Thursday, 25 August 2011

The temple of Eden

No, no that's not right Joe, it should be "Garden of Eden", surely?

Hold your fire one mo, there is a point to this. In preparing a sermon for Sunday week about Genesis 2 I've been revisiting some fascinating material I came across in my MA Old Testament module. There was a really good article by Gordon Wenham called "Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story". There he spells out some parallels between what we find in Genesis 2-3 and elsewhere in passages about the tabernacle/temple. Here is my own synopsis of those points:

1.   The tree of life and the “menorah”
2.   Both the tabernacle and the temple had entrances on the east side and had cherubim over the ark in the holy of holies – the garden of Eden is guarded by cherubim (after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden) at its entrance, which is on the east side
3.   The gold and stones mentioned in the Eden account remind us of the gold coverings to the temple furnishings and the stones used in the temple and on the priests’ clothing
4.   The tree that they are forbidden to touch has a parallel in the ark of the covenant, which it is forbidden to touch
5.   In Ezekiel 47 a river is pictured as flowing from the renewed temple and this imagery is picked up in Revelation 22 with the water of life flowing from God’s throne. Eden is the focus of the life-giving waters of the ancient world

So, what do you make of that?

I guess that the main point is that it shows some kind of thought association - the key concepts being the presence of God and human access to it. But, which came first - Eden or the temple? Now, I'm not trying to be daft, contrary to appearances; I'm actually just wondering whether bits of the Eden story were modelled on people's experience of the temple or vice versa. Or, perhaps neither? Or, does it matter?

Anyhow, I think it helps us to realise that the thrust of Genesis 2-3 is not being kicked out of a pretty little place, like some kind of ultimate National Trust garden. No, it is about not being in God's presence as we should be. And that really is a bummer.

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