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Jerusalem as Eden, Lawrence E. Stager, BAR 26:03, May-Jun 2000.

Wall painting from Old Babylonian palace of King Zimri-Lim at Mari, on the banks of the Euphrates River.For ancient Israel, the Temple of Solomon—indeed, the Temple Mount and all Jerusalem—was a symbol as well as a reality, a mythopoeic realization of heaven on earth, Paradise, the Garden of Eden.

After King David’s conquest of Jerusalem, the site became the “City of David.” But it was much more than the patrimony of the king and his household. It was also the sacred center where Yahweh, the personal name of the Israelite deity, established his house and household. Solomon built the deity’s house—the Temple—and the king’s house—the palace—side by side on the acropolis, the sacred mountain known as Mt. Zion. This cosmic mountain linked heaven and earth (as axis mundi); from here order was established at creation and was continually renewed and maintained through rituals and ceremonies. It was here that Adam and Eve were buried, according to Jewish tradition.
The whole drew on celestial archetypes that were common to ancient Near Eastern cultures. Cosmic mountains, for example, were traditionally situated above the primordial waters (the “deep”), which, in an orderly cosmos, became the source of the sacred rivers that watered the four quarters of the earth.1

In the Yahwist’s (J)2 account of creation (Genesis 2-4b–3-24), written during the United Monarchy (tenth century B.C.E.) or shortly thereafter, the soil is watered not by rainfall but by the flow of freshwater that rises from below- “A flow would well up from the ground and water the whole surface of the soil” (Genesis 2-6).3 God then plants a garden in Eden and causes to grow there “various trees that were a delight to the eye and good for eating, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of knowledge of good and bad” (Genesis 2-8–9). A river rises in Eden to irrigate the garden and then divides into four streams that water the quarters of the earth, where there is gold, bdellium and red carnelian. It is not by chance that the Yahwist names one of the rivers of Paradise the Gihon- During the First Temple period (tenth century B.C.E.–586 B.C.E.), the Gihon Spring (literally, the “Gusher”) was the primary water source for Jerusalem. The sacred waters spring forth from their source below the City of David and water the Kidron Valley to the east and the Hinnom Valley to the south. By late in the Second Temple period (beginning in the sixth century B.C.E.), no one knew the Gihon water source by that name. Isaiah refers to these as the “waters of Shiloah that flow gently” (Isaiah 8-6). These quiet, cosmic waters emanating from the primordial deep signified the orderliness and tranquility of God’s creation, on which humans could rely.

On the mountain of Yahweh, Mt. Zion,a the indissoluble triad of creation, kingship and Temple find their most profound visual and literary expression. Nowhere in ancient Near Eastern art is this triad more brilliantly illustrated than in the wall paintings of the Old Babylonian palace at Mari, built almost a millennium before Solomon’s palace and Temple in Jerusalem. In the palace at Mari, located on the banks of the Euphrates, in modern Syria, a large, sunlit courtyard decorated with wall paintings led into a vestibule in front of the king’s throne room. The courtyard enclosed a garden of live potted palm trees. According to one scholar, a tall, ornamental but artificial palm tree stood in the middle of the garden (compare the location of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden). This artificial tree had a wooden core and was plated with bronze and silver leaf.4 At eye level, just to the right of the doorway leading from the courtyard to the vestibule of the throne room, a large wall painting portrayed the relationship of divinity, royalty and creation. Luxuriant orchards and fantastic creatures surround the building in which the investiture of the king is taking place. In the upper register of the central panel, the goddess Ishtar as warrior, with weapons strapped to her shoulders, scimitar in one hand and “the ring and the rod” in the other, presents the emblems of authority to the king. Ishtar rests one foot on a recumbent lion, her emblem. Three other deities witness the ceremony. In the register below, two lesser goddesses hold vases from which four streams of water flow and vegetation sprouts. The setting for the ceremony is a paradise garden with date palms and stylized papyrus stalks. Guarding the garden and the palace are winged sphinxes, griffins and bulls. At the outer edges of the scene, two goddesses of high rank stand with upraised arms—a gesture of protection for all within the garden precincts.

Israelite kingship is closely linked to this kind of political and cosmological symbolism. On Mt. Zion, the mountain of God, Yahweh met with his council of holy ones and promulgated decrees to the human community constituted under him and the king. In Psalm 2, for example, David speaks of this sort of relationship and quotes his “father” Yahweh, who speaks to his “son” David-

“I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree of the Lord-

He [Yahweh] said to me, “You are my son;

today I have fathered you.

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,

and the ends of the earth your possession.”

Psalm 2-6–8

(see also Psalm 89-25–28)

Similarly, Psalm 36 alludes to the Garden of Eden and its identification with the House of Yahweh in Jerusalem, from which flows the Fountain of Life-

[The people] feast on the rich fare of your Temple;

You [Yahweh] give them drink from your abundant streams.

For with you is the Fountain of Life,

In your light we see light.

Psalm 36-8–9

Several prophets refer to these same life-giving cosmic waters. Ezekiel tells how Yahweh led him to the Temple in a vision; from under and around the Temple, the prophet saw water issuing profusely, eventually becoming a mighty stream that could not be crossed except by swimming. Along the fertile banks of the stream, “fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail. Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary” (Ezekiel 47-1–6, 12).

Joel, too, tells us that “A fountain shall flow from the House of Yahweh” (Joel 3-18).

And Zechariah proclaims- “On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea [Dead Sea] and half of them to the western sea [Mediterranean]” (Zechariah 14-8).
In Biblical cosmology the earth is an island floating on the cosmic waters that rise in the Garden of Eden, where they benefit humankind. In ancient Near Eastern mythology, the cosmic waters nurtured a lush garden filled with exotic plants of all varieties. And in Jerusalem gardens and parks watered by the Gihon Spring cascaded down terraces on the slopes of the Kidron Valley. These gardens served much the same purpose as the gardens in the Egyptian and Mesopotamian capitals, of which Nebuchadnezzar’s legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon are the most renowned.

Much earlier, in the 15th century B.C.E., wall reliefs depict the Egyptian queen Hatshepsut’s expedition returning from the land of Punt with myrrh trees to be transplanted in the queen’s gardens. The ninth-century B.C.E. Assyrian monarch Ashurnasirpal II records among his many achievements an aqueduct that he built to conduct water from the distant mountains to the gardens of Asûsûur, his capital city, named after and dedicated to the chief Assyrian deity. The king lists at least 40 different species of exotic trees and vines that he had brought to the garden, including cedar, cypress, juniper, almond, date, olive, oak, tamarisk, terebinth, pomegranate, fig and grape. Ashurnasirpal provides this sensuous description of his capital garden-

The canal cascades from above into the gardens. The paths are full of scent. The channels of water flow like the stars of heaven in the garden of pleasure. The pomegranate trees which are bedecked with clusters like grape vines, make the wind rich in the garden of [delight. I], Ashurnasirpal, gather fruit in the garden of delights like a squirrel(?).5

Both Sargon II and his son Sennacherib (eighth century B.C.E.) filled their landscaped gardens and parks with rare trees and plants. Wall reliefs from Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh depict his servants carrying large ceramic jars with saplings of fruit trees to be planted in his royal and sacred gardens (see drawing). A relief from the palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh depicts a garden that was probably developed by Sennacherib, his grandfather.6 A similar garden is depicted in Sargon’s palace in Khorsabad. The exotic botany transplanted from the four quarters of the empire to the capital gardens signified the ecumenical sovereignty of the ruler.7

It should be no surprise, then, that the botanical gardens in Jerusalem gave rise to the lore that Solomon was a knowledgeable horticulturist, among other things- “He composed 3,000 proverbs and his songs numbered 1,005. He discoursed about trees, from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall” (1 Kings 4-32–33 = Hebrew 5-12–13). In short, he knew all there was to know about plants, including imported species such as cedars.

It thus seems appropriate that Solomon, the temple builder and horticulturalist, should find his name attached to the love songs and pleasure gardens of the Song of Songs. In this masterpiece of erotic poetry, probably dating to the Persian period (sixth to fourth century B.C.E.), Solomon likens his lover to a paradise garden-

A garden locked is my sister, my bride,

A garden locked, a fountain sealed.

Your canals irrigate

the grove of pomegranates

with all choicest fruits,

henna with nard,

nard and saffron,

calamus and cinnamon

with all trees of frankincense,

myrrh, and aloes,

with all the best spices—

Fountain of the gardens,

Well of living water,

Cascading from Lebanon.

Awake, O north wind,

Come, O south wind,

Blow upon my garden.

Let its scent waft abroad,

Let my beloved enter his garden,

And eat its choicest fruits.

Song of Songs 4-12–16 8

Paradisiacal scenes depicting Levantine-style buildings located on or beside a high hill, probably representing the sacred mountain in the midst of a formal garden, convey powerful mythopoeic reality. A mid-seventh-century B.C.E. text from Asûsûur describes the “performance of the holy akiµtu festival outside the city in the Garden of Plenty.” The “Garden of Plenty” (kiriÆ nuhésûi) is the semantic equivalent of the “Garden of Eden” (gan ôdµen). Near the city of Asûsûur, archaeologists have discovered a garden temple associated with the akiµtu festival. Row after row of tree pits filled the courtyards of the sanctuary.9

Ancient Israel no doubt also participated in such cultic realizations. Live palm trees, cedars of Lebanon, cypress, olive and plane trees flourished in the courtyards of the Jerusalem Temple, making it a veritable garden sanctuary (Psalm 52-8, 92-13–14; Ezekiel 31-8–9).

Turning to the architecture, the Israelite Temple is described in rich but often enigmatic detail in 1 Kings 6–7. It comes into sharper focus as the archaeological corpus of temples and sanctuaries in the Bronze and Iron Age Levant continues to grow. The most recent and significant addition to this comparative corpus comes from the site of ‘Ain Dara, in north Syria (see “The New ‘Ain Dara Temple- Closest Solomonic Parallel,” in this issue).10 Earlier known, although not as close chronologically, is the temple at Tell Ta‘yinat, also in Syria. The Tell Ta‘yinat temple dates from the eighth century B.C.E., the ‘Ain Dara temple from the tenth to ninth century B.C.E. Both temples are approached by a set of monumental steps. In plan, both are long rooms divided into an entrance portico, or porch, an entrance hall (at ‘Ain Dara), a main hall and a back room that served as the deity’s throne room, just as in Solomon’s Temple. The temples at Tell Ta‘yinat and ‘Ain Dara are flanked by two engaged columns that support the portico. These columns may be compared to the engaged columns in the portico of Solomon’s Temple to which the Bible gives the names Jachin and Boaz (1 Kings 7-21; 2 Chronicles 3-17). At Tell Ta‘yinat, the column bases are in the form of lions; at ‘Ain Dara, colossal lions and sphinxes flank the monumental stairway.

In the passageway from the portico to the entrance hall of the ‘Ain Dara temple, a pair of enormous bare footprints is carved in the floor, followed by a single footprint beyond. Another single footprint is carved on the threshold between the entrance hall and the next hall. If these dimensions were translated into height, the individual would be over 60 feet tall. These footprints undoubtedly represent the deity to whom the temple was dedicated, probably Ba‘al Hadad, striding into his abode, toward the throne room. (I would disagree with the excavator, who believes the temple was dedicated to Ishtar. That goddess is represented wearing shoes with upturned toes, so the bare feet cannot be hers.)

Deities are often portrayed as being too big for their houses. In Isaiah’s vision, the train of the deity’s robe fills the Temple- “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne high and lofty, and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6-1). Solomon asks- “If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this temple which I have built!” (1 Kings 8-27).11

In iconic cultures of the ancient Near East, it was common to carry cult statues of the deities in procession to and from the temples during festivals. Similar processions took place in Jerusalem; since cult statues of Yahweh were prohibited, however, the Ark of the Covenant probably served as the symbol of his presence in processions such as the autumn New Year’s festival. This celebrated Yahweh’s victory over the forces of chaos, his choice of Zion as the sacred mountain and his enthronement in the cosmic Temple, where heaven touches earth.12

I would imagine the procession into the Temple went something like this- As the Ark of the Covenant is carried through the outer gates of the Temple precincts, the choir sings a processional such as Psalm 24, which probably dates to the time of Solomon-

The earth is Yahweh’s

and all that is in it,

the world, and those who live in it;

For he has founded it on the Seas

and established it on the Rivers.

Who may ascend the mountain of Yahweh?

Who may stand in his holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart …

Lift up your heads, O gates,13

up high, you everlasting doors!

The king of glory shall enter.

Who is this king of glory?

Yahweh, mighty and valiant,

Yahweh the warrior.

Psalm 24-1–4, 7–8

As the priests bearing the Ark pass through the outer gates of the walled precinct, the personified gates are implored to lift their heads (that is, the lintels) high so that the great king and warrior Yahweh can pass through. From there the procession advances toward the Temple itself. They climb the monumental stairway that leads through heaven’s gate, the portico supported by the great bronze columns named Jachin and Boaz. They carry the Ark through the central hall, which is decorated with the flora and fauna of Eden- palmette trees, colocynths (a kind of gourd), rosettes and cherubim (winged sphinxes). Finally the Ark is deposited in the throne room (the holy of holies), where the invisible deity “sits enthroned upon the cherubim” with the Ark as “footstool” (Psalm 99-1–5, 132-7; 1 Chronicles 28-2).

In Ezekiel’s vision of the restored Temple in Jerusalem, the prophet sees the “glory” of Yahweh entering the sanctuary through the eastern gate. Then God speaks to Ezekiel from the Temple-

O mortal, this is the place of my throne

and the place for the soles of my feet,

where I will dwell in the midst of my people forever.

Ezekiel 43-7

It would seem that Yahweh, too, was barefoot like the deity at ‘Ain Dara.

In the throne room of the ‘Ain Dara temple, a line of orthostats (large stone slabs, set vertically as a revetment along the lower part of a wall), decorated with reliefs of mountain gods flanked by bison, lion and griffin deities, marks the base of the platform on which the temple deity was enthroned (see photo). These are comparable to the gods that support the throne of the Assyrian ruler Sennacherib in later reliefs and to the cherubim that formed the throne of Yahweh, with the Ark of the Covenant as his footstool, in the holy of holies of Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8-6). The ‘Ain Dara temple also provides the first archaeological evidence that graphically illuminates the Biblical description of Solomon’s Temple as having “side chambers all around” (sela‘ot sabib) (1 Kings 6-5). At ‘Ain Dara, 16-foot-wide corridors enclose the building on three sides.

The ‘Ain Dara temple has important implications for the historicity of Solomon’s Temple- The description of Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 6–7) is neither an anachronistic account based on later temple archetypes nor a literary creation. The plan, size, date and architectural details fit squarely into the traditions of sacred architecture known in north Syria (and probably in Phoenicia) from the tenth to eighth century B.C.E.

Thus, in Solomonic Jerusalem, topography, hydrology, architecture, iconography, parks and gardens were all part of the sacred center patterned after celestial archetypes. The Temple on Mt. Zion was the house of Yahweh, where the invisible deity dwelt, enthroned upon the cherubim. That the Temple replicated Paradise is clear from its iconography of flowers and trees. The cherubim, too, recall the creatures who “guarded the path to the tree of life” (Genesis 3-24). In the Eden traditions of the Yahwist (Genesis 2–3), later adopted and transformed by Ezekiel, Eden was identified with the garden of God in Jerusalem. It would not have taken much effort for Yahweh to rise from his throne in the holy of holies and stroll barefoot into the nearby gardens of the well-watered Kidron Valley, as he did when confronting the first couple, Adam and Eve. For the ancient Israelites, as well as for many peoples today, Jerusalem was and is the cosmic center, where heaven meets earth.

This article has been adapted from “Jerusalem and the Garden of Eden,” the author’s contribution to the Frank M. Cross Festschrift, Eretz-Israel 26 (1999), pp. 183*–194* (in English).

a. During the United Monarchy, Zion referred to Jerusalem’s eastern hill, now the Temple Mount and the City of David. Today, however, the western hill is known as Mt. Zion because, until 20th-century archaeologists discovered otherwise, it was thought that the original city would have been located on the higher, western hill.

1. See R.J. Clifford, The Cosmic Mountain in Canaan and the Old Testament, Harvard Semitic Monographs 4 (Cambridge, MA- Harvard Univ. Press, 1972); and Jon Levenson, Sinai and Zion- An Enquiry into the Jewish Bible (San Francisco- Harper & Row, 1985).

2. Critical Bible scholarship divides the Pentateuch into four authorial strands, conventionally labeled J, E, P and D. J is the oldest and is characterized by the use of Yahweh (Jahweh in German, hence J) as the name of God.

3. E.A. Speiser’s translation, in Genesis, Anchor Bible 1 (Garden City, NY- Doubleday, 1964), p. 14.

4. See Jean-Claude Margueron, “Mari- A Portrait in Art of a Mesopotamian City-State,” in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, vol. 2, ed. Jack M. Sasson (New York- Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1995), pp. 892–893.

5. Compare J.N. Postgate, The Governor’s Palace Archive (London- British School of Archaeology in Iraq, 1973), pp. 239–240; A.K. Grayson, Assyrian Rulers of the Early First Millennium B.C., vol. 2 (Toronto- Univ. of Toronto Press, 1991), p. 290; D.J. Wiseman, “Palace and Temple Gardens in the Ancient Near East,” Bulletin of the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan 1 (1984), p. 38.

6. For photographs of the relief, see Richard D. Barnett, Sculptures from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh (London- British Museum Publications, 1976), pl. 23; Julian Reade, Assyrian Sculpture (Cambridge, MA- Harvard Univ. Press, 1983), p. 36, fig. 48. For line drawings, see Stephanie Dalley, “Ancient Mesopotamian Gardens and the Identification of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon Resolved,” Garden History (1993), p. 10, fig. 2; Othmar Keel, The Song of Songs (Minneapolis- Fortress, 1994), p. 169, fig. 100.

7. David Stronach, “The Garden as a Political Statement- Some Case Studies from the Near East in the First Millennium B.C.,” Bulletin of the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan 1 (1984), pp. 171–180; “The Royal Gardens at Pasargadae- Evolution and Legacy,” in L. De Meyer and E. Haerinck, eds., Archaeologia Iranica et Orientalis (1989), pp. 475–495.

8. For the most penetrating commentary on the Song of Songs, profusely illustrated, see Keel, Song of Songs.

9. Walter Andrae, Das wiedererstandene Assur (Leipzig- J.C. Hinrichs Verlag, 1938; revised by Barthel Hrouda, Munich- Beck, 1977), figs. 42–45.

10. A. Abu Assaf, Der Tempel von ‘Ain Dara, Damaszener Forschungen 3 (Mainz am Rhein- P. von Zabern, 1990); see also “Der Tempel von ‘Ain Daµraµ in Nordsyrien,” Antike Welt 24 (1993), pp. 151–171.

11. J.C. Greenfield, “Ba‘al’s Throne and Isa. 6-1” in Mélanges bibliques et orientaux en l’honneur de M. Mathias Delcor, ed. A Caquot, S. Légasse and M. Tardieu, Alter Orient und Altes Testament (1985), pp. 193–198; see also M.S. Smith, “Divine Form and Size in Ugaritic and Pre-exilic Israelite Religion,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 100 (1988), pp. 424–427.

12. For a more detailed discussion of the festival, see Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge, MA- Harvard Univ. Press, 1973), pp. 91–111.

13. The gates were engaged in a wall that encircled the Temple precincts. Ezekiel 42-7 refers to it as gaµdeµr, the same word that is used for a wall that encloses gardens and vineyards. Ezekiel 42-12 uses gdrt gynlr; see also Cross, From Epic to Canon (Baltimore- Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1998), p. 169, n. 67.

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