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Eden, Garden of

Most of the standard Bible dictionaries and commentaries agree in suggesting that the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:8)         was located in the "easternmost third of the Fertile Crescent" (Unger's Bible Dictionary 285). "Calvin, Huet, Bochart and others believed the river of Paradise to have been the united streams of the Tigris and Euphrates called the Shat-al-Arab, which flows by Bassora. Its four heads... would have been, on the north, the two separate streams of the Tigris and the Euphrates, on the south, Gihon, the eastern, and Pison, the western channels, into which the united stream again branches out below Bassora, before it falls into the sea" (Speaker's Commentary 1:40).

With this widely-accepted view of the Garden's location Christadelphian expositors have generally agreed: "I suspect... that it lay somewhere between the Gulf of Persia, and the junction of the Euphrates and the Tigris" (John Thomas, "Elpis Israel" 58). "A river parting into four heads... must have been below where these two rivers (Euphrates and Tigris)         unite, within a hundred miles of the Persian Gulf" (Robert Roberts, "Answers to Correspondents", The Christadelphian 34:110). "The original site seems to have been in Armenia or Mesopotamia near Babylonia" (HP Mansfield, The Christadelphian Expositor: Genesis p 60). "The cradle of human civilization was the land of Iraq, and especially the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates. This is the area where Eden was" (Alan Hayward, "God's Truth").

Gen 2:10 reads: "And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads."

All of the above writers, and others besides, seem to take it for granted that Gen 2:10 should be visualized either as Figure 1, 2 or 3 [see appendix]. And for all such views, of course, a location very near the Persian Gulf is a necessity.

A Different Suggestion

It seems, however, that v 10 means something altogether different. If we were not trying to fit this verse as closely as possible to the modern geography of the Fertile Crescent, would not Figure 4 be a better approximation of the account? The most natural reading of Gen 2:10 is that one river (not two)         flowed into the Garden, and four flowed out.

It is clear that Eden was a large area, of which the garden was a much smaller preserve, set apart and especially prepared by God as the home of Adam.

We know that the garden itself was in the eastern part of the region of Eden. Just where was the territory of Eden? Notice, for one thing, that Genesis does not say that Eden encompassed all of the area watered by the four rivers, but merely that the four rivers originated in Eden.

Other than Genesis 2; 3, the references to Eden and the garden are as follows:

  1. Gen 4:16: Cain left the presence of God (ie, the area just east of the garden, where the "faces" (AV, "presence")         of the Cherubim were -- Gen 3:24; 4:14,16")         and journeyed to Nod (location unknown), which seems to have been further east. There he built cities and founded what is apparently the earliest civilization. By themselves, these facts would indicate that, if we are looking for the Garden of Eden, we must first find the world's earliest settled region (Iraq?)         and then travel westward some distance. How far westward? Well, let's look at other passages.
  2. Gen 13:10: When Lot was separated from his kinsman Abram, he "beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, as the garden of the Lord." This verse suggests (to use the mildest term)         that the Jordan River, near what is now the Dead Sea (but which was then certainly "living"), was closely related to the Garden of Eden. [It is admitted that "like" and "as" do not necessarily mean "identical with", but rather "comparable to". However, "likeness of", "like unto", "as", and similar phrases are sometimes Biblical idioms expressing not only correspondence but identity. Compare, for examples, Rom 8:3 and Phi 2:7. (See also HA Whittaker, "Revelation: A Biblical Approach" 11.)]
  3. Isa 51:3: "For the Lord shall comfort Zion: He will comfort all her waste places; and He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord." This foresees a time when the areas immediately surrounding Zion will become like Eden. It is at least a valid inference that, once before, these areas had been like the Garden of Eden -- but that they had fallen into a wilderness state reflective of the spiritual barrenness of the people who lived there. (Compare the same area before and after God's overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah.)
  4. Eze 28:13: "Thou (the king of Tyre -- v 12)         hast been in Eden the garden of God." Is not this parallel to v 14: "Thou wast upon the holy mountain of God"? Are the "garden of God" and the "holy mountain of God" the same?
  5. Eze 31:9,16,18; Assyria and Egypt, because of their forays into and through the lands of Palestine and Lebanon, are characterized as "trees" in Eden and the garden of the Lord.
  6. Eze 36:35: "And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited." Similar to Isa 51:3. Again, the promised land is equated with Eden.
  7. Joel 2:3: "Locusts" like a fire devour the "garden of Eden" -- ie, Israel! -- leaving it a "desolate wilderness".
All of the above passages connect either Eden or the garden of Eden with the land of Israel. Gen 13:10 and Isa 51:3 most specifically refer to Jerusalem and its immediate environs. Could it be that Eden proper was that same land which God promised to Abraham and his seed, "from the river of Egypt (the Nile!)         unto the great river, the river Euphrates" (Gen 15:18)? [Although giving a wider meaning to "Eden", John Thomas stresses the necessity of at least including Palestine in the term. This land, he says, has always been, and will be, the scene of conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. (See his comments on Eden in "Elpis Israel" 56,57.)] And, could it be also that the "garden of Eden" corresponds to present-day Jerusalem? [It might be objected that Jerusalem is scarcely in the eastern part of this area (Gen. 2:8). But if "Eden" is confined, say, to the territory controlled by David and Solomon, then Jerusalem might rightly be considered in the eastern portion.]

Now back to Gen 2:10. Is it possible that a river once flowed through Jerusalem and "from thence it was parted and became four heads"? Bearing in mind firstly the great changes wrought in the earth's surface by the flood, and secondly the enormous eruptions that accompanied the downfall of the "cities of the plain", it is not to be expected that the precise topography of the original area should any longer exist. [This same suggestion has been made by SL Hale, "Eden", Xd 98:26. Also, Reg Osmond, "Letters to the Editor", Ibid pp 125,126. See also David Sutcliffe, "Physical Changes in Israel in Prophecy", Tes 45:55-61, for an interesting description of the topography of Israel -- past, present, and future.]

But perhaps it looked something like Figure 5.

Thus, in the pre-deluge era, the Tigris (Hiddekel -- Dan 10:5)         and the Euphrates could have originated much further west, before reaching their current courses. [David Sutcliffe (Ibid)         suggests this will happen again, as a result of future cataclysms at the time of Christ's return (Zec 14:4,5).] The Pison, perhaps roughly equivalent to the modern Jordan River, could have flowed south from Jerusalem to the Gulf of Aqaba, thereby compassing Havilah or Arabia (Gen 2:11). And the Gihon (which name persists in the spring at Jerusalem -- 1Ki 1:33!)         could have flowed southwest toward Cush (Gen 2:13)         -- either Ethiopia or the Sinai Peninsula.

The Implications

This identification of the garden of Eden with Jerusalem must be no more than an unproven hypothesis. However, the implications of such a suggestion are far-flung and satisfying. And it is a good rule of Bible exposition that the best conclusion out of several possibilities is the one that sheds light on other passages. Just a few of these passages (others will readily suggest themselves):

  1. The first altar and the first cherubim are now connected with the site where God chose to place His name -- Jerusalem (Deu 12:5,11; 1Ki 8:29; 9:3; Psa 48:1,2; 87:1-3; 132:13; and others). How fitting Chat Jerusalem was His choice from the beginning, and that He always desired to dwell there!
  2. Now there is a satisfying explanation for Melchizedek's residence at Salem (Gen 14:18), and indeed for the presence of a whole community of true believers there.
  3. Also, God's call of Abram out of Ur and into Palestine was not a completely new beginning with a land randomly chosen, but rather a return to the original place of blessing! We now see, furthermore, a closer linkup between the original "seed" promise (Gen 3:15)         and later ones, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  4. Now, the ineffective fig-leaf coverings of Adam and Eve may be seen to typify the inadequate "fig-tree" covering of Israel -- -- cursed by Jesus in the same place (Mat 21:19-21).
  5. How did "Golgotha" ("the place of the skull")         get its name? Two reasons are suggested: There is an ancient Jewish tradition that the body of Adam, and hence his skull, was buried there. And, the name may have been derived from "Gol-goliath" -- the burial place of Goliath's head (1Sa 17:54). [Origen, cited in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, 2:1275. (It is reasonable that, if this were the site of the garden of Eden, Adam never strayed far from the cherubim, where he worshipped.)] So if the above is true, the place of Christ's crucifixion is identical with the place of burial of the head of the antitypical "serpent" Goliath, "bruised" by David (Gen 3:15). And the scene of the last Adam's victory over the "serpent" is identical with the scene of the first Adam's failure. So, the site where "dominion" (Gen 1:28)         was lost will also witness that "dominion" regained (See Psa 8 and all its New Testament allusions)!
  6. The first Adam was tried in a garden, and he failed; the "last Adam" was tried in a garden, Gethsemane, and was victorious! The "first Adam" slept in a garden and then received a bride taken out of his side. The "last Adam" slept the sleep of death in a garden tomb (John 19:41), and while he "slept" -- out of his pierced side (v 34)         -- God fashioned him a "bride"! How exciting to consider that these events all took place in the same local! [Consider also the weight of Christ's words to the thief on the cross re "paradise" (Luke 23:43)         -- a "garden"!]
  7. Now the suggestion that Christ's judgment seat will be located at Jerusalem may be seen to have a greater relevance. (See the article, Location of Judgment seat.)
  8. The interrelationship of Gen 3:24 with Eze 1:4-14; 10:18,19,22; 11:22,23; and 43:2-4 is now quite striking.
  9. Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22, with their similar visions of the pure river flowing out from the throne, through a lovely garden, with the tree of life, and from thence parting into streams that heal the waters of the Dead Sea and revitalize surrounding regions, gain so much more force when it is recognized that this is -- literally -- the garden of Eden restored!

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

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