“When God Abandoned the Garden of Eden” by Raanan Eichler

Today, I want to offer a summary of an essay by Raanan Eichler, a member of the excellent Bible faculty at Bar-Ilan University. [1] In my next article, I will give my opinion on Eichler’s proposal.

Raanan Eichler reconstructs a targumic tradition that attests a pronunciation different from וַיַּשְׁכֵּן (the masoretic niqqudim in Genesis 3:24). He uncovers the variant pronunciation וַיִּשְׁכֹּן, which transforms the clause from “He [Yhwh] caused [the cherubim] to dwell” to “He dwelled.” Eichler compares the reconstructed text with other ancient textual traditions. He then examines the grammatical legitimacy and literary coherence of the targumic reading. He concludes that the targumic reading “may be closest to the original authorial intent” (20) and notes that it offers significant insight into the biblical account of Yhwh’s response to the fall of man.

Masoretic Text:
וַיְגָרֶשׁ אֶת־הָאָדָם וַיַּשְׁכֵּן מִקֶּדֶפ לְגַן־עֵדֶן אֶת־הַכְּרֻבִים וְאֵת לַהַט הַחֶרֶב המִּתְהַפֶּכֶת לִשׁמֹר אֶת־דֶרֶךְ עֵץ הַחַיִּים

Targum Neofiti:
וטרד ית אדם ואשרי יקר שכינתיה מן מלקדמין מן מדנ’ /חה/ לגנתה /גנ’/ דעדן מי בני תרין כרוביה

Fragmentary Targum V:
וטרד ית אדם ואשרי איקר שכינתיה מן לקדמין מן מדנח לגינתא דעדן מעילוי תרין כרובייא

Fragmentary Targum P:
וטרד ית אדם ואשרי יקר שכינתיה מן לקדמין מעלוי גינתא דעדן מן ביני תרין כרוביא

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan:
וטרד ית אדם מן דאשרי יקר שכינתיה מן לקדמין בין תרין כרוביא

To begin, Eichler lists the four targumic witnesses to the variant tradition: Targum Neofiti, Fragmentary Targum V, Fragmentary Targum P, and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan. These texts read the Hebrew אֵת as the preposition “with” (not as a marker of a direct object). [2] Eichler also explains the targumic avoidance of divine anthropomorphisms; thus, the targumic rendering of “[א]יקר שכינתיה” should be understood as a theologically motivated translation of the Hebrew subject, Yhwh. Uncovering the targumic interpretation of the subject and prepositional phrase of Genesis 3:24 allows Eichler to support his contention that the four targumim read וישכן as וַיִּשְׁכֹּן (Qal), unlike the masoretic וַיַּשְׁכֵּן (Hiphil).

Eichler then looks at the translation of מִקֶּדֶם לְגַן־עֵדֶן in the targumim. He labels Targum Pseudo-Jonathan’s translation “as strictly midrashic” (24): with its additional מן ד, this targum implies that God’s presence dwelt in the Garden (in contradiction with the Hebrew וישכן מִקֶּדֶם לְגַן־עֵדֶן). Targum Neofiti and Fragment Targum V offer a double translation of מִקֶדֶם, presenting its temporal (“of old”) and directional meanings (“to the east”). Eichler notes that, because מִקֶּדֶם is followed by a ל-prefix, only the directional meaning is “literally correct” (25). Fragment Targum P renders מִקֶּדֶם as מעלוי, which can mean “above” or “opposite.” If the translator intended “above,” he may have been creatively reading the Hebrew ל-prefix as על.

After describing God’s presence abiding with the cherubim, the four targumim do not translate the Hebrew’s הַמִּתְהַפֶּכֶת and instead “shift into midrashic expansions” (26). The crucial point is that the targumim, in reading אֵת as the preposition “with” and וישכן with the Qal niqqudim, tell that God dwelt with the cherubim east of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life. Eichler reconstructs Genesis 3:24 (as read by Targum Neofiti, Fragment Targum P, and Fragment Targum V) thus: “Having driven Man out, he settled east of the garden of Eden with the cherubim and with the spinning-sword-flame to guard the way to the tree of life” (27).

Eichler finds that the Masoretic Text (MT) also vocalizes שכן in the causative with את as a direct object particle in Jeremiah 7:3 and 7:7. The Septuagint, Symmachus (in v. 3), Targum Jonathan, and the Peshitta share MT’s causative sense (v. 3: וַאֲשַׁכְּנָה אֶתְכֶם, v. 7: וְשִׁכַּנְתִּי אֶתְכֶם). However, Aquila (in v. 3), the Vulgate, and some masoretic manuscripts (in v. 7) have an unergative sense of the verb paired with את as a preposition (v. 3: וְאֶשְׁכְּנָה אִתְּכֶם; v. 7: וְשָׁכַנְתִי אֶתְּכֶם). Scholars have put forth strong arguments in support of both the Qal and Piel forms of שכן found in different textual witnesses of Jeremiah 7:3 and 7:7. Furthermore, in Psalm 7:6, 78:55, 85:10, and Job 11:14, some ancient textual traditions write שכן in different binyanim from MT. In these verses, both readings work. However, Eichler argues that other cases seem to betray a masoretic bias against the Qal form of שכן with God as subject. Citing Abraham Geiger and Emanuel Tov, Eichler walks through verses where MT presents שכן in Piel when some other textual witnesses attest שכן in Qal. Eichler tentatively concludes that the possibility of masoretic theological bias against שכן in Qal when God is subject supports an original וַיִּשְׁכֹּן (Qal) in Genesis 3:24.

Eichler argues that biblical Hebrew allows for reading the consonantal text of Genesis 3:24 as Yhwh settling with the cherubim. שְׁכֵן may be used with God as subject: וַיִּשְׁכֹּן is used with a divine subject in 1 Chronicles 23:25, Exodus 24:16, and Numbers 10:12. If Yhwh is the subject of וַיִּשְׁכֹּן in Genesis 3:24, then Yhwh is guarding (לִשְׁמוֹר) the way (דֶרֶךְ) of the tree of life. God also guards (שמר) a דרך (path) or ארח (road) in Proverbs 2:8 and Job 13:27, 33:11. [3] As for reading אֵת as the preposition “with,” this occurs in Genesis 4:1, in close proximity to the Eden story. Moreover, שָׁכֵן את can be found not only in Jeremiah 7:3 and 7:7, but also in Leviticus 16:16; Exodus 29:42, 30:36, 40:34; and Leviticus 1:1. In Ezekiel 28:14, a strong textual tradition reads אֶת כרוב (“with the cherub”). These examples show that biblical Hebrew allows for the reading of Genesis 3:24 reconstructed by Eichler.

The targumic reading of Genesis 3:24 also fits better with the verse’s literary context. Before mankind’s fall, Genesis describes God as walking in the Garden (3:8). After humanity’s eviction from the Garden, Cain stands in the presence of Yhwh (4:14); here, Yhwh must have been outside the Garden. The targumic reading of Genesis 3:24 provides the only account of Yhwh settling outside Eden. Eichler writes, “Since Cain, at this point, is certainly outside the garden of Eden, and since the narrator does not see a need to relate that Yhwh came to where Cain is, it seems that he expects it to be clear to the reader that Yhwh too is now located outside the garden” (31). Eichler notes that it makes sense that Yhwh would settle outside the Garden: without humans to keep it (Genesis 2:15), the Garden is defunct and unfit for divine habitation.

Lastly, in the Bible Yhwh bears the epithet ישב הכרבים (“who dwells among the cherubim”) seven times. Considering the “near-synonymy of the verbs שְׁכֵן and יָשֵׁב… Genesis 3:24, which tells of Yhwh settling with the cherubim at the dawn of the world, is the verse that describes how he came to be the one ‘who dwells among the cherubim’” (32).

Eichler’s proposed understanding of Genesis 3:24 (as attested by the targumim) tells that God Himself, after expelling humanity from Eden, followed Adam and his wife to settle outside the Garden. Eichler writes, “Ostensibly, this was to keep an eye on his [God’s] unruly creations, but the continuation of the narrative hints that there were other, more sentimental reasons as well” (32).

[1] Raanan Eichler, “When God Abandoned the Garden of Eden: A Forgotten Reading of Genesis 3:24,” Vetus Testamentum vol. 65 (Brill, 2015): 20-32. See also his lay presentation at TheTorah.com.

[2] In concert with other biblical descriptions of God’s dwelling with the cherubim, the targumim use בין (“between”) or מעילוי (“above”).

[3] In Job, God’s guarding is prohibitive, as in Genesis 3:24.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *