Recently the Old Testament scholar Daniel Block has vigorously challenged the whole Cosmic Temple thesis. Even if his counter-arguments are somewhat provisional, and he retains certain questionable positions on some matters (e.g. the presence of a covenant in Eden; violence beyond Eden; Jesus replacing the Jerusalem temple), I think he has banged more than a couple of nails into the coffin. Allow me to set out several of his major criticisms:
- The depiction of Eden in Genesis 1 and 2 stresses, says Block, not a sacred space, but a “royal world, with the man being cast as a king.” I may add that the concept of sacred space may be present, but it need not include a priesthood, and there are reasons to think it does not. The office of priest seems to make sense only whe,n others are excluded from the priesthood. But that cannot be maintained out of what we read in Genesis. There is no reason to believe that all Adam’s offspring would follow their father in a priestly function, but then who would they represent? The existence of a priesthood presupposes not a congenial divine-human economy but a broken relationship. Hence it is simply out of place in Eden.
- God’s “walking” (hithallek) in the garden in Genesis 3:8 relates much more to His relationship with man than to the garden as a “sanctuary.”
- The presence of cherubim guarding the tree of life need not imply that Eden was sacred space. Block notes that strange composite creatures are found in other settings in ANE parallels like palaces and gates. They are not confined to sanctuaries, so appeals to ANE parallels won’t work. On top of this is the fact that no presence of these creatures is recorded until after the entrance of sin into the world.
- The clothing given to Adam by God was also given to Eve. If Adam wore priestly garments then so did Eve. But the Old Testament knows nothing of women priests. This incongruity has not been addressed by the promoters of the theory. But neither has the change of wardrobe from glorious apparel before the Fall to animal skins afterwards. An explanation is required if Ezekiel 28:13 is truly a description of Adam as Beale insists.
- Genesis 3 is silent on whether the entrance to the garden was located in the east. It may have been, but we will never know for sure.
- Block notices that the tripartite nature of the primeval environment (garden, Eden, beyond) does not match that of the sanctuary, which had Holy of Holies, Great Room, Court, and beyond. Hence the analogy breaks down upon closer inspection.
- Block asks if Genesis 1-3 ought to be read in light of later texts, as the espousers of the Eden/Temple-as-microcosmos approach assert. He replies that “By themselves…the accounts of Gn 1-3 offer no clues that a cosmic or Edenic temple might be involved.” He rather indicates that the sanctuaries of Israel recall what was lost in the garden through the Fall. He continues by observing that Genesis 1-3 is not based upon the concept of temple theology, but the other way round; temple theology is based in Creation theology. That is to say, the later temples memorialize the lost Paradise.
- Neither Eden nor the Cosmos are described in language which defines temples as places of worship. He points out that the Old Testament calling Israel “the holy land” does not make it a temple, and even if we retain the terminology of calling Eden a “sacred space” it does not make it a temple also. Furthermore, God does not require a dwelling place. I might add that in this scenario the cosmos is a defiled temple (as evidenced by the presence of evil) and hence the garden becomes a sacred temple within a defiled temple which it is meant to picture.
Even if Block is right about all this, and I think he is, this does not require us to back completely away from linking Eden and the Temple. But it is best to view the tabernacle/temple as containing a remembrance of God’s paradise, and the ready access to God that was squandered. I fully endorse the following sentiment of Block’s:
In its design as a miniature Eden the Israelite temple addressed both the alienation of humanity from the divine Suzerain and the alienation of creation in general.
I think this is a crucial point. The note of alienation is what pushes against the notion of an expanding and finally inclusive cosmic temple. And alienation is central to the meaning of the physical temples of Israel.
We may expect more scholars to poke holes in the Cosmic Temple thesis in the coming years.
The Cosmic Temple and the Sufficiency of Scripture
As I have shown, several advocates of this Temple > Eden > Cosmos thesis inform us that it is nowhere spelled out in the Scriptures themselves. We have also seen that interpreters old and new do not always agree with each other about what symbolizes what. But this could be lived with if the Cosmic Temple imagery were kept as an interesting speculative feature of the Bible, say like the presence of certain chiasmic patterns, or even the view that the early chapters of Genesis comprise a microcosm of Bible history. Unfortunately this is far from the case. Leading lights of Covenant and New Covenant theology have pressed this concept into doing major work in service of their eschatological preferences. The logic is attractive: If the church is now the “true temple” which is to expand as God’s dwelling, and the garden of Eden and the physical Jewish temples were merely anticipations of this actual “end times temple”, then there appears to be no need for a millennium after Christ returns. All that remains is the consummation of God’s temple in the New Heavens and New Earth. Premillennialism loses. But so, I would argue, does the sufficiency of Scripture. (more…)