Apocalypse of Adam

The Apocalypse of Adam is a Gnostic text found among the Nag Hammadi codices. It is written in Coptic but was likely translated from Greek. The date is difficult to determine. The book may refer to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, but the allusion is not certain. McRae concludes a date anywhere from the late first through the fourth century is possible (OTP 1:708). The book is a Jewish-Gnostic text with some general parallels to Christian doctrine (the redeemer myth, for example.)

apocalypse of adam

Apocalypse of Adam 1:1-3 gives the setting of the apocalypse, and the conclusion to the book calls this secret knowledge given to Seth as a holy baptism.

Apoc.Adam 8:16-17 These are the revelations which Adam made known to Seth his son, and his son taught his seed about them. This is the secret knowledge of Adam which he imparted to Seth, which is the holy baptism of those who know the eternal knowledge through the ones born of the word and the imperishable illuminators, those who came from the holy seed: Jesseus, Mazareus, Jessedekeus, [the living water].

In his seven-hundredth year, Adam taught his son Seth about how he and Eve used to walk in the glory of God and knowledge of the eternal. The text is difficult to read because of the esoteric Gnostic content, but also because lines are occasionally missing. The book represents a form of Christian theology which has combined with Judaism and mystery religions to form something entirely different. The value for New Testament backgrounds is limited, although we can see how some New Testament elements mutate into Gnostic ideas in a book like the Apocalypse of Adam.

The fall is described in 1:4-12. There is no biblical fall here at all: the ruler of the aeons withdrew from Adam and Eve in wrath. As a result, they lost their knowledge and glory and served the creator God in fear and subjugation. Adam has a vision after this “fall” in which three men (or angels) appear in glory and announce explain to Adam about the aeon from which he and Eve were created (chapter 2).

Adam relates the predication of the flood which was given to him in his vision (chapter 3). The story is only vaguely related to the biblical version and is unlike 1 Enoch as well. Noah is called Deucalion, a son of Prometheus and the hero of the Greek flood myth (OTP 1:713 note e). After the flood, the Earth is divided among the three sons of Noah (chapter 4) with a special emphasis on Seth. The children of Ham and Japheth are judged with fire by the great aeon for going over to another (chapter 5).

In chapter six Adam relates the coming of the Illuminator. He will pass knowledge onto the sons of Noah. He will do miracles, and he appears to pass along secret knowledge of Seth (the text is corrupt here.) The powers of God will ask about this Illuminator since he appears to be more powerful than they are. His origin is given in Chapter 7. This lengthy poetic section lists thirteen kingdoms from which the Illuminator came, each ending with the rather obscure line “and thus he came to water.” Unlike other lists of kingdoms in the pseudepigrapha, this one is not thinly veiled history, but rather gnostic theology. Each kingdom lists some place from which the Illuminator came.

  • The first kingdom has a corrupt line at the critical moment, but it does say he was nourished in the heavens.
  • He came from a great prophet, taken by a bird when he was a child
  • He came from a virgin’s womb and was cast out of the city with his mother
  • Armies were sent to seek the virgin
  • He was cast into the sea and the abyss received him
  • Dragons brought him to caves and he became a child. A spirit came down on him and he received glory and power
  • He came from a cloud and a rock which enveloped the earth
  • One of the nine Muses went to be alone and the angels nourished him.
  • His god begot him in his hand
  • A daughter conceived by her father and she put the child in a tomb in the desert
  • He came from “two luminaries.”
  • Every birth of a ruler is a word and a mandate.

This seed will fight against the “powers” and be victorious (8:1-8) and a voice is heard from heaven promising even more wisdom will be sent by angels in the future (8:9-15). The last two verses are a conclusion describing the book as the secret wisdom of Seth “which is the holy baptism” and knowledge of those born of the world and the imperishable illuminators.

There may be some kind of relationship between the Apocalypse of Adam and Revelation 12. There are numerous points of comparison, although the Apocalypse of Adam was written much later. David Aune lists this books as a “possible Gnostic source” for Revelation 12, citing the suggestion of J. M. Robinson (Revelation 6-16, 1998; See also D. M Parrott, “The 13 Kingdoms of the Apocalypse of Adam: Origin, Meaning and Significance” NovT 31 (1989): 67-87).