The Comedy of Eden (besides, of course, that of Barbara...)

"So that's where it is!"  Photo by Rikk  

"So that's where it is!"  Photo by Rikk
 

It's really fun putting on "comic lenses" and discovering how pedantic, forgettable or at least unfunny text can turn into something delightful, comical and, hence, spiritually helpful.  Here's a choice little example, found in the middle of the "Adam and Eve" story in Genesis 2:

A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
— Genesis 2:10-14

This is a seemingly absolutely straightforward piece of reportage, right?  Telling us exactly where the Garden of Eden was once found, where paradise once existed.  Exactly.  Google maps couldn't make it clearer. 

However, Yehuda T. Radday, in his chapter "Humour in Names" found in On Humour and the Comic in the Hebrew Bible, edited by Yehuda T. Radday and Athalya Brenner (Sheffield, Almond Press 1990) pp 82-84, makes several very interesting observations.

Photo by Colin K  

Photo by Colin K
 

For one thing, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers don't come from a common origin but, quite the opposite, flow into one another before reaching the sea.  For another thing, the Gihon is not a river but the small, sole natural spring in Jerusalem (see 1 Kings 33).  For yet another thing, the Pishon is totally unknown and does not reappear anywhere else in biblical or extra-biblical literature. 

In addition, the Land of Cush in some parts of the Bible is said to be located in Ethiopia (Isaiah 11:11) and in other parts near Media, now northern Iran (Esther 1.1).  The Land of Havilah may designate a region either in Arabia (1 Samnuel 15:7) or adjacent to Egypt (1 Chronicles 1:9).   And all the attention to gold?  Since when was gold a priority to God's people?  It did nothing but get them in trouble when out in the wilderness they made a calf statue out of it and then had to burn it and eat it as punishment for worshiping it.

Perhaps, as Dr. Raddhay suggests, this description of paradise's exact locale is actually just the opposite: it's a crazy, complete mess! 

Johnny Carson and Carol Wayne (screen shot)

Johnny Carson and Carol Wayne (screen shot)

It reminds me of the many times Johnny Carson, as Art Fern, would give the directions as to where his "Tea Time Movies" could be found.  He'd plop a posterboard "map" on an easel with bold lines going every which way and whap a pointer stick against it, saying something to the effect:

"Take the 10 til you reach the 405 crossing the 134 at the at the 605 past the 1984 offramp under the 732563, and then go six and a third miles til you reach....the fork in the road! "

(A flap on the "map"  would lower revealing a picture of a giant fork randomly pasted in the middle of the every-which-way bold lines; this always got the biggest laugh.) Clearly Art Fern's TTM art house was nowhere to be found, as much as we might like to go and check out Jayne Wayne's...talents. 

Dr. Radday suggests that this Genesis 2 text pokes fun at the human desire to seek some spatial paradise in a land far away that can be escaped to and superficially enjoyed from hereon in.  If we carefully examine what the text is really saying, it's telling us, in most tongue-in-cheek fashion, that Eden, actually, never existed.  Rather...

"The real route to paradise on earth is, so the Bible opines, to follow its commandments, six hundred and thirteen in all and detailed further on.  Whether the reader accepts the injunctions is his own business, in any case."  Radday, "Humour in Names," p. 83

What a helpful and playful reminder when I'm bitterly waxing sentimental on the "good old days" when everything was so much easier and went so well....

And what a helpful and playful warning -- embedded in the Bible itself -- about the perils of taking things literally!

Photo by J C Mac

Photo by J C Mac