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Eden - Paradise lost

A Paradise Lost: In Search of Eden

Nothing else has fascinated both archaeologists and theologians alike more than the identity to the location of man’s paradise lost; that is, the Garden of Eden. Throughout history, the idea of a paradise was a common theme in almost all ancient cultures. The Sumerians called it Dilmun (commonly identified as the modern day island of Bahrain). The Greeks called it the Garden of the Hesperides. The idea was not a unique one to the Biblical author(s), however the Book of Genesis does provide us with the most details; albeit vague, to its location. What was Eden and where was it located? We will need to dive through the ancient sources at our disposal so that we may decipher the enigma that is Eden.

Genesis 2:8-9 informs us of a garden set to the east, trees and animals a plenty, which a river flowed through and parted into four: Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates. The Septuagint (or LXX) confirms the translations of the Tigris and Euphrates, although the Pishon and Gihon continue to remain a mystery. The identification of the two rivers have led many to look to Mesopotamia and more recently the submerged regions of the Persian Gulf, although how much of these details can we consider to be credible?

It would seem that geography was not the author’s strongest feature. For instance, we know where both the Tigris and Euphrates meet in southern Mesopotamia and where the rivers flow to in the North and Northwest. As for the river Gihon, a literal reading of Genesis 2:13 from the Hebrew source translates to: ‘And [the] name [of] the second [is] the river Gihon. It circles around all [the] land [of] Cush.’ We clearly read that Gihon flowed from the Persian Gulf and parted to circle Cush. According to Hebrew and Assyrian source, Cush is identified as Ethiopia. Yes, the very same Ethiopia that resides on the separate continent of Africa. For this reason, many have identified the river Nile with Gihon, although such an identification would invalidate the original statement in that it parted alongside three others from the same river. Coincidently, 1Kings 1:33 mentions a spring near Jerusalem by the name of Gihon. The Hebrew name translates to ‘bursting forth,’ a generic term that can describe just about anything.

When we read beyond the Book of Genesis, we do find additional references to Eden:

Isaiah 37:12: Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed, as Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden which were in Telassar?

Ezekiel 27:23: Haran, and Canneh, and Eden, the merchants of Sheba, Asshur, and Chilmad, were thy merchants.

Ezekiel 31:16: I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to hell with them that descend into the pit: and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, shall be comforted in the nether parts of the earth.

Does this mean that Eden was still around at the time the Book of Ezekiel was written (during the Babylonian Exile)? Isaiah speaks of the children of Eden as a nation that still existed, while

Ezekiel hints at Eden being a merchant town. It is listed along with other locations situated in northern Mesopotamia, southern Anatolia and the northern Levant. Does this hint at Eden being located somewhere within this outline? When we reread Ezekiel 31:16, we observe the verse confirming that Eden is in the land of Lebanon, a region well renowned for its cedars.

This is further confirmed when identifying the proper etymology for the name Eden. Traditionally, scholars believed it to be a Hebrew rendering of the Sumerian word edin translating to ‘steppe.’ Archaeology, however, has shown this word to be Aramaic in origin, a Semitic language, widely used to the North of ancient Israel and in ancient Lebanon and Syria.

Discovered at Tell el Fakhariyah (on one of the tributaries of the Khabur River), Syria in 1979, was a statue containing a bilingual inscription. Dating to approximately the late 9th century BCE, the statue provides the oldest evidence of the Aramaic language. Written on the skirt of the man, the bilingual inscription was inscribed in Assyrian cuneiform and the Semitic linear alphabet in an Aramaic dialect. It is this bilingual text that holds the key to the earliest identification and interpretation of the word ‘eden.’ Used as a verb, ‘dn corresponds to the Assyrian verb for ‘wealth or luxuriance.’ This translation reinforces the idea of a paradise behind the Genesis narrative.

Despite this extraordinary discovery, Assyrian sources provide more clues to the location of Eden. Assyrian records have revealed the identification of an Aramean state that thrived between the 10th - 9th centuries BCE. The name of this kingdom was Bit Adini (or House of Eden) and its capital was centered at Til Barsip (modern day Tell Ahmar). Bit Adini would be conquered and absorbed into the Neo-Assyrian empire in 856 BCE, during the reign of Shalmaneser III (reigned between 859 - 824 BCE). Located in Syria, Til Barsip was situated along the Euphrates River. It is now that the cryptic passages in Ezekiel and Isaiah, and the general location for Eden, are coming together.

Historical map of the Neo-Hittite states

Historical map of the Neo-Hittite states (ca. 800 BCE). Credit: Hans van Deukeren. Source: Wikipedia.

The Book of Isaiah sheds light on the outcome of the people who inhabited Eden. As was the outcome of many nations who opposed the Assyrians and later Babylonians, the conquered would be exiled to the furthest reaches of the empire. In the early 9th century BCE, an Aramean coalition was formed which opposed the Assyrian war machine. Ashurnasirpal (reigned between 883 - 859 BCE) would quell this rebellion until his son Shalmaneser conquered and absorbed the region. During this period, people would have been exiled and Assyrian citizens would resettle in the newly conquered territories. The Edenites, alongside the people of Haran, Gozan, and Rezeph were transported to Telassar. Translating to ‘Assyrian hill,’ Telassar was a city conquered and held by the Assyrians. Written in the Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles as Til-Assuri, it has been identified with Bit-Burnaki (also written as Bit-Bunakku) in Elam, to the East of Mesopotamia in modern day Iran.

How does this relate to the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis? I for one, believe the narrative to be an allegorical one; possibly intended as propaganda. It was inspired by the Assyrian expansion and the many people exiled, to never return to their homeland (i.e. Adam and Eve’s expulsion to the East). What may confirm this claim is a verse found in Genesis 3:24:

So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the garden of Eden the cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way to the tree of life.

A reconstructed wall painting in Til Barsib, modern Tell Ahmar, Syria

A reconstructed wall painting in Til Barsib, modern Tell Ahmar, Syria. Source: Scientific Illustration & Archaeological Reconstruction .

After becoming part of the Assyrian empire, the once capital of the Edenites, Til Barsip was Assyrianized. It was decorated with beautiful art consisting of rosettes, royal processions, hunting scenes, to even the lamassu. The lamassu (also referred to as a shedu and the Akkadian kuribu), was a divinity with the head of a man and the body of a bull. They typically stood as guardians, usually in the king’s palace and throne room. These lamassu are one and the same as the Hebrew cherubim. While a common piece of decoration in Levantine art, it was more commonplace within Assyrian and Babylonian cultures. The stationing of the cherubim as guards to the garden may be symbolic of the Assyrian influence and occupation of Til Barsip. How should we interpret the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life? Mystical trees are not uncommon to Assyrian imagery. This includes a very well-known relief with Ashurnasirpal flanking both sides of the Tree of Life. As for the garden itself, I am reminded of the recently published articles claiming the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to be located to the North in Nineveh, a once Assyrian capital, and constructed during the reign of Sennacherib (reigned between 705 - 681 BCE). Apparently, Assyrians loved their gardens.

Lamassu statue dating to the Neo-Assyrian period. Author’s image. Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

By Petros Koutoupis

Sources

Brenton, Lancelot C.L. The Septuagint with Apocrypha . Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers,1986. [Print]

JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh . Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2003. [Print]

Koutoupis, Petros. Biblical Origins: An Adopted Legacy . College Station: Virtualbookworm.com P, 2008. [Print]

Millard, A. R. and P. Bordreuil. “A Statue from Syria with Assyrian and Aramaic Inscriptions.” The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 45, No. 3. 1982: 135-141. [Print]

Rogers, Robert W. A History of Babylonia and Assyria: Volume 2 . Long Beach: Lost Arts Media, 2003. [Print]

Featured image: ‘The garden of Eden with the fall of man’ by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Source: Wikipedia

Comments

The Hebrew pronunciation of 'A' is sometimes, or often, pronounced, sort of, like 'O'. Eg: as in Gordon, but English style, making the 'o' more stretched out. Goedon. This would make 'Adini', Odini and likely O'Dan or in this case O'Danny. I chose 'Gord' because it is the more correctly pronounced name of Gad.

its funny how everyone assumes uniformatism.. lol.. the world was pangaia preflood.. hudson bay is the remans of a comet strike.. y else is the canadian shield the oldest rock on earth?? this would also cause tectonics... so one cannot use the currrent geological n geographical model to find our eden..

Look! We must first identify exactly what we mean by the term, Garden of Eden. However, that is not possible if we use myth and ancient writings.

Let us look at it this way. Today, the world uses scientific language. Just how do you connect modern scientific language with myth and ancient script? From any objective point of view, it is not possible. The ancients did not use modern scientific language. We have no choice but to consider these ancient writings as just stories.

Here is another issue. Just who were Adam and Eve? Were they modern people, homo sapiens, or were they some kind of human ancestor? The ancient writings don't communicate to us in a definitive way so we can determine this. Therefore,the location of the Garden of Eden, can not be determined.

We need another method, one that can give us more precise information.

I've been working on this and other issues for some time and have placed some of my research on my blog. Although I have not identified the Garden of Eden, I have identified the extreme old age of intelligent life and civilization on earth. See my blog: http://black2tell.wordpress.com. Mr. Black.

Just because they didnt have the same understanding of science as we do now, doesnt mean they didnt write in a scientific manner, and that we cant ultimatly understand their message.
All cultures have people that they describe as "wise" "oracles" "wizards" "witches" "prophets" etc etc.
These are, for lack of a better term, Ye Olde Scientists. The Bible, Torah, Quran and all the other scripts are explinations of the world/exsistance as they understood it at the time, just like our modern day text books.
The fact that they all only have one main book can easily be attributed to the fact that reading and writting have only recently (historicaly speaking) become accesable to all, so up until then everything was compiled into one physical and spiritual Encyclopedia of their "most accepted theories". Today we do the same thing, but ignore the spiritual side of it because we think that that is already covered by the ancient texts, its not.

They arnt "Just Stories" as you say, they are real accounts of our history, as the people of the time percieved and understood them. Then you have to add on 1000/2000/5000 years of Chinese Whispers on to the top of them and voila, may i present to you The Bible!

1000 years from now they will look at our physics text books and shake their heads "How could these people even belive this rubbish, gravity doesnt work like that. haha fools the lot of them" 
And someone will be running around insisting that gravity does what we think it does today (limited understanding) where as others will be claiming that we cant possibly know what the people thought in year 2000 and we must take them as stories or vague guesses at best and nothing more.
Does that mean we don't have science? Of course not, this site itself is scientific, we just dont have their better thought out, more advanced "Future Science".

Also, figuring out what happened in the past is most deffinatly possible through and with these stories. If all we had to go on was The Bible then yes, id agree with you that no (masses of) useful information could be gained regarding how people at the time lived, how they thought etc as its all biased. However we dont only have the scripts (multiples and from different cultures of the same periods), we have carbon dating, archeology, forensic sciences and an ever increasing understanding in every single scientific field.

One thing i have so far always seen people ignore, and this article is no exception, is the fact that 2000/3000/5000 years ago, the earth looked different, there were islands, lakes and rivers etc etc that no longer exist, and of course the whole lot goes Vice Versa, there are new geographical features that didnt exist back then.
Before we can make an objective and informed guess on where exactly Eden is/was, we must first have a correct map of Planet Earth, at the time we know Eden to have existed (relitevly speaking of course, it still depends on wether you belive its real in the first place or a pure made up story).
Only then can we start looking at where rivers join up and the like.

Alternitavly, if you are looking for a civilization older than humanity, look no further than the Neanderthals and Denisovans. We are getting more and more info every year on how incredible these guys actually were.
When i started school, Neanderthals were little better than human-apes. Now weve come to the understanding that they were potentialy even cleverer in parts than humans.
Another thing id like to point out is the physically larger apperance of the Neanderthals, and the recuring theme of Giants in almost any ancient culture. Again, you have to bear in mind that a couple thousand years of Chinese Whispers have gone on since then, so giants means 13 meters tall, where as in actual fact, giant could have just meant "bigger" at the time. Also, historically speaking, humanity had lived besides at least the Neanderthals and possibly the Denisovans for longer than we have lived without them, so it would actually only make logical sense that ancient stories could and would somehow involve them.

theres my 2 cents ;D

Like Mr. Black, I too, have sought for the exact location of Eden's Garden. After years of research I realized it was mythical. But, behind all myths there usually exist historical facts or seed kernels. PhD scholars associated with Universities in the USA ad Europe, I believe, have correctly identified the seed kernels (their research being done between 1864 to 1900). I have written two books on the subject available for sale at Amazon.com, self-published in 2010. Google Mattfeld, Eden Myth, its pre-biblical origin in Meopotamian myths, in this book I quote these scholars' research. A brief summary: Eden is a recast of the Sumerian Edin, the steppe and flood plain of Lower Mesopotamia (today's Iraq). The gods of Sumer tiring of the back-breaking toil in maintaining their fruit-tree gardens associated with their cities, create man at three locations to assume the toil and present the garden produce to the gods as food in temple sacrifices at Eridu, Nippur, and Babylon. All three cities lie in the Edin. The god of Eridu, Enki/Ea creates man at two cities: Eridu and Babylon, while the god Enlil/Ellil of Nippur creates man. So several sites are the seed kernels behind the mythical Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are recasts of Enkidu and Shamhat of the Epic of Gilgamesh, they meet in Edin. A hunter brings her to a water hole to separate Enkidu from his wild herbivore companions, cattle and gazelles, she will replace them with herself as a more fitting companion, then she is instructed to bring him from Edin the wilderness, to dwell in Uruk. She introduces him to clothing. Saidu, the hunter, who brought her to the watering hole to seduce Edin's naked man and remove him from Edin, has been recast as Yahweh who introduces a naked Eve to a naked Adam, like Shamhat she replaces his animal companions with herself and causes him to be expelled from Eden for eating forbidden food. At a shepherd's camp in Edin Enkidu is offered bread and beer, he refuses to consume them for he knows only the consumption of grass and water. Shamhat cajoles him into consuming the new food and he submits to her will. The shepherds thereupon declare him a wild animal no more, he is now a civilized man and is given men's garb, and he continues on to Uruk. Both Enkidu and Shamhat were naked in Edin and leave it clothed. My second book is Eden's Serpent: Its Mesopotamian Origin, (2010) and it explores attempts to identify Mesopotamian gods who were fused together and recast as Eden's serpent. All this is also available on the internet at my website, http://www.bibleorigins.net

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