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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