Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

Studies in the Bible and Antiquity


Garden of Eden, Biblical studies, religious scholarship


The discovery of Babylonian, Assyrian, and Egyptian ritual prescriptions for creating and enlivening divine statues ranks among the more important in providing depth and context for reading biblical texts, and it is one that has only relatively recently begun to bear fruit. As the most recent and sustained study of these texts and their significance for understanding the Hebrew Bible, Catherine L. McDowell’s The Image of God in the Garden of Eden demonstrates the gains in understanding made possible, with all due caution, by bringing the mīs pî pīt pî (mouth-washing, mouth-opening) ritual instructions from Mesopotamia and the wpt-r (mouth-opening) texts from Egypt into conversation with the Genesis creation stories. The work under consideration is both an excellent distillation and critique of the relatively recent work done on the animation of divine statues in the ancient Near East as well as a compelling analysis of what it means for understanding the Garden of Eden narrative of Genesis 2–3.2 A revision of her 2009 Harvard dissertation directed by Peter Machinist and Irene Winter, McDowell’s work displays the comprehensiveness, attention to detail, and clarity of exposition that make this indispensable for understanding both the rituals involved and the conceptual context informing the Genesis account. Scholars will find reasons to dispute some of the claims and conclusions made in the volume, but McDowell has herewith advanced the conversation in a systematic and reasonable manner.