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

Chapter Three
The River Pison

This river receives a rather fuller treatment at the hand of the author of Genesis, than the other three, possibly because he knew it to be harder to identify, even in his day. The text reads as follows.

"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." Genesis 2:11-12.

Clearly, to identify this river we need to know the location of the Land of Havilah. Where, then, was Havilah? Some Bible dictionaries seem hesitant and confused over this name, but all most references to it with Arabia.

Dr. George A. Barton in "Archaeology and the Bible" (See the passage previously quoted) suggests that Havilah stands for Arabia, evidently, Arabia in general. It may be doubted if most scholars would subscribe to this idea. In view of the fact that in Genesis 10:29 Havilah is but one of the many Joktanean tribes of Arabia, it does not appear too likely that the one name would come to represent the whole.

We would rather concur in the view that the old name Havilah is to be traced down to the modern name, "Ha 'ill", used of a place in the central part of Northern Arabia. There are a number of wadis or dry river beds running from near that general area north-easterly towards the lower Euphrates. In view of one head of the river of Eden on our "treasure map' being indicated in this region, we wish to suggest that it is possible one of these wadies may be the River Pison. The question will very naturally be asked, "Would a river bed or wadi be listed by an intelligent writer as one of the four main river-heads of the river of Eden?" To many our proposal may at first seem bold, and in danger of making our position very weak. (See "Atlas of the Historical Geography of the Holy Land," edited by George Adam Smith, D.D., LL.D., Litt. D., etc., 1915 Hodder & Stoughton, Warwick Square, London, E.C., on page xiii under, "Notes to Maps, "with Havilah (Hawilah) cp Ha'il in Central Arabia." Some maps give the modern name as, "Hayil.")

The Drying Up of Arabia
In reply we must again remind the questioner of the fact we are dealing with a very old text which speaks of things as they were in the writer's day (and before), not as they are in our day. Are we sure there were no rivers there in the past? The present dry wadis were formed long ago in the past by water-action. Some of this action is doubtless by annual streams and the sudden gushes from the exreme1y rare thunder storms which today occur, but there is evidence of a one time greater water abundance in the Arabian Desert than is the case now. It appears that a great, broad, long belt on the earth's surface, embracing both the Sahara and the Arabian Deserts, has dried up tremendous1y since early times.

The Sahara Desert is still growing and spreading. "About 3,500 years ago," writes Prof. H. A. Winckler in The Illustrated London News, (Dec. 26, 1936, p. 1173), "the desert ~ between the Red Sea and Upper Egypt was well watered enough to support large herds of wild cattle;" and earlier still, "even the elephant walked in the wadis (river valleys) now dried up. And with these animals lived men. In the shadow of rock shelters along old tracks and around wells they hammered out of the soft sandstone pictures of the game they hunted, their cattle and themse1ves... The main desert was a steppe, and the border near the Nile like a jungle. The Arabian Desert appears to also have been better watered than now, as Ishmael and other sons of Abraham found it a convenient l. place to live. "Early Man" p. 47.

A very recent find has helped to confirm that water was more plentiful in Northern Arabia anciently than now. Presumably this desertification was not just local; probably it extended over a large part of Arabia. In 1958 and 1959 Miss Diana Kirkbride carried out excavations of a Neolithic Village at a place called Seyl Aqlat, Beidha, not very far from Petra in Edom. These early inhabitants, before 4,000 B.C. must have had water at their village site to live, yet there is no water there now. Upon considering the location of this village, on the edge of the desert, Miss Kirkbride concludes

Its presence at that particular place indicates that a serious amount of desiccation has taken place since it was abandoned, as the nearest permanent water is now 1 1/2 hours away. The Excavation of A Neolothic Village at Seyl Aqlat, in Palestine Exploration Quarterly, Jul.-Dec. 1960, p. 142.

All this evidence indicates that the whole region has undergone a period of drying up, of decreasing water supply. That being so, it is certainly not unreasonable to suppose that some of the main, now dry wads or river beds, in Northern Arabia at least, once held in them perennial sparkling streams and little rivers of life-g1ving water in earlier times. As we mentioned before, these river beds drain away toward the Euphrates River. That one of these bore the name Pison is our suggestion. It is certainly well within the realm of possibility.

H. A. Winckler, whom we quoted before, said that on the other side of the Red Sea from Arabia, as late as 3,500 years ago the desert was still well enough watered to support large herds of wild cattle, etc. That would be about 1,500 B.C. In other words the drying up process was still in progress about the time of Moses, and some of the desert streams, though already much reduced in flow, would still be there and recognizable.

Some of the Arabian Wadis
We must remember that only on-the-spot examination of the region can reveal if there is a continuous river bed extending to the Euphrates. Tigris lower plains from somewhere near Ha'il in Arabia. As such information is not apparently available, we must have recourse to what ever facts can be gleaned from current maps of this region. We proceed with caution, knowing map makers are not infallible. However, what we do find is extremely interesting.

In the following paragraphs I will be referring to maps found in, "Hammond's Handy Volume Atlas of the World (Canadian Edition)", published expressly for the Grolier Society Ltd., Toronto, in 1950. The same maps may be found in the Americana Encyclopedia.

Map 81, Arabia
This shows a river-bed, Wadi 'Arar, lying somewhat between Ha'il and the Euphrates. However, this wadi does not appear to extend far enough into the desert toward Ha'il for our purposes.

But a much longer wadi, unnamed, lies a bit to the north. This longer wadi crosses the Jaddat 'Ar'ar region of the Syrian Desert. It connects with the Euphrates not far from where the Euphrates and the Tigris draw near to each other. It appears to be a more important drainage system than the Wadi 'A'rar.

Map 78, Iran and Iraq
What appears to be the longer wadi, unnamed in Map 81, is here given the name, "W. Ubaiyidh." Its southerly beginning points toward a place called Jauf. The region between Wadi Ubaiyidh and Wadi 'Ar'ar is here called, Al Wadyan.

Turning back to Map 81, we note that there is a lengthy, narrow gap in the desert marking, which gap extends from near Jubba (a place about 60 miles N.W. of Ha'il), almost all the way to Jauf. I do not know what causes the break in the, desert marking on the map, but it seems probable it would be a slight depression, insufficiently defined to be marked as a "wadi" but, being lower than the surrounding desert, there would in such a place be a tendency for a slight amount of water to be present in the soil making it less arid than the neighboring land on each side. Confessedly, I am hazarding a pure guess at this point, but if I should be right, then westerly there is a slight depression running almost from Halil northwesterly to Jauf, which could be the beginnings of an ancient drainage system. Any water flowing from such a drainage system, and coming to Jauf, would thereupon have to drain away either northerly into Wadi Ubaiyi or north-easterly into the Wadi 'Ar'ar system. Such a drainage path could very well represent all that remains of the River Pison.

As stated before, only on-the-spot examination can settle these suggestions, an examination which could view the lay of the land and determine where water would flow.

One other wadi might be mentioned. This is Wadi sha'ib Hisb. It is more directly between Ha'il and the Euphrates. Its lower end is near An Najaf; its upper end points toward the Red Desert beyond which is Ha'il. However, its upper reach does not extend far into the Arabian Desert, and it does not appear to be a part of any large drainage system.

It should be considered that we may unconsciously be making difficulties for ourselves by confining the name "Hav11ah" too closely to "Ha lil." Ha'il is but a spot on the map, and while we have no doubt it preserves the ancient name, "Havilah," it does not follow that name was in ancient times restricted entirely to just that spot. It may formerly have applied to the entire region, as does the name An Nafud or Nefud today. Some uses of the name Havilah in Scripture seem, to hint as much. The name is thought to mean, "sandy."

With much reserve we therefore suggest the foregoing as the possible course of the River Pison, namely, From Ha'il (Havilah) to Jubba, to Jauf, to Wadi Ubaiyidh to Euphrates. While this certainly is no definite identification, it seems at present as near as we can get to a satisfactory explanation.

One last thought we might interject here. If the Northern Arabian Desert was once fairly well watered, as seems to have been the case, it would then be a lovely and beautiful grass land at least. Wild life would be most abundant. It would be a Happy Hunting Ground indeed. Fruits would be abundant in the valleys and by the streams.

There would be "no want of anything that is in the earth." Here men of Paleolithic and Neolithic cultures would find life easy; and one would expect to find the sites of family settlements and villages in the valleys and by the best water supplies. .. This region could turn out to still be a Happy Hunting Ground, this time for the archaeologist.

The dry climate for the past 3,500 years would help to preserve relics. The possibility of finding traces of prehistoric man in such a region stirs one's imagination somewhat!

End of Chapter Three

 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