In my previous post I summarized C. John Collins’ thoughts on Adam and Eve in the Hebrew Scriptures. In this post I will do the same regarding his section on Adam and Eve in Second Temple Jewish Literature (c. 516 BCE to 70 CE).
Collins notes that Judaism at this time was quite varied. The Judaism that survived the war with Rome was that of the Pharisees. It was the “mainline” Judaism of the day and it was able to adapt to a post-temple world. What interest Collins though is whether or not the views on Adam and Eve were uniform at a time when Judaism was not (pp. 71-72).
Collins senses that it was:
Book of Tobit:
“The clearest and most complete statement about Adam and Eve from the Apocrypha comes in the book of Tobit (from somewhere between 250 and 175 b.c.)…Tobias says these words as part of his prayer (Tob. 8:6):
[O God of our fathers,] You made Adam and gave him Eve his wife as a helper and support. From them the race of mankind has sprung. You said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make a helper for him like himself (p. 73).”
Wisdom of Solomon:
“…in 2:23–24 he says,
23 for God created mankind for incorruption and made him in the image of his own character, 24 but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.
“Most people suppose that the author is recounting the story of Genesis 3, seeing the serpent as “the devil’s” mouthpiece. He takes it as an historical event that shapes contemporary life (cf. 1:13–14; 7:1; 10:1) (p. 74).”
Book of Sirach:
“This author mentions the creation of man, and the fall with its consequences, mostly in passing (Sir. 14:17; 15:14; 17:1; 33:10 [Hebrew 36:10]; 40:1). In one passage (25:16–26) he makes use of the “fall story” to explain a current malaise, namely the situation in which one’s wife is evil. In 25:24 he says, From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die (p. 74).”
“…the citation in Sirach 49:16 makes it clear that he did take Adam to be an historical person. He is recalling worthies from the history of Israel in chapters 44–49 (“let us now praise famous men,” 44:1), leading up to his contemporary Simon (II), son of Onias (high priest ca. 219–196 b.c.). He begins with Enoch and Noah as the first named “famous men,” then goes on to Abraham and so forth through Biblical history. Just prior to his extended praise of Simon, he finishes with Nehemiah (49:13), and then returns to Genesis, naming Enoch and Joseph (49:14–15). He completes the run-up to Simon in 49:16:
Shem and Seth were honored among men, and Adam above every living being in the creation.
“The way he mentions all these men in this context indicates that he took all of them as historical figures (p. 75).”
“Philo, with his interest in philosophical allegory, does not say clearly whether he thought Adam to have been historical. In his discussion of Genesis 2:7, he seems to distinguish the man of Genesis 1 from the man of Genesis 2: the heavenly and the earthly man, he calls them (Allegorical Interpretation, 1.31) (p. 75).”
“He calls Adam “the first man, made from the earth” (Antiquities, 1.2.3, line 67). He also says that the gracious God of Israel is the one source of happiness for all mankind (Antiquities 4.8.2, line 180), which is connected to his view that all people descend from Adam. This conviction of common humanity apparently underlies his notion that all people should worship the true God, and his explanation for the admission of Gentiles into Jewish worship (Against Apion, 2.23, 37 [lines 192, 261]). Josephus is more representative than Philo of the Judaism we find in the other Second Temple sources (p. 76).”
What I gather from Collins’ work in this section is that (A) he presupposes the Book of Genesis and the Hebrew Scriptures to be inerrant and authoritative in what they say so (B) the question is whether the reader is interpreting these Scriptures correctly and (C) one way to test our interpretation is to see how other readers understood Scripture. It is apparent intercanonically that Adam and Eve are archtypes whom the authors understood to be real people at the beginning of human history. Likewise, Jews at the time of Jesus may have shown interpretive flexibility, but other than Philo’s allegorical reading most assumed that Adam and Eve were more than figurative.
In my next post I will examine how Collins understands Adam and Eve to be presented in the Gospels. What do you think of these Second Temple sources? Do they matter for interpreters today? If so, how? If not, why not?