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PARADISE, the English derivative of Παράδειοος, Greek for "garden" in the Eden narrative of Genesis 2:4b–3:24 (see *Garden of Eden). One of the best-known and most widely interpreted pericopes in the Bible, this narrative is at the same time one of the most problematic. While on the surface the narrative unfolds smoothly, its deeper meaning, its composition and literary affinities, and many of its allusions, assumptions, and implications raise questions that are presently insoluble.


The pericope divides naturally into two sections, one relating God's beneficent acts in creating man and placing him in a paradise; the other, man's disobedience and consequent banishment from paradise. The masoretic parashah division considers 2:4a ("This is the story of heaven and earth when they were created") the beginning of this narrative, but most scholars today take 4a as the conclusion of the first creation story (1:1–2:4a), the opening verse of which it echoes, and begin the Eden narrative with 2:4b. More ambiguous is the position of 2:25 ("The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, yet they felt no shame"): some, accepting the present chapter division, consider it the climax of the perfect state created by God before man's disobedience; others (including NJPS) see that climax in 2:23–24 and take 2:25 as the introduction, which sets the theme, to the section on the "fall" in which awareness of nakedness and the making of clothing are prominent (3:7, 10–11, 21).

After the Lord God had made earth and heaven, but before the appearance of grasses and shrubbery, God created man out of lumps of soil and breathed life into him (man thus combines both earthly and divine elements). As man's home He created a garden in Eden filled with fruit-bearing trees, including the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and bad, which man was prohibited to eat on pain of death. God then created, also out of earth, all the animals and the birds of the sky and brought them to Adam to be named. God then fashioned a woman out of one of Adam's ribs, and Adam found her a fitting helper. The two were naked, but were unashamed of the fact. The serpent convinced the woman that God's threat of death for eating from the tree of knowledge was idle and that in fact its fruit would make the couple like divine beings who know good and bad. The woman and then the man ate some of the forbidden fruit and became aware of their nakedness; they then sewed some fig leaves into loincloths for themselves. Each participant in this act of disobedience was punished by God. The serpent was condemned to a life of crawling on its belly, and of enmity with mankind. The woman was condemned to painful pregnancy and childbirth; further, she would be dominated by her husband. The man was condemned to a life of struggling to eke out a living from the earth. To prevent him from eating from the tree of life, too, and acquiring the attribute of immortality, the Lord banished the man and his wife from the garden and set up *cherubim and "the fiery ever-turning sword" to guard the way to the tree of life.


Many details of the narrative are elusive or troublesome.

The Location of the Garden

The text states that the garden is located "in Eden, in the east" (2:8), and that "a river issues from Eden to water the garden, and it then divides and becomes four branches:… Pishon,… which winds through the whole land of Havilah … Gihon,… which winds through the whole land of Cush … the Tigris,… and … the Euphrates" (2:10–14, NJPS translation). Starting from what is clear, the Tigris and the Euphrates, scholarly opinion has divided into two schools. The first reasons that the two unknown rivers must be great world rivers on the scale of the Tigris and Euphrates; this view is supported by the Gihon's association with Cush, which usually means Nubia in the Bible, from which it is concluded that the Gihon is the Nile. Accordingly the fourth river is thought to be the Indus or the Ganges. These views, and their many variants, would locate the garden at some hypothetical common point of origin of the Tigris, Euphrates, Nile, and Indus or Ganges. The second school reasons that the two unknown rivers must be near the Tigris and the Euphrates. The Gihon's association with Cush presents no problem for this view since the ancient Near East also had another area known as Cush, the land of the Kassites (Akk. Kaššû/Kuššu-, Greek Kossaîoi) in present-day Luristan, east of the Tigris (cf. also the Mesopotamian associations of Cush in Gen. 10:8–10). This accords well with the Samaritan version's translation of Gihon as ʾAsqop, apparently the river Choaspes, modern Kerkha – in Luristan. If, following the apparent order of the biblical text, one then looks further east for the Pishon, the Kar-n in Elam becomes a candidate. However, this school also admits other possibilities, e.g., that the Gihon is the Diyala and Pishon the Kerkha or even the Arabian Wadi er-Rumma (for other aspects of this problem see *Havilah). According to any of these views, since the common meeting point of these rivers in antiquity was, or was believed to be, the Persian Gulf, the latter would be the undivided river mentioned in Genesis 2:10a (but could it ever be referred to as a river?). This would conform with the implication of Genesis 11:2, 9 that the garden was located east of Shinar (probably Sumer) and Babylon. Since Sumerian tradition (the Eden story has many Mesopotamian affinities) located its paradise in Dilmun, somewhere in or along the Persian Gulf, this school seems to be on the right track. Often associated with this school is the explanation of "Eden" (traditionally connected with Heb. ʿeden pl. ʿadanim, "luxury, delight") as the Sumerian edin ("plain"), a term which is often used as a geographic designation for the plain between the Tigris and Euphrates in southern Mesopotamia. However, this does not conform precisely to the text's suggestion that the garden is east of the Mesopotamian plain. Furthermore, the assumption of this view that Genesis 2:10 speaks of four rivers flowing into one, rather than vice versa, is debatable. It is at least equally possible that the single source river is understood to be located at the head of the Tigris and the Euphrates in the north, in which case the identification of Pishon and Gihon remains problematic. The location of Eden and its rivers clearly remains an open question.

The Trees of Life and Knowledge

As elusive as the identification of the rivers of paradise is the meaning of "the tree of knowledge of good and bad" (ʿeẓ hadaʿat tov wa-raʿ; for the syntax cf. ha-daʿat ʾoti in Jer. 22:16). Several theories have been proposed over the centuries, but none has won general acceptance.


This view takes "good and bad" in the moral sense of right and wrong (cf. Isa. 5:20; Amos 5:14; Micah 3:2) and "knowledge" as the ability to distinguish (cf. II Sam. 19:36; Isa. 7:15) the one from the other. Critics of this view note that the very prohibition presumes that man knows the rightness of obedience and the wrongness of disobedience, and ask how the biblical God can be conceived as wishing to withhold moral discernment from man.


The main evidence supporting this interpretation is the frequent use of "to know" (not only in Hebrew and other ancient Near Eastern languages) in the sense of "to be intimate with"; it also finds a distinction between homosexual and heterosexual indulgence in the phrase "to know good and bad," ignoring the objective case of the nouns. Another argument for interpreting "knowledge of good and bad" in the Garden of Eden story as "sexual awareness" is the use of "to know good and bad" in contexts which may conceivably refer (actually they are far more embracing) to the sexual urge (Deut. 1:39, before it develops; Manual of Discipline 1:9–11, when it develops; II Sam. 19:36, after it has faded). Indeed, the immediate consequence of eating from the tree is awareness of nakedness, and the first action reported after the expulsion from the garden is Adam's "knowing" Eve (4:1). As regards the latter, however, we-ha-ʾadam yadaʿ (instead of wa-yedaʿ ha-ʾadam) can indicate the past perfect tense and could be interpreted as "Now the man had known," which suggests that Adam knew his wife before eating from the tree. Further, critics of the sexual awakening theory cite God's declaration to the heavenly court in 3:22 that through this knowledge "man has become like one of us." It is inconceivable that the Bible would attribute sexuality to God; and the answer that the reference here is to human procreation as the counterpart of divine creativity seems forced. Genesis 2:23–24 seems naturally to include sexuality as established already before eating from the tree. Furthermore, eating from this tree was prohibited even before the woman was created.


This view understands "good and bad" as a merism, expressing totality by two extremes (cf. II Sam. 14:17 and 22, where David is said in one verse to resemble an angel [cf. Gen. 3:22] in "understanding [lit. "hearing"] good and bad" and in the other to be as "wise as an angel… in knowing all that is on the earth"; cf. also "good and bad," meaning "anything at all," Gen. 24:50; 31:24, 29; II Sam. 13:22). Against this interpretation it is pointed out that man did not, in fact, gain universal knowledge.


This view notes passages where knowledge of good and bad is said to be absent in children (Deut. 1:39; Isa. 7:15; cf. Manual of Discipline 1:9–11), and notes that unconcern with nakedness is typical of early childhood, while shame comes with maturation. Critics argue that Adam's ability to name the animals and God's holding him responsible for disobedience assume something beyond childlike intelligence. These objections, however, may not be decisive, and there may be some significance in the fact that this interpretation was assumed by certain tannaim (Gen. R. 15:7; cf. Ber. 40a; Sanh. 70b).


This view identifies the knowledge acquired by eating from the tree as the mental capacity which distinguishes man from beast and is the source of civilization. Critics point out that man's assignment "to till the garden and tend it" (2:15) itself constitutes civilized behavior; that the only change reported in the text is awareness of nakedness; and that the arts and crafts of civilization for the most part originate only with Adam's descendants (4:20ff.). However, Adam himself, not only his descendants, became a farmer (3:19, 23), a typically civilized occupation. Becoming aware of nakedness is also a distinguishing mark of civilization and may be only the first of many civilized acts.

The latter point, like this interpretation as a whole, may claim some support in comparative ancient Near Eastern literature. The beginning of the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh Epic (Pritchard, Texts, 72–99, 503–7) describes the early life of Gilgamesh's friend Enkidu; he lived with, and in the manner of, wild animals, knowing nothing of civilized ways. His rise to civilization began when a harlot seduced him. After a week of cohabitation Enkidu "now had [wi]sdom, [br]oader understanding," and the harlot described his change as having "become like a god" (ibid., p. 75c, lines 29, 34), much as Adam and Eve became "like divine beings who know good and bad" (Gen. 3:5, 22; if the beginning of the last-quoted line from the Gilgamesh Epic is really to be restored, "Thou art [wi]se," the parallel with Gen. 3:5, 22 would be even more complete; however, a restoration "Thou art [beauti]ful" is also possible; cf. Pritchard, Texts, 77a, line 11). Subsequently the harlot clothed Enkidu and introduced him to human food and drink and other aspects of civilization. Clearly the change in Enkidu was far more than sexual, as some have held. The text stresses Enkidu's resultant alienation from his erstwhile animal companions and his acquisition of human ways. The "wisdom" and "understanding" he gained constitute human intelligence. (A sort of commentary on this passage appears in Dan. 4:29–30, which describes Nebuchadnezzar's life while exiled in terms reminiscent of Enkidu's early life (some literary relationship between the two passages must be presumed), while Dan. 4:13 states explicitly that the change is from a human mind (lit."*heart") to an animal mind, and verse 31 specifies a loss of "knowledge" (mandaʿ).) Some parts of the Enkidu narrative are known to be modeled on creation myths, and the narrative of his civilization may similarly reflect an as yet unknown text about the first man. Be that as it may, this narrative supports the view that the knowledge gained from the tree of knowledge was human rationality (cf. below, for knowledge in the "Myth of Adapa"). However, such comparative literary support cannot be considered an infallible guide to the biblical meaning, since literature often undergoes reinterpretation when transferred from one society to another. Far less problematic, but still not lacking in ambiguity, is the "tree of life." Clearly it confers immortality (3:22, "he might also take from the tree of life and eat, and live forever!"). It is not included in God's prohibition (2:16–17), so it may be that God originally intended Adam to live forever; only after man had disobeyed and obtained the divine prerogative of "knowing good and bad" was this boon revoked (3:19, 22–24). It is not clear whether immortality would have been conferred by eating this tree's fruit once or only by continuous eating. Since Adam had access to the tree before the expulsion, the fact that he had not already gained immortality suggests that the fruit had to be eaten continuously, but the urgency of the expulsion (3:22–24) suggests that a single eating may have sufficed.

The Serpent

The text is at pains to point out the creatureliness of the serpent, describing it as one "of all the wild beasts that the Lord God had made" (3:1, 14); it is distinguished from the other beasts only by its shrewdness (3:1). Its insignificance is underlined in 3:9–19, where God interrogates Adam and Eve, and both respond, while the serpent is not questioned and does not respond. In view of the prominent role played by serpents in ancient Near Eastern religion and mythology this treatment of the serpent amounts to desecration and demythologization, quite possibly intentional. As a result, the source of evil is denied divine or even demonic status: evil is no independent principle in the cosmos, but stems from the behavior and attitudes of God's creatures.

From early times the serpent has been seen as a symbol, whose meaning is widely debated. Some have stressed the serpent's well-known phallic symbolism and fertility associations, taking the narrative to reflect an attitude toward human sexuality, fertility cults, and the like. Others see the serpent as representing man's own shrewdness. Since in ancient Near Eastern mythology the forces of chaos which oppose the forces of creation and cosmos are widely represented as serpents, many see the serpent here, too, as a personification of the forces of chaos. According to this view, disobeying God undermines the cosmic order. Alternatively, the serpent may represent ethical evil in general, a meaning that serpentine mythological motifs are given elsewhere in the Bible (e.g., Isa. 26:21–27:1).

Mythological Features

Certain details of the narrative seem not to conform to "classical" biblical religion, but rather to reflect more primitive notions and premises. The very need to withhold immortality from manbespeaks divine jealousy: God and the divine beings are unwilling to have man acquire both of the distinctive characteristics of divinity, "knowledge of good and bad" and immortality (even if they may be willing to have man acquire immortality alone). The Eden narrative is deeply rooted in ancient Near Eastern and folkloristic traditions. In spite of some adaptation of these traditions to biblical theological tenets, it seems that some of the primitive notions of these traditions resisted adaptation.


Critics generally hold that the Eden narrative stems from a different source than the preceding creation narrative (Gen. 1:1–2:4a or 4b). Divergent authorship is indicated, according to the documentary hypothesis, by the two narratives' contradictory orders of creation (ch. 1: trees, animals, man and woman; ch 2: man, trees, animals, woman). On the basis of vocabulary and content the first narrative is assigned to the Priestly Document (P), while the second is assigned to the Jehovist, or Yahwist, Document (J; for a contrary view see Cassuto, Genesis I, ad loc.).

The Eden pericope in itself appears to combine more than one narrative of the same events. Many doublets in the text point to at least two parallel recensions. The following are some of the doublets which have been suggested: 2:5 and 6 (primordial irrigation), 2:8 and 9 (planting the garden), 2:8 and 15 (placing man in it), 2:23 and 3:20 (naming the woman), 3:7 and 21 (clothing the couple), 3:18b and 19a (man's future food), 3:18a and 17c, d, 19a (man's future occupation), 3:19b and 19c (man's return to the earth), 3:23 and 24 (expulsion from paradise). Other seemingly disjunctive elements are 2:9b (the two trees clumsily seem attached to the verse) and 10–14 (the rivers). On these points there is general agreement, at least in principle. However there is no unanimity at all when it comes to regrouping the variants in order to reconstruct the hypothetical earlier recensions.


The Eden narrative's affinities with primitive folklore and other biblical and ancient Near Eastern, especially Mesopotamian, compositions are many, yet there is no single piece of ancient literature which resembles the narrative as a whole, either in its details or theological significance.

The primordial absence of produce and standard forms of irrigation resemble the immediately postdiluvian conditions, which presumably duplicate primordial conditions in the Sumerian "Rulers of Lagās" (in: JCS, 21 (1967), 283). The notion of a divine garden, paradigm of fertility, is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible (Gen. 13:10; Isa. 51:3; Ezek. 36:35; Joel 2:3); a fragmentary passage in the Gilgamesh Epic (Pritchard, Texts, p. 89c) and a fuller passage in Ezekiel 28:11–19 speak of its jewel-bearing trees; the Ezekiel passage is a narrative and reflects a different version of the Eden story (cf., also Ezek. 31:5–9, 16–18). Yet another paradise narrative is the Sumerian tale of "Enki and Ninhursag" (Pritchard, Texts, 37–41), which describes the land (or island) of Dilmun, east of Sumer, as a pure, clean, and bright land, where there is neither sickness nor death, and where the animals live in harmony. One episode in the narrative involves the sun-god's watering Dilmun with fresh water brought up from the earth, thus making it fertile. The earth-goddess Ninhursag gives birth to eight plants, which the water-god Enki proceeds to devour. This leads Ninhursag to curse Enki; this nearly causes the latter's death, but ultimately Ninhursag is made to heal him. Aside from the Eden narrative's manifest similarities to these stories, the differences are also significant; most noticeable is the far more natural configuration of the narrative in Genesis 2–3, in contrast to the fantastic or supernatural nature of the other accounts, including Ezekiel's. Placing man in the garden "to till and tend it" faintly echoes the Mesopotamian creation stories according to which man was created to free the gods from laboring to produce their own food (Pritchard, Texts, 68; cf. W.G. Lambert, Atrahasis (1969), 42–67; A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis (1942), 69–71; S.N. Kramer, The Sumerians (1963), 149–50). In the Bible this is not seen as the purpose of man's creation – in fact, the creation of man and the placing of him in the garden are separated by several verses; and there is no suggestion at all that God or the other heavenly beings benefit from man's labor. The theme of lost immortality appears briefly near the end of the Gilgamesh Epic. From the bottom of the sea Gilgamesh brought up a plant which contained the power of rejuvenating the aged; he called it "The Man Becomes Young in Old Age," declaring, "I myself shall eat [it], and thus return to the state of my youth" (in Pritchard, Texts, 96). Later, however, Gilgamesh set the plant down while bathing, and a serpent made off with it and subsequently shed its skin (11. 285–9; in 1. 296 the serpent is referred to as "ground-lion"; some take this as simply an epithet of the serpent, but others, following the testimony of Akkadian lexical texts, take "ground-lion" as "chameleon" (which etymologically means "ground-lion")). The belief that snakes, or lizards, regain their youth when they cast their skins is common among primitive peoples (cf., the analogous belief about molting eagles in Isa. 40:31; Ps. 103:51). This is a reflex of the well-known folklore motif of how the serpent cheated man out of immortality, for the significance of which see below. The loss of immortality is treated in great detail in the Akkadian Myth of Adapa (Pritchard, Texts, 101–3). Priest and sage of the city of Eridu, Adapa had been given "wise understanding… to teach the patterns of the land" (A, 3 (this apparently means to teach mankind the patterns of civilization), had been shown "the heart of the heaven and the earth" (B, 57–58)). The god Ea "had given him wisdom, eternal life he had not given him" (A, 4). While he was fishing in the Persian Gulf to supply Ea's temple at Eridu with fish, the south wind swamped Adapa's boat, so Adapa broke its wing with a curse. As Adapa was summoned before the chief god Anu in heaven to account for this behavior, Ea warned him not to eat and drink the bread and water of death that would be presented to him there. However, Anu had been disposed favorably to Adapa by another of Ea's stratagems, so that he in fact desired to supplement Adapa's wisdom by offering him the bread and food of life. Unaware, Adapa refused it, accepting only a garment and some anointing oil Ea had approved; and so he lost (eternal) life. Adapa is to be identified with Oannes, known from other sources to have been the first of approximately seven antediluvian sages who taught humanity civilization, paralleling the culture-founding Cainite genealogy from Adam through Lamech's children (Gen. 4), with Oannes-Adapa occupying the position of Adam. To this some have added the evidence of an Akkadian synonym list which supposedly equates Adapa, written a-da-ap/b, with "man" (E.A. Speiser in Pritchard, Texts, 101 n. 1; see also M. Civil (ed.), Materials for the Sumerian Lexicon, vol. 12, p. 93 line 20); however it is doubtful that this is Adapa, whose name is not written this way, and the very significance of the equation is uncertain. Not all details of the relationship of the Myth of Adapa to the Eden narrative are clear or necessarily convincing, but some relationship does seem indicated. The contrasts, aside from obviously wide divergence in details and plot, are most profound and characteristic in the area of underlying religious outlook. Although the Myth of Adapa does not make it clear whether Ea simply erred or purposely deceived Adapa, it expresses in either case a resigned acceptance of death as a situation beyond rational human control. The biblical narrative, on the other hand, assumes that death and other forms of misfortune in this world are the earned results of human behavior whose consequences man knew in advance. The theme of man's being cheated out of immortality by the serpent or some other skin-sloughing animal appears in the folklore of several peoples. Another frequently occurring motif is that of the perverted message, wherein God sent to man a message of immortality which the messenger perverted into a message of mortality, thus dooming mankind ever since. At times these two motifs are combined: God's message instructed man to rejuvenate himself by casting off his old skin, but the faithless messenger gave this information to the serpent instead, and told man that his life would end in death. On the basis of these motifs, J.G. Frazer surmised that an earlier version of the Eden narrative related as follows: the garden contained two trees – the tree of life and the tree of death (cf. the food and drink offered Adapa). God sent a message, through the serpent, that man should eat from the tree of life, not the tree of death. The clever serpent, however, reversed the message, leading the human couple to eat from the tree of death (cf. the deception of Adapa), while he himself ate from the tree of life and thus gained immortality (cf. Pritchard, Texts, 96 referred to above).

The material surveyed above leads to the conclusion that the biblical Eden narrative has roots in ancient Near Eastern literature. Yet, as noted above, these parallels are fragmentary, dealing with only a few motifs each, and the discrepancies in detail are often great. How these gaps were bridged cannot be said with certainty, presumably because of ignorance of the process of transmission of ancient Near Eastern literature to the Bible. Quite possibly these stories became known to the biblical authors in proto-Israelite versions which they molded, with creative editorial skill, into a unique narrative with a wholly new meaning.


J. Frazer, Folklore in the Old Testament, 1 (1919), 45–77; Th. C. Vriezen, Orderzoek naar de paradijs-voorstelling bij de oude Semietische Volken (1937), incl. bibl.; P. Humbert, Etudes sur le récit du paradis et de la chute dans la Genèse (1940), incl. bibl.; U. Cassuto, in: Studies in Memory of M. Schorr (1944), 248–58; J.L. McKenzie, in: Theological Studies, 15 (1954), 541–72; E.A. Speiser, in: BASOR, 140 (1955), 9–11; idem, in: Festschrift Johannes Friedrich (1959), 473–85; R. Gordis, in: JBL, 76 (1957), 123–38; B.S. Childs, Mythand Reality in the Old Testament (19622), 43–50; N.M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (1966), 23–28; T.H. Gaster, Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament (1969), 6–50, 327–71; J.A. Bailey, in: JBL, 89 (1970), 137–50. See also Commentaries to Genesis 2:4–3. IN JEWISH PHILOSOPHY: R.H. Charles, Eschatology (19632); K. Kohler, Heavenand Hell in Comparative Religion (1923); H. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, 4 (1928), 1016–65.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.