The Garden of Eden as Blueprint for the Temple

March 15, 2017 | Leen Ritmeyer
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In the book of Genesis, God places Adam in the garden so that he may “work and guard it”—two verbs that the Torah uses repeatedly in describing the duties of the priests in the Tabernacle. Drawing on this and other parallels, Leen Ritmeyer—an expert on the architecture of ancient Jerusalem—argues that the First and Second Temples themselves were modeled on the Garden of Eden. He makes particular use of the Temples’ layout, where one enters from the east and progresses through the outer and inner courtyards, into the Holy (which was generally only entered by priests), and from there to the Holy of Holies (which could be entered by the high priest only on certain occasions) at the westernmost part of the complex:

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” (yashken), used in Genesis 3:24, is closely related to the word for Tabernacle, which is mishkan in Hebrew. [The use of this word] 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 [that] 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 of the later sanctuaries of Israel. The forbidden paradise lay therefore to the west of the guarded entrance to the Garden of Eden. . . . 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 [flaming] 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 [using] the flame for igniting the wood.

The cherubim then also serve as a parallel to the images of cherubim beaten into the cover of the ark that sits in the Holy of Holies.

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