The Mythological Background of the ʾēd in Gen 2:6: Chaoskampf, the Garden of Eden, and the Mountains of Lebanon


The meaning of the mysterious ʾēd that comes up to water the ground in Gen 2:6 has long been a point of scholarly discussion and debate, for three basic reasons: 1) the word does not appear to be Semitic and its etymological origin is uncertain; 2) the yiqtol and weqatal verbal forms in v. 6 indicate that the ʾēd was continual watering the ground in the past, but this stands in tension with the claim in v. 5 that the land was dry and without rain or vegetation; and 3) the ʾēd seems to arise from the earth of its own volition, without the intervention of deity, yet it clearly plays a pivotal role in the narrative as it represents the first concrete action described after the “when… not yet” constructions of vv. 4b-5 and functions as the catalyst that leads to the creation of humans and the garden of Eden.


What is the significance of this ʾēd? Why does it appear at this point in the narrative and why is it described so obliquely?[i] In the following study I would like to explore the meaning and function of the ʾēd and show how a proper understanding of its mythological background sheds crucial light on the context and development of the Eden story.



Meaning and Etymology


Gen 2:6 reads, “But an ʾēd was coming up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground.” From the context the ʾēd appears to be a water source that is subterranean, such as a fountain or spring. The verb ʿlh is elsewhere used to describe water that comes up from a well (Num 21: 17), and the following verb šqh indicates that the water drenches the land so as to irrigate it (cf. Deut 11:10; Ps 36:8; 104:13; Ecc 2:6; Isa 27:3; Eze 17:7-8; 32:6; Joel 4:18). In addition, the volume of water from the ʾēd is apparently substantial, since the narrative reports that the “whole face of the ground” was watered. The word Eden itself means a well watered place, or place abounding in water supply (cf. Millard 1984; Hess 1991; Tsumura 2005: 116-125). Presumably, the ʾēd is the source of the river that flows out of Eden in v. 10, “A river flows out of Eden to water (šqh) the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches.” The repetition of the verb šqh here suggests a kind of resumption of the motif of watering from v. 6.


Aside from Gen 2:6 the noun ʾēd is attested in Hebrew only in Job 36:27, spelled ʾēdô with a long final vowel. Yet here the ʾēd has nothing to do with a subterranean source and is rather associated with meteorological phenomena, “for he withdraws drops of water and distills rain to/from the ʾēdô, which the clouds drop down and pour on the ground in showers” (vv. 27-28).


Not surprisingly in view of the contrasting literary depictions, the ancient versions are largely divided in their interpretation of the meaning of ʾēd/ʾēdô. On the one hand, the LXX, Aquila, Vulgate, and Peshitta seem to have understood ʾēd in Gen 2:6 to refer to a “spring/fountain” (πηγή; ε͗πιβλυσμός; fons; מבועא), which fits the literary context decribed above. On the other hand, the LXX and Targumim interpreted ʾēdô in Job 36:27 to mean “cloud” (νεφέλη; עננא), which in turn led Rabbinic tradition to explain the ʾēd in Gen 2:6 in the same manner (cf. Barr 1987: 422; Hasel and Hasel 2000: 321-322; Tsumura 2005: 86; Rogland 2010). Uniquely, the Vulgate associated the ʾēd in Job 36:27 with “floods” (gurgitum; cf. also inundatio “flood” for ʾêd in Job 21:17).


As I mentioned above, the word ʾēd does not appear to be Semitic in origin, since it has no close parallel in any known Semitic language. Semitic etymologies have on occasion been attempted, including Dahood’s suggestion to connect ʾēd to í-du “rain cloud” in Eblaite and ʾwd in Arabic (1981), or that it represents a Canaanite word meaning “mist, dew” preserved only in Egyptian iꜣd.t (Görg 1986; 1989; Hasel and Hasel 2000). However, both of these proposals rest on weak philological foundations (cf. Hasel and Hasel 2000: 329-331; Mankowski 2000: 26-27; Tsumura 2005: 86, n. 5), and even more importantly, the translations “cloud” or “mist/dew” hardly fit the literary context. According to Gen 2:6, the water comes up from the earth and waters the face of the ground, suggesting a profusion of subterranean water with an irrigational quality. This kind of watering is to be distinguished from an evanescent cloud or light mist, which in any case would still raise the question from where the water in the cloud or mist originated in the context of the story.


Rogland has recently offered a literary argument for understanding ʾēd to mean “cloud,” suggesting that Ps 135:7 and Jer 10:13 are intertextually dependent on Gen 2:6 (2010: 386-388). But on closer inspection the descriptions of meteorological phenomena in Ps 135:7 and Jer 10:13 have little in common with the subterranean ʾēd of Gen 2:6. YHWH is said to cause “clouds” to arise “from the ends [מקצה] of the earth,” or in other words, to cause storm clouds to build on the horizon (cf. 1 Kgs 18:44). The expressions are not in fact conceptually or rhetorically parallel. The overlap in language is limited merely to the verb ʿlh, which is inadequate by itself to support a hypothesis of literary dependence.


Because of the lack of a plausible Semitic derivation, the general tendency has been to seek an etymology from the Sumero-Akkadian world. The three proposals favored in current scholarship include: 1) loanword from Akkadian edû meaning “flood, surging water,” itself a loan from Sumerian A.DÉ.A (Speiser 1955; Ellenbogen 1962: 13; AHw; HALOT; Mankowski 2000: 26-27; Tawil 2009: 6; Zevit 2013: 79-80); 2) loanword directly from Sumerian A.DÉ/e4-dé “high water” (Tsumura 2005); and 3) loanword from Akkadian-Sumerian id meaning “river” or “River god” (Albright 1939; Sæb⊘ 1970; Westermann 1984: 200-201; Wallace 1985: 73-74; Propp 1987: 18-19; McCarter 1999: 446).


Among these, the suggestion that ʾēd stems directly from Sumerian is dubious on the face. In order to account for the variant spellings of ʾēd and ʾēdô in the Bible, Tsumura has proposed that ʾēd is derived from Sumerian A.DÉ/e4-dé and ʾēdô from Akkadian edû. But as explained by B. Noonan, this makes too much “out of the presence or absence of a final waw in the two attested forms of אד found in Gen 2:6 (אד) and Job 36:27 (אדו)… It is highly unlikely that this term entered Hebrew twice as Tsumura postulates, one time directly from Sumerian and another time indirectly from Sumerian via Akkadian. Hebrew speakers would not have borrowed this word directly from Sumerian, and both forms of אד must reflect a single loan via Akkadian” (2011: 151). As we will see below, the shorter spelling of ʾēd in Gen 2:6 is best seen as a secondary development internal to biblical Hebrew.


Similarly, the proposal to relate Hebrew ʾēd to Akkadian-Sumerian id is problematic in a number of respects. First, Tsumura has shown that the Sumerian logogram ÍD was generally read in Akkadian as nāru “river” and therefore is unlikely to have been adopted in Hebrew in the form id (2005: 92-95). Second, the Sumerian word for “river” or “River god” is a doubtful candidate for lexical borrowing. Hebrew already had a word for river and in fact nāhār appears just a few verses later in the same Eden story (v. 10). So if the author had intended ʾēd to be understood as “river,” we would rather expect him to have used the regular Hebrew term. On the other hand, a subtle allusion to the Mesopotamian god of the river ordeal is clearly out of place in the narrative. Third, the description of the ʾēd rising from the earth is inconsistent with the physical character of a river. As others have pointed out, rivers flow down not up. Lastly, a derivation from id would also fail to account for the longer spelling of ʾēdô in Job 36:27.


As a consequence, I think the most plausible etymology of Hebrew ʾēd/ʾēdô is that it derives from Akkadian edû, whether directly or through Aramaic as an intermediary. From a philological perspective, the long form ʾēdô is satisfactorily analyzed as a realization of Akkadian edû in Hebrew. As noted by Mankowski, “the final ו is the expected vowel of the absolute form as seen in other loans of Akkadian words ending in long vowels” (2000: 26). The loss of the final vowel in the case of ʾēd in Gen 2:6 would then be explained as a simple scribal mistake or alteration that occurred at some point within the history of transmission of Genesis. In the Aramaic script the waw and yod were graphically similar, so the final waw on ʾēdô could have been easily lost through haplography with the following yod on יעלה.


Furthermore, the word edû “flood” provides a sense that fits well in the literary context of Gen 2:6. Unlike a “river” or “stream,” a “flood” indicates a profusion of water that is conceptually compatible with a rising movement from a fountain, and it would also account for the volume of water needed to irrigate the “whole face of the ground” and to produce a large river flowing out of the garden of Eden. In the past this explanation of ʾēd has sometimes been rejected on the grounds that in Akkadian an edû “flood” was typically violent or catastrophic (e.g. Sæb⊘ 1970; Barr 1987). However, Tsumura has demonstrated that an edû was not necessarily destructive and that it rather referred to a large and powerful volume of water, which could be either beneficial or destructive in nature (2005: 97-101). edû water also appears to be linked to the subterranean Apsu in the Epic of Gilgamesh (101-102).


Finally, the notion of a “flood” presents the only viable meaning that would accommodate both a subterranean and meteorological/heavenly origin of water, consistent with the contrasting literary depictions of Gen 2:6 and Job 36:27. A variety of biblical and extra-biblical data suggest that Canaanites including Israelites commonly believed that large sources of water or “floods” existed both below and above the earth. For example, in Ugaritic myth El is said to dwell “amid the springs of the rivers and channels of the double-deeps,” or in other words, at the meeting place of the upper and lower waters (de Moor 1987: 15, n. 81; Stolz 1999a: 739; 1999b: 805). In Gen 1:6 Elohim separates the upper and lower waters, and in Ps 33:7 YHWH creates the heavens and the sea and puts the “deeps” in storehouses. In Ps 42:8 “deep calls to deep” near the place of their meeting; and in the flood story the “fountains of the deep” and “windows of the heavens” together produce the mbwl “flood” (Gen 7:11; 8:2). The implication of the wording in Job 36:27-28 is therefore that God withdraws water from the upper flood or edû and pours it down in showers upon the ground. As first recognized by Pope, “What we have here in brief is the same idea as in the biblical flood story, that the rain comes from the cosmic reservoirs, whether below or above the earth, or both” (1973: 273).



The Chaoskampf and the Primordial Waters


Because ʾēd likely means “flood,” this raises the question of whether in the context of the Eden story it has a cosmological significance or role. I mentioned earlier that the presence of the ʾēd coming up from the earth is the first creative event that occurs in the narrative and is the catalyst that leads to the creation of humans and a habitable earth. The ʾēd implicitly arises from the subterranean lower waters or tehom, and this recalls the motif of the harnessing of the primordial waters in Canaanite-Israelite mythological tradition.


From various biblical and comparative data, scholars have been able to reconstruct that in the Canaanite-Israelite tradition that preceded the development of the canonical biblical creation story cosmogonic creation was inseparable linked to the theme of Chaoskampf, which centered around divine combat with the Sea (cf. Wyatt 2005: 22-33, 106-108; Batto 2013; Miller 2014b; Ayali-Darshan 2014; 2015; Ballentine 2015). Ayali-Darshan has fittingly described the complex the “cosmogonic tradition of Zaphon.” The basic components of the tradition are that in illo tempore a god defeated the primordial Sea monster, constructing his mountain throne Zaphon upon its corpse and establishing a habitable earth in the process. The necessary outcome was that the victorious god acquired control over the cosmic waters, not only setting a boundary to the sea so that it would never again fully threaten the earth but also harnessing fresh water from the primordial tehom to come forth from mountains in the form of springs and rivers and also in clouds of fructifying rain.


Although the myth is not preserved fully formed in any extant NWS text, fragments or echoes of it are reflected in numerous biblical sources. For example, YHWH’s throne is associated with the powerful flood waters of tehom: “YHWH sits enthroned over the flood; YHWH sits enthroned as king forever” (Ps 29:10; Niehr 1990: 114-115; Koch 1993: 173-184; cf. also Ps 24:1-2; 42:6-7; 48:1-8; 93:104; 104:3). Roaring and threatening waters are contrasted with the fertilizing river of Elohim (Ps 46:1-5). A stereotyped role of YHWH is to bestow the blessings of water from heaven and tehom (Gen 49:25; Deut 33:13-16). Cosmogonic creation is linked to control over the cosmic waters: “By the word of YHWH the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth. He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle; he put the deeps in storehouses” (Ps 33:6-7); “YHWH by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew” (Prov 3:19-20).


For our purposes, what is most significant is that allusions to creation through Chaoskampf are often followed by references to the establishment of beneficial water sources:


  • “By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might. You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves… You visit the earth and water it; the river of Elohim is full of water; you provide the people with grain; for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth” (Ps 65:7-11).


  • “Yet Elohim my king is from of old, working salvation in the earth. You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. You cut openings for springs and torrents…” (Ps 74:12-15).


  • “You cover the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight. They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them. You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth. You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills, giving drink to every wild animal, the wild asses quench their thirst. By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches. From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work” (Ps 104:6-13).


  • “When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command” (Prov 8:27-29).


  • Following the reverse ordering of Job 26:7-13 reconstructed by Ayali-Darshan (2014), after defeating the Sea/Rahab Elohim binds up the waters in his thick clouds.


  • The defeat of the Sea is associated with divine provisioning of water sources in Job 38:8-38.


With this mythological background in mind, it seems clear that the story about the ʾēd arising from the earth in Gen 2:6 also derives from the cosmogonic Zaphon tradition. The flood of the ʾēd is the natural product of YHWH or El having defeated the Sea monster and taken control of the cosmic reservoir tehom, resulting in managed distribution of its fresh water resources from the location of his mountain abode. Only in this case the myth has been truncated so that we meet it in medias res as it were. The creator god has already triumphed over the forces of chaos and established the dry earth upon tehom. But according to the narrative no rain has yet fallen and the deity has only begun the process of releasing fertilizing waters in order to allow for the establishment of a well-ordered, habitable earth. The mention of the ʾēd therefore can only have been intended to evoke the specific mythological background of regulating the primordial waters for the benefit of humans.[ii]



The Development of the Eden story


An important implication of this understanding of the function of the ʾēd in Gen 2 is that the narrative has likely undergone significant redactional development. It is well known that many of the narratives of the Hebrew Bible had a long history of transmission and evolution, providing many opportunities for adjustments to be made to the text, some more intrusive and consequential than others (van der Toorn 2007; Pakkala 2013). I mentioned earlier that in the present form of the narrative the ʾēd seems to come up from the earth on its own volition, without the intervention of deity: “But an ʾēd was coming up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground.” Only beginning in v. 7 is the name YHWH-Elohim associated with concrete punctual action, as if to disassociate him from the ʾēd. However, given the mythological background of the cosmogonic tradition of Zaphon a self-automated “flood” upwelling from the earth is highly unexpected and in fact inappropriate. In the regular form of the myth a crucial role of deity was to be the one who released the fructifying waters from tehom onto the land.


In addition, the narrative exhibits several literary and syntactic anomalies, with vv. 5-6 constructed so as to function as lengthy circumstantial clauses following on v. 4b, such that v. 7 in which YHWH-Elohim forms man from the dirt of the ground becomes the effective apodosis: “On the day that the YHWH-Elohim made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for YHWH-Elohim had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream was rising from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground— then YHWH-Elohim formed man from the dust of the ground…” Although this formulation seems to have been intended to draw attention to the formation of man as the first act of YHWH’s creation, it is overly long and syntactically awkward, and it also creates the problem that the land is simultaneously dry and without vegetation and irrigated by a substantial subterranean flood.


As a consequence, I think it is reasonable to assume that the narrative beginning of the Eden account has experienced a redactional intervention. Because real action in the pericope only begins to take place in v. 6 with the upwelling of the ʾēd, this must have functioned as the original apodosis to v. 4b-5, and instead of a disjunctive waw the construction would have consisted of a wayyiqtol (Hiphil) + ʾēd (direct object): “he caused a flood to rise from the earth and it watered the whole face of the ground.” As an apodosis, a reference to deity beginning the process of establishing a habitable earth would have first occurred here. This reconstruction reduces the distance between the circumstantial clause and the apodosis, resolves the problems of the self-automating “flood” and the tension between the wet and dry lands of vv. 5 and 6, and makes more literary and contextual sense, since a reference to a lack of vegetation is followed by an act of creation that makes vegetation possible. At some point a scribe apparently altered the syntax in order to bring the creation of man by YHWH-Elohim into greater prominence.



YHWH or El?


The Eden story’s mythological background in the cosmogonic Zaphon tradition also points to other aspects of the narrative that may have undergone redactional development. In the current form of the narrative the divine protagonist is a deity named YHWH-Elohim. Yet a number of scholars have observed that the garden of Eden motif and the biblical Eden story itself likely derive from traditions associated with Canaanite El (Clifford 1972: 98-103, 159; Cross 1997: 37-38; Mullen 1980: 153-154; Day 2002: 26-32; 2013: 29; Steiner 2013: 103-107; Korpel and de Moor 2015: 29, 126-137). In Ezekiel the garden of Eden is repeatedly designated “Garden of Elohim [i.e. El]” (28:13; 31:8, 9), and located on “the mountain of Elohim” (28:14, 16), or the mount of divine assembly. In Gen 13:10 the name of the garden is “garden of YHWH,” but in the LXX ὁ παράδεισος τοῦ Θεοῦ “the garden of God,” reflecting “Garden of Elohim.” In Job 15:7-8 a tradition about the first man of the human race acquiring wisdom in the “council of Eloah [i.e. El]” is briefly alluded to. Consistent with this picture, the Garden of Eden in Gen 2-3 is implied to take place on a mountain, because great rivers flow from it to encompass the four quarters of the earth (Mettinger 2007: 15-16; Blenkinsopp 2011: 61), including the Tigris, Euphrates, Nile, and the Pishon around Arabia (Noort 1999: 29-30; Day 2013: 29-30). The place is also near the home of the gods; divine wisdom and immortality is available in Eden and references to the divine assembly occur in 3:5, 22: “you will be like the gods, knowing good and evil”; “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil….”


In addition, the profile of YHWH-Elohim is highly suggestive of El as known from the mythological texts of Ugarit. As a potter-like creator, he forms the first man from earthen clay, reminiscent of El’s sculpting of a female “Remover of Illness” in the Kirta Epic (KTU 1.16 V 25-30). His role as creator of humankind also recalls the divine epithet ʾab ʾadm “father of man” preserved in the same text (Rahmouni 2008: 8-10). YHWH-Elohim is a god of superhuman wisdom, who builds and orders the habitable earth and has access to the tree of knowledge of good and evil (2:17). He is a god of judgement who issues authoritative decrees (2:17; 3:14-19), inaugurates and governs human sexual reproduction (2:18; 3:16), presides over the divine assembly (3:22), and has charge over guardian servants (3:24). In short, YHWH-Elohim is for all practical purposes El.


We saw above that the Eden story is connected to the cosmogonic Zaphon tradition by virtue of the creation setting and the upwelling of the subterranean waters on the cosmic mountain. In this regard, we also have evidence that the original protagonist of the primordial Chaoskampf in the Canaanite-Israelite world was El, thus further confirming the secondary nature of the attribution of creation to YHWH-Elohim.


First, in Ugaritic literature El is said to live on a mountain “at the springs of the rivers, at the channels/meeting place of the two deeps” (KTU 1.2 III 4; 1.3 V 6; 1.4 IV 20-22; 1.17 V 47-48; 1.100.3), suggesting that it was he who had originally defeated the Sea monster and taken control of the waters of tehom in primordial time.[iii] This aspect of El’s character is not otherwise apparent in the available texts from Ugarit and in fact the Chaoskampf role has been largely siphoned off to Baal Haddu, who has become king of Zaphon, the warrior who struggles against the Sea, and dispenser of fructifying rain (Wyatt 2005: 22-33; Ballentine 2015: 48-63). But importantly Baal seems to fulfill this role only in the mythological present and is never portrayed as having accomplished the Chaoskampf in the cosmological past. In addition, while Zaphon is strictly associated with Baal and El’s home is apparently located far away in Anatolia (Niehr 2004: 327-330; Lipiński 1971: 41-58), we will see later that this presentation of El’s relationship to Zaphon is unlikely to be primitive, despite occurring at this early date. Even at Ugarit there are hints that El and Baal’s mountains were somehow related, for both El and Baal employ the same oracular formula to invite others to journey to their domicile, identifying these places as unique loci of divine revelation where the heavens and tehom intersect: “For a message I have, and I will tell you, a word, and I will recite to you: The word of tree and the whisper of stone, the converse of Heaven to Hell, of Deeps to Stars” (KTU 1.1 IV 13-14; 1.3 III 22-25). The fact that only El can authorize the building of Baal’s palace on Zaphon and that after Baal dies El and Asherah select a successor to ascend to his throne suggests that El retains a degree of authority over Zaphon.


Second, that El was chief of the Canaanite pantheon, father of the gods, and bore the cosmically-oriented epithet qny ʾrṣ “Owner of the earth”[iv] all lend support to the idea that his supremacy was established already in primordial times through Chaoskampf. In ancient Near Eastern polytheism preeminence among the gods was not simply a given, but was necessarily earned through agonistic conflict so as to be worthy of the honor. As Miller has noted, “the assumption that El was in no way a warlike deity leaves some questions unanswered. One of these is the question as to how El could ever have been king and ruler of the gods without some manifestation of his warrior might. In the human realm it was leadership in war that led to kingship or helped to establish it. So in the divine world one would expect such leadership particularly within the sphere of Mesopotamian and Canaanite mythology” (1967: 412-413). Without a role in cosmogonic Chaoskampf, it is difficult to see how El could have achieved his unique status in Canaanite myth. El belonged to the primary generation of the gods and so was inextricably tied to beginnings. He was ruler among the gods and “Owner of the earth” because in fact he had brought the ordered cosmos into being through defeating the forces of chaos.


Third, El is directly connected to the cosmogonic Zaphon tradition in a number of texts. In the Job-stele from the Bashan dating to the time of Ramses II (1279-1212 BCE) El is given the epithet qny ṣpn “Owner of Zaphon” (de Moor 1997: 148-149; Kottsieper 2013). In Isa 14:13-14 El’s throne and the divine council is located on Zaphon and in Job 26:7-13 the defeat of the Sea monster and construction of Zaphon is credited to El. In Amherst Papyrus 63 the god Mar/Bethel, who is probably a northern Canaanite/Aramaean form of El, is linked to Zaphon as well as control over beneficial waters sources (Kottsieper 1997: 406-416). According to the translation of Steiner (2003), he is the god “who causes the sea to rise generation after generation — all the clouds of moisture, offspring of the primeval mist [אד?],” and who sends rain. Later the speaker prays to Mar within a cosmogonic setting, “You stretched out the heavens, Mar, you set the stars in place… Let canal (and) pool rise through its waves. Let canal (and) pool rise through its waves. The river is poor in floodwater. The river will die and be bitter” (IX.1-13).


Lastly, names and attributes of El appear conspicuously in biblical passages alluding to or building upon the Chaoskampf tradition: “Elohim” (Gen 1); “Most High” (Ps 18:14); “children of Elohim” and “king” (Ps 29:1, 10); “mountains of El (Ps 36:6); “river of Elohim” (Ps 65:1, 9); “Elohim” and “king” (Ps 74:12); “king” (Ps 93:1); “El” (Ps 104:21); “El” (Ezek 28:2); “Eloah” and “Holy One” (Hab 3:3); “El” (Job 26:6); “children of Elohim” (Job 38:7). The description of YHWH rebuking the Sea and drying up the rivers in Nah 1:4 is combined with a reference to him causing the mountains to quake and melt, which immediately recalls the theophanic description of El in the plaster wall inscription 4.2 from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (cf. Aḥituv 2012: 110-114; Mastin 2009: 110-113).


Taken together, the above considerations strongly suggest that the Eden story should be tradition-historically associated with El. The mythological background is polytheistic, fundamentally rooted in motifs such as the Chaoskampf and the divine assembly on the mountain of El. Accordingly, this raises the question of whether the identification of deity as YHWH-Elohim in the narrative is a result of redactional shaping as well.


The significance of the compound divine name YHWH-Elohim has been extensively discussed (cf. Westermann 1984: 198; Witte 1998: 57-61, 232-237; Titus 2010; Bührer 2014: 181-187). Because the name occurs only in the Eden story in the Pentateuch (apart from Ex 9:30) and is sandwiched between a priestly narrative that exclusively employs Elohim as the divine name (Gen 1:1-3) and non-P material that favors YHWH (e.g. Gen 4:1-26), it has the appearance of being an ad hoc construction intended to bridge the priestly and non-priestly narratives: Elohim > YHWH-Elohim > YHWH. The name is certainly unlikely to be original to the narrative, since it is lacking from the continuation to non-P in Genesis, is not attested in extra-biblical inscriptions, appears sporadically in the Bible and almost solely in late or redactional contexts (cf. Witte 1998: 288-290; Harvey 2011: 100-132), and even in Gen 2-3 is not used consistently (cf. 3:1-5). The name Elohim is used as a proper name in Gen 1 and YHWH is clearly a proper name, so in context YHWH-Elohim must function as a double divine name (Witte 1998: 57). Comparable to other double divine names attested in NWS (e.g. Eshmun-Melqart), the distinct names Elohim and YHWH are blended into one. Yet if the expanded name YHWH-Elohim is a product of redactional and theological concerns, what was the literary process by which it developed? Which of the divine names is more primitive to the narrative and why is the phenomenon of YHWH-Elohim restricted only to Gen 2-3?


Throughout the last century of scholarship the dominant critical explanation has been to assume that in accordance with traditional documentary theory YHWH was the original god of the Eden story and that when combining the priestly and non-priestly (i.e. YHWHist) sources a scribe added Elohim to the name YHWH in order to make clear that they were the same deity (e.g. Driver 1905: 37; von Rad 1972: 77; Westermann 1984: 198-199; Witte 1998; Day 2013: 25). However, the use of the divine name YHWH in subsequent non-P material is problematic as a criterion for reconstructing the narrative of Gen 2-3, since it is not used consistently and in fact there is significant instability surrounding the identity of the Israelite god in Genesis, with frequent variation between YHWH and El names both within and among textual units (Carr 1996: 147, 200-202; 2011: 106-107; Römer 2015: 78-82). In addition, this hypothesis about YHWH-Elohim fails to explain “why in the dialogue between the snake and the woman only Elohim appears, and even more importantly why the relevant redaction should end precisely at 3:24: it could have extended to the next priestly text and therefore found expression in the brother murder narrative of Gen 4, which clearly represents the continuation to Gen 2-3, or even included merely Gen 2 to balance out both creation narratives” (Bührer 2014: 183).


The alternative is that Elohim or El was primary to the narrative, to which YHWH has been secondarily identified. Although this possibility has only rarely been considered in previous research (cf. Eerdmans 1908: 78-79; Procksch 1924: 19; Simpson 1948: 60; Levin 1993: 82-83), several lines of evidence converge to lend it support.


First, we have already seen that the Eden story itself likely derives from an El background. Thus from a tradition-historical perspective, an El name such as Elohim is to be preferred over YHWH.


Second, as reflected in their artificial construction, compound divine names were typically used to identify one deity with another, leveraging the authority and status of a deity (or deities) already established within a community to introduce a new form of deity and facilitate innovation in the cult. However, in this case the leveraging of authority would have almost certainly moved in the direction from Elohim to YHWH (Propp 1990: 191). As Elohim was used in Hebrew as the basic term for “God,” that is El, there was no need to legitimate his authority and status by linking him to YHWH. If Elohim is understood as a proper name, it can only signify the supreme deity of the Canaanite pantheon, meaning that YHWH would necessarily represent the implicit upstart member of the pair, the biblical author asserting his identification with El.


Third, the priestly narrative in Gen 1 identifies the creator god as Elohim, so we would expect the creator god of Gen 2-3 to be Elohim as well. If we accept priestly tradition that the god YHWH was earlier known in Israel-Judah as El as retaining accurate historical memory (Ex 6:2-3), then it seems that it is the name YHWH rather than Elohim that is out of place in the primeval story and that the narrative in its current form reflects a YHWHizing ideology. Similar to the priestly narrative, the non-P narrative offers its own explanation of how Elohim transformed into YHWH, with the immediate literary context showing a tendentious interest to introduce the worship of YHWH at the very beginning of the story of Israel rather than later at Sinai: “At that time the people began to invoke the name of YHWH” (Gen 4:26).


Fourth, only Elohim appears in the dialogue between the snake and the woman (3:1-5), hinting at the priority of El as a divine designation in an earlier form of the narrative. It has long been recognized that it is unlikely to be coincidence that Elohim occurs in Gen 2-4 only in first person speech. This includes not only the exchange between the snake and the woman in 3:1-5 (“Did Elohim say…” [v. 1]; “But Elohim said…” [v. 3]; “For Elohim knows…” [v. 5]), but also the statements made by Eve in 4:1 if we read with the LXX: “I have borne a man with the help of Elohim” and then again in Gen 4:25: “Elohim has appointed for me another child…” As a shorter designation for deity, Elohim is to be preferred as primary in the tradition to YHWH-Elohim. In addition, according to 4:26 the name YHWH (or YHWH-Elohim with the LXX) only began to be invoked in the generations following Adam and Eve: “At that time people began to invoke the name of YHWH,” which occurs in the first person speech of Lamech in 5:29: “Out of the ground YHWH has cursed, this one will bring us relief…” From a narratological perspective, the name YHWH was as yet unknown to Adam and Eve. Thus, the repeated use of Elohim in first person speech in the context of a broader emphasis on YHWH-Elohim or YHWH in third person narration suggests the conservation of an archaic textual feature, dictated simply by discourse setting. Because the purpose of the narrative in its present form was intended to identify YHWH with Elohim, that is, El is the base deity and YHWH the add-on, when it came to first person speech where the name YHWH or YHWH-Elohim was inadmissible, the scribe responsible for conflating the priestly and non-priestly narratives defaulted to the original Elohim.


Fifth, an El name works better in the context of the reference to the divine assembly in Gen 3:22: “See, the man has become like one of us.” Here El “God” speaks to the other elohim “gods” that the man and woman have become like them, that is, like elohim (3:5). By presupposing YHWH as the original divine name the playful allusion to the elohim status shared between El and the other gods is obscured. Later in Gen 6:2 we hear mention of “the sons of Elohim,” not the sons of YHWH.


Finally, it is possible that the LXX provides text-critical evidence that Elohim was original to YHWH. The Greek preserves a form of Gen 2-4 that reads ο͑ θεός, i.e. Elohim, instead of YHWH-Elohim in 2:4, 5, 7, 9, 19, 21; 3:13, 22 or YHWH in 4:1, 4, 9, 10, 16 and κύριος ὁ θεὸς, i.e. YHWH-Elohim, instead of YHWH in 4:6, 15 (2x), 26. If the LXX accurately reproduces its Hebrew vorlage, then this would point to the existence of a Hebrew tradition in which Elohim as the divine name was featured much more prominently in the primeval narrative than the MT as it currently stands.


So the question arises, does the usage of divine names in the LXX represent an early tradition with respect to the MT, or is it secondary and interpretive? Among scholars who have analyzed this question, the general tendency has been to conclude that the LXX was secondarily developed from the MT, whether in a Hebrew vorlage or Greek translation (Rösel 1991; Hendel 1998; Witte 1998; Bührer 2014). For example, some have argued that the Greek translator varied the divine name based on theological concerns. According to Rösel, the translator used ο͑ θεός when God was angry, punished wrong-doing, manifested his power, functioned as creator, or related to foreigners, κύριος in contexts involving the relationship of God to his people, and κύριος ὁ θεὸς in more universal contexts (1991: 370-371). Similarly, Witte characterized the variation in divine names as conditioned by particular content. He suggested that in Gen 1-11 ὁ θεὸς was used in the context of speech about God the creator and κύριος ὁ θεὸς when God is described interacting more directly with his creation (1998: 288-290). However, even a fairly quick glance shows that neither of these criteria for understanding the variation in divine names holds consistent over the entirety of Gen 1-11 (cf. Witte 1998: 289, n. 12). Rösel’s multiplication of contexts that stimulated the use of ὁ θεὸς already makes it suspect as an explanation, and there is little evidence to justify distinguishing the usage of κύριος from ὁ θεὸς or κύριος ὁ θεὸς on the basis of theological attribute or action. Rather, κύριος and the other divine designations in the primeval narrative appear to be used interchangeably (e.g. Gen 2:7-8; 10:9).


By contrast, Hendel has proposed that the variation in divine names was a feature of the Hebrew vorlage of the LXX and that its stimulus was primarily literary in origin. Uncomfortable with the abrupt transition from Elohim in Gen 1 to YHWH-Elohim in Gen 2-3 and then to YHWH or Elohim in Gen 4-11, a scribe or set of scribes in the proto-LXX tradition attempted to harmonize or correlate each narrative section’s use of divine names with the previous section, meaning that Elohim was carried forward into Gen 2-3 and then Elohim and YHWH-Elohim into Gen 4-11 (1998: 35-39). Yet if scribal harmonization was the goal, it is difficult to understand why a scribe would have produced a text that haphazardly alternates its usage of the divine name, without any apparent pattern. The impetus of harmonization is generally to reduce complexity, to streamline and integrate. But in this case it appears that the pattern of nomenclature applied to the Israelite deity has actually been made more complex and variegated, alternating back and forth between Elohim and YHWH-Elohim with an occasional YHWH or cluster of YHWH’s.


On closer inspection, the pattern or distribution of divine names in the MT and LXX in Gen 1-11 seem to represent two distinct approaches to introducing the divine name YHWH. On the one hand, the MT constructs a metamorphosis of Elohim to YHWH that occurs rapidly within the space of a few chapters. Elohim is introduced as the name of God in Gen 1-2:4a. Then abruptly the name transitions to YHWH-Elohim in Gen 2:4b-3:23 with the exception of 3:1-5 where Elohim briefly reappears. Lastly, in chap 4 YHWH-Elohim transforms into YHWH, which is used exclusively throughout apart from v. 25 where Elohim appears in first person speech. In general, the movement from one divine name to the other is monolithic and uniform: Elohim (1-2:4a) > YHWH-Elohim (2:4-3:23) > YHWH (4:1-26).


On the other hand, in the LXX the introduction of the name YHWH occurs more fitfully and gradually. Elohim is used strictly in Gen 1-2:7 and then YHWH-Elohim is introduced at 2:8, at which point these names alternate back and forth until Gen 4:1. With chap 4 YHWH is brought into the mix of divine names in v. 3 and v. 13, though the dominant usage still fluctuates between Elohim and YHWH-Elohim. Chap 5 returns to exclusive use of Elohim until v. 29 with YHWH-Elohim. From chap 6 on Elohim and YHWH-Elohim alternate fairly consistently until 9:26 with a single occurrence of YHWH. At this point simple YHWH begins to be used more frequently, alternating with a more rare YHWH-Elohim, whose final occurrence is in 11:9. The transition from Elohim to YHWH in the LXX is therefore more hesitating and complex than in the MT.


When considered by themselves, each account of the transition from Elohim to YHWH is coherent and effective as gauged by the methodology adopted, the first moving in a monolithic block pattern and the second in a more irregular and elongated step-ladder fashion. More indirect than the Priestly source’s announcement in Ex 6:2-3 that YHWH was formerly known as El, both versions of Gen 1-11 promote YHWH as the historical telos of El and lead the reader to identify a new form of deity with an older one.


I mentioned above that most scholars have tended to assume that the MT is primary to the LXX, which is thought to represent a later interpretive stage in the development of Genesis. However, several considerations indicate that the LXX presentation of the divine names in Gen 1-11 may actually be primitive to the MT.


First, LXX Gen 4:1 reads διὰ τοῦ θεοῦ, reflecting Elohim rather than YHWH. We saw earlier that this reading is likely to be primary in the textual tradition because the context is first person speech and the name of YHWH is not introduced in the narrative so as to be invoked by characters until 4:26. That this understanding is correct is supported by the peculiar use of Elohim in the MT in the first person speech at 4:25.


Second, the manner of identifying YHWH with El is much more tentative in the LXX, repeatedly interchanging Elohim with YHWH-Elohim in textual unit after unit all the way until 11:9 so as to habituate the reader to their divine identity. It is as if the scribe responsible for the narrative understood that the claim he was making about YHWH in the context of the narrative was theologically risky and fraught. Whereas the MT abruptly identifies Elohim with YHWH-Elohim and then just as abruptly moves on to simple YHWH. In other words, there is less hesitancy or ambivalence about the identity of these divine names. He has a stronger preference for moving directly to YHWH as the regular name of the Israelite god and so has reduced the space in which YHWH-Elohim occurs in the narrative from Gen 2:8-11:9 to merely 2:4b-3:23.


Third, the redactional intervention reflected in the MT that created sequential blocks in the usage of divine names with Elohim (1-2:4a) > YHWH-Elohim (2:4-3:23) > YHWH (4:1-26) has unintentionally produced literary tension with chap 5’s use of Elohim. After moving so decisively from Elohim to YHWH and showing a strong preference for YHWH in chap 4, the narrative rather awkwardly moves back to an exclusive preference for Elohim in Gen 5:1-24. By contrast, the distribution of divine names in LXX Gen 4 seems to anticipate and prepare for the priestly preference for Elohim in chap 5.


Finally, in LXX Gen 13:10 the garden of Eden is referred to as ὁ παράδεισος τοῦ θεοῦ “the garden of God” instead of the MT’s “the garden of YHWH.” We saw earlier that there can be little doubt that the former reflects an earlier stage of the tradition when Eden was exclusively associated with El.


In sum, the original deity of the garden of Eden story was likely El rather than YHWH-Elohim. The name YHWH-Elohim is a late artificial construction that seeks to mediate between the literary and theological pressure to recognize El as the Israelite ancestral creator god and the need to introduce YHWH as his currently accepted proper name within the author’s community.



Eden in the East


One final element we can mention that may have been redactionally altered in the narrative is the location of Eden. As the narrative stands, YHWH-Elohim plants “a garden in Eden in the east” (2:8), suggesting a location far to the east from the perspective of the narrator (Westermann 1984: 210-211; Noort 1999: 28, 33; Bührer 2014: 212, n. 215; cf. Stordalen 2000: 261-270). However, the problem with this claim is that various lines of evidence indicate that in Canaanite-Israelite tradition the garden of Eden was imagined to be found on the Lebanon, i.e. the high mountain ranges to the north of Israel-Judah.


First, as is well known, Ezek 28 associates Eden with the “mountain of Elohim,” which chap 31 identifies as the Lebanon where cedar trees grow (Morgenstern 1941: 77; Stolz 1972; cf. Wallace 1985: 70-86; Stordalen 2000: 379-397). In Ps 80:11 cedar trees are called “the cedars of El” and Ps 104:16 states that “the trees of YHWH are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted,” suggesting that the trees are near the god’s home and also recalling Gen 2:6’s claim that YHWH-Elohim “planted” the garden of Eden. In Num 24:5-7 Israel is metaphorically depicted as an Eden-like garden planted by YHWH (identified as El in vv. 4 and 8), featuring cedar trees and abundant water.


Second, Mesopotamian literary traditions related to Gilgamesh identify the cedar mountain in Lebanon as “the dwelling of the gods” (George 2003: 602-603) and “the secret abode of the Anunnaki” (George 2003: 264-265). The mountain and its trees are guarded by the frightening creature Humbaba appointed by Enlil, which is probably a distant refraction of the Canaanite tradition that El had appointed a monster guardian of his garden home, identified as a cherub in biblical tradition (Gen 3:24; Ezek 28:14, 16).


Third, the custom of obtaining cedar trees from Mount Lebanon to construct temples is widely attested in Syro-Palestine (Smith and Pitard 2009: 610-612). In combination with efforts to decorate such temples with motifs suggestive of the garden of Eden (Smith 2016: 34-36; Stager 1999), this speaks to a desire to transfer some of the sanctity and beauty inhering to El’s mountain to other locations. For example, in Amherst Papyrus 63 the liturgy intones, “The beams of your house, Bethel, are from Lebanon; from Lebanon, your garden, are they” (VIII.8-10). In connection to the prophetic theme that in the restored Jerusalem the wilderness will be turned to a garden of Eden (e.g. Isa 51:3), a number of texts describe this event in terms of the translocation of Lebanon to Jerusalem: “The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon” (35:2); “The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary, and I will glorify the place where my feet rest” (60:13). In a 7th century BCE Assyrian text the Akitu festival is said to be celebrated outside the city at a temple in kirî nuḫši tamšil Labnana “the Garden of plenty, the image of Lebanon” (Lipiński 1973). As Stager has noted, “The ‘Garden of Plenty’ (kirî nuḫši) is the semantic equivalent of the ‘Garden of Eden’ (gan ʿēden)” (1999: 186).


Fourth, garden of Eden-like imagery is closely associated with the Lebanon in various biblical texts (Stager 1999: 187-188; Stordalen 2000: 162-182; Müller 2001).[v] For example, the bride of the Song of Songs is described as a garden of Lebanon, with trees, fragrant scents, and choice fruits, also “a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon” (4:15). In Hosea the restored Israel is compared to a garden or vine of Lebanon that lives in YHWH’s shadow (14:5-7). The righteous are like a cedar of Lebanon planted in YHWH’s temple garden (Ps 92:12-14).


Sixth, a text from Ugarit mentions a garden and palace belonging to El on the Lebanon, from which wine is cultivated for feasting: “The choice blossom of Lebanon, must that El nurtured…. In the banquet house on the summit, in the heart of Lebanon” (KTU 1.22 I 19-25; cf. Lewis 1997: 204; Niehr 2004: 339-340; Smith 2012: 236). The linkage of El to gardens and mountains in this part of Canaan is also reflected in the place name Carmel, which is a contraction of the Hebrew words krm + ʾl “vineyard of El.”


The association of Lebanon with garden of Eden traditions is for the most part well recognized. Less well known is that the mountains of Lebanon are also vitally linked to the cosmogonic Zaphon tradition, i.e. the site of the primeval Chaoskampf with the Sea and the establishment of El’s abode.


First, a number of texts identify the mountains of Lebanon as the source of the primordial waters. 1) As Day has observed, the language used to describe Tyre in Ezek 28, “I am El, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas” evokes El’s home at the source of the cosmic waters in Ugaritic myth (2002: 26-28). Yet the broader literary context leads the reader to situate El’s throne and the divine assembly on “the mountain of Elohim” along with “the garden of Elohim” in the Lebanon (Ezek 28:14, 16; 31:3). The reason the author of Ezek refers to this mythological complex in the context of an oracle against Tyre is because the geographical milieu of the tradition is Phoenician. 2) Ezek 31:4-7 similarly identifies the Lebanon as having a unique connection to the cosmic waters of tehom: “the waters nourished [the cedar], tehom made it grow tall, making its rivers flow around the place it was planted, sending forth its streams to all the trees of the field… for its roots went down to abundant water.” 3) In Isa 37:24-25 the Assyrian king claims to have climbed Mount Lebanon and taken control of the source of the cosmic waters: “I dug wells and drank waters, I dried up with the sole of my foot all the streams of Egypt.” The mention of “the streams of Egypt” is clearly a mythological allusion. While the idea that the rivers of Egypt find their source in the Lebanon is geographically nonsensical, it is highly reminiscent of the claim that the garden of Eden is the source of the Nile/Gihon in Gen 2:13. 4) In Ps 42:7-8 the supplicant remembers YHWH from below Mount Hermon, near the meeting place of the upper and lower waters, where tehom calls to tehom (Lipiński 1971: 40-41; Day 1985: 119). 5) When Enoch ascends to heaven from a mountain in the vicinity of Dan, he sees the great rivers and cosmic storehouses, “I saw the mouth of all the rivers of the earth and the mouth of the abyss” (Enoch 17:5). 6) In the testament of Levi, Levi has a vision of himself upon Mount Hermon where he sees the upper cosmic reservoir (2:7).


Second, Ps 29 alludes to Chaoskampf tradition when it speaks of YHWH’s power over the mym rbym “mighty waters” and that YHWH is enthroned over the mbwl “flood” (e.g. Day 1985: 57-61; Niehr 1990: 114-115). As many have noted, the setting of the theophany is the mountains of Lebanon and anti-Lebanon (e.g. Smith 2014: 48-50). For this reason, the deity invoked in the hymn cannot originally have been YHWH but is likely to have been native to Phoenicia and the Lebanon. Because he is a storm god with features closely comparable to Baal Haddu from Ugarit, he has generally been identified with Baal (Day 1985: 59). However, the epithet baʿal “lord” was used to identify multiple deities in the broader Canaanite world and the Baal of Mount Lebanon in particular seems to have been El (Lipiński 1971; Naccache 1996; Steiner 2009). As the supreme authority on Mount Lebanon, El would also have had control over the cosmic upper and lower waters, functioning as weather god in central and southern Canaan (e.g. Gen 2:5; Gen 49:25; Deut 33:13-16; 1 Sam 2:10; Ps 18:14; Nahum 1:3-5). Koch has insightfully observed that because of the meteorological phenomena associated with high mountains, the gods who ruled over them were necessarily weather gods (1993: 171). With regard to Ps 29 itself scholars have noted clues that the hymn was originally dedicated to El: there is mention of the divine assembly (bny ʾlym “children of El”); ʾl in the unique formulation ʾl hkbwd “the god of the glory”; the occurrence of the epithet ʾlywn “Most High” in the related enthronement hymn of Ps 97 (Stolz 1970: 152-155; 1972: 148; Day 1985: 60).


Third, various texts imply that Zaphon and the mount of divine assembly are to be found in the Lebanon. 1) In Isa 14 the cedars and cypresses of Lebanon rejoice that a foreign oppressor no longer comes up to cut them down, which is continued with the image that the king who tried to ascend the heights of Zaphon was himself cut down. In this instance, the heights of Zaphon seem to correspond to the summit of Mount Lebanon. 2) In Isa 37:24 the top of Mount Lebanon is referred to as “the heights of the mountains, the far recesses [yrkty] of Lebanon,” parallel to “far recesses [yrkty] of Zaphon” in Isa 14:13. 3) The reference to ʾil qny ṣpn “El owner of Zaphon” in the Job-stele seems to presume that Mount Zaphon was located in the general vicinity of the Bashan. 4) In Ps 68:16-17 Mount Bashan, which in this context is probably inclusive of Mount Hermon, is called “mountain of Elohim” and implied to be a place of divine dwelling comparable to Mount Zion (Day 1985: 113-117; cf. Curtis 1986; Niehr 1990: 112-113; de Moor 1997: 171-191; Wyatt 2005: 210; Emerton 2015: 296; Knohl 2012: 11-15). 5) In Amherst Papyrus 63 Raša, the homeland of the community responsible for the liturgy, is invoked parallel to Lebanon and Zaphon (XI.1, 13). Zaphon is also imagined to be the location of the divine assembly, since in the Aramaic version of Ps 20 Mar or El is requested to send his emissary from Zaphon for protection and blessing (XI.11-19).[vi] Kottsieper (1997: 406-416) has argued that the origin of this community was in south Syria, which would fit well with an identification of Zaphon with the summit of Mount Lebanon. 6) In Jewish apocalyptic literature, Mount Hermon appears as the “mountain conduit by which one ascends to or descends from heaven,” with meteorological features that recall Mount Zaphon in Ugaritic myth (Bautch 2003: 62).


Fourth, in the Egyptian Tale of the Two Brothers Bata, the younger brother, flees to a valley in the Lebanon cedar mountains, which is described as a place highly reminiscent of the biblical garden of Eden: the gods of the divine assembly freely walk about, they create a wife for Bata so that he would not be “alone,” this involves in particular the potter god Khnum forming the woman (Lichtheim 2003: 87). In this regard, it is significant that the Sea figures as a prominent character in the story. He is implied to be close at hand or everywhere present in the valley, surging and threatening to catch Bata’s wife. Ayali-Darshan has proposed that elements of both the Tale of Two Brothers and Gen 2-3 go back to earlier Canaanite tradition (2013).


Fifth, themes of death and judgment in Sheol are often connected to the garden of Eden, Zaphon, and the mountains of Lebanon (e.g. Gen 2:17; Isa 14: 9-21; Ezek 31:14-18; Enoch 21-22; Matt 16:18). That all are associated in this regard seems to reflect the conception that while the top of the mountain reached to heaven the bottom opened into the underworld (Lipiński 1971: 35, 55; cf. Clifford 1972: 9-25). This is further supported by the fact that the towns Ashtarot and Edrei below Mount Hermon are linked to the underworld Rephaim in Ugaritic and biblical tradition (Day 2002: 221-225; Del Olmo Lete 1999: 161-163).


Sixth, the motif of Eden-like abundance is associated with Zaphon in Ugaritic myth. In the Baal Cycle Baal is said to dispense abundant water from his home on Zaphon: “So now may Baal fructify [ʿdn] with his rain, may he enrich richly [ʿdn] with watering in a downpour, may he give voice in the clouds, may he flash to the earth lightning bolts” (KTU 1.4 V 6-9; Smith 2016: 32; Smith and Pitard 2009: 535, 537, 556-563). The emphasis on abundant provisioning of water in this case is clear, so if El had his abode on Mount Lebanon and controlled the cosmic waters from there, it would make sense for Eden-like abundance to be dispensed from this mountain as well.


Finally, traditions of Chaoskampf and theomachy are linked to the mountains of Lebanon. A fragmentary text from Ugarit describes the binding of the monster Tunnanu on the heights of Lebanon: “The forked tongue licks the heavens, the forked tail thrashes the sea. Tunnanu with a muzzle (?) you set, you bind on the heights of Lebanon” (cf. Parker 1997; Mazzini 2003; Smith 2009: 253-256; 2012: 237). In Psalm 89:12-15 the theme of Chaoskampf and cosmic lordship is connected to Hermon as well as Zaphon (Koch 1993: 176-178). Habakkuk 2:17 alludes to “the violence done to Lebanon” and “the destruction of Behemot” in an oracle, suggesting that the same judgment that YHWH once visited on the Lebanon would be directed against a rapacious empire (cf. Albright 1955: 8, n. 3; Haak 1992: 70-76). In the Phoenician History of Philo of Byblos, although lacking a cosmogonic creation story because of the euhemeristic scheme, Kronos (El) is said to have established his rule through defeating Ouranos (Heaven), who was castrated on Mount Lebanon and whose blood dripped into the waters of springs and rivers (Attridge and Oden 1981: 54-55). The name Bashan itself likely stems from NWS bṯn “snake,” denoting the mountainous remains of the ancient sea monster (cf. Curtis 1986: 89-90; Charlesworth 2004: 354-356; Wyatt 2005: 210; Miller 2014a: 513; Korpel and de Moor 2015: 65).[vii]


If the high mountains of Lebanon were the source of the cosmic waters, the ancient hallowed site of El’s throne and abode, and the fossilized remnant of El’s battle with the chaos monster, it naturally follows that these mountains were also the location of Mount Zaphon. We have seen above that mythological notions related to Zaphon and the mountains of Lebanon-Eden-garden of El are closely intertwined.


A major obstacle to this explanation of Lebanon as the site of Mount Zaphon is that the consensus of modern scholarship holds that Zaphon should be identified with Jebel al-ʾAqraʿ or Hittite Mount Hazi near Ugarit (Eissfeldt 1932; Albright 1950; Lipiński 2003: 436-437; Smith 1994: 122; Niehr 1999b; Day 2002: 107-108). The main considerations that have led to this conclusion are that 1) this mountain is geographically relevant as the most prominent landmark in north Syria with associated weather phenomena matching the storm god profile of Baal Haddu (Bordreuil and Pardee 2009: 16-17); 2) it has a long history as a sacred mountain and site of mythological conflict (Güterbock 1951: 145); 3) in Ugaritic and Akkadian texts the name of the mountain is alternatively designated Hazi or Zaphon (Astour 1975: 319-321). That Jebel al-ʾAqraʿ was identified as Zaphon in the cultural world of Ugarit seems reasonably secure.


However, was Jebel al-ʾAqraʿ the one and only Mount Zaphon in the Canaanite-speaking world? Are the traditions about Mount Hazi’s identification with Zaphon at Ugarit primary to other Canaanite traditions about the location of Zaphon? Was Mount Hazi conceived as the primordial site where the creator god defeated the Sea monster and established his mountain throne?


On closer inspection, there are reasons to think that Mount Hazi is not the original Zaphon but has been secondarily identified as such. First, the primary name of Jebel al-ʾAqraʿ in antiquity seems to have been Hazi over Zaphon. Hazi is the earliest attested name, belonging to Hurrian-Hittite tradition, and is still in use at Ugarit in Akkadian texts (Niehr 1999b: 927-929; Koch 1993: 197-204). The name Zaphon comes to the fore in ritual and mythological texts and the impression on the basis of usage is that it represents a local name favored by the kingdom of Ugarit for a mountain known as Hazi in the broader region of southern Anatolia/north Syria (cf. Grave 1980: 225-226). If the common assumption that the later Greek name Kasion derives from Hazi is correct (e.g. Astour 1975: 320; Fauth 1990: 107-108; Lipiński 1995: 245; Niehr 1999b: 928; cf. Wyatt 2005: 109), then it appears that the older Hittite name outlasted Zaphon as the customary designation. Second, while myths of Chaoskampf are associated with Hazi-Zaphon, I am aware of no textual evidence that cosmogony or primordial Chaoskampf was imagined to have occurred at this location as well. As we saw above, the establishment of a deity’s throne in the process of building a mountain over the primordial waters was fundamental to the cosmogonic Zaphon tradition. Third, the god associated with Hazi-Zaphon is Baal Haddu or Hurrian Teshub, whereas tradition-historically we would rather expect El to have been the owner of Mount Zaphon. According to the reconstruction offered earlier, El is the creator god who established his cosmic rulership and primacy in the Canaanite pantheon by defeating the forces of chaos and taking control of the cosmic waters. That in the Baal Cycle El has been situated far away in Anatolia, leaving Mount Hazi-Zaphon to Baal Haddu, suggests that in Ugaritic cult the connection of El to Zaphon has been disrupted and restructured so as to give primacy to Baal Haddu as the supreme weather god. El is unable to compete with Baal in this regard because he does not dwell on Hazi-Zaphon. Lipiński has also convincingly argued that the tradition that locates El’s abode in Anatolia/Armenia is secondary or younger to the tradition that his mountain home was in Canaan (1971: 57-58; cf. Day 2013: 27-32; Korpel and de Moor 2015: 29-44).[viii]


On the other hand, we have already noted a variety of evidence that the cosmogonic Zaphon tradition was closely connected to the mountains of Lebanon. The main features of the tradition cluster here, including the site of El’s throne and abode, the divine assembly, Chaoskampf, cosmogonic creation, the source of the cosmic waters, and Eden-like abundance.


In addition, the name Zaphon may have originally designated a specific mountain in the Lebanon. It is generally recognized that the use of Zaphon as a name for a mountain in the north must have preceded the use of this word in Hebrew to designate the corresponding direction: “It can hardly be doubted which of the two meanings is the primary one, the concrete ‘Mount Kasion [i.e. Zaphon]’ or the abstract ‘northern direction,’ which, on its part, could have again shifted to the concrete meaning ‘north region’: the primary one would be the mountain name. Since for the peoples under consideration it lay in the north and was for them the characteristic landmark of that direction, its name became the designation for it” (Eissfeldt 1932: 16-17, quoted in Astour 1975: 320). The question is what mountain to the north would have been so prominent for Hebrew speakers as a landmark that it would have developed into a word for that direction?


Perhaps a significant datum is that the word ṣpn is not used to denote “north” in Canaanite and Canaanite-related languages to the north of Israel-judah, including Phoenician, Aramiac, and Ugaritic.[ix] After noting this, Koch concluded, “Paradoxically, therefore, only in Palestine was this extension of meaning carried through, that is, in a landscape from which the ǧebel el-aqraʿ is not at all visible. This can only have happened through an association in which the north Syrian mountain was known and holy” (1993: 183-184). But it is difficult to conceive that the religious status of a mountain over 500 kilometers from Jerusalem would have been sufficient in itself to trigger the semantic development of ṣpn from concrete place to abstract direction. The defining element of ṣpn as a coordinate is not the sacred quality of the direction it represents, but simply the generic concept “north.” In his comparative study of ancient geographic nomenclature, Talshir observes that the devisement of direction terms was relative to local geography and based on the existence of conspicuous topographical landmarks (2003). We would thus expect that the mountain from which the direction ṣpwn “north” derived would have been observable or at least accessible in the general landscape. Parallel to ym “sea” and ngb “desert,” which are also concrete entities used to denote directions in Hebrew, Mount Zaphon would necessarily have been located in the border region of Israel-Judah to the north, well known and easily identifiable for Hebrew speakers.


From this perspective, the most obvious candidate for Zaphon would be a mountain or cluster of mountains in the Lebanon or Anti-Lebanon ranges. These mountains were the most significant landmark to the north of Israel-Judah, visible from throughout the countryside, and functioned as a border region separating northern Canaan from central and southern Canaan (Stordalen 2000: 162-163; Mulder 1995). Furthermore, the implication of the phrase yrkty ṣpwn “heights/recesses of Zaphon” and the description of Isa 14:13 is that Zaphon was an exceptionally high mountain, reaching into heaven and “the tops of the clouds.” As the mountain ranges with the tallest peaks in all of Syria-Palestine, the mountains of Lebanon certainly fit the profile of Zaphon. Qurnat al-Sawdaʾ in Mount Lebanon reaches 3088 m. and Mount Hermon in the Anti-Lebanon 2814 m. By contrast, Jebel al-ʾAqraʿ, the tallest mountain in northern Syria, reaches only 1770 m. That this variation in elevation was recognized in antiquity is suggested by the fact that the names Upper Aram or Upper Syria designated the region of the mountains of Lebanon and anti-Lebanon in the south, while Lower Aram or Lower Syria designated the coastal mountains to the north, including Jebel al-ʾAqraʿ (Talshir 2003: 274-276). In fact, it is possible that it was the impressive height of Jebel al-ʾAqraʿ relative to its surroundings reminiscent of the high mountains of the Lebanon that may have stimulated applying the name Zaphon to it, along with the traditional mythological identity of Zaphon as a mountain of cosmic authority.


Beyond these geographical considerations, there is other evidence that a Mount Zaphon may have been located in the Lebanon. First, the god Baal Zaphon is attested as a major Phoenician deity in inscriptions from the 7-3rd centuries BCE. In the treaty of Esarhaddon with King Baal of Tyre the god is invoked together with Baal Shamem and Baal Malage (SAA 2 no. 5 iv: 10’-13’), perhaps different manifestations of the same high god (Markoe 2000: 118-119) or distinct deities of similar function (Allen 2011: 262-264), and described as having control over storm and sea. Baal Zaphon is paired with Baal Hammon on an amulet from Tyre (Bordreuil 1986) and appealed to as chief god of the Tyrian colony at Daphne in a letter sent to Saqqara (KAI 50: 2-3). This Phoenician Baal Zaphon has generally been identified with Baal Haddu of Mount Hazi-Zaphon at Ugarit (Bordreuil 1986: 84-85; Lipiński 1995: 244-247; Niehr 1999a: 153; Markoe 2000: 116-119; Peckham 2014: 295). However, because he is a deity of superior rank in the Phoenician pantheon it cannot automatically be assumed that the Mount Zaphon to which he is attached is the same Mount Hazi-Zaphon known at Ugarit. At this early date Phoenicians would have little reason to worship a god bound to a mountain located so far from their own territory in northern Syria.[x] Baal Zaphon literally means “lord of Zaphon” and so on analogy with other Baal compound names (e.g. Baal Lebanon, Baal Hermon) it would seem reasonable to assume that the name Zaphon had come to designate a sacred mountain somewhere in the vicinity of Phoenicia.


Second, the toponym Mount Baal Zaphon appears in the annals of Tiglath-pileser III in a context suggestive of a location in the Lebanon. In a fragmentary text from Kalhu Tiglath-pileser gives a list of territory annexed from the kingdom of Hamath, including “[Mount Saue], which touches the Lebanon, Mount Ba’ali-ṣapuna as far as Mount Ammanana, the boxwood mountain, all Mount Saue…” (cf. Tadmor 2007: 60-61; RINAP 1, no. 13: 5-6). Ammanana corresponds to biblical Amana and designates the northern part of the Anti-Lebanon (Cogan 1984; Baag 2006: 188-189). Baag has noted that Mount Saue is unknown outside of the annals of Tiglath-pileser but because it is said to “touch” the Lebanon mostly likely refers to Jebel Anṣariya (2006: 189). On the assumption that the territory of Hamath is described in a north-south fashion, Mount Ba’ali-ṣapuna has generally been identified with Jebel al-ʾAqraʿ, marking the northern limit to Hamath’s territory (Cogan 1984: 257; Tadmor 2007: 61; van Soldt 2005: 158; Baag 2006: 188). However, this understanding fits poorly with the immediate context, since the clause “Mount Ba’ali-ṣapuna as far as Mount Ammanana, the boxwood mountain” is syntactically dependent on the preceding clause “[Mount Saue], which touches the Lebanon” and is resumed with the specification “all Mount Saue,” suggesting that the borderline of Mount Saue is being defined in relation to the Lebanon. It hardly makes sense to refer to the southern limit of Mount Saue, to immediately backtrack to the northern limit of Hamathian territory, and then to return to the southern limit but with a reference to the Anti-Lebanon. Rather than a generalized description of territory annexed from Hamath encompassing everything between Hazi-Zaphon on the north and the mountains of Lebanon on the south, it seems that this portion of the text was intended to define only the southern limit of Hamathian territory on Jebel Anṣariya moving west to east, Mount Ba’ali-ṣapuna marking the southern limit near the coast and Mount Ammanana the same further inland. According to this interpretation of the text, Mount Ba’ali-ṣapuna would have designated the northern part of Mount Lebanon parallel to Mount Ammanana in the Anti-Lebanon.


Third, Zaphon occurs in Ps 89:13 in what appears to be a list of sacred mountains that demonstrate YHWH’s creative work: “Zaphon and ymyn you shaped them, Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.” In the present form of the text Zaphon has apparently been interpreted to mean “north” and ymyn “south.” But the notion that YHWH created the cardinal points “north” and “south” is nowhere else paralleled in the Bible and as Tabor and Hermon are obviously names of mountains, it makes more sense to understand Zaphon and ymyn as mountains as well (Eissfeldt 1932: 12-13; Niehr 1990: 110-111; Koch 1993: 176-178; Saur 2004: 164-165; Ayali-Darshan 2014: 412; cf. Wyatt 2005: 113). The general context is that of creation and we have seen that in the cosmogonic Zaphon tradition mountains were among the first entities created after the defeat of chaos. Scholars have typically identified Zaphon with Mount Hazi-Zaphon in north Syria and ymyn either with Mount Amanus, the Anti-Kassion, or Nanni/Namni (Pope and Röllig 1965: 258; Cross 1997: 161; Niehr 1990: 110-112; 1999b: 929; Lipiński 2003: 438; Ayali-Darshan 2014: 411-414). But this understanding of ymyn meets with the difficulty that its spelling is only vaguely similar to Amanus or Nanni/Namni (cf. Cogan 1984: 257; Roberts 2002: 318-319, n. 37) and it fails to give a compelling rationale for why mountains in distant northern Syria would be regarded as sacred to YHWH and grouped together with Hermon and Tabor in the south. Mount Amana and Mount Hermon are linked together in the Song of Songs (4:8), and therefore a better solution is to emend ymyn to ʿmnh (Seybold 1996: 352; Roberts 2002: 318-319, n. 37). This would place three out of the four mountains in relatively close proximity to one another in central Canaan: Amana, Hermon, and Tabor.


Furthermore, by identifying Zaphon with the northern part of Mount Lebanon consistent with the inscription from Tiglath-pileser discussed above this would create parallelism between Zaphon and Amana and locate all four mountains within a central Canaanite milieu. Zaphon and Amana would then represent a natural pair, facing each other from across the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges. In fact, considering that Amana and Hermon are each listed as the second member of a pair of mountains, it is conceivable that in an early version of the psalm the third mountain in the series was not Tabor but rather Mount Lebanon. While Zaphon in north Lebanon works well as the companion to Amana, Tabor, which is a small mountain to the south in the Galilee, is not the logical pair to Hermon in the Anti-Lebanon.


Identifying these mountains with the Lebanon has the additional advantage that the attribution of Zaphon to YHWH can be explained religio-historically. If Zaphon were Jebel al-ʾAqraʿ and ymyn located somewhere in the same vicinity, then this would mean that YHWH must have adopted Baal Haddu’s mountains in northern Syria at some point in the development of biblical tradition, or at least had their ownership/creation attributed to him. Yet no biblical scholar to date has offered a compelling explanation for how this strange state of affairs could have come about (cf. Niehr 1990: 102-113). On the other hand, if Zaphon were a great mountain in Lebanon of venerable religious status it is understandable how it could have been transferred to YHWH in the world of theology and myth. I mentioned earlier that the mountains of Lebanon and the cosmogonic Zaphon tradition were deeply rooted in traditions associated with Canaanite El. It is also well known that biblical YHWH is a composite of YHWH and El (e.g. Smith 2001; Römer 2015). Thus, as YHWH took on features of El it is not surprising that eventually he adopted ownership of his ancient mountain abode to the north and that Jerusalem itself could be metaphorically depicted as his holy Mount Zaphon (Ps 48:2).


In sum, we have uncovered numerous clues that the original site of Zaphon or the Canaanite Olympus was located in the mountains of Lebanon. Based on the parallelism between Mount Zaphon and Mount Amana noted above, Zaphon probably designated the north part of Mount Lebanon, including Qurnat al-Sawdaʾ, the highest peak in Syria-Palestine.


Returning to the question of the location of the Garden of Eden in Gen 2-3, it now seems clear that the tradition about where creation began and humankind initially lived with God has experienced radical alteration and redaction. Tradition-historically, the setting of the Eden story was inextricably bound to the mountains of Lebanon, where El had his abode, his royal garden, and from where he dispensed the primordial waters to the rest of the earth. Yet at some point in the development of the narrative it appears that a scribe intentionally tried to obscure the location of Eden, setting it somewhere far off on the eastern horizon: “And YHWH-Elohim planted a garden in Eden, in the east” (Gen 2:8).[xi] Other indications that the narrative has undergone redactional development include the reference to Eden as a place name distinct from the garden in v. 8 (“a garden in Eden”) and v. 10 (“a river flows out of Eden to water the garden”). The earlier name of the garden is almost certainly “the garden of Eden” mentioned in v. 15, meaning “Garden of Abundance,” or simply Eden. In addition, there is a repetition of the motif of YHWH-Elohim placing the first man in the garden in v. 8 and v. 15 as well as other literary tensions.


So what motivated the scribe to alter the location of Eden in this manner? We have already seen strong theological interests at work in the omission of a reference to deity causing the subterranean ʾēd to come up from the ground and the description of the creator as YHWH-Elohim. Considering the Canaanite polytheistic background to the Eden story, the same may be the case with the translocation of Eden. The emerging scholarly consensus is that the final form of the Pentateuch developed among Second Temple period scribes who adopted a new form of YHWH cult centered at Jerusalem that sought to differentiate itself from the polytheistic and iconic cult of surrounding cultures, including non-biblical Israelite-Judahite cultures (cf. Edelman 2009; Niehr 2010; Kratz 2015; Römer 2015). Thus, the placement of Eden in a nonspecific mythic location to the east may have been intended to distinguish the transcendent YHWH-Elohim of the Bible from Canaanite-Israelite El and to make certain that the Lebanon, the preeminent mountain of Canaanite myth and religion, did not overshadow the significance of Mount Sinai.



[i] Cf. the description in Landy 2014: 441-442: “The river which waters the garden supplements the enigmatic אד which moistens the whole face of the ground in v. 6, and both prefigure rain that YHWH ‘elohim has not yet caused to fall upon the earth in v. 5. They are the first of the many stopgaps and improvisations that destabilize the narrative of Gen 2-3. But neither plays any further part in the story–the אד in fact disappears until Job 36:27. The river may be different from the אד, compensating for its insufficiency for the garden, making it redundant, or it may displace it, so that the אד retreats to the fringes of the Biblical protocosmic imagination, whence Elihu will rescue it. In any case, we do not know where they come from. The river may emerge from Eden, but its origin is possibly subterranean (“caverns measureless to man”) and beyond the divine or human purview. It would then come forth on its own volition to water the garden, obedient to no divine program. It may then be an autonomous source of life, connected to a freshwater body of water equivalent to the tehom in Gen 1:2. The נהר may be the cosmic river, which only emerges at this point.”

[ii] Another allusion to the Chaoskampf tradition may include the role of the serpent as a counter divine agent, which recalls the serpentine Chaos monster (Mettinger 2007: 82).

[iii] In the Hittite Elkunirša myth El similarly dwells at the source of the Mala, i.e. Euphrates, showing that the god’s connection to cosmic water resources was a basic element to his early Canaanite mythological profile.

[iv] For this translation, see Thomas 2017.

[v] In later Jewish tradition “Lebanon” develops into a metaphor for the “temple” (Vermes 1983; Japhet 2003), that is, the abode of God.

[vi] In the biblical version of Ps 20 Zaphon is replaced with “the sanctuary.” That the original mythologem of the psalm had to do with El sending a mediating “help/salvation” from his mountain of assembly is also reflected in Ps 121:1-2 (cf. Niehr 1990: 113).

[vii] Interestingly, the tribe of Dan, whose district borders Mount Hermon, is portrayed with serpentine imagery in Gen 49:17 and possibly Deut 33:22 (Curtis 1986: 91; Miller 2014: 513, n. 53).

[viii] The translocation of Canaanite El to Anatolia/Armenia may be related to his identification with Kumarbi, Hurrian father of the gods (Niehr 2004: 329).

[ix] Perhaps ṣa-pa-ni-šu in EA 147:10 is an exception if it is correctly interpreted “his north wind” with Grave (1982; followed by Moran 1992; Rainey and Schniedewind 2015). But this translation is uncertain because it is the only instance outside of biblical Hebrew were Zaphon apparently means “north wind”; elsewhere in the epigraphic record Zaphon is consistently used as the name of a mountain. Even so, Tyre lies substantially to the south of the northern part of Mount Lebanon, so it is possible that by this time Zaphon had already come to be used as a cardinal direction in southern Phoenician and through semantic extension taken on the meaning “north wind.”

[x] In the late tradition of Philo of Byblos Mount Kasios is identified as one of four mountains holy to Phoenicians (Attridge and Oden 1981: 41-43).

[xi] Cf. Noort 1999: 33-34: “the narrator wants to offer a mystified location for Paradise. Through geography he wants to demonstrate the reality of Paradise. Well-known, famous rivers derive from the universal river starting in Eden. Later versions and explanations go in the same direction, now covering the whole known world of their day. On the other hand, he does not want to locate paradise in an accessible and locatable place. He transforms Paradise into reality by ending with the well-known Mesopotamian rivers. But this paradise is inaccessible. Regions, rivers and names appear which cannot be located except in a very general way.”



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