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IN SEARCH OF EDEN

by D.LAING

The location of Eden is given in Genesis 2:10-14:  "And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.  The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.  And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. 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."  In this passage it must be noted that the original Hebraic reference regarding the Gihon River was that it encompassed the land of "Kush" or "Gush".  This was interpreted by the 17th century King James translators as referring to Ethiopia, much further to the south and located in Africa.

There are two camps of thought regarding Eden.  One places it in the mountains of Turkey near where the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates originate.  This location is favored primarily because it has been noted that the original translation should have been "And a river rises in Eden", and arguments that the four heads of the rivers refer to what we recognize as headwaters.  The northern location favored for Eden has remained to date rather imprecise.  It has been argued however that it surely must lie somewhere near the beginning of the Tigris and Euphrates.  The problem has remained, where are the other two rivers?  And what could the references to the guarding Cherubim and the Flaming Sword be alluding to?  While the answers have to date remained vague, the Turkey location for Eden has a strong following of Biblical Scholars and traditionalists.

The other camp places Eden at the head of the Persian gulf and at the other end of the Tigris and Euphrates.  This camp believes that the more correct match for the rivers exists there along with the mechanisms and features that would explain the presence of the flaming sword and the guarding Cherubim.  This camp composed mostly of geoscientists cite all of the required criteria, although not without resorting to allegorical corollaries.

We will endeavor as best we can to examine both possibilities.

                                                       The Southern Location

Examination of the river systems in the area of Iraq and Kuwait would seem to place the location of Eden somewhere in lower Iraq or in Kuwait at the top of the Persian Gulf.  For the Bible, this description seems rather precise.  Names for the rivers have changed however, with the exception of the Euphrates.  If we are to accept the date of the flooding of the Black Sea Basin defined by Ryan and Pitman as the date of the Flood then Eden had to have existed according to the Genesis chronology sometime about 7,200 BC or earlier.  The climate in the region at the time was more lush, and sea levels were on the rise.

An examination of the lands associated with each of the four named rivers identifies each river itself to a fair degree.  The Hiddekel for instance, can be none other than the Tigris, which flows to the East of what was once Assyria.  The Pison is associated with the land of Havilah, noted for its gold.  Gold, copper, and other metals came to the land of Ur, of Abraham's birth, from Persia, or present Iran.  The most likely candidate therefore is the river system presently known as the Karun. It is an interesting bit of historic trivia that the Persians had used ram's pelts staked in streams to recover alluvial gold.  The gold would become trapped in the dense oily wool of the pelt while the lighter sediments would wash away.  This is the probable source for a myth of a golden fleece which the Greeks made use of in one of their stories concerning their folk hero, Jason. Examination of satellite photographs indicate that the Karun, which flows from the South, at one time was more extensive than it is now, perhaps connecting with the Karkheh, which flows from the North.  In this manner, the Karun/Karkheh river system would indeed seem to encompass the entire land of Persia, or Havilah.

The next river, the Gihon, is a littler harder to identify, though hardly more so.   Again, examinations of infrared satellite photographs indicate that in Arabia to the southwest is the remnant of what at one time and in a wetter climate, was once an extensive river system, the Wadi al-Batin.  This Wadi system once drained the entire central part of Arabia, and connected to the Tigris and Euphrates river system after they had joined to become the Shat al-Arab which flows into the top of the Persian Gulf.  With this knowledge, and the fact that the Shat al-Arab has slowly migrated to the East since the establishment of Ur, we can estimate its position in the eighth millennium.  Again, infrared satellite photographs indicate a likely course for the Shat al-Arab, directly to an area named Bubiyan Island.

This is not the first time that this observation has been made.  In 1983, archaeologist Juris Zarins proposed the head of the Persian Gulf as the location for Eden.   Working from his knowledge of Ubadian culture Zarins developed his hypothesis and proposed that Eden existed during the neolithic wet phase, placing it between 6000 to 5000 BC.  Linguistics in fact indicated that he may be correct.  The first written language, Sumerian, contains the word Eden or Edin.  While this was some three thousand years after the rise of the Ubaidian culture, linguists attributed the origin of the word to a much older source.  In 1943, Benno Landsburger an Assyriologist, proposed that this word and many others found in Sumer were linguistic remnants of a pre-Sumerian culture he termed Proto-Euphratian.  According to his theory rivers and landmark locales all had names that were incorporated into the later Sumerian culture.  Basing his hypothesis on his own studies and the encouraging linguistic evidence then, Zarins formulated his theory and placed Eden under the waters of the northern Persian Gulf. He also places Havilah in Arabia based on the fact that "havilah" is the Hebrew word for "sandy" or "land of sand."  This of course reverses the Pison and the Gihon rivers, placing the Gihon to the east and the Pison to the west in Saudi Arabia.[1]   The author has placed the Gihon to the east and the Pison to the west based on the evidence of early gold and copper smithing in Persia as well as evidence that Arabia, due to paleoenvionmental conditions at the time, was a much less inhospitable land.  It also should be noted that due east of the island at the mouth of the western most scar of the Shat al-Arab, the land was sand on the mainland.

We know now however that based on the work of Dr. Pitman and Dr. Ryan, during the period of 6000 to 5000 BC was when the great flood occurred, so Eden would have had to existed earlier yet.[2]  The well researched past levels of the Dead Sea act as a sort of barometer of climatic conditions.  Shown on the chart below is the neolithinc wet phase which may be said to have begun with the reversal of the preceding dry period somewhere about 9,500 BC.  This period lasted until about 5,000 BC when levels began to drop once again.  If we accept this as regional evidence, then we would have a period of about 4,500 years in which to place the Eden setting.  We know however that the flood occurred sometime about 5,500 BC which is near the end of the period.  We may also examine on satellite images a remnantal delta formed when the Wadi Batin (probably the Gihon River) emptied into a shallow bay.  Careful analysis reveals a main channel that joined the Wadi Batin to the Shat al-Arab when it was located further to the west and  before the waters of the Persian Gulf had risen that far thus predating the delta.  Since the main channel is wide, yet more poorly defined than the delta itself, the delta was formed after the channel which was subsequently somewhat obscured.  This is confirmation that the level of the Persian Gulf was rising at the time.  If the Persian Gulf followed a similar pattern as the Dead Sea which is likely, then the description as related in the Bible only would match the configuration of the rivers well before the Gulf's waters had risen that far.  Since the configuration is similar today with the exception of the now Dry Wadi Batin, this would place the time of the event somewhere after 7,500 BC, but not after perhaps 7,200 BC.

It was proposed by Zarins that presently, the Shat-al-Arab (meaning "river of the Arabs" in Arabic) is the remnant of the river that went out of Eden.  This is a 120 mile long river in Iraq, formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers at Al-Qurna.  Iraq's only outlet to the sea, it flows southeast along the Iraq-Iran boundary through marshes, rice paddies, and date groves, until it reaches the Persian Gulf.  Its waters are used for irrigation and ocean vessels can go as far north as Basra, although navigation is difficult above Abadan.  It has been noted that this river, like the Euphrates, has over the millennia migrated towards the east.  The oldest channels, now filled, exist as has already been noted, to the west of its present course and appear to have placed the river's outlet directly at Bubiyan Island.

Could Bubiyan Island be Eden?  We know that sea levels have been both lower and higher than present since the eighth millennium BC, so how likely could it be that Eden could have existed here?  Possibly quite likely.  Bubiyan Island is located above a salt dome, and salt domes, due to their relatively low density and plastic fluidity under pressure tend to perpetuate themselves as structures not in spite of but due to accumulating sediments deposited over them. This has been learned from studies of other salt basins where the geologic history is well understood  and the data is sufficient to accurately map different types of salt features.[2] A tabular salt bed (illustration below) results when the salt precipitates due to the evaporative process in an isolated basin.  As the water in the basin drops, salt accumulations may become quite thick.  When due to rising sea levels or changing environmental conditions the basin once again fills, sediments cover the salt (A).  Salt is of a lower density than these sediments which compact and harden as the deposits thicken.  Salt is also relatively fluid by comparison.  In the same manner as a viscous oil covered by water, the salt has a tendency to rise.  A salt dome may start as a gentle swelling in the tabular bed (B).  As it rises upward, the salt surrounding the dome feeds its growth (C).  Due to both physical and geologic factors, the distance from the dome that it can withdraw salt to feed its growth is limited.  This results in synclinal or downward deformation in an area surrounding the dome creating an annular syncline.  As the dome continues to grow, it will eventually withdraw most or all of the stock surrounding it (D).  Once this occurs it will feed on itself utilizing the salt in its own flanks for upward growth.  At this point piercement of the overlying rocks and sediments generally will occur if it has not already (E).  As a result of the loss of support due to the changing configuration of the dome's flanks, faulting often occurs above the dome.  These faults are often expressed at the surface where they sometimes result in broken terrain.  As the top of the dome eventually rises to encounter shallow groundwater, salt may be dissolved to the extent that insoluble minerals, mostly anhydrite, is left behind to form an erosion resistant caprock.  The combination of caprock and faulted sedimentary rocks will often create enduring surface features (F).  It is this type of feature that comprises Bubiyan Island, so it is quite likely that the Island was in evidence at the time of Eden and has persisted since, rising as sediments accumulate due to deposition by the massive river system to the north.

Given the sediment loads deposited annually into the Persian Gulf by the  river systems of the Tigris-Euphrates-Karun-Karkheh, the fact that the gulf has not long since been filled, and the absence of a significant delta system indicates another possible geologic mechanism at work.  Relative stasis of a shoreline due to differential compaction and compression of sediments, possible basement fault block relationships, and depression of geologic features due to the mass of sediments they contain may occur.  Mobile Bay in Alabama is an example of a geosyncline in which this process is active.[3]  The northern end of the Persian Gulf may be a basement rock rift grabben feature in which a similar process is at work.  If this is true, then Bubiyan Island very well could be the location for Eden. In other words, Eden may not have sunk beneath the Persian Gulf as Zarins proposed, it may have been displaced by a rising salt dome, or have been buried under tons of river sediments.

It has recently been pointed out that "a river rises in Eden" might also be interpreted to mean "a river rises from Eden".  If this is the case, it must also certainly be true that the ancient Hebrews knew that water flows down hill.  Standing on Bubiyan Island, one may observe that all rivers rise from there.  It should also be noted that the modern terms "headwaters" and "river mouth" may confuse peoples of other languages if they are not familiar with the terms.  After all, who would associate the mouth with anything but the head?  There are many examples of allegorical representaions of physical features with animals.  In many cases these developed until mountains, lakes, rivers and oceans were worshiped by primative peoples as gods represented allegorically by animal glyphs.  It would take little stretch of the imagination to associate a sinuously coursing river with a great silver serpent. It may well be that the mention of the serpent in the creation story was originally allegorical.  The Shat al-Arab itself could then be represented in the story as a serpent with its mouth in Eden and the rest rising to the north.  This could also explain another part of the story.  Examinations of the satellite photographs seem to indicate that Bubiyon Island was at one time encircled by the waters of the Shat al-Arab and the Persian Gulf with the possible exception of a narrow connection with the mainland to the east.  If the river were represented as a serpent and were it to rise sufficiently, it would then flood much of the island and cut it off from the mainland.  Tempted by hunger then, its inhabitants may well have eaten of a sacred tree.  This is of course pure speculation, but if one were looking for a practical explanation, it would fit as well as any other.

The location of Eden is not as significant as the description itself.  It is clear from satellite photo
analysis that if this theory is correct, the description, even though it may have been passed on orally and written down thousands of years after the "Eden" event, is never the less an actual observation.  It describes river locations and configurations as they only could have existed several millennia before the founding of Ur around 5,000 BC  It is highly unlikely that it could have been invented by a people that knew little of environmental cycles, glacially affected meteorological phenomena, and geologic processes, yet the Biblical observations seem to match the facts. The observations as recorded are a factual description of the river systems as they once were!
 

[1]  Dora Jane Hamblin; "Has the Garden of Eden been located at last?";Smithsonian Magazine, Volume 18. No. 2, May 1987
[2] William B. F. Ryan et al, "An Abrupt Drowning of the Black Sea Shelf," Marine Geology, 138(1997), 119-126, p. 124
[3] D. Laing; "Diagenesis of Salt Stuctures of the East Texas Basin";  Hudson Resources; August, 1982
[4] D. Laing; "Geologic Setting of Mobile Bay"; Halitech Corporate Paper; September, 1984
 





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