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The Life of Adam and Eve, a Jewish Pseudepigraphical Writing from Early Antiquity

(unpublished (c) Feb., 2011)                   
As is often the case with apocryphal literature, subsequent versions of an original text usually survive in later inspired forms or versions, and the early antique text of the Life of Adam and Eve – or in Latin, Vita Adae et Evae – is no different. This Early Antique text survives in different retellings of the lost original, and altogether these different versions traditionally form a part of the Jewish pseudepigraphical group of writings commonly termed the Life of Adam and Eve; also known as the Apocalypse of Moses, a misnomer applied to the surviving Greek version. Besides the Latin version, the Vita Adae et Evae, the other surviving pseudepigraphical texts that rank alongside it as having been inspired from a mutually shared lost original are namely the following: the Greek Apocalypse of Moses (or, also called the Greek Life of Adam and Eve), the Slavonic Life of Adam and Eve, the Armenian Penitence of Adam, the Georgian Book of Adam, and in addition to these, there also exists one or two fragmentary Coptic versions (1). These documents belong to a category of study most generally called the Adam literature.
     In regards to the specific pseudepigraphical texts just enumerated, they are categorized under the heading ‘primary’ Adam literature. Whereas texts belonging to the ‘secondary’ category include later apocryphal writings that have somehow been derived and deal with the subject matter found in the ‘primary’ works (2). Some examples of these ‘secondary’ texts include the Discourse on Abbatôn, the Testament of Adam, the Cave of Treasures, the Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan and the Apocalypse of Adam (3).
The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, by Benjamin West
Image Source:
      The apocryphal text of The Life of Adam and Eve relates the experience of the first human couple after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden and continues until their deaths. In summarizing the essential basic elements of the story, it begins with a long “penitence narrative” detailing the first few months of Adam and Eve’s life post-expulsion. Gary A. Anderson gives an excellent summary of the apocryphal tale:
Over the course of their first weeks outside of Eden, Adam and Eve discover the painful fact that their angelic food has disappeared. Through ardent penance they manage to secure a suitable replacement, seeds from which they can begin to grow cereals. Eve, during this time, enters the final months of her pregnancy. When the pains of her labor begin, she is overcome by their intensity and duration. Brought to the very threshold of death she implores Adam to come to her side and beseech God on her behalf. Adam, hears her cry, and responds with alacrity. While praying that Eve may be spared, the angels descend and superintend the first birth. Eve survives the ordeal thanks to Adam’s intercessory prayer. Sometime later, when Adam is about ready to die, he begs Eve and Seth to return to the Garden and prays that the archangel Michael might grant him some of the oil of life to relieve his pains. On their way, they are beset by a life-threatening snake (in some versions, beast). Eve, powerless to rebuke the animal, stands helpless as Seth, “her seed” comes to the rescue. Seth manages to tame the beast and preserve human life. What is common to each of these narrative events is: (1) the discovery of a condition that proves life-threatening: lack of food, excruciating birth-pains, and the onslaught of wild animals. (2) an attempt to circumvent those conditions: Adam and Eve’s penance, Adam’s intercessory prayer, and Seth’s rebuke. (3) a state of equilibrium: grain for food, modified birth-pains, and animals who fear man. [   ] In each of these cases, the life-threatening conditions that greet Adam and Eve are ameliorated, yet the catastrophic loss of what their glorious state had been in Eden is underscored. The bounty they find on earth is a poor substitute for what they knew in Eden.
Anderson 2000: 57-58.
     Scholars have had great difficulty dating the original text, so it is generally estimated to have been composed anywhere between the 3rd and 7th centuries, although with the possibility that certain parts of the work are considerable older than this (3b). Another difficulty surrounding the provenance, or origin of the text, is that it is generally understood to have a Jewish origin, and this because the minimal Christian elements that are found in the text “seem to be of a late redactional level rather than integral to the story itself” (Anderson & Stone 1995: in Part 1). Yet, despite this assumed Jewish origin, this apocryphal text has been copied, edited and expanded by Christian scribes since Early Antiquity. In regards to Judaism, although there is evidence of Jewish familiarity with parts of the work, aside from this there is no evidence that this faith had any role in the transmission of this apocryphal text (Anderson & Stone 1995: in Part 1).
     In order to fully appreciate the number of texts that have survived of The Life of Adam and Eve, there are reportedly 25 Greek manuscripts that have so far come to light, 73 Latin manuscripts, at least 1 in Armenian, 5 in Georgian, 2 in Slavonic, along with 1 small Coptic fragment (from a complete Coptic text that no longer survives) (3c). 
     In exploring the current state of research surrounding, quite specifically, the Latin Life of Adam and Eve (henceforth in the text, Latin Life); it quickly becomes apparent that the Latin Life is rarely studied alone, but rather it is usually studied alongside the other surviving versions of the original lost text. The surviving versions are to be found in languages as different as Greek, Slavonic, Armenian and Georgian, and the Latin Life recensions are usually collected alongside these others in an academic discourse that attempts to encompass all of these surviving works of the Jewish pseudepigraphical group of writings which altogether represent one single lost work, simply referred to as the Life of Adam and Eve. Scholars “focus on the contents of the documents and the relationships between them [meaning the various surviving texts], as well as on their individual features” as de Jonge and Tromp (1997: 7) put it, in describing their own approach in their study of the Adam literature.
     It is therefore impossible to make any serious study of the Latin Life without accounting for the other mutually inspired texts inspired from the same lost original. This helps to explain why in specialized databases dealing in Biblical studies, such as in the University of Lausanne’s BiBIL, when performing an “Advanced search” in the “Keyword (field) drop-down menu” a clickable entry query reading “Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (OT) : Life of Adam and Eve/Apocalypse of Moses” immediately appears as a suggested search title in their bibliographic database. Whether a search is solely made for the Latin Life title or the more general designation Life of Adam and Eve (the latter a title representing not any one single surviving text but rather the entire collection of the pseudepigraphical group of writings), regardless, in the database they are all linked for the convenience of the researcher since all these texts share a symbiotic intertextual relationship. The state of research confirms this reality; the search parameters in BiBIL return with the same 96 results for both searches, whether it be a search for the Latin Life title alone or a click on BiBIL’s pre-formatted reading “Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (OT) : Life of Adam and Eve / Apocalypse of Moses”. And, in relation to the state of research surrounding the Latin Life, or in extensio the publications dealing with the primary Adam literature, within these aforementioned 96 results found in BiBIL’s Biblical bibliography, among these, 56 publications date from the years 2000s, 28 from the 1990s, while the pioneers being the 12 that appear as early as the 1980s. While the 96 resultant entries for either a Latin Life or Life of Adam and Eve search query in BiBIL is clearly not abundant, it is nevertheless substantial, specially in comparison to, let’s say, for example the meagre 6 results found in searching for the Book of the Cock, with of course 4 out of these 6 authored as recently as the years 2000s – incidentally, by the University of Ottawa’s own Prof. Pierluigi Piovanelli. By comparison, certainly the area of study that has opened up around the specialized topic of the Life of Adam and Eve writings has been established a little longer, even though the 1980s are not too far off. In analyzing my 96 results, immediately there are two names that appear more frequently than others on the bibliographic listing, being 11 publication entries for Gary Alan Anderson, another 9 publication entries for Michael E. Stone along with 7 listed for Johannes Tromp. Clearly, in representing among them a tally of 27 books and articles published on the specialized topic of the Life of Adam and Eve, these three people represent nearly the third of BiBIL’s entries on my chosen subject.
     In having established that Michael E. Stone is one of the main authorities on the Life of Adam and Eve writings is significant for me in locating a most reliable source. A quick search online for leads in relation to Michael E. Stone leads me to a bibliographical database born out of the Enoch Seminar, called 4 Enoch: The Online Encyclopedia of Second Temple Judaism and Christian Origins (4). A biographical entry for the Enoch scholar Michael E. Stone describes him as an Israeli scholar, emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, received his PhD in Near Eastern Languages at Harvard, along with other impressive accomplishments and published works. Yet, what is even more relevant to me in my assessment of his pioneering work in the field of apocryphal literature is that, not only is Stone a member of the Enoch Seminar, but he is the actual founder of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls (5). The Orion Center was established in 1995 as part of the Institute for Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (5b).
     These same three scholars that populated BiBIL’s search query in regards to the Life of Adam and Eve literature – being Michael E. Stone, Gary Alan Anderson and Johannes Tromp, have actually together, the three of them, co-edited a book titled Literature on Adam & Eve, Collected Essays (Anderson, Stone & Tromp: 2000). It is here in this work that Anderson (ibid. 3) speaks of the “remarkable renaissance” which the study of the Life of Adam and Eve is undergoing. In his discussion of the main reason behind this recent revival, Anderson also gives us a good assessment on the current state of research surrounding the text:  
This document [being the Life of Adam and Eve], which used to be known only by its Latin, Greek, and Slavonic versions, is now known to have had two other important witnesses in Armenian and Georgian (and Coptic fragments). The addition of the Armenian and the Georgian texts has opened new avenues of research into the nature of the origins and development of this important literary work.
Ibid. 3.
     It can therefore be seen how the addition of these two new texts, the Armenian and the Georgian, are adding a new dimension of research to the previously existing ones. The translations of the Georgian and Armenian texts have become available in recent times, the Armenian translated into English by Stone in 1981, and the Georgian text translated into French by J.-P. Mahé in 1981 (Anderson 2000: 3). In qualifying these two new editions, as an apocryphal specialist working with the primary Adam literature, de Jonge relates the following observation in regards to these newly added texts to the scholar’s field of study:
They [the editions of the Georgian and Armenian] form a welcome addition to the evidence, particularly because they seem to occupy a middle position between the Greek and the Latin. [   ] On the other hand this new material now makes it necessary to sort out the relationships between no less than five clearly related but in many respects different documents. (The fragmentary state of the Coptic evidence does not allow us to draw any significant conclusions.)
de Jonge 1997: 12.

     To assist scholars with their work in regards to the array of texts now available, thankfully the University of Virginia, under the authorities of their own Gary A. Anderson and Michael E. Stone (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) started what is called the Adam and Eve Archive Project, essentially – as they refer to it online – they have created An Electronic Edition of the “Life of Adam and Eve” (6). On the site can be found the main five Adam and Eve texts (all except the Coptic fragments), meaning that along with critical texts presented in English, there is also in accompaniment to it the original text in its native language of composition. For instance, on the site – I have not only access to the English translation of the Latin Vita (on which Gary Anderson himself collaborated), but also I have a detailed textual history of the Latin original (and even the subsequent translated editions) thus giving me all the bibliographic information needed as far as referential material is concerned (7). Significantly, this means that even if there is a scarcity of bookshelf published materials available per se, as a researcher into the primary Adam literature, I can nonetheless have access to the native texts individually made available online. The newly added Armenian and Georgian versions are featured there as well, with the added bonus for non-French speakers that the only English translation of the original Georgian has been commissioned by the site (from J.-P. Mahé’s French edition). 
     In tracking the progress of the study of all of the Life of Adam and Eve literature published in the last 30 years, in the words of Anderson et al. (2000):
The following publications have proved to be of major importance in what may be called the revolutionary scholarly progress in this field: the diplomatic edition of 26 manuscripts of the Greek Life of Adam and Eve by M. Nagel in 1974; the edition of the Georgian Livre d’Adam by J.-P. Mahé in 1981, and of the Armenian Penitence of Adam by M.E. Stone, likewise in 1981; the Concordance grecque des pseudépigraphes d’Ancien Testament by M.-A. Denis in 1987 (including the provisional critical edition of the Greek text by M. Nagel); the Synopsis of the Books of Adam and Eve by M.E. Stone and G.A. Anderson in 1994.
Anderson et al. 2000: 235

     Moreover, in addition to all of these most reputable scholarly publications, another book that proves to be quite useful for a newcomer to the field is one by Michael Stone (1992) A History of the Literature of Adam and Eve, as well as a student’s guide by Marinus de Jonge and Johannes Tromp (1997) entitled The Life of Adam and Eve and Related Literature. In short, there is a rich mine of information and scholarship that has come to light in recent years in relation to the primary Adam literature, and it is in great part this newfound interest in apocryphal scholarly circles that in part underlies the creation of the aforementioned Adam and Eve Archive Project. 
     One of the explicit aims behind the creation of An Electronic Edition of the “Life of Adam and Eve” (8) is to present to current scholars (in accessible English form) the best critical texts from the 5 language families. However, another reason for the online Archive Project is the cost-effectiveness of the website, as its creators point out, and this specially given the enormous volume of material available and the extraordinary costs of publishing printed forms in restricted presentations of the data (Anderson & Stone 1995). Therefore, in making accessible to students the earliest form of each version of the apocryphal text to be found in each language, will thereby create an electronic version of the Life of Adam and Eve that is, to quote Anderson & Stone (1995) on the site (9), “flexible enough to allow scholars to employ the textual data accordingly to whatever research purposes they may have.” In conclusion, it suffices to say that besides all of the scholarly wealth of information to be found in print form, there are also ample resources available to students online as far as accessing the best quality editions of the primary Adam literature.  


(1) de Jonge & Tromp (1997: 11-78) devote the first four chapters of their study in exploring these different versions of one lost original book, a Life of Adam and Eve.
(2) In their Preface, de Jonge & Tromp (1997: 7) credit Michael E. Stone (1992) for this distinction made between the categories deemed as ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ Adam literature.
(3) de Jonge & Tromp (1997: 79-94) explore these ‘secondary’ works given as examples belonging to this category. 
(3b) As Anderson & Stone (1995) state in their “Introduction and problems of the text”,  in Part One of An Electronic Edition of the “Life of Adam and Eve”. Available at:
(3c) Anderson & Stone (1995) give this tally in relating the individual versions of the text that survive.
(4) According to 4 Enoch (see biblio.), the database has been made accessible in wiki-format since August 2009. Available at:
(5) The Enoch Seminar’s bibliography for Michael E. Stone is available at:
(5b) According to the Orion Center as stated in their Aims and Purposes on their website. Available at:
(7) For the Latin Life, the following references are given for the Latin original and English translation: “The Latin text has been supplied by Mr. Wilfried Lechner-Schmidt. It basically follows the Group I text from which Meyer printed in his critical edition ["Vita Adae et Evae" Abhandlungen der koeniglichen Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philsoph.-philologische Klasse. Munich: 14.3: 185-250] It has been translated by B. Custis with the assistance of G. Anderson and R. Layton”


4 Enoch: The Online Encyclopedia of Second Temple Judaism and Christian Origins, an academic project of the Enoch Seminar, created and directed by Gabriele Boccaccini (University of Michigan, USA) with the late Hanan Eshel (Bar-Ilan University, Israel) and Loren T. Stuckenbruck (Princeton Theological Seminary, USA).
Description of source: Born as a bibliography in the early 1990s and developed as a database in the 2000s, 4 Enoch has been made freely accessible online in wiki-format since August 2009.

Anderson, Gary & Michael E. Stone “Introduction and problems of the text”,  in Part One of An Electronic Edition of the “Life of Adam and Eve” 1995.

Anderson, Gary; Michael E. Stone & Johannes Tromp (eds.) Literature on Adam and Eve, Collected Essays, Brill (Leiden/Boston/Köln), 2000.

BiBIL: Biblical Biography of Lausanne. University of Lausanne, Institut romand des sciences bibliques.

de Jonge, Marinus & Johannes Tromp. The life of Adam and Eve and related literature, Sheffield (England): Academic Press, 1997.

Meyer, W.  "Vita Adae et Evae." Abhandlungen der königlichen Bayerischen Akademie des Wissenschaften, Philosoph.-philologische Klasse. Munich: 14.3, 1878: 185-250.
Description of source:  It is this specific version of the Latin Adam and Eve that is presented An by Anderson & Stone (1995) in their Electronic Edition of the “Life of Adam and Eve”. The authors note that the text is basically that of Meyer’s edition with special notation of the additions found in Family III, and further adding that the text was prepared by Wilfried Lechner-Schmidt (Germany). It has been translated into English by B. Custis with the assistance of G. Anderson and R. Layton.

Stone, Michael E. A history of the literature of Adam and Eve, Scholars Press, Atlanta (GA), 1992.


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