The writer of Genesis 2 doesn't detail for us where the Garden of Eden - that place where humanity once dwelled in peace and undistorted relationship with God - was located. He does, however, note that four rivers flowed out of the Garden: the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates.
Nobody knows where the Pishon and Gihon were, and there are further questions as to whether or not the rivers we know as the Tigris and the Euphrates are the same ones the writers of Genesis named. Assuming they are, that would put the Garden of Eden, and the origin of human life on earth, in the Middle East... somewhere around what is now Iraq.
Multiple scientific disciplines are edging us toward saying probably not.
Back in the late 80s and early 90s, the world of genetics and faith were both rocked when genetic scientists announced that by following mitochondrial DNA (DNA passed down to children through the mother) back through time, they could trace human history back to one single female from whom everyone on earth is descended. They dubbed her "Eve".
Creationist Christians jumped up and proclaimed, "See, we told you so!"
Only one problem. Well, two, really. First, they followed this line of mitochondrial DNA back about 200,000 years (which doesn't quite jive with the young earth creationist belief of a 6-10,000 year old earth). Secondly, they traced "Eve" back to... eastern Africa.
Interestingly, there is increasing amounts of anthropological, archeological, linguistic, and even Scriptural evidence that mankind did originate from Africa, migrating northeast to the Middle East. (For some incredible compilations of research on this topic, check out the blog Just Genesis, and specifically posts like this one.) And when they did, they brought their culture, language, and stories with them
Stories, including those of creation.
There has been much written comparing and contrasting the Hebraic creation story with other Mesopotamian creation stories, including (and especially) the famous Enuma Elish from Babylon. Some skeptics have even proposed that the Hebrews borrowed elements of their creation story from their neighbors. But truth be told, these creation stories are much more different than they are similar, and any favorable comparisons are really somewhat of a stretch.
However, something quite incredible happens when you begin to compare the Hebrew creation story with the creation stories of some peoples in ancient Africa. You begin to find remarkable similarities that are impossible to explain away or ignore:
*The Gikuyu people of modern-day Kenya tell of Gikuyu and Mumbi, the first man and woman, who were created and placed under God's special tree of life. God then showed them the whole land and told them, "This land I hand over to you, O Man and Woman. It is yours to rule and till in serenity, sacrificing only to me, your God."
*According to the Yoruba of Nigeria, God molded the first man and first woman from the ground and breathed into them life and sent them forth to settle the earth.
*As the Abaluyia people tell the story, God created man first and then created woman so he would have a companion. The Lugbara people told of man being created first, then woman being created and the two being joined in marriage as husband and wife.
*The Shilluk creation story says God created man from clay and woman from man. The Bambuti Pygmies recount that God created man from clay, covered him with skin, and poured blood into his body -- but that it wasn't until God breathed into man that he became alive.
*Or consider the utterly remarkable similarities in this western African creation story (where even the idea of a Triune God is introduced!):
At the beginning of Things, when there was nothing, neither man, nor animals, nor plants, nor heaven, nor earth, nothing, nothing, God was and He was called Nzame. The three who are Nzame, we call them Nzame, Mebere and Nkwa. At the beginning Nzame made the heaven and the earth and He reserved the heaven for Himself. Then He blew on the earth and the earth and water were created each on its side.Wow.
Nzame made everything: heaven, earth, sun, moon, stars, animals, plants; everythng. When He had finished everything that we see today, He called Mbere and Nkwa and showed them His work. "This is my work. It is good."
There are several ideas that we find widespread among African creation myths: the idea that there was nothing before God created, that man was created last or toward the end of creation, and that man was created in a state of happiness, innocence, or immortality and lived more or less in "paradise".
So what then can we conclude about our own biblical creation story? That it was obviously taken or adapted from African creation stories -- and this makes complete sense when we consider the early migration of the human race.
Imagine humans "growing up," so to speak, in Africa for thousands of years, where they pass down these creation stories orally from generation to generation. These stories are all similar enough to easily say they have a common ancestor story - The Creation Story. Over time, the small differences appear in various cultures and regions. And when the human race begins migrating out of Africa and begins populating the Middle East, these stories continue to be told and passed down.
And eventually, somebody writes the story down and it becomes what we have recorded as the beginning of Genesis.
As an interesting side note, adding the days of creation to these stories may have been a tool to organize or order the story, or to help people remember the story more easily. The days of creation don't really make sense when taken literally (day & night, light & dark prior to the sun being created, etc). However, if we look at the days of creation as two sets of three, we see something really neat begin to take shape: days 1-3 represent the creation of environments and days 4-6 the population of those environments. Check it out:
|Day 1 - Light and Darkness||Day 4 - Sun and Moon|
|Day 2 - Sky and Water||Day 5 - Birds and Fish|
|Day 3 - Land||Day 6 - Animals and Humans|
Thus, we begin to understand how it was that the Hebrews could place the creation of the sun after the creation of light. They weren't saying that light literally existed before the sun, they were simply placing the sun in its proper "environment". Just as fish and birds belong in the water and the sky, the sun belongs in light and the moon in darkness.
All of this is certainly not to say that our African-Hebraic creation story is not inspired. It is definitely easy to assume that God revealed himself to the earliest humans living in Africa and inspired their creation story (which eventually came to be the Hebrews' story - and ours now as well). Just because something was passed down orally for thousands of years before being written down doesn't mean it didn't originate from God.
In fact, to me, knowing that our story of the origin of the universe comes from the land from where the human race has its origins makes it even more likely that it is true!
Of course, not all African creation stories bear this remarkable resemblance to ours - Africa is a large continent that was host to many different and diverse ancient people groups. But those that do share these similarities have got to make us consider the possibilities, don't they?
Creation Week on TWM:
Monday - Suspending Belief in the Name of... Belief
Wednesday - Wise Men
Thursday - Jesus and Paul
Friday - Stuck in the Middle