Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Man, a Woman, and a Cherub: A Legend of the Fall

[Die Vertreibung aus dem Paradies, by E.M. Lilien]
I just received this e-mail:

I saw your name on the internet and I hope you may be able to answer my question. The following quote is from the internet. Do you happen to know the source for this quote?

An old Rabbinical legend, in describing the banishment of Adam from Eden, states that the angel at the gate instructed Adam in Qabalah and Alchemy before he departed, and told him that when mankind had perfected these arts, he would be allowed to return to the Garden. Thank you for your help!

My initial response was:

Dear XXXX,

I've read a lot of legendary and folkloric material and this one is completely new to me. I can't even recall any story where Adam and Eve actually converse with the cherubim guarding Eden. Terms like "Kabbalah" and "alchemy" don't enter Jewish discourse earlier than the Middle Ages, and rabbinic writers were not likely to treat the two as equally "enlightening."

While I have little to go on at this point, I suspect that at best this story originated, not in rabbinic circles, but in magical ones, probably in the Renaissance, when both Kabbalah and alchemy were at the apex of their influence. There are hundreds of obscure magical and alchemical tracts written between the 14th and 19th Centuries that could be the source of this legend. A cynic would wonder whether this is even more modern than that. Sorry I can't be of more help, but now that you have called this to my attention, I will be on the lookout for the source of this story.
I've looked around the great summas of Jewish folklore - books like Legends of the Jews, Sefer ha-Agaddah, Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, and the lovely recent Book of Souls and found nothing that really resembles this. On the other hand, on the Internet I've seen several versions of this legend in which it is the mastery of astrology and alchemy that are the keys to Eden, so I suspect this is not even a Jewish legend -- but I've been wrong before.
If any reader has a lead I overlooked ont he source of this legend, I would love to hear about.


Blogger Unknown said...

Sefer Raziel HaMalakh was supposedly taught by the angel Raziel to Adam HaRishon. At least that's what I remember from reading its introduction. Kol tuv

4:56 PM  
Blogger smoo said...

I have a post that is an entirely different way to look at Eden. Sorry it doesn't help the thrust of your post, though.
See: http://shmuzings.blogspot.com/2006/06/eden-revisited.html

3:32 PM  

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