Barry Newman's Blog

June 17, 2011

Science and Genesis 3: 1 – 24 (part XXV)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 11:54 pm

The cherubim guarding the entrance on the eastern side

It might strike us as a little curious that the guards, the cherubim, are placed on the east side of the garden.  However, presumably that was the way into the garden.  The entrance was on the eastern side, recognising, as earlier suggested, that the garden was basically an enclosed affair.  It would need to be enclosed in order to contain the animals of the garden.  Is there any significance in the entranceway being on the eastern side?  A number of suggestions come to mind but with little confidence in their validity. One reasonable possibility is that if the location of the garden is, as earlier suggested, at the head of what we now refer to as the Persian Gulf, then the eastern side would be bounded by that “bitter river” (see an earlier blog). While an enclosure of some sort would be necessary wherever the garden was bounded by land, perhaps that part of the garden being open to the water needed no artificial “wall” as far as the animals were concerned. However, when it came to preventing the man and the woman re-entering the garden, that would require the setting of guards at the entrance way.

Regarding the cherubim, Walton (p. 230) comments that the description given to them in the Biblical literature is in accordance “with archaeological finds that suggest that cherubim are composite creatures (like griffins or sphinxes)” He also refers to a Neo-Assyrian seal which “depicts what appears to be a fruit tree flanked by two such creatures with deities standing on their backs supporting a winged sun disk.”  There could be a connection between the sun and the cherubim reflected in the Genesis account in its reference to their guarding the eastern side of the garden.   Perhaps of greater significance is the Biblical material that refers to the cherubim numerous times as extraordinary creatures who in the Old Testament, according to Walton “usually function as guardians of God’s presence.”  Are we being reminded in the reference to the cherubim not only of the necessity of the man and the woman to be driven from the garden but that it is God’s garden to which they are not  permitted entrance?  The irony is, as Walton recognises it, that while the man was “to take care of” (to guard) the garden, the cherubim had “to guard” (same Hebrew verb) against the man and the woman coming back in. As he puts it, “The warden is off to jail.” Alternatively one might say, “He who was to take care of, is taken care of!”  Or again, “He who was to be keeper is kept out!

The “flaming sword flashing back and forth” is possibly a depiction of ongoing lightning.  The cherubim would act as guards but they would be aided by the presence of bolts of lightning.  The awesome display of lightning would of course be seen from afar and would be sufficient to deter any attempts at re-entry.  Any thought of even closely approaching the entrance would be ruled out.  God’s dealings with the man and the woman are now complete.  No, not really. There is a chapter four and much more to follow.  However, at this point, as we further reflect on chapter 3 and some of the material in chapter 2, we need to raise some questions about what the author/editor really believed, the reality of what is depicted and the theological significance of this part of the Genesis account.

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