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Summary Article: Life of Adam and Eve from The Encyclopedia of Ancient History

The Life of Adam and Eve is an early Jewish or Christian writing about the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise. It is also known under the title Apocalypse of Moses. Taking its lead from the story in Genesis 3, it recounts the well-known events, enriched abundantly with apocryphal details. The writings is extant in numerous versions and manuscripts, showing that it has been one of the most widespread writings in the Christian world. Almost all of these offer a different form of the story, showing in addition that the transmitters' interest in it was not antiquarian, but lively, and continually nurtured by oral tradition.

It is very widely agreed that the Life of Adam and Eve was composed in Greek. Whether the oldest reconstructible Greek version is approximately the same as the original Greek version cannot be proved because of the gap of several centuries between the supposed date of origin and the oldest available evidence; it is also contested by a number of scholars, who argue that the Oriental (i.e., Armenian and Georgian) versions better preserve the primitive story of the Life of Adam and Eve.

In the Greek version, it is related how Adam falls ill in the 930th year of his life. His wife and son, Eve and Seth, travel to paradise to obtain medicine to alleviate his pains, but this is denied. Upon their return, the dying Adam instructs Eve to tell their children how their situation had come about. Eve then describes how she was seduced by the serpent (who, in turn, was seduced by the devil) to eat from the forbidden fruit, gave it to her husband also, and how all this had led to their expulsion from paradise. Following Eve's account, it is related how Eve, the angels, and even the sun and the moon prayed to God to have mercy on Adam. Eventually, God arrived at the scene of Adam's death to announce his forgiveness for Adam. He ordered the archangel Michael to transport Adam to the third heaven. Next, it is told that the angels buried Adam and that, when Adam was in his grave, God promised him eschatological resurrection, and restoration to his heavenly throne.

In the other versions, this story is further elaborated by various elements, for instance, a story explaining why the devil wanted to bring Adam to the fall (the reason being that Satan himself had been expelled from heaven because of his refusal to prostrate before Adam), or an elaborate description of the penitence of Adam and Eve. In western Europe, the writing also came to incorporate a version of the legend of the Holy Rood.

Because of the great textual variation between the witnesses to this writing, and the interweaving of traditions of different provenance, it is difficult to pinpoint the original version of this writing, as well as its ideological provenance (Jewish or Christian) and date. Suggestions range from a Jewish writing from the first century CE, to a Christian composition from the third century CE.

References and Suggested Readings
  • Anderson, G. A. (2001) The genesis of perfection. Adam and Eve in Jewish and Christian imagination. Louisville, KY.
  • de Jonge, M.; Tromp, J. (1997) The Life of Adam and Eve and related literature. Sheffield.
  • Dochhorn, J. (2005) Die Apokalypse des Mose.Tübingen.
  • Murdoch, B. (2009) The Apocryphal Adam and Eve in medieval Europe. Vernacular translations and adaptations of the Vita Adae et Evae. Oxford.
  • Stone, M. E. (1992) A history of the literature of Adam and Eve. Atlanta.
  • Tromp, J. (2005) The Life of Adam and Eve in Greek. A critical edition. Leiden.
  • Johannes Magliano-Tromp
    Wiley ©2012

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