Pio Cristiano Sarcophagus 31551: Detail, Adam and Eve Are Given Their Tasks

Two verses from Genesis 3 are relevant to this image. The first is 3:19, in God's verdict on Adam: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." He says this before he makes them leather garments to replace the loincloths we see them wearing in this scene. The second relevant verse is 3:23: "God sent him out of the paradise of pleasure, to till the earth from which he was taken," but this occurs after they have been given the leather garments.

This picturing of the imperative to labor became a common subject through the centuries. Eve is shown here with a sheep, signifying the job of spinning wool that was traditionally "woman's work." Adam is given a square basket for the wheat that he will grow. One sees similar baskets, with wheat in them, in this sarcophagus side panel and this sarcophagus lid, both from the 4th century. The sarcophagi thus reference the positive side of the imperative to labor by showing the fruits of the earth – the wheat and the sheep – rather than the labor itself. By contrast, images in the second millenium usually show Adam and Eve hard at work with hoe and distaff. In this example from Orvieto they are even still half-naked despite their labors.

"God" is represented by a young Jesus, pictured as a beardless youth with nape-length hair in this and other scenes on the sarcophagus. This common device is consistent with the orthodox view that the Son was no less the judge of this world than the Father. As Novatian put it in the 3rd century, "in the same manner as He suffers, as man, the condemnation, so as God He is found to have all judgment of the quick and dead" (Concerning the Trinity, IX, in Schaff). However, it must be noted that it is also consistent with the heresy known as Monarchianism or Sabellianism, which held that Christ was the Father (Bercot, s.v. "Monarchianism").

The sheep and sheaf are integrated into the Original Sin panel on the left end of the Sarcophagus of Agape and Crescentius (Museo PIo Cristiano, late 4th century).

The sheaf alone is inserted into the Original Sin panel on this sarcophagus lid (Museo Pio Cristiano, inventory 31473, 4th century).

Virtually identical scenes (though always with different faces) appear on a sarcophagus in Sicily and on another exemplar in the Pio Cristiano, the Dogmatic Sarcophagus. At left are examples of how the iconography of the tasks can be integrated into that of the Original Sin itself.

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Read more about Adam and Eve.

Photographs taken at the Museo Pio Cristiano by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.