According to Genesis...: Ancient Geography: The Lost River of Eden and Recent Geological Discoveries
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Ancient Geography: The Lost River of Eden and Recent Geological Discoveries
(cf. James Sauer, "The River Runs Dry: Creation Story Preserves Historical Memory" Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August (1996)
“A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good” (Gen 2:10-12).
“…in very far antiquity, just such a river once existed, and its long-dried course has been recently traced from its rise in the west Arabian gold-lands (in Havilah) east and east-northeast toward the head of the gulf, via modern Kuwait.” (Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2003).
Fig. 1 Map Showing Eden’s Long-lost River
Four rivers are mentioned in the narrative of the ordering of creation in Genesis 2, but as any commentary will tell you, only three are known. The commentaries, it turns out, will have to be rewritten.
Eden’s Pishon river, mentioned only in the Bible (Genesis 2:11), is said to have flowed “around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold...” Three other rivers which Genesis said were alongside the Pishon are known to us as the centers of the world’s earliest civilizations, but the Pishon was a complete enigma to readers for millennia, until recently. The earliest known civilizations, Sumer and Egypt, knew nothing of it, and these civilizations were flourishing over 1500 years before Abraham! Satellite imaging and later Space Shuttle echolocation revealed a pock-marked section of the desert caused by river stones which still lay buried deep under the desert sand. Blue is limestone, yellow-orange is desert sand; the pock-marked area in the yellow sand (below left) is caused by the influences of subterranean topography and wind on the desert sand. (the river was discovered by Farouk El-Baz of Boston University. Photo courtesy EDSAT, Boston University's Center for Remote Sensing).
Fig. 2 Satellite Image of the Lost Pishon River of Eden
The imagery also overturned the prevailing assumption of climactic stability since the end of the last ice age (ending c. 9000BC) held by a majority of ancient Near Eastern scholars until recently. It would appear, as James Sauer puts it, that Genesis contains some very ancient historical memory about ancient Near Eastern geography. How ancient? The presence of this river far predates the geography described by the Sumerians and the Egyptians, which are the earliest civilizations known to historians, yet its existence and location are just as they are found in the Bible.
This brings to mind an obvious question: where’s all that gold? It turns out that the gold of that land is good! The ancient river, it turns out, runs right by the best producing site in the world today. "Only one place in Arabia has such a deposit -the famous site of Mahd edh-Dhahab, the "Cradle of Gold." This mine, ancient and modern [it was re-discovered in 1932] currently produces more than 5 tons of gold a year. The mining site is located about 125 miles south of Medina, near the headwaters of the Kuwait River" (Sauer, op cit, p. 64).
Fig. 3 Gold Vain from Solomon’s Mine in Havilah.
“This quartz-sulfide-gold vein at Mahd edh-Dhahab is still mined today. The mine, which some identify as King Solomon’s mine (1 Kings 9:26–28), produces more than 5 tons of gold a year” (Sauer, op cit; Photo by Richard B. Carten).
Fig. 4 Arial Photograph of the Gold Mine at Mahd edh Dhahab (Eden’s Havilah) discovered in 1932)