erect creatures that looked more or less like men, is that he is in the image of God (Gen. 1:26, 27). The exact meaning of this is a matter for theologians to clarify. I suggest that at least the image of God requires the ability to worship God, and to pray or converse with God. The Bible tells us that this kind of person was created suddenly in comparatively recent times, let us say roughly 3900 B.C.
Referring to the biblical account of the creation of man, von Däniken tells us that according to his "speculations" we can explain the sudden development of modern man only by postulating "unknown intelligences" that came to our world and artificially made major changes in our genetic code (Gods From Outer Space, p. 26). It seems simpler to stick to biblical terminology and say that this was God's creative intervention. In any case, whatever man-like apes, tool-using Mammoth hunters, seed-planting cavemen, and so on may have existed before must be classed as animals, not as Genesis Man, made in the image of God. If bees can build fantastically complicated geometric hives, beavers can drop trees in the right direction to build dams, birds and fish can migrate and spawn unerringly after long journeys to rear their young in the right place, why should we be surprised if animals that stood upright and looked rather like us had skills like seed-planting?
We should note how precisely the Bible sets out the dates of Genesis Man. We too readily assume that we must ditch biblical chronology to protect our intellectual respectability. One merit of von Däniken's way-out questions is that they force us to reconsider the tremendous achievements of our ancestors in the fourth and third millennia B.C.
We begin with the statement in First Kings 6: 1, which dates the Exodus from Egypt 480 years before the foundation of the temple in the fourth year of Solomon's reign. Allowing for minor errors in either direction, let us take Solomon's reign as 971-931 B.C,, and the Exodus at say 1447 B.C. Scholars usually give a later date for the Exodus, about 1280 B.C., but let us stick to this dating by some unknown scribe. Now according to Exodus 12:40 the Egyptian sojourn was 430 years, and the Septuagint takes this period to begin with Abraham's first descent into Egypt in Exodus 12. Based on this, Abraham's dates would be 1952-1777 B.C. He would 'have known the splendors of the Egypt of the Middle Kingdom (c. 2134-1786), and Joseph would have come to power in Egypt under the dynasty of the foreign Hyksos shepherd kings (c. 1786-1570 B.C.-Chronology as in the New Bible Dictionary, p. 340).
Given Abraham's dates as 1952-1777 B.C., the closely interlocking chronology of Genesis 11 would place the biblical flood at 2244 B.C., and the dates of Genesis 5 if we take them literally then place the origin of Genesis Man at 3900 B.C. This is just about the date given for the beginning of Chalcolithic period (4000-3200 B.C.), which followed the earlier Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic men. Interestingly enough, Tubal-cain is credited with being the originator of metal-working (Gen. 4:22).
It now becomes obvious that on this system of dating, the great Pyramid Age of Egypt, the Old Kingdom, preceded the biblical flood. We know that both the Classic Sumerian period of Mesopotamia (c. 2700-2250 B.C.) and the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2650-2200 B.C.) were times of astonishingly advanced scientific accomplishment. We also know that both ended suddenly within a few years of the date we have given for the biblical flood, and they were followed by intermediate periods of confusion till eventually new dynasties came to power.
At present we have no evidence of a great flood moving across the fertile crescent from Egypt to Ur and across into the Indus-Valley civilization of India. The very recent discovery of the collapse of the island of Thera and the resultant three-hundred-foot waves that destroyed the Minoan civilization of Crete (see National Geographic, May 1972, article by Marinatos) should, however, make us hesitate before assuming that such a cataclysm was impossible. We do know that the memory of a vast flood, from which only one family survived, is recorded in the traditions of many ancient people. Sumerian tablets from Nippur dated about 2000 B.C. mention Ziusuddu as the equivalent of Noah. They also list ten "great men" who correspond to the ten generations from Adam to Noah in Genesis 5. The Accadian tablets, usually called "The Epic of Gilgamesh," seem to be based on the Sumerian and biblical accounts with many fanciful embellishments.
Now let us return to the questions raised by Erich von Däniken. In Chariots of the Gods and the later book, his recurring argument is that the achievements of ancient man, and in particular the Egyptians and Sumerians in the third millennium B.C., can be accounted for only by the arrival of superior beings from a civilization in outer space. The Bible tells us much more simply that God created Genesis Man, as we have called him, in his own image. Von Däniken is puzzled by the fact that the first great pyramids must have taken several hundred years to build (he estimates six hundred): since kings reign for only thirty or forty years, the pharaohs could not have built the pyramids in preparation for their death. This would be no problem if the average lifespan of Genesis Man before the flood was about nine hundred.
In passing we should note that archaeologists always seem to assume that the conditions of life have continued unchanged. It would be interesting to know the genetic mechanism whereby men in southern Russia in the region of Georgia often live 150 years. If God created a new race of Genesis Man, why should not his genetic timing for puberty and aging have been set for 900 years instead of 150, or 120, or 70? Obviously, however, if the first Genesis Men, created in the image of God, lived nine centuries, their fantastic achievements in astronomy, metallurgy, pyramid-building, and other areas would be understandable.
We need not claim that the biblical accounts in Genesis are easy to understand, but at least we should give these ancient writers the courtesy of being taken seriously. As a result of von Däniken's books and television program, many thinking laymen are now asking questions that the previous generation of archaeologists and anthropologists either cannot or will not attempt to answer. Those of us who take the Bible seriously should hasten to reexamine our hoary presuppositions. It is not by accident that Genesis is the first book of the Bible. We should use it as the foundation of our biblical view of man, and man must be carefully defined as Genesis Man, no mere evolving animal but a new creation in the image of God.