Monday, October 31, 2016


Despite going to church my entire life, until very recently I was not aware that the narrative we receive in Church about Genesis was not the only possible option. Stumbling over Dumbrell's assessment that 'good' in the first chapter of Genesis probably only means efficient - as in ecological systems are 'efficient', was quite the surprise.

The story is a bit complex but the early church fathers accepted the Greek view that the soul was immortal - even if the Christian view was that the body died and were then raised to life in the future. I have been listening to Iain Provan's (Prof at Regent College in Vancouver) talks to Gospel Conversations and lo and behold he makes the point that  'immortality of the soul' was the invention of a dude called "Athenagoras, the Athenian", taken up by Tertullian ( , then Augustine. 

Tertullian makes the following comment in Concerning the Resurrection of the Flesh (translation by Souter 1921: 7): 

I will therefore make use even of the opinion of one Plato, when he proclaims: "every soul is [im]mortal" it seems the translator made a mistake with this sentence given the context. 

 - Tertullian wanting to use the lesser (Greek philosophy to to support the stronger arguments in Christian text.

Later Tertullian (1) writes:

... would not the living and true God have cleansed any worthless material by His working, and healed it from every illness? or will this conclusion remain, that man fashioned God in a more honourable way than God fashioned man?
... This being so, you have both the clay made glorious by the hand of God, and the flesh made yet more glorious by the breath of God, by which the flesh laid aside the crude state of mud and took on the adornments of the soul.
So while Tertullian does not explictly (it seems) suggest that human were created 'perfect' it is probably not a far stretch. By the time we get to Athanasius it seems generally accepted that we go from incorruptible to corruption to incorruptible

And so little by little we have the building up of the argument that the Genesis texts supports the view so many Christians unquestioningly support today - Eden was the cradle of the first perfect humans (who then 'fell').

But we do have reason to question this... As we have already seen good = efficient not perfect.

What then of Eden. Surely the first clue that all is not as it should be with the tradition (leaving aside science for time being) is that Eden was a definable garden - a geographically separate place - not the whole Earth.

8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin[d] and onyx are also there.)13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.[e] 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
Now before going further it is important to repeat something that John Walton started every class with:

The Genesis text is written for us not to us. To explain in my words - Shakespeare's plays can stand alone. They are readable, even understandable at some level because they grapple with the human condition in a recognisable way but unless you know the Elizabethan period in England and something about the art of play writing you will miss as much as you gain from them. So we could say Shakespeare's plays were written for us but not to us.

So to Eden.

In Mesopotamia cities as we would understand that term - economically diverse agglomerations of living spaces (homes) and commercial activity were outcome not the primary purpose of the building of a city. The primary purpose was the construction of a temple complex. The most original entities of the cities weren't really what we would think of as cities as all. The Ziggurat-Temple-Garden complex was the city initially at least.

Every city had a god and thus every city had a Ziggurat.
The plan of the temple was rectangular with the corners pointing in cardinal directions to symbolize the four rivers which flow from the mountain to the four world regions.
I haven't seen it mentioned elsewhere but John Walton indicated that the purpose of a Ziggurat was so that the God could come down to Earth and live in the Ziggurat (note the Babel link).

The Ziggurat was a temple for the city god to come down from the heavens and be served and rule, residing in the temple (note Genesis connection a and differences).

The Ziggurat-Temple-Garden Complex this post I’d like to focus on how Genesis 2 describes our relationship to the rest of creation. These relationships are given deeper significance when we recognize that the garden is being described as a temple-like “sacred space,” not just an ordinary garden. There are numerous clues in the passage that this is the case. John Walton writes that the Garden/temple parallels “are givens that are simply assumed by the author and audience”1 of Genesis, but we completely miss them if we take fail to read the text the way the ancient author and audience would have. In the Ancient Near East (ANE), all sacred space was conceived of as something like a temple; it was a place where humans would serve God and experience their closest access to Him. Thus in ANE cultures, a temple complex was seen as being the apex and a microcosm of creation and the earthly abode of the god(s). Descriptions of temples often pictured a river flowing from under the temple and flowing out through an adjacent garden, symbolizing the fertile extravagance of the divine provision. A temple garden would be no mere backyard vegetable patch, but rather an elaborate, beautifully landscaped botanical park. The same temple/river picture can be seen in the description of the eschatological temple in Ezekiel (ch. 47) and Revelation (chs. 21-22, where the final temple is God Himself). Sound familiar? In Genesis 2 we also have a river flowing “from Eden [‘Abundance’] to water the garden” (v. 10). Quoted from and based on 1. John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 125.
Thus in the ancient near east gardens were somewhere for the gods to walk but private and walled off from everybody except maybe the priests. 

Now the Genesis story images that idea with important pivot. Yahweh did come walking and thus that would make Adam and Eve more like priests (such as when the Tabernacle was built in Israel's Exodus. But Adam and Eve are not there to serve God, the garden is for there pleasure. However, they maybe there to walk with and learn from God.  Nothing in the account suggests that Adam and Eve were the first humans, once reading in the light of the ANE literature they are more like Israel's line of patriarchs / matriarchs, priests (Moses / Aaron) or prophets. God intervenes into history to direct people towards him. 

The story inverts the usual reasoning of the Mesopotamians - than the gods want people to serve them. The Genesis story is that the Earth and the Garden are established for people. 
So Eden is a place for people to learn from Yahweh who he is and what he expects but then we trip up.

(1) In reading through Steenberg's book , he does not bring attention to Tertullian thinking of creation as perfect at commencement.

No comments:

Post a Comment