Testament of Adam


The Testament of Adam (TAdam) is a short Christian pseudepigraphon from late antiquity. It was likely composed in Syriac, though it now survives in numerous languages and recensions. In many manuscripts the text is titled ”The Testament of Our Father Adam” or something similar. The document is comprised of two main parts, usually called the Horarium and the Prophecy by modern scholars. It is conventionally divided into four chapters, with the Horarium comprising the first two chapters and the Prophecy as chapter three. What we often call the fourth chapter (or the third "part") is an additional section, the Hierarchy, which only appears in one manuscript and was almost certainly not part of any original document.

The Horarium

In the first main part, the Horarium, Adam lists the hours of the night and/or day in which the various creatures of the creation give praise to God, each in its appointed hour. In most manuscripts this list is divided into two sections, the "Hours of the Night" and the "Hours of the Day," each of which is allotted a chapter in the document's conventional organization. In a few manuscripts, however, one or the other of these sections is missing. Various versions and forms of the Horarium, both with and without a connection to the figure of Adam, are found in a wide variety of contexts including the two different Greek versions presented here (see “Versions” below).

The Prophecy

The second part of TAdam, the Prophecy, is a testament with apocalyptic features, presented as the final words of Adam recorded by his son Seth. In it Adam passes on revelations he received from God concerning the future. Some of these revelations deal with the relatively near future, focusing on the Flood and Adam's own fate after death. More broadly, Adam describes the eschatological fate of his posterity and the world. The Christian nature of the document is most visible when Adam predicts the incarnation of God. 

The Hierarchy

One late manuscript (Vatican Syr. 164, 1702 C.E.) appends a unique section concerning the heavenly orders, with the heading ”Also from the testament of our father Adam." This section, usually designated the Hierarchy, is an angelology which lists the nine orders of the heavenly beings and their functions. Since it only appears in one manuscript, and its content is incompatible with the narrative fiction of the two other parts, the Hierarchy was probably not part of any original TAdam. Nevertheless, modern scholars often include it as the third part of the document.


An impressive range of texts and excerpts somehow related to or dependent on TAdam are found in more than thirty manuscripts in seven languages: Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Greek, Armenian, Old Georgian and Garshuni (Arabic written in Syriac script).

As an independent document TAdam exists in eight Syriac manuscripts in which three recensions have been identified (Kmosko 1907; Robinson 1982; see "Manuscripts" below). One manuscript from recension 1 (Syriac ms. A) is presented here. Recension 2 is found in two manuscripts. The more recent of these (D) only contains the Prophecy, while the older manuscript (C) also contains the Hierarchy and the Horarium with just the hours of the night. Apart from one manuscript (F), recension 3 contains just the Horarium. As two of the manuscripts (E and H) indicate, this form of the Horarium was apparently extracted from TAdam (see Robinson 1982, 103 note 33, 145). A similar version of the Horarium with the hours of the night is found separately also in one Armenian manuscript (Stone 1996, 167-73). Although there is no superscription here mentioning Adam or his testament, it is the same kind of text as the Syriac recensions, and it is clear from 1:4 (the fourth hour of the night) that Adam is the speaker.

A simple form of the Horarium in Greek appears in the work of George Cedrenus (11th century C.E.). In this text, which is presented here, Cedrenus does not provide any other parts of TAdam. He does, though, connect this modified Horarium with the figure of Adam, recording it among the revelations Adam received from God (see also below under “Greek Text”).

In Arabic, Ethiopic and Old Georgian we find TAdam (the Horarium together with the Prophecy) integrated within another Christian pseudepigraphon called the Cave of Treasures (Bezold 1906; Kourcikidzé 1992). In the Arabic and Ethiopic traditions, moreover, the Cave of Treasures has itself been adapted and integrated with the larger pseudo-Clementine work, The Book of the Rolls, also called the Apocalypse of Peter. This Arabic version of TAdam is dependent on the Syriac recension 3, and the Ethiopic is a translation of the Arabic. Another related but heavily expanded Arabic recension is also found in three other manuscripts (Troupeau 1988). Together with the Syriac recensions, this longer Arabic recension is the only known version of TAdam as an independent, unified document (the Horarium with the Prophecy).

Central elements of the Prophecy appear in connection with Adam’s “testament” in some Syriac, Arabic and Ethiopic versions of Transitus Mariae (Enger 1854; Wright 1865a, -bLewis 1902; Chaîne 1909). Two of these Syriac manuscripts possibly date as early as the fifth and the sixth centuries C.E. (Lewis 1902, x; Wright 1865a, 417). In opposition to Robinson and Wright, Michael E. Stone does not regard this passage as related to TAdam. Stone's opinion, however, seems to be formed on the basis of just half of the Transitus passage, the section concerning the Magi-tradition. He does not appear to deal with the other half that reproduces additional Prophecy material almost verbatim (Wright 1865b, 7; Robinson 1982, 12; 149-50; Stone 1992, 78, 85 note 6).

Various other versions of the Horarium are not connected with Adam or his testament. In one Armenian and six Greek manuscripts we find a late, modified form of the Horarium which is concerned with magic and talismans. In most cases it is attributed to Apollonius of Tyana and integrated into a larger work on magic and astrology called Apotelesmata (see "Greek Text" below). The Greek manuscript A of this version of the Horarium is presented here. The Horarium also appears in a Garshuni version of the Book of the Rolls, presented as one of the revelations Christ gives to Peter (Mingana 1931). This form of the Horarium is, again, not connected to Adam and must be distinguished from the TAdam found within the sections of the Cave of Treasures that are incorporated in the Book of the Rolls (see above). 

Finally, a collection of Ethiopic Falasha prayers or hymns of praise, collected by Joseph Halévy, includes one hymn related to the Horarium which lists the praises of all the creatures to God in the nine hours of the night (Halévy 1877). 

Judging from this complex history, TAdam seems to have had a relatively wide influence. As more such literature is examined, more forms and traces of this small text will doubtless be uncovered. 

Provenance and Cultural Setting

A Syriac Christian Document

Beginning with M. E. Renan, the Testament of Adam was long regarded by modern scholars as a Gnostic work, but both Reinink and Robinson have shown this view to be wrong. Robinson has argued that the Syriac recension 1 is likely the most ancient form of TAdam known to us, and he has furnished good evidence that the original language of both the Horarium and the Prophecy was Syriac (Robinson 1982, 137-42). If this is correct, the work in its present form most likely originated within the Christian communities of Syria.

Earlier Jewish Sources?

The question of earlier sources is closely related to the question of unity. Despite the various instances where we find traces of separate versions of the Horarium or the Prophecy (see "Versions" above), there is no clear evidence of an earlier independent version of either part. The redactional and compositional history of TAdam is difficult to untangle with any certainty, and the earliest manuscripts present a unified document. Still, the two parts are strikingly different in form, genre, and subject matter. Literary elements such as anachronisms in the Horarium (Adam speaking about priests in 1:7; 1:12; 2:10) further suggest that the Horarium and the Prophecy were once two separate documents, combined and adapted at some point by a redactor to produce the Christian work we know. 

The original Horarium would then likely have been a Jewish work, not necessarily related to the figure of Adam at all. Richard Bauckham has made the case that the Horarium originated in the second temple period (Bauckham, 2008). While Robinson prefers to regard the Prophecy as a heavily redacted Jewish composition (Robinson 1982, 159-160), John T. Fitzgerald believes that the Prophecy is so "Christianized" that it is best understood as a "Christian composition that draws strongly on Jewish traditions" (Fitzgerald 2009, 337). The Prophecy could also very well have been a Christian work from the beginning.


There is no consensus about the dating of TAdam. The earliest known manuscript is from the 9th century C.E. (Syriac A), and the combining of the Horarium and the Prophecy must have happened sometime before that. If the text of Transitus Mariae that Lewis edited is from the 5th century, as she was led to believe (Lewis 1902, x), this might be the earliest witness to TAdam, or at least to the Prophecy. In the Coptic Apocalypse of Elijah 3:1-8 (Wintermute 1983) a list of the antichrist's miracles is found which resembles the list of Jesus' miracles in TAdam 3:1. On this basis Robinson tentatively suggests that the Prophecy was composed in the third century C.E., and he dates the Horarium no later than that, though possibly earlier (Robinson 1982, 148-52; Robinson 1983, 990). John T. Fitzgerald believes that the Prophecy is "most likely dated to the 3rd century CE" (Fitzgerald 2009, 337). James Charlesworth believes that TAdam "evidences many features that suggest a date of composition in the late second century A.D.," but he only points specifically to the motif of Cain's jealousy over his sister (TAdam 3:5) as a possible expression of early Syrian asceticism (Charlesworth 1976, 92).

The Provenance of the Hierarchy

The Hierarchy, which appears in Syriac ms. C, has been only superficially adapted to fit TAdam. The speaker, supposed to be Adam speaking to Seth (see ms. C 3:1, 3:4, 3:5), addresses a plural ”beloved” (4:1) and refers to biblical events in past time. The general consensus is that, until further evidence is uncovered, its inclusion as part of TAdam should be treated as the work of the editor behind ms. C. The Hierarchy might well be a lightly redacted version of a Jewish angelology, possibly dating from the Second Temple period. The Christian additions may have involved nothing more than the interpolation of ”Jesus Christ” into 4:1 and 4:8 (see Robinson, 146-48, 159-60). The Hierarchy has sometimes been viewed as a reworking of the "Celestial Hierarchy" by pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, but Robinson believes that the similarity between the two texts has been "greatly exaggerated" (Robinson 1982, 143). Instead he points out the Hierarchy's similarity to the angelology in the Book of the Bee, chapter 5, by Solomon of Basra (13th century C.E.), and argues that the latter is dependent on the former (idem.). He believes that the Hierarchy represents an "independent tradition" of angelology which is also witnessed in the opening passage of the Cave of Treasures, in the New Testament (cf. Eph 1:12; Col 1:16), and in Jewish apocalyptic literature (Robinson 1982, 144; 79 note a). 


Major Themes

The different versions of the Testament of Adam focus on different motifs and themes (see "Versions" above). Here we focus on the themes of the document as it is found in the three Syriac recensions. Most of TAdam purports to be Seth’s written record of the things Adam told him before his death. This address is framed by Seth's own concluding remarks concerning the document itself (”this testament," 3:6) and his father's death and burial. 

Creation's Worship of God

The Horarium can be viewed as a systematic exposition of the biblical motif in which the creation praises its creator (Ps 145:21; 148:1-8; 150:6, etc.). In addition to the description of the cosmos and its creatures in Genesis 1, Psalm 148:1-8 in particular seems to have been an inspiration for this work. It is interesting to note how the demons have a place in the creation and have their own appointed hour for the praise of God (1:1; 2:10). This praise is also related to the heavenly liturgy. Adam explains how he witnessed the heavenly liturgy in Paradise, including the trishagion of the seraphim (1:4; cf. Isa 6:1-6). The roaring praises of the waters above, he says, prompted angelic hymns of praise (1:5; cf. Ezek 1:24). Adam also mentions the "priests of God" that perform various liturgical and healing acts during some of the hours (1:7, 12; 2:10; see also Robinson 1985).

Themes and Motifs in the Prophecy

In the Prophecy Adam relates to Seth the revelations he received from God while still in the Garden of Eden, including foreknowledge of the Flood and later eschatological events. This motif of special knowledge revealed to Adam and Seth was an integral part of Jewish tradition, visible in Josephus (Ant. 1.70) and in the wider Adam literature. The motif is also found in medieval chronicles of world history (including Cedrenus) as well as Islamic tradition, and it was a fundamental tenet for what has been termed Sethian Gnosticism.

The scene in which Adam (or Eve) delivers his last words to Seth is found in a number of different pseudepigraphal texts, often involving prophetic revelations, but rarely is a written document or a "testament" mentioned. The notion of Adam's testament did, however, become connected to the Christian tradition concerning the Magi (Klijn 1977, 53-60). Cedrenus also preserves a tradition according to which Seth had received revelations of his own concerning the Flood and the coming of "the Savior" (Bekker 1928, 16). This tradition is probably implicit in TAdam where Seth apparently already knows about the Flood (3:5) and knows that "God will come into the world" (3:1). What Adam does, then, is provide Seth with further information about the end of the world which will come 6000 years after the Flood, as well as about the incarnation, the Christ event and Adam's deification, etc. In all of this TAdam seems to represent an effort to expand the known tradition about Adam's revelations.

Women are highlighted in the Prophecy as the cause of conflict. The name Lebuda for the sister of Cain and Abel is found both in TAdam 3:5 and in the Syriac Cave of Treasures. In both texts Cain's jealousy over her relationship with Abel is the reason for his fratricide. In TAdam 3:5 sins are said to have been created "through" Eve. The Flood also happens "because of the daughters of Cain" (3:5), reflecting an interpretation of Gen 6:1-4 widely current in Syriac literature, including the Cave of Treasures, and reflected also in Cedrenus (Bekker 1928, 16-17). According to this tradition the "sons of God" (Gen 6:2, 4) are the sons of Seth who live piously on the high mountain just outside of Eden, while "the daughters of men" (Gen 6:1, 4) are the daughters of Cain who reside in the valleys below. 

Some elements in the Prophecy, such as the manner of Adam’s burial and the role of Seth, seem to relate this section to the primary Adam literature (the various interrelated versions of the story generally known as "the Life of Adam and Eve"). Theologically the Prophecy builds on many of the same themes such as God’s unique love for his creation Adam. This is the explicit motive behind God's special care for the first man and the future salvation of his posterity (humankind). In both sets of literature it is the bodily aspect of Adam's salvation that is emphazised, but in the Prophecy this focus is further sharpened through the notion of God's incarnation in "Adamic" form.

The Deification of Adam

One theme in particular stands out in the Prophecy: the deification of Adam, effected somehow by God’s incarnation, death and resurrection. God promises Adam that since ”you wanted to be God, I will make you God” (3:2; cf. Gen 3:5, 22). In effect, God becomes an Adam so that Adam may become God. The theme of Adam's eschatological exaltation is also found, more cryptically, in the primary Adam literature. There Adam is promised that he will once again be seated upon his throne, which in the meantime is occupied by Satan (Apoc. Mos. 39; L.A.E. 47). But in the Prophecy, especially the Syriac recension 1, Adam seems to take up the even more exalted position of the divine Christ, seated at the right hand of God. Apart perhaps from the Armenian Death of Adam, this image is found nowhere outside of TAdamStefan M. Kristensen has made the case that this apotheosis of Adam may be a paradigmatic expression of the idea of theosis so central in Eastern Christian theology (Kristensen 2015, 176-81). What might be implied, Kristensen argues, is that all of believing humanity (Adam's posterity, TAdam 3:3) will be given a seat in heaven following the Christ event (cf. Eph 2:6; Rev 3:21; also John 10:34). 

The Cave of Treasures

The Prophecy also mentions the "cave of treasures" known from several other Christian works such as the (appropriately titled) Cave of Treasures and the Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan. These other works describe how the cave is consecrated as a house of prayer for Adam and Eve. In it Adam places the gold, myrrh and frankincense that are eventually brought into Noah's ark by Shem, Ham and Japheth. After Adam's death the cave also functions as his temporary burial chamber until his dead body is brought into the ark and finally buried underneath Golgotha.

Except for the version found in the Arabic Transitus Mariae (see Enger 1854), the Prophecy does not depict the cave as Adam's tomb. In TAdam it is the testament, not Adam, which is placed in the cave along with the offerings of gold, myrrh and frankincense. The patriarch himself is buried "east of Paradise" (3:6), carried by angels and followed by cosmic darkness (cf. Apoc. Mos. 36; 40; L.A.E. 46; 48). 

Current State of the OCP Text

This OCP edition includes the complete text of the most important Syriac manuscript, edited by Peter Christensen (with Kasper Siegismund). It also includes two Greek witnesses edited by Ian Scott, Ken Penner, and Stefan Kristensen.

Syriac Text

The Syriac text presented here is that of BM Add. 14,624 (folios 8b–10a), also known as manuscript A. This manuscript (together with manuscript B) may represent the earliest extant form of TAdam. It is the oldest of all known Syriac manuscripts, dating to the early 9th century C.E., although its provenance is unknown. Manuscript A is written on parchment in the Estrangela script, with some letters written in the younger Serta script: particularly dalath, resh, and sometimes alaf. Occasionally, the diacritical marker distinguishing between ܕ and ܪ is missing as well. In this OCP edition the orthography has been regularized and presented entirely in Estrangela script.

Greek Text

The whole of two Greek witnesses are presented here: P. Cod. Gr. 2419 and the quotations in Cedrenus. The manuscript P. Cod. Gr. 2419, also labeled Greek manuscript A by James, was employed by Robinson as the base text for his fuller edition of the Greek tradition. The five other Greek manuscripts still wait to be encoded.

Other Versions

Apart from Syriac and Greek the work is also witnessed in Arabic, Garshuni, Ethiopic, Old Georgian and Armenian. None of these language versions are included yet in the OCP edition.


Syriac Text

The earliest form of the Testament of Adam is witnessed in eight manuscripts dating between the 9th and the 18th centuries C.E. The Syriac manuscripts are divided into three recensions based on content, chronology, writing system and arrangement of the four sections. (Note that the dating and alphabetic names for these manuscripts are all taken from S.E. Robinson's The Testament of Adam: An Examination of the Syriac and Greek Traditions. SBLDS 52; Chico, Ca.: Scholars Press, 1982.)

Recension 1

Recension 1 consists of the aforementioned Manuscript A (BM Add. 14,624 [folios 8b-10a]), dating to the early 9th century C.E., in addition to Manuscript B (Vat. Syr. 58) which is dated to the late 16th century. Manuscript A is written in the Estrangela script with some letters in Serta, while Manuscript B is written entirely in Serta. Both manuscripts contain the Horarium (Hours of the Night and Hours of the Day) and the Prophecy in that order. In spite of the chronological differences, these two mss are nearly identical in content.

Recension 2

Recension 2 consists of Manuscript C (Vat. Syr. 164), written in Nestorian script and dated to the early 18th century, and Manuscript D (BM Add 25,875), also written in Nestorian and dated to the early 18th century. Manuscript C contains the Horarium (only the Hours of the Night), the Prophecy and – as the sole witness – the Hierarchy. Manuscript D contains only the Prophecy.

Recension 3

Recension 3 consists of the following manuscripts: Manuscript E (Arund. Or. 53), written in Serta and dated to the 16th century, Manuscript F (Vat. Syr 159) written in Serta and dated to the 17th century, Manuscript G (Rylands 44) written in Nestorian and dated to the 15th century, and Manuscript H (BM Add 14,577) written in Estrangela and dated to the late 9th century. All manuscripts in Recension 3 contain the Horarium in the same order as the Greek versions, with the Hours of the Day first, followed by the Hours of the Night. Manuscripts E and H merely contain the Horarium. Manuscript F is the only one in Recension 3 that contains the Prophecy

Greek Text

The Greek version of TAdam comes to us in two independent forms, both of which contain only the Horarium. One of the forms is witnessed in six Greek manuscripts from the 15th to the 17th centuries C.E. as well as in one Armenian manuscript from the 18th century (Jerusalem Arm. Patr. 69; also see "Versions" above). In most cases the Greek version appears as part of a larger work on astrology and magic called Apotelesmata. Robinson argues that this Greek version is dependent upon the Syriac recension 3 because it preserves some of its errors and expansions relative to the Syriac recension 1, and it has the hours of the day before the hours of the night (Robinson 1982, 139-40; see also Bauckham 2008, 396). Michael E. Stone, on the other hand, argues that this magic form of the Horarium (like the similar Armenian version) is an independent reworking of common primary materials (Stone 1982, 52-54).

The other form of the Greek Horarium appears in one passage from Cedrenus. Here the 11th century chronicler lists the hours of the day in which prayers are sent up to heaven. Cedrenus mentions no testament, but he does attribute this modified Horarium to Adam as part of the revelations the first ancestor received from God. The similarities between these ideas and the Prophecy lead Stone to conclude that Cedrenus "possibly reflects an earlier form of the tradition than that preserved in Syriac" (Stone 1982, 47). Bauckham points out that Cedrenus' Horarium agrees with Syriac rec. 1 at the first hour of the day, which in his opinion casts doubt on Robinson's argument that the Horarium was first composed in Syriac (Bauckham 2008, 395-96). Although Cedrenus only lists the hours of the day, the chronicler tells us that both the hours of the day and the hours of the night had been revealed to Adam. An almost verbatim passage in George Syncellus (9th century) is likely the Vorlage for Cedrenus' Horarium, but unfortunately the text of Syncellus is damaged from the point where the listing of the hours would begin. 

The following is not a complete listing of manuscripts, but only lists the witnesses included so far in this OCP edition.

MS Label Full Name Source of Transcription
A (PCod.Gr.2419) Paris Codex Gr. 2419, folio 247b (15-16th C) M. R. James, "A Fragment of the Apocalypse of Adam in Greek," in Apocrypha Anecdota II (Texts & Studies 2.3; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893), 138-145.
Cedrenus Quotations in Cedrenus G. J. Reinink, "Das Problem des Ursprung des Testamentes Adams," Orientalia Christiana Analecta 197 (1972): 387-99


Print Editions

Syriac Text

Greek Text: Apotelesmata Version

Greek Text: Cedrenus Version

Arabic Text

Ethiopic Text


Armenian Text

Georgian Text

Selected Secondary Literature

For further bibliography see DiTommaso, Bibliography, 205-220.

The text transcribed in the OCP edition of the Testament of Adam is in the public domain. For further information about the re-use and re-publication of this or other OCP texts, click on the "Copyright" link under the "Help and Information" menu at top.