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Paradise on Earth

Religious Conceptions Of Paradise, Representations In Western Culture, Islamic Art And Literature, East Asia

The word paradise develops in Western languages from the Greek word paradeisos, the old Persian word pairidaeza, and the modern Arabic and Persian firdaus, all of which originally denoted a walled garden. In the arid environment of the Near East, a garden must be carefully and laboriously constructed with watercourses for irrigation, and its precious flowers and fruits protected from theft by a surrounding wall. The conflation of this term for a type of garden built and cultivated in the Near East with religious imagery of heaven, especially in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, has given the term a far more complex set of meanings, which have come to permeate the cultures of the Christian West and the Islamic world, creating a metaphoric bridge between divine paradise and paradise on earth.

In these cultures the concept of paradise developed in two related levels. The first was scriptural and thus a part of religious belief: paradise is either a place for life after death—often serving as a more tangible and concrete substitute for the vaguer term heaven—or the setting for a primal, idealized epoch in human history: the Garden of Eden. The second way in which the concept developed was through the actual physical depiction or recreation of the religious image of paradise on earth, either in the form of actual gardens or through the use of certain types of garden imagery—with or without religious connotations—in music, literature, and the visual arts.

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