The Talmud is a collection of ancient writings by Jewish rabbis which relate to the Hebrew Scriptures. It has been described as “a work wherein is deposited the bulk of the literary labours of numerous Jewish scholars over a period of some 700 years [from 200 BC to AD 500]”.
Thus it is the oldest Bible commentary in existence. There is, however, a very wide range of views held between the different rabbis. According to Abraham Cohen in Everyman’s Talmud, “Usually we are faced with a variety of views which are often contradictory, and it is by no means easy to achieve a coherent presentation of a doctrine.”
How did those learned ancient men view the biblical account of creation? Did they take the Scriptures literally? Or did they absorb evolutionary views from their Greek neighbours?
To the question, ‘Why does the story of creation begin with the letter beth?’, the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the Talmud’s answer is given: “In the same manner that the letter beth is closed on all sides and only open in front, similarly you are not permitted to inquire into what is before, or what was behind, but only from the actual time of Creation.” That is to say “time is meaningless as far as God is concerned and did not exist until He created the world”.
Was Adam one man?
Did any of the ancient rabbis believe that ‘Adam was a crowd’? Apparently not. Cohen says that a curious explanation is given in the Talmud as to why the whole human race originated from one man: “Because of the righteous and the wicked, that the righteous should not say ‘we are the descendants of a righteous ancestor’ and the wicked say ‘we are the descendants of a wicked ancestor’.” The moral is that “neither can plead hereditary influence as the deciding factor in their character”. “Man was first created a single individual to teach the lesson that whoever destroys one life, Scripture ascribes it to him as though he had destroyed a whole world; and whoever saves one life, Scripture ascribes it to him as though he had saved a whole world.”
Eve made from Adam’s rib
The story is told that an emperor said to a rabbi that his God was a thief, because he took a rib from Adam. The rabbi’s daughter made an excellent reply. She told him a story about a thief breaking into her house, stealing a silver ewer and leaving behind a gold ewer instead. When the emperor expressed envy at such a robbery, she replied, “Was it not, then, a splendid thing for the first man when a single rib was taken from him and a woman to care for him was supplied in its stead?”