• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Wednesday, March 30, 2011

    The Bible's Buried Secrets: The Real Garden of Eden

    Having looked at whether David really existed, and whether God may have had a wife, BBC2's Francesca Stavrakopoulou moves back in time to tackle the question of Adam, Eve and the Garden of Eden.

    Or does she? Because at the heart of the final instalment of this series is Stavrakopoulou's hypothesis that the original Eden story had nothing to do with creation but actually referred to the Jerusalem temple and its fall at the hands of the Babylonian Empire.

    I must admit that even having studied this passage quite a bit in my younger days this was not a theory I'd heard before. Perhaps because quite so much debate rages as to whether or not the passage should be really literally, or whether it's all disproved by science, that the origins of the story rarely get a look in.

    The programme opens with a couple of talking heads, one a fundamentalist, the other a moderate, but we quickly move on to Stavrakopoulou's theory that "Eden was a real place built by human hands".

    Travelling to the British Museum she is able to demonstrate, from the stone reliefs that hang on the walls in the museum's ancient near east section, what gardens in that place and time were like. A few other pieces of evidence to show that gardens were a combination of the natural and the human-made.

    There's a brief foray into the understanding of Eden in Islam. Eden isn't on earth, it's heaven. Initially this might seem like a bit of a tangent, but the programme uses it to drive home the point that in the ancient near east gardens such as these were seen as places where heaven touched earth, and that the prevalent understanding of Paradise was that of a man made garden.

    But not just any old garden Stavrakopoulou tells us, "Eden was a garden built by humans for their god". It was a place on earth where God could come and be. A garden where God could walk around.

    If that's starting to sound familiar then the next part of the programme ratchets up the links still further. The only person traditionally allowed access to these gardens was the king. The king was considered to be a mediator between the gods and men, he was allowed into the garden to tend it and this is, of course, the role we find Adam take in Genesis 2. The conclusion? "Adam was originally a king too".

    It's at this point that the first other biblical expert is consulted - Nicholas Wyatt of Edinburgh University's School of Divinity. Wyatt looks at Ezekiel 28 casting a fresh light on verses 13-19, which are sometimes applied to Satan rather than a human figure. It's argued that Ezekiel 28:13-14 locates Eden on the holy mount of God, which is understood as Mount Zion, where the Jerusalem temple was located. The links here are a little tenuous and the correct interpretation of this passage lacks any sense of consensus, so it's a shame that the argument here is skipped over rather quickly rather than being buttressed by further evidence.

    In similarly brief fashion it's argued that the search of the whereabouts of Eden shouldn't be determined by the location of the River Tigris and the River Euphrates, but the River Gihon. This Stavrakopoulou tells us is in Jerusalem, where the water "bubbles up like a spring". The trouble is that, yet again, there is a wide divergence of views as to where the the Gihon is with numerous locations from Mesopotamia to Ethiopia being cited. I suspect that the way Stavrakopoulou is mapping out her argument is not the same route which lead her to the destination in the first place, which is probably fair enough. This is, after all, a mainstream television programme, on at a peak time. Whilst I would liked to have seen these things fleshed out a little more, there was only an hour available.

    Stavrakopoulou's destination turns out, as it happens, to be the ancient Jerusalem Temple. The cherubs marked the outside of both Eden and the temple. 1 Kings describes the horticultural theme in the temple's decoration, evoking thoughts of a garden where heaven might touch earth. Solomon's temple was "both mythical and real".

    Of course Stavrakopoulou would debate whether or not the first temple in Jerusalem was, in fact Solomon's, and there's a little blurring of the evidence here. We're told that the original temple was burnt, but it's also implied that it's this temple, rather than the one of the returning exiles and Herod the great, which stands in ruins today. But that's a minor quibble.

    It's at this point that some of the scholars from previous episodes re-appear, namely Herbert Niehr, Judith Hadley and Walter Moberly, because the film turns to the question of why the Eden narrative includes a vilified serpent and a woman. Stavrakopoulou ties this into some of the theories discussed in the previous programme. Originally the temple was used for several kinds of worship, and among them, she goes on to say, snake-worship.

    Such a proposal sounds controversial, but is, of course, largely based on the Bible. It's not until the reign of Hezekiah that we read of Moses' bronze snake being smashed because the people were worshipping it (2 Kings 18:4). The portrayal of the snake as the villain in the story of the Garden of Eden was a smear campaign to discredit such serpents worshippers.

    A similar campaign is also suggested to explain Eve's presence. At various points in the Bible we find wives blamed for their husband's failings (Solomon and Ahab are cited). Perhaps whichever king it was that is being portrayed by the original story (Jehoiachin presumably) was being accused of being unduly influenced by his wife. This casts an interesting light on Eve's initial absence from creation in the second Genesis creation account, but casts a shadow across the treatment of women in the three monotheistic faiths.

    So the thrust of Stavrakopoulou's argument seems to be that the story should never have been altered and inserted after Genesis' opening creation account. Rescuing it from this alien context may upset those of monotheistic faith, but it "allows us to engage with the real passions and the anxieties of people from long ago". The documentary concludes on a political note, if Jerusalem is where heaven touched earth and God came down "is it any wonder that no-one wants to give it up?"

    Of the three films in the series, I think this was my favourite, perhaps because the theory was sufficiently new to me that I not only found it interesting, but also wasn't able to find as many disagreements as others found. That said, those of us that reject a more literal interpretation of the story, don't feel that connection with its historicity. What the story came to mean is of far more significance that its historical referent, and, to be honest, it's strange that the programme is more captivated by the kernel from which this impressive tree grew, than the plant itself.

    However, I suspect that Stavrakopoulou just doesn't see the plant as being particularly impressive. Once or twice she suggests that it's this story that has caused Christianity (and perhaps the other monotheistic faiths) to take a negative view of humanity. Yet rather than the story creating our belief in the fallenness of humankind, its the other way around. The story resonates for us, and presumably whoever it was that ripped it from its supposed historical context, precisely because it reflects the fallenness we see as inherent in humanity.

    That's not to deny that there's good in humanity as well. Indeed the coupling of the Eden story with Genesis 1 creates wonderful balance: we are made in the image of God and animated by his spirit, and yet we also bring evil into his world. If Eden is heaven on earth, then its understandable why we yearn for it so, and why the Bible ends with a glorious re-imaging of Eden housing a renewed Jerusalem.

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    • At 11:41 am, March 30, 2011, Anonymous Doug Chaplin said…

      Thanks, Matt. I've enjoyed your review series of this programme

    • At 11:42 am, March 30, 2011, Blogger Father David said…

      So if Adam was a king - where was he king of, what was the name of his kingdom?

    • At 11:51 am, March 30, 2011, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks Doug,

      I think the argument that was being made is that the original story about a man tending God's garden and meeting God there was about a Jewish king - Jeconiah/Jehoiachin, but that it was changed to simply Adam (mankind?) in order to make it more universal. Or something.


    • At 12:16 pm, March 30, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said…


      I tend to agree that there was some new (for me) stuff in this one. I wrote my article last night a little bit hastily but I tend to agree with what you are saying

    • At 12:20 pm, March 30, 2011, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks Will,

      I've actually already linked to it on the facebook wall. I was impressed at how quickly you reviewed it. I was still battling with iPlayer as the BBC website crashed!


    • At 1:40 am, April 01, 2011, Anonymous kevimob1968@yahoo.com said…

      I havent seen the show, but wow she is a hottie..
      So what if she has a kooky theory,
      if she was with me I would go with along with it...
      Which leads me to Eve...you know Adam's thinking "boy she is Crazy, we aren't supposed to be eatin no apples!", but of course she's standing there buck naked all hot and the only Tang in the whole garden...
      OF COURSE he's gonna go for it!

    • At 1:18 am, November 17, 2011, Anonymous A. George Dave Prince said…

      Ester: Element of Surprise:

      Hamen may have decite, a setup against Majsety the King. His Influnance the royal Hinest to plan an invite, an Invitation. Provindanece Regions, Chamberlins, From the border Kindom’s, and the pubic from North, West, South, East, each everybody was welcome to celebration. Haman plans was tp snatch the crown.

      Haman may have Intructed Vishy:

      Haman In strutcted Vishy seperating from the mens from the ladies asking them to another area room from the Kindom Throne. The King will send a Chamberlins who will come retrieve her, The King Wife at presents of his Royal Hinest, the kingdom and pubic. Afeter all she the best dancer of all. Vishy refused. The Provindence pause in while upset stated these questions to ask the to the King.

      What if the their wife’s went against husbands?

      What if their husband wife’s went against the Palace and the township?

      Huband’s Following orders from their wifes’, What would they say?

      Will the King have to give up the crown too what is next?

      The Provdinence’s decided that the King needed a new wife: The King wife was banded from the Kingdom, however Haman was upset, He almost swipped the crown from the King while Vishy was exorted out the palace.

      The King felt no wife was good enough: Decree a law to the soilder’s and the town: the Lady were to be drafted, in search for the King new wife: Posted: Banners, Scrolls. the message was sent to the whole communittee.

      Malil-Kai: Ester Uncle: Cause of death: unknown: by an Incidents. He treat Ester as his own: Family: Beauiful lady whom did not shu it. Beauity Marvel at the men. She live from out the long near the long streach of the castle.

      The Solider decover her trading in the market place. Ester did not get the memo. The King’s Chamberlin’s Dress, Bath them in heavely sent oils, and fragent perfumes, performce tought how to addressed the Kings for Serveral Days before Intruduced.

      None He thought was simular to Vishity: deppressed he wished the ladied away felt sorrolle. The Soilder brought the Last Lady in. Sudden his eyes sprikled, He know Ester was the one. She was gorious but did not shru it: Kost the men.

      Ester decover with an Element of Surprise will be his new wife. Haman however did not appreciate the new lady that got invovled. Sectrectly with out the Kings knowlege want to assinated the Her Root Hertiage the Jews ; over heard by Maili-kai. Brought Warning to Ester in the front balcony ridge porch he see Ester.

      Hamen even in the hall decussed with his assoicates. Rid of the Easter Root Hertiages the Jews. She invited the King and Hamen while in supplication over three time, for dinner.

      The King could see her heart was troubled. He askes his wife ”What is wrong,” ”why are so worried”. He waited patiently, when she ready she will tell them what happen. She got down know nees ask of the King not assinate her root hertiages: the Jeweth people. The King had no knowelege what she was talking about pointing a the finger at Human who does.

      The Punish cause of death for Haman and his assoicates was death: The Hanging:

      Vishity was Vanishment: Ester resue the King and her people:

      Reseach: Fact: A.G.D. Prince:

      Posted by A.G.D.Prince in 23:42:54 | Permalink | Comments (1) »


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