Tachles: A modern Hebrew word of Yiddish origin that means “to the point.”
The other day someone asked me a question I had never thought about before. How old was Adam, the first man, when he was created? Boom! I don’t know, but I love questions like this. And that’s what I said to Manfred, who was sitting with me and other participants at the campfire on Mount Karkom. The fire warmed us on the freezing cold nights under the stars during the Hanukkah week. So Manfred, this post is for you.
How old was Adam? I asked this question to a number of people in Jerusalem. The answer was almost always the same as the one around the campfire: “I don’t know. But a very good question.” Gradually, more and more thoughts and ideas tumbled in, throwing more and more light on the question.
Did God create the first human beings as babies, children, teenagers or as adults? We all know the biblical text of the creation of the world. In the first chapter it is written: “And God created Adam (man) in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” In the second chapter it says: “Then God created Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and so Adam became a living soul.” No age is revealed in the text up to this point.
Then God says it is not good for man to be alone. “I will make him a helpmate to match him!” As Adam falls into a deep sleep, God takes a rib. “And God made a woman (isha – אִשָּׁה) from the rib which he had taken from Adam and brought her to Adam.” Then Adam spoke: “This time it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh! Therefore she should be called isha (woman), for she was taken from ish (man).”
With the Hebrew word Ish and Isha ((איש – אישה, i.e. man and woman), one comes closer to an age group. In the biblical story of creation, Adam and Eve are presented as man and woman, or adults. Whether 18, 27 or older I don’t know. But I understand from the Hebrew Bible text that Adam was neither a baby nor a child nor a teenager. At this point I would also like to refer to the interpretation in the Jewish Midrash Breshit Raba, which assumes that Adam was 20-years-old when God created him. The reason: 20 years is the beginning of adulthood, until then man grows.
When Pharaoh’s daughter pulled Moses out of the water, she opened the reed basket and saw a child inside, Yeled (ילד) in Hebrew. “Then Moses’ sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and call a Hebrew nurse to suckle the infant (ילד) for you?'”
Yeled can be either a baby or (small) child. So Adam wasn’t a baby. Nor was Adam a youth. “Joseph was seventeen years old when he was tending cattle with his brothers, he was a youth,” reads Genesis 37. Here the Hebrew term Na’ar (נער) is used, youth, which in some Bible versions is is also translated as “boy.”
So Adam wasn’t a teenager either. Nor was he an older man. If God had created him as an old man, then the Bible would mention another word for it: Zaken (זקן), elder, old man, or aged. “Therefore Sarah laughed in her heart, and said, ‘After I have faded, shall I still be blessed? For my lord is old (זקן)!” In his story, Adam is described as a man (Ish), as an adult. “And they were both naked, Adam and his wife (Isha), and they were not ashamed.”
Manfred, thank you for the inspiring question around the campfire. Because of your question I have again engaged with the first two chapters of creation. And so I noticed something most interesting, which is that God only commanded Adam: “You shall eat of every tree in the garden, but you shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). God created the woman from the rib afterwards, five verses later.
By the way, in between, God made all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the sky from the same dust of the earth and brought them to Adam to give them all names. (Recommendation! “Man Gave Names to All the Animals” is the name of a song by Bob Dylan from Slow Train Coming, 1979)
Could it be that Eve didn’t take God’s command seriously enough because God only addressed Adam directly in this matter? Genesis 3:3 makes it clear that she knew of a prohibition (“God said: Do not eat of it”). But perhaps, as is common today, there was already a lack of communication between men and women back then? After all, she only speaks of “the fruit of a tree in the middle of the garden.” One could make the case that she hadn’t been fully informed on the matter, which again can be explained with verse 17 from the previous chapter.
So Manfred, because of your question I also came across this point and I thank you for that, man of peace – Ish Shalom, the Hebrew translation of Manfred. In any case, we plan to set up another desert tour to Karkom, the mountain of God, during Sukkot week 2023! We can then continue chatting around the campfire. Until then, God’s blessings, prosperity and peace.
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