CHAPTER 6

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

Now we're ready to reconsider what the translated wording tells us about the location of Eden, which we quoted in chapter 2. It doesn't really matter which version we choose, so let's stay with the King James version:

10. And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.

11. The name of the first is Pison: that (is) it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where (there is) gold.

12. And the gold of that land (is) good: there (is) bdellium and the onyx stone.

13. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same (is) it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.

14. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that (is) it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river (is) Euphrates.

Let's consider what's being said here, verse by verse.

10. And a river went out of Eden to water the garden

The first thing we notice is that Eden is not the name of the Garden, or Park. In fact the Garden or cultivated area is not even said to be in Eden, because the river goes out of Eden to water the Garden. All we know is that the Garden is said to be somewhere down stream from the land of Eden as water goes downhill.

11. The name of the first is Pison: that (is) it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where (there is) gold.

12. And the gold of that land (is) good: there (is) bdellium and the onyx stone.

We have a name for one of four rivers. Pison. Further, we're told it goes around the whole land of Havilah, where there is good gold, bdellium and onyx stone. The problems with this are;

1. No one knows the name Pison, or where this river was.

2. There is no gold in Mesopotamia, where most scholars think Eden should logically be. Nor is there naturally occurring gold in Israel, Palestine, or the land between it and Mesopotamia.

3. No one knows what bdellium is. Moffatt calls it 'pearls,' the Torah previously referred to calls it 'bdellium,' George Lamsa, using principally the Peshitta version calls it 'beryllium.' Beryllium is a very light hard white metallic element. A reference to it might be anachronistic as although emeralds and beryl were both known to early Egyptians it wasn't, as far as we know, until the end of the 18th c. AD that they were found to be of the same mineral, now called beryllium aluminum silicate. The element beryllium was first recognized in beryls and emeralds by M. L. Vauquilin in 1798 but not isolated until 1828 by F. Wohler and independently by A. B. Bussy. Another translation is 'bdellium gum,' The related Bible commentary says that bdellium gum is aromatic, was used as an adulterant for myrrh, and when hardened has the look and consistency of a pearl. It comes from a small spindly shrub which grew in Arabia and North West Africa. This seems the most reasonable explanation, but it's obvious that no one knows what the word refers to, which means it's no help to us in locating the Garden.

Onyx is another problem. It's a variety of chalcedony (microcrystalline quartz) similar to agate. It can be chipped or scratched easily. Where it does not have layers of variegated colours, from ancient times it's been dyed to improve the colour. Today there is an onyx mine in Arizona, and another in Mexico. There's another in Australia. The nearest in the ancient Near East was in Cappadocia, now in Turkey. It's about 15 km. East of Nevsehir, which is south east of Ankara, the capital (see the map of Turkey in chapter 4). The Torah edition translates as lapis lazuli instead of onyx. This blue semi precious mineral was much prized, but it's no more help, as the nearest source for that was and is in Afghanistan.

The conclusion is that verses 11 and 12, supposedly identifying one of the four rivers mentioned, are of no help at all.

13. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same (is) it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is on another continent, Africa. The only rivers of any substantial size flow north in Ethiopia and are tributaries of the Blue and White Nile. There is no way for the Pison to be connected with the Gihon unless both are in Africa. This explanation is virtually meaningless in the context of a Garden near Eden, wherever that is, unless it too is in Africa.

14. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that (is) it which goeth toward the east of Assyria.

Now we're back in the Near East, in Asia. We have a good historical knowledge as to where Assyria was. Assyria's two former vassals, the Babylonians and Medes, sacked Nineveh the capital in 612 BC. In 609 BC they razed Haran, crushing the last resistance to end the Assyrian Empire. Ctesias of Cnidus wrote "it was under (Sardenappalles) that the Empire (hegenomy) of the Assyrians fell to the Medes, after it had lasted more than 1,300 years." This takes us back to beyond 1900 BC for its origins. We know historically it was flourishing by about 1100 BC. It later became Persia, and more recently Iran. So the two nations Syria and Iran today represent in some way the former east and west of the Assyrian empire.

What does that tell us about the river Hiddekel? The Karkheh river runs through western Iran more or less north to south, and empties into the Persian Gulf, as do the Tigris and Euphrates. In fact on a 20th c. AD map all three seem to be joined in their deltas. So some scholars believe the Karkheh could be the Hiddekel. Apparently in Hebrew the name means active, vehement, rapid. It doesn't go towards the east of Assyria though, unless this means it's towards the east of where the writer is, and it's in Assyria. George Lamsa's translation has

And the name of the third river is Deklat (Tigris); it is the one which flows east of Assyria...

Here's a map of the area:



The Torah version has:

The name of the third river is Tigris, the one that flows east of Asshur...

The map shows us the capital Ashur in small type just below 'MESOPOTAMIA.'

We can see it is just west of the Tigris river, and the Karkheh seems not to be shown. But the Diyâla is shown, and some scholars think this to be the Hiddekel. It certainly flows almost directly east, away from Assyria, so the description fits, if that is the river, but it's not a big river like the Tigris. Others think the Little Zab is the one because it's so close to Ashur. Some people have even suggested the Indus in India much further east, because it's comparable in size to the Tigris. So it's fairly clear there is no consensus on which river the Hiddekel was.

Verse 14 ends by saying 'and the fourth river is the Euphrates.' We have no problem with this statement. The Euphrates is shown on every map of the area for all to see. It also should mean that the text intends to locate Eden, and the Garden, somewhere relative to the banks of the Euphrates, between the territories of the former principalities of Uratu, Ashur, Akkad, Babylonia and possibly Elam, shown on the map.

I suggest our conclusion has to be, with one river in Africa going around Ethiopia, and another in Asia Minor, (the Euphrates), the other two rivers unidentified, that whoever wrote this would have failed dismally any elementary test in geography, which means the information as we have it is a meaningless jumble. However, I have a solution to the problem which we'll discuss in the next chapter.

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