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For Columbus, Earth Was Giant Breast, Nipple Eden: Lewis Lapham

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Aug. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Though a flaming sword may keep us out forever, that has not stopped people from searching for the Garden of Eden. Paradise has been “found” in places as far-reaching as Iraq, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Florida, Missouri and the North Pole.

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On his third voyage to the new world in 1498, Christopher Columbus was sure he’d discovered Paradise in Venezuela. The weather was balmy, the mountains high, the flora lush and exotic, while the Orinoco perfectly fit the Biblical reference to a river flowing out of Eden to water the garden.

The devout explorer wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella, “If the water does not proceed from the earthly paradise, it seems to be a still greater wonder, for I do not believe that there is any river in the world so large and deep.”

For Columbus, the earth was shaped like a giant breast. The nipple, highest and nearest the sky, was the lost Garden of Eden, and the great Orinoco River flowed from it.

I spoke with Brook Wilensky-Lanford, author of “Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden,” on the following topics:

1. Genesis Geography

2. Medieval Exploration

3. Columbus in the New World

4. Darwin Spurs Searches

5. 20th Century Quests

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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.