Adam–Firstborn of All Creation?

In the Apocalypse of Abraham, the patriarch sees a vision of Adam and Eve in paradise. He sees them intertwined with each other, being fed grapes by a dragon-like creature.

The failure of Adam and Eve is a cause of great consternation to Abraham: why did God create these people, give them dominion, only to ruin humanity upon the earth (23:12)?

Here is the divine answer:

And he said to me, “Hear, Abraham! Those who desire evil, and all whom I have hated as they commit them–over them did I give him dominion, and he was to be beloved of them.”

Adam, it seems, was not the firstborn of all human creatures. He was created to be the ruler of the human creatures who committed all sorts of evil. He was given dominion over sinful humans, in order to be loved by them and thus, it seems, draw them to obedience to Israel’s God.

This underscores two things.

First, an most generally, it reinforces the idea that the story of Adam has to be read as part of the narrative that defines the specific people of Israel. It was written to introduce their story and is best read as such an introduction. If we read it as simply about humanity our reading is too thin.

Secondly, it is good for us to realize that long before “scientific” concerns started giving people reason to reread the Adam narrative, early Jews were reading it differently from what we see as the “normal” or “straight” reading. Adam and Eve did not have to be read as the first humans ever to come on the scene. Early Jewish readers “knew” that Cain had somewhere to go, a people to go to, after he killed Abel.

Whereto? To the people whom Adam and Eve had been created to rule and bring into conformity with the will of God.

Please note, I’m not saying that this is the correct reading of the text; rather, I’m suggesting that it shows us a couple of important things. One of these is that the story of Adam precedes stories of Davidic kings and messiahs a story about a representative human ruling the world on God’s behalf. The other is that such a recognition can lead to a reading of Gen 2-3 that sees Adam and Eve entering a story that is already well underway–and that this did, in fact, happen before there were scientific pressures pushing anyone in such a direction.

19 thoughts on “Adam–Firstborn of All Creation?”

  1. This is one of the many difficulties of my job teaching Ancient History & Old Testament to 8th graders. At times it seems like I have two options:

    1. Brush over anything like what you described above and stick to “Adam and Eve were the first people”

    OR

    2. Present a variety of options for reading Genesis 1-3 before moving on to the rest of the Pentateuch.

    The problem with both is that many of my kids see problems with #1 (“Where did Cain go?”, “How was there an ‘earth’ before Day 1 of creation?”, etc) and how you answer #2 is very crucial to how you read the rest of the Pentateuch and OT.

    For the most part I present the overarching narrative of the Old Testament in accordance with how I read Genesis 1-3, but I am weary of teaching a 13 year old that this is _the_ way to do so?

    Tricky…

  2. I actually find this compelling, Daniel. Certainly, it aligns with Cain’s banishment, as you mention. But it also connects with the mandate given Adam & Eve in Gen 1:28, that there is actually some part of the created world that needs to be brought into subjugation and governed properly. It doesn’t sound like much of a paradise that already needs correction.

    Though Boyd, in Satan and the Problem of Evil, doesn’t (I don’t believe) make use of the Apocalypse of Abraham, he does make the point that the inference in the opening chapters of Genesis is that all is not well with the world when Adam and Even are created. All one has to do is ask, “Where did this rebellious serpent come from?”

  3. If Adam was only to be given dominion over those who desire evil, and the narrative is to be contextualized only to a specific people group, then who exactly did Christ die for? Only for those who desire evil and for Jews? Since it was through on man (Adam) that all humanity has fallen, then isn’t it also through one man (Christ) that all of humanity has been redeemed? To some degree, this sounds like classic neo-Calvinism. A belief that Christ died ONLY for those with whom He has chosen/elected. Otherwise, He died in vain.

    1. I don’t think that those texts can be put next to each other in this way, Watchman. I’m citing the Apocalypse of Abraham for one very specific purpose: to show how other early Jewish people read the early chapters of Genesis. Asking it to solve a Christology problem or to speak to a Christology issue like that is a category mistake. Or something…

  4. Very interesting! A redemptive midrash, perhaps? We do not see blame of Eve, genetic descent of Adamic fault — it is dominion, it is planned, it is part of the order of God’s eschatological scheme in which present Israel fits when telling the tale. Abraham voices woe at the state of the world, and how it got that way, and yet Adam and Eve here become most clearly the root of the whole uncultivated world — just as Abraham is the root of the tree plucked from it and cultivated in God’s own land. Adam has dominion over all creation — which runs wild, away from God’s good order. And Abraham is the part chosen for the redemption of the whole in his descendants. Abraham is not given dominion — but in Abraham and his offspring, God’s dominion is restored.

  5. “One of these is that the story of Adam precedes stories of Davidic kings and messiahs a story about a representative human ruling the world on God’s behalf.”

    Is this not a inference that could be drawn without an apocryphal text? Adam was, even if we only read from Genesis, effectively ruling the world on God’s behalf. God certainly gave authority over the garden and the animals within.

  6. I’m not familiar with The Apocalypse of Abraham. When was it written? It seems like a postexilic text. If so, or if it were written at any time after the exodus, wouldn’t this be anachronistic to take its interpretation of humanity’s origins (or those of Adam and Eve) and read it back into the Genesis account? Of course, one could argue the same for the apostles’ reading of the OT.

    Secondly, and a much bigger question, is that if Adam and Eve were chosen from evil-desiring humanity to govern evil-desiring humanity, then the fall of man into sin and evil happened prior to Adam and Eve’s disobedience. How can anyone possibly explain that in any way accordant with the biblical text? Or am I misunderstanding this?

    1. Isn’t it understood, even by the most ardent of traditionalist, that ALL biblical texts were written after the exodus? I mean, even if Moses DID write the Pentateuch, he’d have had to do so after the exodus, wouldn’t he?

      Perhaps you mean the “exile”?

      1. Mark,
        “Postexilic” is a term that refers to events occurring after the exile to Babylon in 587 BC. It is not “post-exodus” (i.e., the exodus from Egypt). Yes, all biblical texts were post-exodus, but only a handful were post-exilic: 1/2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

  7. How did early Jewish people read Genesis 6:1-4, what role did it play in understanding how evil / sin came into the world? As part of the introduction of Israel’s narrative, I’d like to learn more about these two stories dialogue with one another and the greater story.

  8. Insightful to bing up Apocalypse of Abraham in relation to the Gen 1 question, but Life of Adam and Eve may be a good example of an alternate Jewish or Early Christian reading that may emphasize a somewhat different point.

  9. Some Jewish readers seem to have ‘known’ all sorts of things not in accord with Christian readings! And so did Buddhists and Zoroastrians.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.