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Adam & Eve

Updated on January 4, 2010

Adam and Eve, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition and the Muslim tradition derived from it, were the parents of the human race. The Bible tells that they were created in the image of God and placed in the Garden of Eden, where they were responsible for the care of the earth and its inhabitants. When they ate the fruit of a single forbidden tree, they were expelled from Eden by God and cursed with frustration in work and with death.

The Biblical story of Adam and Eve is the Hebrew version of an account of origins that is very ancient in the Middle East. Most peoples, when they have reached a certain cultural level, manifest an urge to speculate about the origins of things and thus produce their tales about the beginnings of human life. The Greeks, for instance, told of Deucalion and Pyrrha; the ancient Indians, of Yama and Yami; the Iranians, of Mashya and Mashyoi; the Norsemen, of Askr and Embla; and the Andaman islanders tell of Tomo, the first ancestor, and Puluga, his wife.

The names "Adam" and "Eve" themselves are symbolic, and although they came to be used as personal names ("Eve" is always a proper name in the Bible), they were not necessarily such in the first instance. Adam is the Hebrew word for "man" or "mankind." The derivation of both names is uncertain, but the most probable suggestion is that Adam meant "reddish" and Eve, "living one."

The Account in Genesis

In Genesis 1 to 5, two distinct accounts of the first human pair have been woven together. The older (Genesis 2:4b to 4:26) is that of the J document (so called because of its use of the name "Jahweh" -or Yahweh- for God). It tells how God formed a man out of the dust of the ground, gave him life by breathing the breath of life into his nostrils, and set him in the garden that he was to cultivate but of whose tree of knowledge he was not to eat. The animals were created for man's companionship; but when it became evident that their companionship was inadequate for man, woman was created out of his own flesh to be a helpmeet for him. The serpent, however, persuaded the woman to eat of the forbidden fruit, and she shared it with her husband. As a result of this action, they gained knowledge, became conscious sexually, and could distinguish good and evil. However, they were driven out of the garden, had to labor to survive, became subject to pain and death, and were at enmity with the serpent.

Cain and Abel were born to them, but Cain, the tiller of the soil, killed Abel, the keeper of flocks. Another son, named Seth, was born to them to replace Abel, and the two human sterns, the Cainites and the Sethites, descended from these two sons.

The later tradition (Genesis 1:1 to 2:4a; 5:1) is that of the P document (Priestly Code). It tells that after God created the vegetation and animals, he created mankind, male and female, in his own image, to rule over the animal creation and have the vegetation for their subsistence. God bade the first pair to increase and multiply, and consequently Seth was born to them as the first of numerous sons and daughters from whom the races of mankind are descended.

In both of these accounts there are details that are shared with even more ancient Middle Eastern traditions about the beginnings of things (see creation). The Biblical writers purified these accounts from all polytheism and crudity and by means of this adaptation used these traditions as a vehicle to express their own theology about human origins. Man, according to these Biblical writers, is in a peculiar sense the work of God, and God provides for his welfare, plans his way of life, instructs him, places him under Divine law with its punishment for sin, and even after man has sinned, still makes it possible for there to be communication between man and God.

Later Accounts

In later times pious imagination embroidered the Adam and Eve story with a great variety of fanciful legends. We are told, for instance, of Adam's enormous size, which was reduced because of his sin, and of how the various classes of matter contributed material for his body, which, as it left the hands of God, was a microcosm reflecting in small the macrocosm in which his life was set. We are told that the angels were bidden to do him obeisance, that Satan refused and for his disobedience was cast out of heaven with the hosts who followed him, and that in revenge for this, Satan used the serpent to deceive Eve and cause Adam in his turn to be cast out. Adam, however, is given a revelation of God's will for mankind with the promise that the ideal life that had been lost by his sin would be restored by the coming of the Second Adam.

The New Testament incorporates the idea of this Second Adam (Romans 5:12-21; I Corinthians 15:20-23, 45-49), whom it identifies with the Christ.

As early as the Jewish philosopher Philo (1st century B.C. - 1st century A.D.) there were attempts to allegorize the Biblical stories of Adam and Eve and treat them as representations in story form of philosophical realities. Thus Adam figures prominently in the speculations of Gnostic groups, in Manichaeism and Mandaism, and later in the Jewish Qabbala (or Cabala). A number of apocryphal Books of Adam circulated during the early centuries of the Christian era.


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