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Thinking about Genesis 2, 3 - Impressions and Expressions of Ijon
September 21st, 2003
01:33 am

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Thinking about Genesis 2, 3
Reading the book of Genesis, ever so slowly and between a lot of other things, I came upon a few interesting points:

1. The name Ashur (Assyria, אשור) appears in Genesis 2:14 -- "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." [KJV], וְשֵׁם הַנָּהָר הַשְּׁלִישִׁי חִדֶּקֶל, הוּא הַהֹלֵךְ קִדְמַת אַשּׁוּר; וְהַנָּהָר הָרְבִיעִי, הוּא פְרָת. Now, I could have sworn Assyria is not mentioned in Genesis, or anywhere in the Pentateuch (Torah). The Assyrian empire only comes into play much later on, and I did not remember it was explicitly mentioned right at the beginning of Genesis, assumed to be the earliest material in the Bible. The myths presented in the first chapters of Genesis are strongly influenced by other Mesopotamian cultures, of course, but the Assyrians became culturally meaningful much, much after the Genesis myths were formed. Why would the city/land of Ashur be used as a coordinate when describing the physical location of the Garden of Eden?

I can think of only two explanations:
  • This version of the myths, i.e. the myths as written by the author of Genesis (or of this section of Genesis), was written when Assyria was a meaningful power and therefore a meaningful landmark. I.e. the author is trying to explain the location to his contemporaries, and to them, "east of Assyria" is meaningful, whereas perhaps "Northwest of Sumer" would be less so.
  • This is a later edit of the text; the original author gave coordinates that struck the later editor as incomprehensible or merely obscure, and so the reference was changed to Ashur.
My Bible encyclopedia is, sadly, silent on this point. It does not annotate this mention of Ashur at all.

What do you think?

2. A linguistic shot in the dark: The Canaanite (originally Ugaritic) goddess Anat (or Anath, or Tanith, or Antit, etc.) was known throughout the east Mediterranean, from Syria through Canaan to Egypt (the mysterious Hyksos named their capital Tanis!).

Now, in Genesis 2:23, in the original Hebrew, we find the first mention of 'man' and 'woman' (איש, אשה), complete with a proposed etymology: וַיֹּאמֶר הָאָדָם זֹאת הַפַּעַם עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי וּבָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי; לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּׁה, כִּי מֵאִישׁ לֻקְחָה זֹּאת. This etymology is probably just a "folk" etymology, as the roots are different: א.י.ש לעומת א.נ.ש. The plural of איש is אישים, and the form אנשים is much later.

So, אשה is from א.נ.ש, and if we just take that root and transform the Shin into a Tav, as is common between Aramaic and Hebrew (שור = תורא etc.), Arabic and Hebrew and, I think, also between Ugaritic and Hebrew, we have אנת (Anat), which is certainly one variant of the goddess's name, although the canonical Hebrew form is ענת, using the different consonant Ayin. Anat is the wife of the god Baal, which literally means "husband". Adam and Eve were Ish and Isha (from 'anash'), like Baal and Anat. I have no theory, but it just strikes me as a fun resemblance.

And what about the Arabic root int- (as in 'inte', 'inti', you (sg.))? Is that at all related to the Hebrew א.נ.ש? Why would it be? I don't know...

I'm way out of my depth here, but I sure am curious! Can anyone shed light?

3. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are cast away from the Garden of Eden. They are apparently driven east, because God "placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.", "וַיְגָרֶשׁ אֶת הָאָדָם; וַיַּשְׁכֵּן מִקֶּדֶם לְגַן עֵדֶן אֶת הַכְּרֻבִים, וְאֵת לַהַט הַחֶרֶב הַמִּתְהַפֶּכֶת, לִשְׁמֹר אֶת דֶּרֶךְ עֵץ הַחַיִּים."

Now: never mind the double pluralization of 'Cherubims' (heh); what I want to know is this: what became of the Garden of Eden? We're not told, but this seems to suggest that it's still right here, between the four rivers, east of Assyria, and is still accessible, or God would not bother to put guards with kick-ass swords on the path... What's the common view on this?

4. God's punishment for Eve includes the agony of giving birth (Gen 3:16): אֶל הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ וְהֵרֹנֵךְ--בְּעֶצֶב תֵּלְדִי בָנִים. My Bible encyclopedist remarks that interestingly, the extreme pain of giving birth is unique to humans among mammals, and that no other animal suffers greatly in giving birth. To me, this sounds patently untrue; I recall, for instance, two rather painful cow births -- one I witnessed with my own eyes (in Germany, of all places), and one reported oh-so-vividly in one of James Herriot's books. This particular annotation was written by Dr. Haim Cohen and Prof. Yehoshua Leibowich. Am I missing something?

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From:agntjello
Date:September 20th, 2003 03:42 pm (UTC)
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I have very little knowledge in biblical studies but my best friend's father is a head professor of bib. studies at the uni. Since I'm interested in the answers too, I'll print it out and show him sometimes.

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From:ijon
Date:September 22nd, 2003 06:55 pm (UTC)
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Cool! Thanks.
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From:avva
Date:September 20th, 2003 03:52 pm (UTC)
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4) It's commonly claimed that the uniquely painful experience of birth in humans is related to bipedal locomotion; the shape of the pelvis had to change to allow for easier bipedal locomotion, and the path through which the newborn baby comes out became both more narrow and more curved than was the case with our evolutionary ancestors and mammals in general.
It is, of course, not true that mammals always experience painless birth, but I've read more than once that it is true that humans are unique in that almost all human births are extremely painful.
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From:iod
Date:September 21st, 2003 06:42 am (UTC)
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Well then, in that case it should be easy to check. Bonobos are able of walking bipedally (though they prefer knuckle-walking). It is speculated that humans developed bipedality in order to allow them to carry stuff. Bonobos, indeed, walk bipedally mostly when carrying something (food, wood, toys (yes, they have toys)).
Here's an image of two standing bonobos (on the book cover).
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From:ijon
Date:September 22nd, 2003 06:56 pm (UTC)
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Ah, now I see. Thanks!
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From:jdm314
Date:September 20th, 2003 04:13 pm (UTC)
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1. Mesopotamian chronology is not my strong point, let alone the various theories propounded on the chronology of the writing of the Bible, but I do believe that Ashshur/Assyria was an important placename long before it became an important political power, just as, for instance, you can see references to the Greek city of Nauplion thousands of years before it became the capital of Greece, or references to the region of Germania in Roman times although it wasn't a country until ridiculously recently [this is a bit disingenuous, as the Germans don't call it Germany ;) ].

2. The Proto-Semitic form for "woman" is indeed *אנת׳, but the name of the goddes is ענת, with an `ayin, so it pretty much cannot be related. So far as I know, the form תנת, while it may possibly be a form of the same name, does not occur until much later times (Carthaginian unless I'm mistaken), unless you accept Cyrus Gordon's obviously controvercial decypherment of Linear A. Consequently it seems unlikely that the city of Tanis is related (I'd also want to check the Egyptian form of that toponym, but I don't have my sources handy.)

3. Yes, all the European languages, fsr, accepted cherubim or cherubin as the singular! English still does this sometimes, but normally these days we use "cherub." As for your actual question, I seem to recall a couple of midrashes abour coming accross Eden. I think in one of them Adam buried Eve nearby, and was unable to avoid the temptation to try to sneak back in (he of course failed). Later on, I think Alexander the Great is said to have found it, and naturally (being the noble savage that he was) he came back to Judea and ask all those wise Rabbis about it. Beyond that I can't help you much.

4. True, but it is especially agonizing for humans, because we are born with such huge heads.

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From:jdm314
Date:September 20th, 2003 07:49 pm (UTC)
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Oh, and the Arabic 2nd person pronouns are not related to א.נ.ש but, just as you would expect, to the Hebrew second person pronouns. There may, however, be a to the egyptian nt= system of pronouns.
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From:shunra
Date:September 20th, 2003 04:38 pm (UTC)
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3 is a question that has been asked before. In fact, I remember asking my father, when I was reading The Book. He told me that scientists think it's in Iraq or Syria - obviously an oversimplification, but I was a rather young kid at the time. But the fact that he had a ready answer implies that there is some cultural thinking about it, and that looking for it would not be a wild goose chase.

About 4, though - it makes me mad. Well, most of the bible does, but this particular bit is particularly infuriating. The theory about women's deliveries being particularly painful (more so than animals') makes no sense based on anecdotal evidence. The part that hurts, during birth, is not the admittedly large head going through the "birth canal" but the dilatation of it. And getting a kitten or calf out means the same amount of dilatation, proportionally, and I've observed similar amounts of pain (again, anecdotally) in dogs and cats.

Delivery became incredibly MORE painful for women around the time doctors started making us lie on our backs to do it. Conversely, modern texts about midwifery describe deliveries that are relatively UNpainful, or where the pain is managed by various means available to animals just as easily as to humans.

My take on the pain of delivery thing is that it is just another way men wrote myths that were desinged to control and subdue women.

And on the same issue, another thought: the punishment of women is pain of labor, but animals get easy deliveries and then get eaten by humans? Does that make SENSE?


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From:ijon
Date:September 22nd, 2003 07:16 pm (UTC)
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Oh, I realize, of course, I'm not the first to wonder about the location of the GofE. I was just wondering what some common explanations might be.

As for giving birth, while you clearly have the advantage of direct experience, I do find avva's and iod's comments sensible, regarding differences between humans and other mammals.

Lying on the back makes deliveries more painful? Is that widely appreciated, or your personal impression? If it is widely accepted, then, quite simply, how come women are still, by and large, giving birth lying on their backs?

I find your men-conspiracy theory, in this instance, ungrounded. A genuine attempt to explain nature (i.e. phenomenon: giving birth HURTS; why?) in myth sounds a lot more plausible.

As for animals getting eaten: yes, it does make sense, in our context here, which is the book of Genesis, where dominion over the animals is given to man (Genesis 1:28). The point could be made, though, that Mankind was meant to be vegetarian, based on the following verse, wherein God explicitly indicates that Man and Woman are to eat plants and the fruit of trees.
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From:shunra
Date:September 22nd, 2003 09:34 pm (UTC)

Lying on the back makes the birth more painful. Not a conspiracy theory.

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http://www.activebirthcentre.com/pb/abactivebirthisnotnew.shtml

From that page: "Today, lying on the back (dorsal decubitus) has become so general that we forget that it is a comparatively recent practice, acquired only in the last two centuries, in France and in Western civilisation as a whole. It was common in olden days to bear one’s child sitting, crouching, kneeling, even ‘on all fours.’"

"In 1743, the obstetrician Pierre Dionis observed that some women were ‘in the habit of giving birth standing, their elbows on a table; others in a chair, others on their knees, others on a mattress by the fire and others in bed."



And later on the same page:

"There was no way that women’s preference could go to the lying-on-the-back position. Firstly, because they instinctively felt that it did not supply the best conditions for the progress of labour. We now know that this position is the worst possible, because it causes compression of the big abdominal veins (aorta and lower vena cava) by the pregnant uterus, which increases foetal distress and is a factor in hypotension and haemorrhage in the mother."

"...The bed! One had to be desperate to be reduced to that extremity - fouling a set of bedclothes."


So, why was that needed? When did it become a fashion? And for whose convenience? I'll be searching for this on the web tomorrow, but my understanding (from reading during my five pregnancies) was that it was a position designed to help the doctors see what they were doing, once the delivering women were in the hospitals.

I suggest that you read a history of obstetrics - which used to be midwifery until that art was made illegal in many countries, because it was too lucrative for the male doctors to give up. And after you read about it, tell me about conspiracy theories.

As I said, I'll be searching for links on this. I'll post them on my LJ for you.
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From:ijon
Date:September 23rd, 2003 04:45 am (UTC)

Re: Lying on the back makes the birth more painful. Not a conspiracy theory.

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Excuse me. You're twisting my words.

you wrote: "My take on the pain of delivery thing is that it is just another way men wrote myths that were desinged to control and subdue women."

It is in response to this, obviously, that I wrote: "I find your men-conspiracy theory, in this instance, ungrounded. A genuine attempt to explain nature (i.e. phenomenon: giving birth HURTS; why?) in myth sounds a lot more plausible."

I did not claim that your assertion that dorsal decubitus is more painful was a conspiracy theory.

Please respect my objection for what it was, and don't treat it as what you thought it might be. You responded to a claim I never made, as if I did make it. That's unfair.
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From:shunra
Date:September 23rd, 2003 06:24 am (UTC)

Delving into the history of midwifery

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Your objection seems to derive from a disagreement between us: you do not accept the feminist premise, which is that men throughout the ages have been subduing women, with every means available to them.

OK, fine - you don't have to accept that premise. And not accepting it really does leave the "because men made us do it" theory up in the air. However, evidence for this premise is abudnant, both for the narrow issue of midwifery and labor pain and for the world at large.

Do I think it was a male conspiracy, as in a reasoned attempt, consciously practiced? Hell, no. I think it was some of that famous human laziness and greed, which combined in individual tribes and cities and cultures to keep women subdued.

But - like politics - we have no common ground to discuss this. In the same way, you refuse to accept what I see as self-evident in terms of humans keeping others enslaved for no evident self-gain.

I give up.

I suppose we can talk about moose, or something. Maybe about books that do not discuss humans. Everything else I say leads to you belittling my understanding of the way the world works with the phrase "conspiracy theory". That's no way to converse.
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From:mux2000
Date:September 24th, 2003 03:25 am (UTC)

Re: Delving into the history of midwifery

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Excuse me for intervening in someone else's debate, but I've been following this thread for some time, and I believe you (shunra) are getting excited over nothing. What ijon said had nothing to do with the subject you are so inflamed about.

I don't know which is correct in this particular case of the Genesis myth (the 'man enslaves women' hypothesis or the 'man explains reality' hypothesis, to put them both oversimlifily), but whatever he said he said about that certain myth, and offered no opinion concerning the centuries long repression women has suffered from the hands of the opposite sex.

If indeed he had said he rejected the fact that such repression exists, then your rage would be justified, but all he did was offer another explanation for the Genesis myth, one which he simply thinks is more plausible, and that might be, without contradicting the fact the women have been, and still are repressed by men. I think the rightous guns of woman's liberation have hit a friendly in this holy war.
I hope you take this comment in the spirit in which it was meant to be given, and that is the spirit of peacemaking and straightening misunderstandings, and not hold this rude intervention on my part against me.
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From:ukelele
Date:September 20th, 2003 08:32 pm (UTC)
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For 4, I wonder what the mortality rates among animals giving birth are. They were terrifically high among humans before we invented modern medicine -- cf. Euripides' Medea preferring three battles to childbirth -- but I don't know how that compares to animals. But having never given birth as a human *or*, say, a moose, I can't really say.
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From:shunra
Date:September 21st, 2003 04:38 am (UTC)

Good point, Ukelele

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And what I'd like to see is a comparison of childbirth mortality between DOMESTICATED animals and women (how would we count it for non-domesticated animals?)

In Afghanistan a few months ago, the figures were one in FOUR women died at birth.
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From:shunra
Date:September 21st, 2003 05:31 am (UTC)

One in four? Maybe not.

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On the other hand, where did I get that figure from? I'm not sure. Let's take it as gossip and not gospel.
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From:wildernesscat
Date:September 21st, 2003 09:37 am (UTC)
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And what about the Arabic root int-

I know that there is at least one place in the Bible (I don't recall where), where the 2nd form feminine pronoun is "אתי". This more likely to be the missing link.
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From:jdm314
Date:September 21st, 2003 08:41 pm (UTC)
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Regarding that n, since no one has yet made this point:

Hebrew regularly looses n's before other consonants, the following consonant being geminated (i.e. getting a dagesh) to compensate, unless it ends up at the end of a word. Some other examples: Hb. בת Ar. bint, Hb. עכביש, Ar. `ankabût. Compare also the future tense of the נפעל paradigm.
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From:ijon
Date:September 22nd, 2003 07:00 pm (UTC)

Geminated! ooh!

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I do know, of course, about נו"ן assimilation, but I was delighted to finally learn the English term for "having a dagesh"! Thanks. :)
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From:ijon
Date:September 22nd, 2003 07:25 pm (UTC)
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Yes, I think the general opinion is that the myths were first formed under direct influence of Sumero-Akkadic mythology (plenty of grounds to think that), but were put down in the version that has come to us much, much later. What caught my attention was simply the explicit mention of Assyria, simply because in my mind (I have not read Genesis since elementary school, which effectively means I had never read Genesis carefully before), Assyria was related exclusively to later sections of the Biblical narrative.

Snake cult in Bahrain? Cool!
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From:bugel
Date:September 21st, 2003 10:05 pm (UTC)
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1) What makes you think the text of Genesis is old? You'd have to ask a scholar for the up-to-date scholarly opinions about this - I haven't read that kind of research for some 15 years - but no serious scholar thinks that these texts are anywhere nearly as old as the events they purport to describe.

As far as I know, Genesis is a compilation made and edited a few centuries before the beginning of the common era, and probably it was done in Assyria or Babylon. Some of the source texts used may have been a few centuries old at that point, but certainly not millenia, and they had undergone multiple rounds of editing.

2) There are many pais of letters that interchange from one Semitic languae to another, but aleph and 'ayin are definitely not one of them.

3) I have wondered about that, too. People who take these mythologies seriously ought to be able to identify such a place. :-)

Some traditions place Paradise at the place where the Euphrates and the Tigris *meet*. It's a beautiful area, or, alas, it used to be.
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From:ijon
Date:September 23rd, 2003 05:11 am (UTC)
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1. Yes, I realize the text of Genesis is not six thousand years old. I was surprised by the mention of Assyria primarily because of my own expectation, not because of the timeline. But I figure that the explicit naming of Assyria helped raise hypotheses regarding the date of composition.

2. I realize that aleph and ayin are distinct, and that they are not among the well-known pairs of interchanging letters. However, I was under the impression that well-traveled names (as Anat certainly is) were assimilated into each tongue slightly differently, and it strikes me as at least possible that an aleph turned into ayin or vice versa.

This is not the classic case of a word borrowed from one language to another, but a proper name spread across cultures, each culture having to adapt it as appropriate. What I'm saying is that I think there's room for more than typical phonetic transformations here. Jews called Vespasian "Aspasianus", for instance, and the Bible lost all its 'v' consonants because it passed to the west through Greek, which has no 'v' sound.

So, I think it is not immediately unreasonable (though as I said, it is a shot in the dark) to conjecture about some cultural vectors (nomads, merchants, etc.) of some Canaanite variety to have helped render Anat with an ayin in Hebrew though the original was an aleph sound.

I guess this is where I should turn to books, to see if this makes sense.

3. yes, that makes sense, as the GofE is said to be the source of the four rivers.

On a ridiculously optimistic note, I'd like to visit that spot one day.
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From:novartza
Date:September 22nd, 2003 06:28 pm (UTC)

Hmmm

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"Between the four rivers." Actually, the Garden of Eden is described as the source of the four rivers, which we know to have four separate sources. So we know the Garden of Eden never existed in our world.

By "We" I mean the readers of the Text, ever since it was presented to the Children of israel to this very day.
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From:ijon
Date:September 23rd, 2003 05:35 am (UTC)

Re: Hmmm

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True, it's the source of the rivers. But I'm not interested in figuring out whether the Biblical GofE ever existed in our world. As an atheist, I reject the notion of gods and angels, and so the whole story is not credible as far as I'm concerned. My interest is mythological on one hand, and on the other hand an interest in what Jewish tradition made of this mythology.

I am interested, for instance, in what possibly inspired the myth of the GofE. The joining of the Tigris and Euphrates, for instance, which bugel tell us is a beautiful spot, might have been one such inspiration (although it would be clear that that spot is not the source of the rivers). Perhaps there was a different spot where the four rivers (wherever the Pishon and Gichon were) were at confluence, and that spot may have inspired the early Mesopotamian myths.

My Biblical encyclopedia, for instance, shows a few ancient Mesopotamian engravings on the subject, one of which depicts a building (palace, probably) with a goddess stepping on a snake, holding two staves, with two rivers springing forth from each staff.

But what's your take, as a religious Jew? Why do you cling to modern-day findings of the sources of those rivers and deduce that the GofE "never existed in our world" rather than to the Bible's explicit location of the GofE "east of Assyria"?
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From:novartza
Date:September 25th, 2003 03:59 am (UTC)

Re: Hmmm

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I prefer to see the story of the Garden of Eden as a metaphor, not as something that was supposed to actually have existed. The reference to "The East of Assyria," as well as the mention of the Tigris and Euphrates, is just a setting for the parable. Just like Our Sages say "Job never existed and is but a metaphor," even though he is mentioned as someone living in the land of Oz and having friends with such and such names etc.
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From:goliard
Date:September 25th, 2003 01:49 am (UTC)
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1. Assyria is not the only such anachronism in Genesis - the story of the exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Israel mentions several names of places which did not exist at the time the events supposedly took place. (I don't have the precise references here, sorry.) I think this sheds an interesting light on the Genesis writers' concept of history - they presumably clothed a traditional kernel of myth in contemporary geographical terms, without realizing or without minding the incongruity. (In the case of the exodus, btw, the kernel of myth may actually have been based on the history of the Hyksos: a Canaanite people settling in Egypt for a short period, then being driven out.)

2. I always assumed that איש did come from the root .א.נ.ש , by way of *insh, with subsequent dropping of the /n/ and lengthening of the /i/. I doubt the root has anything to do with Anat, but it would be tempting to connect it with the Greek ANTHropos... Except that doesn't work out since the TH is epenthetic (inserted for phonological reasons). Oh well.
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