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Where was the Garden of Eden

by Shelly Barclay

The Garden of Eden is a place mentioned in the Book of Genesis. It is part of the Jewish and Christian religious texts. Taken in context, it is part of a larger place called Eden. Eden is not the garden itself. Everything we know about the garden’s potential location, if it ever existed at all, comes from the Book of Genesis, which gives us very few clues as to the garden and Eden’s location.

After God created Adam, he placed Adam in the Garden of Eden. He later made Eve as a “helper” for Adam. The duo was banished from Eden after Satan convinced Eve to ignore God’s orders. She ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil — known colloquially as the Tree of Knowledge — and shared the fruit with Adam, against God’s wishes. After banishing and cursing them, God placed guards on the “east side” of the garden to protect the Tree of Life.

garden of eden

Thomas Cole’s “The Garden of Eden”

Whether one has faith that Genesis is literal or thinks the Garden of Eden is a literary construct with a possible real location that inspired the author, one must use Genesis to point the way.  Amid the above story, Genesis contains a few small clues that potentially point in the direction of Eden, though they are hardly explicit. To even begin to use these clues, we have to come up with a reasonable hypothesis for the location of Genesis’ author. Common belief has it that Moses himself wrote Genesis, in which case the location of the author at the time of writing was somewhere between Egypt and the western portion of the Middle East.

Depending on the translation/interpretation, either Eden is in the “east” or the garden is in the eastern part of Eden. If the east reference in Genesis refers to the location of the garden within Eden, we are completely lost as to compass direction and can only use other clues. On the other hand, if it refers to the position of Eden, then it is likely that the Garden of Eden, inspiration for it or Moses’ daydream is located east of Egypt and possibly the far western portion of the Middle East. This is assuming that Moses’ east is east as we know it today and the translators of Genesis took any deviation from cardinal compass points he may have used into account.

The other clues to were was the Garden of Eden are the names of four rivers and their physical descriptions. According to Genesis, a river flowed out of Eden through the Garden of Eden, which was supplied water by this river. After leaving Eden, the river split into four other rivers by the names of Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates. Some believe the rivers actually sprang forth out of the Garden of Eden or met at the Garden of Eden. Chances are, whether the Bible is true or not, the course of rivers from the time of Genesis (thousands of years ago) have changed by now. If the Bible is true, they have changed utterly. Regardless, seekers of the Garden of Eden look for help with the names of these rivers. Only two provide any assistance.

As for the river Pishon, which Genesis says flowed through the land of “Havilah”, a number of rivers have been presented as potential answers, some are even dry riverbeds, but none fit the description in the Bible. Gihon, which flowed through “Cush,” presents the same problem. The Tigris and Euphrates on the other hand are well-known rivers that flow primarily through Iraq. These two rivers are the only clues we have to the location of Eden, though they do not spring from the same source and they do not intersect with two other rivers. Regardless, the most logical answer for the location of the Garden of Eden based on the scant clues provided by Genesis is modern-day Iraq. However, there are problems with that too.

As mentioned above, we know that rivers change their courses over the course of thousands of years. They also dry up, get bigger, get smaller, etc. That is enough a problem, considering the rivers are our only viable clue, due to the vagueness of the word “east.” The other problem is that, if you believe in the Biblical Garden of Eden and the Bible itself, then you must believe that there is no possible way that the rivers remain the same or even still exist. The reason for this is that the Biblical flood happened after Genesis. That flood changed the face of the Earth, according to the Bible. Unfortunately, we are left with Iraq, thin hypotheses or nothing when it comes to where was the Garden of Eden.

NewAdvent.org, Moses, retrieved 9/24/11
BibleGateway.com, Genesis 2 (NIV), retrieved 9/24/11

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