Legends of the Patriarchs and Prophets – Adam, by Sabine Baring-Gould

detail of the image of Adam from the Sistine Chapel by MichelangeloChapter

The Creation of Man

Certain of the angels having fallen, God made men, that they might take their vacated places.

According to the most authoritative Mussulman traditions, Adam was created on Friday afternoon at the Assr-hour, or about three o’clock. The four archangels – Gabriel, Michael, Israfiel, and Asrael – were required to bring earth from the four quarters of the world, that therefrom God might fashion man. His head and breast were made of clay from Mecca and Medina, from the spot where later were the Holy Kaaba and the tomb of Mohammed. Although still lifeless, his beauty amazed the angels who had flocked to the gates of Paradise. But Eblis, envious of the beauty of Adam’s as yet inanimate form, said to the angels: “How can you admire a creature made of earth? From such material nothing but fragility and feebleness can come.” However, most of the angels praised God for what he had done.

The body of Adam was so great, that if he stood up his head would reach into the seventh heaven. But he was not as yet endowed with a living soul. The soul had been made a thousand years before, and had been steeped all that while in the sea of light which flowed from Allah. God now ordered the soul to enter the body. It showed some indisposition to obey; thereupon God exclaimed: “Quicken Adam against your will, and, as a penalty for your disobedience, you shall leave the body sorely against your will.” Then God blew the spirit against Adam with such force that it entered his nose, and ran up into his head, and as soon as it reached his eyes Adam opened them, and saw the throne of God with the inscription upon it: “There is no God but God, and Mohammed is His prophet.” Then the soul ran into his ears, and Adam heard the song of the angels; thereupon his tongue was unloosed, for by this time the soul had reached it, and he said, “Praise be to Thee, my Creator, one and only!” And God answered him: “For this purpose are you made. You and your successors must pray to me, and you will find mercy and loving-kindness at my hands.” Then the soul penetrated all the members, reaching last of all the feet of Adam, which receiving strength, he sprang up, and stood upon the earth. But when he stood upright he was obliged to close his eyes, for the light of God’s throne shining directly into them blinded them. “What light is this?” he asked, as he covered his eyes with one hand, and indicated the throne with the other. “It is the light of a prophet,” God answered, “who will spring from thee in later ages. By mine honor I swear, for him alone have I created the world. In heaven he bears the name of the much lauded, and on earth he will be called Mohammed. Through him all men will be led out of error into the way of truth.”

God then called all created animals before Adam, and told him their names and their natures. Then He called up all the angels, and bade them bow before Adam, the man whom He had made. Israfiel obeyed first, and God gave to him in recompense the custody of the Book of Fate; the other angels obeyed in order; only Eblis refused, in the pride of his heart, saying, “Why shall I, who am made of fire, bend before him who is made of earth?” Therefore he was cast out of the angel choirs, and was forbidden admission through the gates of Paradise. Adam also was led out of Paradise, and he preached to the angels, who stood before him in ten thousand ranks, a sermon on the power, majesty, and goodness of God, and he showed such learning and knowledge – for he could name each beast in seventy languages – that the angels were amazed at his knowledge, which excelled their own. As a reward for having preached this sermon, God sent Adam a bunch of grapes out of Paradise by the hands of Gabriel.

In the Midrash, the Rabbinical story is as follows: “When God wished to make man, He consulted with the angels, and said to them, We will make a man in our image. Then they said, What is man, that you regard him, and what is his nature? He answered, His knowledge excels yours. Then He placed all kinds of beasts before them, wild beasts and fowls of the air, and asked them their names, but they knew them not. And after Adam was made, He led them before him, and He asked Adam their names, and he replied at once, This is an ox, that is an ass, this is a horse, that is a camel, and so forth.”

The story told by Tabari is somewhat different.

When God would make Adam, He ordered Gabriel to bring Him a handful of every sort of clay, black, white, red, yellow, blue, and every other kind. Gabriel went to the middle of the earth to the place where now is Kaaba. He wished to stoop and take the clay, but the earth said to him, “O Gabriel, what doest thou?” And Gabriel answered, “I am fetching a little clay, dust, and stone, that thereof God may make a Lord for thee.” Then the earth swore by God, “Thou shalt take of me neither clay nor dust nor stone; what if of the creatures made from me some should arise who would do evil upon the earth, and shed innocent blood?” Gabriel withdrew, respecting the oath, and took no earth; and he said to God, “Thou knowest what the earth said to me.”

Then God sent Michael and bade him fetch a little mud. But when Michael arrived, the earth swore the same oath.

And Michael respected the oath and withdrew.

Then God sent Azrael, the angel of death. He came, and the earth swore the same oath; but he did not retire, but answered and said, “I must obey the command of God in spite of thine oath.”

And the angel of death stooped, and took from forty ells below the earth clay of every sort, as we have said, and therefrom God made Adam.

No one in the world had seen a form like that of Adam. Hâreth or Satan went to look at him. Adam had lain stretched in the same place for the space of about forty years. No one thought of him or knew what sort of a thing he was. Hâreth coming up to him, saw him stretched from east to west, of huge size and as dry as dry palm leaves. Then Hâreth pushed Adam, and the dry earth rattled. Hâreth was astonished. He examined the form more attentively, and he found that it was hollow. Then he went to the mouth and crept in at it, and crept out again and let the angels know the doubt that was in his breast, for he said, “This creature is nothing, its inside is empty, and a hollow thing can easily be broken. Now that God has made him, He has given him the empire of the world, but I will fight against him and drive him from the earth as I drove out the Jins. What is your advice?”

The angels answered, “O Hâreth, if we overcame the Jins it was in obedience to God’s command. Now that God has created this thing, if He orders us to submit to it, we must do so.” Now when Hâreth saw that the angels thought otherwise, he changed his discourse and said, “You speak the truth, I agree with you, but I wanted to prove you.”

When God gave the soul to Adam, it entered his throat and passed down into his bosom and belly, and wherever it passed, the earth, the clay, the dust, and the black mud became bones, nerves, veins, flesh, skin, and the like. And when his soul entered his head, Adam sneezed, and said, “Praise be to God.” And when he turned his head, he saw Paradise and all its delights; and when the soul entered his belly, he wanted to eat, so he tried to rise and get some food, but the soul had not yet reached his extremities, which were as yet mere clay, so Gabriel said: “O Adam, don’t be in a hurry.” Then follows the story of Eblis refusing to adore Adam. According to another version of the Mussulman story, the soul showed such repugnance to enter the body, that the angel Gabriel took a flageolet, and sitting down near the head of the inanimate Adam, played such exquisite melodies that the soul descended to listen, and in a moment of ecstasy entered the feet, which began immediately to move. Thereupon the soul was given command by Allah not to leave the body again till special permission was given it by the Most High.

In the Talmud we are told that the Rabbi Meir says that the dust from which Adam was made was gathered from all parts of the earth: the Rabbi Hoshea says that the body of the first man was made of dust from Babel; the head, of earth from the land of Israel, and the rest of his limbs from the soil of other countries: but the Rabbi Acha adds that his hinder quarters were fashioned out of clay from Acre. When Adam was made, some of the dust remained over; of that God made locusts.

A Rabbinical tale is to this effect. God was interrupted by the Sabbath in the midst of creating fauns and satyrs, after He had made man, and was obliged to postpone their completion till the Sunday, consequently these creatures are misshapen. A Talmudic account of the way in which were spent the hours of the day in which Adam was made, is sufficiently curious.

At the first hour, God gathered the dust of the earth; in the second, He formed the embryo; in the third, the limbs were extended; in the fourth, the soul was given; at the fifth hour Adam stood upright; at the sixth, Adam named the animals. Having done this, God asked him, “And I, what is my name?”

Adam replied – “Jehovah.”

At the seventh hour, Adam married Eve; at the eighth, Cain and his sister were born; at the ninth, they were forbidden to eat of the tree; at the tenth hour Adam fell; at the eleventh he was banished from Eden; and at the twelfth, he felt the sweat and pain of toil.

In the Apocryphal Little Genesis, we are told that Adam did not disobey God till the expiration of the seventh year, and that he was not punished till forty-five days after. It adds, that before the Fall, Adam conversed familiarly with the animals, but that by the Fall they lost the faculty of speech.

God, say the Rabbis, made Adam so tall that his head touched the sky; and the tree of life, planted in the midst of the garden of Eden, was so broad at the base that it would take a good walker five years to march round it, and Adam’s proportions accorded with those of the tree. The angels murmured, and told God that there were two sovereigns, one in heaven and one on earth. Thereupon God placed his hand on the head of Adam and reduced him to a thousand cubits.

To the question, How big was Adam? the Talmud replies, He was made so tall that he stood with his head in heaven, till God pressed him down at the Fall. Rabbi Jehuda says, that as he lay stretched on the earth he covered it completely; but the book Sepher Gilgulim says (fol. 20, col. 4), that when he was made, his head and throat were in Paradise, and his body in the earth. To judge how long he was, says the same book, understand that his body stretched from one end of the earth to the other, and it takes a man five hundred years to walk that distance. And when Adam was created, all the beasts of earth fell down before him and desired to worship him, but he said to them, “You have come to worship me, but come and let us clothe ourselves with power and glory, and let us take Him to be king over us who has created us; for a people chooses a king, but the king does not appoint himself monarch arbitrarily.” Therefore Adam chose God to be king of all the world, and the beasts, fowls, and fishes gladly consented thereto. But the sun, seeing Adam, was filled with fear and became dark; and the angels quaked and were dismayed, and prayed to God to remove from them this mighty being whom He had made. Then God cast a deep sleep on Adam, and the sun and the angels looked on him lying helpless in his slumber, and they plucked up courage and feared him no more. The book Sepher Chasidim, however, says, that the angels seeing Adam so great and with his face shining above the brightness of the sun, bowed before him, and said, “Holy, holy, holy!” Whereupon God cast a sleep upon him and cut off great pieces of his flesh to reduce him to smaller proportions. And when Adam woke he saw bits of flesh strewed all round him, like shavings in a carpenter’s shop, and he exclaimed, “O God! how hast Thou robbed me?” but God answered, “Take these gobbets of flesh and carry them into all lands and drop them everywhere, and strew dust on them; and wherever they are laid, that land will I give to thy posterity to inherit.”

Many are the origins attributed to man in the various creeds of ancient and modern heathendom. Sometimes he is spoken of as having been made out of water, but more generally it is of earth that he has been made, or from which he has been spontaneously born. The Peruvians believed that the world was peopled by four men and four women, brothers and sisters, who emerged from the caves near Cuzco. Among the North American Indians the earth is regarded as the universal mother. Men came into existence in her womb, and crept out of it by climbing up the roots of the trees which hung from the vault in which they were conceived and matured; or, mounting a deer, the animal brought them into daylight; or, groping in darkness, they tore their way out with their nails.

The Egyptian philosophers pretended that man was made of the mud of the Nile. In Aristophanes, man is spoken of as πλάσματα πηλοῦ. Among some of the Chinese it is believed that man was thus formed: “The book Fong-zen-tong says: When the earth and heaven were made, there was not as yet man or peoples. Then Niu-hoa moulded yellow earth, and of that made man. That is the true origin of men.”

And the ancient Chaldeans supposed man was made by the mixing of the blood of Belus with the soil.

The Pre-Adamites

In 1655, Isaac de la Peyreira, a Jewish converted, published a curious treatise on the Pre-Adamites. Arguing upon Romans 5:12-14, he contended that there were two creations of man; that recorded in the first chapter of Genesis and that described in the second chapter being distinct. The first race he supposed to have peopled the whole world, but that it was bad, and therefore Adam had been created with a spiritual soul, and that from Adam the Jewish race was descended, whereas the Gentile nations issued from the loins of the Pre-Adamites. Consequently the original sin of Adam weighed only on his descendants, and Peyreira supposed that it was his race alone which perished, with the exception of Noah and his family, in the Deluge, which Peyreira contends was partial. This book was condemned and burnt in Paris by the hands of the executioner, and the author, who had taken refuge in Brussels, was there condemned by the ecclesiastical authorities. He appealed to Rome, whither he journeyed, and he was received with favor by Alexander VII., before whom he abjured Calvinism, which he had professed.

He died at the age of 82, at Aubervilliers, near Paris, and Moreri wrote the following epigrammatic epitaph for him:

“La Peyrère ici gît, ce bon Israélite,
Huguenot, catholique, enfin pré-Adamite.
Quatre religions lui plurent à la fois;
Et son indifférence était si peu commune,
Qu’après quatre-vingts ans qu’il eut à faire un choix,
Le bon homme partit et n’en choisit aucune.”

The Oriental book Huschenk-Nameh gives a fuller history of the Pre-Adamites. Before Adam was created, says this book, there were in the isle Muscham, one of the Maldives, men with flat heads, and for this reason they were called by the Persians, Nim-ser. They were governed by a king named Dambac.

When Adam, expelled the earthly Paradise, established himself in the Isle of Ceylon, the flat-heads submitted to him. After his death they guarded his tomb by day, and the lions relieved guard by night, to protect his body against the Divs.

MLA Citation

  • Sabine Baring-Gould. “Adam”. Legends of the Patriarchs and Prophets, 1881. CatholicSaints.Info. 20 April 2015. Web. 27 October 2016. <>