25 March 2010

Adam, Eve, and the First Easter

Among the most venerated sites in all Christendom is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, reputed by many to be the place where the Redeemer was crucified and buried. Under an 1852 agreement called the Status Quo, the administration of each area of the Church is divided among several Christian communities. The sole exception is the main entrance. To avoid the possibility of sectarian quarrels, the key to this entrance has been under the care of two Muslim families since 1192. A close-up of one of the massive doors is shown above.

The site of the Church has a long and complex history. Following the Bar Kokhba revolt that ended in 135, the Roman Emperor Hadrian expelled the Jews from Jerusalem and commenced a new building program for the Roman city of Aelia Capitolina. This move was seen by the fourth-century Christian Bishop Eusebius to be motivated by a desire to eradicate remains of the Holy City’s sacred sites. Eusebius claimed that a cave, reputed to be the location of the Savior’s tomb, was deliberately covered over by Hadrian with a pagan temple:
It was this very cave of the Savior that some godless and wicked people had planned to make invisible to mankind, thinking in their stupidity that they could in this way hide the truth. Indeed, with a great expenditure of effort they brought earth from somewhere outside and covered up the whole place, then leveled it, paved it, and so hid the divine cave somewhere down beneath a great quantity of soil. Then as though they had everything finished, above the ground they constructed a terrible and truly genuine tomb, one for souls, for dead idols, and built a gloomy sanctuary to the impure demon of Aphrodite; then they offered foul sacrifices there upon defiled and polluted altars. They reckoned there was one way alone and no other to bring their desires to realization, and that was to bury the Savior’s cave under such foul pollutions.
In about 325, Constantine, the first Roman Emperor favorable to Christianity, razed and re-excavated the site. The accounts of the Bordeaux Pilgrim (333) and Egeria (381-384) provide early firsthand perspectives from lay Christians about the progress of the building program, whose centerpiece became the edicule that covered over the cave where Jesus was thought to have been buried. The entire complex was destroyed in 1009, but rebuilt to reach more or less its current form by the mid-twelfth century. The photograph above shows Catholic clergy with lighted candles moving in a circle around the rectangular edicule, recalling the ancient form of the prayer circle...

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18 March 2010

The "Temple Work" of Adam and Eve

Though Biblical commentaries often derive the name "Eden" from the Sumerian edinu (i.e., "a plain"), a more likely meaning, based on an Aramaic-Akkadian bilingual description, is "luxuriance" or "abundance"—more specifically referring to an abundance of life-enriching water. The idea of luxuriance brings to mind the prominent place-name "Bountiful" in the Book of Mormon—in fact, one proposed region for the Old World Bountiful was reputed to have been a place of such great plenty that its inhabitants were denounced by Islamic Hud traditions for their "attempt to create an earthly replica of Paradise."

Given the picture of the naturally-growing, life-sustaining yields of the Garden of Eden, coupled with the absence of any troublesome weeds, students of the Bible have made various attempts to understand how Adam and Eve managed to stave off the “curse of idleness” during their sojourn in that happy place. For example, thinking that the daily labors of the first parents must have somehow mirrored our own, Matthew Henry imagined that the man and the woman were placed in Eden to improve somehow on God’s arrangements for the beauty and productivity of the fruit trees placed there. He reasoned that: “Nature, even in its primitive state, left room for the improvements of art and industry.” Supposing that the “husbandman’s calling... was needed even in Paradise,” he drew out the lesson from God’s instructions to Adam and Eve to “dress” and “keep” the Garden that “[s]ecular employments will very well consist with a state of innocency and a life of communion with God.”

In contrast to attempts to draw parallels between “secular employments” and the work of the first couple in Paradise, I believe that the very point of the scriptural injunction is to inform Adam and Eve that no labor of the ordinary kind was required so long as they qualified to remain in that place. On the other hand, any conception that they were to focus their energies on digging and pruning the trees of Eden is surely mistaken, since the account makes clear that “man’s food was ever ready at hand.” ...

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17 March 2010

Scripture in Depth: Moses 2:3

The nature of the light referred to in this verse is not explained. Several possibilities have been suggested.

Some see this event as consonant with the prevailing scientific view that describes the birth of our universe as a sudden burst of light and energy of an unimaginable scale. Others see this phrase as referring to a "local" event whereby the natural light of the sun was created.

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11 March 2010

Stand Ye in Holy Places, and Be Not Moved

In his characteristic epic style, Thomas Cole depicted Adam and Eve being driven from the lush garden to live in the relative wilderness of the mortal world. The exit of the Garden—and presumably the only means of access—is on the east side, at the end farthest away from the mountain of God’s presence. The image of the tiny couple is almost lost in the wide expanse of the landscape, emphasizing the greatness of the power of God and the grandeur of His Creation as compared with the forced humility of fallen mankind. The light emanating from the Garden contrasts with the darkness of the way ahead for Adam and Eve.

Their expulsion is described twice in Moses’ account, with different terms used in each case. The Hebrew word geresh (“drove out”), used in Genesis 3:24, is harsher than the term shillah (“send him forth”) in verse 23. Significantly, the same two terms are used in the same order by the Lord to describe how Pharaoh would drive Israel away from the familiar comforts of Egypt, suggesting that we are not meant to read Adam and Eve’s exit from Eden as depicting a unique event but rather as demonstrating a repeated type of mankind’s difficulty, in its fallen state, to “stand in holy places” and not be “moved.”

Though the scriptural admonition to “stand in holy places and be not moved” is a familiar one, the relevance of its symbolism to the story of Adam and Eve has been underappreciated. In this article, we will explore how one’s fitness to stand in holy places was understood in ancient sources, showing the paramount importance of this idea in the Old and New Testament—and its particular relevance for our own time. Indeed, Avivah Zornberg has argued that to “hold [one’s] ground” in sacred circumstances is the meaning of being itself—“kiyyum: to rise up (la-koom), to be tall (koma zokufa) in the presence of God.” ...

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10 March 2010

Scripture in Depth: Moses 2:26

The plural form of the expression "Let us make man" has long been an interpretive problem for commentators looking at the Old Testament through the lens of strict monotheism. Such scholars often explain the phrase by way of analogy to the "royal we" used by a king or queen in self-reference; however, this does not explain why it occurs only in the early chapters of Genesis and nowhere else.

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04 March 2010

The Nakedness and the Clothing of Adam and Eve

Western art typically portrays Adam and Eve as naked in the Garden of Eden, and dressed in “coats of skin” after the Fall. However, the Eastern Orthodox tradition depicts the sequence of their change of clothing in reverse manner. How can that be? The Eastern Church remembers the accounts that portray Adam as a King and Priest in Eden, so naturally he is shown there in his regal robes. Moreover, Orthodox readers interpret the “skins” that the couple wore after their expulsion from the Garden as being their own now-fully-human flesh. Anderson interprets this symbolism to mean that “Adam has exchanged an angelic constitution for a mortal one”–in other words, they have lost their terrestrial glory and are now in a telestial state.

The top panel of the figure above shows God seated in the heavenly council surrounded by angels and the four beasts of the book of Revelation. The second panel depicts, from left to right: Adam and Eve clothed in heavenly robes following their creation; then stripped of their glorious garments and “clothed” only in mortal skin after eating the forbidden fruit; and finally both clad in fig leaf aprons as Eve converses with God. The third panel shows Adam conversing with God, the couple’s expulsion from the walled Garden through a door showing images of cherubim, and their subsequent hardship in the fallen world. Orthodox tradition generally leaves Adam and Eve in their aprons after the Fall and expulsion, seeing them as already having received their “coats of skin” at the time they were clothed in mortal flesh...

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