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

detail of a frescoe painting of Seth the Patriarch; 1378, artist unknown; Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration, Novgorod, Russia; swiped from Wikimedia Commons; cilck for source imageWhen Seth had ascended the throne of his father, says Tabari, he was the greatest of the sons of Adam. Every year he made the pilgrimage to the Kaaba, and he ruled the world with equity, and every thing flourished during his reign. At the age of fifty he had a son; he called his name Enoch, and named him his executor. He died at the age of nine hundred.

Seth and the other sons of Adam waged perpetual war against the Dives, or giants, the sons of Kabil, or Cain.

Rocail was another son of Adam, born next after Seth.

He possessed, says the Tahmurath Nâmeh, the most wonderful knowledge in all mysteries. He had a genius so quick and piercing, that he seemed to be rather an angel than a man.

Surkrag, a great giant, son of Cain, commanded in the mountains of Kaf, which encompass the centre of the earth. This giant asked Seth to send him Rocail, his brother, to assist him in governing his subjects. Seth consented, and Rocail became the vizier or prime minister of Surkrag, in the mountains of Kaf.

After having governed many centuries, and knowing, by divine revelation, that the time of his death drew nigh, he thus addressed Surkrag: “I am about to depart hence and enter on another existence, but before I leave, I wish to bequeath to you some famous work, which shall perpetuate my name into remote ages.”

Thereupon Rocail erected an enormous sepulchre, adorned with statues of various metals, made by talismanic art, which moved, and spake, and acted like living men.

According to the Rabbinic traditions, Seth was one of the thirteen who came circumcised into the world. The rest were Adam, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Terah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. The book Schene Luchôth says that the soul of righteous Abel passed into the body of Seth, and afterwards this same soul passed into Moses; thus the law, which was known to Adam and in which Abel had been instructed, was not new to Moses.

The Little Genesis says, that Seth was instructed by the angels in what was to take place in the world; how its iniquity was to grow, and a flood was to overwhelm it; and how the Messiah would come and restore all things. Seth was remarkable for the majesty and beauty of his appearance, as he had inherited much of the loveliness of unfallen man. He married his sister Azur, or, according to others, Noræa or Horæa.

Suidas under the heading “Σήδ,’ says: “Seth was the son of Adam: of this it is said, the sons of God went in unto the daughters of men; that is to say, the sons of Seth went in unto the daughters of Cain. For in that age Seth was called God, because he had discovered Hebrew letters, and the names of the stars; but especially on account of his great piety, so that he was the first to bear the name of God.”

Theodoret thus refers to the verse, “And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos; then began men to call upon the name of the Lord,” or as our marginal reading is, “then began men to call themselves by the name of the Lord:” “Aquila interpreted it thus, “then Seth began to be called by the name of the Lord.’ These words intimate his piety, which deserved that he should receive the sacred name; and he was called God by his acquaintance, and his children were termed the sons of God, just as we are called Christians after Christ.”

The origin of this tradition seems to be the fact that Seth was the name of an ancient Egyptian deity, at first regarded as the giver of light and civilization, but afterwards identified with Typhon by the Egyptians, who considered Seth to be the chief god of the Hyksos or shepherd kings; and in their hatred of these oppressors, the name of Seth was every where obliterated on their monuments, and he was regarded as one with the great adversary, Typhon; and was represented as an ass, or with an ass’s head.

Abulfaraj, in his history, says that Seth discovered letters, and that, desirous to recover the Blessed Life, he and his sons went to Mount Hermon, where they served God in piety and continence, and associated not with the people of the land, nor took to themselves wives; wherefore they were called the sons of God.

Flavius Josephus relates that after the things that were to take place had been revealed to Seth, – how the earth was to be destroyed, first with water and then with fire, – lest those things which he had discovered should perish from the memory of his posterity, he set up two pillars, one of brick, the other of stone, and he wrote thereon all the science he had acquired, hoping that, in the event of the brick pillar perishing by the rain, the stone would endure.

Freculphus adds that Jubal assisted the sons of Seth in engraving on the columns all that was known of the conduct and order of the heavens, and all the arts then known.

The stone pillar was to be seen, in the time of Josephus, in Syria.

Anastasius of Sinai says that, when God created Adam after His image and likeness, He breathed into him grace, and illumination, and a ray of the Holy Spirit. But when he sinned, this glory left him, and his face became clouded. Then he became the father of Cain and Abel. But afterwards it is said in Scripture, “He begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth;” which is not said of Cain and Abel; and this means that Seth was begotten in the likeness of unfallen man and after the image of Adam in Paradise; and he called his name Seth, that is, by interpretation, Resurrection, because in him he saw the resurrection of his departed beauty, and wisdom and glory, and radiance of the Holy Spirit. And all those then living, when they saw how the face of Seth shone with divine light, and heard him speak with divine wisdom, said he is God; therefore his sons were commonly called the sons of God.

As Seth was an ancient Egyptian Sun-god, the origin of the myth of his shining face can be ascertained without difficulty.

To Seth were attributed several apocryphal writings.