Where is Paradise?

  •   Paradise in Jewish and Christian thought and where it is located? by Mordechay Lewy
    Since the Fall of Mankind, Paradise was Lost. The search for regaining a perfect world, be it paradise on Earth or No- place [Utopia] marked the human aspirations and thinking since then. All religions that believe in afterlife believe in heaven of any kind. This is a cultural common denominator among almost all religious systems. Paradise is for that matter among many, also for Jews, synonymous to heavenly paradise. Alessandro Scafi is asking in his seminal book “Mapping Paradise – A History of Heaven on Earth”- where is no-where?

    Origin of the word  paradise

    The term paradise derives from old Persian pairi [around] daeza [wall brick or shape]. Composed in one word it means walled- in garden or compound. It  was introduced in European languages through Greek when Xenophon translated it to paradeisos. The Persian tradition of building enclosed gardens with rectangular water basin and odorous plants stems from the royal Achmenide tradition of the enclosed hunting grounds of lions which was a ritual practice enforcing their divine –royal authority. Later the paradisian garden tradition was expanded to Moghul India (Taj Mahal) and under Islam in the Middle Eastern until Andalusia (Alhambra ,Granada) and later to Europe. The Hebrew word pardes, derives from Greek or Persian and means garden, grove or orchard. The biblical paradise is termed in Hebrew gan eden which was translated to Latin hortus deliciarum. Medieval Latin used more often the term paradisus.   

    The description of Paradise in Genesis 2:8-15. 

    8.-Poi il Signore Dio piantò un giardino in Eden, a oriente, e vi collocò l'uomo che aveva plasmato. 9.-Il Signore Dio fece germogliare dal suolo ogni sorta di alberi graditi alla vista e buoni da mangiare, tra cui l'albero della vita in mezzo al giardino e l'albero della conoscenza del bene e del male. 10.-Un fiume usciva da Eden per irrigare il giardino, poi di lì si divideva e formava quattro corsi. 11.-Il primo fiume si chiama Pison: esso scorre intorno a tutto il paese di Avìla, dove c'è l'oro 12.-e l'oro di quella terra è fine; qui c'è anche la resina odorosa e la pietra d'ònice. 13.-Il secondo fiume si chiama Ghicon: esso scorre intorno a tutto il paese d'Etiopia. 14.-Il terzo fiume si chiama Tigri: esso scorre ad oriente di Assur. Il quarto fiume è l'Eufrate. 15.-Il Signore Dio prese l'uomo e lo pose nel giardino di Eden, perché lo coltivasse e lo custodisse. (Authorised translation of CEI). 

    Paradise in Jewish thought.

    In Judaism the concept of returning to paradise is different from Christianity. The redemption, individually and collectively, depends on the believer's free will to chose between good and evil. Since he is responsible for his choice, God will reward or punish him in Heaven (sometimes also the term Gan Eden ,i.e. paradise is used) or Hell. The Talmud mentions in the context of a debate on free will Rabbi Akiba, who is a great protagonist of it, who said in Tractate Hagiga:15a  as follows: God created righteous and evil men. He created paradise and hell accordingly. The Righteous will be rewarded with a place in Paradise, the evil will get his punishment in hell. There is no remission of the original sin because there is no intervention of an intermediate like Jesus as God's son who, according to Christianity, redeemed humanity through his crucifixion. The location of paradise is considered next to God. Book of Jubilees, which was written in Hebrew ca. 150 BC, consecrated in Chapter 8:19 three places as holy  places, all of them in the part of the world which is allocated to Shem, son of Noa, namely Asia. And he should know that the paradise is the Holy of the Holiest where God dwells, and Mount Sinai in the desert and Mount Zion in the nave of the world, all of them three, facing each other,  were created to be holy. Since the book was written when worship on the Temple Mount (Moria) was still performed, the paradise (Gan Eden) location was identical with the Holy of the Holiest. The paradise is not in the east but in the most western part of Shem's Asian territory, i.e. the Land of Israel. In his journey through earth and hell the Ethiopian version of Enoch located in Book  I Enoch, 26:1-4  a blessed garden in what obviously fits a topographic description of Jerusalem.                                                             

                 “And I went from thence to the navel of the earth [i.e. Mt. Zion], and I saw a blessed placein which there were trees with branches abiding and blooming [of a dismembered tree]. And there I saw a holy mountain, [i.e. Mt. Moriah]and underneath the mountain to the east there was a stream [i.e. Kidron] and it flowed towards the south. And I saw towards the east another mountain [i.e. Mt. Olive] higher than this, and between them a deep and narrow ravine…”

    Early Jewish traditions did not imply the East as location of the paradise, although the etymological derivative from the term Kedem could mean "before" or "first" or later "East" where the sun rises first. Jewish tradition placed the paradise on Templemount (Mt. Moriah) or later along the Jordan valley, be it in Jericho or Bet Shean (in Greek Skytopolis). According to Genesis 2:8 paradise was created before man was created or at the East. There are however rabbinic traditions in Bereshit Rabba 15 b, which says that garden of delight (Gan Eden) was created before time . 'Mikedem' means not before creation but before man was created. A similar view is reflected in an apocryph source as Vision of Esdrae 1:6. Accordingly: paradise was created in the third day of creation and before the land was created "And you brought him [Adam] to paradise which your   right [hand] has planted before the land became [was created]." But in I Enoch 32:2-6 Enoch locates the biblical story of eating from the tree of knowledge and of the expulsion from the garden, in the extreme East. "And thence I went over the summits of all these mountains, far towards the east of the earth, and passed above the Erythraean sea and went far from it, and passed over the angel Zotîêl. And I came to the Garden of Righteousness, and saw beyond those trees many large trees growing there and of goodly fragrance, large, very beautiful and glorious, and the tree of wisdom whereof they eat and know great wisdom.  That tree is in height like the fir, and its leaves are like (those of) the Carob tree: and its fruit is like the clusters of the vine, very beautiful: and the fragrance of the tree penetrates afar.  Then I said: 'How beautiful is the tree, and how attractive is its look!' . Then Raphael the holy angel, who was with me, answered me and said: 'This is the tree of wisdom, of which thy father old (in years) and thy aged mother, who were before thee, have eaten, and they learnt wisdom and their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked and they were driven out of the garden."

    Early Christian  thought:  Ephrem the Syrian and Augustinus

    Ephrem the Syrian's concept of  paradise on earth  on the top of the highest mountain derives from a symbolist approach in which his exact location is of less concern. His paradise which is equated to heaven and t o God's dwelling is described as huge mountain which surrounds the created land and sea. The mountain is structured in hierarchy. Jewish traditions placed also the paradise on top of a mountain, be it Mount Moria or mount Zion.

    Distinction between Heavenly and Terrestrial Paradise [on earth but not of earth] is not dichotomic according to Augustinus: De Genesi ad litteram, XII.28,56: "And yet more thoughtful consideration of the matter might possibly suggest that the corporeal paradise in which Adam lived his corporeal life was a sign both of this life of the saints now existing in the church and of that eternal life which will be when this life is done". The concept of a three staged sequence of history of human salvation identifies first Adam as living in paradise which was lost to humanity because of the original sin. The second Adam is Jesus while being crucified in Jerusalem (Golgatha), made the return to paradise possible. The third stage is the second coming of Christ. Jerusalem is shown in most medieval world maps in the center as navel of the world according to Ezekiel 5:5 : I have set Jerusalem  in the midst of the nations and countries that are around her.  This central location of Jerusalem gained popularity in maps especially after it was lost to Christianity in 1187.  According to Augustinus before the second coming of Christ the perfect life is possible where saints live in a terrestial paradise. This is the theological basis to search for life of perfection on this earth. It is achievable only within the church and according to medieval thought preferably within clerical order. It should be noted that since Carolinian period the narthex and monastic church yard [cloister] was called paradise. Paulus Diaconus in his History of Langobards, Book  V:31,  wrote Ecclesiae locum qui paradisus dicitur ante basilicam b. apostoli Petri. With the second coming of Jesus a universal redemption will be possible so that the heavenly paradise can be reached. This heavenly paradise is what St.Paul means according to Augustine as the vision of third heaven. In II Letter to the Corinthians, 12: 2-4. Paul's vision equates tertium caelum with paradisum. The search of paradise was a real one as it remained a place on earth with geographical coordinations which could be drawn on a map. Only few medieval thinkers imagined the paradise, terrestial and heavenly alike,  in a spiritual sense as a church. One of them was Petrus Lombardus in his Sententiae II, dist. 17, c.5:4. Thomas Aquinas represented the dominant  realistic approach as veritas rerum gestarum in his Summa Theologiae I, quest.102 a.1. Therefore, it was also possible for Elias and Enoch to dwell in paradise. The direction of the place of paradise was diverse. Glossa Ordinaria (MPL 113:86C) indicated "in the East". "On a height" was Bonaventura's suggestion in his Sententiae II, d.17. dub. III. "On the Aequator" was the answer of Ulrich of Straßburg.  

    The orientation of paradise:

    The Byzantine tradition of Cosmas Indicopleustes [literally :Cosmas the traveller to Indian sea] was based on the flat shape of the tabernacle (Exodus 25) and not on the hellenic spheric shape of the globus. Cosmas adopted however the West- East direction of the known Ptolomean world. His fixation of the   Paradise in the east was according to an interpretation of Gan Eden mikedem, indicating the biblical location to the  east which is synonymous to before in place and in time. The navigable seas were only those who were indicated by his map as Roman sea, Arab sea, Persian sea and Caspian sea. Nobody is able to cross the dangerous ocean which separated paradise from the world. Human beings are offspring of Noah's ark which succeeded to cross the ocean as a unique event.  The Greek merchant from Alexandria(?) Indicopleustes included not only the  pre- deluge paradise , but also another  trait  in his map. He located  the happy  people who lived in transmontane or hyperborean  [beyond the mountains] zone in the far north, where the deluge could have never reached them.  Latin tradition of Isidor of Sevilla continued placing paradise in the East, but adopted a circular and nor a rectangular delineation of the world maps. In this manner he oriented the map to the east. This coincided also with the ethymology of the Latin term oriens = versus quod sol oritur. It derives from the Latin verb orior, oriturus.

    The westernisation of paradise:      

    In spite the dominating orientation of the medieval paradise in the east, according to Christian cartography, there was also a classical and Celtic tradition of placing paradise in the western ocean. The late and unfinished dialogue of Plato Kritias placed the ideal country Atlantis west of Mediterranean in an island in the ocean which has vanished in an earthquake. The Greek classical tradition of the Island of the blessed (makaron nesos, pl. nesoi) also known as Fortunats Islands was well established in Antiquity. It is mentioned in Flavius Philostratus "Life of Apolonius", in Plutarch's "Life of Sertorius" and also Plinius in his "Natural History", Book III, placed them in the Atlantic Ocean. The Greek geographer Ptolomaeus made reference to the Fortunate Islands by naming the first meridian of his map (from west to east) as makaronesia. Today the name Makaronesia applies to the group of Islands from the Azores, Canarian Islands, Cape verde and Madira. The classical tradition of locating ideal paradisian  places in the western ocean facing the coast of Mauritania, forced Isidor (Book XIV :6, 8) to polemize against the fallacy of the pagans and secular authors who considered Fortunate islands being the paradise. The navigation of St. Brendan to the promised land of the saints belongs to the genre of Christianised Irish- Celtic maritime tales of the early middle ages. It is an effort to find the heavenly paradise. Beyond the fact that the monks started to sail westwards, they did not navigate, but lead God to direct their adventurous sail. What they found was something like earthly paradise but located precisely in the west. The tale was disseminated widely in 120 surviving Latin manuscripts. Nevertheless, it is difficult to trace St. Brendan islands in medieval maps, just because the tale was not indicating where they were located.

    Depicting paradise through its four rivers

    Josephus Flavius in his first book of Jewish Antiquities wrote ( section 37-38) : Now the garden was watered by one river, which ran round about the whole earth[in Hebrew Eretz =Land], and was parted into four parts. And Phison, which denotes a multitude, running into India, makes its exit into the sea, and is by the Greeks called Ganges. Euphrates also, as well as Tigris, goes down into the Red Sea[meaning Persian Gulf]. Now the name Euphrates, or Phrath, denotes either a dispersion, or a flower: by Tigris, or Diglath, is signified what is swift, with narrowness; and Geon runs through Egypt, and denotes what arises [i.e. emerges suddenly] from the opposite side of us [i.e. from the west], which the Greeks call Nile. Josephus harmonized here the geographical knowledge of the Graeco-Roman world with the biblical four rivers of paradise. This identification had a vast impact on the  delineation of Christian world maps, as those rivers were the main characteristics of depicting on maps the location of paradise. Pishon = Ganges; Prath = Euphrat; Hidekel = Diglath [Babylonian name for Hideke, transformed to Greek in Tigris]; Gichon or Geon = Nile.

    The inhabitants of earthly paradise: Enoch and Elias and others  

    In the Hereford map, which was prepared by Henry de Bello (ca. 1300), the Earthly paradise was  located somewhere in the East (according to Isidor Ethymologiae ,XIV:3,2-4 in the extreme East). It was surrounded by walls and fire flames and watched by Cherubim in order to prevent illicit entrance after the original sin and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise. Still the terrestrial paradise has few inhabitants. Enoch and Eliyah are the most famous ones living there. They belonged to the few human beings who were chosen to live in paradise on earth. See Exodus 5:14 " And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him." For Eliyahu (Elias) see II Kings:2,11 " there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire and parted them both asunder; and Elias went up by a whirlwind into heaven. Book I Enoch  was popular among the Jewish apocryphs in the first century BC and the first century AD. At least 15 text remnants of I Enochas have been found in different caves in Qumran. Once it became subject to Early Christian – Jewish polemics, as Christians equated Enoch to Christ's ascension to heaven, Jews lost their appreciation of the book. The Talmud does not mention Enoch even once. In Medieval Jewish exegesis Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo [Salomon] Yitzchak) wrote in his exegesis to Genesis 5:24 that Enoch was a just but light in his thoughts [unclever] and could commit sin again. Therefore God killed him before his time. Also other medieval sages interpreted the words God has taken him, that Enoch died.  Elias rise to heaven became  since John Chrysosthomos (4th century) a praefiguration of Jesus ascension to heaven. The wooden doors displayed  Santa Sabina church on Aventino in Rome (430 AD) follow this praefiguration. In medieval Jewish exegesis we find an interesting passage by Radak ( Rabbi David Kimchi). In his interpretation of Elias rise to heaven in II Kings, 2:1, .Radak favoured the idea that Elias has died as he rose with a chariot in flames to heaven. His flesh was burnt but his spirit turned to God. Radak mentioned however what common people and sages believed, namely , that God has introduced  Elias with his body [which means alive] to paradise as God has introduced to paradise  Adam before he sinned. Similarly was also the case of Enoch. Radak rightly alluded  in this context to a Jewish interpretation,  shared by the common people and sages alike, according to which ten persons entered alive the paradise. Indeed, the earliest list appears in the Talmud in Tractate Kala (the bride). As Professor Shanan showed recently, the list is mentioning only Jews and Gentiles who appear marginally in the bible. Shanan asked why  important biblical persons like Moses, Isaac and Jonas  do not appear in the list. His answer is illuminating. Due to the early Jewish- Christian polemics on the possibility of resurrection, all persons who entered alive to paradise according to Christian claims, were deleted from Jewish lists. The first jewish list seems to ridicule the qualification of being entitled to live in paradise. It serves as  a polemical parody to Christian claims to prefigure personalities from OT as predecessors of Resurrection. Enoch and Elias has been added much later to the list when this  polemic lost its momentum.  Already in the Jewish apocryph Book of Jubilees (4:23), which was written around 150 BC, we learn that Enoch was taken to the paradise by God. He  was the first man to  learn how to write. Sitting in paradise he introduced chronological order in  events which happened but also wrote about events to come. This is actually the content of Book of Jubilees itself. Enoch  witnessed many prophecies. In early Christian traditions the Coptic Apocalypse of Elias and the Ethiopian I Enoch (Vision of the Animals in chapter 90), Enoch and  Elias were interpreted as acting persons in the apocalyptic vision of Revelation 11. Also  Bruno d'Asti [ of Segni]  interpreted both Enoch and Elias  in his treatise Expositio in Apocalypsym (MPL 165:662), written ca. 1107-1111,  as witnesses of the Revelation as the two olive trees and two candles from the beginning of John's apocalyptic vision. "Hi enim duo testes litteram Henoch et Elias intelligentur; spiritualiter autem omnes Ecclesiae doctores, qui duorum testamentorum testimoniis roboratur testes Dei rite vocantur." Bruno refers to  Revelation 11: 3-4  "And I will give power unto my two witnesses …these are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks standing before the God of Earth." Elias and Enoch were welcomed by Christian sources but banned from Jewish memory as having entered the paradise alive.

    Dante's paradise in the southern Hemisphere as prelude to the new discoveries

    From the third Canto Paradiso in the Divina Comedia,  modern scholars tried to infer the location of Dante's  earthly  paradise. It is located on top of the extremely high  mountain of the purgatory. A vast ocean separated this mountain from the physical world. The paradise is located as an antipod of Jerusalem which means in the southern hemisphere, which was not yet discovered during Dante's time. When Dante met  Ulysses in Hell, the Greek king told him  that he once left Gibraltar for the Atlantic on a south westerly course sailing towards paradise. After sailing for five months, he saw the high mountain of paradise but a storm prevented him to cross the ocean. Nobody is allowed to cross it. This story is a reminiscence of the early verdict of Indicopleustes not to try to cross the ocean in order to look for paradise which is lost for humanity. Non plus ultra was written next to Hercules columns in Gades (Cadiz), which were since Antiquity regarded as the end of the world.

    It is not a surprise that as a consequence of crossing the ocean with the discovery of the American continent, a cycle of geographic lore was closed. The natives were considered as noble savages who lived in an innocent primordial manner  before the original sin.. With crossing the ocean, the natives fullfilled the expectation of being the pre-delugian Hyperborean who lived according to early medieval maps in a paradise lost  far beyond the mountains and seas. On the other side, the classical motto of non plus ultra was changed to plus ultra by the Emperor in whose empire the sun never disappeared, Charles V.