Adam Kadmon I: Spiritual Man, Primordial Being
A reader asked if the Jewish concept of Adam Kadmon that I mentioned in my earlier posting was the inspiration for the Christian concept of the “Mystical Body of Christ.” It’s an excellent question. In fact, we see what appears to be a statement by Paul (I Corinthians 15:45-50) about the Christ that has strong echoes of the Adam Kadmon tradition:
So, too, it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being," the last Adam a life-giving spirit. But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual.
The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven. As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly.
Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.
What is most striking to me is Paul’s insistence on the “order” of being. Paul pointedly states the “spiritual Adam” was not first. I take that to mean that Paul is making sure his readers understand that what he is teaching is markedly different from what they might assume. And that indicates to me that Paul is both aware of and modifying for his own theologic purpose an already well-known doctrine of a “spiritual Adam” that people believed preceded the earthly Adam. Since Jesus came millenia after human creation, Paul finds it necessary for the spiritual Adam be the culmination of humanity, rather then its origin. So in response to the question, all in all, I would think that this idea of being incorporated into the "body of Christ" is likely a specifically Christian re-retooling of the Jewish esoteric doctrine.
The concept that there is a primordial man that encompasses all humanity (indeed, the entire universe) probably has its first basis neither in Judaism or Christianity, but in the Platonic theory of “forms,” the belief that there exists an ideal form of all the varied forms that manifest themselves in the material world. Thus, while there may be many types of chairs (swivel, French provincial, Stichley, folding, La-Z-boy), they all share an essential “chairness,” a quality that Platonic thought would say emanates from the ideal form of “chair.” Likewise, despite the obvious enormous variety of humans (Male, female, caucasian, negroid, dwarf, giant, etc.), there must be an essential, transcendant model of humanness that encompasses all these possibilities.
Esoteric Judaism developed this in the most elaborate and imaginative way:
The [human] body is composed in two worlds: the Lower World and the Supernal World (Zohar 2:23b)
and discovers it to be present in the two Biblical narratives of the creation of humanity (Gen. 1 vs. 2:6 >). Thus the Adam Kadmon (“Primordial Human”) - Also called Adam Elyon or Adam Ila’ah - the supernal, first creation of God that is made in the divine image is specifically described in Gen 1:26-27 (and not to be conflated with the humans created in 2:6-24). It is he that is the true “image of God,” a majestic vessel of divine glory, the ideal human (Deut. 4:32; PdRK 4:4, 12:1, Lev. R. 20:2). All earthly humans (Gen. 2-3) are in his image (B.B.58a). When he was created, in fact, he was so awesome the angels mistook him for God and began to worship him
Said Rabbi Hiyya: "When the Holy One created man to dwell upon the earth, he formed him after the likeness of Adam Kadmon, the heavenly man. When the angels gazed upon him [Adam Kadmon], they exclaimed: 'You have made him almost equal to God and crowned him with glory and honor.' After the transgression and fall of Adam, it is said the Holy One was grieved at heart because it gave occasion for repeating what they had said at his creation, 'What is man that You should be mindful of him, or the son of man that You should visit him.'" (Ps vii. 5.)
According to the Midrash, Adam Kadmon is androgynous, incorporating all the aspects of both genders (Gen. 1:27 can actually be translated thus, though it usually isn't). Inspired by the description of man extending from one end of heaven to the other (Deut. 4:32), he is also a macrocosm, extending from one end of the universe to the other and containing all creation:
The rabbis taught: The creation of the world was like the creation of humanity, for everything that God created in the world, God created in the human being. The heavens are the head of humankind, the sun and the moon are the human eyes, the stars are the hair on the human head (Otzar haMidrashim, Olam Katan 406).
For more on the rabbinic understanding of Adam Kadmon, see Gen. R. 8:1; Lev. R. 14:1, Chag. 12b, 14b.
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