And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
There is often confusion between “garden” and “Eden”, as if they were the same thing. Eden, instead, as presented in Genesis, was a fertile region in which stood the “garden” mentioned in chapter two and that will be the scenario of what will happen in chapter 3.
Many have attempted to identify the exact place that the author of Genesis had in mind when he described this place of delight. For some, for example, a place called Eden was in western Iran, not far from Tabriz; for others it was in Mesopotamia, as confirmed by the next reference to Tigris and Euphrates (see Gen 2:11).
The Hebrew word “Eden” indicates a place with a luxuriant vegetation. A place that, in all likelihood, coincided with a concrete place in the mind and imagination of the ancient Israelites. However, beyond the identification attempts, it is important to the observation point through which we read these stories. We could imagine to live in the garden of Eden. We know that God planted in it every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food (Gen 2:8). Just look the painting of the great Flemish painter Jan Brueghel the Elder – Paradise with original sin – to try to imagine the luxuriant vegetation and of Eden’s garden. But there is also another observation point from which to understand the meaning of the earthly paradise.
It is the observation point of those who lived in the Judea devastated by the Babylonians (towards the end of VI century BC.) Judea was reduced to a desolate country, with no more Temple, no more hope. In Judea lived the minority of Jews – mostly exiled Babylon – who farmed a land producing just “thorns and thistles” (cf. Gen 3:18). For them the garden of Eden was placed in “the east” (Gen 2:8) and was the desired goal of every farmer struggling with a land barren and poor of fruits.
God had placed in the garden of Eden the man just created, not in the arid Judean of the sixth century! This, in a nutshell, is the original project of God for man. And if we are no longer in the garden, we can still desire with all our strength to get there. Not so much (or not only) the desire to go to a geographical place, but to get a substantially different situation, marked by communion with God and with the full knowledge of ourselves.
In the garden there is also the source of the river that irrigated throughout the known world at that time. In the garden there is the source, our origin, the only water that can quench the aridity of our inner arid land. Sure, you can drink the water flowing downstream, but it never will be as fresh and clean as that which comes from the mountain …