Barry Newman's Blog

March 18, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:16 pm

Genesis 2: 10-14 – the rivers (c0nt.)

It would be interesting if we could identify the Pishon and Gihon rivers but to do so with any certainty at the moment is not possible.  What is interesting is that writer assumes that such a difficulty arises even for his readership.  Though their mention is intended as an aid, it is not certain what, “bdellium” or “onyx” really refers to and so as clues they are not all that helpful. He gives some other identifying features and it is possible that he is referring to river systems that are now dried up river beds.  Walton refers to an old river bed running North East through Saudi Arabia to the Persian Gulf, thought to have gone dry 3,500 to 2,000 BC which he thinks might be the Pishon River (p. 169). This identification, correct though it may be, strains our understanding of the geography being described.  Walton believes that in fact we are mistaken to conjure up a picture of the geography, and that what is being described is more in the nature of a symbolic cosmic description.  The great waterways of, what may have been understood as substantially, the world, are being portrayed as having their origin in the garden.  The overall picture then is one where God’s garden is watered by one great river, specially supplied by God, which after watering the garden then becomes a river system which waters the world.  The garden is then understood to be the source of blessing to the world.  This theological proposal is attractive and has a number of adherents.

Kidner, recognising that the Tigris, east of the Euphrates, is mentioned before the Euphrates, suggests that the naming of the four rivers should be understood as proceeding in the order from east to west (Kidner, D., Genesis, Tyndale Press, London, 1967, p. 64). For him this raises the possibility, among other things that “Cush” is to be identified as Kassite territory, east of the Tigris. Kidner believes that the relationship between the rivers and the garden in Eden could be understood in a way that is somewhat the reverse of that envisaged by Walton and others.  He suggests that rather than the text indicating that one river became four, the account might be describing four rivers that became one. On this understanding, the Tigris and Euphrates, together with two other substantial rivers flowed into the one region, the Persian Gulf, an ancient name for the Gulf, being the “bitter river”.  “The ‘four heads’ would then be the four mouths from which the respective rivers are traced here, explorer fashion, upstream.” He also appeals to P. Buringh who refers to the tidal flow of the gulf being very fitting for the  growth of vegetation and fruit trees, even in ancient times (p. 64).  This understanding would indicate that a much smaller region is being portrayed than is commonly assumed.  Geographically speaking, this proposal is more appealing than the one outlined above.  Eden is clearly to the East of Canaan. The complex river system of the Euphrates and the Tigris and tributaries, in the vicinity of the Gulf, could have been understood in ancient times as a system of four rivers. And the delta system that resulted (perhaps in ancient times somewhat more to the south east than now) could have been viewed as one vast “river”.  With this understanding, it is clear that the garden and the “river” are intimately connected.  We are not then dealing with a single river, having an independent existence that after some distance arrives at the garden.

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