Bible's Buried Secrets (BBC) s01e03 Episode Script

The Real Garden of Eden

Adam and Eve in Paradise.
It is arguably the most influential story of all time.
The first man and woman living in blissful innocence.
Until temptation destroys everything.
For disobeying God, Adam and Eve are banished from Eden, to a life of toil, suffering and death.
Paradise lost.
It's a story central to Christianity, justifying the need for a saviour.
If humankind didn't fall away from God in the first place we wouldn't need a redeemer.
For centuries, Adam and Eve have been viewed as the archetypal man and woman.
Their story is our story.
Their crime, our crime.
Even if you're not a believer, the story has had a devastating grip on the Western imagination.
It's help shape the belief that human nature is fundamentally bad.
I'm Francesca Stavrakopoulou.
I'm a Biblical scholar and I'm on a quest to uncover the original meaning of this story.
Hidden in the pages of the Bible there are clues pointing to the real Eden.
I believe the Garden of Eden was a real place and the story is about a very specific moment in our distant past.
And because of this, I think we can locate Eden's exact spot.
But I'm not a fundamentalist who takes the Bible as fact.
I think the truth is much more interesting.
What if it wasn't all about Eve? What if the serpent wasn't a villain at all? And what if the story wasn't about all humankind, but a particular figure in a particular place, 2,500 years ago? I think the real story of Eden is too important to ignore.
My search for the real Eden begins in the depths of Snowdonia.
I'm about to meet a Creationist - someone who believes the garden of Eden story is literally true.
This is the story many people perhaps doubt or consider not to be true and it's the Garden of Eden and it's where God made the world.
He's come here to talk to a group of young Christians and I'm interested to hear why he thinks the Eden story is so important.
It's the entrance of sin that wrecks God's world and it comes in through subtleness.
When the Devil wants to wreck my life or your life, he brings things in very subtly.
He tempts you with things.
And in doing so, he gets you to stumble, he gets you to fall.
Vinny Commons thinks that to doubt the historical veracity of the story of Eden is to doubt God himself.
I believe there was a literal garden and a literal Adam and a literal Eve.
So it's very real to me, part of ancient history.
What would it mean for you as a Christian if it wasn't true? Well, if I can't trust Genesis One and Two, why trust Exodus? Why should I trust Matthew, Mark, Luke Any other book? And so I think what is at stake here is the authority of scripture.
That was a really interesting experience for me.
For Vinny, the garden of Eden story is absolutely crucial to his faith.
If it wasn't real, if it didn't actually happen, it would completely undermine his Christianity.
Not all Christians read the Eden story as historical fact.
Many today see it as an allegory of sorts - a story communicating profound religious truths.
You have been taught that when we were baptised But even then its message remains essential to the Christian faith.
Almighty and ever living God, you sent your only son Jesus Christ into the world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil, and bring us into the splendour of your kingdom of light.
Here at Salford Cathedral, Kian Andrew Goldrick is being baptised.
He is being welcomed into the Catholic Church.
And of the son.
Kian is also having his sins washed away.
We pray for Kian Andrew.
Set him free from original sin, make him a temple of your glory, and send your holy spirit to dwell within him through Christ, Our Lord.
This belief has arisen directly from the Eden story.
Original sin is the disobedience of our first parents.
We call them, figuratively, Adam and Eve.
But it is a disobedience which has landed us in the situation of war, violence and all the rest of it.
How important is the Garden of Eden story to Catholics? It's very important because if you don't have original sin, if humankind didn't fall away from God in the first place, we wouldn't need a redeemer.
We wouldn't need Christ, therefore we wouldn't need the church, so our very existence comes from there.
The very foundations of Christianity are built on the themes in the Eden story.
On the view that it speaks to us all.
An interpretation enforced by western art and literature.
But what if it wasn't a story about all of humankind? Some of its assumed timeless themes don't actually appear in the Biblical story at all.
They've been read into it.
Take the serpent.
In Christianity the serpent is Satan, the devil, and so it's the devil who persuades Adam and Eve to eat the fruit forbidden to them by God.
For Christians, this act of disobedience is known as original sin.
It's a shorthand label for the inherent evil they believe is in all of us.
The thing is, none of these Christian themes are actually in the text.
There's no inherent sin, there's no fall of mankind and the serpent is not Satan.
All of these Christian ideas are completely alien to the book of Genesis.
In fact, it's not just Christians who've read into the story details that are simply not there.
The Bible doesn't name the fruit at the centre of the story, but the idea of the apple has crept up on us over the centuries.
It probably derives from ancient Greek culture, in which the word for apple can also mean breast, and in which apples were erotic tokens, symbols of sexual desire.
The story's most famous image, the apple, doesn't even feature in the Bible.
Much of what we associate with the story has been imposed by later generations.
As a result, it's become a story telling us that we are all fundamentally bad.
A belief that has had a huge impact on us, way beyond the Christian faith.
The imagery of the Eden story has enriched our literature, our art and our music, but it's always had a very big influence on the way in which we view ourselves and each other.
In particular, it's had a very negative impact on the way in which women are viewed.
For centuries, Eve's actions have been used as a reason to suppress women, to be fearful of female sexuality.
And Eve's ability to lead Adam astray has led to a lot of hang-ups about sex.
But I think this is most unfair.
The story was never intended as a metaphor for the human condition.
I think its real meaning has been lost.
I want to search back through time to rediscover the real Eden.
I think it was a particular place in history.
And there are clues to the real Eden in the Bible itself.
But we'll need the help of archaeology to decipher them.
The first clue is the word "garden".
The book of Genesis says that God created a garden with trees, rivers, animals and birds.
Given that the story is at the start of the Bible, we've tended assume the garden is an idyllic, other-worldly paradise at the beginning of time.
But I disagree.
I want to argue that the real Eden was a garden constructed by human hands at a much later point in history.
To find the real Eden, we need to cast aside later traditions and rediscover what the story first meant at the time it was written.
Scholars agree that the Bible was crafted and written by groups of scribes, in the first millennium BC.
It's the age of the great Ancient Near Eastern civilisations.
The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians.
The Eden story is filled with religious and political references that can only be fully understood by getting to know this ancient world.
And one of the best collections of treasures from this time is in the British Museum.
Here there's a vital clue to the real Garden of Eden.
This Assyrian relief from the city of Nineveh is a good illustration of what an Ancient Near Eastern garden would have been like.
They were statements of power, high status statements of control over the land.
Here we have a palace on a hill with the king clearly visible.
To the side of it, an aqueduct channelling water through the garden to irrigate the land to produce rich, fertile soil for the trees and shrubs and plants.
This fits Biblical portrayals of the Garden of Eden.
In Genesis waters rise up from the earth and split into four rivers to irrigate the land.
These gardens are manifestations of carefully controlled order.
They symbolise the imposition of cultivated fertility on the barren wilderness.
The Ancient Near East, like the Middle East today, was a harsh environment.
Much of the land is desert so controlling that environment is essential.
Order meant life, wilderness meant death.
The conventional wisdom is that Eden is a place where nature runs free, but Genesis specifically describes Eden as a garden.
And these reliefs show us what the writers of the story had in mind.
A place filled with architecture, built to demonstrate control over the environment.
It's been over 1,000 years since the gardens of these ancient civilisations graced the earth.
But it IS possible to experience what they would have been like.
There exists today a garden which has adopted this tradition.
'And it's inspired by ancient perceptions of Eden itself.
'This isn't the Middle East.
I've come to the south of Spain, 'to the Generalife, literally meaning "architect's garden", 'the gardens surrounding the palace of the Alhambra in Grenada.
' These are a world-class example of Islamic gardens.
Gardens which evolved directly from Ancient Near Eastern, and especially Persian, designs.
For Muslims, Eden isn't a place on earth at the beginning of time, but heaven itself.
'Islamic gardens are inspired by the description of Eden in the Qur'an.
'They are seen as representations of heaven here on earth.
'And these carefully structured, medieval gardens 'are a glimpse into what I think was the real Eden of the Bible.
'Elegant structures delicately reflect the natural world.
' In the Alhambra stands a forest of slender columns sculpted into palm trees.
I think Eden, too, was made by human hands.
Carefully crafted and lovingly designed.
A perfect pairing of architecture and nature.
We're familiar with the idea of Eden being the perfect place, paradise, and this is true of the historical garden of Eden but not in some abstract, esoteric way.
It was a real place, like this.
The Arabic word for paradise, Janna, is directly related to the Biblical Hebrew word for garden, gan or gannah.
This garden was believed to be paradise on earth.
This is what paradise really meant.
Both the relief from Nineveh and the Alhambra suggest that the writers of the Eden story wouldn't have been describing a paradise at the beginning of time, but a man-made garden.
But there's a problem.
Genesis says that Eden was home to the first man and woman - the ancestors of all humanity.
And some might argue that does make it a timeless story about human nature.
But that's not what the evidence shows.
For when we look at Genesis in the context of the world in which is was written, we find out who the real occupant of the garden was.
And this will help us find the real Eden.
'I think Eden was a garden built by humans for their God.
'The people of the Ancient Near East believed their Gods 'had particular dwelling places here on earth.
'We find evidence of this belief in Genesis itself.
' There's a detail in the Eden story that I particularly like.
It describes the man and the woman listening to the sound of God walking in the garden in the cool of the evening breeze.
It's a really intimate portrayal of God and it shows him enjoying this garden, and that's a key difference between the way we think about God today and the way in which Ancient Near Eastern people thought about the Gods.
They had human-like qualities and characteristics.
And here's God enjoying the pleasures of his garden.
The belief that gardens were places where the Gods dwelt was widespread in the Ancient Near East.
And the Bible confirms that the Eden story comes from this tradition in a detail lost to many readers today.
'Genesis tells us that guarding the entrance to Eden are cherubim, or cherubs.
' Today when people think of cherubs, they tend think of chubby, naked, winged babies, a bit like these examples here on this Christian fountain.
But originally cherubs were really different, they were frightening, composite, mythical beings, and it was their job to accompany Gods and Goddesses in the Ancient Near East.
Most importantly, one of their roles was to mark and to guard sacred space, and this is exactly what they do in the Garden of Eden.
Cherubs mark the dwelling place of God.
At the British Museum we find fantastic examples of the creatures who once guarded the domain of the Gods.
This is what they would have looked like.
Terrifying cherubs, thousands of years old.
Surviving remnants from the Ancient Near Eastern World.
The Eden story draws on strong traditions from this time.
It's made up of several elements that once had very specific meanings but are now lost to us.
The fact that a monstrous being like this, for example, appears in the story is often completely overlooked.
'But if Eden is God's garden, what then are Adam and Eve doing there? 'The answer will help us find Eden.
'And the Assyrian relief provides a clue.
'The lone figure in the palace is a king.
'And I think Adam was originally a king, too.
'Archaeology can show us why.
' I've come to a remote corner of Syria, very close to the border with Iraq.
Today this particular region feels very much off the beaten track.
But thousands of years ago this area belonged to a prosperous Ancient Near Eastern city.
'And a huge palace and garden complex from this time has been discovered here.
' You can begin to get a sense of the grandeur that was once here.
But what's so striking is that this was home to a really lush, fertile, cultivated, carefully crafted garden.
This is the site of Mari, the home of a king in the 18th century BC.
It offers us a remarkable insight into the role of kings in the Ancient Near East.
'And this is crucial in the search for the real Eden.
'The gardens dried up many centuries ago.
'But evidence of the king's palace has survived.
' You can see just how old this settlement is by how far down it is, it's so deep.
The archaeologists would have had to dig down metres and metres and metres to get down there.
But it looks very well preserved.
The brick work looks amazing.
Oh, wow! We've got a whole complex of passageways and small rooms or courtyards.
It just goes on forever.
Everywhere you look, there's another doorway, another passageway.
You get a bit of a better sense about what this building would have been like.
The palace wasn't just a bureaucratic, political centre, it was a religious centre, very sophisticated heart of a complex culture.
And it was intended to be completely impressive.
Ancient Near Eastern architecture was all about monumentality, sort of a way of showing off, saying, "Look how big and strong and powerful this king is.
"Look at the kind of buildings that a king can produce.
" And it's this role that links kings directly to the Eden story.
The idea is that a king could only produce this kind of building, because he had the wisdom of the Gods, the real architects of the cosmos.
And because he's got this wisdom, this divine knowledge, he can build these completely impressive buildings, these palaces, that really showed how strong and in control of the cosmos he was.
'The king was the crucial link between the human and heavenly worlds, 'enjoying a special relationship with the Gods.
'And this tells us exactly who Adam symbolised in the Eden story.
' Sacred gardens were built and maintained by kings.
In the Ancient Near East there was no distinction between religion and politics, and the King embodied this.
He functioned as a link between the divine realm and the earthly realm, mediating the relationship between his people and the Gods.
And his role in the sacred gardens reflected this.
He was granted access by the Gods to the garden in order to tend it and to cultivate it.
In essence, he was the gardener of the Gods.
'And this is exactly the role Adam plays in Eden.
' Not only does he enjoy privileged access to his God in the garden, but he's placed in Eden in order to tend and cultivate the garden.
According to Ancient Near Eastern belief systems, Adam fulfils the role of a king.
'I think that Eden, then, was a garden built as an earthly dwelling place for a God.
' A garden tended by a king.
It's a view that turns upside down the conventional understanding of Adam.
'In Judaism, Adam is emphatically the first man.
'So I put it to Rabbi Brodie from Manchester's Jewish Court, 'the Beth Din, that in my view Adam is best understood as a king.
' By definition, first of all, a king has to have people.
Adam and Eve were created without anyone else.
Eventually, obviously, they had their children.
So, no, we do not see Adam as a king in that sense.
But we see Adam and Eve as the progenitors of mankind, as the very first couple.
We certainly see them as being the handiwork of God himself.
I see Adam as a royal figure, he's created in order to do work in the garden.
He's the gardener of God.
What do you think of that? To consider Adam and Eve as an early gardening couple is very alien to the Jewish concept.
We don't see them as gardeners and we certainly don't see them as being royal in the sense of havingof being king or queen or having a divine nature.
They are human and God is God.
I can see why those who are familiar with the Genesis story will be surprised at my idea that Adam represents a king.
There is, after all, no mention of a king in Genesis.
But there is elsewhere in the Bible.
And it's not buried in an obscure or fleeting text.
'There's another version of the Eden story, rich in detail, 'and which many scholars believe is older than the Genesis version.
'In it there's no Eve and there's no serpent.
'For Biblical scholar, Nicolas Wyatt, 'it sheds much more light on who Adam symbolises.
' Genesis isn't the only place that we read about Eden.
The other place of great interest, I think, in our discussion, is Ezekiel 28.
We have two oracles against the King of Tyre, the island kingdom, as it then was, on the coast of the Lebanon.
And in the second of these oracles, verses 12 and following, it describes the King as walking on the holy mountain of God in Eden.
And it's a place filled with fiery stones on which the King walks.
Ezekiel's portrayal of Eden is very different from that in Genesis.
We don't have a couple in this story, we have a king, who's expelled from the garden.
And he's expelled for two specific crimes.
Trade - capitalism, with all the sins that go alongside it.
And violence - presumably military adventures.
So according to Ezekiel, Eden isn't the setting for a story about human origins.
In this much earlier tradition, in Ezekiel, it's nothing to do with the beginnings of the world.
No, not a hint of that.
It's all about a king.
In his palace and temple complex, yes.
Eden seems to be a cipher for a real place.
A real geographical location.
'The Ezekiel version of the Eden story is very probably earlier 'than that in Genesis.
And that to me, is a strong indication that Eden 'was not originally understood as a utopia from the dawn of creation.
' 'The conventional picture of Eden, 'imposed by later religions, Western literature and art, is wrong.
'The story reads less and less like a tale about all humanity.
'If Adam IS a king, then Eden is a story about a real place in time.
'And now at last we can pinpoint its exact location.
' 'The desire to find Eden has burned for centuries.
'The travels of Marco Polo 'and Christopher Columbus were inspired by the hope of finding it.
'Columbus thought he HAD found it in Venezuela.
'But this river has proved the biggest draw for Eden hunters.
'It's fed some of the great civilisations of the Ancient Near East.
The Euphrates.
' There are clues in the Bible that suggest a real geographical location.
The water in Eden is said to split into four rivers.
The Euphrates is one of them, but there's also the Tigris, the Pishon and the Gihon.
'The mention of the Tigris and the Euphrates in the Genesis story 'often leads people to this part of the world, towards modern-day Iraq.
'This was once the east of the fertile crescent.
Ancient Mesopotamia.
'The cradle of civilisation.
' It's the perfect place for what generations of people have thought Eden to be, a utopia at the beginning of time.
'But explorers who search here are not only looking in the wrong place, 'they are looking in the wrong time.
'I don't think Eden was a primeval paradise.
' I think it was a garden, located in the Ancient Near East, a dwelling place of a God tended by a king around 2,500 years ago.
This is the time and place we need to look.
The bigger and better clue to its real location is another river mentioned in Genesis.
And this is it, the Gihon.
It's not exactly a river but a spring, and it matches the description in Genesis of the water that feeds the garden.
Waters that bubble up through the earth just like a spring.
The Gihon's mentioned quite a few times in the Bible and it seems to play an important ceremonial role in the enthronement of kings.
And, importantly, this water also feeds a city.
Other clues in the Bible also point to Eden being in this city.
We've seen Eden described elsewhere in the Bible.
The Prophet Ezekiel calls it the holy mountain of God.
And according to the Bible, the holy mountain of God is Mount Zion.
I think Eden was in the city of Jerusalem.
Today Mount Zion is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif.
'The iconic building standing here is the Dome Of The Rock, 'the Islamic shrine marking the place where Muslims believe Mohammed ascended to heaven.
' Here on this site once stood the ancient Jerusalem Temple, and I think this is the location of the Garden of Eden.
I believe Eden is the ancient Jerusalem Temple.
'Like gardens in the Ancient Near East, the Jerusalem Temple 'was at the heart of religious, political and cultural life.
'And, just as gardens were the abodes of the Gods, 'so the temple was where the God of the Bible dwelt.
'And it was tended by a king.
' According to the Bible, the Jerusalem Temple was built by Solomon, son of the legendary King David.
David's descendants, the kings, had a very privileged and special place in the religion of Jerusalem.
The King was able to access God in the temple.
He had a very intimate relationship with God.
He was the servant of God.
He was called the Son of God, the Anointed One, the Messiah.
Everything points to the Jerusalem Temple being the real Eden.
But how can a temple - bricks and mortar - be a garden? 'Excavating such a hotly contested site is out of the question.
'But archaeological finds elsewhere in the region 'can help us find the answer.
' The Bible contains some surprisingly detailed descriptions of the Jerusalem Temple.
It offers us the size, the shape, the measurements of all its dimensions.
And in recent years archaeologists have come to an incredible conclusion, that the Biblical portrayal of the Jerusalem Temple is almost identical to the remains of this ancient temple in Syria - Ain Dara.
Standing isolated in the countryside of northern Syria, there's been nothing to prevent the excavation of these ancient remains.
'This temple is from the same period as the Jerusalem Temple, 'about the 10th to the 8th century BC, 'and it's remarkably similar in its dimensions and architecture.
' These are impressionistic plans of two temples.
This one is the temple I'm sitting in now - Ain Dara in Syria - and this one is based on descriptions in the Bible, of the Jerusalem Temple.
When we compare the two, you can see just how similar they are.
So, let's look at Ain Dara.
A long oblong, with the entrance down here at the bottom.
And a tripartite structure.
There are three areas, if you like.
One courtyard here, an inner room here, and then at the very back, what we tend to call The Holy of Holies, the most sacred place in the temple, where the God dwelt.
When we look at the Jerusalem Temple, we find a very similar layout.
And it's not just in the basic set-up of the temples that they compare.
They've got some other features too that suggest a remarkable correlation between them.
The pillars here, either side of the threshold, marking that boundary into the sacred space.
Then the steps going up and up again into the most sacred area, the holy of holies.
This temple is the closest we get to understanding what the Jerusalem temple would have looked like.
Being here at Ain Dara, it's possible to get a real sense of the purpose and function of the Jerusalem temple.
These massive footprints belong to the deity whose temple this is.
It's probably the goddess, Ishtar, a powerful military goddess.
Here's where she first appears on the threshold of her temple, and here's her first stride across the threshold and then the next footprint, all the way over there going in to the holy of holies.
Now I haven't got the smallest feet in the world, but if you compare the size of my feet to hers, you can see just what a super-sized deity she is and that's the point about temples, they're massive dwelling spaces for massive gods and I think the Jerusalem temple would have been really similar to this.
And that's why Ain Dara is my favourite of all temples, because you get a real sense of what it was really like.
It was a living temple.
The god was actually present here.
Ain Dara is a close parallel to the Jerusalem temple.
Still, the question remains, how could a temple be a garden? The answer lies with the cherubim I encountered earlier.
This imposing creature is a cherub.
Genesis tells us cherubim guarded the entrance to the Garden of Eden and they do the same here, keeping watch at the boundaries of the temple.
And they were also in the Jerusalem temple.
In the Book Of Kings, we're told cherubim are found on every wall in the temple.
It portrays them as huge, monstrous creatures, 10 cubits high, with a wingspan of another ten cubits.
Ain Dara shows us that the cherubs of the Jerusalem temple marked the boundaries to God's garden.
In other words, the Garden of Eden was found inside the temple.
And the Bible tells us precisely how.
The Book Of Kings describes in sumptuous detail how every surface was embellished with intricate decorations, rich in horticultural symbolism.
The walls were not stone, but completely covered in sweet-smelling cedar wood.
And everywhere you looked were engravings of palm trees, open flowers.
The tops of pillars were shaped like lilies.
Adorning them, hundreds of pomegranates.
This temple was a lavish display of the best produce of the fruits of the earth.
It was a beautiful garden.
But Eden wasn't just any garden, it was the point where the heavenly realm and the earthly realm became one.
And this was true of the Jerusalem temple.
Stepping inside was nothing less than stepping into the heavens.
And that's the secret of the Garden of Eden.
It was both mythical and real.
It was a historical, tangible temple, where the King worshipped and it was the place where heaven and earth met, and where the God of the Bible was present.
In Jewish and Christian tradition, Eden was created and lost at the beginning of time.
But if I'm right, Eden was located at a place still accessible today.
This challenges the Biblical account of Creation, held dear by many Jews, and taken literally by some.
For a Jew, the reading of the Bible is taken very literally, that it's an actual, physical location here, on earth, somewhere in the Middle East.
I don't think Judaism believes that the Garden of Eden was actually situated in Jerusalem.
But I think it would be fair to say, that if there was one place on earth where the close spiritual relationship with God manifested itself, certainly as a Jew, you would look to the temple in Jerusalem.
For Muslims, Eden is the afterlife - paradise, heaven.
I met Muhsin Yusuf, a professor of Islamic history, to put to him that Jerusalem was the site of Eden.
For a Muslim, definitely not! HE LAUGHS We are here in Jerusalem and we look around and see all kind of, you know, not nice things.
Dirty streets, people say bad words.
And they don't worship God as supposedly.
And all kind of really negative things.
In Islam, heaven is perfect, clean, nice.
People don't say bad things, and totally different.
I can see why the idea of finding paradise at the centre of one of the most troubled places on earth may be too much for many to accept.
I think the temple of Jerusalem was the real Garden of Eden.
The dwelling place of the God of Israel.
Tended by a king.
The story of Eden is not timeless.
But there's much more to the Genesis account.
It doesn't have a happy ending.
Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden forever.
And it's this part of the story that really matters to the Western mindset.
In Christianity, the story of Adam's expulsion or "fall" underpins the core of faith.
This is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
According to tradition, this is where Jesus was crucified and buried, and where he rose from the dead.
The site of his crucifixion is marked by this elaborately decorated chapel.
Underneath is another chapel, simple and often overlooked by pilgrims.
But it's just as significant.
The Chapel of Adam.
Tradition says this is where Adam was buried.
In Christianity, Adam's act of disobedience shatters the order of God's Creation.
But Jesus restores that order.
He is Adam made anew.
A second Adam.
And that's why, to become a Christian, a child too needs to be made anew or born again, through the ritual of baptism.
Adam's disobedience was the first sin, passed down the generations.
Only baptism in the name of Jesus can wipe away the stain of that sin.
It could be argued that it's not really the location of Eden that matters, but the expulsion from Eden.
It's that act of disobedience which gives rise to the bleak view of human nature.
I agree that the Eden story is ultimately about the loss of a close, intimate relationship with God.
But not for the reasons Christianity gives.
I think the banishment from Eden reflects a real moment in time, a devastating event in the life of the ancient Israelites.
Evidence of this traumatic event can still be seen in Jerusalem today.
I'm in the southern part of the city, very close to the area commonly known as the Temple Mount.
This is a building in Jerusalem dated to the 6th century BC.
We're not entirely sure what its function was.
Some people have argued it was a library, because evidence of documents has been found here.
Other people say it was a trader's house and those documents were his receipts and records.
But whatever it was, it's what happened to this building that's so interesting.
This is a bulla.
It's a small lump of clay that was used to seal rolled up documents, and the reason why we have this and all the others that were found here, is that they were baked hard by a huge fire that tore through this area.
In the 6th century BC, Jerusalem was part of Judah, a vassal kingdom under the control of the powerful Babylonian Empire and at the mercy of the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar.
Eventually, relations between the two nations broke down.
Being a vassal meant to pay tributes at regular intervals.
But twice in the history of Judah, the kings refused to pay tribute and that is why Nebuchadnezzar came with his army, he besieged the city of Jerusalem and the second time he lost his patience, and his, erm, his general entered the city, destroyed the city, destroyed the royal palace and also the temple.
The temple went up in flames.
How do you think the people of Jerusalem would have responded to seeing this foreign king come against their city, their God, their temple, and seeing the temple in flames? For them, it must have been terrible for an ancient Oriental temple and this applies also for Jerusalem, was the centre of the world, the place of Creation, the combination where heaven and earth come together, and seeing this temple aflame meant that the cosmic order was heavily disturbed.
So from that point onward, everything had to go wrong.
The temple, the holiest place on earth, the place where the god of Jerusalem lived, had been destroyed.
The King, who was God's representative on earth, had been dethroned and all his successors captured or killed.
The link between God and his people had been lost.
It was an overwhelming blow.
The people of Jerusalem had lost everything.
Access to their God, their king, their land.
This is what I think the loss of Eden is really about.
And this has a huge bearing on both faith and culture today.
For many, Adam represents all humanity.
And his disobedience shows that all humans are bad.
But if I'm right, then the blame does not lie with all of us, but with an ancient King of Jerusalem.
All the little features of the story points to Adam as a royal figure, and of course the King is to blame, he's responsible for the kingdom after all.
And therefore he's to blame when it's destroyed.
So according to Genesis, the destruction of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, isn't God's fault, it's the King's fault? What kings and presidents and military leaders do, determines the fate of a whole nation.
So, here we have the obvious question being asked about why was Jerusalem sacked by the Babylonians? Why? Because the King misbehaved, he had sinned.
By eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam seeks to gain the wisdom of God.
And this is the King's crime.
His ego has got the better of him and he has abused his position.
When the kingdom is destroyed, the writer, is of course, looking for an explanation of why this has happened, see that his wisdom has led him into perversity.
It is not wisdom which has elevated him, it is wisdom that has now corrupted him.
If the Eden story is a tale of the hubris of a king, then the rest of us are off the hook.
It's not a story about our sins at all, but about the political actions of a monarch, 2,500 years ago, actions which bring about the fall of his kingdom and the end of a royal line.
But are we entirely free from blame? The Book of Genesis ultimately points the finger at the two real villains of the story - Eve and the serpent.
The fall guys, the corrupters of humanity.
For centuries, they've both had a bad press, but I think wholly undeserved.
There is no reference in Genesis to the snake being Satan or the Devil, so what exactly is it doing in the story? I think that originally, the canny creature was not a villain at all.
Elsewhere in the Bible, we find evidence of the snake once playing a very positive role.
The great Biblical hero, Moses, carries a staff that becomes a serpent as he leads his people to the Promised Land.
And originally, the serpent also played a key role in the Jerusalem temple.
The Bible describes winged creatures, seraphs or serpents, who fly around the Throne of God in the temple.
But these are not Satan, or a manifestation of evil.
They are the faithful servants of God, who fly about him singing his praises.
This imagery derives from serpent worship which was once an accepted part of the Jerusalem temple, where people would make offerings to a bronze serpent called Nehushtan.
Serpents were considered to be death-defying creatures, they held the secrets of life and death.
They stored venom in their bodies, they shed their skin and they could regenerate themselves.
As a result of this, they were powerful agents in healing cults.
But there is a point in the history of the Bible when the snake turns bad.
Serpent worship was once a normal part of religion.
But by the time the Garden of Eden story was written, it was no longer acceptable.
The serpent fell from grace when the temple was destroyed.
The destruction was seen as a punishment from God for the crimes of his people.
The religious crimes committed in the temple.
And that included serpent worship.
The inclusion of the serpent as the crafty villain of the Eden story is a deliberate move to discredit the snake cult.
But the demonising of the snake wasn't entirely successful.
Its original symbolism did survive, and it lives on to this day as an emblem of healing.
The other villain of the Eden story is perhaps the most notorious woman in Western culture.
The Bible suggests that she is ultimately to blame for the loss of paradise.
She conforms to an all-too depressing and familiar pattern.
In the Bible there are lots of stories about men disobeying God.
But often, it's because of their wives.
King Solomon builds temples to foreign deities to please his wives.
King Ahab is the most idolatrous of all monarchs, but only because his wife, Jezebel, eggs him on.
The same can be said of Adam and Eve.
Adam's disobedient, but only because Eve puts him in that situation.
It's all Eve's fault.
And it's not just Eve who is ultimately condemned.
It's all of womankind.
A damning indictment, but we now know this was never the original intention of the Eden story.
For it was only when the Bible was compiled into the form we now recognise, by later scribes, well after the 6th century BC, that the Eden story was placed right at the beginning.
It then became a part of the account which explained the Creation of the whole world.
This reordering of earlier traditions loaded the story with a radically different meaning.
According to Biblical scholar, Judith Hadley, it's this which had such devastating results for women.
Well, it's, it's really actually very unfair, because, the Garden was not even considered to be a Creation story in the first place, until it was placed after Genesis Chapter One, that of course, is the text which the early Christian interpreters had received, and so therefore, that's what they worked with.
But she is not meant to be the first woman, and so therefore nothing that she does, even if it were detrimental, which I am not so sure it was, could be blamed, could she be blamed for bringing sin into the world.
So simply by virtue of the story appearing at the start of the Bible, it's become an archetype, almost.
Every man and every woman are related somehow to this first man and this first woman.
And their sins are somehow transmitted to generation after generation after generation, with the end result that women have somehow inherited the sin of Eve.
I think that's absolutely crucial.
It's only because people started to look at it and say, "If these are the first two humans, "and we no longer live in the Garden, then it must be their fault "for some reason, and so therefore that's why everything has gone wrong.
" And I don't think that was the intention of the original account at all.
My research has led me to conclude that the real Eden tradition was about the Jerusalem temple and the failings of a king.
It's not about the fall of humanity.
But the idea that we are all born corrupted by sin is not something that Christians are quick to give up.
Even when they acknowledge that the story could have been reinterpreted.
Christians are still likely to read it in its re-contextualised location, ie, where it now is in Genesis, part of Creation, prior to the Flood, etc, etc.
Christians have usually wanted to concentrate on the literary context, rather than the necessarily, the context of origin.
So the story is about a natural human tendency to sin? That would be something like the way I am inclined to read it, yes.
For me, the ancient story about the Garden of Eden is not about the human condition.
It's not saying that you and I are inherently bad.
It's about the religion and politics of a particular people 2,500 years ago.
Some people may see this as reductive, that somehow I'm not embracing the full richness of the story.
But I think the real motivation of the story is far more exciting.
It allows us to engage with the real passions and anxieties of a people from long ago.
But does that mean the story doesn't speak to us any more? Well, it might speak to Jews, Christians and Muslims more eloquently than we'd imagine.
For people of faith, religion is a way of reconnecting with the divine, with the unity found in the Garden of Eden, but lost in the distant past.
The idea of a lost paradise sits strongly in our collective psyche, and I think nowhere more so than here.
The place where the Dome of the Rock now stands is Jerusalem's most hallowed piece of real estate.
It's where people believe Abraham nearly sacrificed his son.
It's where the Jewish temple stood, where Mohammed ascended to heaven.
Thousands have fought for this patch of earth.
It's the spot where God met Man.
This was heaven on earth.
And this was the Garden of Eden.
Is it any wonder that no-one wants to give it up?