Notes on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Doctrine of Original Sin

A. The Christian doctrine of Original Sin stands on these premises:

  • The earliest common ancestors of humanity once lived in a divinely created environment with the opportunity and ability to communicate with their Creator.
  • The two ancestors, Eve and Adam, disobeyed their Creator’s only command.
  • Adam and Eve’s disobedience was the first sin in the Garden of Eden and had immediate, lasting consequences in their lives and extraordinary consequences in the lives of their descendants, requiring extraordinary events to overcome.
  • “Immediate consequences”, according to the Jewish account in Genesis, included:
    • Moral corruption;
    • Self-awareness of “nakedness”;
    • Divine discovery;
    • Divine decrees; and
    • Banishment from the Garden of Eden.
  • "Extraordinary consequences in the lives of descendants” vary across the spectrum of proponents. A majority of traditional Christians affirm that the most important consequence of Adam and Eve’s disobedience is Original Sin, i.e. a morally corrupted nature inherited by all of their descendants.

B. “The Infancy Gospel of James” [Source: “The Book of James, or Protevangelium”. Translated by Montague Rhodes James, from The Apocryphal New Testament (Clarendon Press, 1963)] is a 2nd century document that describes apocryphal events in the lives of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Among the events, Joseph the Carpenter discovers—after a lengthy absence from home—that Mary has conceived a child [Jesus] and is in an advanced state of pregnancy (Chapter 13, verse 1).

“Now it was the sixth month with [Mary], and behold Joseph came from his
building, and he entered into his house and found her great with child. And he
smote his face, and cast himself down upon the ground on sackcloth and wept
bitterly, saying: With what countenance shall I look unto the Lord my God?
and what prayer shall I make concerning this maiden? for I received her out of
the temple of the Lord my God a virgin, and have not kept her safe. Who is he
that hath ensnared me? Who hath done this evil in mine house and hath defiled
the virgin? Is not the story of Adam repeated in me? for as at the hour of his
giving thanks the serpent came and found Eve alone and deceived her, so hath
it befallen me also.”

C. Joseph’s last question and his answer above refer to the Jewish account of the serpent’s temptation of Adam and Eve, recorded in Genesis 3:1-6:

  1. Now the serpent was cunning, more than all the beasts of the field that the Lord God had made, and it said to the woman, “Did God indeed say, ‘You shall not eat of any of the trees of the garden?’”
  2. And the woman said to the serpent, "Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat.
  3. But of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, God said, “You shall not eat of it, and you shall not touch it, lest you die.’”
  4. And the serpent said to the woman, "You will surely not die.
  5. For God knows that on the day that you eat thereof, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like angels, knowing good and evil."
  6. And the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree was desirable to make one wise; so she took of its fruit, and she ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.

D. A Jewish perspective on humanity’s moral nature after Adam and Eve’s disobedience is offered in the Encyclopaedia Judaica’s (2nd Ed.) article, 11:652: “KABBALLAH:

“… the problem of man in the world and the problem of evil in the world are interlaced. The sin which gave evil an active existence lies in mankind’s failure to achieve his primal purpose, a failure which occurred again and again in history. It is the function of good in the world, whose tools are the Torah and its commandments, to bridge the abyss of separation that was formed by man’s sin and to restore all existence to its original harmony and unity. The final goal, in other words, is the reunification of the divine and the human wills. It is likely that this kabbalistic doctrine of the corruption of the world through man’s first sin originated as a result of direct contact with Christian beliefs, although it is also possible that these Christian ideas were derived from the same sources from which homologous aggadot in the Midrash took their inspiration. There can be no doubt that the kabbalists accepted the doctrine that the entire creation was fundamentally flawed by man’s sin, after which the sitra aḥra or “other side” achieved a dominion over man which will not be finally abolished until the ultimate redemption in which all things will revert to their original state. The crucial Christian element, however, is lacking here, for unlike the Christian dogma of original sin, the Kabbalah does not reject the idea that every man has the power to overcome this state of corruption, to the extent that he too is affected by it, by means of his own powers and with the help of divine aid prior to and independently of the final redemption. Speculations of this sort concerning the essence of sin as a disruption of the primordial order of things, the effects of which as it were reach up to and include the world of the Sefirot themselves, and concerning the means to achieve a tikkun whereby creation will be restored to its former grandeur, assumed a central place in the kabbalistic doctrine of man. This teaching developed out of purely religious motifs that only incidentally became motivated in the course of time with certain psychological motifs as well.”

E. Assertion : The proposal, in Note D, that: “It is likely that this kabbalistic doctrine of the corruption of the world through man’s first sin originated as a result of direct contact with Christian beliefs, …” is actually less likely than the possibility described in the last portion of that same sentence, to wit: “although it is also possible that these Christian ideas were derived from the same sources from which homologous aggadot in the Midrash took their inspiration.”

F. Howard Schwartz’ Tree of souls: the mythology of Judaism presents an alternate version of Eve’s disobedience and provides non-Biblical sources which merit attention. Specifically, the tale Schwartz tells is #572, “How Cain Was Conceived” .

Howard Schwartz. Tree of souls : the mythology of Judaism (Oxford, 2004), Book Nine, #572, Page 447.

“Others say it was the serpent himself who seduced Eve, for after he saw Adam and Eve coupling, the serpent conceived a passion for her. He even imagined killing Adam and marrying Eve. So he came to Eve when she was alone and possessed her and infused her with lust. That is how the serpent fathered Cain, who was later to slay his own brother. And that is how Eve was infected with his impurity. As a result, all of Israel was impure from that time until the Torah was given on Mount Sinai. Only then did Israel’s impurity cease.”

Schwartz cites a number of sources, the most relevant of which are in the Babylonian Talmud [] and quoted here:

  • Shabbat 145b-146a:
    • Rabbi Yoḥanan then explained to them: Why are gentiles ethically contaminated? It is because they did not stand on Mount Sinai. As when the snake came upon Eve, i.e., when it seduced her to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, it infected her with moral contamination, and this contamination remained in all human beings. When the Jewish people stood at Mount Sinai, their contamination ceased, whereas gentiles did not stand at Mount Sinai, and their contamination never ceased. Rav Aḥa, the son of Rava, said to Rav Ashi: What about converts? How do you explain the cessation of their moral contamination? Rav Ashi said to him: Even though they themselves were not at Mount Sinai, their guardian angels were present, as it is written: “It is not with you alone that I make this covenant and this oath, but with he that stands here with us today before the Lord our God, and with he that is not here with us today” (Deuteronomy 29:13–14), and this includes converts.
  • Sotah 9b:
    • And, so too, we found with regard to the primeval snake who seduced Eve, for he placed his eyes on that which was unfit for him, as he wanted to marry Eve. Consequently, that which he desired was not given to him, and that which was in his possession was taken from him. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: I initially said that the snake will be king over every domesticated animal and non-domesticated animal, but now he is cursed more than all the domesticated animals and all the non-domesticated animals of the field, as it is stated: “And the Lord God said unto the serpent: Because you have done this, you are cursed from among all cattle, and from among all beasts of the field; upon your belly shall you go, and dust shall you eat all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14).
    • The baraita explains the elements of this curse. I said that the snake will walk upright, but now he shall go on his belly; I said that his food will be the same as the food eaten by a person, but now he shall eat dust. The snake said: I will kill Adam and marry Eve, but now: “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed” (Genesis 3:15).
  • Yevamot 103b:
    • The Gemara answers: He implants filth in her and contaminates her, as her body accepts his semen. As Rabbi Yoḥanan also said, based on his understanding that the serpent seduced Eve into having sexual relations with him: When the serpent came upon Eve, he infected her with moral contamination, and this contamination remained in all human beings. When the Jewish people stood at Mount Sinai their contamination ceased, whereas with regard to gentiles, who did not stand at Mount Sinai, their contamination never ceased. Therefore, Yael was repulsed by the contamination that she allowed into her body, and she did not benefit from relations with Sisera.
  • Avodah Zarah 22b:
    • And if you wish, say instead: Even when he finds the wife, he also engages in bestiality with the animal, as the Master said: The animal of a Jew is more appealing to gentiles than their own wives, as Rabbi Yoḥanan says: At the time when the snake came upon Eve, at the time of the sin of her eating from the Tree of Knowledge, it infected her with moral contamination, and this contamination lingers in all human beings. The Gemara asks: If that is so, a Jew should also be suspected of engaging in bestiality. The Gemara answers: With regard to the Jewish people, who stood at Mount Sinai and received the Torah, their contamination ended, whereas in the case of gentiles, who did not stand at Mount Sinai and receive the Torah, their contamination has not ended.

G. “ Zohama ”: Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature:

זוֹהֲמָא , זוֹהֲמָה f. (זהם) 1) froth; filth, decayed matter, evil smell. Pes. 42ᵇ
שואבת את הז׳ absorbs the froth of boiling meat. Ter. X, 1 ליטול את הז׳ to carry
off foul matter; Y. Ab. Zar. III, 41ᶜ top את שהוא ליטול את הז׳ a substance which
is used for &c.—Ber. 53ᵃ שמן … את הז׳; Y. ib. VI, 10ᵈ שמן לז׳ oil used for
perfuming the hands after the meal, v. זָהַם. —2) moral impurity, obscenity, voluptuousness. Yalk. Lev. 525 דבר של ז׳ (ed. Lemb. זומא), v. זִיטְמָא. Yeb. 103ᵇ
שדי בה ז׳ he infected her with sensuality. Ib., a. e. הטיל בה ז׳ the serpent infected
her (Eve, i.e. the human race) with lasciviousness. Ib. פסקה זוֹהֲמָתָן their sensual
passions ceased (were checked through the influence of religion); a. fr. —3)
ז׳ דשמשא the sultry air produced by the passage of the sunrays through a cloudy atmosphere. Yoma 28ᵇ ז׳ דש׳ וכ׳ (Ar. a. Ms. L. זִיהָא, Ms. O. זוֹהֲרָא, v. Rabb. D. S.
a. l. note) the sultry heat is more intense than that of direct sunlight. [Sabb. 123ᵃ
ז׳ ליסטרון, v. זוֹמְלִיסְטְרוֹן.]

H. Note E above asserts that it is more likely that the Christian doctrine of Original Sin and the kabbalistic doctrine of the corruption of the world through man’s first sin were derived from the same source than that the kabbalistic doctrine had Christian roots. Hypothetically, there are four possible sources:

  1. Non-Christian pagan;

  2. Early Gentile Christian;

  3. Early Jewish Christian; or

  4. Jewish.

    A non-Christian pagan source would seem to be the least likely source, given early Jewish Christian and Jewish aversions to pagan concepts. Although inherited Ancestral sin was not completely unknown, humanity’s inherited Original Sin is inherited Ancestral Sin, but inherited Ancestral Sin is only Original Sin if all proponents agree on who the earliest common ancestors were, and only Christians and Jews were inclined to agree.
    In spite of chronological differences in Christian and Jewish written sources which might seem to support an “Early Christian” source view, the notion that Gentile Christians would have been the creative force behind the doctrine of Original Sin is odd and unlikely. Gentile Christians were more likely to have received some variant of the doctrine from their Jewish Christian elders than to have introduced it to them in the few years that a Jewish Christian minority existed. We are left with two possibilities: that Jews appropriated a variant of an early Jewish Christian doctrine or that early Jewish Christians received and shared an existing Jewish doctrine. The assertion made in Note E affirms the latter possibility. The following diagram depicts the “flow” of the basic idea.

Second-Temple Judaism’s dim view of early Jewish Christian ideas militates against the first possibility and in support of the latter possibility shown in the diagram.

I. The Bavli references in Note F above identify “moral contamination” as the extraordinary, long-term consequence of Eve’s disobedience which is at the heart of the Christian doctrine of Original Sin. The feature that stands out in the references is the assertion that the contamination was removed from those who “stood at Sinai” when the Torah was given to them, and not only from them, but also from future converts to Judaism because their guardian angels also stood at Sinai on their behalf; “whereas in the case of gentiles, who did not stand at Mount Sinai and receive the Torah, their contamination has not ended.”
That said, non-Jews may well marvel at the magnanimous assertion in Note D:

“the Kabbalah does not reject the idea that every man has the power to overcome
this state of corruption, to the extent that he too is affected by it, by means of his
own powers and with the help of divine aid prior to and independently of the final redemption.”

A lot to go through.

The first thing I would want to point out is that not everyone believes that original sin is even biblical. I don’t see any evidence to believe in original sin based on scripture. Some of it is seems really easily dismissed.

For example the idea that because of Eves disobedience all flesh is not able to sin. That makes no sense because before Eve did that she was already tempted. I believe OS primarily only makes sense of you are already preconceiving it in scriptures.

Connecting the dots and simplifying the picture is as challenging as attempting to make a case for my thesis, i.e. that the Christian doctrine of Original Sin has Jewish Roots. I haven’t tried to simplify it, but let’s see if I can.

  • Genesis tells a story:
    • of a single divine commandment given to Adam and Eve;
    • of a multi-legged serpent’s temptation of Eve;
    • of Eve’s and Adam’s disobedience of the commandment;
    • of immediate consequences for Eve and Adam; and
    • of long-term consequences for Eve and Adam’s descendants.
  • Summary: Eve and Adam’s disobedience were “the first sins” in the Garden of Eden. However, Original Sin itself is a long-term consequence of the disobedience. Talmudic sources affirm, IMO, that Original Sin is inherited moral contamination/moral corruption/moral impurity (the common Hebrew word for which was “‘zohama’”.)
    • Note: The Biblical and Talmudic accounts of the serpent’s temptation of Eve and Adam indicate that, before Divine discovery, the serpent had legs and that an immediate consequence of the serpent’s action was a Divine transformation from a beast with legs to a legless beast. This lends support to anyone who conjectures that the whole tale is an elaborate ancient animal folk-tale that explains why snakes, unlike most animals, are legless.
  • Talmudic sources affirm that the inherited moral contamination (i.e. Original Sin) of everyone who “stood at Sinai” with Moses was divinely removed. Its removal also occurs when a person converts to Judaism, but the moral contamination remains in “Gentiles”, which led to rules and practices governing interactions between Jews and Gentiles.

IMO, those are the bare bones of the matter. My mind reels, however, when I reflect on the fact that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were Jews, and as Jews–following Talmudic reasoning–each was conceived and born “without inherited moral contamination”. Remember: The first followers of Jesus were Jews. I don’t know of any Gentile converts to Jewish-Christianity before the Resurrection. Evangelization efforts among “morally contaminated” Gentiles were post-Resurrection and resulted in internal conflicts.
What I find intriguing is the “Jewish amnesia” which I find evident in the Jewish kabbalist literature, according to which,

So Judaism sees no need for “a Savior”, without which Christianity is “sound and fury signifying nothing”. But, as Paul wrote: “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)

I am not dismayed. The doctrine of Original Sin and its roots interest me; and I hoped that they might interest the doctrine’s Christian proponents.

Sorry, I don’t follow the reasoning in those sentences.

We can not forget that the doctrine of “original sin” came from Augustine. He based his belief on all humanity inheriting a corrupt nature of preformatism. He believed, like most everyone did, that a man’s sperm contained a tiny human being that just needed to be “planted” in the women’s “field.” We know that belief is false. The Eastern Orthodox belief that we are all effected by sin, but do not inherit a sinful nature, is much more in line with scripture.


The last part is this. The doctrine of original sin teaches that because of their sins, we now are born is the a sin nature, that is flesh that craves the fleshly wants. But that is illogical because the same thing happened to Adam and Eve prior to whatever changed. So their flesh was exactly the same as ours. Nothing is different about our wants and needs than those of Adam and Eve.

Tell me if I understand your reasoning.

  • Your 1st premise seems to be that the doctrine of original sin teaches that we, the descendants of Adam and Eve, have “a sin nature”, i.e. we are “flesh that craves the fleshly wants”.
  • Your second premise seems to be that Adam and Eve were flesh and craved fleshly wants–just like us–before their disobedience of the divine command.
  • Your argument seems to be as follows:
    • If Adam and Eve were flesh and craved fleshly wants before their disobedience and, like us, were flesh and craved fleshly wants after their disobedience, then nothing in their nature changed as a consequence of their disobedience.

Is that close to what you said and meant??

If “No”, correct me.
If “Yes”, then it seems to me that you haven’t figured out for yourself what changed in Adam and Eve’s nature as a consequence of their disobedience. [Cautionary note: I am not criticizing your reasoning; I’m merely trying to clarify my understanding of your reasoning.]

The doctrine of original sin began as argument that unbaptized babies went to hell, or purgatory. It was one of the main arguments AnaBaptists fought against.

Humans were never immortal and we never had flesh that was immune to sin. That’s why a tree of life ( tree of fruit that sustains life) was in the garden. Immortals would not need that.

When I’m home I can present my thoughts better. Though it’s going to take weeks and be in sections.

Again, I don’t believe in the doctrine of original sin. I don’t think it’s a scriptural argument at all. I don’t really know if you understand my view or not to be honest.

You and I have irreconcilable differences in our opinions regarding how the doctrine of original sin began.

I can agree to that.

I’m not sure what you mean by “immune to sin”, but I happen to think that the big questions are: When is a human first capable of experiencing shame and has there ever been a human, in the history of humanity, who didn’t feel shame?

I know.

If there’s a scriptural argument for or against the doctrine, I’ll let someone else make it. The purpose of my “Notes” was not to argue for or against it, but rather–assuming that some Christians believe it–to propose that the doctrine has Jewish roots even though Jews today reject the doctrine.

Not to worry, then, especially since I’m not trying to persuade you to believe in the doctrine.

Well I can’t see how it could have Jewish roots since it’s a post Christian idea. It did not begin in Judaism, Jesus, or the apostles. You see it’s beginning, though you obviously disagree, within some Christian movements arguing baptism for infants.

What Jewish extra biblical writing are you basing its earlier creation on?

:grinning: Like I said,

See Note F in my first post; specifically where I wrote:

interesting post by Pete Enns (I found his and Lamoureux’ and “Onscript’s” articles about Second Temple Judaism very interesting, but above my head in some ways).

Thanks. What is your thought on the New View on Paul, then?

I guess for me the biggest issue is that they all seem to mostly stem from quoting the same guy who himself did not make those statements until after 150 ad. But I’ll try the rest of sources.

:grinning: Statements made by a Jewish rabbi after 150 would seem to put a hole in the theory that the doctrine of original sin originated with Augustine, don’t you think?
Meanwhile, the apocryphal Christian “Infancy Gospel of James” is dated to about the same time period. You can wonder whether:

  1. the Rabbi reworked a Christian version of the doctrine of original sin and came up with a Jewish version, or
  2. Gentile Christians reworked a Jewish version of the doctrine of original sin and came up with the Christian version, or
  3. you could even imagine that the Rabbi and the Gentile Christians reworked a pagan version of ancestral sin and came up with separate and different versions of a doctrine of inherited moral contamination.

My position is as clear as I could make it:
Option #3 is the least likely possibility;
Option #1 is the next least likely possibility; and
Option #2 is, IMO, the most likely possibility.

Regardless which option you settle on, you’re still not going to accept the doctrine yourself, and if you settle on option #3 or option #1, you and I will still have an irreconcilable difference. For the record, I don’t care whether you accept the doctrine or not.

The issue is that you’re saying original sin. Original sin is the belief that unbaptized babies go to hell/purgatory if they die.

It seems like you’re wanting to discuss something other than original sin.

Original sin is the belief that the sins of Adam and Eve have been passed down to all of humanity. That all humans are born instantly guilty of sin.

Your version of the doctrine of Original Sin is just one of several versions. Your version is on the brief side and is certainly not the most common version.

My impression is that you’re still not sure what my original post was about.

Early Christian theology of atonement comes in several “flavors”, each one of which is a meaty topic in itself and worthy of discussion. However, I’m inclined to believe that such discussion(s) should be addressed in a new thread or in new threads.

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I understand what your post is about.

I simply think you’re using the wrong words to describe and even with the right words I think it’s simply just wrong. It’s similar to me as if someone wanted to use in his image to argue God looks like a human being and we evolved to look the way we do so that we looked like God. I would simply completely disagree with that person on every level.

I’m not giving an opinion on what original sin is. I’m stating what it was. It’s only within some groups of modern Protestants that the definition has changed from what’s it’s been since it’s creation.

That’s why when you first see original sin being brought up, you see the Anabaptist movement kicking up.

Original sin is not simply sin and death entering the world. It’s people being born already guilty of sin and it’s main push was why babies needed to be baptized because if not, they die guilty of someone else’s sin.

Now sin nature, what you seem to actually be arguing, is not the same thing as original sin.

Sin nature is the worldly part based on desires that we all have. Even Jesus had this and overcame it without sin. That’s how he was able to be tempted. In order to be able to be tempted you have to have a sin nature. Jesus , unlike the father, was able to be tempted. The sin nature is not a byproduct of anything Adam and Eve did. It already existed in them. That’s why they were able to be tempted.

Sin is possible because we have the law. Before the law, there was no accountability to sin. Sin only becomes sin when a line is drawn in the sand by God.

Sin did not make flesh mortal. Flesh has always been mortal. Adam and Eve were not immortals, even prior to sin. They were still mortals and were saved from death by the fruit. That’s why the fruit tree was there to begin with and it’s why they were banished away from it.

So by anyone trying to argue original sin as a justification for saying we are born evil, or we are born mortal is dismissing the fact that those traits already existed.

The reason why Jewish people don’t talk about it is because it’s not part of their theology. It’s s fairly recent concept.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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