1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Eden

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EDEN, the name of the region in which, according to the Hebrew paradise-tradition in its present form, God planted a garden (or park), wherein he put the man whom he had formed (Gen. ii. 8). Research into primitive beliefs, guided by the comparative method, leads to the view that the “garden” was originally a celestial locality (see Paradise), and we cannot therefore be surprised if, now that paradise has been brought down to earth, the geographical details given in the Bible are rather difficult to work into a consistent picture. The fantastic geography of the (Indian) Vishnu Purana and the (Iranian) Bundahish will, in this case, be a striking parallel.

Let us now take the details of Eden as they occur. In Gen. ii. 8 we read that the garden lay “in Eden eastward,” where “eastward” is generally taken to mean “in the east of the earth.” This, however, seems inconsistent with Isa. xiv. 13, where the “mountain of God,” which corresponds (see Ezek. xxviii. 13, 14 and the article Adam) to the “garden in Eden,” is said to have been “in the uttermost parts of the north” (so R.V.). The former statement (“eastward”) suits Babylonia, where Friedrich Delitzsch[1] places Eden; the latter does not. We are further told (v. 10) that “a river went out from Eden to water the garden,” and that “from thence it parted itself (?), and became four heads (?),” which is commonly understood to mean that the river was so large that, soon after leaving the garden (“from thence” is all that the text says), it could still supply four considerable streams (the text says, not “streams,” but “heads,” i.e. perhaps “beginnings” or “starting-points”). In vv. 11-14 the names of four rivers are given, but in spite of the descriptive supplements attached to three of them, only that one which has no supplement can be identified with much probability. In fact, Pĕrāth may without any obvious difficulty be “Euphrates,” except in Jer. xiii., where a more southerly stream seems indicated, but to the identification of “Hiddekel” with “Tigris” (Babylonian Diglat) the presence of the initial Hi in the Hebrew is an objection. Now as to “Pishon” and “Gihon.” If a moderately early tradition may be trusted, the “Gihon” is another name for the “Shihor,” which was either in or beside “Mizraim” (= Egypt) or Mizrim (= the North Arabian Muṣri), and indeed according to most scholars means the Nile in Jer. ii. 18, where the Septuagint substitutes for it Gēōn, i.e. Gihon. For “Pishon” few plausible suggestions have been made; it is not, however, a hopeless problem from the point of view which recognizes Eden in Arabia.

For details of the interesting descriptive supplements of the names Pishon, Giḥon, and Ḥiddeḳel, on which there is much difference of opinion, it must suffice to refer to the Encyclopaedia Biblica and Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible. We must, however, mention a widely held explanation of the name Eden. Plausible as it is to interpret this name as “delight”—indeed, the Septuagint translates in Gen. iii. 23 f. ὁ παράδεισος τῆς τρυφῆς—this cannot have been the original meaning. Hence Delitzsch (Wo lag das Paradies? p. 79) suggested that “Eden” might be a Hebraized form of the Babylonian ēdinu, “field, plain, desert.” But whereas Delitzsch takes “Eden” to be the entire plain of Babylonia, Hommel thinks that it is rather the plain about the sacred city of Eridu. It is the latter scholar to whom the “Arabian theory” of Paradise in its best-known form is due. The rivers (apart from Pĕrāth, “Euphrates”) he locates in northern and central Arabia, the “Cush” and “Asshur” of Genesis being, according to him, central Arabia and Edom respectively (Ancient Hebrew Traditions, pp. 314-316; Aufsätze u. Abhandlungen, iii. 281-284, 335-339). These rivers, in short, become Arabian wadis, on which see Hast. D.B. i. 132a (foot). Cheyne, on the other hand, rejects the Babylonian explanation of Eden as = “field, plain,” on the ground that “Eden” was originally regarded as a mountainous tract.

See further Driver, Book of Genesis (1904), pp. 57-60; Ency. Bib. “Paradise”; and the commentaries of Gunkel (2nd ed., 1902), and Cheyne (1907).

(T. K. C.)


  1. Wo lag das Paradies? p. 66. A Sumerian name of Babylon was Tin-ter, “dwelling of life.” Cf. Bābīlu, Bābīli, “gate of God.”