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The Garden of Eden (Genesis chap. 2, verse 8)

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed

Why the author gives a so inaccurate geographical indication? “In the east”. Surely he lived at the West. But where was the Garden of Eden? Exegetes usually interpret “in the east” as an indication of the place in which the author lived. In fact, on the base of the common identification of Eden – in the course of the Middle Euphrates – the author had to live at the West, presumably in Judea. At that time, Judea was abandoned and devastated, after the invasion of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC.

However, “in the east ” it is much more than a geographical indication. The “east” represents the origin, since it is from that point the sun rises every day. Therefore, the “east” is the goal and the desire of the human heart, which yearns for a place to realize his dreams; a place in which to be reborn to a new self-awareness …

At “the east” and not “at the West” the Lord God planted a garden. In Aramaic, this latter word is “pardes” and it is from this word that stems our word “paradise”. “Eden”, instead, is a Hebrew word that means “delight, pleasure”. From the combination of these two words “paradise” and “delight” derives the common image of the “earthly paradise”, as a place of pleasures, beauty and where men and women haven’t to work. As we shall see, the things are quite different … 

God placed man he had just created in the “Garden of Eden”. So God didn’t leave man in the primordial earth from which he was taken (Gen 2:7 ). Rather he wanted to place man in paradise. To underline this very positive divine intention, Genesis repeats it twice (cf. Gen 2:8 and 2:15 ).

Eden was the place where God Himself dwelled. Eden was his garden (cf. Ezekiel 28). Created in his own image, man couldn’t live anywhere else. Man could live only in the place where God lived, because from God he had received the life. 

Indeed, the hebrew text can be translated also in this way: “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden, TO PUT the man he had formed.” And if Eden was a fertile region of Mesopotamia, the garden that God planted was a “delightful place in a land of delights”. All this to say that the God is a being full of kindness and love for the creature he had formed with his hands.

In this text we can also see the desire of man created by God. The poor farmer who lived in Judea could not surrender to the fact that the land promised to the fathers was that where he lived every day. A desolate and destroyed land, without the Jerusalem’s Temple and without hope. No! At the beginning, God wanted man lived in a land of delights, at the east, far from toils and sufferings. If man didn’t live anymore in the  garden of Eden it means that something was occurred …

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Simone Venturini

Writer and Researcher at Vatican Secret Archives, Professor of Bible at Pontifical University of the Holy Cross od Rome

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