The importance of place in bible stories – Eden, Babylon and Armageddon


Biblical scholars can and do argue over who wrote what book of the bible, what the Greek or Hebrew really means in English language, whether the characters of the bible were real people or mythical archetypes and all the other vagaries of the written word.

The word of God existed long before the written word and has always been expressed to humans directly by God through creation without the need for intermediaries and translators.

The Garden of Eden, Babylon and Armageddon are real places on Gods earth – dust and rocks and water and can be photographed by a satellite today, although the geography has changed significantly since the time of Adam and Eve.

Each of these significant pieces or real estate have a history, things that happened on that place, the people born on and buried into that place, the wars, the peace, the ecological change that happened at that place.

These places are the loom onto which biblical metaphors are woven. The stories refer to human circumstance well beyond the place itself, but the story of the very place is the basis of the metaphor. The woven textile is reproduced in the shape of the loom, or as Marshall McLuhan says “the medium is the message”. God’s medium is the creation itself, of which the land is a central element to humans. The people of God weave their stories on Gods loom. Stories without a loom is just tangled string.

It is clear that the story of the Garden of Eden is a story for all of humanity; it describes the human condition in the first instance in good relation to God and then the fall to a bad relationship and the consequences of the fall. However, a consequence of the universalisation of the story and its appropriation by the non-Hebrew Christian church is that it has been stripped of a key element – that it occurred in a real particular place and that place is a central element of the story.

Genesis 2
10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin [f] and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. [g] 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

It is no co-incidence that this particular place is also the north-eastern boundary of the specific land that God gave to Abraham and his descendants. The covenant of circumcision represented a relationship between God, the people and not just any old land anywhere or everywhere, but a specific place with identifiable boundaries.

Genesis 15
18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river [d] of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates-

The national boundaries were not changed right up to the The Kingdom of David, despite captivity in Egypt and the exile.
2 Samuel 8
3 Moreover, David fought Hadadezer son of Rehob, king of Zobah, when he went to restore his control along the Euphrates River.

The land that Moses lead the people into was not a new land, it was the same promised to Abraham, with the Garden of Eden on its boundary. Joshua’s wars with the Caananites were civil wars amongst the people of Abraham, not imperial wars.

While stories of the Euphrates and the Tigris appear to us gentiles as mysterious and exotic backdrops for the creation story, the Hebrews would have immediately understood where and what this place was from their own knowledge of their own country. The meaning to a traditional owner of the land up to the Euphrates will be significantly greater than to a Greek or English speaker in Europe.

Babylon, like the Garden of Eden has come to represent much more than a geographical place. It represents corruption, imperialism and colonisation. This meaning is born of the actual geographical place Babylon, not far from today’s Baghdad. Babylon was a major city in the various empires of the East who dominated the land of Abraham in successive historical waves, it was the local centre of the Imperial economy and the imperial armies and it was central to the various trade routes opening up the middle East between Africa, Asia and Europe. It was the stronghold of the real and historical gentile forces that were desecrating the rule of Gods law in the Middle East – just like today.

Armageddon of course represents the end of the world, or does it? Armageddon too is a real historical place, not far from Babylon and the Garden of Eden. There were clashes between U.S. forces and Iraqi nationalists at Armageddon in recent years. In the Old Testament Armageddon is referred to as Har Megiddo, it is the site where King Josiah, the faithful king who purged foreign idols from the temple and renewed the covenant with God, was killed in battle.

2 Kings 23
29 While Josiah was king, Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the Euphrates River to help the king of Assyria. King Josiah marched out to meet him in battle, but Neco faced him and killed him at Megiddo. 30 Josiah’s servants brought his body in a chariot from Megiddo to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb.

Josiah was killed at Armageddon and buried at Jerusalem. The New Testament community would know full well the history and story of Armageddon and related it to their own contemporary circumstance, the same history of foreign domination and military occupation of the same land, the same issues of foreign idols that Josiah confronted. The New Testament church would not have considered Armageddon as the end of the world but rather another battle of the indigenous Hebrews against foreign domination of their land.

John’s mention of Armageddon in the book of Revelation makes much more sense when compared to the ancient battle of Armageddon. The first century faithful Jews (which included the Christians) were facing, a prophesy of the destruction of the temple and the scattering of the Jews as well as a holy war against the imperial beast – all of which occurred in the lifetime of the disciples as Jesus said it would.

Yet for some reason the Roman church has made Jesus look wrong in asserting that the terrible things will happen in the lifetime of the disciples. The suggestion that Jesus and John’s prophecies were somehow related to other places and people thousands of years later, as the contemporary Christian church does, is just simply dismissing what the bible actually says in order to conform to preconceptions created with no understanding of land or history of the stories.

The generalisation and universalisation of these stories by the Roman imperial church has removed the central element of the story – the land itself and the people’s relationship to it. This one-dimensional bibliology has covered up the story of imperialism and defence of land, it has de-spiritualised the stories transforming them into insipid platitudes for daily life or monstrous irrational horror stories.

Eden, Babylon, Armageddon and all the other bible stories are dreaming stories of particular places in exactly the same nature of Australian Aboriginal dreaming stories live in particular places and are re-told and re-danced through the framework of the land.

The Christian church in Australia has a problem. We are ignorant of the stories of this Aboriginal land that we live on and we have left our own land and stories to come to this continent. The only dreaming stories we have are from the Middle East but we lack knowledge of, or a relationship with God in that land. We are here, not there.


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