Archaeologists and Journalists: Please Stop Finding the Garden of Eden!

§ March 1st, 2009 § Filed under Archaeology and Bible § 1 Comment

Contributed by Michael M. Homan, Xavier University of Louisiana.

I just read that they found the Garden of Eden again. It seems to have moved from its previous locations in Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Jerusalem. The latest location of chez Adam & Eve is at Gobekli Tepe. While it is truly an amazing site with great implications for understanding the Neolithic Revolution, it’s not Paradise.

So why the skepticism? Simply put, the story of the Garden of Eden is a myth.

The Center Panel (Paradise) of the Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch

The Center Panel (Paradise) of the Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch

The Bible offers a couple of clues about the location of Eden. Cain was kicked out of Eden eastward to Nod (Gen 4:16). However, “Nod” is derived from a root that means “to wander,” so it’s not a specific location, but indicates that Cain will be a fugitive. The best evidence for Eden’s location is that a river in Eden broke into four rivers: 1) the Pishon, 2) Gihon, 3) Hiddekel, and 4) Ferat (Gen 2:10-14). The identity of the last two is certain, being the Tigris and Euphrates respectively. Nevertheless, a wide range of possibilities for the other two prohibits a definitive location. The river Pishon is said to be located in the land of Havilah where there is quality gold, bdellium and onyx stone (2:11-12). Havilah is alternatively located in 1) Nubia, with the Pishon being the Nile, 2) India, with river candidates being the Indus or Ganges, or 3) Southwest Arabia, with the Pishon being the Wadi Bisha and the Wadi Baish. All three areas are famous for gold and the other commodities. Similar confusion surrounds the identification of the Gihon River. Gihon comes from a root meaning “to gush forth,” and thus it is a common name for flowing bodies of water throughout the ancient Near East. The Bible qualifies Eden’s Gihon as a river that flows around the land of Cush (2:13). Confusion persists, however, as there are in fact two areas named Cush in the Bible, the first and more famous being Nubia, and thus the Gihon would refer to the Nile River. The second area for biblical Cush is in Midian, with a number of wadis and streams serving as candidates. The great biblical scholar and archaeologist William Albright thought that the Pishon and Gihon were the two branches of the Nile River, known today as the Blue Nile and the White Nile. Alternatively, some have claimed this River Gihon is the famous spring in Jerusalem’s Kidron Valley, thus linking the Garden of Eden to the Temple in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, this remains unlikely, as the argument ignores the correspondence of Eden’s Gihon to the land of Cush, a term never used in conjunction with Jerusalem. The early Jewish Historian Josephus identified the Pishon with the Ganges and the Gihon with the Nile. In doing so, Eden is positioned at the source of the ancient Near East’s four largest rivers. Thus, it’s not a realistic location that you could visit, but instead, it is a mythological place which brings fertility in the form of river water to the entire world known to the biblical authors.

And to close here is Marge Simpson’s dream about Eden, but sadly, it cuts off before the butterscotch pond and the porno bush:

One Response to “Archaeologists and Journalists: Please Stop Finding the Garden of Eden!”

  • Higgaion » Eden, ASOR, and Hieronymus Bosch says:

    [...] Homan of Xavier University, writing on the ASOR blog, begs archaeologists and journalists to “please stop finding the Garden of Eden!” While I agree with his sentiments and have no objection to labeling the biblical Eden story [...]

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