Monday, March 12, 2012

Honeybees and the New Paradise

Continuing with the theme of my last post, I thought revisiting Hugh Nibley's comments on bees and Eden would be appropriate:

The bee is before all creatures the sponsor, inspiration, and guide of the Great Trek. As a creature of the preexistent or prediluvian world, and all but sole survivor of the great catastrophes that desolated the earth, the bee is first to arrive on the scene and start things going again in the new world. In the first of all migrations, Adam and Eve were accompanied and guided by the bees as they moved from the Garden into the dark outer world. The bees brought with them "the primordial creative divine power"; their honey, "made by the bees of Paradise," is the food of heaven. When our first ancestors were allowed to bring some of their original blessings from Eden with them, Adam bore the olive, vine, date, pomegranate, and nard, but to Eve was given the greatest blessing, for she was accompanied by her friends from the Garden with their honey—the busy bees whose beneficent labors among the plants and trees made it possible to renew the verdure of the former world in their new one. According to one of the oldest Egyptian ritual sources, when they found the earth barren of life after the flood, the bees got to work restoring the fertility of the woods and fields while busily producing their honey and wax for the benefit of man. They were especially qualified to conduct Adam and Eve into a strange world, because they knew the place from its older times, themselves being the survivors from the other and better age.

It is recognized by scholars that, in antiquity, "honey is the ambrosial food of the gods."[1] For example, in the Jewish text Joseph and Aseneth "this food-of-the-gods tradition is anchored in a heavenly protology:

For this comb is (full of the) spirit of life. And the bees of the paradise of delight (cf. LXX Gen 3:23) have made this from the dew of the roses of life that are in the paradise of God. And all the angels of God eat of it and all the chosen of God and all the sons of the Most High, because this is a comb of life, and everyone who eats of it will not die for ever (and) ever.... Behold, from today your flesh (will) flourish like flowers of life from the ground of the Most High, and your bones will grow strong like the cedars of the paradise of delight of God, and untiring powers will embrace you, and your youth will not see old age, and your beauty will not fail ever.[2]

John Thompson's article simply connects the Jaredite "swarms of bees" with the "creeping things of the earth" in the creation story. However, the connection appears to run much deeper. Given the ancient role of bees and honey, the promised land would not be the new Eden without them.

1. Crispin H.T. Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam: Liturgical Anthropology in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002), 67.

2. Ibid., 67-68.

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