🔼The name Eden: Summary
- Delight, Finery, Luxury
- From the noun עדן ('eden), delight, finery or luxury.
🔼The name Eden in the Bible
The name Eden occurs three times in the Bible:
- The first and most famous Eden relates to the location of the paradisal garden in which Adam and Eve lived their pre-fall existence (Genesis 2:8). The garden of Eden — which was actually "east of Eden" or "just prior to Eden" (see קדם, qedem, east or antiquity) — is marked by four rivers: Pishon, Gihon, Haddakel and Parat (Genesis 2:13-14).
- The second Eden is either a person or a region probably somewhere in Mesopotamia (Ezekiel 27:33). The prophet Isaiah speaks of 'sons of Eden who were in Telassar' (37:12, 2 Kings 19:12). Sometimes the word "son" is used for inhabitants (sons of Jerusalem = inhabitants of Jerusalem) but since Telassar is already a location, Eden is probably their human ancestor.
- The third Eden is a Levite in the days of king Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:12).
Of course, we must note that the name Eden was applied to Paradise in retrospect, unless we assume that God named the place Eden. We don't exactly know where Eden was, but apparently it is where four rivers sprouted from an unnamed mother river, like a delta. It is generally accepted that this location should be somewhere around the modern rivers Tigris and Euphrates, but these two rivers come from different sources and combine, instead of the other way around. And there is also no trace of the two other rivers. To make matters even worse, the Bible lists these rivers as Haddakel for Tigris and Parat for Euphrates. These names may even indicate two totally different rivers.
The description of the location of the rivers is also not very revealing: The Pishon flows in the land Havilah, which is according to Genesis 25:18 somewhere between Egypt and Assyria, but which may just as well denote the Indus river. The Gihon flows in Cush, which is usually associated with Nubia and Ethiopia. The Haddakel flows east of Assyria, and of the Parat no location is given. This may be simply because the Torah in the form that we have it was finalized during the exile in Babylon, and nobody there needed to be explained where the Parat (=Euphrates) went.
It should be noted that the Bible is not so interested in geographical features but rather in human affairs. Complex human civilizations invariably emerged associated to rivers, and the story of the one river that became four appears to speak of how the hunter-gatherer culture that existed relatively homogeneous across the human world polarized into four major centers of early civilization, in the Indus Valley, Nubia, Anatolia and Sumer. See our article on Exodus for more on this.
🔼Etymology of the name Eden
There is some dispute over the meaning of the name Eden. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names, NOBSE Study Bible Name List and even the Septuagint note that Eden is similar to the Hebrew word עדן ('eden) meaning finery, luxury, delight:
Root עדן ('eden) has to do with free exchange of broadly diverse information, services and goods — which is where wealth comes from, in the modern understanding of economy. Nouns עדן ('eden), עדנה ('edna) and מעדן (ma'adan) mean delight, finery or luxury. Adjective עדין ('adin) means delightful or luxurious. Verb עדן ('adan) means to luxuriate or to delight.
BDB Theological Dictionary and HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament nevertheless claim the name Eden from the Akkadian word edinu based on the Sumerian word eden, meaning Plain, Steppe.
Whatever the original name-giver meant to say with the name Eden is unclear, but any Hebrew audience would have heard a meaning of Delight or Luxury.
For a meaning of the name Eden, The NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Delight, Pleasantness. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names renders Paradise, A Place Of Delight.