Earlier this week, for whatever reason, something I remember reading or hearing somewhere at some point came to mind and became fodder for reflection on my part. Years ago, I remember coming across a Jewish tradition that Jerusalem was built over the spot where the Garden of Eden was. I remember being rather skeptical when I first heard this.
After my studies in antiquity and history as well as theology and how traditions get passed down and the reliability of such things in college, I find myself less skeptical of such legends, as they often seem to be rooted in some degree of truth. For instance, the legends of the Trojan War seem to refer back to a historical event. Granted, the first humans and the unfallen state are much farther back in history and shrouded in even more mystery. (As an interesting aside, regarding the complexities of how we understand primal history I found Catholic Answers extremely helpful. While we do not interpret the primal history in Genesis as modern science, we do believe it to be real history. “It is impossible to dismiss the events of Genesis 1 as a mere legend. They are accounts of real history, even if they are told in a style of historical writing that Westerners do not typically use. “)
At any rate, the tradition that Jerusalem is over the Garden of Eden has an incredibly compelling ring to it in light of the traditional typological reading of Scripture which the Church has always used. God has an ultimate trajectory in salvation history, and uses real people and real events in real places – and these things point beyond themselves to God’s ultimate plan in Christ.
For instance, THE classic example of biblical typology would be the Exodus from Egypt, that definitive act of salvation on God’s part in the history of Israel delivering them from bondage in Egypt into the Promised Land through the waters of the Red Sea. This great deliverance is the great foreshadowing of the true Passover which will be accomplised in Christ in His Death and Resurrection in which He delivers fallen mankind from the bondage of sin and death. The waters of the Red Sea foreshadow the waters of our Baptism in which we are incorporated into Christ’s death and Resurrection. Likewise, the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorpost foreshadow the Precious Blood of Christ which are our salvation from sin and death. And of course, the blood and water which flow from the side of Christ on the Cross as the true Passover Lamb are the fulfillment of both of these foreshadowings, and also the source of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism from which the Church is born and the Christian life is begun and sustained.
Now, seeing how God works out a saving plan in all of history, we turn to Jerusalem and the Garden of Eden. Genesis tells us that Adam and Eve, the parents of all humanity, entered into rebellion against God, disobeying his commandment “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” –Gen 2: 16-17. As a result, we are told that God expels them from the Garden: ” He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.” -Gen. 3: 22-23
In the discourse between God and our fore-parents immediately after the Fall, the Fathers of the Church saw the first foreshadowing of the Gospel when God tells the serpent that “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” -Gen. 3:15. Jesus Christ (Whom the New Testament calls the new Adam) , born of the Virgin Mary, whom we hail as the New Eve, the Mother of all the living in Christ, is the offspring of the woman who decisively crushes the head of the pernicious Serpent, Satan. So even here in Genesis 3 the story points beyond itself to Christ.
As the history progresses, God calls a people to Himself and enters into covenant with them through Abraham and his descendants in the House of Israel. Bringing them into the Land flowing with Milk and Honey and giving it to them as a possession is an important aspect of this promise and the Lord brings them to this land, Modern-Day Israel, after the Exodus.
An important event in this whole history occurs in Genesis 22 when the Lord asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. At one point Isaac asks his father where the lamb for the sacrifice and Abraham replies that God Himself will provide that lamb. It is important to note that this occurs on Mount Moriah- the hill on which Jerusalem and the Temple later sit. This has always been read as yet another foreshadowing of Christ, as He is the Lamb whom God provides to atone for the sins of the whole world.
As the salvation history progresses and Israel takes possession of the land, Jerusalem becomes the capital and the Temple of the Most High God is built on Mount Moriah. Subsequent centuries of unfaithfulness, repentance, apostasy, judgment, destruction, exile, return and waiting follow until in the fullness of time, God Himself, the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father Almighty, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, took on flesh, dwelt among us and gave His life as a ransom on the cross for sinful and fallen man atop the same hill where Abraham was assured by his faith in God that He would Himself provide a lamb.
Catholic belief has often called the Cross the Tree of Life by which God redeems and gives everlasting life to mankind. In this light, then, how profound is it to consider the Jewish tradition that Jerusalem sits atop the very sight of the Garden of Eden- that God was throughout all history bringing His People back to the Garden of Eden… and if this tradition is in fact true… in every sense of the word. The Cross, the Tree of Life, redeems mankind over the very spot where the Fall occurred. Something about this rings profoundly true, as God loves to write meaning into the very depth of human history. So, I find myself in awe at the profundity of this Jewish tradition which points beyond itself in a way it can scarcely know.