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Garden of Eden

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In the account of *Creation found in Genesis 2, *God is described as planting a garden (or “paradise,” from Greek: paradeisos , “enclosed park”) eastward in Eden. In this garden, God placed *Adam and all the newly created animals which he had Adam name . God also created a woman from one of Adam’s ribs to be Adam’s wife; Adam eventually named her Eve. The garden is described as full of beautiful and fruit-bearing trees, watered by a river which divides into four branches. These Four Rivers of Paradise are named: Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates. Two trees in the garden are mentioned specifically: the *Tree of Life and the *Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God forbade Adam to eat fruit from the latter tree, warning him that eating this fruit would cause Adam to die. In Genesis 3, a subtle serpent told Eve that, in spite of God’s warning, they would not die Page 100  from eating this forbidden fruit but rather would become wise, godlike. Both Adam and Eve ate the fruit, became ashamed of their newly noticed nakedness, and hid from God, who then cursed the serpent and sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, henceforth guarded by a cherubim and a flaming sword. Other references to the luxuriant and fertile Garden of Eden are found in *Isaiah 51:3, *Ezekiel 28:13, 31:9, and Joel 2:3.


The Garden of Eden features frequently in early Christian and medieval illustrations of the Genesis narratives, either as a minimally indicated landscape setting or a more detailed background of trees, plants, animals, and flowers. The personified figures of the Four Rivers of Paradise, which medieval theologians connected with the four Gospels and the *Four Evangelists, are also found extracted from the narrative context (e.g., in Romanesque and Gothic sculpture) or, as first seen in early Christian art, as four streams flowing out of a mound upon which stands the Lamb of God.


The symbolism of the Garden of Eden as a place of perfect harmony before it was marred by human disobedience is also reflected in the theological and pictorial themes of the * Hortus conclusus (the sinless Virgin *Mary as the “enclosed garden”), the *Heavenly Jerusalem (the future paradise of the *Apocalypse), and *heaven itself, which, especially in later medieval art, may be depicted as a beautiful gardenlike setting.

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