Sammael in The Pirkve de Rabbi Eleizer
For a pseudepigraphal work the PRE enjoyed a considerable readership . The book was reputedly written by Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyraknos, who lived in the latter half of the first century and the early part of the second century. Known for his wisdom, scholarship and piety, Rabbi Eliezer was nevertheless excommunicated . The work has an astonishing range and is probably a redaction of several different sources. It is first quoted in 850 CE, but the material in it probably dates much earlier .
Sammael is a key figure in the PRE . He appears over a dozen times, often at critical moments in the history of Israel. In the PRE he is introduced as the “great prince in heaven,” and while the Chajjoth had four wings, and the Seraphim had six wings, “Sammael had twelve wings” [PRE, 92]. Here, at least, Sammael’s identity and stature are not fully fleshed out. His exalted status is implied by his having twelve wings, in contrast to the Chajjoth and Seraphim. Sammael descends from heaven with his “band” [PRE, 92] and surveys all of the creation of God. He finds that none is so skilled to do evil than the serpent. The serpent’s appearance was “something like that of a camel” [PRE,92] and Sammael mounted and rode it. The pre-existent Torah then questions Sammael asking why he is rebelling against God. Subsequent to this, the PRE provides two parables to illustrate the relationship between the serpent and Sammael [PRE, 92-3]. The PRE then follows the Genesis account with some variations: Sammael confirms, through his mouthpiece the serpent, that God told Eve that if she touches the tree in the center of the garden she will die. The serpent touches the tree, and when Eve sees that he continues to live, she touches it as well. She immediately sees the angel of death approaching her, and fearing that she will die and God will make another woman for Adam, she convinces Adam to eat the fruit as well so: “if we shall die, we shall both die, and if we shall if we shall live, we shall both live.” After God curses the first couple, he “cast down Sammael and his troops from their holy place in heaven,” and here Sammael drops out of the narrative of PRE for some time [PRE,99].
We pick him up again in Chapter 21. This chapter opens with a quote from Genesis 3:3: “But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden,” and a reference to a Tannaitic tradition not found in the Mishnah:
Rabbi Ze’era said: Of the fruit of the tree – here “tree” only means man who is compared to the tree, as it is said “For man is the tree of the field” (Deut 20:19). “Which is in the midst of the garden” is here only a euphemism. “For which is in the midst of the garden” – “for garden” means here only a woman, who is compared to a garden, as it is said “A garden shut up is my sister, bride” (Song of Songs 4:12). Just as with this garden whatever is sown therein, it produces and brings forth, so with this woman, what seed she receives, she conceives and bears, through sexual intercourse [PRE,150].
This short introduction to chapter 21 is a mixture of allegory and interpretation concerning the status of sexuality immediately following the expulsion from Eden. Here, Adam is allegorized as a tree, with phallic connotations, and Eve is allegorized as the Garden, with the “midst of the garden” or middle of the garden, alluding to her genitals. We might expect, after this that Adam and Eve would procreate. But after this set up, Sammael appears to enter the scene again “riding on the serpent came to her, and she conceived.” . In the next sentence, “Adam came to her, and she conceived Abel, as it is said And Adam knew Eve his wife.” The text then asks “What is the meaning of “knew?” Rather than what we may expect, that Genesis is referring here to sexual intercourse, the PRE explains that “(Adam) knew the she had conceived.” Adam, it seems, is aware that Eve has conceived through Sammael and wished to have a child as well. When Cain is born, Eve saw that his appearance was not “of the earthly beings, but of the heavenly beings, and she prophesied and said I have gotton a man from the Lord” [PRE,151].
Once more, Sammael enters the narrative of the PRE and becomes a central figure in human history. He is the mastermind behind Adam and Eve’s stumble in the garden, and even the serpent is merely his unwitting instrument. Sammael jettisoned the first couple out of the garden, and is toppled from the heavenly sphere as punishment. Now, he tampers with human procreation. Riding the serpent, he impregnates Eve with Cain. In response, it seems, Adam has sex with her, and she bears Abel. Abel is fully human, while Cain bears the markings of his heavenly origins. The text goes on to suggest that Cain and Abel, although they have different fathers, are twins, i.e. were conceived and then bore at the same time [PRE,152]. To add to these complexities, also born with them are twin sisters.
Cain is a man who loved to till the ground, while Abel tended to flocks. The PRE tells the familiar story from Genesis: Cain’s offering is not accepted to God, while Abel’s is; but expansion occurs here, and two sources are cited to prove that it was not merely God’s rejection of Cain’s offering that enraged him. It was also sexual jealousy over Abel’s wife. In support of this, the text allegorizes Genesis 4:8: “And it came to pass when they were in the field,” PRE explains: “In the field, means woman, who is compared to a field,” and then Cain slays Abel with a stone. The offspring of Sammael and Eve kills the first naturally born human being. Sexual jealousy lies at the heart of this murder [PRE,155]. Sammael’s son has a genetic resemblance to his father. Just as Sammael was jealous of God and humanity, so is Cain jealous of Abel’s offering, and more importantly, sexually jealous of his brother’s wife.
Elsewhere in the PRE Sammael also plays the role of jealous spoiler. In a discussion of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, Sammael once again plays off the gullibility of a woman to upset the course of events:
When Abraham returned from Mount Moriah in peace, the anger of Sammael was kindled, for he was that the desire of his heart to frustrate the offering of our father Abraham had not been realized. What did he do? He went and said to Sara: Hast though not heard what has happened in the world? She said to him: No. He said to her: Thy husband, Abraham, has taken thy son Isaac and slain him and offered him up as a whole burnt offering upon an altar. She began to weep and cry aloud three times… and her soul fled, and she died. [PRE,234]
Sammael’s incessant need to tamper with human affairs causes Sarah to die prematurely. Sammael also attempts to distract the ram that is intended to be offered instead of Isaac [PRE,228]. Sammael makes a few other appearances in the PRE. He enters the golden calf after Aaron has constructed it, and moos to mislead Israel [PRE,355]. In a chapter dealing with Moses revelation on Mount, we learn that Sammael was conferred vast powers:
Sammael said before the Holy One…Thou has given me power over all the nations of the world, but over Israel Thou hast not given me power. He answered him, saying : Behold, thou hast power over them on the Day of Atonement if they have any sin, but if not, thou hast no power over them. [PRE,263]
Although Sammael appears relatively infrequently in the PRE, when he does his actions are telling of his importance. In chronology, he first and foremost acts as the spoiler of God’s creation, particularly his crowning achievement, humanity. Evil is introduced into the world from Sammael’s impregnation of Eve. This race of half-human and half-divine beings are out of place on the earth, and continue to practice evil ways and influence humanity for the worse. Seth was the only legitimate offspring of Adam and Eve: “From Seth arose and were descended all the generation of the righteous” [PRE,158], while from Cain “arose and descended all the generations of the wicked who rebel and sin [PRE,158]. The PRE goes into extraordinary detail about the moral habits of these Cainites. The men and woman went about stark naked “like beasts” [PRE,159] and they sexually defiled themselves in all manner of ways, in all types of sexual unions, and out in the public, for all to see [PRE,159]. God begin to regret creating humanity, their iniquity is so great. And matters get worse. The sons of God האלהים בני who fell from heaven in Genesis 6:2, see the daughters of Cain “walking about naked with their eyes painted like harlots,” and took them as wives. The daughters of Cain, themselves half human and half divine, form unions with the Sons of God, and “bare their sons like a great reptile, six children at each birth.” At the hour of their birth they “stood on their feet and spoke the holy language, [PRE,161] and these creatures, more fully divine than their mother’s, become totally depraved. Noah chastises them for their sins, and they grow afraid. They decide to continue to sleep with women, but to spill their seed on the ground, so as not to continue to procreate and anger God. They also form a plan to thwart God’s flooding of the world. They are so tall, their necks will reach above the waters and their feet will plug up the depths. God responds to this by heating the waters of the flood [PRE,163].
The PRE presents a remarkably consistent picture of Sammael, but this does not detract from its complexity. He is the paragon of divine beings. In the text, only God is higher than him in power. He rebels against God and his foremost created being, the humans, and is cast down from heaven. He is punished for this, but oddly he is given great powers: command of the earth except for the nations of Israel, and except on the Day of Atonement. Rather than cease to have influence over the world after he tricks Eve and Adam into eating the fruit, his influence appears to grow. His progeny from his union with Eve and later the Cainites women’s union with the sons of God האלהים בני create a race of beings even more divine, and even more dangerous to the world. God decides that he must essentially destroy his creation, and begin again with Noah, a second Adam. After the flood, we are told that “Noah found a vine which was lying which came out of the garden of Eden” [PRE,170]. Noah uses this vine from Eden to make wine.
Sammael, as the arch-fallen angel, and his cohorts, the sons of God in Genesis 6:2, become in the PRE the very material cause of evil in the world. The eating of the fruit in the garden by Adam and Eve is little more than collateral to what is in effect a revolt by some of God’s angels against him. A portion of the divine world rebels against God, and in effect controls the destiny of humanity, and by extension, the world. When we examine some of the Nag Hammadi works below, this revolt, and its results, will become a key event.