Last year, Carta of Jerusalem asked us to write two new books for their “Understanding …” series. The first one, Understanding The Holy Temple of the Old Testament, From the Tabernacle to Solomon’s Temple and Beyond was published last year and the other one Understanding The Temple Jesus Knew will hopefully be published this year.
In this series, Carta has published titles such as Understanding Biblical Archaeology, Understanding the New Testament, Understanding the Alphabet of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Understanding the Boat From the Time of Jesus and many more.
As we have written extensively on the Temple Mount it was difficult to give a new slant to this book without repeating ourselves too much. We therefore decided to go back in history and see where the idea of holiness and a sanctuary came from. We found it in the Book of Genesis.
In the early chapters of Genesis we read that God created a garden in Eden and placed Adam and Eve in it to look after it. God Himself walked in this garden (Gen. 3:8) and therefore it represented the dwelling place of God, comparable to the Holy of Holies of the later Tabernacle and Jerusalem Temples. God spoke in the Garden of Eden and also in the Holy of Holies that is sometimes called debir (oracle, derived from dabar, to speak). A similar expression of God walking in a sacred space is used of the Tabernacle (Lev. 26:11,12):
And I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.
One of the earliest extra-biblical references to the Garden of Eden being a representation of the Temple comes from the apocryphal Book of Jubilees 8:19:
“[Noah] knew that the Garden of Eden is the holy of holies, and the dwelling place of the Lord.”
Adam was given a charge to dress (abad —work) and keep (shamar —watch) the garden:
And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. (Gen. 2:15)
The Hebrew verbs ‘to dress’ and ‘to keep’ are also used to describe the work of the priests in the Tabernacle (Num. 3:6,7):
Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him. And they shall keep his charge (derived from shamar), and the charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the congregation, to do the service (derived from abad) of the tabernacle.
It could be suggested therefore that Adam was given a priestly duty to look after this garden-sanctuary.
A schematic representation of the Genesis Sanctuary, showing the Garden of Eden with four rivers coming out of it and the proto-Tabernacle with the cherubim and an altar.
After Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden, cherubim with a flaming sword that turned in all directions were placed to the east of the garden to prevent their return. In Hebrew, the word “placed” (yasken), in Genesis 3:24, is closely related to the word for Tabernacle, which is mishkan in Hebrew. The original language appears to indicate that the cherubim were made to dwell in a tent-sanctuary or tabernacle that was erected to the east of the Garden of Eden. Although little else is known about this sanctuary, the text would seem to be describing a proto-Tabernacle or Genesis Sanctuary, which would serve as a model for future meeting places between God and man.
The location of the sanctuary at the east side of the garden can be compared to that of the Holy Place of the later sanctuaries of Israel. The forbidden Paradise lay therefore to the west of the guarded entrance to the Garden of Eden. A road may have run from the east to an entry point or gate in a boundary that surrounded the Garden of Eden. Here the principles of worship would have been established, creating a pattern for subsequent places of worship. Anyone wanting to visit this dwelling place would have had to approach it from the east and face west. This direction of approaching a holy place from the east has been preserved in the Tabernacle and the Temple constructions, the entrances of which all faced east, while the Holy of Holies is in the west.
The principle of approaching God by sacrifice would also have been established in this place. The sword of the cherubim may have been used, not only to preserve the way to the Tree of Life by keeping humans out, but also for killing sacrifices and the flame for igniting the wood. It would be reasonable to suggest that the offerings that Cain and Abel brought to God were presented to these cherubim. Abel may have placed his offering on an altar. It was in this place that the cherubim, as divine representatives, would have taught Cain and Abel which sacrifices were acceptable and which ones were not. In the New Testament Book of Hebrews 11:4, we are told that God testified of Abel’s gift. Was this testifying done by the fire of the cherubim consuming Abel’s sacrifice? A similar event happened with the sacrifices brought by Gideon (Judges 6.21) and Elijah (1 Kings 18.38).
Thinking about this proto-Sanctuary in Genesis, we can see that the principles of holiness were laid out right in the beginning of the Hebrew Bible. There are many other parallels with the later Sanctuaries of Israel that are mentioned in this book. It appears, however, reasonable to suggest that this bi-partite division of a Holy of Holies and a Holy Place may have become a blueprint for later Israelite and non-Israelite sanctuaries alike.
For further reading on this topic, see:
Parry, D.W. (ed.) (1994). Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism (Salt Lake City).
Beale, G.K., (2004). The Temple and the Church’s Mission, a biblical theology of the dwelling place of God (Leicester).
Hamblin, W.J., (2007). Solomon’s Temple: Myth and History (London).
Beale, G.K., (2011). A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids).
Price, R. (2012). Rose Guide to the Temple (Torrance).