Garden of Eden

b

EDEN (GARDEN OF) (including Pishon, Phison, Pison) עֵ֔דֶן; LXX, ̓́Εδεμ, the first habitation of our first parents.

Etymology.

Two possibilities are encountered on this score: (a) either the word “Eden” is derived from the Akkad. edinu, or from the Sumer. edin, i.e. “open field”; or again (b) it is the Heb. (’eden) for “delight.” Possibility (a) is less likely, because “open field” is not an apt designation of a “garden.” Besides, the LXX frequently trs. for “garden of Eden,” “park of delight.”

Use of the word.

The word ’eden is used for garden in general; also for a territorial or geographic location; it appears as a proper name of a person; and lastly as the name of a town (Amos 1:5). See KB s.v.

Location.

Three major possibilities are to be encountered under this head: (a) Armenia, (b) Babylonia, or near the head of the Persian Gulf, (c) near the N Pole. The last of these may be dismissed quickly, inasmuch as about all it can adduce by way of support is that evidence of tropical flora has been discovered as fossil remains in the frozen N. Babylonia also seems unlikely, because the river-pattern described in Genesis 2:10-14 does not agree with this claim. At least two of the streams mentioned in this Scripture (the Tigris and the Euphrates) are known to have been in days of old, as they are to this day, near to one another and springing from the Armenian highlands. This does not assign any proper place to the Pishon and the Gihon, with regard to which the conjecture has been offered, among others, that they are the Indus and the Nile. But positive identification of these two cannot be established. In fact, it seems that one must rest content with the identification of the Euphrates with the prath (v. 14) and of the Tigris with the hiddekel (cf. Sumer., Idigna, and the Akkad., idiqlat—KB). Since no such set of streams can be identified anywhere (one major stream dividing into four branches), there is great likelihood that they are correct who allow for the possibility that some major topographical change, such as might have been wrought by the great Flood, may have taken place. The only helpful fact left is that the Tigris and Euphrates still originate in the same general area, as well as do some minor streams (such as Araxes and Murat) that would come close to making up the original four mentioned in the text. For the claim seems irrefutable that the picture given in vv. 10-14 is that of a single strong stream issuing forth from the garden itself, and then subdividing into four branches which go off in the direction of the four points of the compass. No comparable situations that may be discovered correspond geographically to what is depicted here. The reverse often occurs that a number of streams in confluence combine to make one stream. The subdividing of a stream is, as far as is known, to be found only in deltas, which is not what is being described here. To try to make of the Pishon and the Gihon two of the canals that in days of old connected the Tigris and the Euphrates does not seem a happy solution of the problem. These canals originated at a much later date.

Description of the garden.

The scriptural emphasis in reference to the garden seems to lie in the fact that it constituted a flawless background for human beings themselves flawless. It had many tokens of divine goodness and favor made accessible for the first parents. Among these tokens “trees” are mentioned first (2:9), all manner of them “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” Of particular moment are two special trees, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. These may well have been the center of the garden, as they certainly were as in their intrinsic importance to mankind.

Then it should be noted that as to location the garden lay “in Eden.” Eden appears as a larger territory within whose confines the garden was located. Besides, the location is specified as lying “in the east,” which must indicate: E from the point of location of the writer of the account, which does not help in this instance, for one does not know where the writer was.

In addition to many types of trees there were many animals, representatives perhaps of all major classes of the creatures that had been created on the sixth day (Gen 1:24f.). These creatures may have served man in many ways which became more and more apparent as time went on.

That the garden was well-watered has been indicated indirectly in the things that were said about the one river and the four rivers. In Biblical language almost always abundance of water is the major physical blessing. At the same time the care of the garden provided a suitable occupation for the first parents, but since nature had not been “made subject to vanity” the work assigned was neither too much nor too little. Lastly, everything points to the possibility that the climate was temperate, for clothing apparently was not a physical necessity.

The use of the term elsewhere in Scripture.

It is not to be wondered that the Garden of Eden became the symbol or epitome of beauty and perfection, to which the following passages bear witness: Isaiah 51:3; Ezekiel 28:13; 31:9, 16, 18; Joel 2:3.

The later history of the garden.

At first it must be remembered that cherubim were stationed to the E of the garden to prevent the entrance of man. It was also a matter of tradition that Cain’s place of dwelling lay to the E of the garden. From there on, everything is wrapped in silence. There is always the possibility that the garden continued to exist and was the place of the manifestation of the Lord’s presence to man until the time of the Flood, the cherubim involved, being in this case the ones who upheld the throne of the Almighty. The NT, basing on the term used by the LXX, uses paradise as a term descriptive of the bliss of the hereafter (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor 12:3; Rev 2:7).

Bibliography

Any standard commentary on Genesis; also the current run of encyclopedias of the Bible and dictionaries of the Bible.