Many of us have heard too many times in the Adam & Eve story that “Adam means dirt.” Humans are made of humus, blah de blah. How cool and ancient and mythical and overimaginative of those ancient Hebrews – right?
No, there’s a little more to it than that.
First of all – “dirt.” Mistranslated “dust of the ground” by King James and the RSV family of Bibles, the word means “fertile soil.” Adamah in the Hebrew (you see how closely it’s related to Adam). This is a particular word, not just any old dirt. It is soil – arable land. Think not about the dust of a desert, but about potting soil… an obviously fertile soil, the stuff from which all land plants and animals ultimately take their nourishment. But our potting soil is usually pretty blackish brown, and this is not the adamah’s color. The words adam and adamah are not only related to one another, but are related to the word adom, “ruddy,” reddish. This is particular soil – for the Israelites this is the color of the hills of home.
It tells them not only THAT God made them, but WHERE God made them. Egyptian soil and Babylonian soil have nothing on that particular soil from which a chosen group of people were made.
We can all say that God made us here – on this earth. Some of us have (over the millennia) wandered to northern regions where our skin didn’t need the melanin so much, and so we got a little paler, and so it’s funny, nearly ridiculous, to say white people were made from soil. Contrary to the pictures in many a Children’s Bible, however, people in biblical times didn’t have that problem. They understood that they belonged to that land, as surely as their skintone matched the fertile soil.
In a world of cheap travel, adventure, frequent voluntary relocation, and of the nonvoluntary diaspora and exile of many people-groups… we lose our sense of belonging to a land.
Where do you belong? Where were you made? What color is your dirt? What is the land you cannot abandon?