THE GARDEN OF EDEN : AN EXPLORATORY MODEL
by Robert Brow (www.brow,on.ca) Kingston, Ontario, February 2006
There are many examples of this in the history of science. As opposed to the flat earth assumption, Columbus staked his life on a model that the earth is a globe that could circumnavigated. Leonardo da Vinci worked at a machine that could fly. And when this was proved to be possible four hundred years later, why not fly to the moon? Or to Mars? For several years Einstein’s theory of relativity was dismissed as fanciful.
For twenty years my interest has been focused on taking the models offered in the Bible and trying to see how they could work out in practice. The Commentary on Genesis (www.brow.on.ca) began by asking how the creation of our world by an Artist would look different from the assumption of a totally chance evolution. What if humans were defined as the first in a long line of hominids to be created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27)? Why not try out a grouping of three original language groups as set out in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10)?
When I wrote the commentary on Genesis I took seriously the location of the Garden of Eden that was offered in this very ancient text. "A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it" (NRSV Genesis 2:10-15).
The sources of the Tigris and Euphrates come very close to each other near a town now called Mus in Eastern Turkey. Could there be two other rivers that originated in this area? This was my first attempt at a model to make sense of this:2:7 The word human comes from the same root as the Latin humus which means organic matter. And we remind ourselves that the modern scientific analysis of the human body proves that we are made of the same organic materials as all living matter on our earth. We are also dependent on breathing the oxygen as is needed for the breath of life of all other animals (see 7:22).
2:8 As we saw in Genesis 1:26, there were various species of hominids that roamed our world for two million years. So when image of God humans (Genesis Man) were created they needed a protected environment to develop their civilization.
The Hebrew word gan meant an area of ground surrounded by a wall to keep out animals (as in the LXX Greek paradeisos from the Persian pairidaeza meaning an enclosedgarden). Instead of the translation "Garden of Eden," the Hebrew makes clear that the garden was planted in a district called Eden (gan-baeden as in NRSV). The Hebrew word qedem can either mean a geographical direction or "ancient time." So we might prefer to translate "an enclosed garden in the district of Eden in ancient time."
Among many other locations which have been proposed, we will guess that Eden (Sumerian Edin meaning plain, Akkadian edinu meaning flat region) was a plateau in the Turkish district of Mus northeast of Diyarbakir (Amida) to the west of Lake Van in eastern Turkey. As we will see in Genesis 2:10-14, this model nicely fits the four rivers that originate in that area.2:9 The garden included fruit trees, but also two metaphorical trees. The tree of life referred to the spiritual fellowship with God that our first parents enjoyed (see Revelation 2:7; 22:2, 14).
But spiritual life would die by refusing to walk with and trust God. Eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil means deliberately choosing to engage in evil when one knows that it is wrong (see the comment on 2:17). "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall die" (Genesis 2:16-17).2:10 A literal translation of the Hebrew text is "A river flows out of the plain of Eden to water the garden." As suggested in 2:8, we will guess that the garden was located around the Murat source of the river Euphrates in the Turkish district of Mus. It was not the river in the garden which was divided into four, but the area of Eden from which four great rivers flowed.
2:11 We will suggest that the River Pishon had its source a few miles from Mus and it flows eastward into Lake Van. In our day that lake has no outlet and it drains into the earth leaving behind a heavy concentration of minerals. The Hebrew verb sabab can mean going around, but it can also mean a change of flow. So it is tempting to imagine a river (like the Falaj underground rivers of Oman) flowing a hundred miles from the bottom of Lake Van into Lake Urmia in Iran, which is another salt lake with no outlet. Ancient history records that gold and precious stones were mined in the mountains of Armenia and western Iran. There is no evidence for connecting the River Pishon with the Ganges, the Indus, or the gold of Havilah in Arabia (Genesis 10:7), which would be two thousand miles to the south in the Yemen.
2:12 The river Gihon could fit the Aras (Greek Araxes) which has its source in the Bingol Mountains a few miles to the north of our proposed location for the garden in Eden. Some commentators have taken the reference to Cush to mean the Horn of Africa, but one of the nearby Ararat chain of mountains could easily have had this name in the Cuneiform original.
2:14 Just ten miles to the south there is a source of the Tigris River, which flows 1150 miles (1850 km) south east through Mosul in Iraq to join the Euphrates before emptying into the Persian Gulf.
If our guess is right, the eastern tributary of the Euphrates in the district of Mus flowed through the original garden. That would place the sources of all four rivers within a day’s walk of each other. We do not know how this garden (or reserve) was enclosed. But, having created humans miraculously with the ability to have fellowship with him, providing an enclosure to keep them free from contact with other hominids would be easy.
In any case we reject the idea that the original writer of this clay tablet ignorantly located the Pishon and Gihon rivers thousands of miles away from the garden made for Genesis Man. Tablets of family origins were too carefully preserved for that kind of mistake." (Commentary by Robert Brow on Genesis 2:10-15)
That suggestion for a model was offered in the Commentary on Genesis, written in 2004. Though readers of the website are fairly good at noticing errors and offering suggestions, I never received a word on the topic for two years. Then to my delight and surprise I received an e-mail with a first confirmation of the proposed model and two corrections from someone who had actually worked in the area:
"I am a geologist and have lived in the Turkey/Caucasus area now for over 13 years. While working as the geological manager for Mobil Oil Corporations oil exploration efforts in Turkey, I had the pleasure of walking the very ground you are describing in your discussion about the Rivers of Eden. I couldn't agree with you more with 2 exceptions.
1) I believe that the river that flowed "out" of Eden represents the enormous number of natural springs, both hot and cold that originate in this area.
2) I believe the Pishon is the Kura river which has its source not far from the source of the Northern branch of the Euphrates. Therefore the 4 rivers in order named in the Bible are the Kura (Pishon), Aras (Gihon); Tigris, and Euphrates. I believe its no coincidence that the headwaters of these 4 rivers also flow out of essentially the same spot in the same order from North in a clockwise manner.
The Kura runs from Turkey through Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan and there is a lot of gold and minerals like the Bible description there. The Aras runs through an area where the people call themselves Cushites, the Tigris & Euphrates are easy.
If you then couple this with the Gilgamesh epic where he goes to visit his relative Utanapishtim (Noah) where he first goes to the area of Mt Mashu (twin peaked mountain); this could be Ararat. The sea he crossed could be Lake Van. Utanapishtim lived in the land of the 4 Rivers. I don't think this is a coincidence at all" (sent by from Baku by Geoffrey B.Slater, February 8, 2006).
As the story of Genesis proceeds this is what I wrote about the ark, a huge vessel built by Noah in this same location in the Garden of Eden:
6:13-16 In view of the destruction that would destroy that area, Noah was told to make a huge rectangular box of a ship (the same word thebeth is also used for the much smaller vessel in which the baby Moses was left to float in the reeds of the Nile (Exodus 2: 5). A cubit was the distance from a man’s elbow to the end of his middle finger (say about 18 inches or 44.4 cm). That means Noah’s ship would be approximately 450 feet or 134 meters long.
If we follow our guess in chapter 2 of Genesis that the enclosed garden was in the Turkish district of Mus. In that case Noah’s ship might have been built on the bank of the eastern tributary of the Euphrates river.
6:17-18 God said that there would be devastating flood to fill that whole area. But Noah and his family would have time to enter the ark and be lifted above the waters.
There have been many attempts to find the ark which rested on "the mountains of Ararat" (Genesis 8:4). The twin peaks of Mount Ararat are 16,804 feet (5122 meters) and 12,877 feet (3925 meters). Rather than this enormous height, it seems more likely that the mountains of Ararat refer to the range of much lower mountains in the area.
If this proposed model gains acceptance the town of Mus 45 miles (72 km) to the west of Lake Van Golu in Eastern Turkey could become a tourist center as the site of the original Garden of Eden. If a better model is offered, nothing is lost. But in any case the ancient records in the Book of Genesis will be studied with greater care and respect.