Re: Issues in Genesis

Dick Fischer (
Tue, 21 May 1996 20:34:23 -0500

Jack Collins wrote:

>The discussion between Dick Fischer and Glenn Morton brought up a number of
>issues in the interpretation of Genesis, some of which are surveyed by Richard
>Hess in a recent issue of _Science & Christian belief_ (I'm sorry, I don't have
>it here so I can't give particulars).

_Science & Christian Belief_, Vol. 7, No 2, pp. 141-149.

>He touches on, among other things, the
>name Adam (and see his full study mentioned in one of the footnotes of that
>article), personal names in the Ancient Near East (see Hess' PhD thesis on
>that, available through Eisenbrauns), the meaning of Eden (he cites a study
>by Alan Millard showing that "desert" won't work)...

The article Hess quoted was "The Etymology of Eden," _Vetus Testamentum_,
XXXIV, 1 (1984), pp. 103-106.

Millard begins his article with, "Current scholarship offers two
explanations for 'Eden' denoting the place where God planted the garden
in which man lived. One seeks the origin of the name in an Akkadian word
borrowed from Sumerian, the other in the Semitic stem `dn, "abundant,
lush"." In the next paragraph he states, " There is abundant evidence
to show that edin was the normal Sumerian word for "steppe, plain ..."
(S. R. Driver suggested "plain," "prairie," or "desert" as the intended
meaning for Sumerian edin and cited the Accadian edinu as the equivalent.)

Millard cites biblical Hebrew for his support of `dn as the root of Eden,
plus the recovery of a single statue of king Had-yis`i in northern Syria.
He goes on to say, "In the first part of the parallel Assyrian and Aramaic
texts stands a series of epithets of Hadad as god of life-giving water.
He is styled "water controller of heaven and earth ... water controller of
all rivers, who makes lands abound." The inscription wherein Millard found
the Aramaic `dn can be traced to the "mid-ninth century B.C."

Now the ninth century BC is over 1,000 years after the Sumerian
civilization ended. To use this later evidence to deny the Sumerian origin
of the word is tantamount to asserting that Cheyenne is a city in Wyoming
without recognizing it was named after a tribe of native Americans. Which
came first? Hadad was the god of irrigation. Where is it necessary to
irrigate? Look at the desert southwest. Phoenix, Arizona stands as a
thriving, lush paradise in the middle of a desert due solely to irrigation.

The same thing was true in ancient Sumer. I have seen an early map of the
region where a large section of land was called "the edin." It was too
large an area to be irrigated, but I didn't see any particular feature that
would distinguish it from any other section of desert.

I believe it should be easy to see how the word could have evolved from
pertaining to a desert area to a garden area after it became irrigated.

Millard's last paragraph begins, "Neither explanation of Eden can be
finally established as the right one: this example of the cognate verb in
Old Aramaic, with its context, reinforces the earlier interpretation (Eden
as paradise). While that might still be claimed as secondary, or as a
popular etymology, the objections to the Babylonian etymology make it much
weaker than its champions have allowed."

Millard is presenting a minority view "that might still be claimed as
secondary." So I don't think I need to apologize for holding to a viewpoint
that is still in first place among Sumerologists.

What surprised me in Hess's article is that in his section titled "Eden,"
he ends with, "A participle form of `dn appears in the Aramaic text. This
is rendered in the Akkadian by a participle (mutahhidu) which means, 'to
make an abundant water supply'. The name, Eden, refers to a well watered
land. Thus it should not be surprising that an important characteristic
of the land is the presence of four rivers."

Excuse me? Did Hess go out for lunch at the tail end of that last sentence?
Can you spell i-r-r-i-g-a-t-i-o-n, Richard?

>... and the relationship of Gen 1 and 2
>(on which also, may I suggest my article, "The wayyiqtol as 'pluperfect':
>When and why", _Tyndale Bulletin_ 46.1 (1995), 118-140, especially 135-140).

I have no disagreement with your article as a possible explanation for the
order of presentation of animals and then man in Genesis 1 with the reverse
in Genesis 2.

Dick Fischer
* *
* *
* An Answer in the Creation - Evolution Debate *
* *
* Web page - *
* *