Welcome to what I hope will shape up to be the first installment of a series on Biblical Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (and I say “hope” because it’s really demanding collecting, editing and commenting on the texts). I have already posted an article in Greek on the subject discussed in this post, but it had several serious flaws and my attempt to correct it led to this english article, along with the accompanying material.
We begin with “The life of Adam and Eve”, a series of books written in various languages about the first couple of humans in Christian Mythology. By reading the texts it becomes readily apparent why they were never canonized, as their theology diverges significantly from the mainstream (even that of the first centuries) but there are several details that pop out as being part of Christian Mythology, even though they appear nowhere in the Bible.
These apocryphal books are extremely interesting since they basically enrich the first chapters of Genesis, filling in blanks in the narration of the life of Adam and Eve and offering a more complete view of the jewish myth of the creation of the human race.
I will focus mainly on the greek “Apocalypsis Mosis” since I can read it for myself. Though you can read a few things about the latin “Vita Adae et Evae” as well, my lack of fluency in Latin limits my ability to comment, so I will simply present the text and a translation along with a brief summary. However, don’t assume that the importance of the latin text is inferior to the greek one; it’s anything but.
Now, about the greek book, as you can easily realize by skimming the text, the book doesn’t really alter the original text in the Bible and where it is used, it retains the same meaning and at some points it is used verbatim.
The greek text used in this commentary is a restored text by C. Tischendorf, based on three manuscripts (one 13rd c. venetian and two 12th-14th c. viennese). The text is entitled “Apocalypsis Mosis” (=Apocalypse of Moses), while the title “Life of Adam and Eve” was coined by Tischendorf himself and quickly caught on (being more descriptive). The original text is lost and is believed to be a 1st c. jewish text, but one of Tischendorf main sources is considered to have suffered several christian alterations and this is the reason it contains several proto-christian motifs. Of course, the text could just as easily contain ideas known in pharisaic circles (like the concept of the resurrection) which were made more prominent by Christian scribes [case in point: the constant use of the verb “ανάστημι” (/anastimi/) which means to “rise up” but also “to be resurrected” which creates a powerful motif that runs through the entire text, especially with Jesus missing from the entire text in any form.]
It is obvious that although the text contains copious amounts of the concept of the resurrection, it doesn’t contain any hints of messianism, even though the author had plenty of opportunities to bring it up, which strengthens the case for it being a jewish composition. However, some common elements with pauline theology, combined with the fact that both he and the text’s author were active during the same historical period, have led some researchers to believe that they were part of the same ideological circles (not unreasonable, given Paul’s beginnings as a Pharisee).
The entire original greek restoration can be read at “The Online Critical Pseudepigrapha” (OCP). I have also used R.H.Charles’ translation to parse the ancient greek text in chapters and verses (absent from the otherwise excellent OCP entry). This text can be read here. The english translation used below is the one from R.H. Charles’ book “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English” published in 1913, with modernized language and heavily corrected by me, where it didn’t match the greek text I had available. The translation can be read in full here (all comments are welcome, of course).
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In Ancient Greek
The text begins by clearly defining the text supposed author (a common feature of pseudepigrapha, as the real author is quickly trying to take advantage of the status of an important historical figure). This book was supposedly written by Moses after he received the tablets with the 10 Commandments, and dictated by the Archangel Michael.
- Ch 1-4 ● Cain and Abel
Eve gives birth to Cain and Abel. She has a prophetic dream about Abel’s murder and then Michael informs Adam and Eve of the incident and tells them that God will soon send them another son to replace Abel. Later Eve gives birth to Seth.
- Ch 5-6 ● Adam’s Illness
At some point Adam falls ill and all his 30 sons and 30 daughters gather to pray to God, even though the express lack of understanding of pain and disease. Seth asks Adam whether he is sick because he remembered Paradise and if he should go and bring him of a certain fruit (explained later on). He also asks Adam how it all came to pass.
- Ch 7-8 ● Σύντομη διήγηση της Πτώσης
Adam starts his narration. First he blames Eve for everything because she supposedly had guardian angels, but at some point they left and the enemy (undefined) gets the chance to give her the forbidden fruit and then Eve gives some to Adam as well. God comes into Paradise and looks for the hiding Adam, then casts 70 plagues on him for his disobedience.
- Ch 9-13 ● Seth and the Beast
Adam sends Eve and Seth outside Paradise to beg for the fruit that contains the oil of mercy, so he can anoint himself and rest. He also promises to tell Seth exactly what happened during the Fall. On their way to Paradise, a beast leaps onto Seth and they start fighting. After a short conversation the beast withdraws until the final days and leaves Seth wounded. Seth and Eve reach Paradise and they start praying. The archangel Michael flies down and tells them that they won’t get the fruit with the oil of mercy, because it will be given to Adam during the Resurrection of his descendants. He then declares that Adam will die within 3 days and sends them back.
- Ch 14-19 ● Satan and the Serpent
When they return, Adam asks Eve to gather everyone and tell them what happened and they fell from grace. Eve starts her narration by accusing Adam, since the Devil found the Serpent in his lot of male animals. The Devil convinces the Serpent to help him trick Man (which is easy to do, since the Serpent is the least pious animal and hates being in Man’s shadow). The Serpent finally agrees to become Satan’s vessel. Then Satan hangs on the Paradise wall and, when the angels guarding Eve went up to heaven to praise God, he transforms himself into an angel and tricks Eve. Then Satan starts talking through the Serpent and convinces Eve to eat from the fruit. Eve opens the door for Satan who tells Eve that he changed his mind and won’t help her eat the fruit (in order to tempt her more) unless she swears to give it to Adam as well. Eve does so and Satan let’s Eve climb onto him to reach the fruit, which he had tainted with his wickedness.
- Ch 20-30 ● Extended account of the Fall
Eve realizes that she is naked and dresses up with the only leaves she can find, then she seeks Adam out and Satan forces her to fulfill her oath and feed him the forbidden fruit as well. Then God gloriously descends into Paradise and the well-known exchange takes place: God calls Adam, he says he was hiding becase he was naked, God asks if he disobeyed, Adam blames it all on Eve and Even on the Serpent. God curses Adam (much like Genesis). He also curses Eve because she has been corrupted by Satan. Finally the Serpent is cursed to lose all the limbs it shares with men and the enmity between man and snake is established. Then the angels, following God’s command, start kicking Adam and Even out of Paradise, but Adam asks for a moment to ask for forgiveness. God chastises the angels for stopping and for doubting his orders: he is God and he never judges poorly. God says to Adam that he won’t be allowed in Paradise, so he doesn’t get a chance to eat from the tree of life. He promises however, that if Adam remains pure, when he is resurrected he will be given the fruit of life. Finally Adam begs for some fragrances from Paradise to use in sacrifices, so the angels gather seeds of fragrant plants (with God’s permission) they give Adam the seeds and finally throw them out of Paradise. Eve’s narration ends here (and all of it is written in the first person).
- Ch 31-32 ● Adam’s death
Meanwhile Adam had fallen asleep and it was his final day to live. Eve grieves and wonders what she will do once Adam is dead. Adam wakes up and tells her that they will have the same lifespan. He then tells everyone that once he’s dead he is not to be touched, because he doesn’t know if God will forgive him or not.
- Ch 33-35 ● Eve’s Vision
Eve goes outside and starts asking forgiveness from all celestial powers. An angels comes down and tells her to look up at the sky, where she sees a celestial ceremony and angels asking for forgiveness for Adam. This moves Eve to tears.
- Ch 36-41 ● Adam’s funeral
Eve watches the sun and the moon praying for Adam. Then there is much commotion as God decides to forgive Adam and a Seraphim take his body to the Acherusian lake to wash it, then God himself gives Adam to Michael and his body is taken to Paradise, to the third heaven until judgment day. The all are lulled into sleep except Seth. God tries to cheer him up by saying that when Adam is raised he will be placed on Satan’s throne and Satan will be cast down. Then the four archangels also bring Abel’s body and bury it along with Adam at the spot where God took dirt from to make him. Then God promises again that Adam and his descendants will be resurrected.
- Ch 42-43 ● Eve’s death
Six days later Eve dies as well. Michael takes her body and buries her along with Adam and Abel in Paradise. Michael also passes to Seth some burial and mourning commandments and returns to heaven praising God. The text typically closes with “Amen” (though Charles adds two more verses with praises to the Tischendorf text).
I found the following points very interesting, as they either add to Genesis in a very imaginative manner, or they open up new ways to read it (though most would describe them as heretical, I would think).
The author introduces a new type of paradise fruit: the fruit of the oil of mercy. It could be that the author was influenced by theology pertaining to chrismation (a custom common in Judaism and Christianity alike). The Wikipedia article mentions that the “fruit of mercy” is actually the fruit of the tree of life, buy I highly doubt that, since both fruits are mentioned in the book and with distinct roles in the narration. (9)
The author can’t seem to decide if and how much responsibility Eve has on the whole transgression issue. It is obvious that he considers her guilty, but his attempts to embelish the text, essentially strip her of much of her culpability. Therefore, we see Adam accusing her profusely and God punishing her in a manner similar to Genesis, but we also read that:
a) Eve had guardian angels that left (maybe shifts hadn’t been invented yet?). This suggests that God had reasons to fear that the Protoplasts were in danger in Paradise, but Eve was left defenseless nonetheless. This is probably a literary device to make the Devil look more devious, but it has consequences on Eve’s responsibility. (17)
b) Eve opens the gate of Paradise for the Devil to enter; which means that either the door was unlocked and could only be opened from the inside or that Eve had been given the keys, even though she had no reason to go outside and nothing to do there. Of course, we can also wonder why Paradise even had a gate. (19)
c) The Serpent was a male animal, so it was Adam’s fault that he didn’t notice the Devil chit-chatting with the Serpent, which was under his supervision. (15)
d) Eve didn’t tempt Adam herself, but the Devil that spoke through her, forcing her to keep her oath. (21)
The Devil and the Serpent are completely separate. In Genesis there is some confusion on whether the Serpent is the Devil or a simple animal. Here the author solves the problem by making the distinction clear: separate entities that cooperated to cause the Fall. (16)
Of course some elements are enchanced, such as that the Serpent could actually speak, that it had hands and legs etc. which he lost as part of his punishment and that the Serpent had free will and wicked thoughts, despite being part of a “good” Creation. This part with the conspiracy between the Serpent and the Devil is very lively, but full of theological problems and heavily contradicts the Bible.
The Serpent also appears as the Beast that attacks Seth (10) and promises to leave man alone until the end times. However it is not clear whether there is a relationship between the Serpent and the Beast of the Apocalypse.
The archangel Michael also plays an important role in the narration. He is also referred to as “the angel of mankind” and constantly brings messages from God to humans. It is also interesting to see how soon Michael takes the role of Hermes-Soul-bearer of the jewish worldview (especially in the part where he buries Adam (40)
This text is also characterized by God being especially cruel and strict. I’ve often seen atheists complain that God could have forgiven Adam and Eve on the spot and apologists retort that they never asked for forgiveness. Well, here we have both. Adam and Eve ask forgiveness and God refuses it. In fact, when Adam asks for a moment to ask for forgiveness, the angels that granted him some respite are scolded for their disobedience and their leniency. There is a good chance that this passage made the entire book stand out as a heretical work.
Paradise is located on the third heaven (37) as in pauline theology (2 Cor 12;2). It is not clear however how the third heaven is linked with the Earth; for the exit from Paradise translates as a fall to Earth.
Finally, the text also contains two elements that are clearly influences from ancient greek mythology:
a) The Acherusian lake (37) in which a seraphim bathes Adam’s body (a reference to the Acherusian Lake and the Acheron River, situated at the entrance of Hades, in greek mythology – both actual landmarks in Western Greece, though the lake has dried up and only the river exists today).
b) The reference that the chariot of God is drawn by eagles. This seems to have been influenced by the fact that the eagle is the sacred bird of Zeus/Jupiter, since jewish tradition considers the eagle as an unclean bird (Deut 14;12) and it’s unlikely that it would be fit for this role (the latin text has the chariot of God drawn by the four winds, instead).
God promsises Adam that after the future resurrection, he will be placed on the Devil’s throne. (39) The interesting thing here is that nowhere in the text is Jesus’ name mentioned or implied (and especially here, where it would be very fitting) which strengthen the case for the text being a jewish composition.
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The latin text is different in quite a few places from the greek text and there are differences even when the narrations do not diverge. The latin text starts with the expulsion from Paradise and ends with Adam and Eve’s death. The following summary is based on Charles’ text.
- Ch 1-8: Seven days after they were expelled, Adam and Eve are hungry, but find nothing other than animal feed, so they decide to ask for forgiveness. Adam stays immersed in the river Jordan for 40 days and Eve in Tigris for 37 days. At Jordan, Adam is joined in prayer by the river animals as well.
- Ch 9-17: Satan transforms into an angel and convinces Eve to stop her penance half-way through it. She returns to Adam and he scolds her and is also angered that Satan doesn’t leave them alone. Satan explains how he fell from grace, because he refused to bow down to Adam (this is similar to the muslim myth) and that he is jealous of Man. Adam does not waiver and prays for the entire 40 days.
- Ch 18-22: In the mean time Eve goes into the west to mourn. There she goes into labour. Adam catches up to her and asks for help from God. God responds and angels are sent to assist her give birth to Cain, who is able to walk and run as soon as he is born (this reminds me of the similar buddhist tradition, though of course the Buddha wasn’t evil). They return to the east and Michael teaches Adam how to cultivate the land.
- Ch 23-24: Abel is born and Eve dreams of Cain drinking his blood, so he make sure one becomes a farmer and the other a shepherd so they never meet. Cain slays Abel and Eve gives birth to Seth, and later another 30 sons and 30 daughters.
- Ch 25-29: Adam tells Seth that after the Fall he met God who told him that the knowledge he had gotten would never be removed from his descendants. He then gives an account of a vision he had of the future up to judgment day (there is also a mention of the Second Temple -but not its destruction- and possibly Jesus -God walking amongst men in visible form).
- Ch 30-44: Adam is about to die, sick and in pain, and wants to bless all his children, who don’t know what illness and pain are. Adam tells them the Fall story and sends Seth and Eve to Eden to ask for oil from the tree of life. On the way there, they are attacked by the Serpent, but Seth commands it to leave. At the gates of Eden, Michael refuses to give them oil. When they return, Adam blames Eve for the evil that has befallen them.
- Ch 45-49: Adam dies at the age of 930 and the sun and the moon darken for 7 days. Adam’s soul is entrusted to Michael until judgment day. God orders that Adam and Abel be buried.
- Ch 50: Eve realizes that she is about to die too, so she gathers all her children and prophecies one judgment of the human race with water (probably the deluge) and another with fire (possibly the events at Sodom). They are instructed to record the life of their parents on tablets.
- Ch 51: Six days later Eve dies and Michael tells Seth never to mourn on a Sabbath. Then Seth makes the tablets.
- Ch 52-57: Extra material: How the tablets were found; Enoch’s prophecy of the Second Coming; How Adam’s body was formed; What Adam’s name means.
There are fewer comments to be make about the latin text, since many points are similar with the greek text, but a few points are extremely interesting.
In Adam’s apocalyptic vision, where the coming of Jesus is “prophesied” along with baptism as a method of cleansing from sin, there is a reference to the Second Temple, but not its destruction (29) which helps us place the text’s initial composition before 70 CE.
The story narrated by Satan about his fall (13-16) -he refuses to bow down to Adam because he is older than he- is almost identical to Iblis’ fall in Islam (Qur’an 7;11-12) -he refuses to bow down to Adam because he was made of fire and Adam of clay.
The text incorporates at three points (43;3.44;5.48;8) sections from the medieval story of the Holy Rood (which describes how the cross Jesus was crucified on was made from wood from the tree of knowledge and how he was crucified at the spot where Adam was buried. You can read more on this in this book.
A very interesting part appears after the main narration, after chapter 52, containing extra material, including an analysis of Adam’s nature based on the materials used in his making (which links the materials to various sins) and an explanation of Adam’s name, which is presented as based on the initials of the greek names of the cardinal points (though the text presents them in corrupt form and also translates them wrong).
The story of Adam and Eve also exists in a slavonic, a georgian and an armenian manuscript along with some fragments in Coptic.
The slavonic version was fist published by Jajic, along with a latin translation in 1893. It contains the first section of the latin text and continues with an abbreviated version of the greek text, but also contains 4 original chapters.
The armenian version was first published by M.E. Stone in 1981 and is entitled “The Penitence of Adam”. It was likely translated into Armenian from Greek and is a combination of the latin and greek texts (it contains the river penance from the latin text and and Eve’s account of the Fall from the greek narration.)
The georgian version was first published by C’iala K’urc’ikidze in 1964 in the original and translated in English in 1981 by J. P. Mahé. It is very similar to the armenian version, since the only extra part it contains compared to it is the extended version of Adam’s death.
Finally, W. E. Crum published in 1909 some fragments from a coptic manuscript that apparently no longer survives.
The following table contains all five versions of the “Life of Adam and Eve” arranged by chapter and thematic similarity. Rows marked in teal contain material unique to certain books. Specifically they are:
- Adam learns to cultivate the land and Satan argues with him over whether he’s entitled to do that because he thinks he owns the earth (Chapters 31-34 of the Slavonic version).
- Adam’s Vision of God in Paradise (Chapters 25-29 of the Latin version)
- Eve’s prophecy of the deluge and the apocalypse and he instructions for everything to be written down (Chapters 49-50 of the Latin version)
- The epilogue of the Latin version (Chapters 52-57) containing extra lore on Adam and his creation, but unrelated to the main narrative.
“Vita Adae et Evae”
“Vita Adae et Evae”
“The book of Adam”
“Penitence of Adam”
|Adam and Eve weep outside Paradise|||||||||
|They grow hungry||||||-2b|
|Eve fears Adam might kill her||||||||2c -3|
|They decide to repent|||||||||
|They prey for 15 days outside Paradise|||
|Adam begins to plow the earth|||
|Satan tries to stop Adam from plowing|||
|Adam and Satan argue over who owns the earth|||
|Eve’s questions about the penance|||||||||
|They decide on the penance|||||||
|Eve goes to Tigris||||||1||1|
|Adam goes to Jordan||||2-1-2||2-2|
|The animals pray with Adam||||3||3|
|Satan tries to tempt Eve to stop her penance|||||||||
|Eve stops her penance||||||1-2|||
|Eve realizes she has been deceived again||||||3-|||
|The fall of Satan||Satan accuses Adam of his Fall||The Slavonic “Vita Adae et Evae” continues parallel to ch.32 of the Greek “Apocalypsis Mosis”, but in abbreviated form.|||||||
|God presents Adam to the angels|||||||
|Satan refuses to bow down to Adam|||||||
|More angels refure to obey|||||||
|Satan and his angels are banished|||||||
|Adam asks God to send Satan away; he finishes his penance|||||||
|Eve leaves Adam and goes into labour alone|||||||
|Eve asks for Adam||GREEK
|Adam finds Eve|||||||
|Angels help Eve deliver|||||||
|Birth of Cain|||
|Birth of Abel||1-3||1.2-1.3|||
|Eve’s dream about Abel’s death||||4||2.1-2.3||2.1-2.3|
|They decide to keep Cain and Abel separate||5-1||2.4a-3.3a||2.4|
|Abel’s murder and announcement of Seth’s birth||||2||3.3b-3.3d||3.2-3|
|Birth of Seth||||||4.1-4.2||4.1-2|
|Adam and Eve have lots of children||1||5.1a||5.1|
|Adam gets sick and summons his children||2-6||||||5.2-3|
|Seth offers to go to Paradise to get the fruit of the oil of mercy|||||||||
|Adam explains God’s commandment about the tree of life||||||7.1||7.1-3a|
|They had guardians but Satan deceived them in their absence||||7.2 -||7.3b-3|
|Adam is in pain||||||9.1?||9.1|
|Eve wants to ease Adam’s pain and he sends her and Seth to Paradise||||-||9.2-9.6|
|Seth is attacked by the beast and Eve scolds it|||||||||
|The beast accuses Eve|||||||||
|Seth orders the beast away|||||||||
|Seth and Eve reach Paradise and start praying||||||?||13.1|
|God refuses to give the oil of mercy||||||13.2|
|God promises he will resurrect Adam||||||13.3-4|
|God tells Eve and Set that Adam has a few days to live||||||13.6|
|Adam learns of the beast||1||14.1|
|Adam rebukes Eve||||2-3||14.2-4||-14|
|Eve’s account of the Fall||Adam and Eve’s lots||||15||15.1-2|
|Satan’s talk with the Serpent||||16||15.3-16.4b|
|Satan talks to Eve from outside||||17||17|
|Satan convinces Eve to open the gate||||18||18|
|Satan gives Eve the fruit||||19||19|
|Eve’s eyes open||||20||20|
|Eve tempts Adam||||21||21|
|God comes into Paradise||||22||22|
|Adam accuses Eve and she the Serpent||||23||23|
|The Serpent’s punishment||||26||26|
|Adam pleas for mercy||||27||27|
|God expels him but promises the Resurrection||||28||28|
|Adam asks for incense||||29||29|
|Eve closes her narration||||30||30|
|Adam consoles Eve||||31||31|
|Eve laments her transgressions||||32||32|
|The angels ask mercy for Adam||||33|
|Eve sees two wonders||||34|
|Adam’s soul rises to heaven||||||35|
|The sun and the moon darken||||||36|
|Adam’s body is washed in the Acherusian lake||1-3||||37.1-3|
|God promises Adam will have his glory restored at the end days||||1-3||39||39|
|God gives Adam’s body to Michael||4-6||37.4-6|
|All people fall asleep except Seth and Adam’s body is brought to Paradise||||38||38|
|Adam and Abel are prepared and buried||||4-7||40||40|
|God promises he will resurrect Adam||||41||41|
|God and the angels return to heaven||1||42.1-2||42.1-2|
|Eve’s prophecy of God’s judgment|||
|Eve instructs her children to write everything down||1-2|
|Eve prays and then dies||2-8||3||42.3-8||42.3-8|
|Michael instructs Seth on mourning||||||43||43|
|How Seth’s tablets where found||-|