c) Gen 2:8–14: The word “Eden” signifies a well-watered, luxuriant park. Meanwhile “garden” (gan) typically refers to an orchard or park containing trees, rather than plots of vegetables.[1]

Therefore, Eden likely resembled a botanic garden, much like those in the palace complexes of the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) kings.[2]

For example, Tiglath-Pileser I, who ruled the Assyrian Empire from 1114–1046 BC,[3] wrote in his annals, “I brought cedars, boxwood, and allakanish-trees from the countries which I have subdued, trees the like of which none of the kings, my ancient fathers, had ever planted, and I planted them in the gardens of my land. I took rare garden plants, which were not found in my own land, and caused them to flourish in the gardens of Assyria.”[4]

Moses wrote that God “caused to grow…the tree of life in the very heart (tavek) of the garden.”[5]

This made Eden a sacred space,[6] indicating that God stands at the center of human existence in all its fullness.[7]

Pharaoh Ramesses III (1187-1151 BC) also situated beautiful gardens around Egyptian centers of worship,[8] another sign that Eden itself comprised a temple.[9]

As in Ezek 47:1–12, a great river symbolized the Lord’s life-giving presence (cf. Ps 36:7–9).

Its branching into four streams suggests completeness and universality, for the text mentions not only the Tigris and Euphrates of Mesopotamia,[10] but also the Nile of North Africa and the Indus of Asia.[11]

Furthermore, that these rivers flow in different directions from one spot suggests that Eden was set upon a mountain top.[12]

Scholars debate the exact location of these headwaters, with some favoring the mountains of Armenia and others the Persian Gulf.[13]

Since the portrayal in Genesis conforms to the ANE view of land sitting upon subterranean waters (Ps 24:1–2),[14] Moses applied a cosmic motif—with the rivers flowing from Eden bringing life-giving water to the world—rather than a scientific description.[15]

In ANE literature, creator gods such as Enki and El dwelt at the source of rivers.[16]

One of the Poems about Baal and Anath describes a god as “El of the Sources of the Two Floods in the midst of the headwaters of the Two Oceans.”[17]

Furthermore, the 18th century BC palace of Zimri-Lim in modern day Syria depicts the concept of four streams flowing from a temple to water the four corners of the earth.[18] A fresco shows two goddesses holding jars with four streams of water flowing from each of them in different directions.[19]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 2:8-14. What did God provide for Adam? How did Eden resemble a temple? What effect should living with God as the center of our existence have upon us?






Go to The Holy Mountain of God


[Related posts include Introduction to Genesis 1; Forbidden Fruit (Gen 2:16–17); The Holy Mountain of God (Rev 21:18–22:3); Ancient Literature; and Author and Date of Genesis]


[Click here to go to Chapter 5: A View from the Ground (Genesis 2:4–25)]


[1] Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 2:14.

[2]Walton, Genesis, 166.

[3]Parks and Gardens UK: Knowledge, Inspiration, Conservation, “Tiglath-Pileser I and the Passion He Shared with William Robinson,” https://parksandgardensuk.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/tiglath-pileser-i-the-passion-he-shared-with-william-robinson/. This site has some good photos of Assyrian reliefs.

[4]Tiglath-Pileser I, “Prism Inscription (History of First Five Years of Reign” in ARAB, 1:72–91, section 254, 87, https://archive.org/stream/LuckenbillAncientRecordsAssyria01/Luckenbill_Ancient_Records_Assyria01#page/n101/mode/2up.

[5] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “tāwek,” BDB, 1063, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/1062/mode/2up.

[6] Walton, Genesis, 193.

[7] Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3, 83–4.

[8]James H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt (ARE), 5 Vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1906), Sections 215–20, 4:121–3, https://archive.org/details/BreastedJ.H.AncientRecordsEgyptAll5Vols1906.

[9]Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 76.

[10]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 64–5.

[11] Hamilton, Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 168.

[12]Lifsa Schachter, “The Garden of Eden as God’s First Sanctuary,” JBQ 41, no. 2 (2013): 73–7, 74, https://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+garden+of+Eden+as+god’s+first+sanctuary.-a0323259066.

[13]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 66.

[14]Walton, Genesis, 126.

[15]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 66.

[16]Walton, Genesis, 167–8.

[17]“Poems About Baal and Anath,” in ANET, 4:20–2, 133, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n157/mode/2up.

[18]Walton, Genesis, 169.

[19]Wikimedia Commons, “File:Investiture Zimri Lim Louvre Diagram TT.” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Investiture_Zimri_Lim_Louvre_diagram_TT.JPG. You can view the photo from which this diagram was created at  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mari_fresco_Investiture_Zimri_Lim_0209.jpg.