RPM, Volume 17, Number 15, April 5 to April 11, 2015

Garden Temple

Part 2

By Gregory K. Beale

The Ancient Near Eastern Concept of the Cosmic Expansion of Temples Through the Rule of Priest-Kings in the Image of a Deity

It should not be surprising to find some parallels to biblical ideas in the literature of ancient cultures surrounding Israel. The biblical writers were sometimes aware of the ideas reflected in this literature and sometimes intentionally presented their versions as the true ones in contrast and even contradiction to the others. The narrative of creation, especially the creation of humanity, would have been a prime place to point out the unique witness of biblical revelation. On the other hand, the very fact that this revelation is being set against the same general pagan conceptions means that there will also be some similarities between the two which mutually interpret one another. And, as we have noted earlier, the fact that unbelieving humanity is still in the image of God, distorted as that image is, indicates that their conceptions about the nature of deity and of humanity contain some truth. That unregenerate humanity can still have some glimmers of such truths is part of God's grace in natural revelation (e.g., see Rom. 1:20, which is set in the context of idolatry which follows).

For example, the notion that Adam was set in a sanctuary as a royal "image" of his God is an ancient concept found even outside Israel. The following examples of this show how natural it is that images of a god are placed in a temple after it has been constructed. 1 Ashurbanipal II (883-859 B.C.) "created an icon of the goddess Ishtar … from the finest stones, fine gold … (thus) making her great divinity resplendent," and he "set up in (the temple) her dais [throne platform] (with the icon) for eternity." 2 The resplendent glory of the image was to reflect the luminescent glory of the goddess herself. Accordingly, the light of the deity was to shine out from the temple into the faces of humanity. Consequently, the idols in Assyria were made of precious metals in order to reflect the heavenly glory of the god they represented. 3

Pharoah Seti I (1302-1290 B.C.) built for the Underworld god Osiris "a temple like heaven; its divine ennead are like the stars in it; its radiance is in the faces (of men) like the horizon of Re rising therein at early morning." 4 The Egyptians believed that the sun god, Re, would empower other lesser deities to enter stone images placed in temples. 5 Accordingly, an inscription from the Pyramid Age affirms that the Creator Ptah "fashioned the [lesser] gods … He installed the gods in their holy places … he equipped their holy places. He made likenesses of their bodies … Then the gods entered into their bodies of every wood and every stone and every metal." 6 Ramses III (1195-64 B.C.) said that in the temple of the sun god Re, he "fashioned the gods in their mysterious forms of gold, silver, and every costly stone …" 7 Indeed, "the King is a sacred image, the most sacred of the sacred images of the Great One …" 8

The Egyptian king is not merely a "sacred image" of the deity," 9 but he is a living image of the god. 10 Furthermore, other Egyptian texts say that the god "Horus has acted on behalf of his spirit in you [the Pharaoh]," 11 and one king is recorded as saying, "I am the essence of a god, the son of a god, the messenger of a god." 12 Perhaps most striking, because of its similarity to Genesis 1:26, is the statement by Ramses II (1290-1224 B.C.) about his relationship to his god13: "I am thy son whom thou hast placed upon thy throne. Thou hast assigned to me thy kingdom, thou hast fashioned me in thy likeness and thy form, which thou hast assigned to me and hast created." 14 In addition, Ramses II was even to build temples for the gods: the creator god Ptah said to the same Pharoah, "thou buildest their [the lesser gods] holy places …" 15 In this task, as well as others in relation to the temple, the Egyptian king also served as a priest performing rituals. 16 In the context of an inscription about a temple for the god Amun, the god is recorded as calling the king Amenhotep "My son … My living image." 17

The Genesis portrayal of humans being created in the image of God and being placed in the sanctuary of Eden is even generally in line with the ancient Near Eastern practice in which images of the god were placed in a garden-like temple. There is a fascinating parallel from Mesopotamia, where "the creation, animation and installation of divine images followed a strictly specified set of rites." 18 A series of rituals were acted out in the workshop of a craftsman, at a riverbank, in an arboreal garden and finally, in a temple. Through the rituals the inert image of a god was born, brought to life, clothed, and changed into a living manifestation of the god. The image was then installed in a temple. Likewise, God formed Adam in his "workshop" (Gen. 2:7a), was transmuted into a living person by God's breath (Gen. 2:7b), and was fully brought to life (Gen. 2:7c). Next, he was installed into the Garden (Gen. 2:15). 19 Such a background suggests further that Adam was an "image" of the true God, not a false pagan deity, and, as such, was placed into the garden temple.

As an image of the true God, in contrast to ancient Near Eastern priest-kings, Adam's priestly service and temple-expanding task also finds further striking parallel in ancient Near Eastern literature. Again, these similarities are only imperfect shadows of the genuine task described in Genesis 1-2. The notion of a human king created for the purpose of serving gods in a temple appears in an Akkadian prayer employed in dedicating the foundation stone of a temple:

When Anu, Enlil and Ea had a first idea of heaven and earth,
They found a wise means of providing support for the gods:
They prepared, in the land, a pleasant dwelling,
And the gods were installed in this dwelling: their principal temple.
Then they entrusted to the king the responsibility
of assuring them their regular choice offerings.
And for the feast of the gods, they established the required food offering!
The gods loved this dwelling! 20

Enuma Elish VI. 7-8 asserts that Marduk would "create Man! (Upon him) shall the services of the gods be imposed" 21 (twice more in the immediate context it is said that Ea "had created mankind" and "imposed the services of the gods upon them that they may be at rest" [VI. 33-36]). Such "services" most likely are conceived of as being performed within the temple of the gods, since the "service" enables the gods to be at "rest," a rest which we have seen occurs uniquely in a temple (on which see the above discussion of Enuma Elish VI.51-58). Another cosmological Akkadian text affirms that Ea "created the king, for the mainten[ance of the temples]; [He created] mankind for the doi[ng of the service of the gods (?)]." 22 A similar text says, "let us create mankind. The service of the gods be their portion." Then the kind of "service" humanity is to perform is explained:

To place the hoe and the basket
Into their hands
For the dwelling of the great gods,
Which is fit to be an exalted sanctuary,
To mark off field from field,

To water the four regions of the earth (?),
To raise plants in abundance,

To fill (?) the granary,

To make the field of the Anunnaki produce plentifully,
To increase the abundance in the land,

To pour out cold water
In the great house of the gods, which is fit to be an exalted sanctuary. 23

This text may refer to agricultural work within a temple or to an actual construction of a temple. The former appears to be the case because "the exalted sanctuary" is in existence before humanity's creation24 and because the directly following context of the quotation describes only horticultural tasks. It is not clear whether humanity performs this "service" both inside and outside the sanctuary, or whether the whole earth is considered a sanctuary in which the work on earth is performed. If the latter, the service in the sanctuary is to be performed throughout the entire earth. If the former, the work on earth is in some way inextricably linked with service in the sanctuary. Thus, these Babylonian texts provide background to understand better that Adam's agricultural role in Eden was a priestly function associated with service in a temple.

A similar text to the preceding from the Enuma Elish (VI.107-130) clarifies that cultic "service" in an initial sanctuary was to be widened to include "service" within other sanctuary-shrines throughout the land and likely beyond:

Let him [Marduk] exercise shepherdship over mankind, [his] crea[tures(?)].
Let them provide for their maintenance (and) let them take care of their sanctuaries.

A likeness of what he made (?) in heaven [let him make (?)] on earth.
Let him teach mankind to fear him (?).
Let the subjects be ever mindful of their god (and) their goddess.

Let offerings be brought for their god and goddess;
Let their god not be forgotten, (but) let them support (him).
Let them make their land shine by building shrines for themselves.
Let mankind stand (in awe) before our god.

Let his ways shine forth in glory …

In the brightness of his [Marduk's] bright light let them walk about constantly.
(upon) the people, whom he created … ,
He imposed the services of the gods …

Not only was humanity's "temple service" to extend beyond only one sanctuary-shrine to others but, as this occurred, the glorious light of the god would shine forth further because the human servants continued to perform their cultic tasks in "fear" of and faithfully in the presence of their god.

Perhaps not coincidentally, a similar extension of temple boundaries is observable in Egypt from the First Intermediate Period (ca. 2200) and onward; unlike the preceding Babylonian example of extending by building numerous sanctuaries, this involves the extension of the boundaries of only one temple:

"We find the yearning for limitation side by side with the desire to transcend and dissolve all boundaries." By expanding a divine cult complex, a king [Pharaoh] resolved this tension creatively, simultaneously transcending old limits and establishing new ones. As each king pushed the perimeter of walls and courtyards farther and farther in to what had previously been secular space, the area of the sacred was greatly extended. 25

The process of temple expansion represented an attempt to extend the space of existing order into the outer chaotic sphere. 26 In addition to widening a temple horizontally, the Egyptians also built various levels skyward as well as into subterranean areas. 27 Such a phenomenon of outward extension may be due to the Egyptian belief that at the beginning of creation a small hillock arose, from which grew the entire creation. Since the temple symbolized the entire cosmos, and in particular the holiest place was conceived of as resting on this primordial mound, 28 it would have made sense for kings to want to continue to extend the boundaries of their temples ever outward, in imitation of the cosmos that was expanded in the beginning by the Creator. The floor level of the temple gradually got higher as one approached the sanctuary in order to signify the primeval mound. 29

The Egyptians employed other architectural features to portray the temple as a kind of expanding new creation. The temple pylons pictured the divine Pharaoh defeating his enemies, just as the Creator of the world had overcome chaos and "expanded the territory of cosmos." 30 Imitation of the original cosmic expansion was also reflected by making the holiest place the narrowest and smallest part of the temple complex, with ever-widening sacred spaces as one proceeded into the outer courts. 31 Just as light flashed over the earth at the beginning of creation, so the king-priest's representation of the god in relation to the temple was to shine out divine light increasingly throughout the earth. 32 The divine light of Isis is said to illumine "the Two lands with her radiance, and fill[s] the earth with gold-dust," so that her "radiance [is] inundating the faces." 33

These examples of expanding temples were imperfect echoes of the original commission to the first human priest-king to subdue and rule over the earth and fill it with God's glory by widening the primal garden sanctuary. Genesis 1-2 also stands as a polemic against all imperfect attempts to fulfill this commission apart from faithful service to the true God.


  1. I am indebted to J. Niehaus for alerting me to the sources cited below on "images" in the Ancient Near East.
  2. A. K. Grayson, Assyrian Rulers of the Early First Millennium B. C. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press) 296-97 (A. O. 101.32.11-12).
  3. As argued by Niehaus, No Other Gods.
  4. Breasted, Ancient Records, Vol. III, 96-97 (¦ 232); likewise Ibid., II, 156 (¦ 375: "it [the temple] illuminated the faces [of people] with its brightness"), and almost identically III, 97 (¦ 236).
  5. E. A. Budge, Book of the Dead (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1951) 164-66.
  6. Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (New York/Evanston: Harper and Row, 1959) 46. Cf. also Budge, Book of the Dead, 72, 82, 87, 93-94, 98, 102, 106, 304.
  7. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, IV, 143 (¦ 250); so also with respect to the same Pharoah, see Ibid., Vol. IV, 114 (¦ 190); likewise cf. Ibid., Vol. IV, 15 (¦ 26) and 491 (¦ 958K).
  8. R. O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969) 82 (Utterances 273-4, ¦ 407).
  9. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, 82 (Utterances 273-4, ¦ 407).
  10. Similarly, the Sumerians not only believed that a god inhabited images but that human kings were living images of a god (so T. Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness [New Haven: Yale University, 1976] 37-40, 66, 71).
  11. Ibid, 122 (Utterance 370, ¦ 647).
  12. Ibid, 160 (Utterance 471, ¦ 920); so almost identically Ibid, 242 (Utterance 589, ¦ 1609).
  13. So following here, in particular, Niehaus, No Other Gods.
  14. Breasted, Ancient Records, Vol. III, 181 (¦ 411).
  15. Ibid., Vol. III, 179 (¦ 406). Ramses II said of himself, "I have built it [Egypt] up with temples" (Ibid., III, 181 [¦ 411]), and "I made thee an august temple …" (Ibid., III, 181 [¦ 412]). So also with respect to Ramses III (Ibid., IV, 143 [¦ 250]).
  16. So Shafer, "Temples, Priests, and Rituals," 22-23; Finnestad, "Temples of the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods," 229.
  17. M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature. A Book of Readings (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976) 2:46.
  18. C. L. Beckerleg, "The Creation, Animation and Installation of Adam in Genesis 2:7-25" (see the summary in SBL Abstracts, 1999).
  19. Ibid.
  20. R. J. Clifford, Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible (CBQMS 26; Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press of America, 1994) 61.
  21. Heidel, Babylonian Genesis, 46.
  22. Lines 37-38 of an Akkadian text that Heidel, Babylonian Genesis, 65-66, titles "When Anu Had Created the Heavens."
  23. Ibid., 69-70.
  24. So Ibid., 69, line 10.
  25. Shafer, "Temples, Priests, and Rituals," 7, who summarizes the work of E. Hornung.
  26. E. Hornung, Idea into Image (Princeton: Timken Publishers, 1992) 116-18.
  27. Ibid., Shafer, "Temples, Priest, and Rituals," 7.
  28. Ibid., 8, though Shafer does not draw the directly following conclusion.
  29. Wilkinson, The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, 77.
  30. Finnestad, "Temples of the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods," 210.
  31. Ibid., 211.
  32. Ibid., 205-6, 213.
  33. Ibid., 213.
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