Sunday, August 07, 2011

Searching for Eden on Earth

by Salman Hameed

There you go. Here is a new book, Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden, that chronicles the recent history of people searching for the Garden of Eden on Earth. I think some of these searches must have been inspired by the 19th century 'discoveries' of new lands and new people by European voyages. I don't know if there have been any comparable efforts by Muslims in the past couple of centuries. Does anyone know of any such efforts? Nevertheless, this looks like an interesting and entertaining read, and here is an excerpt from NYT review:
 It seems there have always been — and continue to be — little armies of Eden chasers who take this quest very seriously, carrying their search to the most unlikely places. Wilensky-Lanford carries the reader along on some of these journeys, from the North Pole to rural Ohio, evoking the lives and characters of a collection of eccentrics that includes a professional archaeologist and a preacher, as well as a Chinese businessman and a British irrigation engineer. What these disparate types have in common is their insistence that they have finally and truly cracked the biblical code.
They all begin with the verses in Genesis. “A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches” — namely the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris and the Euphrates. But while it’s easy to find the Tigris and the Euphrates, which run from Turkey through Iraq into the Persian Gulf, the locations of the Gihon and the Pishon remain distinctly murky. A further complication is the theory that today’s Tigris and Euphrates are not the same as the biblical ones, a notion that allows, as Wilensky-Lanford puts it, room for a more “fanciful geography.”
“Fanciful” might be putting it mildly. William Fairfield Warren, the first president of Boston University, published a book in the late 19th century in which he argued that Eden was located at the North Pole — or, at least, that it had been there before the Flood. The river that watered the Garden, Warren proclaimed, was not a river at all but rain. Eden, he added, was populated with people “of giant stature” and its landscape dotted with enormous trees closely related to the California redwoods. (Conveniently, sequoias can reproduce asexually, making them perfect for an Eden before the Fall.)
There are other weird stories as well, but I like this one connected to political ideology:
Although some kept to the biblical location of the Tigris and Euphrates, others, like a staunch Republican named Elvy Edison Callaway, placed Eden as far away as Florida.
Callaway turned his religious vision into a political manifesto. Believing in women’s suffrage but realizing he couldn’t just drop the idea of Eve’s original sin, he gave his Eve the choice between immortality (which would lead to her living, he declared, “as a beast or a totally insane person”) or eating from the Tree of Knowledge and thus jump-starting humankind’s progress. God, he argued, had actually wanted Eve to eat the fruit, and the serpent was not a serpent at all but, rather, “a Communist or a welfare-statist.” Because eating from the Tree of Knowledge empowered Eve, Callaway said she should be blessed “forever for her great decision.”
Read the full review here.      

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