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Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Biblical Gardens, Michele Kinghorn

Michele Kinghorn
May 15, 2010
OCBS Year 4
Instructor:  Sharon Nelsen

There seems to be a pull for humans toward the natural world for the growth of our heart and souls.   This can be seen played out in the stories we read in the Bible.  Key stories from the Bible occur in the setting of a garden.  Did the gardens experienced by those who lived during the time of Moses and later at the time of Jesus look like the contemporary gardens we have experienced?  What do we know about them? 
A garden can be defined as "a plot of land where plants, fruits, vegetables, and spices were cultivated" (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible page 482)  Typically they were located closer to the house and supplemented the diet of grains and dairy products consumed.   They were usually fenced in by a stone wall or hedge for protection and to keep out invaders.
You would find that the gardens of ancient Egyptians were attached to part of a palace of a king or wealthy family.  To reach a "country residence one often crossed its garden first.  The entrance was through a gate, at time reminiscent of the pylons of temples."  ("Horticulture: Gardens and gardeners" hefertiti.iwebland.com/trades/gardeners.htm, page 3)   These gardens were planted with trees within an enclosure and were irrigated.  There were also pavilions present.  Irrigation water was diverted and used to form pools and streams.  This created an environment of a welcome respite from the desert heat.  In the Egyptian garden, flowers were also grown.  According to the Dictionary of the Bible by John McKenzie, SJ, artwork from ancient Egypt illustrates people being entertained in a garden setting. 
Egyptians loved a formal garden; trees and plants stood in straight rows.   Lettuce gardens (lettuce was well known as an aphrodisiac), were dedicated to the god, Min.  Growing vegetables was very labor intensive.  The gardeners had to irrigate the plants since Egypt received little rain.  Water had to be carried from either the Nile or from a local well.  The gardeners who toiled in these ancient gardens endured the hot desert sun.  Some of them were slaves who were taken prisoner during the many conquering raids of the Egyptians into Canaan and Nubia. 

Gardeners tools were very basic.  They had planting sticks, hoes to dig with, baskets for carrying, knives and adzes for pruning, and earthen pots for carrying water.    (Pictures from ("Horticulture: Gardens and gardeners" hefertiti.iwebland.com/trades/gardeners.htm, page 7)     

Mesopotamian gardens were enclosed by cultivated trees, usually fruit trees, and were also irrigated.  However, they seem to have been absent of flowers.  They , like the gardens of Egypt, had pavilions for shade.   Some of these gardens could also function as a preserve and serve as a place for hunters to enjoy their sport.
The garden of the Old Testament was not has highly cultivated as the Egyptian or Mesopotamian garden.  It may be described as more of an orchard.   Ancient Israelites employed dry-farming practices.  Larger farms may have had separate vineyards and olive orchards.   It is also noted that many families probably planted fruit vines and trees within their gardens.
In the New Testament, a momentous event occurred in an olive grove:  Jesus prayed the night of his betrayal and arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.  
“When he had said this, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley to where there was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered.  Judas his betrayer also knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. (John 18.1-2)
Gethsemane (oil press) is located at the foot of the Mount of Olives.  Today it is an enclosed grove of eight olive trees which dates back centuries.  This grove is located where the "modern highway to Jericho diverges from the path over the mountain to Bethany".  (Dictionary of the Bible by McKenzie, page 305)     

(Ancient Olive Tree from www.allaboutarchaeology.org/garden-of-gethsemane-faq.htm)
Throughout his life, Jesus takes times away, retreats to nature.  Sometimes he would go to the wild in the desert or a mountainside - places of isolation.  Other times he would go to seek peace in a garden.  On the night he was to be betrayed, he goes to the sanctuary and refuge of a garden, the garden of Gethsemane.  I can only imagine the agony that Jesus experienced as he prayed that night, His human spirit seeking consolation and peace through nature and the protection of the garden while he prayed and agonized at the events that were to follow.
Gardens provide a gravitational pull for humans toward the natural world.  They are places of sanctuary, intimacy, protection, and healing.  We can see this evidenced in the gardens mentioned in the Bible, from the images of Eden in Genesis to the burial place of Jesus:  “Now in the place where he had been crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried.  So they laid Jesus there…” (John 19.41-42a).
Gardens are places that invite us to pray and reflect; they enhance and nurture our spirits; they are places created and sustained by God, little “promised lands” where we can sow and gather, eating our fill as we meet and interact with God.
For the land which you are to enter and occupy is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come, where you would sow your seed and then water it by hand, as in a vegetable garden.  No, the land into which you are crossing for conquest is a land of hills and valleys that drinks in rain from the heavens, a land which the Lord, your God, looks after; his eyes are upon it continually from the beginning of the year to the end.   If, then, you truly heed my commandments which I enjoin on your today, loving and serving the Lord, your God, will all your heart and all your soul, I will give seasonal rain to your land, the early rain and the late rain, that you may have your grain, wine and oil to gather in; and I will bring forth grass in your fields for your animals.  Thus you may eat your fill. (Deut. 11.10-15)



The Creation An Appeal to Save Life on Earth  by E.O. Wilson Published 2006 W.W. Norton & Company, New York
Dictionary of the Bible by John L. McKenzie, SJ Published 1995 Touchstone, New York
Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible  edited by David Noel Freedman Published 2000 Wm. B, Eerdmans Publishing Company
The Meaning of Gardens edited by Mark Francis and Randolph T. Hester, Jr.  1990 The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts
Rooted Reflections on the Gardens in Scripture by Murray Andrew Pura Published 2010 Zondervan, Grand Rapids Michigan
"Garden of Gethsemane" http:www.allaboutarchaeology.org/garden-of-gethsemane-faq.htm
"Horticulture: Gardens and gardeners" http:nefertutu.iwebland.com/trades/gardeners.htm

copyright 2011 Michele Kinghorn


  1. Again, I am enriched by another's research. Thank you to Michele for her "garden work" and thank you Heidi for posting it.
    Looking forward to many new readings and re-readings,
    Sharon Nelsen

  2. I am creating a small Biblical herb garden at my church and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on what shape would be correct.
    I am planting 7 herbs in 7 raised beds. Your thoughts are very much appreciated.
    Debra pvarvaro1389@charter.net

  3. This led to great conversation with my husband last night. We did not come up with a definitive answer. But I am wondering if you are interested in something that reflects more of the Old Testament gardens and culture or the New Testament?


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