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Adam as both male and female (1)

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12 Assyrian Identity

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

03 Religious festivals, cults, rituals and practices

4th century BCE
1st century CE
2nd century CE
3rd century CE
4th century CE
Byzantine Empire
Greek Classical Age
Roman Empire
Christian-Syriac philosophers and scholars
Christian-Roman philosophers and scholars
Gnostic texts
Greek philosophers and scholars
Jewish-Roman philosophers and scholars

The bisexuality of the Mesopotamian goddess Ištar as a token of perfectness of the goddess is reflected in the later Syriac tradition. Ephrem says in his commentary on Genesis that ‘Adam was both one and two; one in that he was man (adam), two in that he was created male and female’ (2.12). Ephrem’s reason for saying so is that Eve, Adam’s rib, was still inside him (1.29). The singular verbs make it clear that Ephrem is following traditions that regarded the first-created, primeval man as androgynous. This idea occurs in Plato’s Symposium (189dff.) as a ‘myth’ narrated by Aristophanes, and in a Jewish midrashic tradition, doubtless already under Greek influence, as the word anderoginos in Genesis Rabba suggests. Certainly the marriage of Platonist and Jewish thought is manifest in Philo, who interprets ‘man’ in the creation story as not yet diversified by sexuality or individuation (On the Creation 24.76).

Another form of the idea was an androgynous archetypal man which is common to several Gnostic movements. It occurs in the Hermetic Poimandres; Hippolytus describes the Gnostic form of the doctrine (Refutatio 5.8.4), and it appears in the Apocryphon of John and the Gospel of Philip. These theories relate sexuality to the Fall and seem to imply a doctrine like that of Gregory of Nyssa, who says that the archetypal man was both male and female and that God indroduced sexual differentiation because, foreseeing the beginning of death in place of immortality, he planned for the continuation of the human race through sexual reproduction (De Hominis Opificio 16-17). In the Christian thinking, it gave rise to a doctrine that in the eschatological future, the female will somehow be absorbed in the male, in an ultimate return to the original androgynous unity, 2 Clement 12.1. Among the Syriac fathers Ephrem also speaks of female sex disappearing in that age of the world (Dem. 22.1017.3-8). Ephrem’s paradise is anticipated by the consecrated virgin life of the Sons and Daughters of the Covenant, the latter typify Eve restored, and sex is sublimated rather than suppressed.

Sources (list of abbreviations) (source links will open in a new browser window)
2 Clement 12.1
Ephrem Syrus, Commentary on Genesis 1.29
Ephrem Syrus, Commentary on Genesis 2.12
Ephrem Syrus, Demonstrations 21.1017.3-8
Gregory of Nyssa, De Hominis Opificio 16-17
Hippolytus, Refutatio 5.8.4
Plato, Symposium 189dff.
Philo of Alexandria, On the Creation 24.76


Murray 1975, 302-303Murray, Robert. Symbols of Church and Kingdom. A Study in Early Syriac Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1975.

Amar Annus

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