According to biblical tradition, where was the garden of Eden located? The garden of Eden being the earthly paradise where God placed Adam and Eve.
The second book of Genesis (or Bereshit in Hebrew) contains the passage:
A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
This is geographically impossible. The Tigris and the Euphrates, for example, which, by the way, did not merge in ancient times, were in Mesopotamia, while Kush is south of Egypt.
Tigris and Euphrates:
Havilah appears to be south in Arabia:
They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled over against all his kinsmen.
The only place plausibly in the mind of the author has to be on the west side of the Fertile Crescent, likely Israel itself, with the rivers being some sort of conceptual boundary for the outer reaches of the land and not the garden itself. Then again, it's myth, so the location, as usual, is imprecise.
Interestingly, "paradise" in earlier Mesopotamian literature is called Dilmun and was equally precise, with vague terms indicating "east" (like "where the sun rises") that probably were not meant to be taken literally. Albright (1922) noted that in general this area attached a paradise-like conception to "the east".
Albright, W. F. 1922. "The Location of the Garden of Eden." American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 39.1: 15–31.
Howard-Carter, Theresa 1987. "Dilmun: At Sea or Not at Sea? A Review Article." Journal of Cuneiform Studies 39.1: 54–117.
This question needs to be answered from the perspective of the likely intent of the author and in light of what the term Eden meant in the times before and up to the period when the story was written (in my view probably 9th-7th centuries BCE, though perhaps somewhat later).
We must first recognize that, in the Eden story itself, the term "Eden" refers to the desolate/arid geographical region within which Yahweh both (a) created the man and (b) planted the garden (Gen 2.8: “a garden in Eden”). So looking simply and specifically for a region that could be characterized by paradise garden would be (so to speak) barking up the wrong tree. There is a Western Semitic root (ʽdn), used for example in Ugarit, meaning lush or luxuriant upon which the author may have drawn in part when deciding how to name the Garden, but this gives us nothing about the garden’s location. (If anything, the linguistics would imply Syria, which does not appear consistent with the description in Gen 2:10-14.) Looking to Mesopotamia is more fruitful.
In Mesopotamia the term referred to a dry plain (Sumerian (edin) and Akkadian (edinu), including between rivers; the more attested term in Akkadian was seru, which was a translation of the same, pronounced as seru but written with almost the same Cuneiform sign as the Sumerian. Akkadian was still the lingua franca of the region, but scholars debate whether an educated scribe in Judah such as the author of the Eden story would have been familiar with this word; but he did properly use it to refer to an arid area.... In any event, this information, together with that provided by the author in Genesis 2.10-14, suggests a location generally within Mesopotamia, perhaps between the Tigris and Euphrates. Frankly, having reviewed the various attempts to be more precise, I've seen that they all have serious problems and that none of them has gained traction among scholars. So I don’t think we can be more precise than what I’ve described here, and more significantly I doubt that the author intended any greater precision; probably he was deliberately not specific: He said only that Eden was “in the East” and that the 4 rivers flowed out of there (Gen 2:8). But we don’t know where “there” is, i.e., the location from which they are said to flow. Identifying the names of the rivers only brings us to somewhere in Mesopotamia, which gets us no further than what I’ve mentioned above. The somewhat fashionable hypothesis of the garden of Eden as referring to a lush area that now lies under the Persian Gulf (inspired in part by the Dilmun myth) runs aground against the biblical text: (a) as mentioned, our author said that "Eden" is actually an hostile, arid geographical region; (b) the Hebrew word used for "garden" in the story (gan) means a fairly small, artificial garden (usually enclosed by walls), way too small to be a climactic area; and (c) our author said that the rivers split and flow from the garden in Eden, not into it as would be the case with the mouth of what is now the Persian Gulf.
I think the description of the 4 rivers flowing from an unspecified point on Mesopotamian territory needs to be read mythologically, rather than as an attempt to be geographically specific. As mentioned, creation on earth began in a desolate Eden, signifying a kind of primordial chaos (only desert rather than waters) onto which the order of creation was imposed. By having Yahweh form the first human and the first plants (i.e., the Garden) there, he made the Garden the center of creation and the original center of the earth, which makes it a holy place, which is why Yahweh had his presence there. It is a Center in the sense meant by Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell (Eliade and Sullivan; Eliade; Campbell), where primordial chaos was transformed into the order of creation, which is why it is sacred. The 4 rivers flowing from that spot symbolize the Garden as that Center, and also helps explain how the rest of the earth (originally barren outside of the Garden) became fertile and full of life. The imagery of the Center is further enhanced by the 2 sacred trees being there.
Finally, I should mention that in choosing the term Eden the author may have been making a secondary allusion to Beth Eden mentioned elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible (Amos 1:5; 2 Kings 19:12; Isaiah 37:2). This was an Aramaic kingdom on the banks of the upper Euphrates in Syria (so no dry steppe here). Its name in Aramaic (bit-adini) means "House of Eden," with adini being the family name of the ruling dynasty (cf. "House of David"). By the time the Eden story was written, Assyria had taken over Beth Eden, and was using it as a launching base from which to invade Syria-Palestine. Thus, the author may have been employing "Eden," on the one hand, to allude to the military, cultural, and pagan religious threat coming from Assyria/eastern Syria at the time, while on the other hand as an ideal place (i.e., Israel, land of milk and honey) arising from within and being threatened by this surrounding hostile cultural and religious environment. (The Eden story was, after all, in significant part a polemic against "foreign" pagan religion.) From this perspective, Israel was viewed as the ideal Center of the world, and more specifically Jerusalem itself, especially its Temple (George and George, pp. 121-24).
This is only the tip of the iceberg. Further details are contained in my book about the mythology behind the Garden of Eden story, below.
Joseph Campbell. The Mythic Image. New York: MJF Books, 1974, pp. 184-207.
Mircea Eliade. The Myth of the Eternal Return. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991, pp. 12-17.
Mircea Eliade and Lawrence Sullivan. “Center of the World,” Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 3, pp. 166-71.
Arthur George and Elena George. The Mythology of Eden. Lanham, Maryland: Hamilton Books, 2014, pp. 100-24.
I commend to your attention www.ldolphin.org/eden for a look at the theories of Dr.Juris Karins, of Southwest Missouri State University, in Springfield. [Other data on Dr. Karins' far reaching archaeological work in the region was published in the September, 1983, edition of SMITHSONIAN Magazine.]
Dr. Karins believes that "Eden" had come into being at roughly 6,000 BC, when the world's sea-levels were considerably lower, because the so-called "Great Ice Age" had locked up vast amounts of water. Essentially, the Persian Gulf was at that time dry land forming an extended delta.
"Eden" was located to the east of Bahrain, close by where what are now called the Wadi Rinah and Wadi Batin (which were the remains of the "fossil river" called the Pison.) The course of the Pison had been conclusively proven by LANDSAT.
Somewhat to the east had flowed the Euphrates, and to the north flowed the Tigris. The 4th river, the Karun, is the one that had been falsely identified by sloppy translating during the creation of the King James Bible as the "Gush," or "Kush." This mistake greatly confused the issue by throwing out a "red herring" in the form of the false reference to Ethiopia.
The archaeological evidence supposedly supported the theory that Biblical events in "Eden" had been vague references to interactions or conflicts between "pioneering" farmer-peoples and older hunter-gatherers. The dynamics of this clash purportedly came down to Old Testament writers in the form of the expulsion of an "Adam & Eve" faction from the "Eden" region.
The presumed conditions in "Eden" were certainly attractive, with alluvial (flood) plains from four major rivers converging in a river-valley. The theoretical Eden climate would have been warmer than normal for the region, due to the four large rivers feeding into the area, which had also provided extremely rich soil. Conditions were reportedly very similar to what was found in Egypt, following the annual Nile floods.
I have written two books on the subject in 2010, (1) The Garden of Eden Myth: Its Pre-biblical Origin in Mesopotamian Myths and (2) Eden's Serpent: Its Mesopotamian Origin, both available at Amazon.com on the internet. So where is the garden of Eden? To answer this question I used a different approach, compared to other Eden searchers. They tended to seek Eden by locating its four rivers. My approach was to ask the question, "Are their other accounts about Eden in other myths?" If so, perhaps a study of these myths might provide a clue to the garden's location? I discovered that the Sumerians had myths about a location they called EDIN. EDIN is uncultivated desert-like wilderness waste land, in today's modern Iraq. According to the Hebrews Eden means "delight," apparently the Hebrews being unfamiliar with this Sumerian word, mistakenly equated it with Hebrew Eden. Thus a wilderness desert wasteland became a "delightful place." The Sumerian myths have the gods creating man of EDIN's clay and then placing him in the EDIN to wander its animal trails with wild animals for companions. Man is a beast in the early myths of Sumer, he is portrayed roaming about on all fours, hairy, and naked. His companions are naked hairy beasts, like them, he eats grass, they are wild cattle and antelopes. Naked man in EDIN has no knowledge about good or evil, for he unaware in EDIN that it is wrong to be naked. Only the gods of Sumer know of good and evil, for only they wear clothing. Eventually the gods take man from his beasts and replaces them with a woman for a companion. She persuades him to leave EDIN. When they leave EDIN they both are clothed, in other words EDIN's naked man and naked woman leave EDIN clothed for Uruk (Enkidu and Shamhat in the Epic of Gilgamesh). The Sumerian account for how man came to lose at a chance to obtain immortality is called Adapa and the South Wind Myth. Adapa is warned by his god, Ea of Eridu "Don't eat the bread of death you will die!" When Adapa is offered the bread of life by Ningishizda and Dumuzid on Anu's behalf, Adapa, refuses to consume what he believes is the bread of death. I understand that as God is portrayed as warning Adam and Eve DON'T EAT, YOU WILL DIE, and the same warning is given Adapa by Ea at Eridu, that Eridu is the site of the Garden in Eden, at least in pre-biblical Sumerian myths. IN reality Genesis' garden in Eden is a fusion of several sites in Mesopotamian myths. Besides Eridu where the warning was issued YOU WILL DIE IF YOU EAT, there is Anu's heavenly abode where the food of death is to be offered, and the waterhole in EDIN the desert wilderness 3 days from Uruk, where Enkidu (Asam) meets Shamhat (Eve). So behind the Bible's garden in Eden, are, three locations: (1) Eridu where is found the command Don't Eat, (2) Anu's heavenly abode were forbidden food is offered, and (3) the Edin's waterhole, 3 days in the wildernesss from Uruk where Enkidu met Shamhat. The Hunter that brought Shamhat to Edin's water hole told her to seduce Enkidu, allow him to have sex with her, strip naked for him. When he tires of sleeping with her for 6 days and nights and attempts top return to his beastly companions they flee from him. He returns to Shamhat as accepts her as his new companion. She encourages him to leave EDIN and reside at Uruk and become the friend of Gilgamesh. The Hebrews are repudiating the Sumerian myths about how man was created in a place called EDIN. The Sumerians agree with the Hebrews man is a sinner, but why differs. The gods are portrayed as indulging in all of the vices of mankind: murder, incest, lying, conning, raping, sex with animals, homosexual sex, etc. Man, made in the sinner-gods image can be no different. The Hebrews objected to this being why man is a sinner. Their god lives in a place called EDEN, not EDIN, and their god is righteous and just, and ethical, not a sinner-god, and man, is expected to be righteous and ethical being made in God's image. Enkidu's sleeping with Shamhat for 6 days and nights was recast as Adam awaking from sleep to behold a naked Eve at his side. THe HUnter who brought Shamhat to replace Enkidus' animal companions with herself and emove him from EDIN was recast as Yahweh-Elohim introduing Eve to Adam who replaces Adam's animal companions. My website, www.bibleorigins.net also deals with this subject in addition to my afore mentioned books.