Ancient Adapa Epic Based on Biblical Adam

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The Fall

The biblical story of mankind’s fall (Genesis 3) is well known and does not need repeating. Are there any parallels in ancient Near Eastern sources? Yes: the Adapa Epic.2

While the Adapa Epic contains elements of myth in which humans interact with the gods, the story concentrates upon a human hero and thus qualifies better as an epic. For the purposes of this discussion, we need only a summary of this epic as it relates to the Genesis 3 account of mankind’s fall.

Adapa was a wiseman (not a king) of Eridu, the first antediluvian city in the Sumerian king list. As such, he belonged to the first “significant” generation of mankind. On one occasion while he was fishing in the Persian Gulf, the south wind capsized his boat. In anger he cursed and broke the wing of the south wind. For this offense he was summoned to heaven to appear before Anu, the great high god. There he was offered the bread and water of life. Unfortunately, following the advice of Enki, the god of wisdom and the patron god of his city, Adapa refused the gods’ offer of nourishment, thereby inadvertently passing up his opportunity to gain immortality. Instead, he was sentenced to return to earth and live out the life-span of an ordinary mortal. Moreover, because of his offense and his refusal, certain consequences, such as diseases, passed upon mankind.

While some elements in this story have been mythologized, some basic points are similar to the biblical story of the fall. These are summarized as follows:

Both subjects underwent a test before the deity.

The test was based upon something that the subjects were to consume.

Both failed the test and thereby forfeited their opportunity for immortality.

As a result of their failure, certain consequences passed upon mankind.

According to their respective sources, both subjects qualify as members of the first generation of mankind.3

A significant difference between these two stories is that Adam violated the moral law of God, while Adapa violated the physical laws of nature.

A final point of comparison requires a brief examination of the linguistics involved; specifically, the labial letters — b – w – m – p — the phonemes which are pronounced especially with the lips. In different dialects within the larger language family, words containing these phonemes differ in pronunciation. A modern example of labial shifts is found in the name of the Korean city which is now pronounced Busan instead of Pusan. An example from antiquity was the word for sun and the sun-god. In Hebrew it was Shemesh (cf., the town of Beth-Shemesh, the town of the temple of the sun-god). The Akkadian pronunciation differed only in vowels to produce Shamash. In Canaanite, however, this word was pronounced Shapsh (or Shapash if fully vocalized), i.e., the middle consonant simply shifted from an M to a P. I believe that the same phonetic shift occurred between the names of the heroes of these two epics, which phonetically at least, are the same. The M in Hebrew Adam has shifted to the final P in Akkadian, and the Akkadian retains or employs a final vowel which the Hebrew did not. To the above list of similarities between these two stories we may add a sixth detail: they carry the same name when a minor phonetic shift is recognized. Thus, both the biblical Hebrews and the ancient Mesopotamians had a knowledge of this representative from the first generation of mankind: he had the same name, and his deeds resulted in similar consequences.

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