Wednesday, 30 March 2011
Mountains of speculation; molehills of fact
On Tuesday night I watched the third and last of Francesca Stavrokopoulou’s mini-series, The Bible’s Buried Secrets.
Titled “The Real Garden of Eden”, the programme set out to prove that that the real Garden of Eden was actually the temple in Jerusalem. Not having had internet access for the last few days, I’ve not been able to post anything until now but the best thing I can say about the programme was that Miss Stavrokopoulou was very easy to watch (and both she and the BBC know it!).
I found it frustrating, however, that although there was much of value in what we were told, the facts were given fanciful and erroneous interpretations. Although Miss Stavrokopoulou coyly informed us several times that she was telling us what she thought, it was clear that we were expected to take what she thought as undeniably correct.
Her starting assumption was that Genesis chapter 3 could not be taken at face value, and we were introduced to a “Creationist” (Yes, folks, these intellectual curiosities really do exist!) who was allowed less than a minute to tell us that he believed the Bible from Genesis to Revelation (Tee hee. Such foolishness!).
The programme made clear that the Christian understanding of Christ’s atonement cannot stand without the historicity of the fall of man and the reality of Original Sin. The agenda was therefore transparent: undermine the foundations of Christianity so that, like Christ’s “house built on the sand”, the entire edifice will collapse.
Miss Stavrokopoulou’s second assumption was that Genesis is a late composition, written only 2,500 years ago, and predated by the book of Ezekiel.
The presenter not only has looks; she is clever. By demolishing crude misunderstandings of the story of the fall of man, she knew that most viewers would imagine she was pointing out errors in the biblical text itself. For example, she placed the biblical teaching that the serpent was Satan on the same level as the unbiblical notion that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was an apple.
Though she told us that four rivers, including the Tigris and the Euphrates, flowed out of Eden, Miss Stavrokopoulou picked on just one of the rivers – the Gihon, of which we know nothing outside the biblical text – and simply assumed it was a reference to the Gihon spring outside Jerusalem.
Although her goal was to prove that the Garden of Eden was nothing more than the temple in Jerusalem, Miss Stavrokopoulou neglected to inform us that the Gihon did not flow out of the temple.
She referred to Ezekiel 28, in which we are told that the king of Tyre was a “cherub” in Eden but then took that line of thought no further because the idea of the garden of Eden being in Lebanon would not have fitted her theory.
There are certainly parallels between the temple and the Garden of Eden but the temple is based on Eden, not vice-versa. The Jerusalem temple was “the garden of God” but it was not the king that “walked” in it; the priests walked in the temple. The king was not even allowed to enter the temple, and certainly not the Holy of Holies.
Miss Stavrokopoulou made the bizarre claim, in an attempt to rehabilitate the serpent of Genesis 3, that the seraphim were “flying serpents”, when in Isaiah 6 they cover their faces and their feet with their six wings!
The fatal flaw in all this speculation, however, is that Francesca Stavrokopoulou does not take the Genesis account in its context. Genesis 3 cannot stand alone. It is part of a seamless account that begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth and is followed by the account of Cain and Abel, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, the calling of Abraham, the births of Isaac and Jacob, and the founding of the Hebrew nation.
Everything that follows in the biblical narrative looks back to the Fall of man in the garden. The temple was a divinely sanctioned way to “get ourselves back to the Garden”. Jews and Christians have always understood Genesis 3 to be about the entrance of sin into the world and the loss of human innocence.
Why would the Bible, which in Kings, Chronicles, Jeremiah, Daniel and elsewhere carries plain and detailed accounts of the fall of the Jerusalem temple and the reasons for it carry an account so heavily disguised that it would not be understood for another 2,500 years?
This pick and mix approach to the biblical text is unsound and utterly unscholarly. Miss Stavrokopoulou obviously wishes to be regarded as an uncommonly clever lady. The irony is that although she wants to get Eve and the serpent off their respective hooks, she appears to have sunk her own teeth firmly into the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and, courtesy of the BBC, has held the fruit out for us to do the same.