Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


§ I.

So much has been said and so much written concerning Adam, his wife, the pre-Adamites, etc., and the rabbis have put forth so many idle stories respecting Adam, and it is so dull to repeat what others have said before, that I shall here hazard an idea entirely new; one, at least, which is not to be found in any ancient author, father of the church, preacher, theologian, critic, or scholar with whom I am acquainted. I mean the profound secrecy with respect to Adam which was observed throughout the habitable earth, Palestine only excepted, until the time when the Jewish books began to be known in Alexandria, and were translated into Greek under one of the Ptolemies. Still they were very little known; for large books were very rare and very dear. Besides, the Jews of Jerusalem were so incensed against those of Alexandria, loaded them with so many reproaches for having translated their Bible into a profane tongue, called them so many ill names, and cried so loudly to the Lord, that the Alexandrian Jews concealed their translation as much as possible; it was so secret that no Greek or Roman author speaks of it before the time of the Emperor Aurefian.

The historian Josephus confesses, in his answer to Appian, that the Jews had not long had any intercourse with other nations: “We inhabit,” says he, “a country distant from the sea; we do not apply ourselves to commerce, nor have we any communication with other nations. Is it to be wondered at that our people, dwelling so far from the sea, and affecting never to write, have been so little known?”

Here it will probably be asked how Josephus could say that his nation affected never to write anything, when they had twenty-two canonical books, without reckoning the “Targum” by Onkelos. But it must be considered that twenty-two small volumes were very little when compared with the multitude of books preserved in the library of Alexandria, half of which were burned in Cæsar’s war.

It is certain that the Jews had written and read very little; that they were profoundly ignorant of astronomy, geometry, geography, and physics; that they knew nothing of the history of other nations; and that in Alexandria they first began to learn. Their language was a barbarous mixture of ancient Phœnician and corrupted Chaldee; it was so poor that several moods were wanting in the conjugation of their verbs.

Moreover, as they communicated neither their books nor the titles of them to any foreigner, no one on earth except themselves had ever heard of Adam, or Eve, or Abel, or Cain, or Noah. Abraham alone was, in course of time, known to the Oriental nations; but no ancient people admitted that Abraham was the root of the Jewish nation.

Such are the secrets of Providence, that the father and mother of the human race have ever been totally unknown to their descendants; so that the names of Adam and Eve are to be found in no ancient author, either of Greece, of Rome, of Persia, or of Syria, nor even among the Arabs, until near the time of Mahomet. It was God’s pleasure that the origin of the great family of the world should be concealed from all but the smallest and most unfortunate part of that family.

How is it that Adam and Eve have been unknown to all their children? How could it be that neither in Egypt nor in Babylon was any trace — any tradition — of our first parents to be found? Why were they not mentioned by Orpheus, by Linus, or by Thamyris? For if they had said but one word of them, it would undoubtedly have been caught by Hesiod, and especially by Homer, who speak of everything except the authors of the human race. Clement of Alexandria, who collected so many ancient testimonies, would not have failed to quote any passage in which mention had been made of Adam and Eve. Eusebius, in his “Universal History,” has examined even the most doubtful testimonies, and would assuredly have made the most of the smallest allusion, or appearance of an allusion, to our first parents. It is, then, sufficiently clear that they were always utterly unknown to the nations.

We do, it is true, find among the Brahmins, in the book entitled the “Ezourveidam,” the names of Adimo and of Procriti, his wife. But though Adimo has some little resemblance to our Adam, the Indians say: “We were a great people established on the banks of the Indus and the Ganges many ages before the Hebrew horde moved towards the Jordan. The Egyptians, the Persians, and the Arabs came to us for wisdom and spices when the Jews were unknown to the rest of mankind. We cannot have taken our Adimo from their Adam; our Procriti does not in the least resemble Eve; besides, their history and ours are entirely different.

“Moreover, the ‘Veidam,’ on which the ‘Ezourveidam’ is a commentary, is believed by us to have been composed at a more remote period of antiquity than the Jewish books; and the ‘Veidam’ itself is a newer law given to the Brahmins, fifteen hundred years after their first law, called Shasta or Shastabad.”

Such, or nearly such, are the answers which the Brahmins of the present day have often made to the chaplains of merchant vessels who have talked to them of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, when the traders of Europe have gone, with arms in their hands, to buy their spices and lay waste their country.

The Phœnician Sanchoniathon, who certainly lived before the period at which we place Moses, and who is quoted by Eusebius as an authentic writer, gives ten generations to the human race, as does Moses, down to the time of Noah; but, in these ten generations, he mentions neither Adam nor Eve, nor any of their descendants, not even Noah himself. The names, according to the Greek translation by Philo of Biblos, are Æon, Genos, Phox, Liban, Usou, Halieus, Chrisor, Tecnites, Agrove, Amine; these are the first ten generations.

We do not see the name of Noah or of Adam in any of the ancient dynasties of Egypt: they are not to be found among the Chaldæans; in a word, the whole earth has been silent respecting them. It must be owned that such a silence is unparalleled. Every people has attributed to itself some imaginary origin, yet none has approached the true one. We cannot comprehend how the father of all nations has so long been unknown, while in the natural course of things his name should have been carried from mouth to mouth to the farthest corners of the earth.

Let us humble ourselves to the decrees of that Providence which has permitted so astonishing an oblivion. All was mysterious and concealed in the nation guided by God Himself, which prepared the way for Christianity, and was the wild olive on which the fruitful one has been grafted. That the names of the authors of mankind should be unknown to mankind is a mystery of the highest order.

I will venture to affirm that it has required a miracle thus to shut the eyes and ears of all nations — to destroy every monument, every memorial of their first father. What would Cæsar, Antony, Crassus, Pompey, Cicero, Marcellus, or Metellus have thought, if a poor Jew, while selling them balm, had said, “We all descend from one father, named Adam.” All the Roman senate would have cried, “Show us our genealogical tree.” Then the Jew would have displayed his ten generations, down to the time of Noah, and the secret of the universal deluge. The senate would have asked him how many persons were in the ark to feed all the animals for ten whole months, and during the following year in which no food would be produced? The peddler would have said, “We were eight — Noah and his wife, their three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japhet, and their wives. All this family descended in a right line from Adam.”

Cicero, would, doubtless, have inquired for the great monuments, the indisputable testimonies which Noah and his children had left of our common father. “After the deluge,” he would have said, “the whole world would have resounded with the names of Adam and Noah, one the father, the other the restorer of every race. These names would have been in every mouth as soon as men could speak, on every parchment as soon as they could write, on the door of every house as soon as they could build, on every temple, on every statue; and have you known so great a secret, yet concealed it from us?” The Jew would have answered: “It is because we are pure and you are impure.” The Roman senate would have laughed and the Jew would have been whipped; so much are men attached to their prejudices!

§ II.

The pious Madame de Bourignon was sure that Adam was an hermaphrodite, like the first men of the divine Plato. God had revealed a great secret to her; but as I have not had the same revelation, I shall say nothing of the matter.

The Jewish rabbis have read Adam’s books, and know the names of his preceptor and his second wife; but as I have not read our first parent’s books, I shall remain silent. Some acute and very learned persons are quite astonished when they read the “Veidam” of the ancient Brahmins, to find that the first man was created in India, and called Adimo, which signifies the begetter, and his wife, Procriti, signifying life. They say the sect of the Brahmins is incontestably more ancient than that of the Jews; that it was not until a late period that the Jews could write in the Canaanitish language, since it was not until late that they established themselves in the little country of Canaan. They say the Indians were always inventors, and the Jews always imitators; the Indians always ingenious, and the Jews always rude. They say it is difficult to believe that Adam, who was fair and had hair on his head, was father to the negroes, who are entirely black, and have black wool. What, indeed, do they not say? As for me, I say nothing; I leave these researches to the Reverend Father Berruyer of the Society of Jesus. He is the most perfect Innocent I have ever known; the book has been burned, as that of a man who wished to turn the Bible into ridicule; but I am quite sure he had no such wicked end in view.

§ III.

The age for inquiring seriously whether or not knowledge was infused into Adam had passed by; those who so long agitated the question had no knowledge, either infused or acquired. It is as difficult to know at what time the Book of Genesis, which speaks of Adam, was written, as it is to know the date of the “Veidam,” of the “Sanskrit,” or any other of the ancient Asiatic books. It is important to remark that the Jews were not permitted to read the first chapter of Genesis before they were twenty-five years old. Many rabbis have regarded the formation of Adam and Eve and their adventure as an allegory. Every celebrated nation of antiquity has imagined some similar one; and, by a singular concurrence, which marks the weakness of our nature, all have endeavored to explain the origin of moral and physical evil by ideas nearly alike. The Chaldæans, the Indians, the Persians and the Egyptians have accounted, in similar ways, for that mixture of good and evil which seems to be a necessary appendage to our globe. The Jews, who went out of Egypt, rude as they were, had heard of the allegorical philosophy of the Egyptians. With the little knowledge thus acquired, they afterwards mixed that which they received from the Phœnicians and from the Babylonians during their long slavery. But as it is natural and very common for a rude nation to imitate rudely the conceptions of a polished people, it is not surprising that the Jews imagined a woman formed from the side of a man, the spirit of life breathed from the mouth of God on the face of Adam — the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Nile and the Oxus, having all the same source in a garden, and the forbidden fruit, which brought death into the world, as well as physical and moral evil. Full of the idea which prevailed among the ancients, that the serpent was a very cunning animal, they had no great difficulty in endowing it with understanding and speech.

This people, who then inhabited only a small corner of the earth, which they believed to be long, narrow and flat, could easily believe that all men came from Adam. They did not even know that the negroes, with a conformation different from their own, inhabited immense regions; still less could they have any idea of America.

It is, however, very strange that the Jewish people were permitted to read the books of Exodus, where there are so many miracles that shock reason, yet were not permitted to read before the age of twenty-five the first chapter of Genesis, in which all is necessarily a miracle, since the creation is the subject. Perhaps it was because God, after creating the man and woman in the first chapter, makes them again in another, and it was thought expedient to keep this appearance of contradiction from the eyes of youth. Perhaps it is because it is said that God made man in his own image, and this expression gave the Jews too corporeal an idea of God. Perhaps it was because it is said that God took a rib from Adam’s side to form the woman, and the young and inconsiderate, feeling their sides, and finding the right number of ribs, might have suspected the author of some infidelity. Perhaps it was because God, who always took a walk at noon in the garden of Eden, laughed at Adam after his fall, and this tone of ridicule might tend to give youth too great a taste for pleasantry. In short, every line of this chapter furnishes very plausible reasons for interdicting the reading of it; but such being the case, one cannot clearly see how it was that the other chapters were permitted. It is, besides, surprising that the Jews were not to read this chapter until they were twenty-five. One would think that it should first have been proposed to childhood, which receives everything without examination, rather than to youth, whose pride is to judge and to laugh. On the other hand, the Jews of twenty-five years of age, having their judgments prepared and strengthened, might be more fitted to receive this chapter than inexperienced minds. We shall say nothing here of Adam’s second wife, named Lillah, whom the ancient rabbis have given him. It must be confessed that we know very few anecdotes of our family.

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