If we thought the creation story in Genesis 1 was the Bible's definitive statement on creation, and that it would now move on to what happened next, we'd be mistaken. It seems the first four verses of Genesis chapter 2 complete the scenario in chapter 1, ending halfway through verse 4:

These were the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,

In Genesis chapter 1 we've already had a description of the creation of various life forms on earth, culminating in the creation of man. But there is a significant change in Genesis chapter 2, verse 4. Instead of Elohim, the Gods, or Immortals, we have 'the Lord God.' That's Yhwh Elohim. Yhwh of the Immortals. Many Biblical scholars think that Genesis 1 was the beginning of a text, and that now we have a transition to another text. This happens frequently in the Bible. Instead of one text surviving, a number of texts have survived and are patched together, sometimes quite awkwardly, causing repetition. We've just come upon one such join. So, according to this theory, called the documentary theory (see Note 1 below), a theory which seems reasonable in the circumstances, we can see that the second text rounds off the first and then continues with its own story (verse 5):

And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and (there was) not a man to till the ground.

We find in this version the ambiguous statement 'there was not a man to till the ground.' This could mean that there were no men on earth, and that might seem a logical assumption because as we shall next see, the text goes on to describe the making of man by Yhwh Elohim. The commentary in the Torah referenced here says 'the Lord God is pronounced Adonai Elohim'(Note 3, and see my The Obelisk chapter 5, elsewhere on this web site, for a discussion of use of the word Adonai). But there could be another interpretation: not that there was no man, but that there was no farmer (no man to till the ground). In other words, there were hunter gatherers but not yet agriculturalists. This would then be describing the advent of a farming society, which began it seems at about the time the last ice age was retreating: say, 10-12,000 years ago. Now let's continue with the Genesis 2 text, remembering that 'the Lord God' is really 'Yhwh of the Immortals':

6. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.

7. And the Lord God formed man (of) the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

8. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.

9. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

10. And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.

11. The name of the first is Pison: that (is) it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where (there is) gold.

12. And the gold of that land (is) good: there (is) bdellium and the onyx stone.

13. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same (is) it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.

14. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that (is) it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river (is) Euphrates.

15. And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

What follows is the story of the creation of Eve from Adam's rib; forbiddance to touch the trees of life and knowledge; Eve's surrender to temptation by the serpent; she involves Adam; they are both driven out of the garden of Eden by Yhwh; Cain and Abel are born to the couple; Cain kills Abel; and the history of the ancestors is under way.

I don't propose to involve us in reviewing any of these subsequent events. My primary objective is whether the Eden story is fact or fiction, and for that I suggest we need only consider the verses already quoted. If Eden was a real place, we may be able to determine its location. If that doesn't prove possible, it leaves the question of actuality of the story unsolved. Because these particular verses need to be considered carefully in this investigation I suggest we next consult a translation other than the KJV we've just used. But instead of using the modern Revised Standard Version, or the New American Bible, or The Complete Bible, or The Bible in Order, or The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, or the North American translation of the Torah, I propose to refer to the translation by James Moffatt, DD. D Litt. MA (Oxon). He appears to have been an independent scholar at Oxford and must have been courageous to have tackled this enormous task, full of academic pitfalls. His translation is just over 300 years later than the KJV.

Dr. Moffatt subscribes to the documentary theory, as shown in Note 1. Here we may say that in some forms it sees a J (Jahwist) or L (lay) old source, an E (Eloist) old source, and a somewhat later D (Deuteronomist) and finally a P (Priestly) source. Dr. Moffatt kindly provides markers in his text to identify which source(s) he thinks responsible for a particular verse or section. From this we find that the entire section we're interested in from Genesis 2 is by J. Many scholars who accept the documentary theory think that Genesis chapter 1 is by P as are the first few verses of Genesis 2.

In his introduction Dr. Moffatt says:

One crucial instance of the difficulty offered by a Hebrew term lies in the prehistoric name given at the exodus by the Hebrews to their God. Strictly speaking this ought to be rendered "Yahweh" which is familiar to modern readers in the erroneous form of "Jehovah." Were this version intended for students of the original, there would be no hesitation whatever in printing "Yahweh." But almost at the last moment I have decided with some reluctance to follow the practice of the French scholars and of Matthew Arnold (though not exactly for his reasons), who translated this name by "the Eternal."

I see no reason why we should follow him in this, and therefore have restored the word Yhwh ( earlier form without vowels) for 'the Eternal' in his translation:

5b. For Yhwh had not sent rain on earth, and there was no one to till the soil -

6. though a mist used to rise from the earth and water all the surface of the ground.

7. Then Yhwh moulded man from the dust of the ground, breathing into his nostrils the breath of life; this was how man became a living being.

8. In the land of Eden, to the far east, Yhwh then planted a park, where he put the man whom he had moulded.

9. And from the ground Yhwh made all sorts of trees to grow that were delightful to see and good to eat, with the tree of life and the tree that yields knowledge of good and evil in the centre of the park.

10. From Eden a river flowed to water the park, which on leaving the park branched into four streams;

11. The name of the first is Pison (the one which flows all round the land of Havilah, where there is gold -

12. Fine gold in that land! - and pearls and beryls),

13. The name of the second is Gihon (the one which flows all round the land of Ethiopia),

14. The name of the third is Hiddekel (the one which flows west of Assyria), and the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15. Yhwh took man and put him in the park of Eden, to till it and to guard it.

What we need to do now is to consider these verses carefully, in both translations, and decide if we can whether this is fact or fiction.


Dr. Moffatt's translation (1926, Richard R. Smith, New York) has a rather lengthy introduction. Here are some excerpts which may help us, taken sequentially:

The old Testament is a collection of religious literature... none of the books in this collection is earlier than the 7th or 8th century BC... nearly all have been more or less edited after their original composition ... Here and there influences from Egypt, or from Assyria and the East, no less than from Greece, have been detected... This literary creativeness probably sprang up during Solomon's reign... the mutual desire to gather up the primitive traditions of the people prior to the monarchy, Judahite (J) one for the northern realm (E)... Both narratives started from the beginning. The differences between the two are well marked ... both have survived... we have repeatedly two more or less parallel versions side by side, extracts from one being welded into the framework of the other... Nor was this the end... in the year 621 BC a religious reformation along prophetic lines was started... somehow connected with our present book of Deuteronomy... Another production was the special priestly code enforced by Ezra on the Jewish community about 444 BC... It is fairly clear that out of such sources... there was compiled after the exile the composition known as the Pentateuch... under the Ptolemies in Egypt the Old Testament was first translated - into the Greek language, other versions were made... into Syriac for example... The Septuagint enables us often to reach a purer text than the late Hebrew masoretic tradition... sometimes its variations suggest that both are later ... editions of the earlier autograph... even from the Hebrew text we can infer that some books perished... Such is the literature here translated into English... The traditional masoretic text though of primary value is often desperately corrupt... broken or defective, though an English version usually conceals this.

EF comment: The Pentateuch is the first five books of the Old Testament of the Bible.


Dr. Moffatt allocates all Genesis 1 to the P or priestly later source, and Genesis 2 to the J source described in Note 1.


The edition of the Torah used here is the 1974 edition by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, New York: the English translation published 1967 by the Jewish Publication Society, with a modern Commentary by Dr. and Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation audio taped my hour long discussion with Rabbi Plaut, which was mainly concerned with textual problems in the chapters relating to the Exodus and my preparation of a two hour radio documentary on The Red Sea Crossing, now revised, updated, and posted elsewhere on my website.