Eden represents the idealized human past…and future.

The paradigm of all gardens is Eden. The opening chapters of the Torah, Genesis, present the concept of earth as a primal paradise, the Garden of Eden, in Hebrew,Gan Eden, גן עדן. There the first person, Adam, is formed from the earth, adamah,and the first job in the world is that of gardener.

Where is this garden?

Eden has been understood as a physical place, a geographic site perhaps somewhere in the ancient fertile crescent of Mesopotamia, the birthplace of agriculture and civilization.

Public garden in British Columbia, via FlickrEden can better be understood as a mythological site, the symbol of an idealized past: an ecological paradise where harmony reigns and little effort is required to live abundantly. Unfortunately, the Eden story culminates in exile from this earthly Paradise (Genesis 3).

In later Jewish tradition, Gan Eden becomes a synonym for Paradise, Heaven, the afterlife.

An Edenic Garden of delights is also a pervasive motif in the Song of Songs,Shir Hashirim, שיר השירים the Bible’s book of luscious, sensual love poetry, what Rabbi Arthur Waskow calls, “Eden for Grownups.”

The Future of Eden

Eden is also the symbol of a an idealized future, whether seen through traditional concepts of a Messianic age of peace and harmony, or modern ideas of a humanistic paradise-on-earth:

Then all will live in harmony with each other and the earth,

And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.

–From Merger Poem by artist Judy Chicago


Consider and comment: What does the Garden of Eden mean to you?

Featured Image: Earth Day Flags, Chico, California, by JHD

Continue to learn about two creation stories in the Torah, or return to the Gateway of Gardens.