More from G. K. Beale on The Temple and the Mission of the Church: Adam was a priest and the Garden of Eden was a sanctuary. This is partly a reading back of Revelation 21 and ideas from post-exilic Judaism into Genesis.
But before I criticize, let me make some more positive points. Certainly in Genesis 2 ff. there is the notion that Eden is where man experienced the presence of God in a unique way. Adam and Eve walked and talked with God. So the notion of the presence of God in a unique place does parallel the notion of the unique presence of God in the Temple.
Beale argues that the instructions from God for Adam to cultivate and keep or guard the garden put Adam in a priestly role. In a way this is true. Part of the duty of Hebrew priests was to manage the sanctuary, and I suspect their duties included housekeeping and landscaping. Part of the duty, according to Beale, was to guard the sanctuary. He cites 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah. It is true that the post-exilic rebuilding of the Temple required priests to be gatekeepers and guards.
Adam’s sin was that he failed to be a good priest because he allowed the serpent’s influence in. He failed in his priestly duty of guarding the sanctuary. Beale thinks that the meaning of the Garden of Eden story is that God put Adam into the royal sanctuary to be a co-ruler with God. He was to be a priest and king. The Fall of Adam caused the separation of priesthood from kingship. This was the background of the messianic hope that there would come in the future a savior who would reunite the two roles.
His best argument here is the statement in Genesis that two cherubim guarded the entrance to the garden after the expulsion of Adam and Eve. In other words, because Adam failed in his role he was replaced by these angels. The tabernacle and Solomon’s temple both had the Ark of the Covenant flanked by two carved cherubim. So, in this way, the Temple modeled the Fall story from Genesis.
Beale also thinks the lamp stand in the Temple was a model of the tree of life from the garden. The main arguments here are that the lamp stand had branches, petals, and blossoms (Exodus 25:31-36) and that the allusions to Genesis in the book of Revelation may pick up this idea.
To draw out the idea that the Temple and the garden are related, he refers garden imagery that Israel’s poets used concerning the Temple. He even thinks Solomon, as the builder of the Temple, parallels Adam in that Solomon had an interest in botany (1 Kings 4:33).
Also, just as Eden had a river flowing out of it, so Ezekiel’s future temple and the city of God in Revelation are sources of water. He draws other parallels that come mostly from Ezekiel.
He cites evidence of Near Eastern pagan temples having a garden-like atmosphere.
Finally he cites Jewish sources such as Jubilees, 1 Enoch and the Dead Sea Scrolls to show that there was an early Jewish association between the Garden of Eden and the Temple.
I will react to all this in a few points.
First, Beale’s understanding does not take into account biblical criticism. There is clearly something going on with the two different stories of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4 and the Garden of Eden story that follows. Most scholars think that the Garden of Eden story does not have the priestly interest that the chapter 1 does. Of course, priests later interpreted it, which is why most of Beale’s citations are post-exilic.
Some think Genesis itself is post-exilic. My problem is that I have a more historically conservative view, and so I feel the need to make some separation between the Garden of Eden story in Genesis and much later interpretations of it.
Again, Ezekiel’s use of the garden motif is not as clear if you recognize that his explicit references to Eden are parts of oracles against other nations (see 28:13 and 31:18). He does not mention Eden in his description of the future temple. His allusions there do not seem to me as explicit as Beale thinks. (I find intriguing the suggestion of Cassuto that Ezekiel may be drawing on a very old poetic saga that Genesis– long before– also used.)
Second, the interpretation of the Fall assumes the Christian understanding of Adam’s Fall as a singular event or original sin. Jews don’t usually read Genesis that way. Beale cites Jubilees, which does understand Adam as a priest serving in the garden without giving the story the interpretation that Beale gives it.
Finally, I appreciate all the cumulative evidence. It is useful and suggestive. But some of the individual points seem strained–the Solomon’s interest in trees, for instance.