I have to be a bit careful in critiquing John Walton’s thesis in his book The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, because, as has been pointed out to me, it’s only a summary of his much more substantial argument in his Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology. I’m not sure that really excuses the lack of concrete evidence in support of the argument in the shorter book, but it’s something to keep in mind.
In the earlier review post I passed over the assertion that “the Garden of Eden was sacred space and the temple/tabernacle contained imagery of the garden and the cosmos” (82). However, Casey has just made the claim in a comment on that post that “In Genesis 2 and 3 the priesthood of humans in God’s Eden-temple is readily defended as well”.
OK, I’ve rubbed my eyes, cleaned my reading glasses… but I still don’t see it.
Walton doesn’t have a great deal to say on the matter, but he quotes from an article by Gordon Wenham, “Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story”:
The garden of Eden is not viewed by the author of Genesis simply as a piece of Mesopotamian farmland, but as an archetypal sanctuary, that is a place where God dwells and where man should worship him. Many of the features of the garden may also be found in later sanctuaries particularly the tabernacle or Jerusalem temple. These parallels suggest that the garden itself is understood as a sort of sanctuary. (81)
- Just as God was “walking” in the garden, so Israel is promised that the Lord will make his dwelling among them and “will walk among you and will be your God” (Lev. 26:11-12; cf. 2 Sam. 7:6-7). Wenham notes that the verb hithallēk (“walk”) is used in both contexts. The thought in these verses, however, is not that God will walk to and fro in the tabernacle but that by dwelling in the mobile tabernacle he will move among and with them. The tabernacle in the land (or travelling to the land) is like the presence of God walking in the garden.
- Cherubim were the traditional guardians of sanctuaries in the ANE, and two cherubim guarded the inner sanctuary in Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs. 6:23-28). So the fact that the entrance to the garden was guarded by cherubim (Gen. 3:24) confirms that it was thought of as a sanctuary, according to Wenham. But while cherubim may guard access to the place where God is, that place is not necessarily a temple. Cherubim accompany the presence of God when he leaves the temple and are identified with the “living creatures” that Ezekiel saw “underneath the God of Israel by the Chebar canal” (Ezek. 10:20).
- Whether the tabernacle menorah was intended as a “stylised tree of life” is unclear to me, but in any case, as wth the cosmic imagery applied to the temple, this does not mean that the tree of life in the garden was conceived as a candlestick.
- Adam is put in the garden to “work” and “keep” it. The only other passages in the Pentateuch where these two words occur together have to do with “the Levites’ duties in guarding and ministering in the sanctuary”. So perhaps, Wenham wonders, “Adam should be described as an archetypal Levite” (21). This seems to me a highly arbitrary conclusion: the Levites shall “guard” Aaron as they “work” in the tabernacle (Num. 3:7); and in Numbers 8:26 the “work” is actually prohibited: “They minister to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service”.
- It’s difficult to see how the clothing of Adam corresponds to the clothing of the priests when it is immediately followed by his expulsion from Eden. He is dressed in order to live outside the garden . Moreover, Eve was also clothed, and there were no women priests.
- The creation of Eve to work alongside Adam in the garden makes nonsense of the Wenham-Walton thesis.
- Adam’s family does not perform a priestly function until they are outside the garden (Gen. 4:3-4).
- Wenham notes that the river flowing out of Eden (Gen. 2:10) finds a parallel in Ezekiel’s description of the water that would flow from the renewed temple (Ezek. 47:1-12; cf. Ps. 46:4; Zech. 14:8; Rev. 22:1-2). In a footnote Walton cites evidence for the view that this is “one of the most common images in the iconography of the ancient world” (82), though given the geography of the ANE, that’s hardly surprising. Again, the temple account may recall the description of the garden; but this does not mean that the description of the garden prefigures the temple.
- Wenham says regarding the gold and precious stones mentioned in Genesis 2:11-13: ‘If Eden is seen as a super sanctuary, this reference to gold can hardly be accidental for the most sacred items of tabernacle furniture were made of or covered with “pure gold”’ (22). But that simply begs the question. In any case, the gold, bdellium and onyx are not in the garden. More relevant is Ezekiel’s description of the Prince of Tyre, which hardly helps the temple interpretation:
You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. (Ezek. 28:13)
- From the exilic perspective Eden perhaps prefigures the land from which disobedient Israel was expelled—and to which it hoped to return: “And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited’” (Ezek. 36:35; cf. Is. 51:3). It is not the temple, which was destroyed, but the land from which they were exiled that corresponds to the garden of Eden.
So I’m not convinced.
- 1. The article was originally published in Proceedings of the Ninth World Congress of Jewish Studies, Division A: The Period of the Bible (1986). This online version has a different pagination, but the original page numbers are included in double square brackets.