Alice C. Linsley
The final of the nine questions asked by a reader of Just Genesis is : "What about the garden of Eden, real place or myth?"
Answer: A place that existed in real time though not called "Eden" as this word originally meant dark virgin forest. The Afro-Asiatic word for garden or virgin forest is "egan" which is the etiology of the Hebrew "eden." The Hebrew for garden is "gan" but this is derived from an older tradition in Africa.
Asar Imhotep has made this linguistic connection:
Yoruba iju “jungle” is cognate with Egyptian ju “mountain.” The underlying semantic spirit of each term demonstrates a primary connotation of “wilderness.” The wilderness for the Yoruba was the jungle: for the Egyptians it was the inhospitable desert of the red mountains (dsrt). The inhospitable wilderness of the jungle is described in Yoruba as aginju “dark wilderness.” The qualifier agin- (cf. egàn “the soil under the forest cover” – black, fertile, soil) is from the same root oganjo (ogan-jo) “the dark part of the day,” the dead of night, oganjo oru.
According to Genesis, the garden would have been west of Noah's homeland which was Bor'Nu (Land of Noah) near Lake Chad. We assume this based on Genesis 3:24 which states that God drove the human out and caused him "to dwell eastward of the garden." This significant piece of information is not found in every translation of the Bible. However, it can be deduced from the angels being stationed on the east of the garden to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24).
If we accept that the garden existed in real time and that it was west of Lake Chad, where might it be? One possibility is Eredo on the Atlantic coast of Nigeria (see photo above). This is west of where Noah's ark would have landed on Mount Meni in Niger. Mount Meni (har-meni) has been mistakenly rendered in English as Armenia. During the time of Noah's flood, the waters of Mega Chad would have reached Mount Meni. According to David M. Westley, PhD, Director of the African Studies Library at Boston University, "From the center of the Chad Basin to Mount Meni is about 230 miles."
In the time of the Guirian Wet Period when Mega Chad extended many hundreds of miles beyond its present basin, the waters would have extended up the side of Mt. Meni. I believe that is where Noah's ark landed. (For more on this, go here.)
Not, surprisingly there are 2 traditions concerning the location of the garden, one Afro and the other Asiatic. (The same can be said for the 2 creation stories and the 2 flood stories.) The view that Eden was at the western border of Iran is based on the location of the Tigris and Euphrates. The other rivers mentioned in Genesis 2:10-14 are the Pishon and Gihon. We are explicitly told that the Gihon flowed through all the land of Ethiopia. Many ignore this scriptural evidence.
Ethiopians identify the Gihon with the Abay River, which circles the former African kingdom of Gojjam. The Pishon is also in Africa because it "skirts the whole land of Havilah" (Gen, 2:11). Havilah is a son of Cush (Gen. 10:7) and the "Kushites" lived in the upper Nile region. So two rivers are in Mesopotamia and represent the eastern Afro-Asiatic tradition concerning the Garden while the other two rivers are in Africa and represent the western Afro-Asiatic tradition. Both traditions are preserved in Genesis, but obviously the garden can't have been in both places. So where was it? If we accept the Biblical claim that God drove the man out of the garden toward the east and the garden was west of Noah's homeland, we must consider the well-watered region of the Niger-Benue Trough. This region was well forested in the Holocene period and earlier.
The Church Fathers speak of the tree in the Garden as having existence in real time and in the geographical center of the garden. They also speak of the tree analogically. As Adam stretched out his hand and took of the fruit bringing the curse, so Christ stretched out his arms on the Tree and broke the curse. We find this sort of typology throughout the Bible. Another example is the ram caught by its horns in the thicket on Mount Moriah. This too is a type of Jesus on the Cross.
Related reading: Eden: A well-watered region; The Serpent of Eden; The Search for Eden