Barry Newman's Blog

June 19, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 11:05 pm

Concluding remarks

Ancient Near East Similarities

There are some similarities between the Genesis account of the garden and some of the mythology of the ancient Near East.  Serpents sometimes have a prominent part to play in such mythologies. There are references to “magical” food the eating of which could bestow immortality. Cherubim-like figures are not unknown.  However, according to Walton “the paradise motif in the ancient Near East is nearly nonexistence”. (p. 181) He makes reference to a Sumerian myth that refers to the world of humanity before the institution of kingship and even before the existence of civilisations. At that time, human beings were naked, the land was not tilled and there was no irrigation. Walton comments that this corresponds more to the picture given in Gen 2: 5, 6 than to any idyllic existence.  Thus while the Gen 3 account may draw on or be reflective of, to some extent mythical material from surrounding cultures, on the available evidence, any similarity is quite minimal.  As mentioned earlier, the existence in antiquity of royal gardens in the ancient Near East is well known.

What really happened?

One of the intriguing things about the garden is the attention the author/editor gives to where it is situated. In Gen 2 we are told of the placing of the garden in Eden, towards the east and given descriptions of the rivers associated with the garden.  It is as though the garden is a real place and situated in our world.  As much as we might balk at a talking serpent and two extraordinary trees, of course it is possible for God to have created a special garden with some special trees and have a serpent capable of conversing with human beings.  It is possible for things to have happened exactly the way they are described in Gen 2 and 3.

And of course God could have appointed some astonishing creatures to guard the entrance to the garden.  We might ask but where is the garden now and what happened to these cherubim?  When, if ever, were they relieved of their duty?  The account does not provide us with any answers to these questions.  However in attempting to be faithful to the character of the account, we might postulate the following:  The man was placed in the garden to work it and take care of it; upon the removal of the man from the garden, the garden deteriorated; even the tree of life grew old as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and in the course of time, both these extraordinary trees ceased to exist.  Finally, the garden could not be distinguished from the world that had been outside of the garden.  Guard duty was no longer required.

But what really happened?

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