Adam and Eve, the first couple according to biblical tradition, are important not biographically but typologically. As ancestors of all human beings (Gen 5; 10), they are constitutive for all humanity. Their names are telling in this regard: “Adam” (ʾādām) is a collective and means “humanity,” often used in general statements about “the human being.” “Eve” (ḥawwâ) is reminiscent of the Hebrew verb “to live” (ḥwh) and is explained with the statement that Eve becomes “the mother of all living” (Gen 3:20).

The prototypical character of Adam and Eve accounts for the significant interest in them from antiquity to today. They are mentioned in numerous Jewish, Christian, gnostic, and Islamic writings. In most cases, the distinction between a “before” and an “after” phase plays a role, with both of these phases being interpreted as essential to human nature. A broad fascination with Adam and Eve—from theologians to artists to ordinary readers—is reflected in the story’s rich reception history.

Primeval Human in Mesopotamia.

Reflections on the origins of humans are typical for most religions. Examples from the ancient Near East are especially interesting as they provide insight into the cultural context in which Old Testament ideas originated.

Mesopotamian texts in particular often contain reflections about the primeval human being (lullû-amēlu). The primeval human is described either as being formed from clay or as emerging like a plant. Often, this is connected with the idea of evolution, that is, the notion that to be fully human the originally plant- or animal-like primeval human had to be brought into contact with civilization. For example, according to the Gilgamesh Epic, Gilgamesh’s friend Enkidu originally lived with the animals. To be an equal partner for Gilgamesh, he had to be civilized—which was achieved through intercourse with a prostitute (see 1:2.34–4.41).

Several Mesopotamian texts allude to a special relationship between humans and gods. For example, after having intercourse, the prostitute tells Enkidu that he has become “like a god.” Other texts describe the close relationship between humans and the divine more indirectly. Particularly interesting are three texts (Atrahasis, KAR 4, Enuma Elish) that describe how the primeval human was created from the blood of a murdered deity in addition to clay. More widespread is the motif that the gods created humans in order to hand their work over to them. Not least because some of these statements are formulated in the first-person plural (“let us create humans”), the motif is often contrasted with Genesis 1:26–28. According to one Mesopotamian text (VAT 17019/BE 13383), the gods created two primeval humans: the ordinary lullû-amēlu and the māliku-amēlu, that is, the king. The latter is distinguished by an especially beautiful body and divine gifts that enable him to rule.

Adam/Primeval Human in the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament, it is mainly the primeval history (Gen 1–11) that deals with the primeval human. These first chapters of Genesis tell the story of the world from creation to the new beginning after the Flood. Unlike the continuation of the narrative in Genesis 12–50, the focus here is not on Israel but on humanity in general. Through myths and genealogies the text addresses fundamental aspects of the human condition, explaining them as a result of divine and human actions. Because of differences in narrative details, scholars distinguish between a priestly (P) and a nonpriestly (non-P) strand. Traditionally, they were considered to be originally independent compositions, dating to the tenth (non-P) and the sixth (P) centuries B.C.E. Nowadays, questions of dates and relationships between the two strands are disputed.

The non-P strand of Genesis 1–11.

The non-P strand begins with the paradise story (Gen 2–3), which contains the most important information about the primeval human. Narrating the creation of the first man and woman, their disregard for God’s prohibition against eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and their subsequent transformation and expulsion from paradise, Genesis 2–3 address a number of aspects that are constitutive for humanity. The use of the definite article (ha-, “the”) with the word ʾādām shows that it is not yet a proper name but a generic designation: “[the] human being.” Accordingly, the word describes sometimes only the first man (Gen 3:17) and other times the primeval man and woman together (Gen 3:22–24).

Repeatedly, the paradise story points out the relatedness of humans to the earth. In Hebrew, this connection is mirrored in the similarity of the two words “human being” (ʾādām) and “earth” (ʾădāmâ), which in English can be imitated by translating ʾādām as “earthling.” The earthling’s closeness to the earth is evident on two levels: the earthling is created from the earth (Gen 2:7) and will return to it (Gen 3:19) and the earthling is appointed to till the earth (Gen 2:5, 15; 3:23). The story is ambivalent as to whether the aspects of returning to the earth and tilling the earth reflect God’s original intent or are consequences of the earthling’s disobedience.

Genesis 2:18–20 and 3:14–15 address the relationship between humans and animals. The second passage indicates that the balance of power between humans and animals is often unclear and their relationship hostile. Against this reality, the first passage imagines a time in which humans and animals lived peacefully together.

The paradise story has become (in)famous, not least as a result of its statements about the relationship between man and woman. As Genesis 3:16 states that the man shall rule over the woman, the story was often used to legitimize male dominion. Such an interpretation ignores that Genesis 2–3 describes the gender disequilibrium as one of the negative aspects of the postparadise world, which stands in contrast to God’s creation of man and woman as equal partners. Noteworthy in this regard is the description “a helper as his partner” (Gen 2:18, 20). This sought-after “helper” is not a subordinate, as is clear from the frequent use of the same word to describe God. Rather, this “helper” is an equal partner who liberates the earthling from his loneliness. Only the woman can fulfill this role, as is acknowledged in the man’s acclamation that she is “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23).

Of all relationships, the paradise story is most interested in the one between humans and God. As the most fundamental aspect of this relationship, Genesis 2–3 describes humans as creatures of God. Taken from the earth, only through God’s breath of life do they become living beings (Gen 2:7). Without this breath, they die and become earth again (Gen 3:19). Beyond this one constant, Genesis 2–3 describe a dramatic change in the relationship between humans and God. This change is neither fully positive nor fully negative. Rather, it is ambivalent, including both a gain and a loss.

What humans gain through the events in the garden is the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:5, 22). Elsewhere in the Old Testament, similar phrases describe the special skills that enable kings to rule (1 Kgs 3:9) or the intellectual abilities that distinguish adults from children (Deut 1:39). In Genesis 2–3 both aspects play a role. Before eating from the tree, humans are like little children: they are told what to eat, discouraged from being disobedient, and not ashamed in their nakedness. In disobeying God, however, they are emancipated, and become independent in their judgment and aware of their sexuality. As this development creates tensions with God, humans cannot stay in the “paternal” garden anymore but have to go out into the world instead. Unlike the analogy of growing up, the development described in Genesis 2–3 is anything but ordinary. Humans become not like adults but “like God” (Gen 3:5, 22)—a qualification ordinarily restricted to kings in the ancient Near East. Like Psalm 8:6–7 and Genesis 1:26–27, Genesis 3:22 evokes the image of a godlike king to describe the astounding closeness of humans to God.

Although the paradise story describes the knowledge of good and evil as something positive, it also makes clear that it comes with a price: the loss of immediate closeness to God and the possibility of living forever. To prevent humans from also eating from the tree of life (and, with that, surmounting the other difference that distinguishes God from humans), God expels them from paradise. Whether they ever had the chance to realize the potential of this tree without the knowledge of good and evil is left open. The text focuses on the outcome: that humans are mortal. With that, after all, not only was the snake right (Gen 3:4–5, 7, 22) but God was as well (Gen 2:17; 3:22–24). The loss of the possibility of eating from the tree of life goes hand in hand with living outside of paradise.

The P strand of Genesis 1–11.

Like the non-P strand of Genesis 1–11, the P strand describes a development from the world as originally created to the current world. Here, this development is clearly described as a decline: in the beginning the world was “very good” (Gen 1:31); some generations later, however, it is “corrupt” and “filled with violence” (Gen 6:11–12). Nonetheless, God does not give up on creation. Although God sends the Flood, its purpose is not to revoke the order of creation but rather to maintain it. After the Flood, God sets up new rules to ensure that violence does not overcome the world again (Gen 9:1–7) and establishes a covenant with all humans and animals, which consists of the promise never to send a flood again (Gen 9:8–17).

Humans are presented both positively and negatively in this report about the world’s beginnings. It starts most positively: as the culmination of God’s creative activity, God creates humans (ʾādām) as the “image of God” and appoints them to rule over the animals (Gen 1:26–28). Both elements of this description have attracted much attention and have been interpreted diversely over the centuries.

Regarding humans’ dominion over the animals, the text is less interested in how humans rule over the animals than it is in the fact that God gives humans a privileged position so that they do not have to fear the animals. Genesis 9 acknowledges that reality looks different. Here the picture becomes brutal. Unlike in the beginning (Gen 1:29–30), the world is not vegetarian anymore, but instead humans are now allowed to kill animals for food (Gen 9:2–3).

Regarding humans’ creation as the “image of God,” it is noteworthy that after Genesis 1:26–27 the P text repeats its predication in 5:1 (see also 5:3) and 9:6—with varying formulations using the two terms “image” (ṣelem) and “likeness” (dĕmût) but without ever spelling out what exactly is meant by it. Besides these three passages, the phrase “image of God” is not used anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible. Later interpretations (cf. Sir 17:3; Wis 2:23) are interesting from a reception-historical perspective; for a better understanding of the P text, however, the ancient Near Eastern context is more helpful. There, as well as in the Old Testament itself, God is often described as anthropomorphic (see explicitly Ezek 1:26–28). Therefore, it is most likely that the physical likeness of humans to God is one aspect of the P idea; but there is more. In the ancient Near East (especially Egypt), the king was often called the “image” of (a) god in order to describe his role as (this) god’s representative on earth. This predication ties in with the ancient Near Eastern understanding of cultic images, which were seen as earthly manifestations of the deity. With both the cultic images and the king, a functional and an essential aspect go hand in hand: the “image” functions as the god’s deputy on earth, not just formally but also because it has the deity’s qualities.

The P text does not just copy the ancient Near Eastern understanding of the “image” of God but radically modifies it. Created as the “image of God,” humans are appointed to be God’s representatives on earth. Like kings, they are appointed to govern (“have dominion”), to uphold justice and peace on God’s behalf (Gen 1:26–28). Unlike (good) kings, however, they fail. The prologue to the Flood story (Gen 6:11–13) describes how “all flesh” degenerated, including humans, who were in charge of preventing such a development. Consequently, after the Flood God does not reappoint humans to “have dominion” but instead takes the reins again (Gen 9:1–7). Nonetheless, God reiterates that humans are created as the “image of God” (Gen 9:6). Because humans have failed as God’s representatives, in that they were not able to maintain justice and peace, neither the functional nor the essential aspect of being an “image of God” can explain this honor. Rather, it is God’s adherence to humans, God’s wish to maintain the closeness of an image relationship, that makes humans special.

In all this, the diversity of humans is consciously in view. Hence, the statements about ʾādām are statements about all human beings, regardless of their rank, gender, morality, nationality, etc. Genesis 5:1–3 in particular indicates that everything that is said about Adam is also true for his descendants. They are ʾādām as well and, as such, also the “image of God”—regardless of whether or not they live up to this honor.

Job 15 and Ezekiel 28.

Besides Genesis 1–11, in the Hebrew Bible only Job 15 and Ezekiel 28 mention the primeval human. Job 15:7–8 describes “the firstborn of the human race” as one who has special wisdom. Similarly, together with beauty and divinity Ezekiel 28:11–19 lists wisdom as a characteristic of the primeval human (here explicitly a king). This passage is another version of the paradise story. Here, the movement is entirely negative as wisdom and divinity are not gained but lost in the course of events.

Adam/Primeval Human in Early Jewish Writings.

Early Jewish writings further develop the Adam tradition, taking up, combining, and expanding the motifs of the Adam tradition of the Hebrew Bible. As in the later development in Rabbinic Judaism, the tradition remains diverse.


Frequently, early Jewish writings repeat that God created Adam from earth and gave him the breath of life. Some explain that this means that Adam was created with both body and mind (2 En. 30:12; Philo, Opif. 135). Second Enoch 30:10–13 connects Adam’s body parts with elements from nature and explains his name as an acronym from the Greek words for the four cardinal points (cf. Sib. Or. 3:25–26). Similarly, Philo of Alexandria connects the body of Adam with the four elements earth, water, air, and fire (Opif. 146). The most interesting aspect of Philo’s reflections on the primeval human is his platonic distinction between “the first man who was made according to the image of God” and “man as formed now.” The first is an idea or a genus, eternal, incorporeal, and neither male nor female. The second consists of body and intellect, and with that is connected with both the world and the divine (Opif. 76; 134–135; 146; QG 1:4; 1:8; 2:56). Although immortal in the beginning, his body and especially his senses led him into temptation, and eventually his physical desires made him mortal (Opif. 151–156; 165–166).

Elevated status before the fall.

A special focus of early Jewish writings is on Adam’s elevated status, often as a foil that shows the magnitude of the fall. Many such texts (e.g., Sir 17:2–4; Wis 2:23; 10:1–2) take up the idea that Adam was created in God’s image and given dominion over all creatures. Some texts describe him as a king (Philo, Opif. 148; QG 2:56) or an angel (1 En. 69:11; 2 En. 30:11–12); others even state that he was worshipped by the angels (L.A.E. 12–16). These texts point to Adam’s special qualities, such as his immortality (Wis 2:23; 1 En. 69:11), special wisdom (Sir 17:6–7, 11; Wis 10:1; 2 En. 30:12; Philo, Opif. 148), beauty (Sib. Or. 1:24; Philo, Opif. 136–150; Virt. 203), and/or glory (Sir 49:16; Apoc. Mos. 20:3; 21:6; see the influence from Ps 8:6).

In the writings of Qumran, in addition to the “knowledge of good and evil,” the “glory” of Adam is mentioned repeatedly. According to 4Q504 1:4–5, God created Adam “in the image of your [God’s] glory” and endowed him with intelligence. Other writings express the hope that the faithful ones are already blessed with “all the glory of Adam” (1QHa 4:15) or will be blessed with it in the future (1QS 4:23; CD 3:20).

Fatal consequences of the fall.

Another focus of early Jewish writings is on the fatal consequences of the events in paradise. In particular, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch elaborate on how Adam’s disobedience brought sin and death into the world and corrupted all creation (4 Ezra 3:7, 21; 7:118; 2 Bar. 17:3; 23:4–5; 48:42–43; 54:15–16; 56:6; see also Sir 25:24; Wis 2:23–24). Normally the texts blame Adam/the primeval human for these developments (4 Ezra 7:118); some of them, however, direct the accusations especially against the woman (Sir 25:24; 2 En. 30:16). Second Baruch 54:14–19 stresses that despite the fatal consequences of the primeval human’s transgression, everybody remains responsible for his or her own actions and chooses his or her future pain or glory. For the eschatological future, 2 Baruch 73–74 describe a restoration of the primeval state in paradise.

Adam in the New Testament.

In the New Testament, Adam and/or Eve are mentioned in only six passages (Luke 3:38; Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 15:22, 45; 2 Cor 11:3; 1 Tim 2:13–14; Jude 14). Several other passages might allude to the Adam tradition. Overall, the tradition remains diverse.

Adam as first human being.

Luke 3:38 names Adam as first human being in Jesus’s genealogy (see differently Matt 1:2) and connects him with God, hinting both at Jesus’s divine origin and at his relevance for all humanity. Without this symbolism, Jude 14 mentions Adam as the first human being in order to have a reference point for Enoch. Acts 17:26 speaks about “one” from whom God created the entire human race.

Adam as prototype of humans in a normative way.

Several New Testament passages allude to the Adam tradition to justify a custom as normative—interestingly, primarily in connection with questions concerning the relationship between men and women. In Mark 10:6–8 (and par.), quotations from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 serve as arguments against divorce. In 1 Corinthians 6:16, Paul argues against sleeping with prostitutes, citing Genesis 2:24. After admonishing women to be subordinate to their husbands (Eph 5:22–24; without reference to Gen 3:16), Ephesians 5:31 uses the same quotation, “and the two will become one flesh,” as an argument to love one’s wife. First Timothy 2:11–15 justifies the subordination of women by referring to the secondary creation of Eve. Paul makes a similar argument in 1 Corinthians 11:7–12, further arguing with the image-of-God predication. Contradicting Genesis 1:27, Paul maintains that (only) men are the “image and glory of God”; women, however, are the “glory of men.”

Adam as prototype of humans in a fatal way.

At the same time that it justifies the subordination of women as appropriate, 1 Timothy 2:11–15 uses the Adam tradition to describe humans’ sinfulness. The tension is somewhat mitigated as the blame is put on Eve alone. Similarly, in 2 Corinthians 11:3 Paul points to Eve as the one who was deceived by the snake. In other passages, however, he makes clear that the gender difference is not relevant when it comes to sin. Hence, in Romans 5:12–19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 he charges Adam or “the one” for having brought sin and death into the world. Without clarifying the details of the connection, Paul argues that in Adam all humans are sinners. All have sinned and all have lost the glory of God (Rom 1:23; 3:23; 5:12). Whether or not individuals could escape the sinful way of humans is ambiguous.

Adam as antitype of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 44B–49 and Romans 5:12–21 Paul juxtaposes Adam with Christ. Together with the description of Adam as “first human” (1 Cor 15:45, 47) or “one man” (Rom 5:12), this juxtaposition makes clear that in this context it is important that Adam is an individual, an individual who changed the life of all humanity. Paul’s point is that Christ too is such an individual with universal significance, the one through whom God restores humans from the fatal consequences of Adam’s sin. In his juxtaposition of Adam and Christ, Paul clearly expresses a contrast between the two. Hence, his description of Adam as typos of Christ (Rom 5:14) is traditionally understood in the sense of an antitype. However, scholars have pointed out that the contrast must not be overemphasized as, besides differences, correspondences and continuity play a role in Paul’s Adam–Christ typology as well (see “Christ as New Adam”).

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses the Adam–Christ juxtaposition to clarify his views about resurrection. In the first part of the chapter, he focuses on the that (and who) of resurrection, arguing that as all human beings sin and die in Adam, so all will be resurrected in Christ (see especially 1 Cor 15:20–22). In the second part of the chapter, he focuses on the how of resurrection, arguing that as there is a physical body there also will be a spiritual body (see especially 1 Cor 15:44B–49). Adam, the one created from earth, became “a living being” (Gen 2:7), the prototype of humans in their mortality. Christ, the second Adam from heaven, in contrast, is a “life-giving spirit”—and, with that, not only the prototype of those resurrected in spiritual bodies (see Rom 8:29) but also the one who, with his spirit, enables God’s new creation (see Rom 8:11; the “breath of life” in Gen 2:7). Paul’s argumentation is reminiscent of Philo’s distinction between a spiritual and a physical primeval human being. Unlike Philo’s spiritual Adam, however, Paul’s spiritual Adam has a body as well, and he is not the first Adam but the second and last (1 Cor 15:45, 47). Nevertheless, the first creation account plays a role in Paul’s argumentation as well: in formulating the idea that “we” will bear the “image” of Christ, he refers to Genesis 1:26 and his interpretation that only Christ is the image of God but Christians are the image of Christ.

As in 1 Corinthians 15, in Romans 5:12–21 Paul uses the Adam–Christ juxtaposition to argue soteriologically. As one who impacted all, Adam is a “model” (typos) of Christ (Rom 5:14), although in an opposite way: whereas Adam sinned and, with that, brought sin and death into the world, Christ was obedient and, with that, brought grace, justification, and life. Without naming Adam, in Romans 3:21–26, Paul argues similarly, revealing an unbalance: whereas all sinned and lost God’s glory, the grace and justification of God is only for all those who believe.

Christ as new Adam.

Besides 1 Corinthians 15:45, several other New Testament passages draw on Genesis 1:26–28 and other elements of the Old Testament/Jewish Adam tradition to describe Christ. This might be the case in Mark 1:13, as indicated not only by the motif of Jesus being with the wild animals but also by the statement that the angels served him. This motif is also connected with Christ in Hebrews 1:6, in a passage that combines different Old Testament/Jewish traditions to highlight Christ’s supremacy. Several of them are part of the Adam tradition, most obviously the description of Christ as the “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb 1:3) and as “firstborn” (Heb 1:6). Similarly, Colossians 1:15 describes Christ both as “firstborn of all creation” and as “image of the invisible God,” adding an allusion to Proverbs 8:22–31. In pointing out Christ’s godlike form and equality with God, Philippians 2:6 also alludes to the Adam tradition. Should this allusion be conscious, the next verse of the hymn indicates that Christ incurred the loss of godlikeness voluntarily. This is not Paul’s thinking, though. For him it is important that Christ is the “image of God,” the one on whose face the “glory” of God is visible and shines for all Christians (2 Cor 4:4–6).

Christians as new humans and image of Christ/God.

In consequence of understanding Christ as the new Adam, the transformation of Christians is described repeatedly with reference to this tradition as well, again with focus on the idea of godlikeness and glory (Gen 1:26–28; Ps 8:6). Unlike the distinctions between the old and the new or the outer and the inner human being (e.g., 2 Cor 4:16; Eph 4:22–24), such descriptions often concern the future. This is clearly the case in 1 Corinthians 15:49, where Paul promises that “we will bear the image of the man of heaven,” and in Philippians 3:21, where he speaks about the future transformation of Christians’ bodies into the glorious body of Christ (see also 1 John 3:2). In three other passages (Rom 8:29–30; 2 Cor 3:18; 4:4–6), Paul’s formulations imply that the transformation has already begun but will be completed in the future. Only 1 Corinthians 11:7, Colossians 3:10, and James 3:9 describe an already present godlikeness of humans (or men), each by leaving out Christ and referring directly to God. Colossians 3:8–11 connects the image-of-God statement with the idea of the equality of all human beings. Though the context makes clear that only Christians are in view, this is noteworthy as it is in line with the notion of the godlikeness of all humans in the P strand of Genesis 1–11.

Adam Literature.

The interest in the primeval human culminates in books that narrate the life of Adam and Eve. Especially in Christian circles, such books were popular up to the Middle Ages. The oldest of these books (among them Apoc. Mos. and L.A.E.) are so closely related to each other that they are best understood as different versions of one book. The details of their formation histories as well as their dates are disputed. It is even hard to determine whether they originated in Jewish or in Christian circles. What is clear, though, is that besides some specifically Christian passages (which might be later additions), these books contain many details from the Jewish Adam tradition and were popular among Christians. With different focuses, they all tell the story of Adam and Eve, from the events in paradise to their death and sometimes afterlife. In addition to motifs known from other writings, they contain new ones such as the jealousy and fall of Satan; the illness, death, and burial of Adam; his penitence; God’s mercy; and the promise of an eschatological restoration of the original glory.




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Annette Schellenberg