Introduction and Problems of the Text

The Life of Adam and Eve is an apocryphal story about the experience of the first human couple after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Of the numerous apocryphal works that were written regarding Adam and Eve in the ancient world, this text certainly has pride of place. Not only was its influence in antiquity quite evident and widespread but the tale also enjoyed enormous popularity in the medieval world as well.


The text has proven very difficult to date and one can be no more accurate than to say it must have been composed between the 3rd and 7th centuries. It is quite possible of course that certain literary units of the work are considerably older than this as there can be no question that the present form of the work is the result of a complex redactional process that wove together different source materials into a single story.


Equally problematic is the question of the work's provenance. Most scholars have assumed a Jewish origin for the work, on the grounds that evidence of explicit Christian features are so minimal in the tale and seem to be of a late redactional level rather than integral to the story itself. Yet recent scholarship on the creation and transmission of such apocryphal tales from antiquity suggests that the possibility of Christian origins be given due consideration. In any event the fact that the tale was copied, edited and expanded by Christian scribes and enjoyed immense popularity in Christian circles needs to be taken seriously. There is evidence of Jewish familiarity with parts of the work but no evidence of any role in the transmission of the text as it now presently stands.


The text survives in six languages: Greek, Latin, Armenian, Georgian, Slavonic, and Coptic (only small fragments remain of this version). Most scholars agree that the text was written originally in Greek and that all of the six versions stem from some form of Greek vorlage. But it should be emphasized here that the Greek manuscripts that we now possess are not witnesses to this putative Greek original. The present Greek material has undergone considerable redactional activity and should not be considered a better witness to the original form of the text than any of the other forms. Yet it should also be underscored that the text-critical work has hardly begun on this document and almost any conclusions about such matters must be considered provisional and exploratory.

For purposes of convenience we shall refer to all the forms of this work under a simple title, "The Life of Adam and Eve," or Vita for short. But it should be borne in mind that each version has its own unique title.

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