Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Garden of Eden

Where was the Garden of Eden? The fascination with that question seems to be revived every few years as new evidence for the beginning of human civilization comes to light.

That there was a Garden of Eden seems confirmed by the many legends and myths sourced in the early era of human civilization. In fact, those legends are often the starting point for archaeologists. (Of course, the Bible's account in Genesis is included among the legends.) One archaeologist, David Rohl, has done extensive research in the literature of the Ancient Middle East (AME) and on the ground in northern Iran where he believes Eden was located. See "The Secret Garden", an article published in The Sunday Times in 1998. Rohl's argument is based on the fact that humans first developed agriculture in the general area of Mesopotamia or northern Iran some 12,000 years ago.(This is debated among scientists, of course, almost everything is. Some argue that agriculture began at almost the same time, 10,000 years ago in South America, Europe, Asia, and in Mesopotamian region - which would itself beg the question how could simultaneous development have happened.)

Rohl explored the region of northern Iran and found what he considered a place that would fit the description of the Eden in both the Bible and ancient Sumerian legends. His reasoning and conclusion are fascinating. But there are other candidates for Eden.

Archaeologist Juris Zarins, whose work on Eden is summarized by Dora Jane Hamblin in "Has the Garden of Eden been located at last?", places the Garden of Eden along the lower Euphrates River in about 6000 B.C. when the ocean levels were much lower. The area now is inundated by the Persian Gulf. Dr. Zarins' scientific work is impressive.

Both locations would account for the legends. The scientific work on the ground and the analysis of ancient literature in both cases affirm that there was such a place as Eden.

The Christian Creationist argument, interestingly, takes the position that the location of Eden cannot be found nor should we expect it to be. Noah's flood would have obliterated any remnant of the Garden of Eden under huge deposits of sediment laid down by the flood. Mark Looy's article, "Was the Garden of Eden Located in Iraq?" follows that argument. In his favor, there are huge sedimentary deposits under the Euphrates plain. Creationists would also argue that the oil deposits in the Middle East are the result of the inundation of the flood. There certainly are huge oil deposits.

I am not going to take sides to argue one position above the others. But I do find it intriguing that the legend of the Garden of Eden and the Genesis narrative is finding more and more support from archaeologists as being founded in real human history. Clearly, human civilization began in the Middle East. Agriculture began there. Many crops cultivated today were first cultivated there. Domestication of animals began there. A short time later (in archaeological terms)a remarkable explosion of technology happened among the Sumerians of the lower Mesopotamian region. Writing developed there. The earliest scientific inquiries are attributed to the Sumerians somewhere around 6000 years ago. This was a special place. Why?

I am inclined to think that this development was more than happen-chance. It was the product of humanity, a humanity whose history began at a moment in time some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago when Homo sapiens spiritus (Man wise spiritual), true man, appeared. I'd like to call him Adam. It seems only right.