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by Lien-yueh Wei

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Where Is Paradise?

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According to a modern dictionary, the word ¡§Paradise¡¨ means an ideal and perfect place. Although the dictionary does not indicate where it is, many modern people think that it is in heaven. But, we will find that the answer is not so simple if we research this question more deeply.

Inevitably, before we try to find where paradise is, in the first step, we have to find where this word and its notion come from. Unlike some people¡¦s thought that this word is from the story of God¡¦s creation in the Hebrew Bible, in fact, we cannot find it from the Hebrew Bible. The word is ultimately of Persian origin and denotes a ¡§park¡¨ originally.

How can the notion of a park become a notion of paradise? The transformation of this notion is in correlation with the story of God¡¦s creation indeed. In this story of the Hebrew Bible, ¡§Garden¡¨ has only the secular meaning, but when the translators of the Hebrew Bible¡¦s Greek version (Septuagint) used this Persian loanword ¡§paradise¡¨ to convey ¡§Garden¡¨ in the Greek version, its meaning was transformed.

The reason for this thought¡¦s transformation is that, about the 3rd or 2nd century B.C.E., some Jews were beginning to believe that the abode of the righteous after their resurrection from death would be in ¡§Paradise,¡¨ a place of uninterrupted bliss and life with God forever. Henceforth, the meaning gradually transformed from ¡§Garden¡¨ to ¡§Paradise,¡¨ which implies God¡¦s Garden; the shift from secular to religious meaning was completed.

Since the religious meaning and notion of paradise entered Jewish thought about the 3rd or 2nd century B.C.E, for Jewish people before the 3rd century B.C.E., ¡§Where is paradise?¡¨ meant ¡§Where is the garden?¡¨; for people after the 2nd century B.C.E., it meant ¡§Where is the garden of God?¡¨

    For example, if one talked about ¡§where is paradise?¡¨ in the context of the creation story in the Hebrew Bible, the former group would focus on the the geographical location of the Garden of Eden; but the latter group would focus on the sacred place with great joy and bliss in God¡¦s presence. In modern times, scholars usually try to find the geographical location, and believers usually try to find the features of paradise and the way to get there.

    Regarding the question of geographical location, most scholars generalize that the Garden of Eden might be located at one of two places. The first possible place, according to Gen. 2:10-14, is at some common point of origin of the Tigris, Euphrates, Nile (which is Gihon in the Hebrew Bible), and Indus or Gangen (which is Pishon in the Hebrew Bible). The second place is in Dilmun of Sumer, near the head of the Persian Gulf. Unfortunately, these two locations are both speculative and still no scholar of modern age can verify the real location of Garden of Eden.

    Regarding the question of paradise¡¦s features, some people think that there are some descriptions of these features in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish Pseudepigrapha: (1) ¡§The wolf shall dwell with the lamb; the leopard lie down with the kid; the calf, the beast of prey, and the fatling together with a little boy to herd them; the cow and the bear shall graze; A baby shall play over a viper¡¦s hole, and a infant pass his hand over an adder¡¦s den. Nothing evil or vile shall be done; for the land shall be filled with devotion to the Lord as water covers the sea¡¨ (Isa.11: 6-9, JSB). (2) ¡§Never again shall be heard there the sound of weeping and wailing.¡¨ ¡§Before they pray, God will answer.¡¨ ¡§The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox¡¨ (Isa.65:19b, 24a, 25a).  (3) For you Paradise is open, the Tree of Life planted, the future age and abundance are prepared, rest appointed, good words established, and wisdom defined. Evil roots are sealed up from you, and sickness extinguished from your path. Death is concealed; Hades fled; corruption sinks in oblivion; sorrow is gone, and in the end the gold of immortality is manifest (The Apocalypse of Ezra, Chapter 8:52).

    Regarding the way to get to paradise, since there are two dominant ways suggested by Judaism and Christianity, we may also discuss the differences and similarities of their notions of paradise with this issue at the same time. Generally, the New Testament writers accept Jewish thoughts and image of paradise. For instance, in Luke, it records, ¡§And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise¡¨ (Lk.23:43, KJV).¡¨ Nevertheless, in general, there are some different notions between Judaism and Christianity. First, Judaism suggests that the way to get to paradise is to obey God¡¦s Law, but Christianity thinks that the only way is through Jesus Christ. Second, Christianity regards paradise as the place where not only the righteous can live, but also all believers can live. Third, Christianity regards paradise as the place where residents live not only with God, but also with the Lord, Jesus Christ.

    However, there are also some same similar notions between Judaism and Christianity. First, the way to get to paradise is by religious practice. Second, on the last day of the world, it is not the righteous or believers ascending to paradise from the earth, but it is paradise coming down to the earth from the heaven. Third, after that time, paradise will be called the ¡§New Heavens and New Earth,¡¨ ¡§New Jerusalem,¡¨ or ¡§Holy City¡¨ (Isa.65:17, Rev. 21:2). Fourth and mostly importantly, for many Jews and Christians, the destination of life is not death, which is just the beginning of life, but is paradise. They regard this goal as the orientation of their life. From there, their life obtains an indescribable hope and strength; therefore, all suffering in life before they go there can receive a satisfactory explanation. Wherefore, they do not have to find answers of life¡¦s questions in this secular world.

    In conclusion, for most modern people, the answer to the question ¡§where is paradise?¡¨ might not be a geographical location, but is God¡¦s promised land, which is an invisible, non-physical place, prepared for their eternal life after death. Hence, they might not want to know where it is, but always look forward to knowing where the way to get there is.

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