header with menus

Documentary Film based on Gibson's book: Qur'anic Geography


The Sacred City from Glasshouse Media on Vimeo.

Originally titled "The Land of Eden Located" 1964
by David J. Gibson

Chapter One
A Few Leading Clues

For many years theologians, historians, and scientific thinkers have disputed about the story of the Garden of Eden. Is it actual and historical? Is it allegorical or a myth? Or is it just plain fantasy? That it may have allegorical meaning, we will not deny. But one thing we do wish to point out is that, taken at face value, treated as if historical, some really astonishing things begin to come to light.

We begin to discover a strange alliance to certain actual facts which the new science of archaeology is unearthing, a fitting together of known facts; so much so that even the doubter is made to stop and wonder if some reality does not lie behind the ancient story. The Biblical account and description of Eden, rightly and fairly treated, not only makes sense with itself but harmonizes astonishingly well with the geography of ancient times. That this should be so, we think, lends support to 'The historical view" though others may dissent. Nevertheless, let us set forth our findings for what they are worth, hoping that others will pick up the good points therein and make further research.

Our study of this interesting subject falls into three main sections:

(1) Eden in Relation to Geography
(2) Eden in Relation to Geology
(3) Eden in Relation to Chronology (both Biblical and Secular systems of dating)

That these subjects simply bristle with difficulties we know only too well, but we believe that what we have to say will remove at 1east some of them and will assist in establishing a good foundation for future study.

A Geographical Description
At the outset of this study of Eden in relation to geography may we point out that the Hebrew account recorded in chapter 2 of Genesis is, for Biblical literature, an unusually full and detailed geographical description. It abounds with geographical names. The writer is putting forth special effort to locate and identify the geographica1 features referred to. Such trouble and care is surely unnecessary for the purpose of pure fantasy or allegory. Clearly the writer had in mind a definite locality which he expected his readers to recognize through the detailed description given. Regardless of whether one accepts the whole Eden story or not, still we cannot do otherwise than recognize that the writer had a specific spot in mind when he wrote this story. That spot was an actual place to the orthodox scholar the place where a real event occurred; to the liberal the place which the mythical events are depicted as taking place. In either case we are concerned with locating that actual place.

The Lord Jesus Christ and the New Testament writers always treat the Genesis account of Eden as historical. This alone is final and sufficient authority for a large number of people. However, it will do no harm to enquire into the story itself for self-evidence of actuality and historical genuineness.

The text itself runs as follows, each sentence and section dea1ing with specific places and things.

The Garden
And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

The River of Eden
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 to the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.
--Genesis 2:8-14.

Clue No. 1. Postdiluvian Names are Used
Now the foregoing passage presents us with a most interesting list of names. Considering the antiquity of this description it should fill any normal imagination with excitement. If a similar description were dug up on a clay tablet written 1400 B.C., would any archaeologist rest content until he located the spot? The passage gives us these names:

 Eden  a Babylonian name we will study later
 A Garden  lying eastward in Eden
 A River  unnamed, coming out of Eden, through the garden
 Pison  a river head linked with Havilah
 Havilah  a land or district
 Gihon  river linked with Ethiopia
 Ethiopia  Cush (in Hebrew); a land or district
 Hiddekel  a river linked with Assyria
 Assyria  (Asshur in Hebrew); not called "a land"
 Euphrates  a river, not further identified

One glance at the known place-names in this list strikes us at once with an important factor. They appear to be names used in later history, definitely postdiluvian names, not antediluvian names, as evidenced by the Biblical record itself. They are names which came into use only after the Flood. The importance of this can scarcely be over-emphasized. "Assyria," (Hebrew, "Asshur") is a name which the Hebrews understood to derive from Asshur a son of Shem born after the Flood (Gen.1O:22). Therefore, in the Hebrew concept the name simply did not exist before the Flood. The same is true of others. "Havilah" is a postdiluvial name (Gen.l0:29); so is "Ethiopia'" ("Cush"), (Gen.l0:6). This proves conclusively that the writer was using names in current use known and recognized geographically at the time he was writing. In short, he quite expected his readers to be able to identify the locality by his description. It follows that the place was real at least. We are, at the moment, concerned with finding that place which the writer had in mind. But let us keep firmly in mind the essential factor that we are dealing with place-names in current use at the time Genesis was written.

Clue No.2. Eden was in Babylonia
There have been some fantastic suggestions put forth as to the location of the land of Eden. One placed it on a map nearly on top of Mount Ararat. He showed a little river starting out eastward, then dividing most abnormally and unnaturally into four rivers. One circled around his Eden on its north, west, and south sides successively and became the Euphrates. Another branched southerly and became the Tigris. Another, labeled 'Pison', struck off easterly over miles of territory and ended up as the Ganges in India. The last, named 'Gihon", went off south-easterly, and after making a huge circle through what is now Iran, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden, and Ethiopia it finally ended up as the Nile flowing through Egypt and emptying into the Mediterranean. To relieve the difficulty of this river flowing through the Indian Ocean, that Ocean was neatly wiped off the map so that dry land appeared. As the Euphrates and the Tigris still needed a Persian Gulf into which to empty, the same was cut off from the Indian Ocean and made into an inland sea. The same was done with the Red Sea. Such juggling with maps does not help matters and only makes the straightforward Biblical story seem incredible and ludicrous. We feel such interpretations must be based upon some major flaw in understanding the text.

The people who lived in the day when Genesis was written were not such ignoramuses as to think the Euphrates and the Nile had a common source or were anywhere connected. If they were aware of the Ganges River at all, they would be stupid beyond comprehension to imagine it somewhere linked on to the Tigris which they were acquainted with from source to mouth.

Should anyone suggest that perhaps great changes in land and ocean configuration occurred during the Flood, let me remind you that the writer of Genesis uses the present tense when dealing with the four rivers, and he wrote after the flood. He 'vas writing of the four rivers as they were in his day -- they were still in existence. That being so, then the land configuration had not changed to that extent during the flood.

Now as to the general whereabouts of Eden, Dr. George A. Barton in 'Archaeology and the Bible' (p.541, IVth ed., 1925, published by American Sunday School Union, Philadelphia), notes that Ezekiel uses the name as belonging to an actual locality existing in his day. When listing the countries which traded with the city of 'Tyre, Ezekiel names "Eden" as one of them. Dr. Barton says: "Ezekiel seems to have called southern Babylonia Eden. In ch. 27:23, in enumerating the places that had traded with Tyre, he begins at Haran, then mentions Canneh (a corruption of Calneh of Gen.10:10 identified by the Talmud with Nippur), Eden, and the traffickers of Sheba. He places Eden "in the series exactly where southern Babylonia lies." This is a clue from Scripture itself where to start looking for the Land of Eden.

Constructing a "Treasure Map"
When the writer was a boy he frequently visited a part of the Atlantic coast of North America, where the famous pirate Captain Kidd was reputed to have landed and to have buried some of his vast treasures. Naturally, myself and other youngsters had our imaginations fired by the hope of accidentally stumbling upon his treasure. We would willingly have dug deep into the sand or earth if we had had but a slight clue as to where to dig. We looked around the place where he was said to have landed, and tried to determine what would be a likely choice as the spot at which he wol1ld bury a treasure, but without success.

Now we have something we want to find. We want to find out just where the Land of Eden was in Adam's day. We youngsters never had a treasure map to help us find Captain Kidd's hidden hoard. If had only had such, how we would have studied it! We would have had no rest until we had mastered its details and set out to discover the exact spot. Such is the enthusiasm of even the young for this world's wealth! But here in the Scriptures we are given a meticulous and careful description of the location of the Land of Eden. God did not give that unusual and detailed description without purpose. I am sure He wanted us to be able to find that location -- otherwise He wasted words to no purpose, and that is not like God. No, we may rest assured He intended us to be able to locate from this description just where man's original home really was, the place where our first parent's which lived in innocence until the first sin entered and man fell; after which he needed a Saviour, the promised "seed of the woman."

So precise and exact is the description of the rivers of Eden that we feel it is possible to pick up the details from the Scripture text and begin to place them on paper. This should assist us greatly. Therefore, with the locating of Eden as a "treasure" we want to find, let us start drawing a theoretical "treasure map" to assist us in our hunt. These sketches are based on a step-by...step solution to the Eden question which the writer submitted to the late Dr. William Bell Dawson of Montreal years ago. It is an attempt to explain the text simply, and without any geographical changes other than what are natural and scientifically recognized or at least acceptable in our present state of knowledge. Dr. Dawson immediately pronounced it the best approach to this subject he had seen. Some improvement has been made in these sketches and maps, as new light has come in, but basically the approach is the same.

Notice then, the first geographical feature given.

"And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden." Genesis 2:8

Only two points are given us here:
(1) Eden, which appears to be a district or area; and
(2) a garden situated in the easterly portion of Eden.

Take a sheet of paper and draw on it a fair sized circle. Then print in it the word "Eden." We do not know what shape Eden was, but this circle will represent the region to us until we can add sufficient details to do away with the fixed, exact circle.

Circle with Eden written in it.

Now the text informs us the garden was "eastward in Eden." The top of your paper will be north, so the easterly side will be the right side. Draw a smaller circle inside the larger circle, but close to the right side. Mark this "the Garden." We now have the Land of Eden and the Garden placed on our treasure map.

The Garden added to the circle

The next geographical feature found in our text reads: "And a river went out of Eden to water the garden." Genesis 2:10.

To show this river on our "treasure map", draw a wavy line from the center of our larger circle, which represents Eden, making the line run easterly through the middle of the smaller circle which stands for the garden, and continue the wavy line far enough easterly to just pass outside the boundary of Eden, for the text states the river "went out of Eden." This river is not named in the text but for the sake of clarity and simplicity will hereafter call it, "The River of Eden."

The river running through the garden


The next step in the description is of great importance. We feel it is at this point that so many other attempts at explanation have failed. Note the words of the text carefully.

"And from thence it was parted, and became into four heads." Genesis 2:10.

So many have taken this to mean that the river divided and became four rivers, like the dividing of a river at its delta, that it is difficult to shake the idea, although it always lands the expounder into difficulties. But stop and consider. Such an explanation makes four rivers with but one head, and that is definitely not what the text states. The text explicitly uses the terms, "a river' (singular) having "four heads."

Four rivers with but one head would be a most unnatural phenomena. There are, indeed, a very few Cases of a stream or river dividing and not re-uniting aside from delta formations. One such is on the Great Divide or height of land between the Provinces of Alberta and British Columbia in western Canada. Here a little stream divides into two; one branch goes down the eastern watershed to Atlantic waters, the other down the western watershed to end in the Pacific. These two streams have only one head. For one river to split into four, is, I believe, absolutely unknown anywhere in the world, though if such a case were found, it would still be a case of four rivers with one head, and thus could not be a parallel to our text. Thus we must turn back to the text to seek a different explanation.

The solution, we believe, hinges upon the significance of the word, "thence." From thence it was parted. What did the writer mean by, "thence"? It seems to me that the ancient author has, in thought, placed himself within the beauteous garden he was describing. He has noted that the beneficial river went out of Eden to water this garden.

Where did this lovely river come from? He looks upstream from his position in the Garden. "From thence," he says, that is, from Eden, from the only place so far definitely named in the text, from "thence" it was parted into four "heads. His eye has looked upstream and has discerned in a masterly way the four main sources of this Edenic river.

Once a person has grasped this upstream look, at once the text begins to make common sense. One river with four heads is sensible, it is a common sort of fact all us; but four rivers with one head is contrary to the facts of geography.

Now if we are correct in the foregoing explanation, then we should find that this explanation should lead to further discovery harmonious facts. To test this out let us immediately transfer our explanation of four heads making one river onto our diagram.


Now our diagram shows "four heads" and "one" river of Eden in a way that begins to look more like reality. By means of these few leading clues we have gained the start of our "treasure map." In the next chapter we will begin examining the four river-heads.

End of Chapter One

 Chapter One  A Few Leading Clues
 Chapter Two  The Rivers Euphrates and Hiddekel
 Chapter Three  The River Pison
 Chapter Four  The River Gihon
 Chapter Five  The Changing River Courses
 Chapter Six  Eden in Relation to Geology
 Chapter Seven  Eden and Biblical Chronology
 Chapter Eight  Cain's City of Enoch
 Appendix A  Are the names in Genesis 2 Postdiluvial?
 Appendix B   Maps, sketches and notes

 David J. Gibson

The Land of Eden