03 December 2012

Temple Symbolism in the Garden of Noah

There are rich thematic connections between the emergence of the dry land at Creation, the settling of the Ark at the top of the first mountain to emerge from the Flood, New Year’s Day, and the temple. Ancient Israelites believed the holiest spot on earth to be the Foundation Stone in front of the Ark of the Covenant within the temple at Jerusalem: “[I]t was the first solid material to emerge from the waters of Creation, and it was upon this stone that the Deity effected Creation.” The depiction of the Ark-Temple of Noah perched upon Mount Ararat would have evoked similar temple imagery for the ancient reader of the Bible.

Spotlighting the theme of a new beginning, the number “one” plays a key role in the description of re-creation after the Flood. For example, note that “on the first day of the [tenth] month … the tops of the mountains [were] seen,” and that “in the six hundred and first year [of Noah’s life] in the first month, the first day of the month … the waters were dried up.” “There can be no mistaking the emphasis on the number one,” writes Claus Westermann. Moreover, both of these verses, like their counterpart in the story of the original creation, use the rarer Hebrew term yomehad, corresponding to the English cardinal term “day one” rather than the common ordinal term “first day.” This would hint to the ancient reader that the date had special ritual significance. Consider that it was also the “first day of the first month” when the Tabernacle was dedicated, “while Solomon’s temple was dedicated at the New Year festival in the autumn (the month of Ethanim… ).” Consistent with usage in ritual texts within the Bible and other texts from the ancient Near East, Mark Smith concludes that the Hebrew cardinal term “‘day one’ does not mark… the beginning of time in any sort of absolute way” but rather is an expression “suggestive of the ritual world” that can be found within narratives that are themselves infused throughout “with temple and ritual sensibility.” More explicitly, Westermann concludes that:
The day on which the waters of the flood disappeared from the earth, the day of the end of the flood, becomes New Year’s day. The cosmos is renewed in the cultic celebration of this day. It is the conclusion of the Flood narrative that later, in muted and covert ways, provides the rationale for the annual cultic renewal of the cosmos at the New Year’s feast.
Emphasizing “the stability of this re-creation,” God’s promises to Noah articulate the reestablishment of the alternating rhythm of the times and seasons required to sustain agricultural life and the cultic calendar that goes along with it. In Genesis 8:22, we read:
While the earth remaineth,
seedtime and harvest,
and cold and heat,
and summer and winter,
and day and night
shall not cease.
Apart from these brief allusions to selected works of the subsequent days of Creation, Harper’s detailed study reveals that “the majority of the created works of the first five days are completely disregarded” in the story of the Flood, “while the elements of the sixth day: animals (with birds attached), the adam (male and female in the image of God), the blessings, commands, and provisions of food are… recalled, rearranged, and at times reinterpreted” within subsequent episodes of Noah’s life. We now leave the story of re-creation and enter the scene of a garden.

Nothing in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden can be understood without reference to the temple. Neither can the story of Noah and his family in the garden setting of a renewed earth be appreciated fully without taking the temple as its background.

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