« PreviousContinue »
divided into four heads. Here the woman ate forbidden fruit from one of those trees, and gave it to her husband, and he did eat. This crime was committed through the temptation of the serpent. The guilty pair were expelled from the garden, and the cherubiin and a flaming sword were placed to guard the way of the tree of life. And, lastly, a Redeemer was promised, who should suffer from the malignity of the serpent, but afterward destroy its power.
It is a difficult task to extract and arrange the complicated allusions to these particulars which abound in heathen writings ; for, notwithstanding their frequency, they are so often mixed up with fable, or distorted by poetic imagery, that their original design and precise reference to the narrative before us are not easily seen without a wider range of explanatory observation than that to which we must confine ourselves. We shall, however, furnish selections from some ancient accounts of sacred places and persons, and of religious rites and traditions, which may be calculated to throw light upon the subject.
It is a well-known fact, that, in patriarchal times, as well as in the heathen world generally, worship was frequently performed in a grove, or under a high tree. "Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God.” Gen. xxi, 33. Afterward the Israelites were strictly commanded to cut down the sacred groves of the people whom they destroyed. Exod. xxxiv, 13. Their kings, in numerous instances, worshiped in groves; and although the practice had then become debased, idolatrous, and therefore forbidden by God, it yet shows that the custom had formerly been very prevalent. Indeed, so general was this practice, that Strabo informs us, when he lived, "all sacred places, even where no trees were to be seen, were called groves.” The Scriptures likewise unite with heathen testimony to prove that it arose from a reference to Paradise, and the important events which transpired there. This is evident from the language of Isaiah ; "They shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.” Isa. i, 29.
29. And again : “They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst," Isa. Ixvi, 17; a manifest allusion to the tree in the midst of the garden, as described by Moses. But this grove-worship, on account of its perverted and idolatrous character, was prohibited: “Thou shalt not plant thee a
of any trees near unto the altar of the Lord thy God." Deut. xvi, 21. It is therefore among the heathen, who continued and carried out those practices, that we have to search for the most striking allusions of this kind.
At Cadiz, which was formerly a Phenician colony called Gades, there was a delightful garden, consecrated by solemn rites and ceremonies to idolatrous worship. In the midst of it were two very remarkable trees, according to Philostratus, though Pausanias (Attica, cap. xxxv) mentions only one. They grew out of the tomb of Geryon, a tricorporate monster, which Hercules was there said to have overcome and slain. These trees were of a mixed nature, and it was affirmed of them, that they distilled drops of blood. Near to this sacred inclosure was a lake, with an island in its centre, on which stood a temple to Hercules, who was worshiped here under the title of Ewing, or the Saviour. From this sacred inclosure all women were driven away, as their sex was looked upon as the primary cause of mischief and calamity. And, lastly, the whole temple was guarded by lions and a flaming fire, which turned every way, to forbid the approach of the profane and unholy. Within the sacred inclosure, moreover, was an altar dedicated to Old Age; and those who attended it are mentioned as the only persons who "sing pæans in honor of Death." Near this were three others, dedicated to Poverty, Manual Labor, and Hercules, or the Saviour. It will be admitted that the points of resemblance between this and the Scripture narrative are too many and too striking to be the result of accident, and that they therefore contain an intended allusion to Paradise and its most remarkable events.
On the shores of Epirus was another such sacred place, where the same paradisiacal features are also to be discovered. There was a river "parting into four heads :” also a temple dedicated to the compound figure Chimera, which represented as well the traditional vestiges of the cherubim as the revolving fire or flaming sword which was placed in Paradise. Near it was a spot called Phenice, formerly consecrated to the worship of the palm, or phænix, the emblem of the tree of life.
On the coast of Campania there was another sacred inclosure on a large scale. Here too there was one tree in the midst, and around it the usual curious compound figures armed with flames. There were also traditionary vestiges of the river of Paradise parted into four heads. Before any one could enter into this
place, which was regarded as mysteriously connected with the invisible world, a peculiar sacrifice was to be offered; the blood of the sacrifice was then poured out; and the poet describes the spirits of the dead as crowding around to touch the blood, that they might thereby obtain an entrance into Elysium, or the abode of happy souls.
The garden of the Hesperides affords another such instance. It was supposed to be situated at the extreme limit of Africa. Atlas was said to have surrounded it on every side with high mountains, on account of an ancient oracle, which affirmed that a son of the Deity would at a certain time arrive, open a way of access thither, and carry off the golden apples which hung on a mysterious tree in the midst of the garden. There is a curious antique, yet extant, in which Hercules is represented as standing with an apple in his hand before the tree, around which a serpent is enfolded. The hero is armed with a club, and the serpent appears to have received a wound on the head, and is called Typhon, or Python, which word signifies “to over persuade, to deceive;" the appellation under which we generally find the mythological monster which tradition told the heathen had been the source of all evil, and was to be vanquished only by the Son of God in a human form. Now, the very name Pitho or Python designates the great deceiver of the world. When the damsel at Philippi is said to have been “possessed of a spirit of divination," it is called in the original πνευμα Πυθωνος, “a spirit of Python,” Acts xvi, 16; manifestly showing that the pagan Python was none other than a traditionary memorial of “that old serpent, called the devil, and Satan, which deceived the whole world.”
Rev. xii, 9.
Other instances might be cited; but these are sufficient to show that the heathen did, in their sacred places, refer to Paradise, and to the prominent circumstances connected with the primitive condition of man, his fall, and the promise of a Redeemer. This may be partly accounted for in the following manner: whatever might have been the precise character and object of the cherubim and the fire, (on which subject we shall hereafter have to remark,) all antiquity agrees that, after the expulsion of our first parents from the garden, they approached as near as possible to these cherubic fires, and worshiped God. Hence, in after times, when scattered over the earth, men appear to have modeled their places of worship according to their ideas of Paradise, to accord as far
as possible with what they believed to have existed in primitive times; and hence the numerous coincidences to which reference has been made. A notion was also much prevalent in early times, that the happiest boon which the pious could receive after death, was to gain admittance into that garden of delights from which the first man had been driven: on this account many of the sacred places of the heathen were called hades, and even Jewish phraseology countenances the same idea. The famous Elysian Fields of classic poetry afford an illustration of this ; and in connection with them we read of the four rivers-Styx, Phlegethon, Acheron, and Cocytus—in allusion to the rivers of Paradise.
The sacred persons of heathen mythology exhibit similar references to the history of man in Paradise.
Of this, Apollo is a remarkable instance. He was a son of the supreme god, and is said to have destroyed the serpent Pytho as
as he was born, by shooting him with an arrow. The Thessalians affirmed that in the Valley of Tempe, Apollo, after his victory over the serpent, underwent a lustration. Here also he was crowned with laurel, and, according to some, with that mysterious fruit, the gathering of which had proved the source of all evil, and occasioned the necessity for that victory over the serpent. Hence, moreover, “having first gathered a sacred branch with his own right hand,” he came as a conqueror to Delphi. He is also said to have undergone all this out of love to mankind.
The history of the Indian Chrishna is of similar import. He, too, was an incarnation of the almighty God in human shape, and had a severe conflict with the great envenomed serpent Kalli Na. ger, who had poisoned the waters of the river, and thereby spread death and destruction around. Chrishna, casting an eye of divine compassion on the multitudes of dead which lay before him, attacked the mighty serpent, which soon twisted his enormous folds about his whole body; but Chrishna took hold of the serpent's heads one after another, and set his foot upon them: the monster struggled in vain, and, after expending all his poison, found himself totally overwhelmed. Chrishna, in pity, commanded the serpent to be gone quickly into the abyss; saying, “Since I have combated with thee, thy name shall remain during all the period of time; and Devatas and men shall henceforth remember thee without dismay.” So the serpent went into the abyss, and the water
which had been infected by his poison became pure and wholesome. (See Maurice's Ancient History of Hindostan, vol. ii,
To the history of Hercules some reference has been already made ; but his connection with the paradisiacal history is yet more distinetly marked. He was a mortal son of the supreme god, and was attacked, even in his cradle, by two large serpents, which he destroyed.
Another instance is given in the case of Orpheus. He is said to have dwelt among the Edonians, who seem to have derived their name from Eden. His wife, whom he tenderly loved, soon after her marriage received a mortal bite from a serpent; this occasioned his descent into hades, which, as we have seen, was closely connected with memorials of Paradise. We are further informed that Orpheus taught the unwelcome truth, " that woman was the origin of all evil,” which announcement is said ultimately to have occasioned his destruction.
The Gothic mythology is equally explicit on this point. Thor is represented as the first-born of the principal divinity; and is exhibited as a middle deity, a mediator between God and man. He is said to have wrestled with death, and in the struggle to have been brought upon one knee-to have bruised the head of the great serpent with his mace and, in his final engagement with that monster, to have beaten him to the earth and slain him, The victory, however, cost the life of the mediator-god; for, recoiling back nine steps, he falls dead upon the spot, suffocated with the floods of venom which the serpent vomits forth upon him. (See the Edda, fables xi, xxv, xxvii, xxxii.)
The sacred rites of the ancient heathen are equally replete with allusions to the early history of man.
Bacchus was worshiped as the first planter of trees, and cultivator of gardens.
In the impure rites connected with his worship, the god is represented naked, in a car drawn by lions, leopards, and other beasts of prey, in manifest allusion to the state of man, and the harmlessness and subjection of the inferior animals, in primitive times. The persons who took part in those Ceremonies used to carry serpents in their hands, and with horrid sereams called upon Eva! Eva! They then crowned themselves with these reptiles, still indulging in the same frantic exclamations. When it is remembered that the oriental pronunciation of the