The Garden of Eden – paradise among paradises, home of the first people, Adam and Eve, who never had to want for anything until a serpent came along and they fell from grace.
The Garden of Eden is mentioned in the Bible’s Book of Genesis and is an important part of the Jewish and Christian religious beliefs.
The garden was filled with life. Animals, fruits, grace, beauty, contentment – but somehow that paradise wasn’t enough, and it was lost to us through time, assuming you’re a believer that it ever existed at all.
The garden sported a particular tree as the one forbidden temptation – the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent tempted Eve to eat the fruit of the tree and Eve shared with Adam, committing the original sin and losing all of us the access to paradise.
But did the Garden of Eden actually exist?
Did the story of the garden stay alive because it was based on a real location?
If so, where was it?
Well, we’re going to look at some speculation and possible real past locations for the biblical paradise.
Where Oh Where Is the Garden of Eden?
While some scholars write off the Garden of Eden as purely mythological, others wonder if there wasn’t at least some truth in the existence of some garden paradise.
The people who believe that the garden once existed or was based on some similar idyllic location place the Garden of Eden in one of several different spots, all generally clustered in or around the Middle East.
Commonly believed to be written by Moses, we can follow the clues left in the Bible’s Book of Genesis to one of the possible locations of the Garden of Eden as identified in both religion and literature. Moses would have been writing Genesis somewhere between Egypt and the western part of the Middle East, which in itself is a clue to where the garden once was.
Some of Genesis’ directions to the garden are a little lost in translation. One interpretation translates that garden is in the east of Eden, which isn’t helpful as it doesn’t give us a compass direction to work off of since we don’t know where Eden is.
Another translation says that Eden is in the east, which means the Garden of Eden, the garden’s inspiration, or the place of Moses’ dream is located east of Egypt and possibly the far west part of the Middle East (assuming the cardinal compass points we know today are the same ones used in Moses’ time).
There are also the names of four rivers and their physical descriptions mentioned to help identify the garden’s location. Genesis states that a river flowed out of Eden through the Garden of Eden and then split into four other rivers – the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. If the Bible is true, then the rivers have drastically changed course since Genesis was written, but this is normal as thousands of years have passed since then and rivers are known to change course over time.
Unfortunately, only two of the rivers are actually helpful for nailing down a Garden of Eden location – while the Tigris and Euphrates are well-known modern rivers, the Pishon and Gihon either dried up or were renamed because where they are (or if they were ever real) is only speculation.
Genesis says the river Pishon flowed through the land of Havilah while the river Gihon flowed through the land of Cush. There are some rivers and dried up riverbeds that could be potential matches for these rivers, but none fit the Bible’s description and there’s nothing else to prove anything.
The Tigris and Euphrates however, have kept their names and are known to flow primarily through Iraq. Still, they don’t match the river descriptions in Genesis either – they don’t originate from the same source and they don’t intersect with two other rivers.
Again, the course of the rivers today can’t possibly be the same as in the biblical era, both because of how rivers tend to change and because of the biblical flood post-Genesis, which the Bible says changed the face of the earth.
In any case, our best hypothesis for the location of the Garden of Eden based on the religious and literary evidence is modern-day Iraq.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
There’s a chance the Garden of Eden is related to or based on the also somewhat-mythological Hanging Gardens of Babylon. There are many second-hand accounts of the gardens but not really any solid evidence of their existence.
As legends say, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were built by Nebuchadnezzar II as a gift for his wife Amytis who was homesick for the vegetation and mountains of her native land of Media which was in the northwestern part of modern-day Iran.
The gardens are considered one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were made of high stone terraces meant to imitate mountains. The terraces allowed for the aesthetic of hanging vegetation and for easier plant irrigation – imagine the water flowing down from terrace to terrace like waterfalls.
Keeping the gardens alive in the hot, arid climate of ancient Babylon was a great feat of irrigation. While no one’s sure how exactly they did it, scientists hypothesize that they used a system of pumps, waterwheels, cisterns, and water-carrying screws to raise and deliver water from the nearby Euphrates river to the top of the gardens.
There’s also a chance that there was an archaeological mix-up and that the gardens were actually located 300 miles north of Babylon (which was about 50 miles southwest of Baghdad in modern-day Iraq) at Nineveh (near the modern-day Iraqi city of Mosul). Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, the rivals of the Babylonians. That would mean it was the Assyrian king Sennacherib who built the gardens (not Nebuchadnezzar II), and that they were constructed in the early 7th century B.C., a century earlier than scholars originally thought.
Archaeological digs around Nineveh found evidence of an extensive aqueduct system that delivered water down from the mountains with an inscription about King Sennacherib building a watercourse and redirecting it to Nineveh. Bas reliefs in the palace at Nineveh depicted a beautiful and bountiful garden watered by an aqueduct.
Nineveh also would’ve made more sense as the location of the hanging gardens because the topography is rugged which would’ve made getting the water up to the top easier for an ancient civilization to figure out versus on the flat landscape of Babylon.
The location mix up might be why no Babylonian texts talk about the gardens and why archaeologists have come up empty on finding remnants of the garden in the area. Most of the secondhand reports place the gardens at Babylon though.
It’s possible the location confusion happened because the Assyrians later conquered Babylon and the capital Nineveh earned the nickname of the New Babylon.
Perhaps the stories of the two idyllic places are unconnected, or perhaps they belong to the same mythological theme of places of paradise along with the lost city of Atlantis and the Buddhist Nirvana – stories of little utopias that were wished for, or real and magnificent places that took peoples’ breath away.
Will We Ever Find the Real Garden of Eden?
If you subscribe to the Jewish or Christian faith, then yes, there is a chance you could find yourself in the Garden of Eden if you have the good graces to end up in Heaven when you inevitably die.
Otherwise, you can keep your curiosity piqued, your eyes open, and your brain researching for information, hints, and old connections for the possible location of the real Garden of Eden, or similar locations that exist (or existed) around the world.
Maybe someday archaeologists will stumble upon something that proves a Garden of Eden existed, maybe not in its exact utopian Genesis description, but perhaps as a little paradise among the everyday struggles of folks working through life.
Until then, the world’s always fun when there’s a little mystery.