Atanasius Kircher, Topographia Paradisi Terrestris

The word Paradise, as the very image of a celestial garden, ultimately entered most European languages (cf. French paradis, German Paradies, Italian paradiso, Latin paradisus) via Greek παραδεισος  [paradeisos]. However, its Persian origin is more of a political concept rather  than its later (religious) derivations. Etymologically, the very root of the word can be traced in the Old Persian term pairi-daêzã. It is combined of two parts: ‘pairi’ (cf. Sanskrit pįri, Greek περι), which literally means ‘around’, and ‘daêzã’ as ‘pile or heap’. The second part, however, is the origin of the words ‘دژ’ [dezh] or ‘diza’, in modern Persian all stand for ‘fort’ or ‘enclosure’. ‘Daeza’ also has another root in the Indo-Iranian verb ‘dhaizh’ that originally means ‘to construct out of earth’, and the noun ‘dhaizha’, ‘that which has been built out of earth’.

This definition implies on the presence of the ‘wall’ constructed out of earth; a fortified space surrounded by formidable walls. It exactly matches the Persian translation of the Avestan word ‘pairi-daêzã’ (in Vendidad, Fargard 3 sec. 18) as ‘چينه’ [chineh], which literally means ‘clay wall’– used to mark a territory or land belonging to someone, like the wall of a garden, village or a city. It implicitly indicates the non-defensive characteristics of this wall; it separates to define it. However there is an historical and archaeological evidence of topological differences between this kind of border and the defensive wall. This ‘enclosed estate’ occurs only once in the entire Avesta, but that occurrence is an extremely significant one. It is where Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord/ God) describes an earthly place:[1]1. For the English translation of Avesta (Fargard 3, section 18) see and for Farsi:

There, on that place, shall the worshippers of Mazda erect an enclosure, and therein shall they establish him with food, therein shall they establish him with clothes, with the coarsest food and with the most worn-out clothes. That food he shall live on, those clothes he shall wear, and thus shall they let him live, until he has grown to the age of a Hana, or of a Zaurura, or of a Pairishta-khshudra.[2]

This2. Hana means, literally, ‘an old man;’ Zaurura, ‘a man broken down by age;’ Pairishta-khshudra, ‘one whose seed is dried up.’ These words have acquired the technical meanings of ‘fifty, sixty, and seventy years old.’ can be summarised in three points: paradise literally (and originally) means ‘walled (enclosed) estate;’ it insists on the idea of the wall as the ‘divider of space’ when it defines what does and what does not belong to the dominant power (the owner). The wall here is not a defensive wall; the word ‘daeza’ is literally rooted in a verb that means ‘to construct from the earth’ or ‘to be made of clay’.[3]3. Lincoln, B., ‘The House of Clay’, Indo-Iranian Journal Vol. 24 (1982)

It divides and separates therefore it produces space. The original description of paradise in the Avesta explicitly illustrates an image of an earthly place. “It signifies and has the sense of a dwelling place, earthen enclosure, of those intimately associated with death:”[4]4. Healy, P., ‘La Difesa della Natura,’ (2007). See: the place where you should eat and wear clothes, the place that you should live in: the city.

This idea of city for the Persians was firmly bound to the ultimate goal of creation, which according to Mazdaean-Zoroastrian ideology is ‘happiness for mankind’ (cf. Old Persian šiyãti martyahyã);[5] 5. According to Achaemenid inscriptions, it is the King’s (the emperor’s) duty to restore the lost happiness of mankind. It has been written in Darius’s tomb (Naqš-i-Rostam): “The great God is Ahura Mazda; who created the earth; who created the sky; who created mankind; who established happiness for mankind; who made Darius the king…” the word šiyãti (happiness) appears in Modern Persian as شادی ‭[šãdi‭]‬.‭ ‬It is the divine power‭ (‬the sovereign state, the ‬emperor‭)‬,‭ ‬which should re-establish this happiness throughout the empire by literally constructing the‭ ‬perfect‭ ‬model.‭ ‬This‭ ‘‬ideal state of peace‭”‬,’‭ ‬appears in the form of the walled estate,‭ ‬by preventing the main three evil forces:‭ ‬enemy,‭ ‬lie and famine.‭ ‬It is in a way the restoration of the ideal moment of creation.‭ ‬Therefore, Paradise is‭ “‬a space of re-creation in the most precise and most profound sense.‭ ‬The surviving descriptions of‭ ‬paradeisos‭ ‬consistently emphasize their exquisite beauty,‭ ‬their abundance of water,‭ ‬and the profusion of plants and/or animals with which they were filled:‭ ‬that is,‭ ‬the elements which constitute the sustenance—and,‭ ‬more important—the happiness of mankind.‭”[‬6‭] 6. Lincoln, B., ‘À la recherche du paradis perdu,’ History of Religions (43) (Chicago, 2003)

Consequently, Paradise becomes an apparatus to divide the evil form the good, enemy from friend and the city from the rest of the territory, to fundamentally build the state of well-being. Thus, it becomes the archetype of power to expand the empire, to expand peace and happiness in such an extent that “the earth would become part of the empire, the empire would become paradise.”[7] 7. Ibid.

Paradise as a Garden

The quest for the most privileged place to live is usually associated with the idea of Paradise. However, the conventional understanding of the word–Paradise as the sacred garden–does not resemble any earthly dimension. While through these searches the idea of the terrestrial Paradise has been differentiated from its celestial image, these two dimensions still overlap in some crucial narratives. 8. The term Paradise occurs only three times in the New Testament: First in Luke 23:43, “And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to you: This day you shall be with me in paradise.” The second one is in the second Corinthians, St. Paul describing one of his ecstasies tells his readers that he was “caught up into paradise” and the third appearance is in the Apocalypse 2:7, where St. John, receiving in vision a Divine message for the “angel of the church of Ephesus”, hears these words: “To him that overcometh, I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God.” The first two are explicitly associated with the concept of heaven and they apparently replaced the term, however the third occurrence signifies the image of the ‘Garden of Eden’ as it appears in the Book of Genesis.
9. In the Islamic text, the arabic term الفردوس [al-firdaws] ‬is used as the alternative for the Persian word پرديس [pardis]‬.‭ ‬Paradise is precisely differentiated from the heaven(s‭)‬.‭ ‬It has been quoted from Prophet Muhammad in‭ ‬Dur al-Manthur‭ (‬Vol.09-‭ ‬P692‭) “‬Heaven has hundred levels and among these ranks between the earth and the sky,‭ ‬Paradise is the most prosperous place.‭” ‬Term Paradise has been distinct from the gardens of heaven while they frequently appear in the whole Quran text as‭ ‬Jannah,‭ ‬literally means garden.‭ ‬In Quran,‭ ‬Paradise occurs two times in the whole text.‭ ‬The first is in‭ ‬Al-Kahf‭ ‬18:107,‭ “‬Lo‭! ‬Those who believe and do good works,‭ ‬theirs are the Gardens of Paradise for welcome.‭” ‬And in the‭ ‬Al-Mumenoon‭ ‬23-8‭_ ‬23:11‭ “‬And who are keepers of their pledge and their covenant,‭ ‬apairi.daezand who pay heed to their prayers.‭ (‬9‭) ‬These are the heirs,‭ ‬who will inherit paradise.‭ ‬There they will abide.‭”
10. There is no proof for the actual geographical location of the Garden. However, according to some of the description, especially in the Old Testament, there have been some hypotheses searching for the exact geographical location of the Terrestrial Paradise or Garden of Eden. Four rivers have been directly addressed as the elements of the Garden of Eden: Tigris (Dijjah), Euphrates (Al-Furat), Gihon (Karun) and Pishon (Book of Genesis 2:10-14). Therefore some places have been associated with this description: Northern shore of Persian Gulf, Island of Bahrain, City of Tabriz and Jerusalem. The Parthian/Sassanid city of Ctesiphon and later the city of Baghdad are accordingly located there. For more information see the scholarly book of Delitzsch, F., ‘Wo lag das Paradies?’ (1881) and Huet, P.D., ‘Traitté de la situation du paradis terrestre’ (1691).
11. Kircher, A., Arca Noë (Amsterdam: J. Janssonium a Waesberge, 1675). See:
12. See: Bremmer, J.N., ‘Paradise: From Persia, via Greece, into the Septuagint,’ in Luttikhuizen, G., ed., Paradise Interpreted: Representations of Biblical Paradise in Judaism and Christianity, (Leiden: Brill, 1999)
13. See:
14. Xenophon, Anabasis, first book 10
15. Ibid., second book 14
The very root of the word pairi-daêzã, nevertheless, does not carry any image of a holy secured garden. However, it is extensively promoted and supported by religious beliefs. Jewish, Christian[8] and Islamic[9] texts have signified Paradise as the utmost sacred and protected place. It has been mostly described as the place which has been promised to the righteous and faithful people as the reward after their death. These narratives employ the most ambitious earthly elements to illustrate the heavenly scene, offering geographical codes which indicate some possible historical locations in which the holy garden was actualized.[10]

In one of the strongest physical representations in Athanasius Kircher’s Arca Noë[11] the earthly image of Paradise is illustrated as a walled domain located between the rivers of Tigris and Euphrates in the Mesopotamian-Persian territory. It is formed as an enclosed square-shaped estate; four gates, which are guarded by four angels, face the cardinal directions. In the middle of the domain two bodies of water meet and the Tree of life is located. It is where Adam and Eve are illustrated by the Tree of knowledge positioned in the bottom-left corner of the Terrestrial Paradise.

The image, apparently, follows the description of the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis. Originally, it is in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, in which for the first time the idea of paradise coincided with the image of garden.[12] J.F. Driscoll (1912) in the Catholic Encyclopaedia under the term ‘Terrestrial Paradise’ writes: “The association of the term [Paradise] with the abode of our first parents does not occur in the Old Testament Hebrew. It originated in the fact that the word paradeisos was adopted, though not exclusively, by the translators of the Septuagint to render the Hebrew for the Garden of Eden described in the second chapter of Genesis. It is likewise used in diverse other passages of the Septuagint where the Hebrew generally has ‘garden’, especially if the idea of wondrous beauty is to be conveyed.”[13]

One of these comes in the Song of Solomon, roughly contemporary with Xenophon, which describes a royal garden in fabulously sensual language and images: “a large and beautiful paradeisos, possessing all things that grow in the various seasons”[14] and another as “a large and beautiful paradeisos, shaggy with all kinds of trees.”[15] In fact, it was by the Greek authors which the image of Persian (or in that time Achaemenid) pairi-daêzã represented as an exotic planted oasis. However due to the hostile landscape of the Persian territory, pairi-daêzã (the city) was an exceptional estate. Various trees, animals and irrigation system are parts of the microcosmic model of the imperial economy, where all manner of goods and resources flowed from the provinces to the center. The wall (pairi-daêzã) can be re-evaluated as the managerial tool in which the central power uses to define the territory.