Adam and adapa: two anthropological characters niels-erik andreasen

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Andrews University Seminary Studies 19.3 (Autumn 1981) 179-194.

Copyright © 1981 by Andrews University Press. Cited with permission.


ADAM AND ADAPA:

TWO ANTHROPOLOGICAL CHARACTERS
NIELS-ERIK ANDREASEN

Loma Linda University

Riverside, California
Because of the enormous impact of the Bible upon both the

Jewish and Christian communities, any ancient Near Eastern

literary discovery that may offer a parallel to some segment of

biblical literature is greeted with interest. One such literary

discovery is the Adapa myth. Its early discoverers and investigators

claimed it as a true Babylonian parallel to the biblical story of

Adam.1 However, after the initial flush of excitement, other voices

arose to point out the differences between Adam and Adapa,

claiming that no parallels exist between them.2 This position is

retained in some of the more recent examinations of the material,

but with the provision that some of the issues raised in the Adapa

myth also occur in the biblical material.3 Finally, renewed attempts

at showing an essential parallel between Adam and Adapa (with

due allowances for functional shifts in the material) have been

made.4 Such a "seesaw effect" of ancient Near Eastern parallels to

the Bible is quite typical and suggests that the word "parallel,"


1 See conveniently the discussion by A. T. Clay, The Origin of Biblical

Traditions, Yale Oriental Series 12 (New Haven, (cnin., 1923), pp. 108-116.

2 This reaction is well illustrated by A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis, 2d ed.

(Chicago, 1951), p. 12-1: "The Adapa legend and the Biblical story (of Adam) are

fundamentally as far apart as antipodes." This general conclusion had been

anticipated by G. Furlani, "Il mito di Adapa," Rendiconti della R. Accademia


Nazionale dei Lincei. Classe di scienze, etc. 6/5 (1929): 113-171.

3 See, e.g., B. R. Foster, 'AVisdom and the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia," Or,

n. s., 43 (1974): 352-353; E. A. Speiser, "The Idea of History in Ancient Mesopo-

tamia," in Oriental and Biblical Studies (Philadelphia, 1967), p. 310, n. 96;

G. Buccellati, "Adapa, Genesis, and the Notion of Faith," OF 5 (1973): 61-66;

P. Xella, "L''inganno' di Ea nel mito di Adapa," Oriens Antiquus 12 (1973): 265.

4 Recently W. H. Shea, "Adam in Ancient Mesopotamian Traditions,

AUSS 15 (1977): 27-41; reprinted in Bible and Spade 6 (1977): 65-76.
179

180 NIELS-ERIK ANDREASEN


though difficult to replace, may be inappropriate and quite

inadequate to take account of the complex relationships that exist

between biblical and extrabiblical literary traditions.5 It is the

purpose of this essay to address that problem with specific reference

to the Adapa myth.
1. Adapa and the Suggested Parallels with Adam

The Adapa myth tells a simple story about a wise man, Adapa,

in the city of Eridu in southern Mesopotamia.6 He was created by

Ea (Sumerian Enki), the god of the great deep and of the world of

man, and served the city of Eridu and its temple with great

devotion by, among other things, providing fish. Once a sailing

mishap on a fishing expedition made him curse the south wind,

thereby breaking its wing, whereupon the land was deprived of its

cooling and moist breezes. For this offense he was summoned to

the high god Anu (Sumerian An) to give account of his deed. First,

however, he received this advice from his god Ea: (1) to appear in

mourning garb at the gate of Anu so as to receive sympathetic

assistance from the two heavenly gate keepers, Tammuz and

Gizzida (vegetation gods); (2) to refuse the bread and water of death

offered to him, but to accept oil for anointing himself and new

garments. With this advice, which he followed carefully, Adapa

succeeded admirably in his heavenly audience (to Anu's surprise),

whereupon he was returned to earth (for he was but a man) with

forgiveness for himself, release from feudal obligations for his city

(Eridu), and healing for the illness which his offense had brought

upon mankind.

Now we can turn to the so-called "parallels" between this

story and the biblical story of Adam, notably Adam's fall (Gen. 3).

5 S. Sandmel, "Parallelomania," JBL 81 (1962): 1-13, warned against it. See

now also W. W. Hallo, "New Moons and Sabbaths: A Case Study in the Contrastive

Approach," HUCA 48 (1977): 1-18.

6 The best English translation is by E. A. Speiser in ANET, 101-103. Of the four

extant fragments, three (A, C, D) derive from the Ashurbanipal library (7th cent.

B.C.), and the fourth (B) comes from the Amarna archives (14th cent. B.C.).

ADAM AND ADAPA 181


(a) The name Adapa has a tantalizing similarity to that of

Adam, a fact that has led to the suggestion that a simple phonetic

development may explain their relationship, i.e., a labial shift from

m to p, rather than vice versa.7 Moreover, the final ending a in

Adapa also appears in the Hebrew 'adama, meaning "ground"/

"soil." Finally, a-da-ap is reported by E. Ebeling to occur

in a syllabary text with the meaning "man."8 Whatever

the merit of these linguistic considerations, the etymology of Adam

is itself uncertain. Is it "soil"/"ground," ('adama) or "red" ('edom ),

or "blood" (dam)?9 As for the name Adapa, it appears frequently

with the epithet "the learned, the wise,"10 and is in fact now

known to be the name of the first of the seven antediluvian sages

(apkallu),11 each of whom is associated with an antediluvian king.12

Adapa is identified as the one who ascended to heaven, following

the account of our myth in a text published by E. Reiner,13 who on

the basis of the epithets apkallu and especially ummanu has

7 See Shea, pp. 38-39.

8 See ANET, p. 101, n*, where reference is given to Ebeling's Tod and

Leben, 27a.



9 TDOT, 1: 75-79. The name adamu (syllabically spelled) is now reported to

have been found on the Ebla tablets as the name of a governor of that city (see

M. Dahood, "Ebla, Ugarit, and the Old Testament," The Month, 2d, n.s. 11 [1978]:

274). From the same city a calendar with the month name da-dam-ma-um has

appeared (see G. Pettinato, "Il Calendario di Ebla al Tempo del Re Ibbi-Sippis

sulla base di TM 75.G.427," AfO 25 [1976]: 1-36). W. H. Shea, who kindly drew

my attention to this item, has presented a discussion of the calendar in question in

AUSS 18 (1980): 127-137, and 19 (1981): 59-69, 115-126. Also the Sumerian a-dam

(pasture) may offer an opportunity to speculate upon the etymology of Adam

(see W. W. Hallo, "Antediluvian Cities," JNES 23 (1970): 58. Taken at face value,

the Genesis account would appear to tie Adam to 'adama (ground), from which

the man was taken and to which he will return.

10 See ANET, 313-314, 450; A. K. Grayson, "The Weidner Chronicle," Assyrian

and Babylonian Chronicles, Texts from Cuneiform Sources 5 (New York, 1975), 147:

33; Foster, pp. 344-349.


11 Apkallu, "wise man, expert, sage," refers to the seven antediluvian sages and

is an epithet of Adapa. CAD, A/11, 171-172.



12 See T. Jacobsen, The Sumerian King List (Chicago, 1939): Hallo, p. 62.

13 "The Etiological Myth of the 'Seven Sages,'" OrNS 30 (1961): 1-11.

182 NIELS-ERIK ANDREASEN

concluded that Adapa is to be identified as a "master craftsman"

with reference to the scribal arts, hence a vizier.14 W. G. Lambert,

however, has argued on the basis of another text that the epithet of

Adapa should be read mumanna, and that its determinative produces

a double name, Umanna-Adapa,15 which was transferred into Greek

as the Oannes of Berossos.16 In fact, he suggests that adapa

functioned as an epithet of Umanna (Oannes) with the meaning

"wise."17 Since, however, this likely represents a secondary devel-

opment of the meaning of this word, it consequently does not

answer our question about etymology. At any rate, some etymo-

logical relationship between Adam and Adapa now seems likely,

although any original meaning behind them both is not thereby

elucidated. The functional meaning of Adam, namely "man"

(homo sapiens), may take us as closely as we can get to the names

of our characters.

(b) Both Adam and Adapa were apparently tested with food

(and drink, in the case of Adapa); and, according to some inter-

preters, both failed the test, hence the parallel between the two

accounts. But whether Adapa in fact failed is a moot question. It

would mean that he failed unwittingly by completely obeying his

god Ea in refusing the bread and water of death, which actually

turned out to be emblems of life. Ea, in turn, would have to be

understood as deceiving Adapa by keeping divinity from him

(making him refuse the heavenly food) for a selfish reason, namely

that he wanted to retain the service of Adapa in Eridu.18 However,
14 Ibid., pp. 8-9.

15 "A Catalogue of Texts and Authors," JCS 16 (1962): 64.1.6; and p. 74. See also

W. W. Hallo, "On the Antiquity of Sumerian Literature," JAOS 83 (1963): 176.


16 See the edition by F. Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker 3/C

(Leiden, 1958): 369-370.



17 See W. G. Lambert, "Three Literary Prayers of the Babylonians," AfO 19

(1959-60): pp. 64, 72, n. 72; "A Catalogue of Texts and Authors," p. 74.



18 Thus E. Burrows, "Note on Adapa," Or, no. 30 (March 1928), p. 24;

T. Jacobsen, "The Investiture and Anointing of Adapa in Heaven," AJSL 46 (1930):

201-203 (reprinted in Towards the Image of Tammuz [Cambridge, Mass., 1970],

pp. 48-51); The Treasures of Darkness (New Haven, Conn., 1976), pp. 115-116;

J. Pedersen, "Wisdom and Immortality," Wisdom in Israel and in the Ancient Near

East, ed. M. Noth and D. Winton Thomas (Leiden, 1955): 244; Foster, p. 351;

Shea, p. 34.

ADAM AND ADAPA 183

this interpretation of the matter has met with some challenge from

investigators who have warned against introducing into the myth

the familiar concepts of temptation, deception, and fall.19 Another

suggestion has it that Ea gave Adapa the best advice he knew

regarding the bread and water, and that Adapa followed it

obediently. This would imply that Ea underestimated the willing-

ness of Anu to receive and pardon Adapa and hence unfortunately,

unnecessarily, and perhaps unwittingly warned his protege about

the presumed dangerous bread and water of heaven.20 But this

explanation, as W. H. Shea rightly points out,21 is weakened by the

fact that Ea everywhere appears as the god of wisdom, cleverness,

and cunning, and that indeed at the very moment of giving his advice

Ea is introduced as "he who knows what pertains to heaven."22

A possible solution to this problem (i.e., how can wise and

cunning Ea fail so miserably with his advice or be so deceptive

with his favorite son?) would be that once again Ea was indeed

right with his advice,23 that the bread and water of life would in

fact become bread and water of death to a mere mortal,24 and that

the unpredictable element in the Adapa crisis was Anu, who turned

19 See, e.g., F. M. Th. Bohl, "Die Mythe vom weisen Adapa," WO 2 (1959):418;

B. Kienast, "Die Weisheit des Adapa von Eridu," Symbolae Biblicae et Mesopo-



tamicae, F. M. Th. Bohl Festschrift (Leiden, 1973), p. 234; G. Komoroczy,

"Zur Deutung der altbabylonischen Epen Adapa and Etana," Neue Beitrage zur



Geschichte der Alten Welt I, ed. E. C. Welskopf (Berlin, 1969), p. 38.

20 Thus Komoroczy, 39; S. N. Kramer, "Mythology of Sumer and Akkad,"

Mythologies of the Ancient World, ed. S. N. Kramer (Garden City, N.Y., 1961),

p. 125.


21 Shea, pp. 33-34.

22 ANET, p. 101.

23 Ea (Enki) traditionally helped gods and humans in crisis situations. He

restored Inanna from the underworld, reviving her with the water and grass of life

(see T. Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness, p. 58). He successfully warned

Ziusudra/Utnapishtim about the coming flood and assured the survival of mankind

(ibid., p. 114; ANET, p. 93). He averted a rebellion among the lower gods by

proposing and arranging the creation of man (W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard,



Atra-Hasis [Oxford, 1969], p. 55). He solved the crisis caused by Apsu's rage by

cleverly placing a spell over him and having him killed (ANET, p. 61).


24 "Fur den Sterblichen rind Nektar and Ambrosia Gift," Bohl, p. 426. Also

cf. Kienast, pp. 237-238; Buccellati, p. 63.

184 NIELS-ERIK ANDREASEN

the tables on Ea in the matter of the food and who, by laughing at

Adapa (B, line 70; D, line 3), showed himself to be the real

culprit.25 In any case, the meal may not at all have been intended as

a sacred investiture of Adapa into divinity,26 but merely a meal

provided in response to the requirements of hospitality.27 But can a

mortal accept such hospitality (including a robe and oil) to the

extent of sharing the ambrosia and nectar with Anu? If this

interpretation is at all correct, the heavenly food may at one and

the same time be food of life and food of death, depending upon

the one who eats it. A similar duality may be reflected in the

biblical picture of the two trees: one of life, leading to eternal life

(Gen 3:22); the other of knowledge, presumed to offer godlikeness,

but actually leading to mortality (Gen. 3:3-5; 2:17).28

25 Though Anu represents the highest authority in the world, he is not

nearly so resourceful and calm as is Ea. A case in point is Anu's reaction to

Adapa's offense: "`Mercy!' Rising from his throne: ‘(Let) them fetch him

hither!'" (ANET, p. 101). Again, he was apparently unable to face the threat

of Tiamat (ANET, p. 63). Also, the Atra-Hasis myth finds him unable to

propose a solution to Enlil's problem, namely, a rebellion among the lower

gods (Lambert and Millard, Atra-Hasis, pp. 49-55). In general, Anu appears

less resourceful and predictable than Ea, like a weak and insecure chairman

of the board!


26 Thus Burrows, p. 24. The idea is that Anu, impressed with Adapa's power

and skill, decided to include him among the gods-an old illustration of the maxim:

If you can't beat them, join them (or make them join you).

27 Jacobsen, "The Investiture and Anointing of Adapa in Heaven," pp. 48-51.

28 According to Gen 2:9 the tree of life stood in the midst of the garden as did

also the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Gen 3:3 locates the forbidden tree in the

midst of the garden, but does not otherwise name it, whereas Gen 3:22 speaks of the

tree of life from which man must now be kept. Concerning the two trees, located at

the same place, man is forbidden to eat from one, never commanded to eat from the

other, but subsequently hindered from reaching it. The tree of life (plant of life)

occurs relatively frequently in ancient Near Eastern literature (B. S. Childs, "Tree of

Knowledge, Tree of Life," IDB 4, 695-697), the tree of the knowledge of good and

evil is practically unknown outside Genesis (see, however, M. Tserat, "The Two

Trees in the Garden of Eden," Eretz-Israel 12 [1975]: 40-43). It is tempting to

suppose that this "double tree" in the midst of the garden indicates two postures

that man can take: (1) He can eat of one (presuming to be a god) and die, or (2) he

can refuse to do so (remaining human), but staying alive with access to the other

tree. He cannot eat from both.

ADAM AND ADAPA 185

From this it would follow that Ea's advice to Adapa, which

proved valuable in every other respect, must also be taken in this

sense with reference to the heavenly food. Ea does not deceive Adapa

to keep him mortal and in his service in Eridu. He saves his life from

what ordinarily would mean certain death through a presumption

to be a god. If this is correct, the alleged parallel between Adapa and

Adam over failing a test involving food falls away, but another

emerges: Both were subject to a test involving food and both received

two sets of advice; namely, "do not eat" (God and Ea) and "eat"

(serpent and Anu). One, Adapa, obeyed and passed his test; the

other, Adam, disobeyed and failed. But even this situation is

complicated by a further consideration; namely, the relationship

between obedience/disobedience and immortality.

(c) It is frequently suggested that Adapa, like Gilgamesh,

sought immortality, that his visit before Anu was ill-fated by

depriving him of his nearly realized quest (thanks to his blind

obedience to Ea's deceptive advice), and that the Adapa myth is an

etiology explaining human mortality.29 However, Adapa did not

possess immortality originally (A, line 4);30 and no absolute proof

exists that he sought it, but was hindered by Ea's schemes.31 Not

even Anu's laughter and Adapa's return to earth, which is recorded

in the late fragment D,32 necessarily implies forfeited immortality

on the part of Adapa. Instead, it may indicate Anu's amused

satisfaction over Adapa's wisdom and loyal obedience, which

enables him to refuse that heavenly food, the acceptance of which

would be an act of hybris. Hence he is rewarded with life on earth,

rather than with punishment by death.33 At the most, the myth

29 Foster, pp. 352-353; Bohl, pp. 416-417.

30 The fundamental distinction between gods and men in the ancient Near East

is precisely the inability of the latter to achieve immortality (with the exception of

Utnapishtim, the hero of the Flood). Yet even the gods are not unalterably

immortal, for they too depend upon eating and upon care and are vulnerable before

a variety of adverse circumstances. Cf. Bohl, p. 426.

31 Recently Komoroczy, p. 38.

32 It comes from the Ashurbanipal library and is attributed to an Assyrian scribe.

For the relationship between this fragment and the main fragment B (from the

Amarna archives) see Bohl, pp. 427-429.

33 See Kienast, pp. 237-238; Komoroczy, pp. 38-39.

186 NIELS-ERIK ANDREASEN

affirms that immortality is the privilege of the gods and cannot

belong to man, even to the wisest of all.34 Here is a direct contrast

between Adam and Adapa: Adapa is restrained by Ea from seeking

immortality (presumptuously or even accidentally) in the court of

Anu; Adam is restrained (unsuccessfully) from losing it. However,

once Adam has lost his immortality, he too must be kept from

seeking it anew (Gen 3:22f).

(d) Adam and Adapa are both summoned before the divinity to

give account of their actions. Adam's offense is clearly that he

broke the prohibition regarding the tree of the knowledge of good

and evil, with the implication that in grasping for this knowledge

he aspired for divinity.35 But what is Adapa's offense? On the basis

of the presumed parallel with Gen 3, the answer has often been that

like Adam so Adapa offended (unwittingly) in the matter of eating

(and drinking), except that Adapa declined to eat where Adam

declined to avoid eating.36 However, Adapa's non-eating can hardly

be considered an offense at all, except possibly an offense by Ea to

which fate made Adapa a party.37 If, on the other hand, the offense

is defined as that which brought about the summons before the

divinity, then Adapa's offense was clearly breaking the wing of the

south wind. Three things may be observed concerning this act.

First, Adapa broke the wind with a word. He clearly was in

possession of magic power,38 something which may explain the

incantation in fragment D employed to dispel illness. Second,

34 Foster, p. 353.

35 The term "good and evil" is generally understood to mean "everything," and

seeking such knowledge represents human hybris. See J. A. Bailey, "Initiation and

the Primeval Woman in Gilgamesh and Genesis 2-3," JBL 89 (1970): 144-148. But

see also B. Reicke, "The Knowledge Hidden in the Tree of Paradise," JSS 1 (11956):

193-201; R. Gordis, "The Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Old Testament and

the Qumran Scrolls," JBL 76 (1957): 123-138.



36 See Shea, p. 39.

37 The role of fate appears to be prominent in some Mesopotamian traditions,

perhaps because the gods were not always partial to virtue, but took advantage of it.

Cf. Foster, p. 352.

38 Thus Jacobsen, "The Investiture and Anointing of Adapa," pp. 50-51;

Foster, p. 349.

ADAM AND ADAPA 187

Adapa issued the curse while fishing in the service of the temple of

Eridu, that is, while performing his religious duties. His anger

over capsizing is directed not against his god Ea, who sent him out

to sea, but against the wind that blew over his boat. In other words,

he broke the wind in his eager devotion to Ea, possibly not

counting the consequences vis-a-vis the land.39 Third, in breaking

the wind, Adapa seriously disturbed the land (the world of

southern Mesopotamia), and hence its high god Anu, who had

authority over its maintenance. By maiming the south wind,

Adapa halted the cooling life-giving breezes from the sea, leaving

the land exposed to the scorching sun. G. Roux found in this

condition an explanation of the presence of Tammuz and Gizzida

(both fertility gods) at Anu's door.40 They suffered the lack of the

fertile, moist wind and had sought help from Anu, who in turn

inquired about the situation and upon being told cried, "Mercy!"

(B, line 13) and sent for Adapa. It would also explain Ea's advice to

Adapa that he approach the gate where the fertility gods were

waiting, in mourning (over their miserable condition) so as to

express his contrition and gain their sympathy and help. In that,

Ea and Adapa were eminently successful. This success is indicated

by Adapa's recognition before Anu, his acceptance of the signs of

hospitality,41 which, very much to Anu's astonishment,42 he knew

how to receive while discreetly refusing that to which he was not

entitled (the heavenly bread and water). At this point a clear

contrast with the story of Adam emerges, for excuses and a self-

defense, not contrition and obedience, characterize Adam's con-

frontation with God.

39 See Kienast, p. 237.

40 G. Roux, "Adapa, le vent et 1'eau," RA 55 (1961): 13-33. That only seven days

are involved does not speak against this conclusion (thus Foster, p. 352), for the

story is a myth in which realities are stylized into symbols.

41 Here I follow Jacobsen ("The Investiture and Anointing of Adapa," pp. 48-51;

The Treasures of Darkness, p. 116) against Burrows ("Note on Adapa," p. 24).

Adapa is not being invested as a heavenly being (only to lose it all by refusing his

meal). Rather he is being accepted and forgiven of his offense, thanks to his

contrition, caution, and the good offices of Tammuz and Gizzida.



42 According to fragment B, Anu laughs and says, "Take him away and return

him to his earth" (B, line 70). The later Assyrian scribe responsible for fragment D

188 NIELS-ERIK ANDREASEN

(e) Although Adapa, unlike Adam, is not the first man on

earth, he does represent mankind in a special sense. According to frag-

ment A, line 6, he is a "model of men," a human archetype; and as

B. R. Foster suggests, this particular aspect of Adapa's character iden-

tifies him as a wise man whose abilities extend in several directions.43

First, he is a sage whose superior knowledge given him by Ea

makes him general supervisor of human activities in the city of

Eridu. He bakes, cooks, prepares the offering, steers the ship, and

catches the fish for the city (A, lines 10-18). Second, he is a vizier to

the first antediluvian king, Alulim.44 Thus he is the first apkallu

(antediluvian wise man) and as such is identified with the Oannes

of Berossos,45 about whom it is reported that he daily ascended

from the sea in the form of a fish and taught mankind the arts of

civilization.46 Third, Adapa is wise in scholarship, having authored

a literary work (unknown except in this fragmentary text).47 In

consequence of these characteristics, Adapa became the epitome of

wisdom and a model of it to later generations.48 When this fact is

combined with his association with the first king, he is the typical

man, even the primal man. Although unlike Adam, he is not the

first man, still he is a sort of prototype, so that the matters pertaining

to all mankind are explicable in reference to him (as, for instance,

is apparently the case with regard to mortality, as portrayed in this

myth). What Adapa does, or what he is, has consequences for

subsequent generations of mankind, not because he passed on to

them some form of original sin, but because through his wisdom

offered this added explanation by attributing the following words to Anu: "Of the

gods of heaven and earth, as many as there be, who (ever) gave such a command, so

as to make his own command exceed the command of Anu?" (D, lines 5f.). Anu is

surprised that his ruling in the matter had been anticipated and met with such a

wise response-perhaps a little annoyed, as well, at being found out!

43 Foster, pp. 345-349.

44 Hallo, "Antediluvian Cities," p. 62; Lambert and Millard, Atra-Hasis, p. 27.

45 See above, p. 182.

46 Jacoby, pp. 369-370.

47 Lambert, "A Catalogue of Texts and Authors," p. 70.

48 See n. 17, above; also Xella, "L"inganno' di Ea nel mito di Adapa,"

pp. 260-261.

ADAM AND ADAPA 189
he was chosen to establish the context within which subsequent

generations of mankind must live. Here a parallel as well as a

contrast between Adapa and Adam emerges. Both are primal men,

but the heritage which each one passes on to subsequent genera-

tions varies considerably.
2. Contrasts Between Adapa and Adam

From considerations such as the foregoing, it can only be

concluded, so it would seem, that although the stories of Adapa

and Adam exhibit some parallels (notably in regard to the name

and primal position of the two chief characters), they also reveal

important contrasts. Therefore, those interpreters who insist upon

reading the Adapa myth without assistance from the familiar

categories of Gen 3 do make an important and necessary point.

The story of Adapa is a myth (or legend) set in the earliest time

(antediluvian) of southern Mesopotamia, and it intends (perhaps in

a somewhat whimsical way) to give expression to certain

distressing situations. The most immediate of these concerns

is human mortality. The response of the myth is that man

cannot gain immortality, for that is the exclusive prerogative of

the gods. Even Adapa, the foremost among men, after whom all

mankind is patterned--with all his wisdom, skill, and power--

cannot achieve it. Immortality, therefore, cannot be had by humans;

it belongs exclusively to the gods, who alone are the ultimate

rulers of the universe.49 Yet, the alternative to immortality is not

death, but life on earth--temporal and subject to the fickles of fate,

but not without satisfactions. To this life Adapa is returned, a

wiser man who is aware of the distance between heaven and earth.

"As Adapa from the horizon of heaven to the zenith of heaven cast

a glance, he saw its awesomeness" (D, lines 7-8).

But more importantly, the myth concerns itself with human

authority, even arrogance, before the gods. Here the myth is

ambivalent. Obviously, Adapa's authority is being curtailed, for he


49 Foster, p. 353. This point is made most forcefully in the Gilgamesh epic,

during the conversation between Utnapishtim and Gilgamesh (Tablet XI; ANET,

93-96).

190 NIELS-ERIK ANDREASEN

is summoned to give account of his action; but his wisdom,

obedience, and cunning is such that he gets away with more than

we would expect. He obtains a reception, life, and some trophies.

This is possible because the gods, though immortal, are themselves

vulnerable. They depend upon Adapa's provisions for the temple

and are subject to his rash breaking of the south wind, thereby

throwing the whole land into disarray. The liberation given to

Eridu (D, line 10) may be a recognition of the fact that there are

limits to the gods' dependence and reliance upon mankind.50 That

the myth thereby becomes an exaltation of Eridu51 does not seem

entirely persuasive.52

However, just as the world of the gods is vulnerable, so is the

world of humanity. The myth ends with a reference to illness

which could permanently terminate even the limited and temporal

existence of mankind. The healing promised through an appeal to

the goddess Ninkarrak (D, lines 17-18) is appropriately attached to

the myth of Adapa's successful confrontation with the gods. Just as

the wing of the south wind, and hence life in land and city, can be

healed, so also can human illness,53 through a proper relationship

with the gods, who are both the rulers of the world and its

providers of life.

In short, the myth of Adapa is an attempt to come to terms

with the vicissitudes of human life, as it exists, by insisting that so

it is ordained. It suggests that by wisdom, cunning, humility, and

50 This appears to be an issue in the Atra-Hasis flood story. The high gods set

mankind to work in order to appease the low gods; subsequently mankind rebels

and by its size frightens the high gods into sending a flood, whereupon they suffer

from the lack of mankind's service. See Lambert and Millard, Atra-Hasis. The

suggestion that the flood represents a disruption identifiable as an overpopulation

problem only underscores the fact that the gods are vulnerable before their creatures

and unable to control their own solution to their problem (see T. Freymer-Kensky,

“The Atrahasis Epic and its Significance for our Understanding of Genesis 1-9,"

BA 40 [1977]: 147-155).


51 Thus Komoroczy, pp. 39-40.

52 "Nicht die Stadt, sondern der Mensch and sein Erleben stehen im Mit-

telpunkt," so Kienast, p. 235.



53 That it refers only to the healing of broken shoulder blades or arms, viz. the

broken wing of the south wind, is not likely. For this suggestion see Bohl, p. 428.

ADAM AND ADAPA 191

obedience human beings can receive (or extract, if needs be) from

the gods, who too are vulnerable, whatever concessions, short of

immortality, will make life meaningful and satisfactory.

Gen 2-3, on the other hand, seeks to explain why existing

conditions are what they clearly ought not to be. Therefore, Adam,

unlike Adapa, is not struggling with distressing human problems

such as immortality, nor is he strapped down with duties of

providing for city and temple, nor is he caught up in the tension

between his obligations to his God and hindrances to such obliga-

tions arising from an evil world54 or from inner wickedness.55 He is

a natural creature whose simple lack, loneliness, is met in a fully

satisfactory and permanent way (Gen 2:20-24). The only other

potential difficulty in this harmonious existence lies in his capacity

to disobey his God.

Moreover, not only in his existence before God, but also in his

confrontation with God does Adam differ from Adapa. That con-

frontation arises from an experience of weakness in yielding to

temptation, not from blind devotion, as in the case of Adapa. Also,

Adam fails to manifest contrition similar to that of Adapa. And

finally, again unlike Adapa, Adam refuses to take responsibility for

his deed; he hides from it and subsequently blames his wife.

Adam's fall is therefore much more serious than Adapa's offense,

perhaps because of the considerable height from which Adam

tumbled.56 Both the height of his former position and the depth of

his present one are not parallel to those experienced by Adapa.

Even the nature of the relationship between man and God is

different in Gen 2-3. God is not vulnerable before Adam, yet he

54 For a discussion of these common human tensions, see W. Eichrodt, Man in

the Old Testament, SBT 4 (London, 1951), pp. 51-66.

55 Ibid., pp. 66-74.

56 Contrary to J. Pedersen ("Wisdom and Immortality," p. 245), the fall of

Adam thus does not parallel the experience of Adapa before Anu. To be sure, both

Adam and Adapa made approaches towards divinity by means of wisdom, but

Adapa did so from the position of human inadequacy. Adam, on the other hand, suf-

fered no such lack. He enjoyed a relationship with his God through filial obedience

and was in possession of all wisdom (cf. Gordis, "The Knowledge of Good

and Evil," p. 125).

192 NIELS-ERIK ANDREASEN


appears hurt by Adam's fall and takes action in Adam's behalf

(cf. Gen 3:21). Adam, on the other hand, is dependent upon God,

but appears to ignore that fact (cf. Gen 3:8).

In short, then, we conclude that parallels do indeed exist

between Adam and Adapa, but they are seriously blunted by the

entirely different contexts in which they occur.


3. Analysis of the "Seesaw" Parallelism

How, then, shall we explain this "seesaw" parallelism? Does

Adapa represent a parallel to the biblical Adam, or should Adam

and Adapa rather be contrasted? The suggestion of this essay is that

in Adam and Adapa we have the representation of two different

anthropological characters, perhaps capable of being illustrated by

an actor who plays two distinct roles, but who is clearly recogniz-

able in each.

The Adapa character assigned to this actor is suitable for its

cultural milieu. It is that of a wise man. The epithet apkallu

supports it, and his identification with Berossos' Oannes confirms

it. His wisdom is ordained by his god Ea, and it comes to

expression in the devotion and obedience with which he conducts

his affairs. Adapa is not a "sinner," but a "perfect man." He is

therefore a model man, arising from the sea, like Oannes, to

instruct mankind. He is a human archetype who compares best to

such biblical personalities as Noah, Joseph, Moses, Job, and

Daniel, who are also models of wisdom, devotion, and obedience,

and who represent ideals to be imitated.57 Naturally, inasmuch as

Adapa lives in a polytheistic world, so he must contend with all its

conflicting interests. These are not unlike the conflicting interests

with which biblical man is confronted, except that the perpetrators

in the latter case are humans. For man to survive in such a world

takes wisdom, integrity, reliability, devotion, and humility before

the unalterable superiority of the divine powers. But the ideal

human character can succeed in this. He may not achieve all that

57 Cf. Foster, p. 353; Speiser, p. 310. According to Buccellati, p. 65, Adapa is

characterized as a man of faith, and hence he can be compared to such biblical

personages as Noah and Abraham. The notion of faith emerges in Adapa's total

commitment to his god's counsel. See also Xella, p. 260.

ADAM AND ADAPA 193

he desires; he remains mortal and shares in the suffering to which

humanity is liable, but he does stand to gain real satisfactions from

his life and can attain to a noble status and enjoy divine

recognition. Here is a clear parallel between Adapa and certain OT

ideals, particularly in the wisdom literature.

The Adam role, however, is that of the first man, who is

sinless and destined to immortality--of one who, even though a

created being, is in the image of God and who enjoys his presence

continually. We very much suspect that the same actor is indeed

playing, because of the similarity of the names of our characters,

because of their primary position among the antediluvians, and

because of certain distinct experiences they had in common (e.g., a

summons before divinity, and a test involving food). But the

precise role which Adam plays is foreign to the Mesopotamian

literature. Unlike Adapa, Adam, though made of clay, originally

has the potential for immortality and is totally free before God.

Further, Adam serves the earth, rather than temple. Moreover,

although he possesses enormous wisdom (so as to name the

animals, Gen 2:20), he is not portrayed as a teacher of civilization

to mankind. Rather, he exists above and before civilization, in a

pristine state of purity, nobility, and complete harmony. Further-

more, his confrontation with God is not in sorrow or mourning,

comparable to the experience of Adapa; he is subsequently brought

low while blaming his misadventures upon a woman. In this,

Adam is clearly not an ideal to be followed, but a warning to all--a

failing individual, rather than a noble, heroic one. Here a clear

contrast emerges between our two characters.

According to an old proposal,58 recently resurrected,59 the actor

who played these two characters--the noble Adapa and the ignoble

Adam--was brought to the ancient Near East by west Semitic

peoples. On the scene staged by the Mesopotamian artists he

characterized man as the noble, wise, reliable, and devoted, but

humble, hero who is resigned to live responsibly before his god.

However, in the biblical tradition, the characterization came

through in quite a different way, which has put its lasting mark

58 By A. T. Clay, The Empire of the Amorites, Yale Oriental Series 6

(New Haven, Conn., 1919); also, The Origin of Biblical Traditions.



59 See the recent suggestions by Shea, pp. 39-41; Dahood, pp. 271-276.

194 NIELS-ERIK ANDREASEN


upon the concept of man in the Judeo-Christian tradition--namely,

that before God, man is (or rather has become) basically sinful,

failing, ignoble and untrustworthy, bent upon usurping the place

of his God. This portrayal, to be sure, is not meant to reduce the

spirit of man to pessimism and despair, but to remind him that

despite all the wisdom, cunning, reliability, and devotion of which

he is capable and is duty-bound to exercise, he is also always a

sinner whose unpredictability, untrustworthiness, and irresponsi-

bility can never be totally ignored nor denied.60

Does the Adapa myth then present us with a parallel or a

contrast to the story of Adam? The best answer to this question

may well be that Adam and Adapa represent two distinct charac-

terizations of human nature. The parallels we have noted in the

accounts may suggest that the two characterizations have a common

origin, whereas the contrasts between them may indicate that

two branches of Near Eastern civilization took clearly distinguish-

able sides in the dialogue over human nature. Yet these lines are

not so different that the resulting two characterizations of man are

unable to dialogue.

60 It would seem that W. Brueggemann, In Man We Trust (Atlanta, 1972),

pp. 44-45, takes this aspect too lightly. He correctly observes that the purpose of the

fall narrative is not "to dwell upon failure," but to affirm and reaffirm God's trust

in man. But he further states, "The miracle grows larger, for Yahweh is willing to

trust what is not trustworthy. The gospel out of the tenth century is not that David

or Adam is trustworthy, but that he has been trusted" (ibid., p. 45). This is

surely good theology, but it hardly succeeds in refurbishing man, as Brueggemann

would have us do. The story of Adam's fall, it seems to me, insists that even at its

best, mankind is not as good as it ought to be or as we might wish it to be.

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Andrews University Seminary Studies

SDA Theological Seminary


Berrien Springs, MI 49104-1500

http://www.andrews.edu/SEM/



Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: thildebrandt@gordon.edu


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