a biblical theology of mountain-temples, with help from G. K. Beale

by | Feb 26, 2011 | Biblical Theology, New Testament, Old Testament

Beale notes, “The prophet Ezekiel portrays Eden on a mountain (Ezek. 28:14, 16). Israel’s temple was on Mount Zion (e.g., Exod. 15:17), and the end-time temple was to be located on a mountain (Ezek. 40:2; 43:12; Rev. 21:10).”[1]

“In light of these numerous conceptual and linguistic parallels between Eden and Israel’s tabernacle and temple, it should not be unexpected to find that Ezekiel 28:13-14, 16, 18 refer to ‘Eden, the garden of God…the holy mountain of God’, and also alludes to it as containing ‘sanctuaries’, which elsewhere is a plural way of referring to Israel’s tabernacle (Lev. 21:23) and temple (Ezek. 7:24; so also Jer. 51:51). The plural reference to the one temple probably arose because of the multiple sacred spaces or ‘sanctuaries’ within the temple complex (e.g., courtyard, holy place, holy of holies)… Ezekiel 28 is probably, therefore, the most explicit place anywhere in canonical literature where the Garden of Eden is called a temple.”[2]

 The fact that the Garden is viewed as the place of the first mountain is very interesting in light of the Bible’s emphasis on mountains and temples. Beale notes that early Jewish commentary also saw a unique relationship between Eden, a high mountain, and Israel’s temple. He references 1 Enoch 24-25 and comments:


The early Jewish book of 1 Enoch says the tree of life would be transplanted from Eden, which was on a ‘high mountain’, to the ‘Holy Place beside the temple of the Lord’ in Jerusalem…, implying that the tree’s former location in Eden was also a sanctuary.[3]

The entry for “Mountain” in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery reads:

Almost from the beginning of the Bible, mountains are sites of transcendent spiritual experiences, encounters with God or appearances by God. Ezekiel 28:13-15 places the *Garden of Eden on a mountain. *Abraham shows his willingness to sacrifice Isaac and then encounters God on a mountain (Gen 22:1-14). God appears to Moses and speaks from the *burning bush on “Horeb the mountain of God” (Ex 3:1-2 NRSV), and he encounters Elijah on the same site (1 Kings 19:8-18). Most impressive of all is the experience of the Israelites at Mt. *Sinai (Ex 19), which *Moses ascends in a *cloud to meet God.

A similar picture emerges from the NT, where Jesus is associated with mountains. Jesus resorted to mountains to be alone (Jn 6:15), to *pray (Mt 14:23; Lk 6:12) and to teach his listeners (Mt 5:1; Mk 3:13). It was on a mountain that Jesus refuted Satan’s temptation (Mt 4:8; Lk 4:5). He was also transfigured on a mountain (Mt 17:1-8; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36), and he ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:10-12).[4]

Jesus also designated a mountain in Galilee from which he gave the Great Commission to the eleven (Matthew 28:16). Jesus is both the tabernacle of God among men (John 1:14) and a temple (John 2:19-22) who builds the new temple (Ephesians 2:19-22 [his body, the church]). Hebrews 12:18-24 contrasts Mount Sinai and Mount Zion in the context of the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. God’s people have gone from one mountain to another. Surely these mountains are symbols of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant and have their foundation in the first mountain-temple, the Garden of Eden.

[1] Beale, Temple and the Church’s Mission, 73.

[2] Beale, Temple and the Church’s Mission, 75-76.

[3] Beale, Temple and the Church’s Mission, 79.

[4] “Mountain” in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarstiy Press, 1998), 572-74.

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