Humanity’s First and Worst Journey:

The Life of Adam and Eve 🍎

Genesis’s account of what happens to Adam and Eve directly after they are cursed for eating forbidden fruit is tantalizingly sparse. Genesis 3:20 – 24, the entire section between the curse and the conception of Cain, already east of Eden, reads:

20 The man named his wife Eve because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife and clothed them. 22 Then the Lord God said, “See, the humans have become like one of us, knowing good and evil, and now they might reach out their hands and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent them forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which they were taken. 24 He drove out the humans, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

Then chapter 4 abrupted begins: Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.” 2 Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground…and so on.

The only details we get of this traumatic first journey are that it happened. God clothed Adam and Eve, and cast them out to till the ground (the very stuff of which they were made). A cherub now stands at the east of the garden, blocking the way to the tree of life.

1470–1480 from Paris, now in Morgan Library MS M.342 fol. 8r (public image)

Inquisitive readers of Scripture have always wanted to know more and found these details piqued their curiosity rather than sated it. The late antique Jewish text, Genesis Rabbah, for example, asks what the sword the Cherub holds is (could it be the Torah? a sword of circumcision), if there is any relationship between Eden and Gehenna, and what the significance of East is (Genesis Rabbah 21:9). One text however, under many different names, captured the imagination of the medieval Christian world – the Life of Adam and Eve.

Grabow Altar by Master Bertram von Minden in Hamburg (
1379–1383) – image from Index of Medieval Art

There is no agreement as to the date when this text first appeared, and whether the earliest parts of it come from Jewish or Christian origin.[1]  The text was probably originally in Greek, and survives today in six languages (Greek, Latin, Armenian, Georgian, Church Slavic, and fragments in Coptic).

The Latin version(s) of the Life of Adam and Eve, which the rest of this post focuses on, is the most complex and is yet to be fully studied – in part because this text was so immensely popular and therefore survives in many varieties. The first part of the text is the story of that first, horrible journey and tells one version of how humanity learned about their own nature and penitence. So what did these inquisitive Christian minds come up with?

The Life begins “when Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise, they built for themselves a tent, and they stayed there for seven days, mourning in great sadness,” (1.1).[2] However, after these seven days of weeping, a new problem arises for the first couple: hunger. Paradise was full of food, but Adam and Eve now find themselves unsure of how to find food. They search everywhere, but Adam “cannot find any food that resembles that which they had in paradise,” even when he scours the whole earth (3.1). It is then – after days of searching and days of crying, that the first couple realizes that they need to repent.

Already, the Life has something to tell us in its imagining of the first journey. While their needs where cared for, Adam and Eve did not appreciate how much God had nurtured them. But on their own, and far from home, they begin to finally understand what paradise was, and how desolate life is beyond God’s care. In the Life, though, God has not forgotten His wayward children – but unfortunately Satan also still has his eye on the first couple. Pushed beyond their means, Adam and Eve decide to repent by standing in the two great rivers. Adam goes to the Jordan for 40 days, and asks that all the swimming creatures mourn with him. Eve goes to the Tirgis, where she intends to stand for 34 days in the cold water.

However Satan gets in the way. He appears as an angel of light, on the 18th day of starving Eve’s watery penitence, and gives Eve the comfort she has been searching for: “come out of the reiver and relax,” he says (9.2), “the Lord has heard your groaning and has seen your penitence,” (9.3). “The Lord sent me to lead you from the water, and to give you the food which you had in paradise,” (9.4). Eve, cold, wet, and very hungry is relieved and follows Satan, clothed as an angel of light, out of the water. She abandons her penitence before her time. This journey is only getting worse for her.

Satan immediately whisks her off to Adam, in the Jordan, and gloats over his victory. Adam is devastated, and berates Eve for her foolishness. Adam is so convinced that if they can just do this penitence thing right, if Eve weren’t so foolish, that they could get home again. To the modern reader, it seems then that Adam is the foolish one. He does not really understand the predicament he and Eve are in, he sets tasks for himself that he thinks will appease God and gain them entry into paradise again, then abandons Eve.

The first couple has a riveting conversation with Satan (perhaps the subject of another post?)in which they discover that Satan hates them because they have the image of God inside of them which Satan refused to worship. Finally, Adam prays that God will help him overcome the devil, and the devil goes away. Adam resolutely finishes his forty days in the river – and Eve runs away, to the West, wracked with guilt because she fell for Satan’s tricks not once, but twice. It is alone and hungry in the West, that Eve realizes she is pregnant.

1230–1240, Psalter from England,  now in Cambridge as Psalter Leaves of William de Brailes (ms 330 no. 2) (Public image)

The wind carries the sounds of Eve’s screams to Adam, and the archangel Michael acts as a midwife for Eve. And so the first journey comes, at long last, to a close with the birth of the first child and the start of the first grief-filled, unhappy home.

What lessons can we glean from this most awful of journeys for our own journey here, outside of Eden?

  • Pack a snack. People can’t do anything when we’re hungry
  • It is really easy to make a bad situation worse by blaming our co-sufferers
  • It is frightfully easy to be deceived by what we wish were true
  • There are always going to be things we take for granted
  • It can be really hard to be human
  • Repentance does not erase or undo our actions

What do you take away from this late ancient Christian imagining of Adam and Eve’s first days outside of the garden?

[1] For a nice summary of the basic details of the Life, see:

[2]All translations here are my own from version V, edited by Jean-Pierre Pettorelli. A full English version is available at






One response to “Humanity’s First and Worst Journey:”

  1. Clay Avatar

    I’m mostly wondering if they ever figured out the whole food situation. It seems like they must’ve, because they aren’t starving to death, but to my memory, it’s never actually mentioned. Guess Adam and Eua either learned how to farm or figured out hunting somewhere along the way? Maybe Adam managed to snag some of those “swimming things” after he was done mourning?

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