The Garden of Eden. A parable or real?


Major update: 20th October 2021

Table of Contents for: The Garden of Eden. A parable or real?

Adam and Eve naked in the Garden. The Garden of Eden - parable or real?
Adam and Eve

A real garden, or a parable that can teach something about human nature?

Some people say that the Garden of Eden is just a parable, to teach us some moral truths so it never really existed.

The Bible tells us whether it is a parable or not

In the Bible we are always told whether something is a parable – an invented story, or whether it is a true story, or a vision, etc.
Here are some examples, the first states that it is a parable:

Jesus told them another parable:
‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field…’ “

Matthew 13:24

The next one is quite obvious that it is NOT meant to be taken literally:
Jotham climbed a mountain and shouted out:

One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves.
They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’ “

Judges 9:8

In the following example we are told that King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which included visions and he wasn’t going to tell anyone what the dream was, but he expected the people to interpret it:

The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar),
‘Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?’
Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.
He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come.
Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these…’ “

Daniel 2:26-28

We are told what is the ‘real’ part of these events and we are told what is the ‘dream’, so there is no problem, no confusion.
In our next example Jesus says this:

To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like?
They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ “

Luke 7:31

Did it mean that the children ACTUALLY said: “We played the pipe for you…”
No, Jesus said: “They are LIKE children…”

Again it is clear what was really said and what was a made-up illustration.

Adam, Eve and the Garden of Eden is written as fact

There is nothing in the Garden of Eden story which tells us that it is a parable or a fable.
Also Adam is mentioned in the New Testament seven times and Eve four times, and each time they are treated as real people who lived at some point in history, for example:

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the snake’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

2 Corinthians 11:3

The writer of Genesis also gives 15 geographical facts, eleven of which have been written in the present tense. For example:

A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters.
The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold.
(The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.)
The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.
The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur.
And the fourth river is the Euphrates.”

Genesis 2:10-14

So these things must have been real and known to the writer.
The Garden of Eden is not a parable.

The direction of the river from the Garden of Eden

Now looking at this verse in the New International Version Bible:

A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters.

Genesis 2:10

It sounds like the river flowed from Eden to the four rivers, but at the point the Euphrates and Tigris meet it was tidal in 1885 [i]. (Today there are a lot of dams controlling the water levels).

But we don’t know whether it was tidal at the time of Adam and Eve.

The King James Version puts it this way:

And a river went out of Eden to water the garden;
and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.”

Genesis 2:10 KJV

The phrase ‘went out’ has no bearing on which direction the river flows, therefore in the writer’s mind they were walking by a river, away from Eden, which was then fed by four rivers.

and became* into four heads.”

Genesis 2:10 KJV

* The word ‘became’ (Hebrew: hayah˒) means “become, became”.
In our minds this can indicate the directional flow of the river which is not necessarily correct.
The word ‘hayah˒’ can just simply imply that it “really occurred or it simple existed.”

The wording doesn’t have to relate to the directional flow of the river.

Where was the Pishon river in relation to the Garden of Eden?

Map of Euphrates Valley, site of the Garden of Eden? The Garden of Eden - parable or real?
Map of the Euphrates Valley, site of the Garden of Eden? [ii]

On the map the most easterly river (highest blue dots) is the Tigris.
The next river down also with blue dots is the Euphrates.

The next river down, shown by the nearly horizontal solid line is a pure guess to the possible route of the prehistoric river Gihon.
See below for more detail.

The most southern blue line on the map, running south-west is an interesting one and could be the route of the Pishon river:

A scientist from Boston University, Farouk El-Baz, taking clues from alluvial deposits in Kuwait, carefully examined satellite photos of the Arabian peninsula.
There he spotted the unmistakable signs of a river channel cutting across the desert.
Originating in the Hijaz Mountains near Medina and the Cradle of Gold, the ancient waterway, currently concealed beneath sand dunes, runs northeast to Kuwait.
Dubbed the Kuwait River by its modern discoverer, it once joined the Tigris and Euphrates at the head of the Persian Gulf.
Then because of climate changes, it dried up, the archaeologists say, sometime between 3500-2000 B.C.”

‘The Pishon River–Found!’ by Calvin R. Schlabach [iii]

The Hijaz Mountains near Medina are in western Saudi Arabia
So it looks as if the Pishon river ran east from these mountains to where the Euphrates and Tigris meet.

The Pishon river flowed through a land of gold

It is interesting to see that the river Pishon winds through a land where there is gold:

The name of the first is the Pishon;
it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold.”

Genesis 2:11

All down the flanks of the Red Sea there is the Arabian-Nubian Shield (ANS) which is an exposure of Precambrian crystalline rocks that is rich in gold. [iv]
The western border of Saudi Arabia has this mountain range.

In fact Saudi Arabia is able to show evidence that gold mining existed from over 5000 year ago.
According to the government there are 600 potential sites that have been identified with gold deposits .
One of the oldest gold mines is that of Mahd Ad Dahab in the country’s western region and is also known as the ‘Cradle of Gold’ [v]

The River Gihon flows through the land of Cush

There is no modern river called the Gihon, but there is a spring in Jerusalem in the Kidron Valley – which would run roughly horizontally to where the Euphrates and Tigris meet. (The second solid blue line up from the bottom of the map).
The word Gihon in Hebrew means ‘gushing forth’.
Could Jerusalem be the source, well no, because Genesis says:

The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.”

Genesis 2:13

The river Gihon could have flowed horizontally on the map towards Jerusalem, but it would need to turn in a westerly direction and then turn south to get to the traditional location of Cush.
See on the map where it is marked ‘Traditional’:

Land of Cush min
Areas where the Land of Cush in Genesis could have been.

Cush is traditionally considered the ancestor of the ‘land of Cush’, an ancient territory believed to have been located near the Red Sea.
Cush is identified in the Bible with the Kingdom of Kush or ancient Ethiopia.”

‘Cush (Bible)’ Wikipedia [vi]

If the Land of Cush relates to ‘Kash’, that is marked on the map, along with the ‘Kingdom of Kash’.

Cush is a Hebrew name that is possibly derived from Kash, the Egyptian name of Lower Nubia and later of the Nubian kingdom at Napata, known as the Kingdom of Kush.”

‘Cush (Bible)’ Wikipedia [vi]

There is another theory that the area of Midian could have been the Land of Cush because:

The Book of Numbers 12:1 calls a wife of Moses ‘a Cushite woman’, whereas Moses’s wife Zipporah is usually described as hailing from Midian.”

‘Cush (Bible)’ Wikipedia [vi]

Another theory puts the Land of Cush in Libya because:

Ezekiel the Tragedian’s Exagoge 60-65 (fragments reproduced in Eusebius) has Zipporah describe herself as a stranger in Midian, and proceeds to describe the inhabitants of her ancestral lands in North Africa:
‘Stranger, this land is called Libya. It is inhabited by tribes of various peoples, Ethiopians, dark men. One man is the ruler of the land: he is both king and general. He rules the state, judges the people, and is priest. This man is my father and theirs.’ “

‘Cush (Bible)’ Wikipedia [vi]

Yet another theory is that the Land of Cush relates to the Himyarites of South Arabia:

During the 5th century AD, Syrian writers described the Himyarites of South Arabia as Cushaeans and Ethiopians.”

‘Cush (Bible)’ Wikipedia [vi]

In fact, there are some who think that the majority of those areas marked on the map related to the Land of Cush:

Scholars like Johann Michaelis and Rosenmuller have pointed out that the name Cush was applied to tracts of country on both sides of the Red Sea, in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen) and Northeast Africa.”

‘Cush (Bible)’ Wikipedia [vi]

Any river flowing from the traditional Ethiopian area, Kash, Libya or the Kingdom of Kash would have to flow across the Red Sea so that would be impossible – in our present world.

But obviously if the River Gihon flowed from the Land of Cush which could have been the area of the Himyarites or Midian then the river wouldn’t have had to flow across the Red Sea.

Where was the Garden of Eden?

The traditional Garden of Eden, looking east across the valley of the Euphrates, 250 miles north of Babylon. The Garden of Eden - parable or real?
The traditional Garden of Eden, looking east across the valley of the Euphrates, 250 miles north of Babylon [vii]

So the Garden of Eden was somewhere in the Euphrates Valley, but since then there was the world wide flood that must have changed the landscape.
We can only speculate until some more archaeological or geographical evidence comes to light.

If the Garden of Eden is a parable and not true:

How far do we then take it, how much of the Bible do we then start calling ‘a fable’ or ‘a parable’ – something which never happened?

We hit problems straight away if we look on Adam as a figurative character.
For instance, Luke’s genealogy of Jesus goes all the way back to Adam.
So if Adam wasn’t a real person what should we say about Adam’s son Seth? Was he fictitious too?
And then we have Seth’s son Enosh? Was Enosh invented?
If Adam was imaginary where did the genetic line actually kick in?
When did the people in the line become real?
If we say Adam wasn’t a real person we could go all the way to Jesus and say none of the genetic line was actually real people.
But we know that Jesus was real and lived among us and his genetic line started somewhere and Luke explains it started with a real man called Adam.”

‘Was the Garden of Eden story a parable?’ Genesis For Ordinary People [viii]

What happened at the Garden of Eden?

God put Adam in the Garden of Eden which was created specially for him – all the food and plants were there, all he had to do was ‘care’ for the garden.
God said; “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
Then the Lord brought all the creatures and birds to Adam for him to name them. (There would have been far less than nowadays because they were different ‘kinds’ and not all the different species).
God then formed Eve from Adam’s rib and everything in the garden should have carried on being perfect.
But they quickly rebelled against God’s only instruction which was:
“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
They got tricked by the serpent (Satan) who tempted them to eat from the forbidden tree.
God gave his verdict for each of them individually:
The serpent was cursed and a hatred put between Satan and mankind.
The penalty for Eve was pain in childbirth and the penalty for Adam was hard labour, working to survive on the Earth.
They were then driven out of the garden.

Where is the Garden of Eden located today?

The Garden of Eden is near the modern rivers Tigris and Euphrates somewhere around Basrah where Iraq, Iran and Kuwait meet.
The Euphrates Valley used to support forests along it’s banks, but due to flooding and dam construction the area is totally different to what it was in ancient times.

References:
[i] ‘Euphrates’ Glued Ideas
[ii] World Digital Library. Map creator: Edward Stanford Ltd. Stanford’s Geographical Establishment, London. 1907 – 1920.
[iii] ‘The Pishon River–Found!’ by Calvin R. Schlabach Internet Archive
[iv] ‘Arabian-Nubian_Shield’ Wikipedia
[v] ‘Gold Reserves and Mining in Saudi Arabia’ Rare Gold Nuggets
[vi] ‘Cush (Bible)’ Wikipedia
[vii] The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection. “Garden of Eden : the traditional Garden of Eden, looking east across the valley of the Euphrates, 250 miles north of Babylon” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860 – 1920.
[viii] ‘Was the Garden of Eden story a parable?’ Genesis For Ordinary People

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