Sunday, January 16, 2011

Holy Place as Eden

Lately I've been reading a few of Margaret Barker's books including the Gate of Heaven, the Great High Priest, Christmas: The Original Story and Temple Theology. One of the insights which her books have given me is about the creation account and fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis.

These accounts are to be understood as having taken place in the temple. The Holy Place (or hekal) was considered by the Israelites to have been a representation of the Garden of Eden. The menorah was a representation of the tree of life. On the walls of the Holy Place were representations of the cherubim as well as the flora of the garden. There is also evidence to suggest the veil served as a representation of the tree of knowledge of good and evil[1].

Adam and Eve were expelled from the Holy Place into the outer court of the temple where the alter and laver were located. The temple faced east so they exited the Holy Place through it's east door. To the west of the holy place was the veil and the Holy of Holies (debir). Therefore in Genesis 3:24 when it says that God "placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" we are to understand the tree of life as being the menorah and the east of the garden as being the boundary between the Holy Place and the outer court.

[1]See Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, The Tree in the Midst of the Garden and the Temple Symbolism of the “Center”

Perhaps the most interesting tradition about the placement of the two trees is the Jewish idea that the foliage of the Tree of Knowledge hid the Tree of Life from direct view, and that “God did not specifically prohibit eating from the Tree of Life because the Tree of Knowledge formed a hedge around it; only after one had partaken of the latter and cleared a path for himself could one come
close to the Tree of Life.”

It is in this same sense that Ephrem the Syrian, a brilliant and devoted fourth-century Christian, could call the Tree of Knowledge “the veil for the sanctuary.” He pictured Paradise as a great mountain, with the Tree of Knowledge providing a boundary partway up the slopes. The Tree of Knowledge, Ephrem concludes, “acts as a sanctuary curtain [i.e., veil] hiding the Holy of Holies which is the Tree of Life higher up.” In addition, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sources sometimes speak of a “wall” surrounding whole of the Garden, separating it from the “outer courtyard” of the mortal world.

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