The Garden of Eden (from Hebrew Gan Eden) is described by the Book of Genesis as being the place where the first man - Adam - and woman - Eve - lived after they were created by God. The existence of this garden forms part of the creation account in Genesis.
The Genesis account supplies the geographical location of Eden in relation to four major rivers. However, because the identification of these rivers has been the subject of much controversy and speculation, the cuurent consensus now is that knowledge of the location of Eden has been lost.
The Garden of Eden story recounts that God placed Adam and Eve in a garden, and commanded them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and that they were expelled from the garden after they disobeyed Him, having been tempted by a serpent, and having eaten of the fruit. The Tree of Life, also planted in the garden, was then denied them by means of a physical barrier, of cherubim and a flaming sword, at the entrance to the garden. Christianity associates the serpent with the Satan, based on the the correspondence between Genesis and Revelation.
In the Genesis account, the garden is said to be planted "eastward, in Eden", and therefore "Eden" more properly denotes a larger territory which contained the garden rather than being the name of the garden itself.
Eden as Paradise
The word "paradise" sometimes used as a synonym for the Garden of Eden is a Persian word, which describes a walled orchard garden or an enclosed hunting park. It occurs three times in the Old Testament, significantly not in connection with Eden:
- Song of Solomon iv. 13: "Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard" ;
- Ecclesiastes ii. 5: "I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits";and in
- Nehemiah ii. 8: "And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king's orchard, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me. "
In the Song of Solomon, it is clearly "garden;" in the second and third examples "park." In the post-Exilic apocalyptic literature and in the Talmud, "paradise" gains its associations with the Garden of Eden and its heavenly prototype. Literary Hellenistic influences led to the Pauline Christian association of "paradise" with the realm of the blest.
Some anthropologists have hypothesized that the Garden of Eden does not represent a geographical place, but rather represents cultural memory of "simpler times", when man lived off God's bounty (as "primitive" hunters and gatherers still do) as opposed to toiling at agriculture (being "civilized")... a metaphor reinforced by the words of the Book of Genesis.