Thursday, September 25, 2014

From Eden to new Jerusalem

I'm going to quote and comment on Iain Provan's analysis of Gen 1-2 in Seriously Dangerous Religion (Baylor 2014):
The sacred nature of the world is first intimated in Gen 1 through the metaphor of the temple. Temples in the ANE were designed primarily as residences for the gods, rather than as places of worship.
It is this close connection between cosmos construction and temple construction that we see also in Gen 1:1-2:4, where the cosmos is presented as God's temple. First, temple-dedication ceremonies in the ANE often lasted seven days…second, we are told of God's gathering of the waters into one place so that they could serve a useful purpose as seas (Gen 1:9). This reflects the reality of the later temple in Israel's capital city of Jerusalem, within whose precincts was to be found an impressive "sea of cast metal, circular in shape" (1 Kgs 7:23-26). Third, we also read in Gen about the creation of the sun and the moon (Gen 1:14-16)…the Hebrew word used here for "light" (ma'or) is most frequently used elsewhere in the OT for the sanctuary light in the tabernacle (the Israelites' portable temple prior to Solomon's time). Fourth, the end of the creation account in Gen 1:1-2:4 also reminds us of the construction of the tabernacle in Exod 40:33…Finally before God finishes this creative work, we read in Genesis that he places in "image" in creation (1:26-28). In the ANE more generally, the deity's presence in his temple was also marked by an image, in which the reality of the deity was thought to be embodied (32-33).
i) The cosmic temple interpretation of Gen 1 is already becoming old hat in Bible scholarship. Provan isn't breaking new ground here.
ii) I agree with Provan and like-minded scholars who find temple motifs in Gen 1. I think Gen 1 foreshadows the tabernacle–as well as Noah's ark. In fact, I think we could augment the evidence. The "firmament" (1:6ff.) is arguably an architectural metaphor for a roof or ceiling, such as a temple would have. So, up to a point, I think this analysis is valid.
iii) That said, Provan overplays the temple interpretation. There's a big difference between saying Gen 1 contains a few suggestive descriptions which cue the reader to anticipate the tabernacle–quite something else to make that the dominant interpretive paradigm. Most of the content of Gen 1 bears no resemblance to a temple, even at a figurative level. 
And that's what we'd expect from a global creation account. It's not a residence for God, but a residence for creatures. It contains lots of stuff you don't find in temples. At best, Provan might try to argue that it's God's residence in the vicarious sense that man functions as a priest of God. 
For the most part, Gen 1 is describing a physical world with the furnishings necessary for physical existence. To make the temple metaphor the controlling interpretive lens is very disproportionate to the actual content and emphasis, which is more mundane. 
iv) The comparison between the oceans in 1:9 and the "sea of brass" in Solomon's temple is rather desperate:
a) To begin with, the sea of brass has a completely different function. It's for ceremonial ablutions, whereas the ocean in Gen 1 is the habitat for marine creatures (1:20ff). 
b) It's exegetically dubious to use a text outside the Pentateuch to interpret the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch is literary and conceptual unit. To some extent, the books of the Pentateuch mirror each other. They are mutually interpreting. Genesis lays down some markers which will be picked up in subsequent books of the Pentateuch. That's the primary frame of reference.
c) By the same token, even granting the presence of temple motifs in Gen 1, the counterpart to the "cosmic temple" in Gen 1 is the wilderness tabernacle, not the Solomonic temple. 
v) If Gen 1 is a realistic creation account, then we'd expect it to describe the origin of water and bodies of water–like oceans. 
Put succinctly, the creation narrative in Gen 1 is retold in Gen 1, this time through the metaphor of the garden rather than the temple (34).
What we are likely dealing with in Gen 2, then, is exactly what we are certainly dealing with in Gen 1. It is the idea that the whole world is sacred space. In Gen 2, however, this idea is developed using garden imagery (36).
A fundamental problem with this analysis is that if, according to Provan, the temple account (Gen 1) includes garden imagery while the garden account (Gen 2) includes temple imagery, then it's hard to claim these are two different ways of saying the same thing. According to his own analysis, Gen 1 contains garden motifs as well as temple motifs while Gen 1 contains temple motifs as well as garden motifs. So these aren't two different metaphors to express the same idea. The distinction between the two is blurred by shared motifs. His analysis works at cross-purposes with his conclusion. 
The Impossible Garden
The sacred nature of the world is also strongly suggested by the metaphor of the garden that is used for it in Gen 2. This is often missed, however because of a long reading tradition that understands this garden ("in the east, in Eden"; 2:8) as a place within the world rather than as a picture of the world…The authors of Genesis almost certainly did not have a particular location in mind when writing about the garden. Three features of their description strongly suggest this. First, the region to the "east" of ancient Israel was Mesopotamia…However, as we read the first eleven chapters of the Genesis story, we discover that human beings only end up in Mesopotamia as the result of an eastward migration from their starting point in the garden…They first leave the garden via the entrance/exit on its east side…Cain's failures lead him further eastward into the land of Nod (4:16); further eastward migration ultimately leads to Babylon (11:2). Eden, it seems, must actually be in the west… (33-34).
i) That fails to distinguish between east as a direction and east as a location. If, say, I sail north from Antarctica, I can travel for hundreds of miles in a northerly direction, but still be in the southern hemisphere. 
ii) The migration to Babylon in 11:2 doesn't represent a continuous, linear migration from Eden. Provan fails to take into account the disruption of the deluge. We're not dealing with the geographical origin of the human race, but where the ark bottomed out. That becomes the new epicenter for humanity–via the survivors. The postlapsarian migration represents a new beginning. A new starting-point. 
Second, we must remember that Gen 2 follows Gen 1…It has already described the creation of trees in that global context (1:11-12,29), as well as the creation of beasts, birds, and humans (female as well as male; Gen 1:20-27). Chapter 2 repeats all of this in the context of the garden. The natural implication is that the garden is not located somewhere on the earth, but represents the whole earth (34).
i) An obvious problem with this conclusion is that Gen 2 doesn't repeat all the items in Gen 1. It's more restricted. It has a river, not an ocean. No marine creatures. It doesn't describe the origin of the sky, sun, stars, dry land, &c. 
ii) According to the traditional interpretation, Gen 1 and Gen 2 do overlap. There's some carryover. Gen 2 is a more detailed description of man's creation and his original habitat. 
iii) The tacit assumption of Provan's interpretation is that Gen 2 simply uses a garden metaphor. But if, in fact, this is a real garden, then we'd expect it to contain trees and wildlife. Those are realistic features. 
If God did make a first human couple, by special creation, where would they live? A riverine location is a practical location. That's why you have the great river valley civilizations of Egypt, India, China, South America, and–yes–Mesopotamia.
River valleys have lush vegetation (e.g. fruit trees, shade trees) on both sides of the river bank. They supply water for cooking, washing, bathing, and irrigation. Drinking water for humans, livestock, hunting dogs, and game animals. Fishing and transportation. Solid waste disposal. When rivers overflow their banks, they leave a layer of silt which replenishes the topsoil. What biologists call a riparian zone. 
Indeed, if the garden is not the whole earth, it is unclear how the whole earth is supposed to be populated and governed by human begins in line with Gen 1:28, for there is no hint in Gen 1-3 that human beings were ever supposed to leave the garden (34-35).
i) Actually, I'd draw the opposite inference. The cultural mandate (1:28) assumes that after man outgrew the confines of the garden, he'd expand outward, colonizing and domesticating other parts of the earth. Since Gen 2 says the human race began from just one breeding pair, most of the earth was initially unpopulated by humans. 
ii) Moreover, the terms of the curse on Adam imply that conditions outside the garden were fairly inhospitable compared to conditions inside the garden. Provan's interpretation erases that invidious contrast. 
Third, there is the puzzling matter of the geography of Genesis 2:10-14 (35).
That's an old chestnut. 
i) Given the lapse of time, it's unsurprising that some of the geographical markers may be hard to identify this far down the pike. Rivers change course. Rivers dry up. Place-names change.
ii) Provan is ignoring scientific and archeological evidence that locates Eden in Mesopotamia. Cf. K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003), 428-30;
Like other temples in the ancient world, this (cosmic) garden-temple incorporates within it a spring, from which the primeval waters flow out to water the four corners of the earth (2:6)… (36).
Which assumes the riverine imagery is figurative. But, of course, real people do settle alongside real rivers. That's true the world over. 
We see this in 1 Kings 6, where its interior is said to be "carved with gourds and open flowers…palm trees and open flowers (1 Kgs 6:18,29) (37).
i) Although that may be Edenic imagery, it may just be decorative.
ii) Even if it is meant to evoke the Garden of Eden, Provan's analysis is backwards: the garden doesn't imitate a temple; rather, a temple imitates the garden.
iii) There's also the problem of literary anachronisms, where later texts are used to gloss earlier texts. Perhaps, though, Provan thinks the Pentateuch was written after the construction and destruction of Solomon's temple.
We see it also in Ezk 47:1-12… (37).
No doubt that deliberately fuses temple motifs with Edenic motifs. But that's visionary and surreal. That's a different genre than historical narrative (e.g. Gen 1-2).
The particular "tree" that is the tree of life in the garden of Eden (Gen 2:9) is represented in the tabernacle by the branched lampstand with its floral motifs (Exod 25:31-40; 37:17-24) (37).
That may well be, but once again, Provan has the cart before the horse. The garden prefigures the tabernacle, not vice versa. 
Provan continues in this vein. But that misses the point. Yes, biblical descriptions of the temple and tabernacle allude to Eden. But the garden is not a figurative temple; rather, the temple (or tabernacle) is a figurative garden. Although the garden can function as sacred space, it's still a garden. 
This brings us back around to the Hebrew word miqqedem in Gen 2:8 which has so often been translated as "in the east"…[but] it is not so much an expression of physical direction…The sun rises in the east (miqqedem), and light is a common OT metaphor for the divine presence (39).
i) To begin with, identifying "the east" with "light" would be better suited to the temple interpretation of Gen 1, where the celestial luminaries presage the Menorah. That's a temple metaphor, not a garden metaphor.
ii) The sun really does rise in the east–to an earthbound observer. That's not a metaphor, but a reality. Of course, sunrise and sunlight can function as metaphors, but there's no presumption that an allusion to sunrise or sunlight is figurative. 
iii) Moreover, the narrator may not intend the reader to associate "the east" with sunrise or sunlight. Oftentimes "east" is just a location or direction, rather than a synonym for sunrise or sunset. 
Of course, if you're traveling by foot, then sunrise gives you a rough compass point. But at that juncture we've strayed far from the prosaic reference in Gen 2:8. 

No comments:

Post a Comment