Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Eden, the garden in which the first man and woman were placed and from which they were driven because of their breach of divine law. Although traditionally identified with the Hebrew word meaning ‘luxury, pleasure, delight’ (eden), Eden is more probably to be related to a Sumerian word meaning ‘plain, steppe’ or the like (edin). Its location ‘in the east’ (Gen. 2:8) probably places it, for the author of Genesis 2-3, in the area at the head of the Persian Gulf; this location may relate Eden to Dilmun of Sumerian myth—the idyllic land where old age, sickness, and death are unknown to its blessed inhabitants.

In Genesis 2-3, Eden is mentioned in 2:8 (‘garden in Eden’), 2:10 (simply ‘Eden’), and 2:14; 3:23, 24 (‘garden of Eden’). In Gen. 2:9, 16 and 3:1, 2, 3, it is referred to as ‘the garden.’ It is the source of four great rivers (Gen. 2:10-14) and the site of the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, both of which are ‘in the middle of the garden’ (Gen. 2:9; 3:3). In Genesis, Eden is a garden created by God for human beings, to provide for human needs.

After Genesis, the most important source of references to Eden is the book of Ezekiel. In Ezek. 28:11-19, a variant of the Eden story in Genesis, the prophet describes Eden as the ‘garden of God’ (28:13) situated on God’s holy mountain from which primal man was expelled by the cherub because of his iniquity. While sharing many motifs with Genesis 2-3 (including the abundance of precious stones in Eden, Gen. 2:12; Ezek. 28:13), Ezekiel differs from Genesis in describing Eden as the ‘garden of God,’ recalling Sumerian Dilmun, over against the character of Eden in Genesis as a garden created for human beings to till and keep (Gen. 2:15). The account in Ezekiel also differs in having only one inhabitant. Eden as the garden of God also occurs in Ezekiel 31, a complex allegory of a tree that in grandeur and beauty surpassed even the trees in Eden (31:8, 9, 16, 18). The garden of Eden is a metaphor for the renewal of the land of Israel by God after the Exile (Ezek. 36:35; Isa. 51:3, where ‘Eden’ is paralleled by ‘garden of Yahweh’). In Joel 2:3, the transformation of the land from garden of Eden to devastated wilderness is part of an oracle forecasting the Day of Yahweh.

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