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Where is the Garden of Eden?

Discussing the first portion of Genesis chapter 2 in Sunday School last week, the question was brought up about the current location Garden of Eden today??

Two major views attempting to answer this question that are prominent today were developed during the Protestant Reformation. Prior to the 16th century, the majority of readers of Genesis considered the garden account to be allegorical (not literal, but pointing towards a relationship between God and man). During the Reformation, Luther and Calvin developed theories on the location of the garden based on their high view of Scripture.

Martin Luther believed the garden's location was lost due to the flood, and John Calvin believed the text of the Bible could help identify the location.

Here are the highlights of each position -

Lost in Noah's Flood (Martin Luther):

  • Distinguished between the paradise in Genesis 2 and that of the New Testament

  • Rejected the allegorical interpretation of paradise

  • Original location of the garden of Eden that was known to Adam & his descendants was obliterated by the effects of Noah's flood

  • The geographical conditions of the region have changed significantly, including the rivers mentioned as borders of the garden

Textual Evidence (John Calvin):

  • Garden was situated "on the East" - which he took to mean east of the land of Judah

  • According to Genesis, only one river flowed through the garden and then parted in to four heads. From ancient geographers, Calvin noticed that the Tigris and Euphrates "flowed together for some distance before splitting off again. It was at that spot that Calvin located the garden" (Sailhamer, Genesis Unbound, p. 229).

As John Sailhamer acknowledges while writing about this question:

"Thus there have been two primary methods of identifying the location of the garden of Eden. The approach taken by Luther assumed that the exact site could not be identified because the garden had been destroyed by Noah's flood. Despite that, however, Luther and others did attempt to find evidence of its location. The approach taken by Calvin attempted to interpret the textual data in such a way that a contemporary site could be identified.

To the extent that modern biblical commentaries understand Genesis 2 in realistic and literal terms, the approach of Calvin is still followed. Like Calvin, most modern attempts at identifying the garden of Eden center on Mesopotamia" (Sailhamer, Genesis Unbound, p. 230).

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