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Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden by Wenzel Peter, Vatican Museum

What Happened in Eden? Alternative Translation Tells a Very Different Story

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All modern concepts of the Garden of Eden stem from a few verses in the biblical Book of Genesis, none of which is entirely free from ambiguity. The ancient Hebraic documents, from which the early part of the Book was compiled, contained simple and basic writing with very few vowels, and none of the modifying inflections which, later, gave flexibility to the language. The absence of vowels lead to this ambiguity; which is why, even today, after millenia of scholarship, no-one knows how the name of God was pronounced. As a result, our Churches vary in their interpretation of YHWH (Yod He Vov He) between the sounds of Yahweh and those of Jehovah — and these are only two of the possibilities.

All modern concepts of the Garden of Eden stem from a few verses in the biblical Book of Genesis

All modern concepts of the Garden of Eden stem from a few verses in the biblical Book of Genesis (public domain image)

The Problem with Paronomasia

Another source of ambiguity lies in the fact that early Middle Eastern languages leant heavily on paronomasia to give variety to simple phrases — a form of punning which allowed several different meanings to be given to a single set of symbols. In speech, it is probable that slight inflections of tone differentiated between meanings, but in the written word there is no such indication to help us; and modern students of the Bible, like their predecessors, have to guess at the meanings of many words from the angle of their own preconceived notions of the context.

In all three of the basic, ancient Middle Eastern languages —Hebrew, Sumerian and Babylonian – a scholar with a secular bias would produce a different translation of the same text from that produced by a scholar with a religious bias. This may be very easily illustrated.

The quintessence of the first five chapters of the Book of Genesis may be summarized in four well-known quotations:

GEN 1: 1 ‘In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’

1: 26       ‘God said, “Let us make man in our image, in the likeness of ourselves . . .”

2: 8         ‘Yahweh God planted a Garden in Eden which is in the east... ’

5: 24       ‘Enoch walked with God. Then he vanished because God took him.’

These four widely-used quotations are taken from the Jerusalem Bible, first published in 1966 from deeply researched and modernized translations by the Dominican Biblical School in Jerusalem. We consider this magnificent work to be the most authorative and scholarly of all the modern translations . . . and yet these simple phrases, which hold the fundamentals of present-day Jewish and Christian teaching, are beset with traps of which the average Church member knows nothing. We shall open our bag of doubts by discussing three of them.

Bartolomeu Rubio, The Lord Reprimanding Adam and Eve, ca. 1362

Bartolomeu Rubio, The Lord Reprimanding Adam and Eve, ca. 1362 (Sharon Mollerus / flickr)

God or Gods?

In the first three verses, the English term ‘God’ is taken from the Hebrew term  = elohim; while, in the fourth, this term is expanded to = ha elohim, in which ha is the Hebrew equivalent of ‘the’. The problem, here, lies in the fact that elohim is the plural form of el. And, if el originally meant ‘god’, then elohim should mean ‘gods’; and ha elohim should mean ‘the gods’.

This plurality is emphasized in our second quotation in which the English singular and plural are strangely mixed. ‘God said, “Let us make man in our image, in the likeness of ourselves . . .” ‘. The Jerusalem Bible attempts to extricate itself from a very difficult situation by appending a footnote:

It is possible that this plural form implies a discussion between God and his heavenly court (the angels) . . . Alternatively, the plural expresses the majesty and fulness of God’s being: the common name for God in Hebrew is Elohim, a plural form. Thus the way is prepared for the interpretation of the Fathers who saw in this text a hint of the Trinity.

Many Gods, or God and his heavenly court? ‘Angel of the Revelation’ by William Blake

Many Gods, or God and his heavenly court? ‘Angel of the Revelation’ by William Blake (public domain)

With all respect to the Jerusalem Bible’s editors, we find this statement as eclectic a piece of reasoning as we have ever met. In essence, what these editors are saying is: ‘The common name for God in Hebrew is ELOHIM — a plural form.’

Whereas, what they really mean is: ‘The common name for ELOHIM in English is God — a singular form.’

And what if the Hebrew is correct and the English is wrong, as we suspect may be the case. In a situation such as this it would not be unreasonable to choose the Hebrew original as the more likely solution rather than the later translation.

It is true that elsewhere in this chapter of Genesis the pronouns referring to the Deity are singular, but this is not unusual in early Middle Eastern languages where the plural is frequently implied. But nearly always, and there are over thirty cases, the noun is in the plural — Elohim. The odd exceptions are where it was necessary to refer to specific singular entities such as El Shaddai, El Roi or El Elyon.

The Shining Ones

In the early definitive chapters of Genesis, as we have them in biblical form — something is clearly wrong.

The singular — EL — is a very ancient word with a long, etymological history; and it has a common origin with many other ancient words in other languages — all with a common significant meaning.

The Sumerian                    EL            meant ‘brightness’ or ‘shining’;

the Akkadian                     ILU         meant ‘the bright one’;

the Babylonian                 ELLU      meant ‘the shining one’;

the Old Welsh                   ELLYL     meant ‘a shining being’;

the Old Irish                       AILLIL    meant ‘shining’;

the English                          ELF         means ‘a shining being’ — from the Anglo-Saxon AELF;

the Old Cornish                                 EL            meant ‘an angel’.

All these terms indicate SHINING or BRIGHTNESS; and, consequently, it is our thesis that the Hebrew EL needs to be translated, in the first place, not as ‘God, but as THE SHINING ONE. And the plural ELOHIM, a contraction of HA ELOHIM, responsible for so much activity in the early part of Genesis, requires translation as THE SHINING ONES.

If we apply this translation, the four quintessential quotations become:

‘In the Beginning, the Shining Ones created the heavens and the earth.’
The Shining Ones said, “Let us make man in our image, in the likeness of ourselves . . .” ‘
‘Yahweh (The Leader of) the Shining Ones planted a Garden in Eden which is in the east…’
‘Enoch walked with the Shining Ones. Then he disappeared because the Shining Ones took him away.’

The Old Testament does not tell us specifically who, or what, these Shining Ones were. But, fortunately, the ancient Sumerian records do, and also certain alternative Hebrew documents which are not well understood by biblical scholars.

Who were the Shining Ones? "The Shepherds and the angel" (1879) by Carl Bloch.

Who were the Shining Ones? "The Shepherds and the angel" (1879) by Carl Bloch. (public domain)

Heavens or Highlands?

Another trap that we must mention here, lies in the Hebrew word which had been translated as ‘the heavens’. This was ha’shemim, a plural form indicating ‘the skies’. Like the Sumerian term an, which could be used for ‘skies’, or for ‘high places, the Hebraic shem could also mean the ‘heights’. And SHM was also the root of a word meaning ‘plant’ or ‘vegetation. In the context of the Garden in Eden, and the descriptions of this which will follow, we believe that ha’shemim originally meant ‘the Highlands’ — and ‘the planted Highlands, at that.

Similarly, ha’ares which the Jerusalem Bible translates as ‘the earth, is capable of being translated as ‘the ground’ or ‘the land’. In comparison with ha’shemim, we believe it should have meant ‘the Lowlands’.

To Look with Pleasure

The most important problem in these translations, however, after the elucidation of elohim, lies in the Hebrew word bara which is translated as ‘created’; and there would be no reason to challenge this if it were not for the parallel Sumerian, and alternative Hebraic versions which are to follow.

The term bara is only used for ‘created’ in the sense of a creation by God. Otherwise, it can mean such things as ‘cut down timber, ‘clear ground’ or ‘fatten oneself’. And if elohim does not mean ‘God’, but ‘the Shining Ones’, we ought to look at alternatives. The phrase in the first quotation could have meant — ‘the Shining Ones cleared the ground (or felled timber) in the Highlands and the Lowlands’ . . . because, according to the Sumerian record, that is exactly what they did. But there is another interesting alternative.

In Hebrew, the letter ‘B’ at the beginning of a word is frequently proclitic — that is, it appears to be an integral part of the word, but is really a form of modifying prefix; the actual word starts at the letter immediately after the initial ‘B’. In its power to modify, it can indicate pleasure in verbs of perception, or seeing — and RA is the root of the Hebrew word ‘to see.

Consequently, it would be perfectly justified, in the circumstances, to transcribe , not as bara, but as bera’a. The latter would mean ‘looked at with pleasure’. Such an interpretation would alter the first quotation to: ‘In the beginning, the Shining Ones looked [down] with pleasure on the Highlands and the Lowlands’.

If the Sumerian account is to be believed, that is exactly what these Shining Ones would have done, because they are recorded as having descended onto the top of a commandingly-high mountain — from where they would have been able to see the land in which they were ultimately to settle.

Top image: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden by Wenzel Peter, Vatican Museum (faungg’s photos / flickr)

This article is an extract from the chapter ‘Eastward in Eden’ in the book ‘The Genius of The Few: The Story of Those who Founded the Garden in Eden’ by Christian O’Brien and Barbara Joy O’Brien.

To learn more, or to purchase the book, visit

By Christian O’Brien and Barbara Joy O’Brien



Pete Wagner's picture

Just to clarify, the Sumerians arrived on the scene long after the Atlantean culture was decimated by what sounds like massive aerial bombing, which caused the Ice Age.  A zero was removed from Plato’s account of the destruction, otherwise we would know it as 115 BC, which was when the Ice Age suddenly emerged.  All this talk of gods, like Yahweh, or some other, of those times, most likely refer to a knowledgeable person that wielded some political power, nothing too special.  The key to understanding Genesis is recognising that new races of black-headed (black hair) people burst onto the scene in Sumer and spread in all directions, supplanting the fair-haired survivors of the Atlantis event who were in those regions at that time.  Sitchin talks about the Anunnaki/Sumerians taking gentile wives, and creating a new humanity, which the ancient Greeks called ‘semites’, meaning half or semi man, i.e., intergalactic hybrids of sorts.

Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.

This article, once you get past the first paragraph or so, is complete rubbish. He makes lots of assertions, which are incorrect. I note he has no formal qualifications in Hebrew and does not give any quotations from others who *do* have such qualifications to back up his claims. His havin a degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge (like I do) does not mean you can speak on how Hebrew was used. Nor does working as a geologist.

I like the article, that s is the sort of thing I am aware of, which is supposed to be corrected by the tradition as to the correct interpretation. Here we have an issue, of potential multiple breaks in the tradition. I have heard the plural meaning here to be an unusual Tri plural meaning. Three yet one. I haven't looked that up, but it fits with other things in these scriptures, if the three are one. There are multiple places where it is taken to be the Christ, in the old testament. The new testament speaking of God in trinity terms, Jesus even using terms about himself which are not to be uttered because they are only to be used about God, sending the religious elite enraged, as it is blasphemy to them. But being typical sceptics, they don't consider that it is ok for him to say these things, if he was God. Things are only as they describe them, no other way, even if they are completely wrong. In common religion terms, we describe a body (the visible Christ) the Soul (the Father mind) and a spiritual body (the holy spirit) as an image of the exact same principle, if we are to take such things about ourselves, then if we are made in the image of the Creator, than that is a likely hood. In the Bible, man is not spoken about as body alone, and in terms of science, we recognise that we have a seperate mind, though as a pattern in our brains. Extrapolating, how is the mind carried outside the physical body in religious terms, which could be the spirit. So, does the interpretation contradict everything else, not by the looks of it. In Bible translation, the final bits are to look at what meaning is not contradictory to everything else and how people originally perceived and interpreted these things. I am not going say it is perfect, but likely much more correct than presuming a direct contradiction to everything else. A lot of so called contradictions, except for copying errors, turn out to be misinterpretations of the reader from my experience, but I did not study old testament contradictions. A few little things difficult to translate here or there, and suddenly a contradiction is imagined. I'm not saying that applies here, we do not k is enough, but it is there. Go and ask a good theologian,band they may know of it, and even tell you something could be read in a slightly different way. But, the point is, with such variation in interpretation, it's easy to misinterpret compared to interpret.

Let's look at the verse in the Quaran. Unbeknown to most Muslims, who believe in one God. God precludes making man in the image or Angels etc, them says he will make man I'm his own image, as a plural, just as here. Now, the Quaran is said to be infallible prewritten in heaven. The interesting things is, when talking about denying the Trinity, it talks about the Father. Mother and Son, the old alternate middle eastern religions, not the Hebrew Christian one. There are many contradictory stories, interpretations, claims and hijackings in history. I can show you how a portion of the Greeks come Egypt, and transfered stories, names, and place names to Greece. How the original Romans come from the Greeks. How there were multiple different races that formed Egypt, and the Egyptian gods were supposedly derived from Summer. If that's the case, how come all their pantheons don't line up? Look at the wide spread use of El referenced in this article. If they were all so honest, these nearby nations should be in sync.

So, with a common shared history we can expect the same stories and details to turn up in multiple different locations from local national histories, not requiring them to be copied (I'm not saying that is not the case). Which means it's possible that Sumer etc incorrectly copied the stories incorrectly. Joseph was married to a Egyptian Priest's daughter, Moses married a Middian priests daughter, and both would have been very learned anyway. So, what definite evidence exists that it was a Sumer source that was corrupted? What evidence that the Sumer version wasn't corrupted? There are many possiblities that answers questions like this, but only one factually correct solution.

I apologise for the writing tonight. In.nit well, and it seems a bit convoluted. But I notice the articles here also seem a bit hard to read straight forwards. The.three or so I looked at, seem to cover ground wondering and stop, without summing up, reaching significant point.

but noticing articles around here aren't straightforwardd

Hello Christian & Barbara,

This is a great article thank you for sharing.

I think that all the Confusion over the Biblical Translations does point back to the Tower of Babel in Genesis chapter 11.

Because God changed the Languages; therefore, because of the changes through languages many translations have fill in gaps because some words that is spoken by in one language can be absent from an opposite language.

For example, in the Movie Amistad after gaining and interpretor who could speak the Languages of Sierra Leone for the 39 Africans being charged with insurrection and murder of the Slavers on the Amistad Ship.

There came a moment when a third disappointment hit the Amistad Captives; that now the case had to be heard in the Supreme Court.

Singe Bieh or Joseph Cinque who led the uprising on the ship as He's known got so enraged so frustrated that his attorney Baldwin through James Covey tried translating Daniel Baldwin's words but came up short of those words used in English was not found used by the Mende or Temne language.

And then there was an experience that I had in school this one time. A young lady who came from India, we were discussing Differences in the class when she shared that back in India there were over 230 different dialects spoken.

230 Different Dialects? I remember thinking good grief The Lord really didn't want People to build that Tower of Babel.

Then it made me wonder how many other dialects were around 230 to 300 different dialects in the World.

Plus, it reminded me of the confrontation between Apostle Peter and the people asking him if He Knew Jesus and Peter of course denying 3 Times before the Rooster Crowed a woman and man grilling Peter pointed out too him that by his accent He was an Galilean.

Of course The New Testament was written in Greek, I'm only aware of 5 languages spoken when Jesus and his Disciples were around Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, Latin an the Language of Samaria The Samaritans.

Anyhow As for me and my house we will serve The Lord that includes Meditation, Prayer & Bible Study. For us believers It just comes down to a matter of Faith.

This article was exciting to read thank you for sharing this one so until next time Goodbye!

Going back to the English language all the linguist have said that the English language is derived from German; most intriguing since Martin Luther the German Reformer wrote a Bible in German.

Although, the Bible is in German, Martin Luther took it upon himself to translate that Bible in to Greek instead of the traditional language for The Bible in Latin in that Era.

Walter Mattfeld's picture

By 1881 scholars had determined that Sumerian Edin had probably been recast as Genesis’ Eden, by 1898/1899 Professor Morris Jastrow Jr. of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia was proposing that Adam and Eve were recasts of Enkidu and Shamhat in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Numerous scholars since then have proposed that Edin was recast as Eden in the Bible. I have written two books on Eden’s pre-biblical origins, both published in 2010, (1) Eden’s Serpent: Its Mesopotamian Origin, and (2) The Garden of Eden Myth: Its Pre-biblical Origin in Mesopotamian Myths. I understand the Garden of Eden story is an ANTI-THESIS, in response to, and in refutation of, an earlier THESIS, about Man’s origins, how, where, when, he came to be made, and his relationship with his Creator. WHY this ANTI-THESIS? The Hebrews apparently disagreed with the Mesopotamian explanation of why man is a sinner: Man was made in the image of the gods who were sinner-gods, as they are portrayed as murderers, oath-breakers, liars, rapsists, having incestuous sex with mothers, daughters and grand-daughters, sex with animals, drunkards, who generally held man in low regard, and despised him. Man had been created to care for the Gods’ gardens in the Edin, thus alleviating the gods of the brutal back-breaking work in caring for their gardens. Man was to be a gardening slave, to be ruthlessly exploited by the gods. The Hebrews objected to this explanation of why man was a sinner, their god was righteous and just, and merciful, not an exploiter of mankind, and this God expected that man, made in his image, should be just, righteous and merciful too. Edin was the floodplain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in ancient Sumer, later called Babylonia. Edin’s gods’ gardens, were city-gardens, every god had a garden, man cared for on the gods’ behalf, so there were many gods’ gardens in Edin. Recasting Edin as Eden, and recasting Edin’s gods as One God, Yahweh-Elohim, the Hebrews turned the earlier THESIS about man’s origins in the Edin, into a new story of man’s origins in a location called Eden. WHY did the gods create gardens in the Edin? The early myths portray the gods as having bodies of flesh and blood, they can kill each other and wind up in the Underworld (also called Edin). Having fleshly bodies, they can starve to death if having no food to eat. So, as the gods live in cities, they create gardens for food to consume. Man’s purpose in life is to keep the gods alive by providing them food to eat from Edin’s gardens! The Hebrews, like their Mesopotamian forebearers, fed Yahweh-Elohim twice a day, morning and evening a meal at the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The Mesopotamian gods were fed twice a day too, morning and evening, like Yahweh-Elohim. The Hebrews never questioned God’s need for two meals every day, as the purpose of eating is to sustain life, and God, being immortal, shouldn’t need to eat or drink in Temple ceremonies.

Walter R. Mattfeld


christianobrien's picture


Christian Arthur Edgar "Tim" O'Brien (9 January 1914 – 17 February 2001) read Natural Sciences at Christ's College, Cambridge and spent many years as an exploration geologist in Iran, in Canada, and in other parts of the world. In 1936... Read More

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