English, Department of


Date of this Version



Speculum 78:1 (Jan. 2003), pp. 235-236.


Published by Medieval Academy of America & Cambridge University Press.Used by permission.


Brian Murdoch's Adam's Grace explores a number of medieval narratives that tell the story of the simultaneity of the Fall and the promise of grace. This idea appears in medieval exegesis of Gen. 3.1 5's supposed promise to Eve, in the Eva/Ave pun common in the period, implicitly in St. Paul's portrait of Christ as the second Adam, and in the Vitae Adae et Evae/Holy Rood legends that establish the pattern for most of the works analyzed in this book. While the Vitae/Holy Rood stories are complex and go through many versions, this review requires only a simplified summary of the two often-connected legends concerning Adam's later life and the genealogy of the cross. In these legends Adam and Eve, after a period of hardship outside of Eden, attempt to regain Paradise by doing penance through fasting in a river surrounded by a supportive natural world. Adam finishes his penance while Eve, again tempted by the devil, stops hers, prompting Adam again to confront the envious tormenter who tells of his own Fall. After Cain and Abel, Seth returns to Paradise to try to gain an oil of mercy but is told that mercy will come only with Christ's work. He then receives three seeds or twigs from the Tree of Life (sometimes he also sees the Christ Child or Mary in the tree). In the Holy Rood legend that sometimes continues the story, the rods or seeds from the Tree of Life, now united to make a new tree, receive Moses' and David's care and grow to be a tree selected for Solomon's temple. However, Solomon cannot incorporate the tree in the new building, and it remains in the pool of Kidron until its use at the time of the Crucifixion. The narrative develops over time as some of the details of this material appear to go back to the patristic period and some only to the high Middle Ages.