The Garden of Eden

Genesis 2

Whether one believes the biblical story of God planting a garden in Eden for Adam and Eve should be understood as allegory or historical event, an unassuming reading of the story suggests that the places mentioned were recognizable to the original audience and would have been sufficient to clarify for them where the garden was located. The story locates the garden of Eden at the confluence of four headwaters into a single river that watered the garden. These four rivers are called the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. The identification of the last two rivers is widely accepted as the two great rivers that flow along either side of the lands of Asshur (Assyria) and Babylonia. The identification of the first two rivers, however, has become obscured over time and has been the subject of diverse speculation since at least as far back as the time of the first century Jewish historian Josephus. Some of this confusion stems from the incorrect assumption that Cush, noted as the basin of the Gihon, refers to the kingdom of Cush located immediately south of Egypt in Africa, which leads to the conclusion that the Gihon must be the Nile River (as Josephus also surmised). But the story makes it clear that the four rivers of Eden all joined together to form a single river, and this is difficult to reconcile with a Nile River identification. The Table of Nations, however, includes among the descendents of Cush several tribes along the Arabian coast as well as those of the kingdom of Cush in Africa (Genesis 10:6-7; see also Numbers 12:1; 2 Chronicles 14:8-14), and this is likely the region intended in the story of Eden. This then coalesces very well with an identification of the Gihon as the modern Wadi al-Batin (or at least its southwestern extremity), a now intermittent river running across the middle of Arabia that flowed with greater consistency in ancient times due to a wetter climate. If this is correct, this may assist in the identification of the Pishon, which is noted in Genesis as flowing through Havilah, where there is high quality gold, aromatic resin, and onyx. The most widely accepted location for Havilah is in the southern extreme of Arabia and perhaps in Africa across the Red Sea, and this fits perfectly with other passages in the Bible that associate this region with gold, incense, and precious stones (1 Kings 9:28; 10:10-11; 22:48; 1 Chronicles 29:4; 2 Chronicles 8:18; 9:1-10; Job 22:24; 28:16; Psalm 45:9; Isaiah 13:12; 60:6; Jeremiah 6:20; Ezekiel 27:22). No known river that converges with any of the other three rivers of Eden currently exists in this region, but this author’s cursory study of the terrain of the area suggests that perhaps a river may have once flowed through the valley that leads directly from the land of Havilah to the Gihon River (Wadi al-Batin), and this would make it a fitting candidate for the Pishon River. Without more thorough hydrological and geological study of the area, however, this can only be considered a suggested possibility.

download hi-res file