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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Gan 'eden

—Biblical Data:

Name given to the "earthly paradise" occupied by Adam and Eve before their fall through sin. The word "Eden," perhaps an Assyrian loan-word, is of the same root as the Assyrian "edinu," synonymous with "ṣeru" (= field, depression; compare the Arabic "zaur," which is the name still given to the country south of Babylon and extending to the Persian Gulf; the nomadic tribes inhabiting it were called by the Assyrians "sabe edini") (see Delitzsch, "Wo Lag das Paradies?"). Its connection with the Hebrew word is of later origin. Sprenger ("Das Leben und die Lehre des Mohammad," 2:507) explains it through the Arabic "'adn."

Views of Delitzsch.

The writer of the Biblical story of Eden (Genesis 2-) is evidently describing some place which he conceives to be on the earth; hence the exact details: "God planted a garden eastward, in Eden," etc. Many attempts have been made to determine the precise geographical location. The most ancienttradition, going back to Josephus and followed by most of the Church Fathers, makes Havilah equivalent to India, and the Pison one of its rivers, while Cush is Ethiopia and the Gihon the Nile. A very popular theory places Eden in Babylonia. Calvin made the Shaṭṭal-'Arab—formed by the union of the Tigris and Euphrates—the river that "went out of the garden"; but it is now known that in ancient times the two rivers entered the Persian Gulf separately. Friedrich Delitzsch also places Eden in the country around Babylon and south of it, a country which was so beautiful in its luxuriant vegetation and abundant streams that it was known as "Kar-Duniash," or "garden of the god Duniash." Rawlinson even tried to show the identity of the names "Gan-Eden" and "Kar-Duniash." This region is watered practically by the Euphrates alone, which is here on a higher level than the Tigris. The Pison and the Gihon are identified with two canals (they may originally have been river-beds) which branch out from the Euphrates just below Babylon. The former, to the west, is the Pallacopas, upon which Ur was situated, and Havilah is thus identified with the portion of the Syrian desert bordering on Babylonia, which is known to have been rich in gold. The latter, Gihon, is the Shaṭṭ al-Nil, which passes the ruins of the ancient Erech, while Cush is the Mat Kashshi, or the northern part of Babylonia proper. Curiously enough, this region was also called "Meluḥa," which name was afterward transferred to Ethiopia. Other Assyriologists (e.g.,Haupt, "Wo Lag das Paradies?" in "Ueber Land und Meer," 1894-95, No. 15) do not credit the Biblical writer with the definiteness of geographical knowledge which Delitzsch considers him to have had.

The Gilgamesh Epic.

A very natural theory, which must occur to any one reading the Babylonian Gilgamesh epic, connects Eden with the dwelling of Parnapishtim, the Babylonian Noah, at the "confluence of streams." This is supposed to have been in the Persian Gulf or Nar Marratim ("stream of bitterness"), into which emptied the four rivers Euphrates, Tigris, Kercha, and Karun (compare Jensen, "Kosmologie der Babylonier," p. 507, and Jastrow, "Religion of the Babylonians and Assyrians," p. 506). It is probable, however, that the story as given in the Bible is a later adaptation of an old legend, points of which were vague to the narrator himself, and hence any attempt to find the precise location of Eden must prove futile. Indeed, the original Eden was very likely in heaven, which agrees with the view on the subject held by the Arabs. Gunkel, in his commentary on Genesis, also adopts this view, and connects the stream coming out of Eden with the Milky Way and its four branches.

The El-Amarna Tablets.

Though there is no one Babylonian legend of the Garden of Eden with which the Biblical story can be compared as in the case of the stories of the Creation and of the Flood, there are nevertheless points of relationship between it and Babylonian mythology. On one of the tablets found at Tell el-Amarna, now in the Berlin Museum, occurs the legend of Adapa. Adapa, the first man, is the son of the god Ea, by whom he has been endowed with wisdom, but not with everlasting life. He lives in Eridu, and cares for the sanctuary of the god. One day while fishing in a calm sea the south wind suddenly arises and overturns his boat. In his anger Adapa fights with the south wind and breaks his wings so that he can not blow for seven days. Anu, the god of heaven, hearing of this, summons Adapa before him. Ea gives his son instructions as to his behavior before Anu; among other things he tells him: "Bread of death will they offer thee: eat not of it. Water of death will they bring thee: drink not of it." Adapa does as he is told, but the bread and water Anu causes to be placed before him are of life, not of death. Thus Adapa loses his chance of eternal life. He puts on the garment, however, which is offered him, following Ea's instructions. In this story the bread of life is parallel to the tree of life in the Biblical story. It is probable that the water of life also formed a part of the original story, and that the river of Eden is a trace of it. In Ezekiel 47:6-12 and, with some variation, in Revelation 22:1,2 mention is made of a "river of water of life, . . . and on either side of the river was there the tree of life," showing that the water of life was associated with the tree of life.

Further, in the Biblical story, as in the Adapa legend, man is prevented from eating the food of life through being told that it means death to him. "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17); and it is Ea, who has formed man, who is the means of preventing him from attaining life everlasting, just as it is God who removes man from out of Eden "lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever" (ib. 3:22). Jastrow (c.) remarks that the Hebrew story is more pessimistic than the Babylonian, since God even begrudges man knowledge, which the Babylonian god freely gives him. Adapa, who has been endowed with knowledge, puts on the garment given him by Anu, and Adam and Eve, after eating of the tree of knowledge, make for themselves garments of fig-leaves.

Schrader ("K. A. T." 2:1,523) calls attention to the possibility of associating the name "Adam" with "Adapa." The "garden of God," situated on the mountain, in Ezekiel 28:13,14, and the tall cedar in Ezekiel 31:3, may have some connection with the cedar-grove of Khumbaba in the Gilgamesh epic and with the high cedar in the midst of the grove. In this connection may be mentioned the attempt to associate Eden with the mountain in Iranian mythology, out of which rivers flow, or with the Indian mountain Maru with the four rivers (Lenormant). Jensen ("Keilschriftliche Bibliothek," ) places the "confluence of the streams" in the Far West, and associates the island with the Greek Elysium.

Snake and Cherubim.

The snake in the story is probably identical with the snake or dragon in the Babylonian story of the Creation. In the British Museum there is a cylinder seal which has been supposed by Delitzsch, among others, to represent the Babylonian story of Eden (see illustration, Jew. Encyc. 1:174). The seal represents two figures, a male and a female, seated on opposite sides of a tree, with handsstretched toward it; behind the woman is an up-right snake. This picture alone, however, is hardly sufficient basis for believing that the Babylonians had such a story. The cherubim placed to guard the entrance to Eden are distinctly Babylonian, and are identical with the immense winged bulls and lions at the entrances to Babylonian and Assyrian temples. See See CHERUB.

  • Guttmacher, Optimism and Religionism in the Old and New Testaments, pp. 243-245, Baltimore, 1903.

E. G. H.
M. W. M.

—In Rabbinical Literature:

The Talmudists and Cabalists agree that there are two gardens of Eden: one, the terrestrial, of abundant fertility and luxuriant vegetation; the other, celestial, the habitation of righteous, immortal souls. These two are known as the "lower" and "higher" Gan Eden. The location of the earthly Eden is traced by its boundaries as described in Genesis.

In 'Erubin 19a (comp. Rabbinovicz, "Variæ Lectiones," ad loc.) Resh Laḳish expresses himself to the following effect: "If the paradise is situated in Palestine, Beth-Shean [in Galilee] is the door; if in Arabia, then Bet Gerim is the door; and if between the rivers, Damascus is the door." In another part of the Talmud (Tamid 32b) the interior of Africa is pointed out as the location of Eden, and no less a personage than Alexander the Great is supposed to have found the entrance of Gan Eden in those regions which are inhabited and governed exclusively by women. Alexander, who desired to invade Africa, was directed to Gan Eden by the advice of the "elders of the South."

A baraita fixes the dimensions of Gan and of Eden by comparisons with Egypt, Ethiopia, etc.: "Egypt is 400 parasangs square, and is one-sixtieth the size of Cush [Ethiopia]. Cush is one-sixtieth of the world [inhabited earth], the Gan being one-sixtieth of Eden, and Eden one-sixtieth of Gehinnom. Hence the world is to Gehinnon in size as the cover to the pot" (Ta'an. 10a). The same baraita in the Jerusalem Talmud defines the territory of Egypt as 400 parasangs square, equal to forty days' journey, ten miles being reckoned as a day's journey (Pes. 94a).

The Rabbis make a distinction between Gan and Eden. Samuel bar Naḥman says that Adam dwelt only in the Gan. As to Eden—"No mortal eye ever witnesseth, O God, beside thee" (Isaiah 64:4, Hebr.; Ber. 34b).

Identification of the Four Rivers.

The Midrash (Gen. R. 16:7) identifies the "four heads" of the rivers with Babylon (Pison), Medo-Persia (Gihon), Greece (Hiddekel), Edom-Rome (Perat), and regards Havilah as Palestine. The Targum Yerushalmi translates "Havilah" by "Hindiki" ("Hindustan," or India), and leaves "Pison" untranslated. Saadia Gaon, in his Arabic translation, renders "Pison" the Nile, which Ibn Ezra ridicules, as "it is positively known that Eden is farther south, on the equator." Naḥmanides coincides in this view, but explains that the Pison may run in a subterranean passage from the equator northward. Obadiah of Bertinoro, the commentator of the Mishnah, in a letter describing his travels from Italy to Jerusalem in 1489, relates the story of Jews arriving at Jerusalem from "Aden, the land where the well-known and famous Gan Eden is situated, which is southeast of Assyria." Jacob Safir, who visited Aden in 1865, describes it in his "Eben Sappir" (3) as sandy and barren, and can not posssibly indorse the idea of connecting Aden with the Eden of Genesis. The opinions of the most eminent Jewish authorities point to the location of Eden in Arabia. The "four heads" or mouths of the rivers(= seas) are probably the Persian Gulf (east), the Gulf of Aden (south), the Caspian Sea (north), and the Red Sea (west). The first river, Pison, probably refers to the Indus, which encircles Hindustan, confirming the Targum Yerushalmi. The second river, Gihon, is the Nile in its circuitous course around Ethiopia, connecting with the Gulf of Aden. The third river, Hiddekel, is the Tigris, which has its course in the front () of Assur (= Persia), speaking from the writer's point of view in Palestine. Some explain the difficulty of finding the courses of the rivers by supposing that since the Deluge these rivers have either ceased to exist, entirely or in part, or have found subterranean outlets. Indeed, the compiler of the Midrash ha-Gadol expresses himself as follows: "Eden is a certain place on earth, but no creature knows where it is, and the Holy One, blessed be He! will only reveal to Israel the way to it in the days of the king Messiah" (Midr. ha-Gadol, ed. Schechter, col. 75).

Earthly and Heavenly Gan Eden.

The boundary line between the natural and supernatural Gan Eden is hardly perceptible in Talmudic literature. In fact, "Gan Eden and heaven were created by one Word [of God], and the chambers of the Gan Eden are constructed as those of heaven, and as heaven is lined with rows of stars, so Gan Eden is lined with rows of the righteous, who shine like the stars" (Aggadat Shir ha-Shirim, pp. 13, 55). The leviathan disturbs the waters of the seas, and would have destroyed the life of all human beings by the bad breath of his mouth, but for the fact that he occasionally puts his head through the opening of Gan Eden, the spicy odor issuing from which acts as an antiseptic to his bad smell (B.B.75a). Ḥiyya bar Ḥanina says that God had prepared for Adam ten canopies of various precious stones in Gan Eden, and quotes Ezekiel 28:13 (B. B. 75a). This, according to the Midrash, relates to the celestial Gan Eden. The Zohar claims for everything on earth a prototype above (Yitro 82a). Naḥmanides also says that the narrative of Eden in Genesis has a double meaning, that besides the earthly Gan Eden and the four rivers there are their prototypes in heaven (Commentary to Genesis 4:13). PARADISE.

S. S.
J. D. E.

—In Arabic Literature:

The Arabic word for Eden is "'Adn," which, according to the commentators and lexicographers, means "fixed residence," e., the everlasting abode of the faithful. "'Adn," preceded by "jannat" (gardens), occurs ten times in the Koran (suras 9:73, 13:23, 16:33, 18:30, 19:62, 20:78, 35:30, 38:50, 8, 41:12), but always as the abode of the righteous and never as the residence of Adam and Eve, which occurs in the Koran only under the name of "jannah" (garden), although the Moslem commentators agree in callingit "Jannat'Adn "(the Garden of Eden). In sura 2:23 occur the words: "And we have said to Adam: 'Stay with thy wife in the garden ["fi al-jannah"],'" which Baiḍawi explains: "The garden here is the 'Dar al-Thawab' [The House of Recompense], which is the fourth of the eight heavens." According to the Koran, the gardens of Eden are in heaven, and form a part of the blissful abode of the believers. In sura 2:23 it gives the command: "Announce that the believers will reside in delightful gardens," on which Baiḍawi remarks: "According to Ibn al-'Abbas, there are seven gardens, one of which is called 'Firdaus' [Paradise] and one "Adn' [Eden]." Hence there is a difficulty as to the Eden from which Adam was cast out. Baidawi says on sura 2:23: "Some people have thought that this Eden was situated in the country of the Philistines, or between Persia and Karman. God created it in order to put Adam to the test." Mohammed Ṭahir ("Majma' al-Biḥar, " p. 225), speaking of the tradition that the rivers Jaiḥun and Jaiḥan are rivers of the garden ("al-jannah"), says: "The terms are figurative, implying that faith extended to those regions and made them rivers of paradise." In another place (ib. p. 164) he says: "The four rivers, Siḥan [Jaxartes], Jaiḥan [Gihon], Furat [Euphrates], and Nil [Nile], are rivers of paradise." Abu Mohammed Mu'afa al-Shaibani, author of the "Uns al-Munḳaṭi'in," states the following tradition: "When God created the Garden of Eden, He created in it that which the eye had never seen before, that which the ear had never heard of before, and that which had never been desired before by man's heart." There is another tradition that God, having created the Garden of Eden, ordered it to speak. The garden pronounced the following words: "There is no God besides Allah." The garden was ordered to speak a second time, and it added: "The faithful will be happy." After a third order it said: "Misers or hypocrites will never enter me." Wahb ibn Munabbah says: "There is a tradition that the Garden of Eden has eight gates, the porters of which must not let anybody come in before those who despise earthly things and prefer those of heaven." According to one tradition the tree of life was a stalk of wheat—which in the days of Adam grew to the size of a tree—a vine, a fig-tree, or a "tree that whoever eats of it grows young again" (Baiḍawi, Commentary on Koran, sura 2:33). Weil, in "Biblische Legenden der Propheten," gives some interesting traditions in regard to Eden and Satan.

  • Hughes, Dictionary of Islam, s. Eden;
  • D'Herbelot, Bibliothèque Orientale, 1:166;
  • Mohammed Ṭahir, Majma' at-Biḥar, pp. 164, 225;
  • A. Geiger, Judaism and Islam, pp. 32, 33, Madras, 1878.
E. G. H.
M. Sel.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Gan 'eden'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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