Let it be known that I often judge a book by its cover–most definitely by its title. So, when I came across Brook Wilensky-Lanford’s Paradise Lust, I was immediately hooked. “Buy this book!” I shouted to myself. “And, please, please, please, let there be pictures!”
Pictures galore (of maps–which, I found quite exciting as Indiana Jones is one of two major mentors in my life–the other being Han Solo.)
Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden is Lanford’s attempt to track those who have been tracking the whereabouts of the Garden of Eden. From Augustine to Calvin, from Florida to Iraq, it seems that we’ve been trying our hardest to find our way back to that first nude beach . . . or garden. Whatever. All I can say is, if a snake with legs (think Komodo dragon) gives you verbal advice on what to eat or, hell, anything for that matter, run. Actually, don’t run . . . record it and send it to me. I’m really interested to hear how a snake handles those Hebrew consonants.
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH BROOK WILENSKY-LANFORD
1) By an early age, my pious parents had convinced me that ‘paradise’ and ‘lust’ do not coincide. As a result, I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to prove them wrong. Is this book going to aid me in my search?
Well, not unless you count lust FOR paradise, which is what unites all the various Eden-seeking characters I write about. Some of them do exhibit signs of the usual type of lust–though it’s channeled in some weird ways. A 19th century British military man thought he’d found paradise in the Seychelles when he discovered a palm tree fruit shaped suggestively like “the female buttocks.” Then there’s a 1950s Florida retireee whose Panhandle Eden is really a shrine to Eve and her “great decision” to eat the forbidden fruit, which might be a grapefruit . . . so there you are.
2) Who in their right mind would imagine that Eden could be found in the North Pole? Everybody knows that’s where Santa lives.
Indeed. And it’s also home of a tunnel that one can take inside the Hollow Earth, where the Garden of Eden can be reached by monorail, and the origin of those little green men on flying saucers we all know about, since the inhabitants of the Inner Earth have far more advanced technology than we do. Or so the 19th-century science fiction tales went. Suffice to say, before the 1920s, when the North Pole was finally reached by explorers, it was the repository of a whole lot of fascinating “here-be-dragons” type mythology. And I guess Santa could have moved in after the gargantuan Adam and Eve that my first Eden-seeker William Warren imagines, at from the forbidden sequoias and were forced out of their polar paradise by God’s great flood, which then, of course, froze.
3) Are most Eden-searchers more interested in finding Eden as an effort to prove the literal truth of the Bible or do you think it stems more in the hopes of eating from the tree of life (or, neither/both)?
In following all the idiosyncratic theories of these seekers–whose maps and manifestos point to places as various as the North Pole, Ohio, Mongolia, and Iraq, and all of whom insist that theirs is the only correct interpretation of Genesis 2:10-14, I came to believe that there is no such thing as a literal reading of the Bible. Shocking, I know. But these characters are definitely invested in bringing the Bible into the real world, proving its relevance to today’s concerns. They like to work contemporary science and politics into their Eden theories–like Hong Kong Christian Tse Tsan Tai, whose 1914 Eden theory is partially based on a discovery of valuable gemstones in a Mongolian riverbed, said to match the Bible’s description. His tactics may seem a little desperate to us, but his motives were unarguable: at the outbreak of World War I, he believed that if the origins of humanity could be established in this then-empty part of the world, then all of Europe and Asia could build a world government dedicated to peace. United Nations, anyone?
4) Assuming someone did locate the Garden of Eden, what’s been the game plan in terms of handling the cherubim with the flaming sword?
My favorite tactic would have to be completely re-characterizing them: the Florida seeker I mentioned, who was a libertarian capitalist, believed that the Tree of Life simply represented American liberty, and since the cherubim with their flaming swords were stationed at Eden’s gates to protect it, they’d only give you trouble if you were a “Communist or a welfare-statist.” Everyone else should feel free to come visit, for a small fee. The more traditionally Christian seekers might say that Christ, as the “Second Adam” sent to redeem our original sin, also afforded believers re-entry into Eden. The more accessible your theology’s view of salvation, the less those sword-wielding cherubim held. This might be one reason why most of the seekers I write about are at least nominally Protestant.
All right, since I baited you with the hopes of a Loverboy song, here ya’ go. (May this also satiate your need for a Kevin Bacon fix. You know you have one. Don’t lie.)
About the Author
Tripp York teaches religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Virginia. He is the author of more than half a dozen books including, Third Way Allegiance, The Purple Crown, and Living on Hope While Living in Babylon. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming three-volume collection called the Peaceable Kingdom Series. An actor and a lighting designer, Tripp also surfs and spends his weekends shoveling elephant and giraffe poop.