When it comes to stories contained within the Bible, it’s not a stretch to assume they are half-truths. Bible stories are as close to truth as Inglorious Basterds is to the events of WW2. One story in particular is worth focusing on more than others: The Garden of Eden. We have to cover a number of aspects in order to paint a full picture of the misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
So when we look at the Garden of Eden which is contained within Genesis (the first book of the Bible) we have to explore the earliest versions. So when was it written? Well, if you take the Bible version and ignore other mythologies, then the most recent estimates put the Yahwist (the first 6 books of the Bible/Torah) at the 6th century BCE (600-500BCE). So it’s interesting that the book which apparently reflects “God’s message” was written much, much later than earlier versions of what is essentially the same story. Ancient Sumerian tablets written around 2800BCE contain varying references (at least 12 references) to the Garden of Eden and to Adam and Eve.
When it comes to misunderstandings, misinterpretations and mistranslations, the Bible would be the best example of all three. There isn’t another book on this planet that has strayed so far from the story’s original meaning. So let’s take a look at what exactly the Bible gets wrong. For starters, we need to understand a bit more about Ancient Sumer. The ancient Sumerians are known for creating one of the earliest forms of writing known as Cuneiform. These arrow or wedge shapes are very distinct from later written languages.
This is important as Assyrians and Babylonians whose civilisations rose to prominence within the same areas as the Sumerians valued everything the Sumerians did, said, built, etc. These new societies would write in Akkadian, their own form of the Sumerian cuneiform. This in turn would be used to create Eblaite and Amorite, two of the earliest forms of Semitic languages. Eventually (around the 10th century BCE) we get Proto-Sinaitic Script, followed by the Phoenician alphabet (the first alphabet) which in turn became the Aramaic alphabet and eventually the paleo-Hebrew alphabet. Of course the more modern Semitic languages today are Arabic and Hebrew (among others).
Originally, when the Sumerian Cuneiform clay tablets were discovered, there was a worry it would be impossible to decipher them. The language is entirely original and unique. It was initially only due to an understanding of these later written languages that translations could be attempted. However, it wasn’t until the discovery of a lexicon that Anton Parks (Sumero-Akkadian researcher and translator) could fully understand the original clay tablets. He has since gathered evidence which suggests that in fact for hundreds of years, we have been mistranslating the Sumerian tablets.
Exploring the Inaccuracies
One problem many religious groups face today is translations. Many speak only English and don’t understand that some words simply don’t translate into other languages in the same way. Take, for example, the word paradise. The Garden of Eden is often referred to as ‘paradise’. The word itself comes from the Greek word: paradeisos. The definition of which is simply “enclosed park” often used to refer to an enclosed park housing wild animals (1). It wasn’t until the Hellenistic Period that the term transcribed as meaning “garden”.
You may be familiar with Genesis 2:15 “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” So it may also surprise you to hear the correct translations from these ancient clay tablets which reads: “The men who serve the gods work for them in the garden and are treated like animals.” This is a recurring theme within these clay tablets which points to only one realisation: The Garden was simply an area where the elite groups/Gods live in luxury while slaves carry out the more menial tasks. The original texts refer to ‘Kharsag’ which translates roughly as ‘the city of the Gods’.
We also need to look at some of the individual words used. For example Eden is comprised of two main components ‘E’ which means ‘home’ and ‘Den’ (pronounced ‘Din’ or ‘Tin’) meaning ‘life’. We also have to look at one of the main characters in the Biblical creation story: Adam. Interestingly, you may suspect that the name/word ‘Adam’ has Hebrew roots but actually, it’s a Sumerian word. A-DAM actually translates as meaning ‘animals’. This is due not to Adam actually being an animal but rather the word ADAM referring to the lower class or level of the human species as viewed by the Gods.
Another important word we need to explore is SATAM (perhaps better known to you as Satan). The word SATAM in ancient Sumerian actually translates as ‘administrator’. There is nothing inherently evil or foul-natured about this word or being other than from what we know of later religious texts (such as Judeo-Christian texts). This word will be of particular importance when we explore the earliest Garden of Eden story. Finally, we have to explore the word which would later be mistranslated as “apple”: GNEESH. This Sumerian word doesn’t mean apple but rather tool or tree.
The True Story
The stories which come from these tablets of ancient Sumer tell not of one God but several. This council or assembly of Gods with several higher up members: Enki and Enlil. Each of these is quite apparent very early into the tablets. Enlil is referred to as ‘The Great SATAM’ (meaning the great administrator) but is similar to a dictator (eerily similar to the Judeo-Christian God): He is angry, domineering and controlling. This God doesn’t view humanity as anything more than animals or slaves whose sole purpose is to serve him and his kind. This was in comparison to Enki (also known as ‘the serpent’ due to his scale-like complexion) who is sometimes referred to as the Trickster God but was also known as the God of Wisdom. Enki (in comparison to Enlil) cares deeply for humanity and would often intervene with them in order to offer warning or insight (an example of this can be seen in the flood story which is almost identical to the Noah story but with different characters).
These Gods, while being humanoid in shape have different skin. The tablets refer to early forms of genetics which suggest that these Gods took already existing humans (perhaps an earlier species) and created what we would know as homo sapiens. While Enki was primarily responsible for this task, it was Enki who decided the specifications i.e. this new species of humans was designed for one purpose: to serve. These humans were naturally subservient to these Gods and didn’t question orders or even have free will by all accounts.
The tablets differ quite drastically from the Genesis story in that a God was sacrificed in order to combine their blood (the literal translation) with these new humans, along with elements of the Earth. This genetic change sounds crazy (particularly to myself, someone who doesn’t believe in Gods) but there is evidence of a drastic change in human DNA. I personally don’t think it is evidence of God-interaction but it’s interesting to note. To look at this evidence, we have to focus on chromosome number 2 which is not only the 2nd largest chromosome but also makes about 8% of the DNA in any cell. The interesting change is a fusion of pre-existing chromosomes that would actually have been found in primates. It’s responsible (among other things) for the formation of the cortex. This gives us mental abilities such as logic, empathy, sympathy and compassion. You could arguably say it is responsible for our sense of morality.
Enki secretly altered some of the genes within certain groups of humanity. This is viewed as a change that would allow enlightenment to take place within these humans. The other Gods even turn against him, particularly Enlil. As time goes on, these humans become independent and discover the ability to disobey the Gods and choose not to be subservient. Enki, as such, wishes to treat the humans as if they were the same as the Gods. Enlil asks Enki to go fourth and talk to the humans on behalf of the Gods, something that Enki had been doing anyway. It’s important to remember that Enki is frequently described as having reptilian features. He is also the only God that the humans come into direct contact with (at least at this time).
Enki approaches a woman in the “Garden” and provides them with GNEESH (a tool). He explains that humanity can use either side of this tool. On the one side, they can use it for building or fixing…or they can use it for fighting, defending and conquering. Due to their oppression at the hands of the Gods and the realisation that they now have the means to revolt, the humans do just that. They launch an attack against the Gods which ultimately fails and the surviving humans (of which there are now few) are put back to work. So what did Enki give mankind? A choice! You may even say that the serpent presented humanity with the ability to defy the Gods which ultimately led to the fall of man.
Welcome in the Judeo-Christian Views
So this leads us to the point in time where the varying books of the Old Testament were being compiled. It’s undeniably obvious that the Garden of Eden story existed in written form in ancient Sumer long before it was ever written for the purposes of the Torah or Bible. What idea benefits a religion more: Pushing humanity to rise up against oppressors (Gods or otherwise) OR making humanity feel guilty and subservient with only one purpose: to serve God? One relates to Enki and the other to Enlil. The latter is exactly the same as the Judeo-Christian God and so the choice that was made is obvious. Giving knowledge and power to humanity was the work of an evil character, a snake, a deceiver and yet forcing humanity to serve is somehow the act of an all-loving God?
The interesting thing is that this duality and symbolism still exists very much today. Not worshipping God, not believing in God, not obeying God is how one follows the path of the devil (of the snake from the Garden). Yet Enki’s message is still found within Christianity today, despite being erased from the stories himself. For example, the most famous depiction of Enki shows him holding a pinecone in one hand. The pinecone (which obviously comes from a tree) is used to symbolise consciousness. Pinecones were symbolic within later religious beliefs and a giant statue of a Pinecone can be found in Vatican City (although it predates the Catholic ownership of the land).