Notes on Genesis (xxi)

‘Then the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden’ (Gen 2:8)

The Greek word the Septuagint uses for garden, ‘paradeisos’, is one that Xenophon and Plutarch had used for the gardens of Persian nobles. These were full of animals, trees and flowing water, all of which were to hand in Eden. The word occurs elsewhere in the Bible, as in the Song of Songs: ‘Your plants are a paradise of pomegranates with the fragrance of a fruit harvest and aromatic plants.’ (4:13) Its occurrence here is one of a number of elements that bind the steamy world of the Song with Eden. The prophet Ezekiel refers to the trees of God’s paradise (31:8f; the cypresses and pines are uncannily reminiscent of a passage in Plutarch’s Life of Artaxerxes); the repeated phrase ‘God’s paradise’ suggests that God was not thought of as the only being to have a paradeisos. But the crucial development occurs in Christ’s words to the penitent thief, ‘Today thou shalt be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:43), which seem to transfer paradise from the beginning to the end. In the book of Revelation, John described himself being told by a figure representing Christ to write to the angel of the church of Ephesus: ‘To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of God’s paradise.’ (2:7)  This brings together a number of themes from earlier in the Bible: the tree of life from Eden (Gen 2:9), the phrase ‘God’s paradise’ from Ezekiel, and the futurity of this paradise from Christ’s words on the cross.

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