Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Divine Adam? Genesis Rabbah vs. Life of Adam and Eve

In the Life of Adam and Eve, Michael commands all the host of heaven to bow down before the newly created Adam--the very spitting image of God--and yet only Satan abstains, claiming one should only bow before God (Satan, then, becomes the first strict monotheist, or monolatrist). This text may seem to challenge the concepts of monotheism or monolatry, although it may only challenge our MODERN concepts of monotheism rather than ancient standards. At the same time, the Rabbis, in a bit of a later time, clearly found the notion of the angels or the hosts of heaven bowing before Adam troubling.

R. Hoshaya said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, created Adam, the ministering angels mistook him and wished to exclaim "Holy" before him. What does this resemble? A king and a governor who sat in a chariot, and his subjects wished to say to the king, "Domine! (Sovereign)!" but they did not know which it was. What did the king do? He pushed the governor out of the chariot, and so they knew who was the king. Similarly, when the Lord created Adam, the angels mistook him. What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He caused sleep to fall on him, and so all knew that he was man; thus it is written,
Cease ye from man, in whose nostrils is a breath, for how little is he to be accounted
(Is. 2:22)!
(Genesis Rabbah 8.10)

I was a bit lazy tonight and just used the Soncino translation by H. Freedman, while removing square brackets used to help "clarify" the text. In this text, Adam could be mistaken, it seems, for God--the very thing Satan feared in Life of Adam and Eve! Whereas in the Life, Michael commands the angels to worship Adam (through bowing), here the angels are in danger of offering a type of worship to Adam--singing "holy" before him as in Isaiah 6. While one texts, then, demands that Adam, as the image of God, be worshiped, the other fears that this image will be mistaken for God and thereby receive worship, and thus the image needs to be brought down a peg. The two texts have, therefore, opposite views of what is appropriate for the first human, and, in a way, show the rich variety of ways one could be an adherent and worshiper of Israel's God.