Jewish Encyclopedia on the hermaphrodite Adam

Blogging on textual traditions well beyond my comfort zone still is a relatively new experience for me. It constantly reminds me how little I know, and how much I depend on good reference works for almost everything beyond my narrow sphere of specialisation. This is particularly true for those texts where my own linguistic skills fail, i.e. most of them. In the case of the ‘hermaphrodite Adam’ I was at first very suspicious about the claim that this idea was held by Jewish exegetes, but now tend to believe that there indeed was such a tradition. In fact, looking up the Jewish Encyclopedia would have saved me from some of the doubts I had, so I take the opportunity to make the relevant passage available here and, doing so, also to advertise the free online version of this magnificent encyclopedia:

Transmitted and developed through dualistic Gnosticism in the East, the notion of an androgynous creation was adopted by the Haggadists in order to reconcile the apparently conflicting statements of the Bible. In Gen. ii. 7 and 18 et seq., the separate creations of man and of woman are described, while in chap. i. 27, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them,” their creation is described as coincident. In connection with the latter verse the Midrash states (Gen. R. viii.): “Jeremiah, son of Eleazar, says: God created Adam androgynous, but Samuel, son of Naḥman, says, He created him ‘double-faced,’ then cutting him in twain and forming two backs, one to the one and the other to the second” (see Bacher, “Ag. Pal. Amor.” i. 547, iii. 585). […]

The opinion expressed by Jeremiah is, however, very old and wide-spread, for we find the fathers of the Christian Church at pains to refute this “Jewish fable”; Augustine writes against it in his commentary on Genesis, ad loc. ch. 22. Strabos, agreeing with Augustine, declares this opinion to be one of the “damnatæ Judæorum fabulæ.” Others revive the question, and Sixtus Senensis in his “Bibliotheca Sacra” devotes to it a special chapter (ed. Colon. 1586, fol. 344, 345).

Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) s.v. Androgynous

The references may need a bit of explanation:

  • “Gen. R. viii.” refers to the Genesis Rabba aka B’reshith Rabba (see or for the midrash in question).
  • “Ag. Pal. Amor.” refers to the monumental Wilhelm Bacher, Die Agada der palästinensischen Amoräer, 3 vols., Strasbourg 1892-99. As so often, is you friend – all volumes are there, see
  • As for St Augustine, see here. The passage in question is De Genesi ad litteram iii, 22, 34 (PL 34, 29 = CSEL 28, 89); for an English translation, see Augustine, The literal meaning of Genesis, tr. John Hammond Taylor (Ancient Christan writers, 42), 2 vols., New York 1982, here at vol. 1, 24.
  • “Strabo” refers to the Glossa ordinaria to the Bible which for a long time was attributed to Walahfried Strabo and quotes Augustine on Gen. 1, 27; there are many editions (and until today, no critical edition, at least not of the whole Gloss), but the quotations of “damnatæ Judæorum fabulæ” makes it plausible that a relatively late version is quoted here, namely one incorporating the Postilliae of Nicolas of Lyra (see
  • Sixtus Senensis or Sixtus of Siena (1520–1569) was a Jewish scholar who converted to Roman Catholicism and became a Dominican; I was not yet able to get hold of the edition quoted here and to verify the quote.
Suggested citation: Christof Rolker, Jewish Encyclopedia on the hermaphrodite Adam, in Männlich-weiblich-zwischen, 28/12/2016, Lizenz: CC BY-SA 4.0 []. Letzter Aufruf: 22/09/2023.

Christof Rolker

Prof. Dr. Christof Rolker, Historiker an der Universität Bamberg.

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Christof Rolker

Prof. Dr. Christof Rolker, Historiker an der Universität Bamberg.

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Eine Antwort

  1. 02/05/2018

    […] although it is not impossible that some of them had knowledge of Jewish exegetical tradition that indeed contained arguments in that direction. In most cases, however, I assume that Christian theologians in Latin Europe only knew the theory […]

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