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Cain is a cannibal, Eve tells her own version of the fall of man, and the Garden of Eden has a dividing wall? In this episode of The Bible for Normal People, Pete and Jared talk to Jack Levison about the ancient text the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, also known as the Apocalypse of Moses, an intriguing and dramatic retelling of the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Seth, and the origin of sin. Join them as they explore the following questions:

  • What is The Greek Life of Adam and Eve? 
  • What’s in the book? When was it written? 
  • Where can we find the book if it’s not in the Bible?
  • What’s the Apocalypse of Moses and how is it related?
  • Is there any other similar retelling of the Adam and Eve story in ancient literature?
  • How is the story different from the account we have in Genesis 1-5?
  • What kind of questions does the Greek Life aim to answer?
  • Which characters do we meet in the story? How are they different from the characters in Genesis?
  • What’s the opening scene of the Greek Life? 
  • How does the Greek Life describe sin?
  • What are some themes found in the book?
  • Are there any irritants in the text itself that would have inspired early interpreters to take these stories in very different directions than what you have in the biblical story itself?
  • Do we have any sense of the motivation for retelling the story this way?
  • What is the value in reading these “extra-biblical” texts?


Pithy, shareable, sometimes-less-than-280-character statements from the episode you can share.

  • [The Greek Life of Adam and Eve] is a reinterpretation…a really fascinating retelling of the story of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Seth for a new generation. — @spiritchatter @theb4np
  • The real questions in the Greek Life are taking that Genesis story and making it address the question of eternal destiny. That’s totally different from Genesis 1 to 5. — @spiritchatter @theb4np
  • In the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, sin, in part, is greed. And what’s going on in the Cain and Abel story is greed. — @spiritchatter @theb4np
  • I believe that this kind of a text illuminates Romans 1 and this idea that people want what they can’t have. I have argued in an article that Romans 1 can only be understood in the light of the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, and the notion of greed. — @spiritchatter @theb4np
  • We may have in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve one of the earliest autobiographies [from] the mouth of a woman. Right in the middle of the Greek Life of Adam and Eve in chapters 15 to 30, Eve tells the story of how they sinned. — @spiritchatter @theb4np
  • This is an amazing piece of ancient history that we get to hear in a narrative form, a woman’s voice. We don’t know who wrote it, but it’s put in her mouth, and that’s unique. — @spiritchatter @theb4np
  • I don’t know who wrote the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, but it’s very empathetic toward Eve. — @spiritchatter @theb4np
  • God is much more distant in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve than in Genesis. He’s called the authoritative one. So the authoritative one comes, Adam and Eve get scared, and there’s no walking in the cool of the day with the man and the woman. — @spiritchatter @theb4np
  • These ancient texts like the Bible become relevant as we bring them together with our own experience, as we fuse the horizons of our experience and their experience. — @spiritchatter @theb4np
  • When you know the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, you know where the popular notion comes from about what happened in the garden. — @spiritchatter @theb4np

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript

Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People, the only God ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns. 

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas. Before we get started with our episode today, we have a huge announcement to make. As you know, our mission at The Bible for Normal People is to bring the best in biblical scholarship to everyday people. For seven years, we’ve done that through podcasts, books, and classes, but we’ve missed an important demographic: kids. 

Pete: Yeah, you know, we get asked all the time, How do I teach my children about the Bible without all the weird stuff attached? That’s why we’re creating a children’s Bible called God’s Stories as Told by God’s Children. With this project, our vision is to bring the best in biblical scholarship to everyday kids. 

Jared: Yeah. And when kids have access to a Bible that highlights the diversity, the nuances, and the historical contextual criticism in the text, rather than trying to cover that all up, they’ll learn how to engage with God and their faith, instead of being pushed away from it.

This children’s Bible has fun features to show kids how the Bible was written, and reflection questions to help them draw wisdom from the Bible for today, because if we’re honest, kids are some of the best critical thinkers out there.

Pete: This storybook Bible will feature a collection of 60 stories written by a diverse group of biblical scholars, theologians, pastors and ministers, writers and activists from all over the world. If this sounds like the children’s Bible you’ve been looking for all your life, now’s your chance to help make this dream a reality. We’ve just launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $60,000 to fund this project and we really can’t do it without you.

Jared: Your money will go toward paying our amazing team of authors, illustrators, designers, offsetting our production costs for printing and shipping, as well as the cost of promoting the book. So take a look at our Kickstarter page to check out some sneak peeks into the children’s Bible, plus the rewards for supporters, which we’re pretty excited about. We would be so honored to have you join our mission to bring the best in biblical scholarship to the next generation. One Children’s Bible won’t change the world, but the kids who read it just might.

Pete: Head to to check it out. 

Jared: Alright, well, on today’s episode, we’re talking about the Greek Life of Adam and Eve with Jack Levinson. 

Pete: Yeah, and Jack’s been on the podcast before to talk about the Holy Spirit. And he holds the WJA Power Chair of Old Testament Interpretation and Biblical Hebrew at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. He’s the author and editor of many books and has published a massive commentary on The Greek Life of Adam and Eve, which is the focus of our conversation today. And a fun fact about Jack is that he and his wife actually live on the SMU campus, serving as faculty-in-residence for undergraduates.

Jared: With all that said, we hope you enjoy our conversation with Jack Levison.

[Music plays under clip of Jack speaking]

Jack Levison: “Well, Satan deceived Eve and then she brought the fruit to Adam and persuaded him to eat the fruit. That is not the Bible. That is the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, hook, line, and sinker. So when you know the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, you know where the popular notion comes from about what happened in the garden. Well, that’s not biblical, but it’s what many people think is biblical.”

[Ad break]

Jared: Welcome, Jack, back to the podcast. It’s great to have you on again. 

Jack Levison: It is really good to be back on. Thanks, Jared. 

Jared: Pete and I, when we were devising the questions and thinking of talking to you, we got really excited about this topic, and that is the Greek Life of Adam and Eve. So can you give, just orient our listeners, what is the Greek Life of Adam and Eve? What’s in the book? When was it written? Just some of the basics to get us situated here. 

Jack Levison: Okay. So you have the Bible. Genesis chapters 1 to 5 takes you through Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and the birth of Seth. So you got that from the Bible. This is a reinterpretation of that. It’s a really fascinating retelling of the story of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Seth for a new generation.

We don’t know which generation. So scholars differ. So there’s a guy in Germany, Jan Dahorn, who says this was written in the first century by a Pharisee. A buddy of mine in the Netherlands, Johannes Trump, says, no, it wasn’t 1st century Jewish, it was 4th century Christian. So what did I do in my commentary?

I broke both of them down and said neither of them has enough evidence to be able to say. But we know that by the 4th century, there were these stories and tales about Adam and Eve that were rooted in the Bible, but they were really fanciful elaborations. So somewhere between the 1st and the 4th century someone, somewhere rewrote the story with their own interests in mind. 

Jared: And so where then can we find this book if it’s not in the Bible? 

Jack Levison: Well, you can find it on a lot of encyclopedias of early Judaism or dictionaries or handbooks. So if you find newer ones, I probably wrote that article because there aren’t a lot of people who work on this. So you can find the translation there. It’s also in this strange group of writings called Old Testament pseudepigrapha. So there are volumes by R. H. Charles or Jim Charlesworth or Jim Davila. They have collected these primary sources. There’s also one in a volume, an Herms and Archie Wright, a couple of buddies of mine.

So you can find them largely if you look up Old Testament pseudepigrapha. Now, I gotta take a step back. We call it the Greek Life of Adam and Eve now, but up until about the 1980s, it was called the Apocalypse of Moses, because Tischendorf, who found the first manuscripts, these were the first words. So it’s actually often referred to as the Apocalypse of Moses.

But now most scholars, all of us, call it the Greek Life of Adam and Eve. So if you’re looking for the Greek Life and you don’t find it in an Old Testament pseudepigrapha, it’s because it’s called the Apocalypse of Moses. 

Pete: Okay. That’s a lot. [Pete and Jack laugh] So in other words, people, you, you won’t find this book anywhere, except for right here, on this podcast, the Bible for Normal People, and also, I have Charles Worth’s copies of the Old Testament pseudepigrapha, you know, so it’s, folks, you can get it.

Alright, are there other lives of Adam and Eve out there, or is this the only one? I think you mentioned before that like, others were doing this same sort of thing as well, retelling the Adam and Eve story. 

Jack Levison: Yeah, there’s not really anything quite like the Greek Life of Adam and Eve. You have the Testament of Adam, Apocalypse of Adam, but that’s a Gnostic text from Egypt.

So no, there really isn’t anything like this. But there are a lot of different language versions. So the Latin and Armenian and Slavonic and Georgian, which is Russian, these are all medieval language versions of this text, but not exactly this text. They’re very different. Plus there are different Greek versions of this.

So I divided up the different Greek versions into four. Actually, I didn’t do it. A French guy by the name of Nigel did. So, bottom line, no. There aren’t a lot of things just like this. 

Pete: Yeah. Okay, so here we have this retelling of the first five chapters of the Bible, Adam and Eve and Seth. And because it’s a retelling, you know, it, we can assume that it’s not going to really match up completely—understatement—with the biblical text itself.

So just to orient us to the nature of this literature, can you give maybe just a few brief highlights before we get into details, of how this is different from the story of Adam and Eve and going into Cain and Abel and Seth that we’re all familiar with. 

Jack Levison: Okay. The main thing that’s different, and we can actually tick the differences with Genesis, and we can do that in a minute. But the main thing that’s different is the Adam and Eve story isn’t about our eternal destiny. The Greek Life of Adam and Eve is, I mean, one of the things that keeps coming up is, will God be merciful to the works of God’s hands now that we’ve sinned? Will God meet us? And will God allow us to be buried? And will there be immortality? 

So the real questions in the Greek Life are taking that Genesis story and making it address the question of eternal destiny. So that, that’s totally different from Genesis 1 to 5. You don’t have anything about eternal destiny there. You have pain in childbirth. You have “when you farm, you’re going to sweat, it’s going to hurt. This is what life is going to be like. You’re going to step on snakes and they’re going to bite you on the heel.” 

But it’s not like what’s going to happen after you die. The Greek Life takes all those stories and pulls them and tugs them like yeast in dough and says now this is really about the destiny of what it means to be human.

Pete: Is part of that also justifying God in a way or just explaining God’s actions? 

Jack Levison: That’s a good question. I think it’s more—

Pete: Is part of it like, is God just towards us? That’s really what I’m after. Is that, is that part of this as well? Because you know, will God punish the work of his hand or will he be merciful to his own, to the work of his hand? Because I imagine, you know, people have always been asking questions of theodicy, you know, whether God is just or not, it just sort of sounds like that might be there. But if not, then not, is it there? 

Jack Levison: You know, not so much. So, okay, there are a lot of parallels between the Greek Life of Adam and Eve and another Jewish text in both the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha called 4 Ezra or 2 Esdras.

In that text, an angel and Ezra argue about whether Adam is to blame for original sin. And in that case, Ezra says God’s being unjust by damning us because Adam sinned and we all sin now. The angel says, God’s not unjust at all. What’s wrong with you? You’re the one who’s sinning. That’s not the question of the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, though there are parallels.

That’s not really the question. The question is, what’s going to happen to us? So there’s really two questions in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve. The first is, why do we have so much pain and suffering and death? Why do the animals rebel against us? Why am I afraid to go out in the woods at night? That’s one of the questions.

Why is life so difficult? And the other question is, is there relief from life? So those are the two questions. Why is life so difficult and can I get relief from it? Okay. Three questions. And the other one is, What happens to us after death? Will God be merciful? But it’s not. God is definitely in the right. There’s no question that God is in the wrong in this text. It’s not like 4 Ezra. 

Jared: Well, can we dive in a little bit more into these characters? Because one of the things that’s exciting to me as it relates to our life of faith and how we read the Bible and what we do with it is to see these retellings, you know, we talk often about the creativity of later traditions, building on earlier traditions. And we see this a lot in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve. So can you just give us a little bit of a flavor of the characters and how they may be different from the characters we meet in the first five chapters of Genesis? 

Jack Levison: Okay, yeah, I’d be happy to. The story opens with a dream, a nightmare really, where Eve sees Cain killing Abel. We know that. And in the Bible, Abel’s blood yells up from the ground. In this story, Cain is a cannibal. It’s called anthropophagy. He eats his brother. He drinks his brother’s blood. So there you have a really different view of Cain. He doesn’t just rise up and hit him with a stone. 

Pete: That’s different. 

Jack Levison: Very different. And Abel is screaming for mercy. And he drinks it up, mercifully, and then he vomits it out. So, that’s a very interesting first scene. 

Pete: Well, can I ask, before we move on, can I just ask about that? 

Jack Levison: Sure. 

Pete: Is there a particular motivation on the part of the writer to present Cain that way? Or is it just a weird thing making him into some sort of an animal or something?

Jack Levison: Yeah, that’s a really good question. And it’s probably not an answerable question, but I do have an answer anyway. I mean, why not? I’m a professor. 

Pete: [Laughing] Okay.

Jack Levison: So in a later scene, okay, so here’s the scene. Cain drinks Abel’s blood. Then in the next scene, Adam is on his deathbed and everybody’s wondering what pain and disease is.

So Adam sends Eve and Seth back to paradise so that they can get oil of mercy and he can not have pain. In the meantime, an animal attacks Seth, and Eve and the animal start talking to each other, and the animal blames Eve and her greed. So, in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, sin, in part, is greed. And what’s going on in the Cain and Abel story is greed. He drinks the blood, he drinks it mercilessly, he ignores Abel’s pleas to stop, and then it comes back up out of his mouth. He just wants to drink blood. He is an evil, ugly person. 

And there are lots of examples, I give them in this commentary, of political interpretations where rulers devour and eat and drink the blood of the people they’re supposed to be taking care of and being just. A little prophetic there. So what Cain is doing is what bad rulers do by drinking the blood of the people who are vulnerable. 

So that’s my take on Cain and Abel. I remember going through, there’s a wonderful article by a guy, Balote, I think it is, on greed and injustice in the ancient world, and that seems to be a great backdrop. So greed—oh boy, okay. So Romans 1, right? Greed is like, you know, what are they doing? They’re lusting after things they shouldn’t have. They’re being greedy. I believe that this kind of a text illuminates Romans 1 and this idea that people want what they can’t have. So I actually have argued in an article that Romans 1 can only be understood in the light of the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, and the notion of greed.

[Ad break]

Jared: So that’s a central theme of the book. Bring in some more characters here, and maybe how they are similar or different. 

Jack Levison: Yeah, I think what everybody should care about is the woman Eve in this story. Adam is a fairly flat character. He blames Eve. He gets sick. He’s really a very passive character. He’s like Isaac in the Bible, who doesn’t do very much.

And so he doesn’t attract your attention, but Eve attracts a lot of attention. And here’s why. We may have in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, if not the earliest, one of the earliest retellings, autobiographies in the mouth of a woman. So right in the middle of the Greek Life of Adam and Eve in chapters 15 to 30, Eve tells the story of how they sinned.

Adam had already told it in a short version in chapters 7 to 8. Eve makes much more hay out of how they sin. So the very reality is here, Eve is her own storyteller. So when you read popular books or semi popular books about Eve, it, you’ll take, people were always interpreting Eve. They were always saying this about Eve or that about Eve.

Yes, they were, but not here. This is the story told from Eve’s point of view. According to her point of view, when the serpent, who was inspired by Satan, we’ll get to that, deceives her, she is genuinely deceived. And she gives you inside views of what she was feeling and what she was thinking, and how she didn’t intend to deceive Adam at all.

And because of these inside views, you begin to empathize with Eve. So even though she sins, you empathize with her as she’s telling the story of why we sinned to her children. And in her story of the first sin, Adam actually says this: “I alone have sinned.” In her version, Adam claims complete responsibility for what went on. And even though you know she has sinned, she does it in such a way that you begin to empathize with why she was duped by the serpent. Does that make sense? 

Pete: Oh, yeah. 

Jared: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. 

Jack Levison: So this is her voice. This is an amazing piece of ancient history that we get to hear in a narrative form, a woman’s voice. We don’t know who wrote it, but it’s put in her mouth, and that’s unique.

Pete: You know, again, the question that I have, which is probably as unanswerable as the other question is, why do that? You know, why retell the story in such a way that gives Eve such agency in the story, such almost independence in telling the story? I think it’s fantastic. I’m just wondering, again, I’m always thinking in terms of motivations on the part of these ancient writers, whether, you know, they’re, you know, a la people like Jim Kugel, my teacher, are there any irritants in the text itself that would have inspired early interpreters to take these stories in very different directions than what you have in the biblical story itself?

Or was it answering a particular question that people were asking at the time? And I know that’s all very speculative because this is, you know, we’re working with so little data on some of these things answering these questions, but I’m just fascinated by that, and if you don’t have an answer, that’s fine—we’ll just, I just wanted to keep asking that same question.

Jack Levison: Yeah, it’s a great question, are there irritants in the text, are there, you know, itches that needed to be scratched? Not that I can tell that would prompt a wholesale story of the first sin and its consequences from the mouth of a woman. No, I don’t know what would have prompted that, but there are some biblical examples of this.

So you think about the story of Deborah and Jael, right? In Judges chapter four, you have the prose version of Deborah and Jael and it’s, it’s pretty, fairly bad. I mean, Jael kills Cicera with a hammer. But then in Chapter 5, you have the poetic version, which is much more dramatic, much more visual, and, you know, she gives him not milk, but curds in a lordly bowl, and when she kills him, he’s not lying down and she drives a tent peg through his head—he’s standing up and he falls and then he stands and then he falls and he stands and he falls and he falls at her feet and he’s dead. He dies seven times in the poetic version. [Pete laughs] 

And what I say to my students is, remember that little story in the story of Jephthah where all the women go up on the mountain for a month, a year, and they remember Jephthah’s story? I bet they retold all these stories from a woman’s standpoint. And that’s what you get in the poetic version of Jael and Cicera. You get what women really felt about this story. And I don’t know who wrote the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, but it’s very empathetic toward Eve, even as it doesn’t take the blame away from her, apart from Adam’s confession: “I alone have sinned.”

You know that she sinned, she gave in. But here’s the example. Why does she go to Adam and deceive him? Because while she still thinks the fruit is a good thing, before she realizes, uh oh, I blew it, she promises the serpent with an oath that she will give the fruit to her husband. And so when she weeps about giving the fruit to her husband, it says she wept about the oath. She’d made an oath. And even though she knows now that the fruit is bad, she’s bound by oath. So even that is a sign of her integrity. 

Pete: Right. See, the thing is, what struck me in re-reading the Greek Life of Adam and Eve in English, but I mean, just, just two quick things. One, I think to answer my own question and maybe even to ask it in a more articulate way, the takeaway that I have here right now is that you know, listen, the biblical tradition, for whatever reason, encourages these retellings because we see them all over the place.

Maybe not Adam and Eve exactly like this, but, you know, the pseudepigraphal literature, the apocryphal literature, the Jewish midrashic literature, things we see in the Dead Sea Scrolls, it’s like the story has a generative power that people then adapt for different purposes, and those purposes might be obscured to us historically. We can’t read people’s minds. We don’t know why they’re doing it, but they’re doing it. 

And this is the legacy, I think, in both Judaism and Christianity, of taking these stories and then maybe writing them in such a way to address issues that they want to see addressed or that maybe they’re struggling with for whatever reason, I guess. I mean, that’s, that’s sort of the general conclusion I draw. I just love getting more concrete answers about motivation, but it’s just not there, you know, and if it’s not there, don’t force it. 

Jack Levison: I mean, there are many places where you can see, “oh yeah, they were resolving that problem.” And Jan Dachhorn, who wrote a German commentary, very different from mine, we’re night and day—but he often talks about the exegetical problems that get solved. So that does happen, but I don’t think that explains the Testament of Eve, as I would call it. But you’re right, in the Bible, you have the Chronicler rewriting the stories in 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. You have the gospel writers writing each other’s stories. There’s constantly writing. It seems like they write with an eye to being rewritten for a later generation, and that seems to be what’s happening. 

Pete: Right. Can I ask a specific question from the text itself? Because what really struck me is you just mentioned how Eve promises the serpent that she’s going to go make sure that Adam also takes some of the fruit. And in chapter seven, there’s Adam saying “the enemy gave to her and she ate from the tree knowing that I was not very near her,” which is, I think, a direct contradiction to what the biblical story says, which is she gave to the man who was standing by her. He was watching the whole thing. And here, it seems to remove some of the culpability from Adam, that he’s not there just watching it. Can you just comment on that, on that read? It’s a very odd—it’s not odd, it’s creative. 

Jack Levison: Yeah, it’s really interesting to me too. I’m going in one of two directions in my wee brain. Um, but the first one is the way the story is told, paradise is a walled earthly garden. So there’s a wall around it. And then there’s a wall down the middle that separates the female animals from the male animals.

Eve watches the female animals, and then there’s a wall, and on the other side of the wall, Adam watches the male animals, right? 

Pete: …Oh.

Jack Levison: So that’s the image you have in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, an earthly garden walled all the way around with a wall down the middle. And so what does the serpent do? The serpent hangs over the wall. The serpent is clearly from Adam’s side. So Adam and Eve are guarding the animals. What the hay? The serpent comes from Adam’s side and, it’s very phallic, dangles over the wall and starts talking to Eve. So it’s really Adam’s fault that the serpent is doing this at all, I think.

Pete: Ah. Yeah. 

Jack Levison: So I think Adam is actually very culpable.

Jared: Can I, can I, I want to take a bit of a left turn only because there’s also something that’s interesting to me that we find in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve that we don’t find in Genesis. And that’s the presence of these supernatural beings.

We have Michael, we have Satan, these characters, and of course it is always interesting when we ask the question, is Satan in the Garden of Eden? And people say, well, yeah, the snake is Satan, and sort of like, well, where are you getting that from? It’s not actually in Genesis. And so can you talk more about how these angels get introduced and the role that they play? Because I feel like that really does change the dynamic of the story. 

Jack Levison: God is much more distant in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve than in Genesis. So God doesn’t walk in the cool of the day. He’s called the authoritative one. So the authoritative one comes, Adam and Eve get scared, and there’s no walking in the cool of the day with the man and the woman.

So the angels really do make up the gap between a very distant God and a very sinful humanity. The angels do God’s bidding. It’s not until chapter 28, I believe, that God addresses Adam directly. They’re always mediated by angels, God sends angels, because God is the authoritative one, the distant one, the Lord of armies, and humankind is really very sinful.

And what they can do is, the angels go up, the angels who guard Adam and Eve, who guard Eve, they go up into heaven and they worship. So you really have a multi-tiered universe, and God comes to paradise, yes. But God is really up above being worshiped by the angels. So the angels mediate between a very distant God, whom you do not find in Genesis, and a very sinful humanity, which you do find in Genesis.

[Ad break]

Jared: I think what’s interesting to me about that is, this retelling shows us how, how the theology has developed. Because whether we say it’s first century or fourth century, we’re, we’re several centuries out from these traditions that we find in Genesis 1 to 5, and so you see this development of a view of God that is maybe more distant, and then that necessitates these intermediaries so that there can be interaction between God and people.

How can that happen if God is so transcendent and out there and we’re so here and sinful? Well, now you have these introductions of, of heavenly beings, and it’s just an interesting way to see that. I guess what I really appreciate about the Greek Life of Adam and Eve is a concrete example of what the ancient people did all the time, and frankly, which we can get into, what I think we do all the time, which is kind of reading our particular moment into these texts. 

Jack Levison: Absolutely. That’s exactly what’s happening. They’re reading a preoccupation with pain and disease into the text. They’re reading the rebellion of the animals into the text. One of the things that most surprised me about the Greek Life is how much the rebellion of the animals matters to them. They’re really worried about this. Well, I’m not worried about the rebellion of the animals. I have a lock on my door. 

Jared: I picture like the person who wrote it was just like trying to tend—is like a farmer and is having like a really hard day, and it’s just like “and the animals rebelled!”

Pete: Yeah, or just had a dog you couldn’t train. Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I mean talk about that. I mean help help us understand that because there is this the rebellion of animals which again, is not in the Bible, right? 

Jack Levison: No, you had, there’s your irritant. The snake will bite your heel. 

Pete: Oh!

Jack Levison: That’s the irritant that may have brought in all the rebellion of the animals. But there are a lot of texts like Isaiah 11, where the anointed one will bring universal peace and the lion will lie down with the lamb and the child will play over what? Over the viper pit, over the snake pit. So there actually, when I began to look at this, there’s a lot more in the Bible about animals doing things and needing to have peace with animals, not least the temptation of Jesus, who was with the animals, which according to Richard Balcombe suggests was at peace with the animals. So there is actually more than I ever thought when I began to write on the background of the rebellion of the animals. This was obviously a big problem for them. 

Pete: And, and it seems like maybe part of the genius of a book like this, it’s not just slapped together. They’re thinking, and they may be dealing with intertextual echoes of scripture itself and maybe bringing that to bear on this story.

Jared: I’m going to buzz you for—even in our own podcast, you can’t use a word like intertextual echoes. What do you mean by that? Explain that.

Pete: [Defiantly] Sure I can!

Jack Levison: Way to go, Jared. I like it. 

Pete: You have echoes of something that is maybe going on in Genesis, faint echoes elsewhere in the Bible, and you want to bring it all together, right? I mean, the coherence of the biblical story is, I think, important to a lot of people, ancient and/or modern. And letting other parts of Scripture come to bear on this story, I think would be very important for people. 

Jack Levison: Yeah, I wish I could think of some good examples of that, um, but there, certainly in Genesis, you know, there’s real associations between chapter 3 and the curse and chapter 4 and Cain. And that happens in the Greek Life.

But there’s like another one where Seth, when he sees Adam in pain and disease says, I’m going to go back to paradise and I’m going to pray so that God will give you the oil of mercy. And he says, I’m going to put excrement on my head and I’m going to pray. And I remember tracing that to Malachi 3, something about dung on their faces. And I had to look at all the different versions of that. But it looked like they were making a connection between maybe ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and the dust on your face, and the dung on your face, and sort of bringing those things together. So there are those. I actually do that, I have a section called Biblical Precedent, where I try to talk about other texts that get connected to Genesis 3, that then become a part of the Greek Life. But my little brain can’t remember any of them right now. 

Pete: I mean, you also have a very long commentary, as you mentioned. Folks, can I tell you how long this commentary is? It’s about 1100 pages. 

Jared: Yeah. 

Pete: That’s, that’s a commentary, folks. This, yeah, this will keep you busy. Trust me on that, so. Could we, before we move on and discuss a couple other things, could you just flesh out a little bit more, uh, Seth in the story and his role?

Jack Levison: Yeah, Seth plays almost no role. He’s like a transitional role in Genesis, right? He gets born, he’s in the image of Adam, and he replaces—Eve says “I have borne him.” This is one of the great things that scholars point out, right? Eve says, “I have borne a son.” Adam’s not even in the picture in the birth of Seth. 

But Seth becomes a really important figure in Gnosticism in the second century. He becomes the revealer figure who brings all sorts of revelations to the world. Interestingly, and I’ve written a lot on this in the commentary, Seth plays a major mediatory role, so that he goes to paradise to try to get the oil of mercy. Eve is with him, but the angel only talks to Seth. Or, at the end of the story, Adam is dying, and then he dies, and Eve sees in the sky, visions, and she sees two Ethiopians, that is the sun and the moon, which have been darkened because they can’t shine near God, who is the light of all. And she says to Seth, who are these Ethiopians? And he explains that they’re the sun and the moon who can’t shine. 

So Seth is a revealer figure, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to recognize those are basically apocalyptic eclipses that are happening. And going to paradise, he got it wrong. He thought he could go to paradise, put a bunch of crap on his head, pray and weep, and the angel would give them the oil of mercy and he would be able to take it back to Adam.

So he’s, in other texts, like the Gnostic texts, a big revealer figure. It’s a much more muted role as a mediator, revealer figure in the Greek Life. I actually think it’s a really intelligent use of the Seth story that doesn’t give itself to excess. I was really surprised by the powerful role, but the limited role Seth has in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve.

Jared: So if we can, I, cause I think I want to maybe tie some of these pieces together and talk for a minute about first, why are you interested in this? Why did you write an 1100 page commentary on it? But I think then moving from there into, you know, what, what’s the value for everybody, for everyday readers of the Bible? Why did we take up some valuable podcast real estate to talk about the Greek Life of Adam and Eve? But maybe just starting that with you first, Jack, what led you to be interested in this? 

Jack Levison: I started my doctoral dissertation, what I really wanted to do was the Jewish background of Paul. And I looked at the Adam literature, and I got so involved in the Adam literature, I never got out of it.

So my first book was called Portraits of Adam in Early Judaism. And so in the mid to late 90s, uh, the editors of this series asked me if I would write the commentary, and I had no idea it would take me 25 years. I should have, but I didn’t know. [Pete chuckles] 

So one of the things is that it was academic. It was a really good way to begin to build on my dissertation. The other thing is, which is much more important, for about 35 years of my life, I had searing migraine headaches. So about 29, I started to have these really vicious headaches. And so I’d become very interested in pain and suffering because these headaches were so pervasive in my life. And this is a text that really takes seriously pain and suffering. I think it’s just always been a compelling text for me for that reason. It doesn’t palliate suffering, it doesn’t palliate pain. 

It takes pain seriously and it basically says, sorry, buddy, this side of death, you’re going to have pain and suffering and disease. Only after death is there the promise of immortality. So, I think I was drawn to a text about pain and disease on a personal level. 

Pete: There’s no going back to the garden, right? And getting a remedy for your pain, so. 

Jack Levison: Yeah, I was just writing on that this morning. The way they tell the story of expulsion, it makes it so clear. There is no going back to Eden. You are with John Steinbeck, you are East of Eden, and that’s where we live. So there were the academic and the personal reasons I was interested in this, but there were many times in those 25 years that Priscilla, my wife, said, “Jack, why don’t you tell them you just can’t do it? I mean, you just can’t do it. It’s too much to do.” And I said, no, I’m not going to tell them, no, I made a commitment to this commentary.

It was not a pleasure to write. It was because, you know, with a New Testament commentary, you always have about 15, 20, 30 commentaries you can rely on. There was nothing. Every word I had to research out and say, what’s the word mean generally, or what’s it mean in this text? It was a hard thing to write.

Pete: Well, it’s still very readable, I’m going to say, Jack, even for an academic piece. It’s something that I think people with a little motivation could certainly benefit from. 

Jack Levison: I never try to divide my head from my heart, and so there’s a lot of heart in here as well. 

Pete: Yeah, I can see that too. 

Jared: Yeah. It’s a bit of a speech act, right? In the very act of writing it you’ve demonstrated the book, the suffering of the book. So… [everybody laughs]

Jack Levison: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yes, the pain and suffering of this book. 

Jared: That’s right. Okay. Well, then looking as we kind of extrapolate from there, what, what are some of the takeaways? What’s the value for everyday readers?

And I kind of tipped my hand a little bit to kind of how I see it, is that it helps to situate the practices even that we do today. And, you know, I come from a Christian tradition that sort of had this like, “we don’t interpret the Bible, we just read exactly what it says and that’s how it works.” And, and so it, for me, these kinds of books that we find in the Pseudepigrapha and in, uh, Second Temple Judaism are a real window into how we, we update books, how we get creative and how we inevitably read into these texts our context and our current troubles and challenges.

And we see it so clearly here, what makes us think that we’re avoiding it in the 21st century. So that, for me, is a huge value in reading books like this, is to help situate our context, and what are we doing, and how are we doing it, not so that we can avoid it, because I think it’s inevitable, but so that we can be mindful of how we’re doing it.

What would you say, Jack or Pete, like, what’s the value? Because I think a lot of people are interested in these, you know, quote, like, extra biblical books, but they don’t really know why they’re attracted to them and what value does it bring? 

Pete: I think for me, I can only speak for myself, Jared. I think what’s interesting to me about this creative engagement with the biblical tradition is simply that. That as long as there’s been a Bible there has been creativity in interpretation, because the message of the Bible is not simply, I think for people of antiquity, the words on the page. It’s a deeper story that could be told through that story that has relevance for them.

That’s why I always ask the question of motivation. I’d love to know that. And I, I can’t answer that question myself. But that’s sort of where I look at this. I mean, I use the term respectfully. Other people have used this. There’s a playfulness in the text that these writers were exploiting, in a sense, to turn the story into something a little different. That’s how I see it.

Jack Levison: Yeah, and that’s the positive side. The positive side is these texts, these ancient texts like the Bible, become relevant as we bring them together with our own experience, as we fuse the horizons of our experience and their experience, and that’s the positive. And I think another thing that makes the Greek Life so important is that it shows us places that we may have done that to the detriment of ourselves. So, for instance, I always start my Old Testament class on Genesis by reading children’s Bibles. And if you read, like, the Precious Moments Bible, it says, “Now, Satan waited for just the right time when Eve was sitting alone under the tree.” And then you make them read the Bible, and there’s no Satan, and there’s no alone for Eve, right?

She’s not even called Eve at that point. But then you read the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, and you say, look what they’ve imported into the text. They’ve split Paradise in half, the serpent comes to Eve’s side, and in this story, Satan speaks through the serpent to Eve and there all of a sudden you have things that most people if you ask them nowadays to retell the story would probably tell the story that way: “Well, Satan deceived Eve and then she brought the fruit to Adam and persuaded him to eat the fruit.” That is not the Bible. That is the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, hook, line, and sinker. So when you know the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, you know where the popular notion comes from about what happened in the garden.

And I think it’s really important to be able to say, do you see what you’re saying? It doesn’t come from the Bible. It comes from this text over here. And this text over here at some points can be very sexist and blame Eve entirely and put her alone when the angels go up. Eve is unguarded and Satan can come and deceive her. Well, that’s not biblical. But it’s the Greek Life, but it’s what many people think is biblical. 

Pete: Mmhmm. 

Jared: Well, Jack, thank you so much for coming on. It’s, again, fantastic to talk with you, and you just have so much knowledge and insight about these kinds of things, so it’s been great to learn from you. 

Jack Levison: Well, it’s been wonderful to discuss, as I said before, people ask me on to talk about the Holy Spirit all the time, but never has anyone asked me to talk about the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, and it’s really been enjoyable.

Pete: Jack, you are welcome. 

Jared: Leave it to us, the Bible nerds at the Bible for Normal People. Thanks again. See ya. 

Jack Levison: You bet. 

[Outro music plays]

Jared: Well, thanks to everyone who supports the show. If you want to support what we do, there are three ways you can do it. One, if you just want to give a little money, go to

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Outro: You’ve just made it through another episode of the Bible for Normal People! Don’t forget you can catch our other show, Faith for Normal People, in the same feed wherever you get your podcasts. This episode was brought to you by the Bible for Normal People team: Brittany Hodge, Stephen Henning, Wesley Duckworth, Savannah Locke, Tessa Stultz, Danny Wong, Natalie Weyand, Lauren O’Connell, Jessica Shao, and Naiomi Gonzalez.

[Outro music ends] [Beep signals blooper clip is about to play]

Pete: And a fun fact about Jack is that he and his wife actually live on the southern method—Oh gosh. [Starts again] And a fun vac about—

Jared: A vac?

Pete: A vac.

Jared: Mmhmm.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.