Legends of the Patriarchs and Prophets – The Fall of Man, by Sabine Baring-Gould

detail of the painting 'The Expulson of Adam and Eve'; c.1600 by Domenico Zampieri; oil on canvas; Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, England; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsChapter

What was the tree of which our first parents were forbidden to eat? In Midrash, f. 7, the Rabbi Mayer says it was a wheat-tree; the Rabbi Jehuda, that it was a grape-vine; the Rabbi Aba, that it was a Paradise-apple; the Rabbi Josse, that it was a fig-tree: therefore it was that, when driven out of Paradise, they used its leaves for a covering.

The Persian story, adopted by the Arabs, is that the forbidden fruit was wheat, and that it grew on a tree whose trunk resembled gold and its branches silver. Each branch bore five shining ears, and each ear contained five grains as big as the eggs of an ostrich, as fragrant as musk, and as sweet as honey. The people of Southern America suppose it was the banana, whose fibres form the cross, and they say that thus, in it, Adam discovered the mystery of the Redemption. The inhabitants of the island of Saint Vincent think it was the tobacco plant. But, according to an Iroquois legend, the great mother of the human race lost heaven for a pot of bears’ grease. The story is as follows: The first men living alone were,

By the viewless winds,
Blown with resistless violence round about
The pendant world.

Fearing the extinction of their race, and having learnt that a woman dwelt somewhere in the heavens, they deputed one of their number to seek her out. This messenger of mankind was borne to the skies on the wings of assembled birds; and then watched at the foot of a tree till the woman came forth to draw water from a neighboring well. On her approach he addressed her, offered her bears’ fat, and then seduced her. The Deity perceiving her shame, in his anger thrust her out of heaven. The tortoise received her on his back; and from the depths of the sea the fish brought clay, and thus gradually built up an island on which the universal mother brought forth her first twins.

According to the traditions of the Lamaic faith, the first men lived to the age of sixty thousand years. They were invisibly nourished, and were able to raise themselves at will to the heavens. In this age of the world the transmigration of souls was universal, – all men were twice born; and in this age it was that the thousand gods settled themselves in heaven. In an unlucky hour the earth produced a honey-sweet substance: one of the men lusted after it, tasted and gave to his companions; the consequence was, that the men lost the power of rising from off the earth, their size, and their wisdom, and were obliged to satisfy themselves with food produced by the soil.

The Nepaul account of the beginning of sin is as follows: “Originally,” says one of the Tantras, “the earth was uninhabited. In those times the inhabitants of Abhaswara, one of the heavenly mansions, used frequently to visit the earth, and thence speedily return. It happened at length that when a few of these beings, who though half male, half female, through the innocence of their minds had never noticed their distinction of sex, came as usual to the earth, Adi Buddha suddenly created in them so violent a longing to eat, that they ate some of the earth, which had the taste of almonds; and by eating it they lost their power of flying back to heaven, and so they remained on the earth. They were now constrained to eat the fruits of the earth for sustenance.”

According to the Cinghalese, the Brahmas inhabited the higher regions of the air, where they enjoyed perfect happiness. “But it came to pass that one of them beholding the earth said to himself, What thing is this? and with one of his fingers having touched the earth, he put it to the tip of his tongue, and perceived the same to be deliciously sweet; from that time all the Brahmas ate of the sweet earth for the space of sixty thousand years. In the mean time, having coveted in their hearts the enjoyment of this earth, they began to say to one another, This part is mine and that is thine; and so fixing boundaries to their respective shares, divided the earth between them. On account of the Brahmas having been guilty of covetousness, the earth lost its sweetness, and then brought forth a kind of mushroom,” which the Brahmas also coveted and divided, and of which they were also deprived; and thus they proceeded from food to food, till their nature was changed, and from spirits they became men, imbibed wicked ideas, and lost their ancient glory.

According to the Chinese, man is part spirit, part animal. The spirit follows the laws of Heaven, as a disciple his master; the animal, on the other hand, is the slave of sense. At his origin, man obeyed the heavens; his first state was one of innocence and happiness; he knew neither disease nor death; he was by instinct wholly good and spiritual. But the immoderate desire to be wise, or, according to Lao-tsee, to eat, was the ruin of mankind.

According to the Persian faith, the father of man had heaven for his destiny, but he must be humble of heart, pure of thought, of word and of deed, not invoking the Divs: and such in the beginning were the thoughts and acts of our first parents.

First they said, “it is Ormuzd (God) who has given the water, the earth, the trees, and the beasts of the field, and the stars, the moon, the sun, and all things pure.” But Ahriman (Satan) arose, and rushed upon their thoughts and said to them, “It is Ahriman who has given these things to you.” Thus Ahriman deceived them, and to the end will deceive. To this lie they gave credence and became Darvands, and their souls were condemned till the great resurrection of the body. During thirty days they feasted and covered themselves with black garments. After thirty days they went to the chase; and they found a white goat, and with their lips they drew off her milk, and drank her milk and were glad. “We have tasted nothing like to this milk,” said our first parents, Meschia and Meschiane; “the milk we have drunk was pleasant to the taste,” but it was an evil thing to their bodies.

“Then the Div, the liar, grown more bold, presented himself a second time, and brought with him fruit of which they ate; and of a hundred excellences they before possessed, they now retained not one. And after thirty days and nights they found a white and fat sheep, and they cut off its left ear; and they fired a tree, and with their breath raised the fire to a flame; and they burned part of the branches of that tree, then of the tree khorma, and afterwards of the myrtle; and they roasted the sheep, and divided it into three portions: and of the two which they did not eat, one was carried to heaven by the bird Kehrkas.

“Afterwards they feasted on the flesh of a dog, and they clothed themselves in its skin. They gave themselves up to the chase, and with the furs of wild beasts they covered their bodies.

“And Meschia and Meschiane digged a hole in the earth, and they found iron, and the iron they beat with a stone; and they made for themselves an axe, and they struck at the roots of a tree, and they felled the tree and arranged its branches into a hut; and to God they gave no thanks; and the Divs took heart.

“And Meschia and Meschiane became enemies, and struck and wounded each other and separated; then from out of the place of darkness the chief of the Divs was heard to cry aloud: O man, worship the Divs! And the Div of Hate sat upon his throne. And Meschia approached and drew milk from the bull, and sprinkled it towards the north, and the Divs became strong. But during fifty winters, Meschia and Meschiane lived apart; and after that time they met, and Meschiane bare twins.”

The story told by the Mussulmans is as follows:

Adam and Eve lived for five hundred years in Paradise before they ate of the tree and fell; for Eblis was outside, and could not enter the gates to deceive them.

For five hundred years Eblis sought admission, but the angel Ridhwan warned him off with his flaming sword.

One day the peacock came through the gates of Paradise. This bird, with the feathers of emeralds and pearls, was not only the most beautiful creature God had made, but it had also been endowed with a sweet and clear voice, wherewith it daily sang the praises of God in the highways of Eden.

This beautiful bird, thought Eblis, when he saw it, is surely vain, and will listen to the voice of flattery.

Thereupon he addressed it as a stranger, beyond the hearing of Ridhwan. “Most beautiful of all birds, do you belong to the denizens of Paradise?”

“Certainly,” answered the peacock. “And who are you who look from side to side in fear and trembling?”

“I belong to the Cherubim who praise God night and day, and I have slipped out of their ranks without being observed, that I might take a glimpse of the Paradise, God has prepared for the saints. Will you hide me under your feathers, and show me the garden?”

“How shall I do that which may draw down on me God’s disfavor?” asked the peacock.

“Magnificent creature! take me with you. I will teach you three words which will save you from sickness, old age, and death.”

“Must then the dwellers in Paradise die?”

“All, without exception, who know not these three words.”

“Is this the truth?”

“By God the Almighty it is so.”

The peacock believed the oath, for it could not suppose that a creature would swear a false oath by its Creator. But, as it feared that Ridhwan would search it on its return through the gates, it hesitated to take Eblis with it, but promised to send the cunning serpent out, who would certainly devise a means of introducing Eblis into the garden.

The serpent was formerly queen of all creatures. She had a head like rubies, and eyes like emeralds. Her height was that of a camel, and the most beautiful colors adorned her skin, and her hair and face were those of a beautiful maiden. She was fragrant as musk and amber; her food was saffron; sweet hymns of praise were uttered by her melodious tongues; she slept by the waters of the heavenly river Kaulhar; she had been created a thousand years before man, and was Eve’s favorite companion.

This beautiful and wise creature, thought the peacock, will desire more even than myself to possess perpetual youth and health, and will gladly admit the cherub for the sake of hearing the three words. The bird was not mistaken; as soon as it had told the story, the serpent exclaimed: “What! shall I grow old and die? Shall my beautiful face become wrinkled, my eyes close, and my body dissolve into dust? Never! rather will I brave Ridhwan’s anger and introduce the cherub.”

The serpent accordingly glided out of the gates of Paradise, and bade Eblis tell her what he had told the peacock.

“How shall I bring you unobserved into Paradise?” asked the serpent.

“I will make myself so small that I can sit in the nick between your front teeth,” answered the fallen angel.

“But how then can I answer when Ridhwan addresses me?”

“Fear not. I will whisper holy names, at which Ridhwan will keep silence.”

The serpent thereupon opened her mouth, Eblis flew in and seated himself between her teeth, and by so doing poisoned them for all eternity.

When she had passed Ridhwan in security, the serpent opened her mouth and asked Eblis to take her with him to the highest heaven, where she might behold the majesty of God.

Eblis answered that he was not ready to leave yet, but that he desired to speak to Adam out of her mouth, and to this she consented, fearing Ridhwan, and greatly desiring to hear and learn the three salutary words. Having reached Eve’s tent, Eblis uttered a deep sigh – it was the first that had been heard in Eden, and it was caused by envy.

“Why are you so disquieted, gentle serpent?” asked Eve.

“I am troubled for Adam’s future,” answered the evil spirit, affecting the voice of the serpent.

“What! have we not all that can be desired in this garden of God?”

“That is true; but the noblest fruit of the garden, the only one securing to you perfect happiness, is denied to your lips.”

“Have we not abundance of fruit of every color and flavor – only one is forbidden?”

“And if you knew why that one is forbidden, you would find little pleasure in tasting the others.”

“Do you know?”

“I do, and for that reason am I so cast down. This fruit alone gives eternal youth and health, whereas all the others give weakness, disease, old age and death, which is the cessation of life with all its joys.”

“Why, dearest serpent, did you never tell me this before? Whence know you these things?”

“An angel told me this as I lay under the forbidden tree.”

“I must also see him,” said Eve, leaving her tent and going towards the tree.

At this moment Eblis flew out of the serpent’s mouth, and stood in human form beneath the tree.

“Who art thou, wondrous being, the like of whom I have not seen before?” asked Eve.

“I am a man who have become an angel.”

“And how didst thou become an angel?”

“By eating of this fruit,” answered the tempter, – “this fruit which is denied us through the envy of God. I dared to break His command as I grew old and feeble, and my eyes waxed dim, my ears dull, and my teeth fell out, so that I could neither speak plainly nor enjoy my food; my hands shook, my feet tottered, my head was bent upon my breast, my back was bowed, and I became so hideous that all the beasts of the garden fled from me in fear. Then I sighed for death, and hoping to find it in the fruit of this tree, I ate, and lo! instantly I was young again; though a thousand years had elapsed since I was made, they had fled with all their traces, and I enjoy perpetual health and youth and beauty.”

“Do you speak the truth?” asked Eve.

“I swear by God who made me.”

Eve believed this oath, and broke a branch from the wheat-tree.

Before the Fall, wheat grew to a tree with leaves like emeralds. The ears were red as rubies and the grains white as snow, sweet as honey, and fragrant as musk. Eve ate one of the grains and found it more delicious than any thing she had hitherto tasted, so she gave a second grain to Adam. Adam resisted at first, according to some authorities for a whole hour, but an hour in Paradise was eighty years of our earthly reckoning. But when he saw that Eve remained well and cheerful, he yielded to her persuasions, and ate of the second grain which Eve had offered him daily, three times a day, during the hour of eighty years. Thereupon all Adam’s heaven-given raiment fell from him, his crown slipped off his head, his rings dropped from his fingers, his silken garments glided like water from his shoulders, and he and Eve were naked and unadorned, and their fallen garments reproached them with the words, “Great is your misfortune; long will be your sorrows; we were created to adorn those who serve God; farewell till the resurrection!”

The throne recoiled from them and exclaimed, “Depart from me, ye disobedient ones!” The horse Meimun, which Adam sought to mount, plunged and refused to allow him to touch it, saying, “How hast thou kept God’s covenant?” All the inhabitants of Paradise turned their backs on the pair, and prayed God to remove the man and the woman from the midst of them.

God himself addressed Adam with a voice of thunder, saying, “Did not I forbid thee to touch of this fruit, and caution thee against the subtlety of thy foe, Eblis?” Adam and Eve tried to fly these reproaches, but the branches of the tree Talh caught Adam, and Eve entangled herself in her long hair.

“From the wrath of God there is no escape,” cried a voice from the tree Talh; “obey the commandment of God.”

“Depart from Paradise,” then spake God, “thou Adam, thy wife, and the animals which led you into sin. The earth shall be your abode; in the sweat of thy brow shalt thou find food; the produce of earth shall cause envy and contention; Eve (Hava) shall be afflicted with a variety of strange affections, and shall bring forth offspring in pain. The peacock shall lose its melodious voice, and the serpent its feet; dark and noisome shall be the den in which the serpent shall dwell, dust shall be its meat, and its destruction shall be a meritorious work. Eblis shall be cast into the torments of hell.”

Our parents were then driven out of Paradise, and one leaf alone was given to each, wherewith to hide their nakedness. Adam was expelled through the gate of Repentance, that he might know that through it alone could Paradise be regained; Eve was banished through the gate of grace; the peacock and the serpent through that of Wrath, and Eblis through the gate of Damnation. Adam fell into the island Serendib (Ceylon), Eve at Jedda, the Serpent into the desert of Sahara, the Peacock into Persia, and Eblis into the river Eila.

Tabari says that when the forbidden wheat had entered the belly of Adam and Eve, all the skin came off, except from the ends of the fingers. Now this skin had been pink and horny, so that they had been invulnerable in Paradise, and they were left naked and with a tender skin which could easily be lacerated; but as often as Adam and Eve looked on their fingernails, they remembered what skin they had worn in Eden.

Tabari also says that four trees pitying the shame of Adam and Eve, the Peacock, and the Serpent, in being driven naked out of Paradise, bowed their branches and gave each a leaf.

Certain Rabbis say that Adam ate only on compulsion, that he refused, but Eve “took of the tree,” – that is, broke a branch and “gave it him,” with the stick.

According to the Talmudic book, Emek Hammelech (f. 23, col. 3), Eve, on eating the fruit, felt in herself the poison of Jezer hara, or Original sin, and resolved that Adam should not be without it also; she made him eat and then forced the fruit on the animals, that they might all, without exception, fall under the same condemnation, and become subject to death. But the bird Chol – that is, the PhÅ“nix – would not be deceived, but flew away and would not eat. And now the PhÅ“nix, says the Rabbi Joden after the Rabbi Simeon, lives a thousand years, then shrivels up till it is the size of an egg, and then from himself he emerges young and beautiful again.

We have seen what are the Asiatic myths relating to Adam and Eve; let us now turn to Africa. In Egypt it was related that Osiris lived with Isis his sister and wife in Nysa, or Paradise, which was situated in Arabia. This Paradise was an island, surrounded by the stream Triton, but it was also a steep mountain that could only be reached on one side. It was adorned with beautiful flowers and trees laden with pleasant fruits, watered by sweet streams, and in it dwelt the deathless ones.

There Osiris found the vine, and Isis the wheat, to become the food and drink of men. There they built a golden temple, and lived in supreme happiness till the desire came on Osiris to discover the water of Immortality, in seeking which he left Nysa, and was in the end slain by Typhon.

The following is a very curious negro tradition, taken down by Dr. Tutschek from a native in Tumale, near the centre of Africa.

Til (God) made men and bade them live together in peace and happiness, labor five days, and keep the sixth as a festival. They were forbidden to hurt the beasts or reptiles. They themselves were deathless, but the animals suffered death. The frog was accursed by God, because when He was making the animals it hopped over his foot. Then God ordered the men to build mountains: they did so, but they soon forgot God’s commands, killed the beasts and quarrelled with one another. Wherefore Til (God) sent fire and destroyed them, but saved one of the race, named Musikdegen, alive. Then Til began to re-create beings. He stood before a wood and called, Ombo Abnatum Dgu! and there came out a gazelle and licked His feet. So He said, stand up, Gazelle! and when it stood up, its beast-form disappeared, and it was a beautiful maiden, and He called her Mariam. He blessed her, and she bore four children, a white pair and a black pair. When they were grown up, God ordered them to marry, the white together and the black together. In Dai, the story goes that Til cut out both Mariam’s knee-caps, and of each He made a pair of children. Those which were white He sent north; those which were black He gave possession of the land where they were born.

God then made the animals subject to death, but the men He made were immortal. But the new created men became disobedient, as had the first creatures; and the frog complained to Him of His injustice in having made the harmless animals subject to death, but guilty man deathless. “Thou art right,” answered Til, and He cast on the men He had made, old age, sickness, and death.

The Fantis relate that they are not in the same condition as that in which they were made, for their first parents had been placed in a lofty and more suitable country, but God drave them into an inferior habitation, that they might learn humility. On the Gold Coast the reason of the Fall is said to have been that the first men were offered the choice of gold or of wisdom, and they chose the former.

In Ashantee the story is thus told. In the beginning, God created three white and three black men and women, and gave them the choice between good and evil. A great calabash was placed on the earth, as also a sealed paper, and God gave the black men the first choice. They took the calabash, thinking it contained every thing, and in it were only a lump of gold, a bar of iron, and some other metals. The white men took the sealed paper, in which they learned every thing. So God left the black men in the bush and took the white men to the sea, and He taught them how to build ships and go into another land. This fall from God caused the black men to worship the subsidiary Fetishes instead of Him.

In Greenland “the first man is said to have been Kallak. He came out of the earth, but his wife issued from his thumb, and from them all generations of men have sprung. To him many attribute the origin of all things. The woman brought death into the world, in that she said, Let us die to make room for our successors.”

The tradition of the Dog-rib Indians near the Polar Sea, as related by Sir J. Franklin in his account of his expedition of 1825-27, is that the first man was called Tschäpiwih. He found the earth filled with abundance of all good things. He begat children and he gave to them two sorts of fruit, one white and the other black, and he bade them eat the white, but eschew the black. And having given them this command, he left them and went a long journey to fetch the sun to enlighten the world. During his absence they ate only of the white fruit, and then the father made a second journey to fetch the moon, leaving them well provided with fruit. But after a while they forgot his command, and consumed the black fruit. On his return he was angry, and cursed the ground that it should thenceforth produce only the black fruit, and that with it should come in sickness and death.

Dr. Hunter, in his “Memoirs of Captivity amongst the Indians,” says that the Delawares believe that in the beginning the Red men had short tails, but they blasphemed the Great Spirit, and in punishment for their sin their tails were cut off and transformed into women, to be their perpetual worry. The same story is told by Mr. Atherne Jones, as heard by him among the Kikapoos.

The ancient Mexicans had a myth of Xolotl, making out of a man’s bone the primeval mother in the heavenly Paradise; and he called the woman he had made Cihuacouhatl, which means “The woman with the serpent,” or Quilatzli, which means “The woman of our flesh.” She was the mother of twins, and is represented in a Mexican hieroglyph as speaking with the serpent, whilst behind her stand the twins, whose different characters are represented by different colors, one of whom is represented slaying the other. Xolotl, who made her out of a bone, was cast out of heaven and became the first man. That the Mexicans had other traditions, now lost, touching this matter is probable, for they had a form of baptism for children in which they prayed that those baptized might be washed from “the original sin committed before the founding of the world.” And this had to do, in all probability, with a legend akin to that of the Iroquois, who told of the primeval mother falling, and then of the earth being built up to receive her, when precipitated out of heaven.

The Caribs of South America relate that Luoguo, the first man and god, created the earth and the sea, and made the earth as fair as the beautiful garden in the heaven where dwell the gods. Luoguo dwelt among the men he had made for some while. He drew the men out of his navel and out of his thigh which he cut open. One of the first men was Racumon, who was transformed into a great serpent with a human head, and he lived twined round a great Cabatas tree and ate of its fruit, and gave to those who passed by. Then the Caribs lived to a great age, and never waxed old or died. Afterwards they found a garden planted with manioc, and on that they fed. But they became wicked, and a flood came and swept them away.

In the South Sea Islands we find other traditions of the Fall. In Alea, one of the Caroline Islands, the tale runs thus:

“The sister of Eliulap the first man, who was also a god, felt herself in labor, so she descended to earth and there brought forth three children. To her astonishment she found the earth barren; therefore by her mighty word, she clothed it with herbage and peopled it with beasts and birds. And the world became very beautiful, and her sons were happy and did not feel sickness or death, but at the close of every month fell into a slumber from which they awoke renewed in strength and beauty. But Erigeres, the bad spirit, envied this happiness, so he came to the world and introduced into it pain, age, and death.”

With the Jewish additions to the story given in Genesis, we shall conclude.

The godless Sammael had made an alliance with all the chiefs of his hosts against the Lord, because that the holy and ever blessed Lord had said to Adam and Eve, “Have dominion over the fish of the sea,” etc.; and he said, “How can I make man to sin and drive him out?” Then he went down to earth with all his host, and he sought for a companion like to himself; he chose the serpent, which was in size like a camel, and he seated himself on its back and rode up to the woman, and said to her, “Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” And he thought, “I will ask more presently.” Then she answered, “He has only forbidden me the fruit of the Tree of Knowlege which is in the midst of the garden. And He said, “˜In the day thou touchest it thou shalt die.'” She added two words; God did not say any thing to her about touching it, and she spoke of the fruit, whereas God said the Tree.

Then the godless one, Sammael, went up to the tree and touched it. But the tree cried out, “Let not the foot of pride come against me, and let not the hand of the ungodly cast me down! Touch me not, thou godless one!”

Then Sammael called to the woman, and said, “See, I have touched the tree and am not dead. Do you also touch it and try.” But when Eve drew near to the tree she saw the Angel of Death waiting sword in hand, and she said in her heart, “Perhaps I am to die, and then God will create another wife for Adam; that shall not be, he must die too.” So she gave him of the fruit. And when he took it and bit, his teeth were blunted, and thus it is that the back teeth of men are no longer sharp.

MLA Citation

  • Sabine Baring-Gould. “The Fall of Man”. Legends of the Patriarchs and Prophets, 1881. CatholicSaints.Info. 20 April 2015. Web. 25 October 2016. <>