Manichaica Aramaica? Adam and the Magical Deliverance of Seth

By Reeves, John C. | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, July-September 1999 | Go to article overview

Manichaica Aramaica? Adam and the Magical Deliverance of Seth


Reeves, John C., The Journal of the American Oriental Society


Ibn al-Nadim's tenth-century Fihrist, long recognized as the purveyor of much valuable Manichaean lore, includes a Manichaean exposition of Genesis 2-4 that exhibits numerous affinities with both Jewish aggadic and gnostic exegetical traditions. One of the more intriguing episodes featured in the exposition involves the deliverance of the infant Seth from demonic assault by a magically adept Adam. Some parallels to this specific narrative episode were subsequently discovered within the gradually expanding corpus of Middle Iranian Manichaean literature. The present essay seeks to direct attention to a heretofore unrecognized reflex of this mytheme within an Aramaic incantation stemming from lower Mesopotamia. The implications of this correspondence are explored.

ONE OF OUR MOST valuable witnesses to authentic traditions surrounding the life and teachings of Mani, as well as to the subsequent history of Manichaeism within the Islamicate cultural sphere, is contained in the ninth chapter of the kitab al-Fihrist, or "Bibliographic Compendium," of Ibn al-Nadim, a book merchant and encyclopaedist who lived and wrote in Baghdad during the late tenth century of the Common Era. [1] His lengthy, detailed report on Manichaeism was first made available to Western scholars in 1862 by Gustav Flugel in a special monograph that featured an initial edition of the Arabic text, a translation, and a detailed commentary. [2] Subsequent discoveries and studies of oriental sources pertaining to Manichaeism (Arabic, Syriac, and Persian), coupled with the fortunate recovery of genuine Manichaean manuscripts from Central Asia and Egypt, have gradually confirmed the general reliability of Ibn al-Nadim's information about Mani and his religion. [3]

A MANICHAEAN VERSION OF THE STORY OF ADAM AND EVE

One of the more intriguing passages contained within Ibn [al.sub.7] Nadim's entry is a Manichaean exposition of Genesis 2-4 which exhibits numerous affinities with Jewish aggadic and gnostic exegetical traditions. [4] Astonishingly, this version of the story of Adam and Eve has attracted little attention from students of the history of biblical interpretation, a circumstance perhaps more indicative of the exposition's relative obscurity than of a program of deliberate neglect. [5] While the entire narrative is worthy of extensive discussion, the section of particular relevance to the present investigation occurs near the end of this passage. It deals with the events surrounding the birth of Seth, the biological son of Adam the protoplast. The passage reads as follows:

Mani said: "Then those archons and this al-Sindid [6] and Eve were troubled at (the behavior) they saw (exhibited) by Cain. [7] Al-Sindid then taught Eve magical syllables in order that she might infatuate Adam. [8] She proceeded to act (by) presenting him with a garland from a flowering tree, and when Adam saw her, he lustfully united with her, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a handsome male child of radiant appearance. When al-Sindid learned about this, he was distressed and fell ill, and said to Eve, 'This infant is not one of us; he is a stranger.' Then she wished to kill him, but Adam seized him and said to Eve, 'I will feed him cow's milk and the fruit of trees!' Thus taking him he departed. But al-Sindid sent the archons to carry off the trees and cattle, moving them away from Adam. [9] When Adam saw this, he took the infant and encircled him within three rings. He pronounced over the first (ring) the name of the King of the Gardens, over the second the name of Primal Man, and over the third the name of the Living Spirit. He spoke to and implored God, may His name be glorified, saying, 'Even though I have sinned before you, what offense has this infant committed?' Then one of the three (invoked deities) hurried (to Adam bearing) a crown of radiance, [10] extending it in his hand to Adam. When al-Sindid and the archons saw this, they departed (and went) away. …

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