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The Garden of Eden

GARDEN OF EDEN (Heb. גַּן עֵדֶן), a garden planted by the Lord which was the first dwelling place of *Adam and Eve (Gen. 2–3). It is also referred to as the "garden in Eden" (Gen. 2:8, 10; 4:16), the "garden of YHWH" (Gen. 13:10; Isa. 51:3), and the "garden of God" (Ezek. 28:13; 31:8–9). It is referred to by Ben Sira 40:17 as "Eden of blessing." There existed in early times an Israelite tradition of a "garden of God" (i.e., a mythical garden in which God dwelt) that underlies the story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2–3. Ezekiel (28:11–19; 31:8–9, 16–18) in his description introduces new and variant details not present in the Genesis narrative of the Garden of Eden. Thus, in Genesis there is no trace of the "holy mountain" of Ezekiel 28:14 and no mention of the "stones of fire" of Ezekiel 28:14, 16. While Genesis speaks only in general terms about the trees in the garden (2:9), Ezekiel describes them in detail (31:8–9, 18). The term "garden of YHWH" occurs in literary figures in a number of other passages in the Bible (Gen. 13:10; note Isa. 51:3: "He will make her wilderness (midbar) like Eden and her desert (arabah) like the garden of YHWH," Joel 2:3). The name Eden has been connected with Akkadian edinu. But this word, extremely rare in Akkadian, is borrowed from the Sumerian eden and means "plain," "steppe," "desert." In fact, one Akkadian synonym list equates edinu with şēru, semantically equivalent to Hebrew midbar, "desert." More likely is the connection with the Hebrew root ʿ dn, attested in such words as ma ʿ danim, "dainties," "luxury items" (Gen. 49:20; Lam. 4:5) ʿ ednah, "pleasure," (Gen. 18:12), ʿ adinah, "pampered woman" (Isa. 47:8); and in Old Aramaic m ʿ dn "provider of abundance," which would be a transparent etymology for the name of a divine garden. The Septuagint apparently derived Eden from ʿ dn, translating gan ʿ eden (Gen. 3:23–4) by ho paradeisos tēs truphēs, "the park of luxuries," whence English "paradise." Akkadian provides a semantic parallel in kiri nuhši, "garden of plenty" (McCarter apud Stager). Several references (Gen. 2:8 ("in Eden"), 10 ("from Eden)," 4:16 ("east of Eden)," indicate that Eden was a geographical designation. According to 4:10 a single river flowed out of Eden, watered the garden and then diverged into four rivers whose courses are described and themselves named. This datum encouraged scholars ancient (see below) and modern to attempt to locate the site of the garden of Eden intended by the author.

[S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

In the Aggadah

The Garden of Eden appears in the aggadah in contradistinction to Gehinnom – "hell" (e.g., BT Sotah 22a). However, talmudic and midrashic sources know of two Gardens of Eden: the terrestrial, of abundant fertility and vegetation, and the celestial, which serves as the habitation of souls of the righteous. The location of the earthly Eden is traced by the boundaries delineated in Genesis 2:11–14. Resh Lakish declared, "If paradise is in the land of Israel, its gate is Beth-Shean; if it is in Arabia, its gate is Bet Gerem, and if it is between the rivers, its gate is Dumaskanin" (Er. 19a). In Tamid (32b) its location is given as the center of Africa. It is related that Alexander of Macedon finally located the door to the Garden, but he was not permitted to enter. The Midrash ha-Gadol (to Gen. 2:8) simply states that "Eden is a unique place on earth, but no creature is permitted to know its exact location. In the future, during the messianic period God will reveal to Israel the path to Eden." According to the Talmud, "Egypt is 400 parasangs by 400, and it is one-sixtieth of the size of Ethiopia; Ethiopia is one-sixtieth of the world, and the world is one-sixtieth of the Garden, and the Garden is one-sixtieth of Eden …" (Ta'an. 10a). The rabbis thus make a clear distinction between Eden and the Garden. Commenting upon the verse "Eye hath not seen, O God, beside Thee," R. Samuel b. Naḥamani states, "This is Eden, which has never been seen by the eye of any creature." Adam dwelt only in the Garden (Ber. 34b., cf., Isa. 64:3). The word le-ovedah ("to dress it"; Gen. 2:15) is taken to refer to spiritual, not physical, toil, and is interpreted to mean that Adam had to devote himself to the study of the Torah and the fulfillment of the commandments (Sif. Deut. 41). Although the eating of meat was forbidden him (Gen. 1:29), it is stated nevertheless that the angels brought him meat and wine and waited on him (Sanh. 59b; ARN 1, 5).

The boundary line between the earthly and heavenly Garden of Eden is barely discernible in rabbinic literature. In fact, "The Garden of Eden and heaven were created by one word [of God], and the chambers of the Garden of Eden are constructed as those of heaven. Just as heaven is lined with rows of stars so the Garden of Eden is lined with rows of the righteous who shine like the stars" (Ag. Song 13:55).


IN THE BIBLE: M.D. Cassuto, in: Studies in Memory of M. Schorr (1944), 248–53; idem, in: EM, 2 (1954), 231–6; J.L. Mc-Kenzie, in: Theological Studies, 15 (1954), 541–72; E.A. Speiser, Genesis (1964), 14–20; idem, Oriental and Biblical Studies, ed. by J.J. Finkelstein and M. Greenberg (1967), 23–34; N.M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (1966), 23–28. IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Millard, in: VT, 34 (1984), 103–6; J. Rosenberg, King and Kin: Political Allegory in the Hebrew Bible (1986), 2–12; J. Kennedy, in: JSOT, 47 (1990), 3–14; H. Wallace, in: ABD, 2:281–83; S.D. Sperling, The Orginal Torah (1998), 37–9; L. Stager, ErIsr, 26 (Cross Volume;1999), *183–*94.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.