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 Five
The Changing River Courses

The four river-heads we have suggested in the preceding chapters fit our "treasure map" beautifully except for one vital point. Our theoretical map requires the four rivers to join into one river, the River of Eden as we called it, in a relatively small area, the Land of Eden. Our great difficulty at the moment is that while the Diyala (Gihon) joins the Tigris (Hlddekel), and the river-bed Wadi Ubaiyidh (Pison)links onto the Euphrates near the same region, the Euphrates and the Tigris after coming near each other diverge again and do not unite until something like 200 miles further on. This distorts the entire picture and makes it utterly unlike our "treasure map." The requirement of our text is that the four river-heads, looking upstream from the Garden of Eden should divide from the one locality, the Land of Eden, into the four distinct heads. The one locality would scarcely be a great stretch of country 200 miles in length! At first glance this fact would seem to utterly destroy our theory. However, if we but look into this a little further we will discover not only a most satisfactory solution to this problem, but the solution itself seems to strengthen our theory and add to its certainty.

It is a known fact now, that enormous changes have been taking place in the configuration of the Babylonian plains. A generation ago the extent of these changes was not realized. The changes are due to the huge quantities of silt which the Euphrates and Tigris river systems have been depositing in the plains, producing change after change. So rapid is this depositing of silt that the head of the Persian Gulf is receding southeasterly at the astonishing rate of something like 72 yards per year!

This factor alters the whole picture immediately. It means that about 3,500 B.C. the shoreline of the head of the Persian Gulf must have been around 200 miles inland from where it is now, and not very far below the region where the Euphrates and Tigris near each other, and the Dlyala and the Wadi Ubaiyidh come in on either side. It also means that the point at which the Euphrates and the Tigris now join was then deep under the waters of the Persian Gulf! It is a bit startling to realize that at that early date the Euphrates and the Tigris evidently did not join at all. Each seems to have emptied into the Persian Gulf separately quite some miles apart.

As if that factor was not confusing enough, we are now aware that at least two times the river Euphrates has shifted its channel westward, and the Tigris has shifted easterly at least once. By the disposition of silt the rivers have built up their beds and banks until the water level got higher than the surrounding plains; then during some flooding season one or other has gone over its banks and washed out a new channel for itself. Thus the courses of the rivers have changed again and again. To add to the matter, man has had a hand. Early inhabitants cut irrigation canals, and sometime the canals have become diverges of the river; and perhaps old river-beds have been turned back into canals.

Speaking of the older identifications proposed for Eden by Friedrich Delitzsch and A.H. Sayce and others, Unger's Bible Dictionary comments "under the heading, "Eden": "Such identifications are now impossible. Both the Tigris and the Euphrates have shifted their river beds in the course of millennia and enormous deposits of silt have drastically changed the entire configuration of lower Babylonia."

It is very interesting to note that the changes in the two rivers mentioned above was in each case a moving farther apart. The Euphrates has moved westerly, the Tigris easterly. Was there an earlier move which separated these rivers the one from the other? The suggestion is not unreasonable. It is in harmony with the known fact that the rivers have altered their courses many times and agrees with such evidence as we have gleaned from the Scripture record.

The Past and Present Tenses
Here it seems appropriate to draw attention to what appears to be a very remarkable uses of past and present tense in the text before us. The writer of the Book of Genesis uses the present tense when speaking of the four river- heads. The fourth river, he says, "is" Euphrates. The third "is" it which goeth to the east of Assyria. The second "is" it that compasseth Cush. The first "is" it which compasseth Havilah. While it is true that the word "is" in the King James Version is printed in italics, indicating that it is supplied by the translators, nevertheless those learned translators certainly considered the present tense to be implied in the Hebrew, and I am unaware of any question of the accuracy of their translation at this point. But in sharpest contrast to the foregoing, we see that he does not use the present tense when the same writer, only one sentence previously, describes the single river formed from these four, and which flowed out of Eden to water the Garden. (Gen. 2:10). There he says, "A river went out of Eden to water the Garden" He puts it in the past tense. He does not say, river goeth, but, "A river went." Furthermore, as if to emphasize the matter, and in the same sentence, looking upstream from the viewpoint of the garden, he states, "From thence" (Eden) "it WAS parted, and BECAME four heads." He could just as easily have said, "From thence IS parted and BECOMES four heads," but he seems careful to avoid the present tense in this place.

Surely it is evident that, while he could use the present tense in respect of the four river-heads, he could not do so in respect of the River of Eden. That part had altered. The four river-heads sti11 existed in his day, but evidently the River of Eden did not. The four river-heads no longer united to form one, but had at some time parted company. Therefore he could not use the present tense when dealing with the River of Eden.

Actually, this is just as we should expect. There would naturally be but very little change, if any, in the channels of the river-heads, but in the lower region where the combined silt from all four was being dumped hour by hour, day by day, year after year, that the channel should become clogged forcing the rivers to spillover into new channels we would expect, and that is apparently exactly what did happen. By 1400 B. C. the River of Eden had ceased to be; it could be referred to only in the past tense, and the writer of Genesis 2 had to use that past tense.

When Was Our Text Written?
Still another interesting point arising from our theory is that if we are anywhere near right in our identification of the river-head Pison, it could well provide an important clue as to the date when the description of Eden was written. The Pison, wherever exactly it lay, has dried up and ceased to be, for no river now runs from the North Arabian Desert into the Euphrates. Today we must use the past tense for it. But not so the writer of Genesis 2; he uses the present tense. Obviously it still existed when Genesis 2 was written. But when did it dry up? At present we have no precise data on this, but H. A. Winckler whom we quoted before in this, stated that the desert on the other side of the Red Sea, between the Nile and the Red Sea coast, about 3,500 years ago was sufficiently watered to support large herds of wild cattle, etc. It is likely that the drying up process was continuing equally on both sides of the Red Sea. If the Sahara west of the Red Sea dried up soon after 3,500 years ago, then the Pison River could not have existed much after that time. This would suggest a possible date of l500BC or 1400 BC. That is the approximate traditional date for Moses, a date still supported by large number of scholars. Some scholars would suggest a date for Moses one or two centuries later. But we do feel that by so late a date it would not have been possible to use the present tense when writing of the Pison River.

How the Four Rivers United
The exact courses of the four rivers in the Babylonian plain at early a date are not known. Again, only research on-the-spot can hope to satisfactorily settle such a question, but with due reserve we would like to suggest the possible courses as they were in Adam' s day.

We suggest that the Euphrates left its present channel at or near about Burmah and Sirriyah Bunds, about 10 miles above Falujah, and flowed easterly through what is now the Gurmah or Sirriyah Channel into the west side of the now dry, small lake Aqarquf. This lake bed is about 10 miles in length, lying north-westerly and south-easterly. The south east extremity is approximately only six miles from the Tigris, and probably overflowed into the Tigris. The overflow might have followed the course of the Washshash Drain, which empties into the Tigris just below the city of Baghdad. This would bring these two main rivers into conjunction first.
It is only 10 miles further down stream that the Diyalah River (or Gihon) comes in from the north. This suggestion brings three of the rivers together.

Whatever the course of the other river (the Pison) on the Arabian side, its waters would simply have to seek the main channel of drainage being followed by the other three rivers. Any other course appears most unlikely. The Pison River in all likelihood flowed from El Wadian through a present dry wadi, then past Shitatah in the Shamiyah Desert. Shitatah is about 45 miles west of the ruins of Babylon. Continuing eastward over the Shamiyah Desert it would flow through the tiny Abu Dibis Lake (now dry), and follow the wadi from there to Kerbala, then east-north-east along the route of the present day canal to where it meets the Euphrates channel, near the Hindiyah Junction. Beyond that the ancient path of the river is most conjectural. The Euphrates was not at this point in earliest times, but, as suggested above, seems to have united with the Tigris. But the Pison may well have next run down what is now called the Babylon Channel, then followed the Nil Channel from Babylon past Kish and into the Kutha Channel.

Now about 15 miles below the juncture of the Diyalah and Tigris rivers, the Tigris River makes a remarkable bend southward, southerly from Bulman Pak and the striking ruins of Ctesiphon. It is possible that this long loop may mark the place where the Tigris left its present channel to join the Kutha Channel. In any case, this is the closest the Tigris at present approaches to the Kutha Channel. The mingled waters of the Euphrates, Tigris and Diyalah would then follow down the Kutha Channel until joined by the Pison coming in from the west below Kish, thus bringing all four rivers together.

Eden Located
This point at which the waters of the four heads finally united into one must have been, by our text in Genesis 2, and by our theory, within the confines of the Land of Eden. Probably the name Eden would include the entire region up as far as where the Euphrates joined the Tigris by Baghdad. The four river heads having combined in the Kutha Channel would then follow that channel on south-easterly as "the river of Eden." On the banks of the river (the Kutha Channel) the Garden of Eden would be located, being "eastward in Eden." This would be between Kish and Nippur, nearer to Kish than to Nippur.

In later history, after the rivers had changed their courses, the combined waters of the Tigris and Diyalah diverting to the north via the present Tigris course to Kut, and thence down the Hai Channel, the Euphrates diverting westerly, the name "Eden" would be left in the middle, with rivers to the north and south of it. Thus it would come to mean the plains between the rivers. And although scholars have rejected as untenable A. H. Sayce's proposal for the site of the Garden of Eden as being at Eridu (Abu Shahrein), still his remarks on the name "Eden" seem to hold good. Writing on "Eden", he says on page 643, Volume 4, "A Dictionary of the Bible,"(ed. J. Hastings, Scribner 1911):

"The cuneiform inscriptions have cleared up the geography of the garden of Eden. The Sumerian name of the plain of Babylonia was Edin. This was adopted by the Semites under the name Edinu.

"Its Assyrian equivalent was Zeru, corresponding to the Arabic Zor, the name still applied to the depression between the Tigris and Euphrates."

Thus we find that the region we are driven to by examination of the text of the Scripture in relation to the four river-heads, as being the location of Eden, is confirmed and supported from the cuneiform writings of ancient Babylonia.

The river courses we have suggested above are set out on the map below.


Map of Edom

However, the reader is warned that these are suggestive only, pending light from further research and study. Nevertheless, whatever illumination may be gathered in the future on the subject, the degree of support from every direction for our theory seems strongly indicative that we must be at least close to the truth.

A careful examination of the map above will bring out still another remarkable feature. We stated before that the view-point of the writer of Genesis 2, appeared to be that of one looking upstream from the garden and describing the sources of the river coming out of Eden. Now, following on our map, upstream from the garden we find the branches of the river come in the following order:

No.1, the Pison, coming from Wadi Ubaiyidh
No.2, the Gihon or Diyala coming in from the north
No.3, the Hiddekel or Tigris
No.4, the Euphrates itself.

Turning back to our text in Genesis, we find that this is precisely the order in which the ancient writer named the four sources: He not only names the four in the same order, but actually numbers them, as if to make us recognize that he is giving them in the exact order in which they will be met when following up the river.

I must confess that the fact of the numbering of the river-heads in the text had no meaning for me until I first sketched the map above. Then it dawned upon me that the branches from the river were in the same order as in the text. Needless to say, it was most thrilling and elating to discover this quite unexpected confirmation.

More than a Myth
Having now ascertained what appears to be the correct location of the Land of Eden, and the approximate locality of the garden which God planted, it is obvious that the Genesis account is more than just myth. It has geographical reality. This begins to reflect genuineness, not myth. To those who have always believed the Genesis account it will be encouraging to see evidence that the story is more than myth. Those of the contrary part will have to admit at least that the setting of the story is a real, actual locality.

Is it not moving to be so very close to putting our finger on the very spot on the map which was the beautiful home of our first parents? To consider that here the first little sin was committed? It was such a "little sin", just to eat a bit of fruit from one forbidden tree. Yet that "little sin wrecked the world. The little fox spoiled the vine.

When our first parents disobeyed their Creator, when sin first entered the human heart, it was almost the greatest and most heart-breaking tragedy ever to occur. "Almost" the greatest? Yes, almost, not quite. There is one greater tragedy.

Contemplation of the Eden story leads us to another story, the story of Calvary. There the Lord Jesus Christ took our sins in His own body on the tree and provided the only remedy for the sin story which began in Eden. His precious blood! He is the propitiation for our sins (the sins of His followers), and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (I. John 2:2). Was Calvary the greatest tragedy? No. Calvary, love's supreme sacrifice and proof, was not a tragedy but a conquest. Calvary appears as a tragedy to those who have forgotten Eden. Without the tragedy of Eden, if man did not fall into sin, Calvary would be only a tragedy, and the greatest; but with the tragedy of Eden fully in view, that the human race is a fallen race and requires redemption, Calvary becomes the greatest triumph. What then is the greatest tragedy? It is this, to pass through life and miss the remedy of Calvary. Here every man who wills may find not only pardon for his sins, but an inward renewal to purity with the strength to withstand sin so that the tragedy of Eden will never be repeated within him. To miss that is the greatest tragedy, for, having lost this one and only chance, there is not another sacrifice that can be made. "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" (Hebrews 10:26). How good of God to provide Calvary as the answer to Eden.

End of Chapter Five

 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