The first story in the Bible concerns man's place of origin, a place ideally suited for every need and supposedly ideal for the creation of other forms of life. It is a beautiful story of a paradise that was created, inhabited, and lost, by man, supposedly forever. Was it real or just an allegory, or beautiful story to convey a moral message?
The Bible describes it as a real place and even goes so far as to give a description of its location. Readers sometimes misunderstand that the AREA of Eden is not the GARDEN of Eden. Genesis 2:8 clearly states that the Garden of Eden is in the EAST of the area or region of Eden. In Genesis 2:10 it says that "A river went OUT of Eden to water the Garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into 4 heads.
A River went OUT of the land of Eden and watered the Garden of Eden, and from there it seems it was fed by 4 other rivers. Genesis 2:10 describes the Garden being watered by a single river that is fed by four other rivers, two of which we know, the Euphrates and the Tigres. A documentary of Eden was presented on the History channel lately that hypothesized that the garden was at the most eastern area of what is now Iraq, and the area of the garden itself is now under water in the Persian Gulf because of the rising level of seas worldwide in the last 5000 years.
This would make sense because such an area, watered by four ancient rivers, two of which are now only dry shadows, only visible by satellite, would be a paradise of vegetation in a hot dry land such as Iraq. The statement "A river went out of Eden to water the Garden" indicates that the LAND of Eden lay west of the garden since the Euphrates and Tigres flow from the mountains of the west, and end at the Persian Gulf.
Another theory is that the garden was at the headwaters of the four rivers, in the mountains of modern Turkey, to the west of Iraq. Two of the rivers have supposedly dried up with the climate change over the centuries and are no longer visible. This idea for the location is supported by statements of such an area, in sources outside of the Bible.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian legend recorded on stone tablets, there is a story of a King named Gilgamesh who is, curiously, 2/3 God, by blood, and desires to find out if his bloodline is pure enough that he will inherit the longevity of his ancestors. He is told to travel to the West, following the Euphrates, to a place called the 'enclosure of the Gods. From there he is to travel north across the 'sea of death' to find his ancestor who came through the great flood. This was either Noah or one of his sons. He asks how to get eternal life and is told that because he is of mortal blood he cannot obtain that, but he can postpone death by obtaining a certain plant, which the Gods themselves eat to remain young.
I believe that the 'Sea of Death' was the present Black Sea just after the flood of Noah, a large, but regional flood. When the salty Mediterranean poured into the huge, dry basin with the small fresh water lake, it would have killed all life contained in the lake and surrounding it. This whole area could have been the area the Bible calls 'Eden' It is also mentioned in the clay tablets of the Sumerians, as the area called E.Den.
Considering that God used the flood to destroy all the descendants of the "Sons of God and daughters of men" affair, it would have become a "Sea of Death" for all within the walls of the basin. We today call that area the Black Sea. Even today no life can exist below 250 feet below the water's surface because the dead remains are still preserved in the toxic water at that level.
The "Gods", who were sought by Gilgamesh who wanted to learn of the secret of life, were probably either the sons of Noah or the first generation descendants of them, who were still alive at that time. They were revered because of their long life spans. As each generation of sons after Noah would marry mortal wives who were of the primitive people the science books describe as 'Neolithic Man', they would lose some of the qualities of their parents, and the God-like properties, such as longevity and immunity to disease, would die out after a great number of generations.
The part I find interesting is the part about the description given in this ancient tablet of the "enclosure of the Gods'. Gilgamesh had to travel a great distance in an area that was so dark he could not see his hand in front of him. When he arrived at the Enclosure of the Gods, he described the trees as being fruitful with jewels hanging from them, and the whole area being like a 'paradise'. Genesis 3:24 describes the entrance to the 'garden' as being protected by Cherubim's who had a 'flaming sword' that turned every direction. This epic describes an encounter with such a creature.
The question might be asked "why was there only one entrance to the garden"? In the epic of Gilgamesh described earlier, the main character had to reach the area only by traveling a long distance in a very dark place. Perhaps this was an entrance to the "Enclosure of the Gods", by way of a cave. This would explain why the entrance could be protected by only one post. If that hypothesis is true, it could be that the cave has since been hidden by a landslide from the many earthquakes in that region over the centuries.
The Garden of Eden has been the source of many explorations, quests, and speculation over the centuries, including Columbus's discovery of America, Ponce De Leon's adventures in Florida, and the Spaniards in South America, but it still remains a mystery without an answer.
Was it real?
The Bible describes it as a real place, Sumerian records also describe a place like it. If it does exist it certainly must be well hidden, either under water now, or inside an "enclosure" that is not seen from the outside. Or perhaps it has even been paved over as a parking lot in some modern city, as one historian described in a documentary. Perhaps we will never know in this life.