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Books of Adam

ADAM, BOOKS OF. A general title applied to a number of non-canonical works dealing with real or imagined events in the lives of the first family. Two major VSS of the story are extant: (1) The Gr. Apocalypse of Moses, and (2) the Lat. Life of Adam and Eve. Wells (Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, 128) thinks the first is the earlier, but some think both borrow from a common source.

Minor VSS exist in many languages. (1) Armenian, in a text which is close to one MS of Apocalypse of Moses; (2) Slavonic, nine MSS in a recension close to the Gr.; (3) Syr. and Arab. texts of the Testament of Adam—Apocalypse of Adam are extant. Certain features of this work seem to be borrowed from Apocalypse of Moses, xxxvi-xl. (4) Ethiopic Adam books, Conflict of Adam and Eve, may have borrowed from the Testament of Adam, along with the Syr. Cave of Treasures. Both the Ethiopic and the Cave VSS expand and comment on portions of Apocalypse of Moses and the Lat. Life of Adam and Eve. (5) Armenian Adam books found in the same binding with the Armenian tr. of the Life of Adam and Eve, include at least seven treatises which are prob. Christian and/or Gnostic works of anti-Jewish character. Like the Ethiopic books they advocate celibacy. There seems to be no direct relationship between the two major VSS and the Nag Hammadi Gnostic text, the Apocalypse of Adam (see articles).

Because of the Hebraisms, rabbinic parallels, and the absence of any anti-Christian polemic, Wells concludes that the original (prob. Heb. or Aram.) was written by a Jew, perhaps in Alexandria, some time after a.d. 60, not later than 4th cent. a.d. with the earlier date more likely. R. H. Pfeiffer (IB, I, 426) thinks the original dates before a.d. 70.

The Gr. VS begins with the expulsion of the first parents from the Garden. In a dream, Eve foresaw Abel’s murder by Cain. Adam suffered illness and pain for the first time at the end of his life. Seth and Eve attempted to get oil from the Tree of Life to heal him. Seth was attacked by a beast which refused to respect the image of God in man. Michael, the archangel, appeared and told Seth that Adam was incurable. When Adam died, his soul was taken to the third heaven after purification. Eve instructed Seth to record the events of his parents’ lives on tablets of stone. Adam was interred by angels with Seth as the only witness. At this time Abel’s body was also interred. Eve died a week later. Michael instructed Seth concerning her burial and warned him not to mourn more than six days (cf. Jub 2.23).

Certain elements missing from the Gr. text are present in the Lat. VS. Upon the expulsion Eve requested Adam to slay her because she had brought this calamity upon them. Adam suggested a period of repentance in which he was to stand in the Jordan for forty days and she in the Tigris for thirty-seven. Eve suffered a second seduction on the eighteenth day when Satan, as an angel of light, told her to leave the river since she had been forgiven. Adam unmasked his deceit. Satan then explained that he was jealous of Adam because God had said, “let all the angels of God worship him” (Ps 8:2).


L. Ginzberg, “Adam, Book of,” JewEnc I (1901-1906), 179-181; L. S. A. Wells, “The Books of Adam and Eve,” Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English, ed. by R. H. Charles, II (1913), 123-154.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Books pretending to give the life and deeds of Adam and other Old Testament worthies existed in abundance among the Jews and the early Christians. The Talmud speaks of a Book of Adam, which is now lost, but which probably furnished some of the material which appears in early Christian writings. The Vita Adami was translated from the Ethiopic by Dillmann (1853), and into English by Malan (The Book of Adam and Eve, London, 1882). The Testament of Adam is a portion of the Vita Adami (published by Renan in 1853) and so probably is the Diatheke ton Protoplaston (Fabricius, II, 83). See APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE; APOCRYPHA.

See Apocalyptic Literature; Books of Adam.

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