Though most readers will be much more familiar with the well-known masterpiece of Michelangelo showing Adam’s creation being effected by the fleetingly light touch of the index fingers of God and the reclining Adam, the version of the scene executed by Lorenzo Ghiberti above, which includes a firm handclasp whereby the Lord can raise Adam up on his feet, is more faithful to ancient Jewish and Christian tradition. In Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 2:7, the revered Jewish exegete connects the themes of creation and atonement to the idea of standing in God’s presence:
God took [Adam’s] dust from the place of [the temple altar, signifying His] wish that [Adam might] gain atonement, and that he may be able to stand.
In contrast to cattle, which Rashi said “do not stand to be judged” (in other words, are not held accountable for their actions), Jewish accounts of Adam’s creation specifically highlight his first experience after being filled with the breath of life: namely, the moment when God “stood him on his legs.” According to Avivah Zornberg, it is in the ability to stand in the presence of God that one specifically demonstrates the attainment of full “majesty and strength.”
Medieval artistic convention makes it clear that Christ was imagined by at least some Christians as raising the dead to eternal life by the same gesture that was used to create Adam and stand him on his feet in Ghiberti’s sculpture. Similarly, we note the Old Testament literary formula that nearly always follows descriptions of miraculous revivals from figurative or literal death with the observation that they “stood up upon their feet.”
More generally, in Christian iconography this gesture is used in scenes representing a transition from one state or place to another. For example, a depiction at the Church of San Marco in Venice shows God taking Adam by the wrist to bring him through the door of Paradise and to introduce him into the Garden of Eden. Another Christian scene shows God taking Adam by the wrist as he and Eve receive the commandment not to partake of the Tree of Knowledge. Likewise, scripture and pseudepigrapha describe how prophets such as Enoch, Abraham, Daniel, Ezra, and John are grasped by the hand of an angel and raised to a standing position in key moments of their heavenly visions.
Significantly, Jewish writings tell of how Adam lost the divine ability to stand through his taking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. For example, in an account that plays on the nuances of Hebrew terms for standing, we read:
Before the sin, Adam could “hear God speaking and stand on his legs… he could withstand it.” … In another midrash, God says, “Woe Adam! Could you not stand in your commandment for even one hour?
It is by being raised by the hand to the upright position that we are made ready to hear the word of the Lord. It is no mere coincidence that before heavenly messengers can perform their errands to Ezekiel, Daniel, Paul, Alma the Younger, and Nephi they must first command these seers to stand on their feet. As biblical scholar Robert Hayward has said: “You stand in the temple, you stand before the Lord, you pray standing up—you can’t approach God on all fours like an animal. If you can stand, you can serve God in His temple.” If you are stained with sin, you cannot stand in His presence.
Moses Falls to the Earth
With the context above in mind, we are ready to understand the significance of the “fall” and “raising” of Moses and Abraham.
Hugh Nibley describes what happened to Moses following his initial divine encounter:
As soon as we leave the Prologue in Heaven, we find [Moses] in the dark. The presence of God withdrew from Moses, and his glory was not on Moses. The lights go down. As he was left unto himself, he fell to the earth. Remember, Joseph Smith says, “I found myself lying on my back. … I had no strength.” It’s the same thing here. … So as the play opens we have Moses lying there in the dark and dreary world, all alone and out cold, the picture of helplessness; he has reached the bottom.
Consistent with Nibley’s description, the table above describes how both Moses and Abraham experienced a “fall to the earth” that left them vulnerable to the will of the Adversary. Abraham is reported as saying: “I … fell down upon the earth, for there was no longer strength in me,” closely resembling the description in Moses 1 where we are told that he “fell unto the earth” and lost his “natural strength.”
While modern readers might easily skim over the description of the fall and the raising of the two prophets, thinking it of little interest, it was clearly a significant event to the ancient illustrator, who found it important enough to include it among the six passages he highlighted with visual depictions. The drawing depicts Abraham being raised up out of sleep—or perhaps death—by the hand of Yaho’el, who, using the right hand, lifts him firmly by the wrist. The rays emanating from hand of God impart the spirit of life, recalling the creation of Adam, when God “breathed … the breath of life” into the first man, and he became “a living soul.”
Nibley describes what happens next:
As [Moses] begins to receive his natural strength, he pulls himself together and he says to himself this great truth, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” … He has seen what is up there, and he has seen what is down here. …
That’s the end of that act. A new scene is when a new character enters. Now, the play begins because you have to have an antagonist and a protagonist in a play. Now Satan enters the scene. Notice, when the hero is at his lowest, when he is the most helpless, that is the time that Stan strikes. … Satan does not play fair.
In the next Essay, we will describe how, in remarkably similar fashion, Moses and Abraham defeat Satan.
This article is adapted from Bradshaw, Jeffrey M., David J. Larsen, and Stephen T. Whitlock. “Moses 1 and the Apocalypse of Abraham: Twin sons of different mothers?” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 38 (2020): 179-290. https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/moses-1-and-the-apocalypse-of-abraham-twin-sons-of-different-mothers/.
Bradshaw, Jeffrey M. Creation, Fall, and the Story of Adam and Eve. 2014 Updated ed. In God’s Image and Likeness 1. Salt Lake City, UT: Eborn Books, 2014, pp. 51–52. https://archive.org/download/140123IGIL12014ReadingS.
———. “Standing in the Holy Place: Ancient and modern reverberations of an enigmatic New Testament prophecy.” In Ancient Temple Worship: Proceedings of the Expound Symposium, 14 May 2011, edited by Matthew B. Brown, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Stephen D. Ricks and John S. Thompson. Temple on Mount Zion 1, 71–142. Orem and Salt Lake City, UT: The Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books, 2014. https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/standing-in-the-holy-place-ancient-and-modern-reverberations-of-an-enigmatic-new-testament-prophecy/. http://www.templethemes.net/publications/04-Ancient%20Temple-Bradshaw.pdf.
———. “What did Joseph Smith know about modern temple ordinances by 1836?” In The Temple: Ancient and Restored. Proceedings of the 2014 Temple on Mount Zion Symposium, edited by Stephen D. Ricks and Donald W. Parry. Temple on Mount Zion 3, 1–144. Orem and Salt Lake City, UT: The Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books, 2016, pp. 16–33. http://www.jeffreymbradshaw.net/templethemes/publications/01-Bradshaw-TMZ%203.pdf.
———, David J. Larsen, and Stephen T. Whitlock. “Moses 1 and the Apocalypse of Abraham: Twin sons of different mothers?” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 38 (2020): 179-290. https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/moses-1-and-the-apocalypse-of-abraham-twin-sons-of-different-mothers/.
Draper, Richard D., S. Kent Brown, and Michael D. Rhodes. The Pearl of Great Price: A Verse-by-Verse Commentary. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2005, pp. 22–23.
Nibley, Hugh W. “To open the last dispensation: Moses chapter 1.” In Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless: Classic Essays of Hugh W. Nibley, edited by Truman G. Madsen, 1–20. Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1978, p. 8.
Nibley, Hugh W. 1986. Teachings of the Pearl of Great Price. Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), Brigham Young University, 2004, pp. 215–216.
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Bradshaw, Jeffrey M. Ancient and Modern Perspectives on the Book of Moses. In God’s Image and Likeness 1. Salt Lake City, UT: Eborn Publishing, 2010.
———. "The Ezekiel Mural at Dura Europos: A Witness of Ancient Jewish Mysteries?" BYU Studies 49, no. 1 (2010): 4-49. https://byustudies.byu.edu/article/the-ezekiel-mural-at-dura-europos-a-witness-of-ancient-jewish-mysteries/.
———. Temple Themes in the Book of Moses. Salt Lake City, UT: Eborn Publishing, 2010. https://archive.org/details/150904TempleThemesInTheBookOfMoses2014UpdatedEditionSReading.
———. "Standing in the Holy Place: Ancient and modern reverberations of an enigmatic New Testament prophecy." In Ancient Temple Worship: Proceedings of the Expound Symposium, 14 May 2011, edited by Matthew B. Brown, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Stephen D. Ricks and John S. Thompson. Temple on Mount Zion 1, 71-142. Orem and Salt Lake City, UT: The Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books, 2014. https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/standing-in-the-holy-place-ancient-and-modern-reverberations-of-an-enigmatic-new-testament-prophecy/. http://www.templethemes.net/publications/04-Ancient%20Temple-Bradshaw.pdf.
———. "What did Joseph Smith know about modern temple ordinances by 1836?”." In The Temple: Ancient and Restored. Proceedings of the 2014 Temple on Mount Zion Symposium, edited by Stephen D. Ricks and Donald W. Parry. Temple on Mount Zion 3, 1-144. Orem and Salt Lake City, UT: The Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books, 2016. http://www.jeffreymbradshaw.net/templethemes/publications/01-Bradshaw-TMZ%203.pdf.
Freedman, H., and Maurice Simon, eds. 1939. Midrash Rabbah 3rd ed. 10 vols. London, England: Soncino Press, 1983.
Goldin, Judah, ed. 1955. The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan. Yale Judaica Series 10. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983.
Hachlili, Rachel. Ancient Jewish Art and Archaeology in the Diaspora. Handbook of Oriental Studies. Section 1 The Near and Middle East 35. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1998. https://books.google.com/books?id=cKGpa-FJ3XsC. (accessed October 30, 2019).
Hayward, Robert. "An Aramaic paradise: Adam and the Garden in the Jewish Aramaic translations of Genesis." Presented at the Temple Studies Group Symposium IV: The Paradisiac Temple—From First Adam to Last, Temple Church, London, England, November 6, 2010.
Kraeling, Carl H., C. C. Torrey, C. B. Welles, and B. Geiger. The Synagogue. The Excavations at Dura-Europos Conducted by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters: Final Report VIII, Part I. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1956.
Kulik, Alexander. Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: Toward the Original of the Apocalypse of Abraham. Text-Critical Studies 3, ed. James R. Adair, Jr. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004.
L’Orange, H. P. 1953. Studies on the Iconography of Cosmic Kingship in the Ancient World. Oslo, Norway: Instituttet for Sammenlignende Kulturforskning and H. Aschehoug, 1982. Reprint, New Rochelle, NY: Caratzas Brothers. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.105206/page/n5/mode/2up. (accessed April 26, 2020).
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Lindsay, Jeffrey Dean. "“Arise from the Dust”: Insights from Dust-Related Themes in the Book of Mormon. Part 1: Tracks from the Book of Moses." Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 22 (2016): 179-232. https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/jnlpdf/lindsay-v22-2016-pp179-232-PDF.pdf. (accessed August 7, 2019).
———. Personal Communication to Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, August 5, 2019.
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———. 1986. Teachings of the Pearl of Great Price. Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), Brigham Young University, 2004.
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Novickij (Novitskii, Novitsky), P. P., ed. Откровение Авраама (Otkrovenīe Avraama [Apocalypse of Abraham]) (Facsimile edition of Silʹvestrovskiĭ sbornik [Codex Sylvester]). Reproduced from RGADA (Russian State Archive of Early Acts, formerly TsGADA SSSR = Central State Archive of Early Acts), folder 381, Printer’s Library, no. 53, folios 164v-186. Общество любителей древней письменности (Obščestvo Li︠u︡biteleĭ Drevneĭ Pis’mennosti [Society of Lovers of Ancient Literature]), Izdaniia (Editions) series, (= OLDP edition, 99:2). St. Petersburg, Russia: Tipo-Lit. A. F. Markova, 1891. Reprint, Leningrad, Russia, 1967. http://www.marquette.edu/maqom/spart1.pdf, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924028567927&view=1up&seq=1. (accessed December 3, 2019).
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Notes on Figures
Figure 1. Public Domain. https://arthive.com/artists/3821~Lorenzo_Ghiberti/works/198490~The_creation_of_Adam_and_eve (accessed June 18, 2020).
Figure 2. Public domain. https://combonianum.org/2013/04/03/fp-francais-52013-2/ (accessed June 18, 2020). Note that Jesus is depicted as having two right hands. As evidence that this is not a simple error on the part of the illustrator, we note that both Jewish midrash and the art of Dura Europos depict God protecting Israel with two right hands (see C. H. Kraeling, et al., Synagogue, p. 83 n. 251. Cf. H. Freedman, et al., Midrash, Exodus, 22:2, p. 276; R. Hachlili, Ancient Jewish Art, p. 145).
Figure 3. Copyright Stephen T. Whitlock.
Figures 4. Copyright Jeffrey M. Bradshaw.
Figure 5. Photographs of the originals of the illustrations are from Otkrovenie Avraama (Apocalypse of Abraham or ApAb), which comprises pages 328–375 of the Codex Sylvester. The Codex Sylvester, “the oldest and the only independent manuscript containing the full text of ApAb” (A. Kulik, Retroverting, p. 3), is known to scholars as manuscript “S.” It is the only illustrated manuscript of ApAb. Photographs of the illustrations from the original manuscript are published in this article for the first time with the kind permission of the Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv drevnikh aktov (RGADA — Russian State Archive of Early Acts, formerly TsGADA SSSR = Central State Archive of Early Acts) in Moscow. We express our sincere gratitude to Evgeniy Rychalovskiy, Head of the Publication Department and Vladislav Rzheutsky of the German Historical Institute in Moscow, for their assistance on 4 and 6 December 2019. Within the RGADA collection, the Codex Sylvester is catalogued as folder 381, Printer’s Library, no. 53, folios 164v-186. The six illustrations can be found in these folios: 182v, 174, 172v, 170v, 168b v, and 168a.
Photographs of the illustrations from a rare printed copy of the first facsimile edition (1891) were taken on 26 April 2009 and are © Stephen T. Whitlock and Jeffrey M. Bradshaw. We express our special thanks to Carole Menzies and Jennifer Griffiths who facilitated our access to the facsimiles for filming purposes in the Taylor Bodleian Slavonic and Modern Greek Library, Oxford University, Oxford, England. The facsimile edition was originally published as N. Novickij (Novitskii, P. P., Otkrovenie Avraama and later as a reprint. Whitlock’s Image IDs are as follows: ApAb-OX10, ApAb-OX19, ApAb-OX20, ApAb-OX26, ApAb-OX30, ApAb-OX33, ApAb-OX50. For this article, the photos have been enhanced digitally for readability and size consistency, and a colored mask has been added to the backgrounds of all photos except ApAb-OX10.
Alma the Younger experienced a fall and a figurative death when he and his companions were visited by an angel, and a rebirth three days later when his mouth was opened and he was again able to stand on his feet: “I fell to the earth; and it was for the space of three days and three nights that I could not open my mouth, neither had I the use of my limbs… But behold my limbs did receive their strength again, and I stood upon my feet, and did manifest unto the people that I had been born of God” (Alma 36:10, 23; cf. King Lamoni and his people in Alma 18:42–43, 19:1–34).
Falling in weakness after a vision of God is a common motif in scripture. Daniel reported that he “fainted, and was sick certain days,” and of a second occasion he wrote: “I was left alone… and there remained no strength in me… and when I heard the voice of his words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground” (Daniel 8:26; 10:8–9). Saul “fell to the earth” during his vision and remained blind until healed by Ananias (Acts 9:4, 17-18). Lehi “cast himself on his bed, being overcome with the Spirit” (1 Nephi 1:7). Of his weakness following the First Vision, Joseph Smith wrote: “When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength…” (JS-H 1:20). See also discussion of A. Kulik, Retroverting Apocalypse of Abraham 10:1-4, p. 17 below.
As I was speaking these words, behold the angel who had come to me at first came to me, and he looked upon me,; and behold I lay there like a corpse and I was deprived of my understanding. Then he grasped my right hand and strengthened me and set me on my feet, and said to me, “What is the matter with you? And why are your troubled? And why are your understanding and the thoughts of your mind troubled?”
I said, “Because you have forsaken me! I did as you directed, and went out into the field, and behold, I saw, and still see, what I am unable to explain.”
He said unto me, “Stand up like a man, and I will instruct you.”
The seer must be rehabilitated and accepted into the divine presence before he can receive his commission. Restoration by an angel becomes a typical feature in visions, where, however, it is the angel whose appearance causes the collapse.
See also Joshua 7:6, 10–13:
6 ¶ And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads .… 10 ¶ And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? 11 Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff. 12 Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you. 13 Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow: for thus saith the Lord God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you.
The expressions “loose the bands of Hades” and “him who stareth at the dead” signify the nature of the deliverance and are both typically Egyptian, the latter of which Box finds quite bizarre. Facsimile 1 is a very proper illustration to the story.
In a personal communication, Jeff Lindsay noted that arising from the dust in this fashion “can refer to entering into a covenant relationship, receiving life, reigning power, authority, and resurrection” (J. D. Lindsay, August 5 2019. Cf. J. D. Lindsay, Arise, Part 1). See J. M. Bradshaw, What Did Joseph Smith Know, pp. 18–33 for a discussion of the handclasp and the embrace in the context of ritual and heavenly ascent.