Barry Newman's Blog

March 16, 2011

Science and Genesis 2: 4 – 3: 24 (part XIII)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:45 pm

Genesis 2: 10-14 – the rivers

“Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers.  The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.  The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and onyx stone are there.  The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush.  The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.” (New American Standard Bible).

As mentioned above, the gardens of the ancient Assyrian and Babylonian rulers were generally supplied with watercourses.  Understandably such gardens could only be sustained by water being made readily available. To ensure adequate water supplies, for example, a portion of a river could be diverted or canals could be created. Walton believes that the picture we have in Genesis 2 is that of “a mighty spring that gushes out from Eden and is channelled through the garden for irrigation purposes.” (p. 168).  Additionally he is persuaded that “In the same way … that a garden of a palace adjoins the palace, Eden is the source of the waters and the residence of God, and the garden adjoins God’s residence.” The idea that this garden is not only for man but also for God himself receives some support later in the account where there is a reference to God walking in the garden in the “cool of the day”.  (The Hebrew behind the last phrase may be understood differently.)  Walton also points out that “Temple complexes … sometimes featured gardens that symbolized the fertility provided for by the deity” (p. 167) and believes that the text of Genesis “describes a situation that was well known in the ancient world: a sacred spot featuring a spring with an adjoining well-watered park, stocked with specimens of trees and animals.” (p. 168)

What is the geographical relationship between the river, the four rivers, the garden and Eden?  Or, is asking a geographical question mistaken?  Commonly, the translations give the impression that there is a river in Eden that flows to the garden and after leaving the garden splits into four rivers, two of which we are familiar with.  Today these two rivers, having as their headwaters an area in eastern Turkey and travelling in a south easterly direction, join and then flow into the Persian Gulf.  If we are to look for a geographical picture, the unknown rivers should be understood as arising in a similar area. If we follow the sense of the usual translation, then Eden is to be placed somewhere in an area to the north east of the Canaanite territory.  That is, on this understanding, within Eden, a river flows to the garden and then divides into four rivers two of which we know flow towards the Persian Gulf.  There is at least one problem. Would the writer picture what is some distance away and somewhat to the north of Canaan as east?  Would he not perhaps describe it as north of the reference point if the reference point is Canaan?  Perhaps Canaan is not the reference point.

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