Garden of Eden Symbolism - The East. Part 1
The creation story in the book of Genesis states that "...the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed." (1) One day the thought came to me "East of what? On a round globe, of which the Earth is, without some point of reference, east could be anywhere." Then we read in the account of the creation that after Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, they were sent out of the Garden of Eden.
I thought "Why does God only guard the east end of the garden? If Adam wanted to, couldn't he circle back and come back in through the north, south or the west ends? Obviously, he couldn't if there were other barriers to prevent him from doing so, but the only barrier mentioned is the Cherubim and the flaming sword." Because of the ambiguous nature of these verses, I have come to the conclusion that the account is symbolic in nature, even if it really did happen. Rabbi's have long held that though the lives of the great patriarchs were real and really did occur, at the same time their lives were symbolic and prophetic in and of themselves. I remember hearing a Rabbi say that the stories of the Old Testament are more than quaint little stories - there is more information there that doesn't meet the eye. If the account of Adam and Eve is a parable or an allegory of sorts in addition to actually having had occurred, then it would be imperative to understand what meaning the people of that culture placed on the individual components of the parable.
"Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
So He drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden, Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."(2)
A good place to start would be the whole concept of "East". The following definition concerning the east is found in Sir William Smith's Bible Dictionary:
"East. The Hebrew term kedem properly means that which is before or in front of a person, and was applied to the east from the custom of turning that direction when describing the points of the compass, before, behind, the right and the left representing respectively east, west, south and north. Job 23:8,9." (3)If Smith is correct concerning the meaning of the term "east" and we apply it to the previously quoted verses, then we should understand that a garden was planted before God's face. Sending Adam towards the west would be synonymous with Adam being sent out of God's presence.
Justin Martyr (Apologist and martyr. Died circa 165 A.D.) writes in his letter entitled Dialogue with a Jew about how the scriptures are full of signs and symbols. Justin discusses several names by which God is known by in the Old Testament. He quotes an unspecified source as saying "His name is the East." (4) The translator or editor of Justin's work references the scripture Zechariah 6:12 which actually reads "...whose name is The BRANCH;..." in 5 different Old Testament translations that I've read.
I did a word search for the phrase "His name is the East" and also the words "name" and "east" together on the computer, but found no references anywhere in the Bible. Either Justin misquoted Zechariah or he is quoting a source that is not in our current Bible or there is a linguistic, cultural, or kabbalistic connection between the words "branch" and "east" that I am not aware of. In fact, our current King James version of the old testament comes from the Masoretic text and Justin accuses the Jews of leaving many things out of that particular translation when they translated the Old testament into Greek. He apparently was using the Septuagint. It is also quite possible that he is quoting a source that we do not have available to us today.
1. Genesis 2:8, King James Version
2. Genesis 3:23-24, KJV
3. Smith, William, Sir, 1813-1893. A Dictionary of the Bible (Thomas Nelson Publishers: London, England), p. 154.
4. Dialog With Trypho, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Roberts, Alexander, D.D., and Donaldson, James, LL.D. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids Michigan), Vol 1, p. 252.