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The historical place and time of Paradise

This study aspires to prove to all those who do not trust the Christian faith, that the Holy Bible remains diachronically an invaluable and exact recording of reality, always in agreement with science. The only thing that blinds us is our own personal interpretations and prejudices…

Many people hold the belief that the narration in the Book of Genesis about a Paradise on earth is an allegorical myth. However, the historical and geographical evidence given to us by the Holy Bible has not only proven to be genuine, but it can also be used as an important historical source for Mesopotamia’s endmost past: 5500 BC.

This study researches the time and place pertaining to Adam, by means of certain information provided for us in Genesis regarding the cradle of Adam’s people.

The four rivers of Eden

In order to find the location of Paradise, we resort to a certain important geographical element found in the Holy Bible, which is described in Genesis 2:10-14:

   10And a river comes forth out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it parts into four heads (main streams).

   11The name of the first is Phison: this is the one that compasses the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold;  12And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the green stone(onyx).

   13And the name of the second river is Gihón: this is the one that compasses the entire land of Ethiopia ("Kush" according to the Hebrew text).

   14And the name of the third river is Tigris (Hiddekel): this one proceeds before the Assyrians.

And the fourth river is Euphrates.

Tigris and Euphrates are the well-known rivers that spring from the highlands of Armenia and pour into the Persian Gulf. Therefore we know that the Garden of Eden (Paradise) was located somewhere around Mesopotamia. But in which part of Mesopotamia?

Many have attempted to locate it in the highlands of Armenia, where the Tigris and the Euphrates spring from. The reason for this is the aforementioned words of Genesis: “And a river comes forth out of Eden to water the garden”. So, they looked for that river in the highlands that the Tigris and the Euphrates sprang from. However, a more careful reading reveals that the verse is telling us something else.

The verse does not say that the river flowed out from Paradise, in order for us to be looking for it in the rivers’ sources. It says that the river flowed forth from Eden, which was the greater geographical area around the "garden" (Paradise). Hence, we cannot look for Paradise at the rivers’ sources, but at the point where the four ancient rivers intersect. And the region that has four rivers flowing through it must be an incredibly fertile and wet land, a paradise; something that is unlikely to occur in any mountainous headwaters of a river.

Gihon and the Cassites

Although the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers were known, Gihon was a problem, since Genesis writes that “it was the one that compasses the entire land of Ethiopia ("Kush" according to the Hebrew text).

Of course we cannot possibly be referring to Ethiopia. Here, the Hebrew text proves to be more correct, as instead of “Ethiopia” it mentions the land “Kush”, the land of the Kushites (1) or Cassites

During the Hellenistic era, the Cassites and the location of their country was unknown and the attempts by interpreters of those times to reconcile the Genesis narration regarding Eden with the geography of the world that was familiar to them led to errors. Thus, without any proof, they related the Gihon to the River Nile and the land of Kush to the land of Nubia, from where the Nile flows and to which river the Hellenistic Jews had given the name ‘Kush’.

The Cassites were ‘rediscovered’ only in the last century, in references about them that were found in ancient cuneiform writing.

In Moses' time, ‘Kush’ was a river that joined the Euphrates a few miles South of the point that the Tigris River joins it, near Abadan.

Today this river is called Karun, and it springs from the mountains of Iran, east of the Persian Gulf, into which the Tigris, the Euphrates and the Karun rivers all empty their waters. Gihon flowed from the Land of Kush, namely outside the land of the ancient Cassites who were in the region between the mountains of Iran and the land of Assyria (between the Tigris and the Euphrates), exactly as Genesis says.

A modern map, showing the three of the four rivers (Euphrates-Tigris-Karun)

The Cassites were originally a nomadic, pastoral people, with their beginnings in the Near East - as part of the expansion of the Indo-European peoples beyond Turkey, into Persia, and finally, into India. During the fall of the Babylonian empire, they had established an empire of their own that lasted four centuries. After the end of the Cassitic period, their name was forgotten.

The lost river Phison

Phison has not been ‘flowing’ for the last 4000 years. Today, it is only a dry valley called Wadi al-Batin whose source is located in the most auriferous area of Saudi Arabia, just North of Medina. However during the wet season (prior to 3500 b.C.), it used to spring from the Arabian Peninsula and would join the Euphrates at approximately the same point as Gihon (Karun).  Shortly after that time - perhaps around 2000 BC - it dried up.

 
         (The red lines are a seismological reference)                        Arrow on modern map of Wadi Al Batin
 

Although its existence has been preserved as a memory, nevertheless its location was no longer known when the Genesis narration was recorded.  

Recently however, this dried-up ‘riverbed’ was discovered by means of a satellite photo by Farouk El-Baz of Boston University. He concluded that the river initially flowed for more than 650 miles from the Hejaz mountains (in Saudi Arabia) to Kuwait, where it joined the Euphrates river. The story of this discovery was published by James Souer (1996: 52-57, 64) in the Periodical of Biblical Archaeology.  

Satellite image of the town of Hafar Al-Batin, situated on the Wadi (river) Al Batin

 

The point where this river used to channel its waters was already known to archaeologist Leonard Woolley, who, in his book “The excavations at Ur”, described how this river, together with the other three, had created the valley of Mesopotamia with their illuviations.

     

The location of Paradise

From the above description of the four rivers mentioned in Genesis one can deduce that the Biblical location of the Paradise of Eden corresponds to the region of ancient Sumeria. Thus, it can be  acknowledged as the largest flooded plain of the Euphrates, south of the ancient cities of Sumeria.

According to Sumerian tradition, the oldest of all Sumerian nation-states and traditional homeland of Adapa (Adam), was the city of Eridu, which was discovered, just like the Sumerian cities of Ur and Erech (Uruq), on the banks of the river Euphrates. (The ruins of these cities are situated approximately 400 miles from the point where the Euphrates River empties into the Persian Gulf.) This was the first region that was formed from the illuviations of the four rivers. Eridu started out as a simple settlement, was built by its first inhabitants around 5400 b.C. and continued to be inhabited, at least until 3600 BC.

The region was originally flooded with water. However, it gradually began to resurface. Eridu, where Adam and his descendants had settled after being expelled from Paradise, was obviously one of the first regions.

Over time, the progressive increase of alluvial river mud shifted the shoreline of the South much further out. Thus, the estuaries where the rivers emptied their waters had changed, which as a result, gave rise to the ensuing confusion about the location of Paradise.

 The era of Adam

The aforementioned dating of Eridu is extremely important for the confirmation of the narration in Genesis as well as for the choice of text that is to be accepted.

As is well known, the most valid texts of the Old Testament today are the Hebrew and the Septuagint - which is more ancient than the Hebrew text. However, on the matter of chronologies in the book of Genesis, the dates that we are given differ between them by 1500 years. Thus, the Hebrew text places Adam around 4000 b.C. while the Septuagint places him around 5500 b.C.!

As we have seen above, the year 5500 b.C. is exceptionally close to the chronology established by the archeologists for the beginning of the inhabitation of the first city of Sumeria: Eridu (5400 b.C.). So, while Adam was placed in Paradise in 5500 b.C., the first settlement by his descendants is dated from 5400 b.C., namely 100 years later. This is the best proof of the veracity of the chronological charts in Genesis! We could of course mention other elements here - for example, that Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd - which has been confirmed by archaeologists' excavations on the activities of the area’s first settlers.

Thus, even though the Hebrew text has often proved to be more reliable in its rendition of certain words, it has however proved to be less trustworthy than the Septuagint in the matter of dates. (Further proof of the validity of the Septuagint text versus the Hebrew text can be found in the dating of Noah's Flood etc.).

From the above, it appears that we can trust the Holy Bible; not as an allegorical record, but as a faithful portrayal of historical events which can to this day influence our faith and our eternal future.

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Bibliography:

Souer, James, 1996 “The River Runs Dry” Periodical of Biblical Archeology, Vol.22, No.4, (July/August) pp. 52-57, 64.


 

(1) The term "Kushite" here bears no connection to the Papist movement of Kushsites

 

By N.M.

Translation by Petros

Article published in English on: 15-1-2011.

Last update: 15-1-2011.

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