Theology

Eden, Etymology, and the Eschaton | The Rev. Nicole Foster

The geography of Eden is a debatable topic, stretching over millennia. Nuances among cultures, nations, empires, and even etymology have offered up an array of opinions. But with all of this at play, can we learn about the eschaton by looking at Eden? Let’s nerd out for a bit!

Eden in Mesopotamia

Genesis 2:8 reads,

“And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.”

The word Eden appears thirteen times in the Old Testament as in singular form and three times in the plural to designate an actual place. Eden is a place where Yahweh plants a garden, which is apparently “eastward”. from this description, it appears the the writer of Genesis is referring their own location as be west of this ancient region. 

According to Victor P. Hamilton, in his commentary, Genesis, the Hebrew term E’den,

“is closely associated with the Sumerian and Akkadian word edinu, indicating “plain, flatland, wilderness, prairie,’, a term used as a geographical location for the plain between the Tigris and Euphrates in southern Mesopotamia.”

The word adan in the LXX means, “paradise of delight” seems to be related to the Hebrew word, eden. A similar word can be found in Nehemiah 9:25, edna, meaning “pleasure”.

The Sumerian Eden

But the concept of Eden does not solely belong to Hebrew scripture. In the Sumerian myth of creation, the narrative of Enki and Ninhurasag takes place in the land of Dilmun, a paradise located east of Sumer, where sickness and death were unknown, and where animals lived in harmony.

Eden in the Land of Havilah

Genesis 2:10,11 reads,

A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;

The Pishon river is referred to in Genesis 2:11 and in Sirach 24:25. It’s meaning might mean to “scatter, break loose, or press on”. This river flows through the land of Havilah, who is one of the five apnea of Cush according to Genesis 10:7 and 1 Chronicles 1:9. Havilah’s location is believed to be in Arabia, and Genesis 25:28 mentions Havilah as a boundary of Ishmaelite territory.

Eden in Ethiopian (Cush)

Genesis 2:13 reads,

The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush.

Cush is both the name of the grandson of Noah and the ancient name for what is now eastern Sudan, Ethiopia Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and western Yemen. Numerous scientific studies have shown that a small group of individuals migrated out of Eastern Africa, eventually expanding into most of today’s populations.

Ethiopians have long identified the Gihon or Giyon with the Abay River, also called the Blue Nile, which encircles the former kingdom of Gojjam.

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Eden in Hindu-Kush

Arabic scholars have claimed that the reference to the land of Cush is actually Hindu Kush, and Gihon river with Amu Darya or Jihon or Jayhon according to Islamic texts, and Ceyhun in Turkish. Also Gihon is often associated with Asqop, which is the river Choaspes or Kerkha, which is east of the Tigris.

So What?

No matter how big Eden was or where its precise historic location might be, God planted its garden where a multitude of ethnicities, nations, and languages dwell presently. So many times the concept of Eden has been used to exalt one ethnicity/empire/nation over another, in order to claim a false-sense of divine superiority or favor over the rest of creation. Such claims are not supported in scripture. We must remember the couple in the garden failed to obey and were kick out. In essence, ALL of us were kicked out.

Thankfully for those of us in Christ, we will be invited to something better than Eden in the eschaton.

A New Heaven and a New Earth

Revelation 21:1-5 reads,

21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Our new home will be God’s home; a home not divided up by bodies of water.  They’ll be no threat of death, no sadness, and no fear of being kicked out. We have been grafted in. What Adam and Eve couldn’t do, God will most certainly do.

The Rev. Dr. Nicole Foster the T.V. Host and founding minister of The Hippie Theologian. She holds a Doctor of Ministry from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, a Master of Divinity from Redeemer Theological Seminary and a B.A. in History from Southern Methodist University. She’s an ordained Anglican minister and teaches Old Testament for various organizations. She loves to hike, camp, make organic soap, and be a beach bum as often as possible.

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