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

detail of a fresco of 'The Death of Adam' by Piero della Francesca, 1452-1466, Basilica of San Francesco, Arezzo, Italy; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsChapter

According to a Mussulman tradition, Adam was consoled for the loss of Abel by the discovery of how to make wheat-bread. The story is as follows:

The angel Gabriel was sent out of Paradise to give him the rest of the wheat-grains Eve had plucked from the forbidden tree, together with two oxen, and various instruments of husbandry. Hitherto he had fed on roots and berries, and had known nothing of sowing grain; acting under Gabriel’s directions, he ploughed the land, but the plough stuck, and Adam impatiently smote one of the oxen, and it spoke to him and said, “Wherefore hast thou smitten me?”

Adam replied, “Because thou dost not draw the plough.”

“Adam!” said the ox, “when thou wast rebellious, did God smite thee thus?”

“O God!” cried Adam to the Almighty, “is every beast to reproach me, and recall to me my sin?”

Then God heard his cry, and withdrew from beasts the power of speech, lest they should cast their sin in the teeth of men.

But as the blow was still arrested, Adam dug into the soil, and found that the iron had been caught by the body of his son Abel.

When the wheat was sprung up, Gabriel gave Adam fire from hell, which however he had previously washed seventy times in the sea, or it would have consumed the earth and all things thereon. In the beginning, wheat-grains were the size of ostrich eggs, but under Edris (Enoch) they were no bigger than goose eggs; under Elias they were the size of hen’s eggs; under Christ, when the Jews sought to slay him, they were no larger than grapes; it was in the time of Uzeir (Esdras) that they diminished to their present proportions.

After Adam and Eve had been instructed in all that appertained to agriculture, Gabriel brought them a lamb and showed Adam how to slay it in the name of God, how to shear off the wool, and skin the sheep. Eve was instructed in the art of spinning and weaving by the angel, and she made of the wool, first a veil for herself, and then a shirt for her husband.

The first pair brought up their grandsons and great grandsons, to the number of 40,000 according to some, and 70,000 according to others, and taught them all that they had learned of the angel.

After the death of Abel, and after Cain had been slain by the avenging angel, Eve bore a third son, named Seth, who became the father of the race of the prophets.

Finally, when Adam had reached his nine hundred and thirtieth year, the Angel of Death appeared under the form of a goat, and ran between his legs.

Adam recoiled with horror, and exclaimed, “God has given me one thousand years; wherefore comest thou now?”

“What!” exclaimed the Angel of Death, “hast thou not given seventy years of thy life to the prophet David?”

Adam stoutly denied that he had done so. Then the Angel of Death drew the document of transfer from out of his beard, and presented it to Adam, who could no longer refuse to go.

His son Seth washed and buried him, after that the angel Gabriel, or, according to some accounts, Allah himself, had blessed him: Eve died a year later.

Learned men are not agreed as to the place of their burial; some traditions name India, others the Mount Kubais, and others again, Jerusalem – God alone knows!

Tabari says that Adam made Seth his testamentary executor.

“When Adam was dead, Gabriel instructed Seth how to bury him, and brought him the winding sheet out of heaven. And Gabriel said to Seth, “˜Thou art sole executor of thy father, therefore it is thy office to perform the religious functions.’ Then Seth recited over Adam thirty Tebírs. Four of these Tebírs were the legal prayers, the others were supererogatory, and were designed to exalt the virtues of Adam. Some say that Adam was buried near Mecca, on Mount Abui-Kubais.”

According to the apocryphal “Life of Adam and Eve,” Adam before his death called to his bedside all his sons and daughters, and they numbered fifteen thousand males, and females unnumbered. Adam is said to have been the author of several psalms; amongst others Psalm civ., Benedic anima mea, and Psalm cxxxix., Domine probasti; as may be gathered from the 14th, 15th, and 16th verses: “My bones are not hid from thee: though I was made secretly, and fashioned beneath in the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in Thy book were all my members written; which day by day were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.”

The Arabs say that when Adam dictated his last will and testament, the angel Gabriel descended from heaven to receive it, accompanied by sixty-two millions of angels, each provided with clean white sheets of parchment and pens, and that the will was sealed by Gabriel.

Tradition is not agreed as to the place of Adam’s burial. Khaithemah says that Adam was buried near Mecca on Mount Abu-Kubais. But the ancient Persians assert that he was buried in Ceylon, where his sepulchre was guarded by lions at the time of the war of the giants.

But the most generally received tradition is this:

The body of Adam was taken by Noah into the ark, and when the ark rested on Ararat, Noah and his sons removed the body from it, and they followed an angel who led them to the place where the first father was to lie. Shem or Melchizedek – for they are one, as we shall see presently – being consecrated by God to the priesthood, performed the religious rites; and buried Adam at the centre of the earth, which is Jerusalem; but, say some, he was buried by Shem along with Eve, in the cave of Machpelah, in Hebron. But others relate that Noah on leaving the ark distributed the bones of Adam among his sons, and that he gave the head to Shem, who buried it in Jerusalem. Some, taking this mystically, suppose that by this is meant the sin and punishment of Adam, which was transmitted to all the sons of Noah, but that to Shem was given the head, the Messiah who was to regenerate the world. Saint Basil of Seleucia says: “According to Jewish traditions, the skull of Adam was found there (i.e.,, on Golgotha), and this, they say, Solomon knew by his great wisdom. And because it was the place of Adam’s skull, therefore the hill was called Golgotha, or Calvary.”

With this a great concourse of Fathers agree; whose testimony has been laboriously collected by Gretser in his famous and curious book “De Cruce.” And this tradition has become a favorite subject for artists, who, in their paintings or sculptures, represent the skull of Adam at the foot of the Cross of Christ.

The apocryphal “Testament of Adam” still exists.

The tomb of Eve is shown at Jedda. “On entering the great gate of the cemetery, one observes on the left a little wall three feet high, forming a square of ten to twelve feet. There lies the head of our first mother. In the middle of the cemetery is a sort of cupola, where reposes the navel of her body; and at the other extremity, near the door of egress, is another little wall also three feet high, forming a lozenge-shaped enclosure: there are her feet. In this place is a large piece of cloth, whereon the faithful deposit their offerings, which serve for the maintenance of a constant burning of perfumes over the midst of her body. The distance between her head and feet is four hundred feet. How we have shrunk since the creation!”

The bones of Adam and Eve, says Tabari, were taken by Noah into the ark with him, and were reburied by him.

This article may be fitly concluded with the epitaph of Adam, composed by Gabriel Alvarez, and published by him in his “Historia Ecclesia Antediluviana,” Madrid, 1713.

Here lies, reduced to a pinch of dust, he who, from a pinch of dust; was formed to govern the earth, Adam, The son of None, the father of All, the stepfather of All and of himself. Having never wailed as a child, he spent his life in weeping the result of penitence. Powerful, Wise, Immortal, Just, he sold for the price of disobedience, power, wisdom, justice, immortality. Having abused the privilege of Free-will, which weapon he had received for the preservation of Knowledge and Grace, by one stroke he struck with death himself and all the human race. The Omnipotent Judge who in His Justice took from him Righteousness, by His Mercy restored it to him whole again: by whose goodness it has fallen out, that we may call that crime happy, which obtained such and so great A Redeemer. Thenceforth Free-will, which he in happiness used to bring forth Misery, is used in Misery to bring forth Happiness. For if we, partakers of his pernicious inheritance, partake also of his penitential example, and lend our ears to salutary counsels, Then we (who by our Free-will could lose ourselves) can be saved by the grace of the Redeemer, and the co-operation of our Free-will. The First Adam Lived to Die; The Second Adam Died to Live. Go, and imitate the penitence of the First Adam; Go, and celebrate the Goodness of the Second Adam.”

MLA Citation

  • Sabine Baring-Gould. “The Death of Adam, by Sabine Baring-Gould”. Legends of the Patriarchs and Prophets, 1881. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 April 2015. Web. 24 October 2016. <>