Jehovah’s Eden

As a religious studies specialist, I inhabit a world where definitive answers are comparatively rare. It is clear that my assigned Jehovah’s Witnesses case-workers are not similarly constrained. While I was out earlier this week, they left a copy of the newest edition of the Watchtower for my edification. The cover shows an Edenic garden and bears the legend, “The Garden of Eden: Myth or Fact?” Now, I thought I knew the answer to that one. So I started to read. I learned that it was because of philosophers and their nonsense that people ceased to believe in Eden. Most people in world believe there was a paradisiacal garden, way back when, so it must be fact. I also learned that the reason we can’t find Eden today is that the Flood wiped it away. Seems a shame; with proper drainage it could be as dry as Aden and as rich as Dilmun.

The story in the magazine is set up as a series of objections raised as to why the Garden of Eden is rejected by skeptics. Literalist biblical answers to the objections are then offered. Ironically, one of the most obviously missing objections is that of geology. The article states that, prior to being destroyed by the flood, Eden would likely have suffered from the devastation of earthquakes. The area, it seems, is in the earthquake belt. Still, the garden was created “some 6,000 years ago,” despite what all those earthquake-toting geologists tell us. Somebody has forgotten to set their calendar back by a few billion years.

A more serious objection missing from the critique is that of mythology itself. Those who’ve studied the background to the story of Eden realize that most of the elements in the story are recycled myths known among the Mesopotamians. Special trees, crafty snakes, people being created from clay – all these are standard elements in Mesopotamian mythology that predates the Genesis creation accounts. If modern people understood that the point of mythology is to convey truths that are beyond the factual, perhaps we wouldn’t have such insistence that Eden is fact, despite the facts of science. The Garden of Eden: Myth or Fact? Clearly myth. And that rescues the story from the burden of bearing facts it was never intended to convey.

7 thoughts on “Jehovah’s Eden

  1. Beedo

    A pastor at my church was recently discussing the pitfalls of getting caught up in myth vs fact; he shared with us something he learned from Cherokee story-tellers when growing up:

    The oral narration would start like this – I am going to tell you a story that never was, but always is… – and then end the story like so – I am not sure that that is the way the story happened, but I know that the story is true.

    We can certainly take advice from the native American storytellers when retelling our own mythology.


    • Steve Wiggins

      Thanks, Beedo. Yes, that quote is from Black Elk Speaks; an excellent book that should be read by anyone too caught up in historical thinking. I’ve always thought mythology was underrated.


    • rey

      That might work for a religion that is purely social in which your perform rituals just to band the people together. But when you want to use the threat of eternal burning in hell to extort money out of people, you need inerrant myths that are historically true.


  2. TJ

    There’s a couple points you’re missing here. For one, it isn’t stated that the earth was created some 6,000 years ago. That is merely the date for Eden. The Bible allows for an earth that is billions of years old. Another is that because an Eden-story is found in Mesopotamia, you assume that it originated there. Yet that would also be expected if it were true, would it not? Interestingly, we find legends of a dramatic flood in cultures from all over the world, with many similar features.


  3. Hi Steve. Thanks for your post. Yep. I think the vast majority of meaningless conflicts in the would would disappear if people give up the notion that they know anything, especially anything definitive. All the best.


  4. Walter R. Mattfeld

    I have written two books, both published in 2010, (1) The Garden of Eden Myth: Its Pre-biblical Origin in Mesopotamian Myths, and (2) Eden’s Serpent: Its Mesopotamian Origin. Both are available on the internet at via several book-sellers. My research perspective is that of a secular humanist: Man has created his gods in his own image. I understand the Garden of Eden account is an anti-thesis, a refutation of an earlier thesis, the Mesopotamian (Sumerian) myths about a place called the EDIN, where man is created by the gods to care for their fruit-tree gardens on their behalf. The Mesopotamians understood man was a sinner, in agreement with the Hebrews, but they differed as to why. Man’s creators, the gods, are portrayed as being sinner-gods: they engage in incest with their daughters, rape goddesses, lie to each other, murder each other, break oaths, have sex with animals, and despise man, who they made to be their lowly gardening slave. Every Sumerian city belonged to a god and goddess, because they possess bodies of flesh and can die of starvation, they created city-gardens in the Sumerian EDIN to have food to eat, and avoid dying of starvation. Tiring of the back-breaking work in clearing irrigation canals of clogging sediments, they make man to be their gardening slave. Man will clear the sediments, man will harvest the crops, and present them as food offerings in temples to the gods, thus assuring the gods will not starve to death. Objecting to these notions about why man was created and where, the Hebrews apparently recast the many city-gardens in the EDIN into one garden in EDEN, there being only one GOD, Yahweh-Elohim. EDIN is uncultivated wilderness land, mostly desert (today’s Iraq). The Sumerian EDIN is watered by two rivers, today’s Euphrates and Tigris, which supply water to EDIN’S Fruit-tree gardens, composed mainly of figs and dates, but also wheat for beer and bread. The book on Eden’s Serpent explores the research of some 40 scholars (1850-2010) who attempted to identify what mythical character in Mesopotamian myths was recast as Eden’s Serpent. Both books are illustrated and with maps.


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