Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Death in the Garden

He poisons him i' the garden for's estate. His name's Gonzago: the story is extant, and writ in choice Italian: you shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago's wife.

~"Hamlet" by William Shakespeare, Act 3, Scene 2


I recently discovered a fun motif that revolves around gardens. Gardens signify places of death in Tanakh; either people die upon entering gardens, the threat of death appears, or decisions of death are made whilst in the garden. Of course, the first significant mention of death in the garden occurs with the Garden of Eden and its denizens, Adam and Eve.
    טז וַיְצַו יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, עַל-הָאָדָם לֵאמֹר: מִכֹּל עֵץ-הַגָּן, אָכֹל תֹּאכֵל. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying: 'Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat;

    יז וּמֵעֵץ, הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע--לֹא תֹאכַל, מִמֶּנּוּ: כִּי, בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְךָ מִמֶּנּוּ--מוֹת תָּמוּת. 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.'

    ~Genesis 2:16-17
Through their transgressions in the garden, Adam and Eve in the end do proceed to bring the threat of death upon the world.

Lot perceives Sedom & Gemorah (in the future to be a place that is completely overturned and consumed by fire and brimstone, thus, a place of much death) as the 'garden of the Lord:'
    י וַיִּשָּׂא-לוֹט אֶת-עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא אֶת-כָּל-כִּכַּר הַיַּרְדֵּן, כִּי כֻלָּהּ, מַשְׁקֶה--לִפְנֵי שַׁחֵת יְהוָה, אֶת-סְדֹם וְאֶת-עֲמֹרָה, כְּגַן-יְהוָה כְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, בֹּאֲכָה צֹעַר. 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of the Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou goest unto Zoar.

    ~Genesis 13:10
King David dies upon having been lured into his garden:
    דף ל, ב גמרא כל יומא דשבתא הוה יתיב וגריס כולי יומא ההוא יומא דבעי למינח נפשיה קם מלאך המות קמיה ולא יכיל ליה דלא הוה פסק פומיה מגירסא אמר מאי אעביד ליה הוה ליה בוסתנא אחורי ביתיה אתא מלאך המות סליק ובחיש באילני נפק למיחזי הוה סליק בדרגא איפחית דרגא מתותיה אישתיק ונח נפשיה

    Now, every Sabbath day he would sit and study all day.1 On the day that his soul was to be at rest,2 the Angel of death stood before him but could not prevail against him, because learning did not cease from his mouth. 'What shall I do to him?' said he. Now, there was a garden before his house; so the Angel of death went, ascended and soughed in the trees. He [David] went out to see: as he was ascending the ladder, it broke under him. Thereupon he became silent [from his studies] and his soul had repose.

    ~BT Sabbath 30b
The death of Navos (whom Jezebel frames) occurs due to the fact that Ahab wants to use his property as a vegetable garden:
    ב וַיְדַבֵּר אַחְאָב אֶל-נָבוֹת לֵאמֹר תְּנָה-לִּי אֶת-כַּרְמְךָ וִיהִי-לִי לְגַן-יָרָק, כִּי הוּא קָרוֹב אֵצֶל בֵּיתִי, וְאֶתְּנָה לְךָ תַּחְתָּיו, כֶּרֶם טוֹב מִמֶּנּוּ; אִם טוֹב בְּעֵינֶיךָ, אֶתְּנָה-לְךָ כֶסֶף מְחִיר זֶה. 2

    And Ahab spoke unto Naboth, saying: 'Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house; and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money.'

    ~I Kings 21:2
King Menashe is buried in the palace garden:
    יח וַיִּשְׁכַּב מְנַשֶּׁה עִם-אֲבֹתָיו, וַיִּקָּבֵר בְּגַן-בֵּיתוֹ בְּגַן-עֻזָּא; וַיִּמְלֹךְ אָמוֹן בְּנוֹ, תַּחְתָּיו. {פ} 18 And Manasseh slept with his fathers, and was buried in the garden of his own house, in the garden of Uzza; and Amon his son reigned in his stead. {P}

    ~2 Kings 21:18
King Ahaseurus attends Esther's banquet with Haman and upon determining what to do with the unfortunate vizier, retreats into the garden. Haman is aware that the King is contemplating the death penalty because he falls upon Esther's couch in order to beg for his life:
    ז וְהַמֶּלֶךְ קָם בַּחֲמָתוֹ, מִמִּשְׁתֵּה הַיַּיִן, אֶל-גִּנַּת, הַבִּיתָן; וְהָמָן עָמַד, לְבַקֵּשׁ עַל-נַפְשׁוֹ מֵאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה--כִּי רָאָה, כִּי-כָלְתָה אֵלָיו הָרָעָה מֵאֵת הַמֶּלֶךְ. 7

    And the king arose in his wrath from the banquet of wine and went into the palace garden; but Haman remained to make request for his life to Esther the queen; for he saw that there was evil determined against him by the king.

    ח וְהַמֶּלֶךְ שָׁב מִגִּנַּת הַבִּיתָן אֶל-בֵּית מִשְׁתֵּה הַיַּיִן, וְהָמָן נֹפֵל עַל-הַמִּטָּה אֲשֶׁר אֶסְתֵּר עָלֶיהָ, וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ, הֲגַם לִכְבּוֹשׁ אֶת-הַמַּלְכָּה עִמִּי בַּבָּיִת; הַדָּבָר, יָצָא מִפִּי הַמֶּלֶךְ, וּפְנֵי הָמָן, חָפוּ. 8

    Then the king returned out of the palace garden into the place of the banquet of wine; and Haman was fallen upon the couch whereon Esther was. Then said the king: 'Will he even force the queen before me in the house?' As the word went out of the king's mouth, they covered Haman's face.

    ~Esther 7:7- 7:8
The only place where a garden seems to be used positively is in Song of Songs. (If people are not actually dying, making decisions about death or going to die with regard to gardens, they are trying to escape from death by way of the garden in all other verses.) Note that in Song of Songs 'garden' is generally used metaphorically, referring to the woman herself, as opposed to an actual place. Perhaps if one actually were to go into a garden, the death association I have discovered would still pan out.

As an aside, it also seems quite common in Tanakh for there to have been a special 'king's garden.' Plenty of kings- ranging from Menashe to Zedekiah to Ahaseurus- had them. I thought that was an interesting tidbit of knowledge.


inkstainedhands said...

That was a very interesting post! I love how you find all these parallels.

taran said...

very interesting chana. but maybe this only applies in this world. as you know, if one goes to the garden of eden after death, his soul has the ultimate paradise. i guess you could say that everything up above is opposite from everything down here.(another example is a very humble jew on earth that follows the torah devoutly. up above his reward would be much much more than just a regular jew).

Chana said...


Glad you enjoyed!


Have I mentioned that I adore you and you make my life? I love you, brother of mine.

Gavi said...

Shir hashirim is what is called in Latin "hapax legomenon" so it makes sense that the normal themes change...

In Shir hashirim the garden is that place where the shechina and benei yisrael come to meet. I made a ketuba for my best friend with the possuk "ketapu'ach be'atzei ha'ya'ar" to echo this theme...

ari said...

Really cool and insightful!

Here's another: Kings 2, 9:27

כז וַאֲחַזְיָה מֶלֶךְ-יְהוּדָה, רָאָה, וַיָּנָס, דֶּרֶךְ בֵּית הַגָּן; וַיִּרְדֹּף אַחֲרָיו יֵהוּא, וַיֹּאמֶר גַּם-אֹתוֹ הַכֻּהוּ אֶל-הַמֶּרְכָּבָה בְּמַעֲלֵה-גוּר אֲשֶׁר אֶת-יִבְלְעָם, וַיָּנָס מְגִדּוֹ, וַיָּמָת שָׁם.

But when Ahaziah the king of Judah saw this, he fled by the way of the garden-house. And Jehu followed after him, and said: 'Smite him also in the chariot'; [and they smote him] at the ascent of Gur, which is by Ibleam. And he fled to Megiddo, and died there.