'The Apocalypse Of Adam' Is A Gnostic Gospel's Genesis Account Told From Adam's Perspective

Most people know the basics of the Genesis story: Adam and Eve live in the garden of Eden, eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and are cast out by God. However, when researchers uncovered a trove of Gnostic documents outside the small Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945, they unearthed a rich pseudo-Christian tradition filled with texts that portray the Christian gospels far differently than typical translations. These works are not canonical and have been vehemently rejected by the Church - many of them for good reason, as they were written hundreds of years after the events they claim to portray.

One text, however, is particularly interesting: the Apocalypse of Adam. This text purports to be an account of Adam, the first man, speaking to his son, Seth, about his time in Eden and prophesying the events of Genesis. This text provides a counter-narrative to the conventional Genesis story - God is hardly recognizable, and the events that transpire are not only fundamentally different but very surprising.

  • There Was No Tree Of Knowledge In The Garden Of Eden

    The Garden of Eden is given little to no background in the Apocalypse of Adam. In fact, the garden is never even mentioned in the text. There is no mention of a garden, guardian angels, snakes, or trees. All that is shared about pre-fall Adam is that which he chooses to tell his son:

    When God had created me out of the earth, along with Eve, your mother, I went about with her in a glory which she had seen in the aeon from which we had come forth. She taught me a word of knowledge of the eternal God. And we resembled the great eternal angels, for we were higher than the god who had created us and the powers with him, whom we did not know.

    Eve seems to innately possess the secret knowledge that sullies both herself and Adam. The text later implies, however, that a powerful, apocalyptic figure called the Illuminator communicated this knowledge to Eve as part of his campaign against God.

  • God Cast Adam And Eve Out Of The Garden Because He Was Jealous Of Their Wisdom

    The God of the Old Testament is often revealed to be petty, aggressive, and jealous - however, he is also known to display great wisdom and compassion. His is a personality of extremes, as he can either wipe out civilizations or provide love, comfort, and mercy.

    Even by these standards, his behavior in the Apocalypse of Adam is bizarre. In this story, Adam and Eve's wisdom ascends even higher than that of God himself. As Adam says, "And we resembled the great eternal angels, for we were higher than the god who had created us and the powers with him, whom we did not know."

    In this account, God becomes angry and jealous of their power, so he divides them from themselves and revokes their abilities and knowledge, casting them out of Eden.

  • Adam And Eve Were Forced To Serve God In Fear And Subjugation

    Adam doesn't speak of God as a loving father in his account. Rather, he speaks of the darkness of his own fall and how terrible life became after he and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden:

    After those days, the eternal knowledge of the God of truth withdrew from me and your mother Eve. Since that time, we learned about... things, like men. Then we recognized the God who had created us. For we were not strangers to his powers. And we served him in fear and slavery. And after these things, we became darkened in our heart(s). Now I slept in the thought of my heart.

    Of course, Adam's post-Eden existence is hardly pleasant in the canonical Genesis, but nowhere in the accepted text does Adam speak of "fear and slavery." The darkness in the Apocalypse of Adam could potentially be attributed to the period in which it was written - many Gnostic writers were mercilessly persecuted by the Church, which was often reflected in their writing.

  • God Stripped Adam And Eve Of Their Knowledge
    Photo: Sixtinische Kapelle / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    God Stripped Adam And Eve Of Their Knowledge

    In the canonical Genesis account, Adam and Eve are allowed to keep their knowledge of good and evil after eating from the forbidden tree and being cast out of the garden. This was not the case for the Adam and Eve of the Apocalypse.

    They are not only stripped of their knowledge - they are divided from one another, and God takes their "glory" from their hearts. This is significant on a theological level, as the Tree of Knowledge gave Adam and Eve an understanding of morality.

    If this knowledge was stripped from them, then humans are not fit to judge good and evil, which would place the Church in a troubling position.