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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Eden

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(Hebrews id.), the name of three places and of one or two men.

I. " The garden of EDEN" (עֵדֶן, delight, and so Sept. ἡδονή,Vulg. voluptas) is the most ancient and venerable name in geography, the name of the first district of the earth's surface of which human beings could have any knowledge. 1. The Name. The word is found in the Arabic as well as in the Hebrew language. It is explained by Firuzabadi, in his celebrated Arabic lexicon (Kamus), as signifying delight, tenderness, loveliness (see Morren, in Edinb. Biblical Cabinet, 11:2, 48, 49). Major Wilford and professor Wilson find its elements in the Sanscrit. The Greek ἡδονἤ is next to identical with it in both sound and sense. It occurs in three places (Isaiah 37:12; Ezekiel 27:23; Amos 1:5) as the name of some eminently pleasant districts, but not the Eden of this article. Of them we have no certain knowledge, except that the latter instance points to the neighborhood of Damascus. In these cases it is pointed, in the Hebrew text, with both syllables short עֶדֶן but when it is applied to the primitive seat of man, the first syllable is long. The passages in which it occurs in the latter sense are, in addition to Genesis 2:2; Genesis 4:16, the few following, of which we transcribe the chief, because they cast light upon the primeval term: "He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of Jehovah." "Thou hast been in Eden, the garden of God." "All the trees of Eden, that were in the garden of God, envied him." "This land which was desolate is become like the garden of Eden" (Isaiah 51:3; Ezekiel 28:13; Ezekiel 31:9; Ezekiel 31:16; Ezekiel 31:18; Ezekiel 36:35; Joel 2:3). All this evidence goes to show that Eden was a tract of country, and that in the most eligible part of it was the Paradise, the garden of all delights, in which the Creator was pleased to place his new and pre-eminent creature, with the inferior beings for his sustenance and solace. (See GARDEN).

The old translators appear to have halted between a mystical and literal interpretation. The word עדן is rendered by the Sept. as a proper name in three passages only, Genesis 2:8; Genesis 2:10; Genesis 4:16, where it is represented by Ε᾿δέμ . In all others, with the exception of Isaiah 2:3, it is translated τρυφή . In the Vulgate it never occurs as a proper name, but is rendered "voluptas," "locus voluptatis," or "deliciae." The Targum of Onkelos gives it uniformly עדן, and in the Peshito Syriac it is the same, with a slight variation in two passages. (See PARADISE).

2. Biblical Description. The following is a simple translation of the Mosaic account of the situation of the Adamic Paradise (Genesis 2:8-17). (See GENESIS).

Now Jehovah God had planted a garden in Eden eastward, and he placed there the man whom he formed: for Jehovah God had caused to spring from the ground every tree pleasant for sight or good for food; also the tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now a river issued from Eden to water the garden, and thence it was parted, and became four head-[streams]: the name of the first is Pishon; this [is the one] that surrounds all the land of the Chavilah, where [is] the [metal] gold (the gold too of that land [is] good); there [also is] the [substance called bedolach, and a stone [called] the shoham); and the name of the second river [is] Gichon; this [is the one] that surrounds all the land of Cush: and the name of the third river [is] Chiddekel; this [is the one] that flows east of Ashshur: and the name of the fourth river, that [is] Perath.

Thus Jehovah God took the man, and settled him in the garden of Eden, to till it, and to keep it. Then Jehovah God enjoined upon the mans, saying, "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, except of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day of thy eating of it, thou shalt surely die."

The garden of Paradise is here said to be to the east, i.e., in the eastern part of the tract of Eden (see Gesenius, Heb. Lex. s.v.). The river which flowed through Eden watered the garden, and thence branched out into four distinct streams. The first problem to be solved, then, is this: To find a river which, at some stage of its course, is divided into four streams, two of which are the Tigris and Euphrates. The identity of these rivers with the Hiddekel and Perath has never been disputed, and no hypothesis which omits them is worthy of consideration. Setting aside minor differences of detail, the theories which have been framed with regard to the explanation of the above description of the terrestrial paradise naturally divide themselves into two classes. The first class includes all those which place the main river of the garden of Eden below the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris, and interpret the names Pison and Gihon of certain portions of these rivers; the second, those which seek for it in the high table-land of Armenia, the fruitful parent of many noble streams. These theories have been supported by most learned men of all nations, of all ages, and representing every shade of theological belief; but there is scarcely one which is not based in some degree upon a forced interpretation of the words of the narrative. Those who contend that the united stream of the Euphrates and Tigris is the "river" which "goeth forth from Eden to water the garden," have committed a fatal error in neglecting the true meaning of יָצָא , which is only used of the course of a river from its source downwards (compare Ezekiel 47:1). Following the guidance which this word supplies, the description in Ezekiel 47:10 must be explained in this manner: the river takes its rise in Eden, flows into the garden, and from thence is divided into four branches, the separation taking place either in the garden or after leaving it. If this be the case, the Tigris and Euphrates before junction cannot, in this position of the garden, be two of the four branches in question. But, though they have avoided this error, the theorists of the second class have generally been driven into another but little less destructive. Looking for the true site of Eden in the highlands of Armenia, near the sources of the Tigris and Euphrates, and applying the names Pison and Gihon to some one or other of the rivers which spring from the same region, they have been compelled to modify the meaning of נָהָר the "river," and to give to רָחשַׁים a sense which is scarcely supported by a single passage. In no instance is ראֹשׁ (lit. "head") applied to the source of a river. On several occasions (compare Judges 7:16; Job 1:17, etc.) it is used of the detachments into which the main body of an army is divided, and analogy therefore leads to the conclusion that רָאשַׁים denotes the "branches" of the parent stream. There are other difficulties in the details of the several theories which may be obstacles to their entire reception, but it is manifest that no theory which fails to satisfy the above- mentioned conditions can be allowed to take its place among things that are probable. What, then, is the river which goes forth from Eden to water the garden? is a question which has often been asked, and still waits for a fully satisfactory answer. That the ocean stream which surrounded the earth was the source from which the four rivers flowed was the opinion of Josephus (Ant. 1, 1, 53) and Johannes Damascenus (De Orthod. Fid. 2:9). It was the Shat el-Arab, according to those who place the garden of Eden below the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates, and their conjecture would deserve consideration were it not that this stream cannot, with any degree of propriety, be said to rise in Eden. By those who refer the position of Eden to the highlands of Armenia, the "river" from which the four streams diverge is conceived to mean "'a collection of springs," or a well-watered district. It is scarcely necessary to say that this signification of נָהָר (nahar') is without a parallel; and even if it could, under certain circumstances, be made to adopt it, such a signification is, in the present instance, precluded by the fact that, whatever meaning we may assign to the word in Job 1:10, it must be essentially the same as that which it has in the following verses, in which it is sufficiently definite. Sickler (Augusti, Theol. Monatschrift, 1:1), supposing the whole narrative to be a myth, solves the difficulty by attributing to its author a large measure of ignorance. The "river" was the Caspian Sea, which in his apprehension was an immense stream from the east. Bertheau, applying the geographical knowledge of the ancients as a test of that of the Hebrews, arrived at the same conclusion, on the ground that all the people south of the Armenian and Persian highlands place the dwelling of the gods in the extreme north, and the regions of the Caspian were the northern limit of the horizon of the Israelites (Knobel, Genesis). But he allows the four rivers of Eden to have been real rivers, and not, as Sickler imagined, oceans which bounded the earth east and west of the Nile. The modern Lake Van, or perhaps the ancient stream of which this is now the representative, appears to be the only body of water in this vicinity answering to the Mosaic description. Nor will it do to suppose that in former ages great changes had taken place, which have so disguised the rivers in question that their course connection, and identity are not now traceable; for two of the rivers, at least, remain to this day essentially the same as in all historic times, end the whole narrative of Moses is evidently adapted to the geography as it existed in his own day, being constantly couched in the present tense, and in terms of well-known reference as landmarks. (See RIVER).

Some, ever ready to use the knife, have unhesitatingly pronounced the whole narrative to be a spurious interpolation of a later age (Granville Penn, Min. and Mos. Geol. page 184). But, even admitting this, the words are not mere unmeaning jargon, and demand explanation. Ewald (Gesch. 1:331, note) affirms, and we have only his word for it, that the tradition originated in the far East, and that in the course of its wanderings the original names of two of the rivers at least were changed to others with which the Hebrews were better acquainted. Hartmann regards it as a product of the Babylonian or Persian period. Luther, rejecting the forced interpretations on which the theories of his time were based, gave it as his opinion that the garden remained under the guardianship of angels till the time of the Deluge, and that its site was known to the descendants of Adam; but that by the flood all traces of it were obliterated. But, as before remarked, the narrative is so worded as to convey the idea that the countries and rivers spoken of were still existing in the time of the historian. It has been suggested that the description of the gardens of Eden is part of an inspired antediluvian document (Morren, Rosemuller's Geogr. 1:92). The conjecture is beyond criticism; it is equally incapable of proof or disproof, and has not much probability to recommend it. The effects of the flood in changing the face of countries, and altering the relations of land and water, are too little known at present to allow any inferences to be drawn from them. (See below.)

Conjectures with regard to the dimensions of the garden have differed as widely as those which assign its locality. Ephraem Syrus maintained that it surrounded the whole earth, while Johannes Tostatus restricted it to a circumference of thirty-six or forty miles, and others have made it extend over Syria, Arabia, and Mesopotamia. But of speculations like these there is no end.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Eden'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/e/eden.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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