Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | October 25, 2011

Rivers of Eden

Euphrates River

A reader from Charlotte, NC wrote to ask about the location of Eden as described in Genesis 2:10–14:

Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there. And the name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. (Genesis 2:10–14)

Clint asked this question:

“Why does the author in Genesis 2:10–14 seem to use present tense when describing the location of the Garden of Eden? The book of Genesis was written after the great flood, so the Garden of Eden should not have existed at the time Genesis was written. Yet the language in Genesis 2:10–14 seems to be describing in present tense the location of Eden.”

Clint was very observant to notice the verb tense, and his question is a good one. I can suggest an answer which I think is likely correct, although of course I can’t be dogmatic about it.

Records Behind Genesis
We think of Moses as the author of the first five books of the Bible. While he wrote most of Exodus through Deuteronomy himself, he was probably a compiler and editor for most of Genesis. I believe he took records handed down from Adam, Noah, Shem, Terah (Abraham’s father), Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, and Jacob and put them together, likely with some editing, to form what we know as Genesis.

There are indications of this in Genesis:
Gen 5:1 This is the book of the generations of Adam.
Gen 6:9 These are the records of the generations of Noah.
Gen 10:1 Now these are the records of the generations of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah.
Gen 11:10 These are the records of the generations of Shem.
Gen 11:27 Now these are the records of the generations of Terah.
Gen 25:12 Now these are the records of the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son.
Gen 25:19 Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son.
Gen 36:1 Now these are the records of the generations of Esau.
Gen 36:9 These then are the records of the generations of Esau.
Gen 37:2 These are the records of the generations of Jacob.

I think these verses are Moses’ “credits” for the records he used to compile his historical narrative.

So for example, Genesis 1:1-5:1 comes from Adam’s records that were handed down father-to-son and which Noah took with him on the Ark and then handed down to his son Shem who passed them on all the way to Jacob.

Jacob’s death in Egypt is recounted in the last chapter of Genesis. Jacob’s records and those of his forebears were surely passed on to Moses (several generations after Jacob). Moses continued the history in Exodus by starting with Jacob and his sons.

At his death Joseph specifically asked that his bones be taken from Egypt back to the Promised Land when the Israelites returned (Genesis 50:24-25). Moses took the bones of Joseph with him when he led the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 13:19). If the bones of Joseph were preserved for Moses to take with him at the Exodus, it’s reasonable to think that the Israelites would also have preserved Jacob’s records and that Moses would have had access to them.

When Adam wrote from first-hand knowledge about the rivers issuing forth from Eden, those rivers were still flowing. So it made sense to use the present tense in describing where they flowed.

I think Moses compiled Adam’s records into his book (Genesis) as he received them without altering the verb tense. This is why we see “present tense” descriptions of the Eden rivers in Genesis.

Moses undoubtedly worked from more extensive records than exist today, and he selected what he needed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This explains the mix of original “Adam material” like the verb tenses and possible “Moses additions” for clarification like Cush, Havilah, and Assyria.

It’s possible that Cush, Havilah, and Assyria were terms used in Adam’s day for those lands. Maybe Cush and Havilah were pre-Flood men that settled those areas. Maybe the post-Flood Cush and Havilah were named for pre-Flood men who were well-known to Noah and his sons, either personally or by reputation.

However, I think it’s more likely that Moses knew where the old rivers had flowed and added the names of his day to inform his readers.

Noah’s grandson Cush was the son of Noah’s son Ham (Genesis 10:6). Cush settled in Ethiopia, and that’s the term the Bible sometimes uses for Ethiopia.

There are two men named Havilah in Genesis. One is a descendant of Noah’s son Ham, and the other is a descendant of Noah’s son Shem. One Havilah was Noah’s great grandson, the son of Cush (Genesis 10:7). The other was the son of Shem’s descendant Joktan (Genesis 10:29), the brother of Peleg, in whose days the earth was divided (Genesis 10:25).

Linguistic traces suggest the region Moses termed “Havilah” (presumably after one of these two men) may be in Arabia or eastern Africa, but exact identification is not known.

Where was Eden?
Traditionally Eden has been thought to be in the Middle East because Genesis 2:10 says it was located at the source of a river which divided into 4 rivers: the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates rivers. The present Tigris and Euphrates flow over two-mile-thick Flood sediments into the Persian Gulf.

However, the topography of the earth was drastically changed by Noah’s Flood. Our Tigris and Euphrates rivers were probably named by Noah and his sons after the big rivers they remembered from before the Flood. Today’s locations could be completely different from their pre-Flood locations.

The Pishon and Gihon do not match any present day rivers. Some rivers have been proposed as candidates, and some dried up riverbeds (like the Kuwait river) have been suggested, but today nothing matches the geography Genesis describes: 4 major rivers diverging from a common source.

If the Tigris and Euphrates flowed the other direction before the Flood due to different topography, and if the old Kuwait river is all that remains of the mighty Pishon of Havilah, and the Gihon is the Abay river of Ethiopia (Cush), then with different topography the rivers could have flowed out of the Persian Gulf region.

This would fit the Genesis 2 description if Havilah referred to part of Arabia or Africa, especially if the Red Sea did not exist before Noah’s Flood.

Although we may not know Eden’s location, it was an actual place on earth–not a legend, symbol, or myth. The geographical details specifying its location recorded in Genesis rule out Eden being fictional. In fact, the location information is much more detailed than for most Biblical sites.

A compass direction “east” is specified. Landmark rivers are described by name and the lands where they flowed. Even today, man still uses rivers as boundaries and landmarks. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel all reference Eden as a real place.

The Garden of Eden may now be covered by the Persian Gulf, and undoubtedly by hundreds or even thousands of feet of sediment from Noah’s Flood, but no one really knows where Eden was. We can only guess and speculate based on clues in Genesis.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Bible-Science Guy logo

©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:4)
Tuesday October 25, 2011 A.D.

Read my October 2011 newspaper column:
Beavers and Atheists.

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth, Who hast displayed Thy splendor above the heavens! … When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; what is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him? Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God, and dost crown him with glory and majesty! (Psalms 8:1,3-5)

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