The Garden of Eden

LANDSAT spots a "fossil river" At this stage in his thesis, Zarins goes back to geography and geology to pinpoint the area of Eden where he believes the collision came to a head. The evidence is beguiling: first, Genesis was written from a Hebrew point of view. It says the Garden was "eastward," i.e., east of Israel. It is quite specific about the rivers. The Tigris and the Euphrates are easy because they still flow. At the time Genesis was written, the Euphrates must have been the major one because it stands identified by name only and without an explanation about what it "compasseth." The Pison can be identified from the Biblical reference to the land of Havilah, which is easily located in the Biblical Table of Nations (Genesis 10:7, 25:18) as relating to localities and people within a Mesopotamian-Arabian framework. Supporting the Biblical evidence of Havilah are geological evidence on the ground and LANDSAT images from space. These images clearly show a "fossil river," that once flowed through northern Arabia and through the now dry beds, which modern Saudis and Kuwaitis know as the Wadi Riniah and the Wadi Batin. Furthermore. as the Bible says, this region was rich in bdellium, an aromatic gum resin that can still be found in north Arabia, and gold, which was still mined in the general area in the 1950s.

It is the Gihon, which "compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia," that has been the problem. In Hebrew the geographical reference was to "Gush" or "Kush." The translators of the King James Bible in the 17th century rendered Gush or Kush as "Ethiopia"---which is further to the south and in Africa--thus upsetting the geographical applecart and flummoxing researchers for centuries. Zarins now believes the Gihon is the Karun River, which rises in Iran and flows southwesterly toward the present Gulf. The Karun also shows in LANDSAT images and was a perennial river which, until it was dammed, contributed most of the sediment forming the delta at the head of the Persian Gulf. Thus the Garden of Eden, on the geographical evidence, must have been somewhere at the head of the Gulf at a time when all four rivers joined and flowed through an area that was then above the level of the Gulf. The wording in Genesis that Eden's river came into four heads" was dealt with by Biblical scholar Ephraim Speiser some years ago: the passage, he said, refers to the four rivers upstream of their confluence into the one river watering the Garden. This is a strange perspective, but understandable if one reflects that the description is of a folk memory, written millennia after the events encapsulated, by men who had never been within leagues of the territory. It was Speiser again who suggested that the mysterious Gush or Kush should be correctly written as Kashshu and further that it refers to the Kashshites, a people who, in about 1500 B.C , conquered Mesopotamia and prevailed until about 900 B.C. This Zarins considers a vital clue. "At the time the Kashshites were in control in Mesopotamia, the nation of Israel was being formed. The Hebrews must certainly have encountered them, and learned the handed-down traditions of early Mesopotamia, the myths and tales. They must have heard the words Eden and Adam." The name Eve does not appear in Sumerian but there is a most intriguing link---the account of Eve's having been fashioned from Adam's rib in the Garden story. Why a rib? Well, in a famous Sumerian poem translated and analyzed by scholar Samuel Noah Kramer, there is an account of how Enki the water god angered the Mother Goddess Ninhursag by eating eight magical plants that she had created. The Mother Goddess put the curse of death on Enki and disappeared, presumably so she couldn't change her mind and relent. Later, however, when Enki became very ill and eight of his "organs" failed, Ninhursag was enticed back. She summoned eight healing deities, one for each ailing organ. Now the Sumerian word for "rib" is "ti.," but the same word also means "to make live." So the healing deity who worked on Enki's rib was called "Nin-ti" and, in a nice play on words, became both the "lady of the rib" and the "lady who makes live." This Sumerian pun didn't translate into Hebrew, in which the words for "rib" and "to make live" are quite different. But the rib itself went into the Biblical account and as "Eve" came to symbolize the "mother of all living." This and other ties with Sumerian myth are very clear, and Zarins finds it telling that although the Hebrews had close associations with Egypt, their earliest spiritual roots were in Mesopotamia. "Abraham journeyed to Egypt, Joseph journeyed to Egypt, the whole Exodus story is concerned with Egypt, but there is nothing whatever Egyptian about the early chapters of Genesis," he points out. "All these early accounts are linked to Mesopotamia. Abraham indeed is said to have come from Ur, at the time near the Gulf, and the writers of Genesis wanted to link up with that history. So they drew from the literary sources of the greatest civilization that had existed, and that was in Mesopotamia. In so doing they turned Eden into the Garden, Adam into a man, and a compacted history of things that occurred millennia before was pressed into a few chapters." Long before Genesis was written, Zarins believes, the physical Eden had vanished under the waters of the Gulf. Man had lived happily there. But then, about 5000 to 4000 B.C. came a worldwide phenomenon called the Flandrian Transgression, which caused a sudden rise in sea level. The Gulf began to fill with water and actually reached its modern-day level about 4000 B.C., having swallowed Eden and all the settlements along the coastline of the Gulf. But it didn't stop there. It kept right on rising, moving upward into the southern legions of today's Iraq and Iran.