I was reading through the papers of the World’s Parliament of Religions held as part of the Columbian Exposition (a.k.a., the 1893 World’s Fair) in Chicago. One paper was given by one of the original Sephardic founders of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, H. Pereira Mendes. In the presentation, he talks about biblical figures, speaks of what Jews “harmonize with” and what they “protest against” other religions, particularly Zoroastrians, Confucians, Greek and Roman philosophies, Islam, and Christians. Then he turns toward the future of Judaism and he makes these remarks:
There is a legend that when Adam and Eve were turned out of Eden or earthly Paradise, and angel smashed the gates, and the fragments flying all over the earth, are the precious stones. We can carry the legend further.
The precious stones were picked up by the various religions and philosophers of the world. Each claimed and claims that its own fragment alone reflects the light of Heaven, forgetting the settings and incrustations which time has added. Patience, my brothers. In God’s own time we shall, all of us, fit our fragments together and reconstruct the gates of Paradise. There will be an era of reconciliation of all living faiths and systems, the area of all being in At-one-ment, or atonement with God. Through the gates shall all people pass to the foot of God’s throne. The throne is called by us the mercy-seat. Name of happy augury, for God’s mercy shall wipe out the record of mankind’s errors and strings, the sad story of our unbrotherly actions. Then shall we better know God’s ways and behold his glory more clearly, as it is written, “They shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sins no more.” (Jer. xxxi. 34.)
Firstly, I would like to know the origin of the smashed fragments of paradise being dispersed throughout the world (in one of the collections of Midrash? in Talmud?).
Secondly, the universalist vision is striking. On the one hand, it takes a cue from the name of God’s throne in the Bible – the “mercy seat” – and ascribes that as God’s predominant quality at the end of time instead of the “judgement seat.” Instead of judging people and sending them to torment or bliss, God’s mercy will cover all, obliterating the wrongdoing, sending sins into oblivion rather than the ones committing them. This, however, is not just for Jews, but people of all religions and philosophies. This is the second element of the universalism: all religion has a fragment of Paradise, a piece of Heaven, a portion of Truth. They have all developed an exclusivist attitude, thinking their Paradise Stone is the only one. Some differences between religions may simply result from the varying shapes of the fragments of stone. Others differences between religions are simply the “incrustations” of time. Yet at the end, all the pieces of the puzzle will fit together to re-create Paradise; all of the pieces, in fact, must be present for Paradise to be rebuilt. This inclusivity was one of the marks of the Parliament – many representatives of different religions often admired elements of other religions, but largely believed that their religion was more comprehensive in its truth. Mendes certainly couches his universalist vision with the raw materials of his own tradition and believes everyone should stay true to one’s own tradition, bringing their own precious stones to Paradise at the end of time.
2 thoughts on “The Stones of Eden”
Interesting. Not unlike this quote from Rumi.
“The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.”
― Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi
Very interesting comparison to Rumi. It actually reminded me of Attar’s Conference of the Birds, where he says,
“It was in China, late one moonless night,
The Simorgh first appeared to mortal sight –
He let a feather float down through the air,
And rumors of its fame spread everywhere;
Throughout the world men separately conceived
An image of its shape, and all believed
Their private fantasies uniquely true!
(In China still this feather is in view,
Whence comes the saying you have heard, no doubt,
‘Seek knowledge, unto China seek it out.’)”