Do the Four Rivers Lead Us to the Garden of Eden?
In the Biblical Book of Genesis, chapter 2, the description of the Four Rivers of Eden provides clues for locating the lost garden of paradise. Following these clues leads to a connection between the lost city of Akkad and Eden.
The Nature of Eden’s River
10 And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became four heads.
Modern readers of the Bible often mistake the phrase “from thence it was parted and became four heads” to mean that the headwaters of four rivers originated in Eden. In fact, the exact opposite is indicated. From Eden one river flows into four rivers, including the Tigris and Euphrates, these rivers then go outward to become separate rivers, each forming its own head. Simply put, a river, flowed through or near the garden and then joined four separate rivers.
In verse 10, although the writers had many words available to denote a river, the ancient Hebrew word used is nahar which generally refers to a large river like the Nile or Euphrates, but can also mean the sea.
A map of the Tigris – Euphrates in the area of ancient Babylon ( CC BY-SA 2.5 )
Another common error that is made in identifying these rivers is our modern perspective that a river begins at its source and then ends where it disperses into the sea. For an ancient riverine people, who had never seen a picture of their world from a satellite view, a river was a course you could travel. As indicated by the use of the word nahar a river could also be the sea. Once you emerged into a sea from a river you were still traveling on a nahar.
In antiquity the Tigris and Euphrates were connected by multiple canals effectively uniting the two rivers into one vast watery network. Also in ancient times the two great rivers entered the Persian Gulf separately. For a person standing along an irrigation canal that connected the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the region of Babylon, the waterways available to you would indeed head off in four directions.
The Euphrates River ( Public Domain )
The Two Ambiguous Rivers
11 The name of the first is Pishon; that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
The name Pishon comes from the root puwsh , which means to grow fat, spread out, or be scattered. If a traveler went south on the Tigris this is exactly the condition they would find as the river gives way to marshland.
12 and the gold of that land is good; there is bdellium and the onyx stone.
Following the river into the sea and continuing along its eastern bank will take a traveler around the harsh deserts of southern Iran and Pakistan. Indeed the word Havilah can be traced to the root chuwl which means circular, to twist or whirl, or writhe in pain and the root chowl which means sand.
The identification of Havilah as a source for bdellium, a resin for incense making, and onyx further points to Iran and Pakistan. The Greek writer Theophrastus, and Pliny the Elder both identified areas in Afghanistan as the source of bdellium and even today Pakistan is one of the few suppliers of Onyx.
13 And the name of the second river is Gihon; the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Cush.
Gihon comes from the root giyach, which means to gush forth. This may well have described how an ancient traveler would experience the mighty Euphrates as it finally emptied into the Persian Gulf. By following the western bank of this course the traveler would eventually find themselves rounding the Arabian peninsula and encountering Africa wherein lies the expected land of Cush, ancient Ethiopia.
The Tigris River in Êlih-Hafizbiniyan ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
14 And the name of the third river is Tigris; that is it which goeth toward the east of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
Modern maps still show how the Tigris River follows the eastern flank of the land known as Assyria by the Greeks and Ashur by its inhabitants. The Euphrates was presumably so well known that it needed no appellation. This leaves us with four rivers that are joined by canals forming a large x-shaped river network.