This is an extraordinary monograph that will reward anyone who spends time delving into its many treasures. It is not easy to read and one would be well advised not to sit down and attempt to go from beginning to end. One is better served by viewing Echoes of Eden as the encyclopedic reference work that it is. To help readers find their way around the text, Stordalen provides an eight page table of contents and twenty pages of indices (sources, authors, and subjects). The copious footnotes on each page also offer a rich resource for relevant sources (full citations are found in the sixty-nine page bibliography) and for cross-referencing material found in other parts of the book.
The body of the monograph is divided into five parts. The purpose of part one is to offer the reader an introduction to the study. Stordalen begins, in chapter one, by giving a brief background to traditional understandings of Genesis 2–3 and providing the basis for his own comprehensive perspective. In the second chapter, he goes on to explore the semantic field of “garden.” Finally, in chapter three, Stordalen completes this introductory section by addressing the issue of “communicative competence”—including a discussion of symbolism, metaphor, simile, metonymic names, allegory, allusion, and intertexuality. Stordalen argues that, in the same way readers may be expected to have a particular level of linguistic competence, readers will also share certain conventional expectations that relate to the symbolic aspects of a text, or communicative competence.
In part two, Stordalen explores the use of gardens as symbols and as symbolic settings both in biblical and other ancient Near Eastern texts. Chapter four focuses on the importance of actual and figurative gardens in Hebrew culture as viewed through its literature. The garden as a setting for graves, erotic activities, and for cults is the interest of the fifth chapter. Chapters six and seven examine gardens in both mythic (ancient Near Eastern) and non-mythic (Hebrew) texts, respectively. The survey of Near Eastern texts in chapter six reveals three primary characteristics of gardens: places of divine activity in the human realm, areas of demonic actions associated especially with trees, and as thresholds between the human and divine worlds. The concept of human glory and happiness—especially the lack thereof—is the emphasis of the garden in the biblical non-mythic texts of chapter seven.
Stordalen narrows his focus to Genesis 2–3 in part three, where he begins to explore what the story actually narrates—especially that concerned specifically with the garden of Eden. In chapter nine, after a brief overview of past readings of this story, Stordalen makes three significant arguments. First, he suggests that Genesis 2–3 should be read as an unified narrative; second, that it should be dated to the post-exilic period (around 500 bce); and, finally, that its literary context is best represented by wisdom and prophetic literatures. He follows these arguments with a literary analysis of the story itself in chapter nine. Part three ends with chapter ten, where Stordalen examines the significance of the garden of Eden within Genesis 2–3. Eden, according to Stordalen, is understood by the ancient reader to be a cosmic world apart, but, nonetheless, symbolically related to humanity’s everyday world.
The use of Eden symbolism is the center of Stordalen’s interest in part four. After a brief overview of previous interpretations of the “story significance” of Genesis 2–3 (chapter eleven), Stordalen goes on to examine specific biblical passages that use Eden similes (chapter twelve), Eden metaphors (chapter thirteen), Eden allegories (chapter fourteen), and, finally, allusions and intertextual connections to Eden (chapter fourteen). The latter chapter is especially noteworthy in its discussion of allusions to the Zion/Eden metaphor. After working through the immediately previous 320 pages of preliminary materials, the reader is finally brought to the heart of Stordalen’s argument that Genesis 2–3 is not an “exceedingly marginal” text, but is an important narrative that is central to the literary symbolism of the late Babylonian and Persian period. Should this observation slip the immediate notice of the reader, because of all of the intervening pages between part four and the beginning of the book, the repetition of chapter titles (“Eden in Biblical Texture”) for both chapters one and fifteen, should remind the reader to review Stordalen’s earlier claims.
Part five is composed of only one chapter, which is Stordalen’s understanding of the significance of Genesis 2–3 within its historical context. Genesis 2–3 is a “narrative embodiment of sapiential concern” that “is presented as an ideal for cultic life and for obedience to Law and Wisdom” (p. 471). The story also serves as a warning against human hubris and self-glorification. This section is followed by a general summary of the book and sixteen pages of appendices.
In summary, as mentioned at the beginning of this review, this is an extraordinary monograph that will reward any reader who will spend the time to explore its contents. In many ways, however, this very richness can be its downfall for the casual reader. At times the amount of material contained in this book is overwhelming and Stordalen is not always successful in making connections between his material and his basic argument (for example, after an interesting and detailed exploration of ancient Near Eastern materials related to gardens, Stordalen does not explicitly bring to bear any of this material on his own conclusions regarding Genesis 2–3). Nonetheless, the strengths of this book far outweigh any of its weaknesses and is a welcomed addition to the study of Genesis 2–3.