HISTORY OF PARADISE by Jean Delumeau

HISTORY OF PARADISE

The Garden of Eden in Myth and Tradition

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A vividly detailed account of how Western society interpreted and was influenced by the biblical story of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, by a French cultural critic and historian (Sin and Fear, not reviewed). Early Christianity tended to see Paradise in largely allegorical terms and characterize it as a place of ``rest'' where the just awaited the final judgment and their entrance into Heaven itself. As this idea waned, the Garden of Eden became conflated with Greco-Roman descriptions of a past Golden Age or a mythical earthly paradise of perpetual bliss that many thought still existed in some inaccessible region. (Adam's sin was deemed especially heinous in comparison with the blessings with which he had been surrounded.) The dream of discovering this place of delights inspired such fantasies as Sir John Mandeville's Travels and the legends of Prester John, which in turn led to the explorations of Columbus in the New World and, in Europe, to a renewed interest in gardens and the study of botany. With the advent of the Age of Reason and the discovery of fossils proving that the earth was much older than bibilical history stated, the literal interpretation of the Paradise story gradually fell out of favor, and a more symbolic view of the Garden of Eden again became necessary. Delumeau's text is a work of enormous scholarship, richly illustrated with 25 medieval maps and many quotations from primary sources throughout the centuries, and it is published here in a fine English translation. The author concludes by suggesting that the only acceptable Christian theology of Paradise today is that of second- century writers, who do not assign ``an excessive guilt to the stammering human race that first came on the scene.'' Scholarship happily combines with intuition in this stimulating analysis of a powerful idea.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8264-0795-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Continuum
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1995




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