2020-12-17

The Gospel of Mark’s Jesus as the New Adam

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by Neil Godfrey

When we began Nanine Charbonnel’s [NC] discussion of the various Old Testament figures being epitomized in Jesus we had only two references to Adam, both in Paul’s writings (Rom 5:17-19 and 1 Cor 15:45-49). (The same post also introduced NC background discussions on the Adam figure per Paul Ricoeur and Philo of Alexandria.) A commenter rightfully asked if those citations could be used as evidence of a more general idea among early Christians. That was when I recalled discussions about the Gospel of Mark’s portrayal of Jesus as a New Adam in the wilderness “with the wild beasts and angels ministering to him”. Not everyone is convinced that that wilderness image of Jesus in Mark’s gospel was intended as a pointer to Jesus being a New Adam, so in this post I will share more detailed discussion on Adam typology throughout the Gospel of Mark.

But first, here is an interesting (and related) perspective on John the Baptist in the Gospel of Mark:

Joseph and Asenath 16:8, 14 The bees of the Paradise of Delight [i.e. the Garden of Eden (cp. the LXX at e.g. Gen iii.23 and Ezek. xxxi.9) have made this honey, and the angels of God eat of it, and no one who eats of it shall ever die. . . . And all the bees flew in circles round Aseneth, from her feet right up to her head; and yet more bees, as big as queens, settled on Aseneth’s lips. 

Even apart from these Elijan connections, the description of John the Baptist has a strongly eschatological flavor. His garment of camel hair, his leather belt, and his food of wild honey lend him a certain primal, back-to-the-earth quality, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden narrative and Jewish elaborations thereof. The hair garment and leather belt, for example, recall Gen 3:21 LXX, in which God clothes Adam and Eve with leather tunics (chitōnas dermatinous), and the honey is reminiscent of Joseph and Asenath 16:14(8), where Aseneth eats a honeycomb made by the bees of the Garden of Eden; several later Jewish legends, moreover, describe a river of honey in Eden (see Ginzberg, 5.29 n. 79). These Edenic features anticipate Mark 1:13, where Jesus is with the wild animals in the wilderness, a scene that also recalls Eden (cf. Drury, “Mark 1.1-15,” 31). In both passages the reminiscence of Eden looks forward to the eschaton, since the end-time will be, in a sense, a return to paradise, when the “natural” world was all that existed. Even some non-Jewish readers might have picked up this hint; Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue 30, for example, mentions miraculous provision of honey as a feature of the coming Golden Age. (Marcus, 1, 157)

Following up the suggestions of Adam intertextuality in the Gospel of Mark has led to an overabundance of resources. Many posts could be written to cover all of the hints and nuances. Instead, I follow primarily key points in the commentary by Joel Marcus and some of his references.

Joel Marcus explains why Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness is based primarily on Adam typology:

NOTE on “were serving”: Gk diëkonoun. On its most concrete level, diakonein describes the waiter’s task of supplying someone with food and drink, though the word then comes to mean “to serve” generally and becomes particularly important in this transferred sense in early Christianity . . . . In our passage, however, the concrete meaning is to be preferred; it makes sense in the context, corresponds to 1:31, and coheres with the Adamic typology that can be observed throughout the narrative, since a Jewish legend depicts “ministering angels” . . . preparing food and drink for Adam in Eden (b. Sanh. 59b). Diakonein can also, like Heb ‘bd, mean “worship” (see e.g. Josephus Ant. 7.365), and this may be a secondary nuance in our passage, in view of the legend in which Adam is worshiped by angels . . .

After being driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, Jesus spends forty days there—like Elijah, who was also sustained by an angel’s provision of food (1 Kgs 19:5-8; cf. 1 Kgs 17:5-6). But the primary biblical model for our passage’s portrait of Jesus is not Elijah but Adam (cf. Mahnke, Versuchungsgeschichte, 28-38, and Mell, “Jesu Taufe”). Adam was tested by God’s adversary, the snake, who in later Jewish interpretation became Satan (see e.g. Apoc. Mos. 17:4). Adam, moreover, lived at peace with the wild animals before the Fall (Gen 2:19-20), and according to a Jewish legend, his meals were catered by angels—catering being one of the nuances of diêkonoun (“were serving”) in 1:13 (see the NOTE on “were serving” in 1:13). The motif of forty days also appears in an influential pseudepigraphal account of the Fall (Adam and Eve 6). In this same account, which probably reflects a widespread tradition (see G. Anderson, “Exaltation”), Adam is raised by God to a preeminent position, opposed out of jealousy by Satan, and worshipped by the other angels (Adam and Eve 12-15). Similarly, in Mark 1:9-13 Jesus is proclaimed or even installed as God’s son, combated by Satan, and worshiped by angels, if diêkonoun is given one of its alternate meanings (see the NOTE on “were serving” in 1:13). This interpretation has the advantages of linking our passage with the previous one and of providing a motivation for Satan’s hostility to Jesus, namely jealousy. And it fits in with the Markan prologue’s general emphasis on new creation . . .  (Marcus, 1, 169)

Adam and Eve, 4 (angel food)

Walking about, they searched for many days but did not find anything like they had in paradise. They only found what animals eat. Adam said to Eve: “The Lord gave these things to animals and beasts to eat. Ours, however was the angelic food.

Adam and Eve, 6 (forty days fasting)

Adam said to Eve: “. . . I will do forty days of fasting. You, however, arise and go to the Tigris River and take a stone and stand upon it in the water up to your neck in the depth of the river. Let not a word go forth from your mouth since we are unworthy to ask of the Lord for our lips are unclean from the illicit and forbidden tree. Stand in the water of the river for thirty-seven days. I however, will do forty days in the water of the Jordan. Perhaps the Lord will have mercy on us.”

Adam and Eve, 12-15 (Satan tests; angels worship)

Groaning, the Devil said: “O Adam, all my enmity, jealousy, and resentment is towards you, since on account of you I was expelled and alienated from my glory, which I had in heaven in the midst of the angels. On account of you I was cast out upon the earth.”

Adam answered: “What have I done to you? . . . 

The Devil answered: “Adam what are you saying to me? On account of you I was cast out from heaven. When you were formed, I was cast out from the face of God and was sent forth from the company of the angels. When God blew into you the breath of life and your countenance and likeness were made in the image of God . . . .

Having gone forth Michael called all the angels saying: ‘Worship the image of the Lord God, just as the Lord God has commanded.’ Michael himself worshipped first then he called me and said: ‘Worship the image of God Jehovah.’ I answered: ‘I do not have it within me to worship Adam.’ When Michael compelled me to worship, I said to him: ‘Why do you compel me? I will not worship him who is lower and posterior to me. I am prior to that creature. Before he was made, I had already been made. He ought to worship me.’

Hearing this, other angels who were under me were unwilling to worship him.

Michael said: ‘Worship the image of God. If you do not worship, the Lord God will grow angry with you.’
I said: ‘If he grows angry with me, I will place my seat above the stars of heaven and I will be like the Most High.’

The Dove

Even the dove is an image from the beginning of creation, according to Philo. Philo interpreted the two doves offered as a sacrifice by Abraham (Gen 15) as symbols of wisdom: one was God’s wisdom, the other was the image of God’s wisdom planted in Adam and humanity, so in one sense both representing the one wisdom. Wisdom, we know from the early Jewish writings (Proverbs 8; Wisdom 7), was present at the beginning of creation. The dove may be another sign that the Gospel of Mark opens with the image of Jesus as the beginning of a new creation.

Wild beasts

The Testament of Naphtali 2:26

If ye work that which is good, my children, both men and angels shall bless you; and God shall be glorified among the Gentiles through you, and the devil shall flee from you, and the wild beasts shall fear you, and the Lord shall love you, and the angels shall cleave to you, and the Lord shall love you, and the angels shall cleave to you.

Not forgetting, of course, the creation account where God made the animals and brought them to Adam.

Preaching the Kingdom of God 

According to Joel Marcus we do not even step outside the Adam associations when Jesus leaves the wilderness to begin preaching the coming kingdom of God, for in one version of the Apocalypse of Moses we see that the coming kingdom is about the replacement of Satan with the rule of Adam:

But the Lord God having looked, beheld the body of Adam lying just as it was on the earth. He was much distressed in his love of man, and he said: ” O Adam, wherefore hast thou done this, for if thou hadst kept my commandment, which I gave to thee, they would not be rejoicing who have brought thee into yonder place of thine? But now I say to thee, that when my salvation shall be manifested to the world, I will turn their rejoicing into sorrow; but thy sorrow I will turn into rejoicing. For I will restore thee unto thy primal glory, and seat thee on a throne of thy deceiver. And he shall come to that place, wherein thou art now lying, and he shall behold thee become higher than himself. And then he himself shall be judged and all his worshippers. And I send him into the gehenna of fire. And he shall be much affrighted and will sorrow, beholding thee sitting on his throne.” (39:1-3)

Son of Man

Recall the first sabbath controversy in the Gospel of Mark, 2:27. “The sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath” — another return to the creation account of Genesis.

The Transfiguration

There is an easily overlooked but significant difference between Mark’s account of the Transfiguration and Matthew’s and Luke’s. The latter two speak of Jesus’ face shining in glory as did Moses’. Mark says that only Jesus’ clothes shone, not his face. Here again we find ourselves in Adam typology.

But the parallel with Moses in this part of the transfiguration narrative is only partial, since Mark, unlike Matthew and Luke, does not describe Jesus’ face but only his clothing as radiant. This celestially bright clothing is less evocative of Moses than it is of Adam, whose likeness the Markan Jesus frequently bears . . . . Adam’s “garments of glory” (mentioned, e.g., in the Targums on Gen 3:21) were the subject of immense interest among Jews and Christians in this period; among those speculations was the belief that the Messiah would recover the glorious Adamic raiment at the eschaton. Jesus’ “flashy” clothing is also reminiscent of the dress of kings on important occasions, including enthronements . . . . Jesus’ dazzling apparel, then, is a pictorial code suggesting his status as the new Adam and King Messiah on the way to enthronement. (Marcus, 2, 636)

From the beginning of creation

But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female. . . . (Mark 10:6)

For the Markan Jesus, however, the situation that prevailed “from the beginning of the creation” is the standard to which everything, including the Torah, must conform . . . . A similar belief has been invoked, in Jewish and Christian history, to justify practices as diverse as vegetarianism (see Gen 1:29), nudism (see Gen 2:25), and social and sexual equality (see Gen 2:18; 3:16). Some rabbinic traditions, for example, acknowledge that until the time of the flood (cf. Gen 9:3), humanity was vegetarian (see, e.g., b. Sank. 59b), and it may be that the Jewish ascetics who abstained from meat and wine in the wake of the Second Temple’s destruction (see t. Sotah 15:11) and the vegetarian and water-drinking Jewish Christians (see Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.1.3; Epiphanius, Panarion 30.3.7; 30.14.3) were partly inspired by apocalyptic hopes for a return to paradise (wine was not cultivated until after the Fall according to Gen 9:20-21). In the patristic period, similarly, Christian sectarians known as Adamites called their church Paradise, condemned marriage as foreign to Eden, and worshiped in the nude (see Epiphanius, Panarion 52; Augustine, Heresies 31; cf. “Adamites”). (Marcus, 2, 702 f)

The Lord said to my Lord

In Mark 12:

35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’

37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

The large crowd listened to him with delight.

Joel Marcus: https://divinity.duke.edu/faculty/joel-marcus

Joel Marcus:

This Adamic nuance comes to the fore through the conflation of Ps 110:1 with Ps 8:6 . . . ; the latter is, in origin and interpretation, an allusion to Adam as the divinely endowed sovereign of creation (see G. Anderson, “Exaltation”). Jesus, then, is not just a new David but a new Adam, and as such he has power not merely over human adversaries but also over demonic powers of cosmic scope . . . —including the last enemy of all, death (cf. 1 Cor 15:21-28). The Markan Jesus has foreshadowed this Adamic sovereignty in his exorcisms throughout the Gospel, and he will conclusively prove it at the Gospel’s end, when he is exalted to God’s right hand through the resurrection—the definitive sign of a new creation.

In line with these hints about a renovation of the universe, it is fitting that the passage concludes with the editorial notice that the large crowd heard Jesus gladly (12:37c). Joy breaks forth when the Markan Jesus alludes to the new creation, as joy broke forth when God created the old one (cf. Gen 2:23; Job 38:7). (Marcus, 2, 851)

Where are you? Are you sleeping?

In Gethsemane Jesus catches the disciples sleeping. His question, Simon, are you sleeping? (14:37) is laden with eschatological significance, coming as it does soon after Jesus’ warning in the prophecy of the end-time (Mark 13) to not fall asleep. More,

Jesus’ question to Peter, therefore, contains a double entendre similar to that of God’s “Where are you?” to Adam in Gen 3:9. It is not only a question about where Peter stands physically—in a state of physical wakefulness or slumber—but also one about where he is situated in relation to the tremendous collision of ages that will soon occur in Jesus’ death and resurrection. (Marcus, 2, 988)

There is scope for much more. But these are highlights of the Adam inferences in the Gospel of Mark.


Marcus, Joel. Mark 1-8. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 27. The Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1999.

———. Mark 8-16. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 27A. The Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.


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10 thoughts on “The Gospel of Mark’s Jesus as the New Adam”

  1. Adam was tested by God’s adversary, the snake, who in later Jewish interpretation became Satan

    In particular, the temptation episode in the wilderness assumes already the existence of rival Gnostic propaganda, insofar:

    When the devil promises to Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth, that he gives to whom he wants, in exchange for an act of worship that would be an acknowledgment of his claim to be the only God, the author of the story gives himself the malicious pleasure of making oppose against him by Jesus a precept of his own Law enacted in his favor: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Mt 4:10, Lk 4: 8 = Deut 6:13)
    (Jean Magne, La naissance de Jésus-Christ, p. 22, my free translation)

      1. Effectively, I am not able. But the contrary is also true. Why all that obsessive emphasis on an already known ‘fact’ (the uniqueness of YHWH in Judaism), unless his supremacy was going to be challenged by another (supreme) god ?

        1. It seems to me you are missing the point of what is being promoted in the early Christian writings. It is hardly some “obsessive emphasis on the uniqueness of Yahweh” — far from it. That would be a pointless exercise.

  2. It is absolutely hilarious to read Satan or some devil into the Book of Genesis. Neither the scrolls of Qumran nor Philo nor Flavius Josephus commits this abstrusity, only some late (post-second temple) manipulators do.

    Nothing short of an early antithesis to Judaism can explain such an evolution, as well as the nonsense of the clothes of Adam and Eve in paradise which is found in post second temple writings.

    1. Why refer to post second temple authors as “manipulators” and creators of “abstrusities”? Were the gospels themselves not post second temple writings?

      Are not post second temple writings as much a part of a Judean culture as those of the second temple? Was not Judaism a creation of late antiquity? So why infer an anti-Judaism bias here?

  3. All works of the New Testament are that late and depend vitally on those deviations.

    The point is that the motivation for the manipulations must logically predate the manipulations and thus predate the received works of the New Testament.

    Jews would not deviate from the text of the Thorah for fun, so there must be a strong cause. The necessity to counter statements of people using the words of Genesis blasphemically against the Jewish God would constitute such a situation. And so it turns out that many statements made by what Giuseppe calls rival sects contain accusations against the Jewish god which do motivate deviations from the Thorah to come to the defense of their deity. So even if the rival sects known in patristic literature postdate one or the other work of the New Testament, certain statements have been made prior to the New Testament and already troubled the Tannaim in a way that they needed to intervene for the defense of their god.

    An example is the Targuma of Pseudo-Jonathach is replete with deviations that can be justified as defense against statement found in the patristic writings and Nag Hammadi.

    1. Well we know that even second temple Jews did indeed “deviate” from the straightforward Genesis account, and presumably they did so for more than mere “fun”.

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