According to the book of Genesis in the Old Testament of the Bible, the Garden of Eden was an earthly paradise that was home to Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. The Bible says that God created the garden, planting in it "every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food." Eden was a well-watered, fertile place from which four rivers flowed out into the world.
After creating Adam, God placed him in the garden so that he could take care of it. God told Adam that he could eat the fruit from any tree except one: the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God then created animals and birds and gave Adam the task of naming them. Realizing that Adam needed a companion, God caused him to fall asleep, then took one of his ribs and created Eve from it.
Shortly afterward, the serpent—the most cunning of all the animals—approached Eve and asked if God had forbidden her to eat from any of the trees. Eve replied that she and Adam were not allowed to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The serpent told her that God knew that if they ate from the tree of knowledge they would become like gods. He persuaded Eve to eat the fruit of that tree, and Eve convinced Adam to take a bite as well. After they ate, their eyes were opened to the knowledge of good and evil. They realized they were naked and sewed together fig leaves to cover themselves.
Soon they heard God walking through the garden and, ashamed of their nakedness, they hid themselves. God called out to them and when Adam replied that he was hiding because he was naked, God knew that he had eaten the forbidden fruit. Adam admitted that Eve had given him the fruit to eat. When God asked Eve why she had done this, she told him that the serpent had tempted her. God then expelled them from the garden and punished them by causing women to bear children in pain and forcing men to work and sweat for the food they need to live.
The story of the Garden of Eden is an allegory. It explains how humans fell from a state of innocence to one in which they must suffer during life and eventually die.
allegory literary and artistic device in which characters represent an idea or a religious or moral principle
The peoples of ancient Mesopotamia* also believed in an earthly paradise named Eden, located somewhere in the east. According to some ancient sources, the four main rivers of the ancient Near East—the Tigris, Euphrates, Halys, and Araxes—flowed out of the garden. Scholars today debate the origin of the word Eden. Some believe it comes from a Sumerian* word meaning "plain." Others say it is from the Persian word heden, meaning "garden."
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.