When you get to the account of the creation of Eden, you immediately run into problems for the modern mind. This is partly due to our conditioning and partly due to a misunderstanding of genre and purpose. We are conditioned to read certain texts scientifically, and unfortunately some people—especially those Christians who tend towards an anti-science bias—include the Bible in this category of books. By scientific, I mean the desire to read information given as a straightforward description of dry, informative, facts. Everything placed neatly in an order dictated by sequence, and all words being clear and concise.
It pays to remember that Genesis, particularly in the early chapters, is above all else a theological text. That does not mean that the information is not factual or somehow purely symbolic. It just means that the main concern is delivering truth about God and man as he relates to God, not things like scientific formulas, step-by-step instructions, or detailed maps to the locations of places. It also helps to keep in mind that it was written over 3,000 years ago in another language, by a people who thought with a completely different syntax and worldview than the modern one.
Some people too concerned with detail are likely to point out all sorts of inconsistencies between things here and in chapter one. For instance they would say that the order of the creation of plants, man and animals doesn’t agree between the chapters. Keep in mind that this second account is not a retelling of the whole creation. It is concentrating on the creation of humanity, and the planting of a home for them in the world.
So, we have a world that has sky, water, plants, and animals but no man at the start of this story. Also, no cultivation has occurred yet. God hasn’t planted the garden and there is no man to tend it. In that setting, God fashions a man out of earth and breathes life into him. Then God plants the garden and places the man in it as his home.
A simple, non-complicated look in more detail at one little thing that happened on day six back in chapter one. It doesn’t change what happened then, it just elaborates. And we aren’t done because chapter one says “And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” We don’t have a female yet, so there must be more detail to come.
But before we get more detail we get some more—seemingly extraneous—detail about the garden. Namely the river that flows out of the garden and becomes four rivers. This is very clearly not a scientific or geographic bit of text. It either describes a world that will be radically changed by the time these words were written, or it purposely misleads the reader as to the precise location of the garden. Either way you have a case of paradise lost because even if you could figure out where Eden was, it isn’t there anymore. That world ceases to exist in chapter 3…