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:
- 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?’”
- And the woman said to the serpent, "Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat.
- 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.’”
- And the serpent said to the woman, "You will surely not die.
- 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."
- 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 [https://www.sefaria.org] 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:
Early Gentile Christian;
Early Jewish Christian; or
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.”