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Adam and Eve

god fruit shown garden

In Christian tradition, Adam and Eve were the parents of all other human beings. They are among the most frequently represented subjects in early Christian and medieval art in all media. Their story is recounted within and following the *Creation narratives and provided material for numerous commentaries and interpretations by theologians throughout the medieval period.

Genesis 1:26-27 states that *God created humans (male and female) “in his own image,” while the account in Genesis 2 describes how God first shaped Adam (from Hebrew adamah: “earth”) out of the “dust of the ground” and placed him in the paradisical *Garden of Eden. Adam was instructed to tend the garden and to give names to all the newly created animals God then created Eve, out of one of Adam’s ribs, as a companion for Adam (Genesis 2:21-22). Although God had told Adam to eat freely of all the trees provided in the garden, he specifically directed Adam not to eat of the fruit of the *Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Encouraged by a crafty serpent, both Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, became aware and ashamed of their nakedness, and were sent out of the garden by God who assured them (and all their offspring) of continuing suffering and sorrow for their disobedience.

All episodes above are featured in medieval art; God may be shown creating Adam by touching him, breathing upon him, or animating him with a ray of light; Eve may be shown reclining beside Adam or standing up—issuing from his side while God bends over Adam. The single most prominent and quickly recognized narrative vignette involving Adam and Eve is the moment of their disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit; they are frequently shown as naked figures standing by a fruit tree with a serpent twining in its branches. Eve often grasps and eats the fruit first or is shown handing the fruit to Adam, who also eats it. God’s appearance and questioning of the couple is often illustrated; God may point questioningly to Adam, who points to Eve; she in turn points to the serpent. The shameful expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise is also represented; a sword-bearing *angel drives them out of the gate. Post-expulsion scenes will show Adam and Eve engaged in such tasks as digging the earth and spinning wool. Christian doctrine holds that the sins of Adam and Eve are redeemed by *Christ, son of the Virgin *Mary; hence, Christ is typologically the “new Adam” and Mary is the “new Eve.” The skull of Adam may thus be seen at the base of the cross of Christ’s *Crucifixion.

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