Magazine article The Christian Century

Meeting Adam

Magazine article The Christian Century

Meeting Adam

Article excerpt

IT MUST BE BECAUSE it's the last thing I see every night before I go to sleep--a photograph by the Very Rev. Andrew Tregubov of the Anastasis (or "Descent into Hades") icon fresco by 20th-century Russian iconographer Gregory Kroug. It must be the sight of Adam's face looking up at Christ's, and Christ's face looking down at Adam, that gave me the dream I had a few weeks ago.

I dreamed of meeting Adam in heaven. He wasn't hard to recognize. In fact, he looked like my great-uncle Harold--"Bubby," as great-aunt Sally called him--with the weight of his long years melted off. This was indeed a surprise. "Uncle Harold? Is it really you?" I said. He seemed to say yes, but no further revelation was given, and soon I was dreaming about a shortage of guest towels in the linen closet.


Of course, if this had been a real glimpse of Adam, I might have expected to see other relatives, too, including some I never met in life, not to mention the entire race of redeemed men and women. That, at least, is what the mystical traditions about Adam would have us think: he is Adam Kadmon, Adam Protoplast, the representative of all humanity, first creature to bear the divine image and likeness, namer of the animals, revered by the unfallen angels, a glorious being whose rebellion was a universal catastrophe and whose redemption is the universal hope. To meet Adam face to face would be a low-grade beatific vision: one would see straight through to the essence of humanity; one would see all the generations in him and discover one's own true self.

There's plenty of esoteric speculation along these lines in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, and in various writings of Jewish and Christian Platonists, Kabbalists, Sufis, Ismaili philosophers, Mormons, Druze--some of it outlandishly mythological, some of it (where Eve comes in) misogynist. It's not difficult to see why these legends didn't make it into the canon. Nonetheless, there is something enchanting about reading in the rabbinic accounts that Adam was as vast as our planet, or in the Syriac Cave of Treasures that his body sparkled like crystal, or in Philo that there were two Adams, one heavenly and one earthly, or in the Life of Adam and Eve that Eve and Seth made a last-ditch effort, after the fall, to cure Adam's mortal illness with oil from the Tree of Life.

Perhaps I've spent too long looking at the Anastasis icon to be satisfied with abstract theological anthropology. …

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