Where is the Garden of Eden? I watched a really interesting documentary, part of the Myth Hunters series found on Netflix, Youtube, and CafeMom. They noted that the garden story is so vague that it could be anywhere. The film notes that a Boston University president felt is was in North Pole, Mormons felt it was in Missouri, Columbus thought it was in Venezuela and others have claimed China. Does it even exist? Of all people, an atheist believes he may have found it!
Researcher Juris Zarins from Missouri State University noted that every civilization has had a creation story, and some of the stories pre-date the story told in Genesis. He wondered why so many cultures tell this story, and wondered if the Garden of Eden may have actually existed. He noted that the Bible story bears remarkable resemblances to the Epic of Gilgamesh. Some of the details are quite similar to the story of Adam and Eve. He felt the Bible stories were plagiarized by the Hebrews who heard these stories from the Sumerians who have an older creation story that is 8000 years old.
In the story of Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk was 2/3 god, and 1/3 man. He was not immortal, and wanted the secret of immortality. In the story, man was built from clay (dust of the earth?), and women were made from men. Given the Sumerians were a river culture, clay was an extremely useful material. The people lived forever, and there was no sickness. This place was called Dilmun, rather than Eden.
It was destroyed by a great flood, but Utnapishtim (rather than Noah) was saved from the flood. Gilgamesh sought Utnapishtim seeking immortality and eternal life. Gilgamesh was told that the secret of immortality was to eat from the plant of life. He finds the plan under water when a serpent (Satan?) takes it and rejuvenates itself. Immortality was just beyond human’s grasp.
There are other Sumerian tales found in the Bible, such as The Tower of Babel. Sumer is called Shinar in the Bible. Many of these early Bible stories bear remarkable resemblances to more ancient Sumerian tales. Zarins believes that the Bible is just a Hebrew version of the story of Gilgamesh, and believes that Eden is the same place as Dilmun. He also knows that the eastern shores of Arabia, near Bahrain was once a lush area, even though today it is a desert. It may have been a trading center like modern-day Hong Kong.
Zarins turns to the Bible and notes that the King James Version of Genesis 2 lists four rivers where Eden is located are highlighted below.
10 And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
11 The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
12 And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.
13 And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.
14 And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.
Everyone knows where the Euphrates River is, and Hiddekel is translated Tigris in most other translations. Ethiopia may be a mistranslation. The word is actually Cush, and some other Bibles translate it as Sudan, but Zarins noted that Iran was also known as Cush. Geographically, Iran makes much more sense than either Sudan or Ethiopia. Ancient biblical scholars felt that the River Nile (which goes around the land of Cush) was one of the rivers, with perhaps the Ganesh River in India being the fourth. The problem was that these other rivers aren’t anywhere near the Tigris or Euphrates rivers. If one can find these two other rivers (Pison and Gihon), they’ll find Eden. Interestingly, only the Bible mentions these other two rivers.
Zarins turned to Satellite photos to try to find these other two rivers. In the 1980s, satellite photos were hard to come by, but Zarins lucked out. He noted a dry channel in Saudi Arabia. On the ground, it looks just like a bunch of sand dunes and hardly looks like a river. Zarins learned that this river had water as the Ice Age was ending. Around 5-6000 BC, the area would have been lush with vegetation.
The Persian Gulf didn’t exist in the Ice Age and was once dry land. During the Ice Age, the sea level was 200 feet deeper. Due to the runoff, the Gulf filled with water, and is just 120 feet deep at it’s deepest point. Zarins believes this river is the Pison, which flowed much further east near Basra.
Zarins believes the fourth major river comes out of Zagros Mountains in Iran, called Karun. It originally connected to the Tigrus and Euphrates rivers until it was dammed in the 1970s. The Garden of Eden is now under water in the Persian Gulf. 8000 years ago, the climate was different, monsoon rains covered whole peninsula with rain, lush, green, so Sumerians thought Dilmun was the birth of humanity. Zarins thinks that the Tree of Knowledge was actually a story of how farming started. The narrator says,
According to Zarins, the Garden of Eden was the home to pre-historic humans, hunter-gatherers who were able to survive purely from what they found growing naturally. But as the last Ice Age ended, the waters in the world’s oceans began to rise. Eventually this garden of paradise drowned in the flood. In its place today, we find the Persian Gulf.
The floods forced humans to move northward into the much harsher landscapes of Mesopotamia that we are familiar with today. There was no easy living here. If people wanted food, they had to grow it, they had to become farmers, and that meant using primitive technology to cultivate the land.
Zarins, “When people create inventions of some kind or another whether it’s taming nature or inventing metals or writing, you can never go back. You just can’t reverse technological progress, and so it began with this idea of agriculture being one of the first ideas of change.”
[Narrator], Zarins believes that the story of Eden was written as a lament of this extraordinary change, and the yearnings for the days of a simpler life. The advent of agriculture was not described as a great leap forward, but as a sin: Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge.”
Zarins, “What happened was they fell! They fell from grace. What is that? What does that mean? It means that they transgressed against what God had provided, they knew better, and that’s what we call the origin of agriculture. You know how to manipulate things now. You know how to make plants grow. You know how to create animals and get natural selection.”
[Narrator], In 1987, the results of Zarins’ work were published in Smithsonian Magazine.
Research assistant, “Very satisfying to have that feeling that there’s an answer, there’s an explanation that is based in science as well as literature that you can put these two things together and tell a story that is very identifiable. Oh! This is not so far off the mark. This works. This makes more sense than just poof! Magic.”
Not everyone thinks Zarins work is correct. Some academics still think he has things wrong. Surprisingly, many churches have embraced his theories, and have invited him to speak to their congregations to discuss his findings, especially in Missouri.
What do you make of his theory? Do you think Eden is a myth? I find it funny that people still complain about advancing technology, wistfully thinking about the simpler times before phones, television, and progress. Do you think that fighting against knowledge and technology is as old as Eden?