Natufian Culture and the Garden of Eden

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" Natufian territory is in the heartland of biblical Eden which extended from the Upper Nile to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, according to Genesis 2:10-14."

Say what now?

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@Alice_Linsley has a particular view of origins she blends with archeology. Keep in mind the location of Eden is described at length in Genesis. Even if Eden is a myth that location is real. Even if the exact location is debates it probably refered to a real place at one time, as was the custom in mythology.

Not if it’s a mythical location. You find me a place where this actually happens:

“And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.”

Now, of these, only the Euphrates can be identified, unless you think that Gihon means Nile, for which there is no real evidence. Certainly the Nile and the Euphrates come from no common source. Further, if you recall Eden is now protected from human intrusion by an angel with a flaming sword, yet millions of people live where that site claims Eden was. Finally, the garden wasn’t all that large a place, yet the site claims that it encompasses territory from Egypt through to Iraq. That location description corresponds to nothing real; doubtless it meant something to the folks who wrote it, but was it even meant to point to a real, known place? One may doubt.

There are many locations in various mythologies that are not real places. Where is Asgard? Prester John’s kingdom? The garden of the Hesperides? Ultima Thule?

How about “could” be real.

We have to know the original rivers. From what I understand you can see the convergence of four rivers in the Persian Gulf Oasis. I wonder if @deuteroKJ can comment on what the current view is on the description of Eden’s location.

John - Genesis to me is a mythological story written in a certain time period in a certain location by an ancient people. By reading the text and doing archaeology, anthropology and ancient DNA sequencing we can find out a lot about the ancient people, their culture, and their mythology. For example, the Battle of Troy, and Helen of Troy, mythology or embellishment on real events?

I agree with you Eden was a mythological garden. But the writers didn’t place it in Australia, or the Americas because they had no clue that such places existed. They put it in the area of the Euphrates somewhere. Can’t you read the mythology from the mind of these ancient people? Their whole world was between those four rivers. They placed Eden in a safe spot in their world. I find it interesting to match up the anthropology the genomics with the mythology. We can find out when these people and culture invented their God and shaped their God into their protector, creator and agent keeping their culture going.


There is no one current view, and the whole discussion gets complex because of many assumptions brought to it. First, one must ask if the rivers match the known rivers today (Tigris and Euphrates)–though we don’t know the other two (though Gihon is a spring in Jerusalem!). Some (even Ken Ham) suggest they are NOT the same as the known rivers today (which makes sense from a global flood perspective, for the original rivers would’ve been wiped out). Second, one must ask if the known rivers are intended to actually map on literally to ANE geography. That is, in principle, could we actually locate a specific place for Eden; or is the story using names of known rivers but not intending a one-to-one correspondence? (If one answers “no,” this would fit with a still-real Eden or a mythological view.)

So, if there were originally four rivers, with two being the Tigris and Euphrates, then we would obviously look either in the north or south. This type of “search” often involves speculation about things like changing geography and direction of water flow.

But there are other options less literalistic. There is an old Jewish view (shared by some in church history and by scholars today [including me!] that sees the description of Eden to be Canaan itself. I can’t get into the arguments here, but this view makes a lot of sense of many textual features (e.g., going east of Eden), and is consistent with the view that the story of Adam and Eve maps onto the story of Israel (e.g., the Temple imagery). @swamidass this view would support your focus on early Genesis focusing on the line of Adam and not all “humans.”

Another angle–which is not alternate to, but consistent with, the previous one (Eden = Canaan)–is viewing Eden as the original meeting place of the Divine Council. This argument is based, in part, on the allusions in Ezekiel 28 and the ANE concept of the “cosmic mountain” (with Jerusalem as a cosmic mountain itself; see especially Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm). The basic idea is that Adam and Eve were being groomed, so to speak, to be members of the council, and the serpent (a divine being and council member) grew jealous of YHWH’s inclusion of humans (this resonates with things @jongarvey has said as well, though I don’t know how much of the larger picture Jon would buy). To the point of the post, a cosmic mountain is a halfway point between heaven and earth…and thus not really a “place” we could literally find. It’s mythology (in the technical not popular sense), but mythology that is “real” and true nonetheless. It does not (necessarily) reject an historical Adam or Fall, but does push against the more traditional way of thinking through these things (but, as stated above, this is not a new idea for the rabbis considered these things way back and arise with no interest in science but wrestling with the text and its historical-cultural context).

One name to be on the lookout for is Michael LeFebvre. I was asked by a publisher to peer review a manuscript of his dealing calendars in the Pentateuch, including a unique view of Genesis 1 and some intention on the interface of faith and science (it was ultimately rejected by that publisher, but it is now being published by another major Christian publisher). Through that, we connected, and he has shared other yet-to-be-published papers (one in particular convinced me of the Eden=Canaan thesis). I won’t say more since these are still in process, but the papers (and the book) do a good job at wrestling with the issues pertinent to Peaceful Science…and may help @swamidass’ thesis in some ways.

I know this may produce follow-up questions. However, I don’t know my availability over the next couple of weeks. Besides my normal teaching duties, I’ve got a chapter of my book to finish and I head to CO next week for a week-long speaking/teaching engagement.

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Let’s remember that the four rivers start as a single river in Eden and then separate. Real rivers just don’t do that. It’s a made-up place, located somewhere the writers were not familiar with, like the Isle of Avalon or Huy Braseal, but connected to known lands by the rivers it was supposed to be the source of. One suspects that the writers were not familiar with the locations of the headwaters of any of those rivers, whatever they correspond to.

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Excuse me?


start here.

@deuteroKJ, keep in mind that @John_Harshman is an atheist that thinks Genesis is a bunch of hogwash.


That’s one option, but there are other considerations. The author(s) may be more sophisticated than we give them credit for.

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Yes, i understand. But trying to understand the author’s intent (right or wrong) is still important. I’m fine with skepticism or rejection of belief systems, but I hope one doesn’t dismiss ancient authors/thinkers as necessarily unsophisticated. It’s a strange thing when atheists and Christian fundamentalists share the same simplistic notions of authorial intent. I’m definitely not accusing @John_Harshman of this…I’ve seen nothing from him to suggest this.

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The divine council idea not only makes sense in context, but also seems to accord with early Christian understandings of the atonement (ie the ransom theory). I know that Seth Postell, the “Adam is Israel” man, is keen on “Canaan is Eden” too, and theologically that makes sense, in that the “prequel” of Holy Zion in Abraham’s sacrifice on Mount Moriah shows the centrality of the Land to Hebrew thought.

However, there seem to me to be indications that an actual place and time outsiede Canaan are in view, rather than the mythicised Land marked by impossibilities. The Euphrates was always a theoretical northern border to Canaan - and in Genesis its position is (therefore) undescribed, but the Tigris is located as flowing round Asshur, which has no clear reationship to Israel, but plenty with Mesopotamia, where we find literary parallels to the protohistory. Likewise, Havilah is theogically insignificant, but is described by products that suit a geograohical relationship to a couple of “candidate” sites in upper or lower Mesopotamia.

Then again, the area of the cities of the plain seen by Abraham later in Genesis is described as “like the garden of God”, which could be simply a metaphor of abundance (but not by any stretch a mountain, the Jordan flowing into the lowest point on earth), or might be a reference to a fertile floodplain.

Such considerations, and the rather uniquely dysjointed effect of making it a mythologized Canaan (two real rivers off in the same direction, the Nile, and Jerusalem’s water supply, but no river Jordan) predispose me to think of a real geo-historical setting, and there are one or two that can work pretty well in the right time frame.

I’m not quite so on-board with Heiser’s very definite scheme of Eden as the mountain of God, presumably Mount Zaphon, which isn’t even in Canaan, and the divine council as having a vacancy for Adam - it seems to me the role of Adam is described (in the whole metanarrative) as bypassing the divine council and eventually governing it together with the world, to the chagrin of “the Serpent.”

To me, it’s significant that the garden appears in the text to be planted on earth for Adam’s use, rather than being God’s own dwelling in which Adam gets a lodging. In that respect it’s more like the tabernacle, not being a house for God at the holy place where he dwells, but a locus that becomes God’s holy dwelling by covenenant.


That seems a bit extreme. “Not based to a significant degree on any real events” would be a more exact term. Whether the writers actually thought they were recounting history is an interesting question. But there are many Christians who don’t consider it historical, aren’t there? You don’t have to be an atheist to take that position.

Can we agree that Genesis 1 is an adaptation of and response to the Enuma Elish, and that the Noah story is a version of the Utnapishtim story?

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Which considerations are you thinking of?

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Very interesting. I’ve always been told that “elohim” was plural only in form and was just another name for the singular God AKA YHWH. Thanks.


No - the idea that Genesis 1 and Enuma elish are related literature has long been debunked. The link with the Atrahasis story is something else.

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Has it?