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The Garden of Eden Today

text and photos by Jamie Simson

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“And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden…And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food.”(Genesis 2:8-9)

Watching the sun sink behind the wall of swaying reeds and observing spidery date palms casting a tangle of sharp reflections on the still waters is to be gripped by a spell of magic given off by the marshlands of Southern Iraq. It is no wonder that the very first stories of creation and a great flood originated here. Known as ancient Mesopotamia, this is the land viewed by historians to have been the cradle of civilization.

Inhabiting the hauntingly beautiful marshlands which are located north of the Persian Gulf are wild boar, fish, endless varieties of waterfowl and Midan tribesmen who live on floating reed islands. To modern eyes, the Midan way of life appears primitive. However, they live by a strong code of ethics which are highly advanced. For instance, if a guest overstays his welcome at the home of a Midan, the family would go bankrupt rather than turn the guest away. Or, if a visitor or another Midan fled to a neighboring Midan and threw his arms around the Midan’s knees. the Midan is bound to protect him, even if it involves sacrificing the lives of family members.

The Marsh Arabs, as the Midans are called, live semi-nomadic lives. Information gathered from the texts of excavated tablets shows this way of life to have remained remarkably unaltered since Sumerian and Old Testament times, even down to the ornate reed homes they live in.

During the past four years, however, the tranquility of the marshes has been invaded by the Iranian-Iraq war. It is indeed ironic that the Midan lifestyle which has survived for centuries is threatened by frequent battle.

West of the marshes in the desert stands the desolate mud-brick ruins of the city of Ur, known from the book of Genesis as the place where Abraham is believed to have lived before migrating to Canaan.

The first urban center in history, Ur had a population of 200,000 in the fourth millennium. Its residents were Sumerians, a people believed to have migrated from the mountainous region around the Caspian Sea. The temple of Nannar, a building complex surrounded by a wall 400 yards long and 200 yards wide, dominated the city. The most impressive part of the temple was the ziggurat, a 70-foot high tower dedicated to Nanner, the moon god. A series of progressively smaller layers, the ziggurat was made of mud brick on the interior and burned bricks on the exterior.

In Abraham’s time most of the residents of Ur lived in two-story buildings made of white washed bricks since stone was scarce. Each home had a door that opened inward because according to Sumerian legend, “If the door of a house opens outward, the woman of that house will be a torment to her husband.” Home furnishings were simple; a few folding chairs and tables, colorful rugs and cushions and floor mattresses to sleep on.

Further north of Ur was perhaps the most famous of the cities of ancient Mesopotamia, Babylon, site of the legendary tower of Babel and home of the Hanging Gardens. The pre-Sumerian name is believed to have been Babu elle (holy gate). Sometime later it was changed to the gate of the god.

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Tags: Iraq War Village life Historical site/city