Adam, Book of the Penitence of

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Adam, Book of the Penitence of

A manuscript in the Library of the Arsenal at Paris that deals with kabalistic tradition. It recounts how the first two sons of Adam, Cain and Abel, respectively typifying brute force and intelligence, slew each other, and that Adam's inheritance passed to his third son, Seth. Seth was permitted to advance as far as the gate of the Earthly Paradise without being threatened by the guardian angel with his flaming sword, which is to say that he was an initiate of occult science.

He beheld the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, which had become grafted upon each other so that they formed one tree. Some commentators believe this to symbolize the harmony of science and religion in the Kabala. The guardian angel presented Seth with three seeds from this tree and directed him to place them within the mouth of his father, Adam, when he died. From this planting arose the burning bush, out of which God communicated to Moses his holy name, and from a part of which Moses made his magic wand. This was placed in the Ark of the Covenant and was planted by King David on Mount Zion, where it grew into a triple tree and was later cut down by Solomon to form the pillars Jachin and Boaz, which were placed at the entrance to the Temple.

A third portion was inserted in the threshold of the great gate and acted as a talisman, permitting no unclean thing to enter the sanctuary. However, certain wicked priests removed it, weighted it with stones, and cast it into the Temple reservoir, where it was guarded by an angel, who kept it from the sight of men. During the time of Christ the reservoir was drained and the beam of wood discovered and thrown across the brook Kedron, over which the Savior passed after he was apprehended in the Garden of Olives. It was taken by his executioners and made into the cross.

This legend is markedly similar to those from which the conception of the Holy Grail arose. Man is restored by the wood through the instrumentality of which Adam, the first man, fell. The idea that the Cross was a cutting of the Tree of Knowledge was widespread in the Middle Ages and may be found in the twelfth century Quete del St. Graal, ascribed to Walter Map but probably only adapted by him. All the traditions of the Kabala are embodied in the allegory contained in the Book of the Penitence of Adam, which supplements and throws considerable light on the entire kabalistic literature.