The Garden of Eden. A parable or real?

Adam and Eve naked in the Garden.
Adam and Eve naked in the Garden.

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:

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

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 example.

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 nine times and Eve four times, and each time they are treated as real people who lived at some point in history.
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 rivers direction

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?
Map of Euphrates Valley, site of the Garden of Eden? [ii]

On the map the most easterly river (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.
There is no modern river called this flowing near the Tigris and Euphrates, but there is a spring in Jerusalem in the Kidron Valley – which would run roughly horizontally on the map.
The word Gihon in Hebrew means ‘gushing forth’.

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.

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]

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 traditional Garden of Eden, looking east across the valley of the Euphrates, 250 miles north of Babylon [vi]

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.

References: (all links open in a new window)
[i] Gluedideas
[ii] World Digital Library. Map creator: Edward Stanford Ltd. Stanford’s Geographical Establishment, London. 1907 – 1920.
[iii] Internet Archive
[iv] Wikipedia
[v] Rare Gold Nuggets
[vi] 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.

By Peter Reason

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