Early Christianity and Classical Culture: Comparative Studies in Honor of Abraham J. Malherbe

By Abraham Johannes Malherbe | Go to book overview

THE WASHING OF ADAM IN THE ACHERUSIAN LAKE
(GREEK LIFE OF ADAM AND EVE 37.3)
IN THE CONTEXT OF EARLY CHRISTIAN NOTIONS
OF THE AFTERLIFE

Marinus de Jonge
and
L. Michael White1


Introduction

The last section of the Greek Life of Adam and Eve2 (consisting of chapters 31–43) tells about events surrounding the deaths of Adam and Eve. In chapters 31–37 Adam, penitent and humble, departs to meet his Maker. Immediately after his death the angels and even the sun and the moon offer incense and prayers to God that he may have mercy on Adam (33, 35). The events are observed by Eve and Seth by means of a vision (34–36). Eve questions what she sees, but Seth explains why the sun and the moon, who are also praying over Adam’s body, look like “black Ethiopians,” since they are not able to shine before the “Father of Lights.”3 After this we read in chapter 37:

(1) While Seth was saying this to his mother Eve, an angel sounded the
trumpet and all the angels who were lying on their faces stood up and
cried with a fearful voice, saying: (2) “Blessed be the glory of the Lord
on the part of his creatures, for he has had mercy on Adam, the work
of his hands.” (3) When the angels had cried these words, one of the

1 This essay started as a commentary on the Greek Life of Adam and Eve (GLAE) 37.3 by Marinus de Jonge in which he tried to demonstrate the Christian origin of the text. To this end, J. Tromp and R. Buitenwerf provided helpful discussion of some difficult passages. It then led Michael White to investigate further the Greek traditions concerning the Acherusian Lake (and the river Acheron) and the different forms in which this motif was taken up in Early Christianity. In its present form this contribution is offered as a joint tribute to Abe Malherbe, eminent scholar of Early Christianity in its Hellenistic environment, a good and mutual friend.

2 The work is still often called the “Apocalypse of Moses,” but this is a misnomer (found in earlier editions of the work) based on the wording in a “preface” that was added to the Greek text. This preface introduces the text as “The narrative and life of Adam and Eve … revealed to Moses by God.”

3 Cf.Jas 1:17.

-609-

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