THE GARDEN OF EDEN WAS WHERE?   (Posted 14 April 2011)

While the novel, and trilogy of The Last King of Babylon  takes place thousands of years after mankind’s supposed eviction from “The Garden of Eden,” the Biblical creation story was heavily influenced by Mesopotamian myths and legends which do play a role in the novel The Last King of Babylon.  Also, since most westerners have assumed that the “Garden of Eden” was in Babylonia, and since Babylonian creation mythologies and “primordial paradise” mythologies do play a role in The Last King of Babylon, I will take the matter up in this essay.  The closely related issue of “Adam” and “Eve” and the “creation” of mankind have been dealt with in a previous essay.  This essay will focus on pinpointing the location of “the Garden of Eden.”


Most westerners assume that the “Garden of Eden” concept, or some sort of “fall from grace” by mankind is a universal concept to all cultures.  It is not.  Many American Indian cultures, for example, believe that we emerged into this world from a previous more primitive state, starting out like the animals and then evolving upwards through three different levels, or stages, until reaching the so-called fourth world represented by today’s civilization (Waters, Frank "The Book of the Hopi," 1963, p.22) 

It is only the Arabic, Hebraic, and other cultures of the Middle East, and those cultures influenced by the Middle Eastern cultures that have this concept that mankind once lived a more idyllic existence in some sort of “paradise” and that for some reason or other he has taken a step back, or a step “down” from that “idyllic” existence into the guts and blood struggles of our current every day life.  In Ancient Mesopotamia it was the mythical land of “Dilmun” that was always held up as having been that earlier “paradise” that is no longer attainable.  In the Judeo-Christian and Islamic cultures of the modern Middle East, Russia, and the West, it is the “Garden of Eden” that is looked back to as the “paradise” from which “mankind,” or his progenitors, were evicted from and which, like the mythical Dilmun, is no longer attainable upon this earth.


Side-by-side with the Dilmun as “paradise” myths current in Ancient Mesopotamia, the Babylonians had a contrary myth embedded in their creation myth ENUMA 'ALISH (when upon high).  In the 6th tablet of this myth the God Marduk says “I will take blood and fashion bone.  I will establish a savage.   Man shall be his name.”  This myth indicates that the Babylonians had some inkling that our origins may have been quite brutish rather than idyllic like the “Dilmun” and “Garden of Eden” myths imply.


This primeval idyllic “Garden of Eden” of our Judeo-Christian-Islamic mythologies has been placed (by those who believe in it) in a wide variety of places from the U.S. Midwest to the jungles of Africa to the bed of the Black Sea.  Most Biblical scholars, however, have placed the “Garden of Eden” in lower Babylonia, or Sumer.  Unfortunately, all of these theories are wrong, as we shall soon see.

First of all, we must understand upfront that while the Biblical accounts of “creation” and “Adam” and “Eve” were written allegorically and were never intended to be interpreted literally, there are some kernels of truth regarding the Biblical descriptions of the location of the mythical “Garden of Eden.”  It is to those passages that we will now turn, and then we will analyze them.


The Biblical account of the location of the “Garden of Eden” begins in Genesis 2:8, and continues through verse 14 as follows:

V.8. “And the Lord god planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
V.9.  “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.
V.10  “And, a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thense it was parted, and became into four heads.
V.11.  “The name of the first is Pi-son: that is it which compasseth the whole land of
Hav-i-lah, where there is Gold.
V.12.  “And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.
V.13.  “And the name of the second river is Gi-hon:  the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.
V.14.  “And the name of the third river is Hid-di-kel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria.  And the fourth river is Eu-phra-tes.”


It is from verse nine that we can get a picture of an idyllic paradise with every type of beautiful tree to look at, and where food is available just for the picking.  It is that passage that has led many to believe that our “pre-human” existence as apes in Africa is what was meant.  Of note also in verse nine is reference to two trees that are special.  One was the “tree of life,” and the other was the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

The inclusion of both of these “trees” in the Garden of Eden story have a religious/philosophical purpose and help to color and explain the subsequent verses dealing with man’s expulsion from the paradisiacal “Garden.”  Verse nine does not really contain any clues helping us pin down the location of the “Garden,” so we can overlook this verse for now and concentrate on the others.


Most historians have traditionally tried to equate the “Garden of Eden” with Mesopotamia since this Old Testament account does mention two rivers, the Tigris (as we shall explain shortly) and the Euphrates, which are clearly located in Mesopotamia.  It is also known that the Jewish writers of the book of Genesis  spent a great deal of time in Mesopotamia, as did some of the progenitors of the tribes that made up the older Israelite confederation, and that may have influenced their concepts of where the “Garden of Eden” was located. 

Indeed, the Biblical account of creation told in the opening verses of Genesis chapter one, seems to be nothing more than a brief summary of the Babylonian ENUMA 'ALISH creation myth.   Perhaps this is where Genesis 8:2 got the idea that the “Garden of Eden” was somewhere “east” of the Israel/Palestine area.  But, of course, “east” of Israel/Palestine could mean anything from Transjordan to Mesopotamia, to Arabia, or even India.


Now skip to verse ten and notice how it talks about a great river that watered the Garden of Eden, and then apparently split into four tributaries, or four great rivers.  When we take a look at the geographic locations of these four tributaries, or “heads” of rivers as the Genesis account calls them, we notice at once that they could not all four have possibly had a single source in reality, nor have been connected geographically in any way, except for the last two (Tigris and Euphrates). 

This can be explained away as being just a form of literary embellishment—or an attempt to embed some metaphysical or allegorical message behind the literal meaning of the words.  In other words, the (four) rivers may have been included in the story only as an allegory representing mankind’s earlier pristine state when he supposedly had a much closer relationship to God, as represented by the rivers, according to this line of thought.  (Water was always associated with Deity in the ancient world).


However, I believe that these four rivers were included in the Genesis account to help define the actual physical location on earth where the mythical “Garden of Eden” was.  So, let’s take a look at each of these rivers in turn to see what they can tell us about the location of “Eden.”  Let’s start with the fourth river, since that is the easiest one to identify.  Genesis 2:14 identifies the 4th river as the Euphrates.  That is the same Euphrates river that forms the western and southern boundaries of Mesopotamia.  It is this reference that has led generations of Biblical scholars to assume that Mesopotamia must have been the Garden of Eden.


The third river is a little more difficult to place.  Our King James English translation gives us Hid-Di-Kel, which does not look like anything you can find on any map anywhere.  So, let’s see what the original Hebrew account gives us.  The Hebrew gives us HDQL as the name of the third river.  The voweling in the Hebrew text is the same as that in the King James English translation.  In other words, the translators of the King James Bible were so stumped by this entry that they made no attempt to translate it into an English or Latin equivalent like they did with the Euphrates (HFRT) in Hebrew.  So, they merely transliterated it and as they did so changed the Hebrew letter “Qof” into a “K” because English rules of grammar forbid using the letter “Q” unless it is immediately followed by the vowel “u.”


So, let’s take this HDQL apart and see what we come up with.  We already know a couple of things about this river and its strange name.  First, it is somewhere around the east of Assyria because that is where verse 14 says it is.  Second, the “H” in the above Hebrew word is the Hebrew definite article.  That leaves us with DQL as a possible root of the word.  Now, what river can we find that looks like DQL and that is located in, or just to the east of, Assyria?

On modern Arabic maps of the Iraq area we see a river called AD-DIGLAH.  The “ad” is written as “al” and is the Arabic definite article corresponding to the Hebrew “h,” and the “ah” ending is the feminine gender marker.  That leaves us with DGL.  In some Arabic dialects under post Persian influence the “G” is pronounced as a “J,” but for the majority of Arabs (sorry al-Jazeera and Lebanese TV), and all other Semitic languages the pronunciation of the “G” was a hard “G” as in “Good.” 

In the Ancient Cuneiform languages of Mesopotamia and their sub-dialects, there was a lot of confusion and transposition among (hard) “G,” “K,” and “Q” sounds.  Likewise, in modern Gulf Arabic dialects, original “Q” sounds are routinely pronounced as a hard “G.”  From all of this it becomes obvious that the name of our third river HDQL is the same as the ad-DGLah on modern Arabic maps.  And, the Arabic ad-DiGLah, is nothing other than the TiGRis river, which as we know skirts the eastern edge of Assyria/Mesopotamia just as it says in the Biblical version.


How that word HDQL became Tigris in English is another amusing story for which we have the Greeks to thank.  The Greeks always mangled foreign (especially Middle Eastern) words and names beyond all recognition.  One thing they always liked to do was to put an “S,” or an “IS,” at the tail end of foreign names and words brought into Greek.  Thus our word for "Tigris" was derived from a more ancient form of “TiGR.”  The Greeks also changed the earlier Semitic dental “D” into the dental “T,” and the original “L” they converted into an “R,” both of which are common transpositions in many languages.  So, the original Semitic hDQL became DGL which became (in Greek) TGR, and then TiGRis (Tigris). 

While the Tigris and the Euphrates did not originate from the same source, it may be possible that the early Hebrew scribes could have thought so.  Indeed, the sources of these two rivers are only about 50 miles apart high up in the mountains of eastern Anatolia.  And, this would seem to strengthen the idea of Mesopotamia being the location of the “Garden of Eden” of the Hebrew scribes.  However, the matter becomes quite problematic when we look at the other two rivers.


Genesis 2:13 calls the second river GI-HON.  Some Biblical scholars have pointed to an ancient spring near “Jerusalem” named Gihon, thinking that that was what the Ancient Hebrew scribes were referring to.  However, that spring was probably named after the original “Gihon” after the Hebrews had arrived in the "Palestine" area.  The fact that the “GIHON” river is spelled in the Hebrew with long vowels in both syllables indicates that it is a non-Semitic word.  In this instance, therefore, I would prefer to let the Bible itself tell us where “Gihon” was located.  Genesis 2:13 tells us that the “GIHON” was the river that “compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.”

The Hebrew text actually calls it the land of “Kush,” but it is well-known that the ancient “Kush” was Ethiopia.  That being said, some scholars, such as renowned Egyptologist  Kenneth Kitchen, place the “Gihon” not in Ethiopia, but in Elam, an ancient country just east of Mesopotamia where southwest Iran is today.  Indeed there are a number of small rivers in that area that empty into either the Tigris itself, or the Shatt al-Arab (where the Tigris and the Euphrates meet), or into the head waters of the Arab/Persian Gulf.  One of these rivers (the largest one) is called the Karun river which Kitchen and other scholars believe is close enough linguistically to have been the “Gihon” referred to in Genesis. 

In my personal opinion that is too much of a stretch, but when one is in bad need of a river in or near Mesopotamia, you have to make some adjustments.  This theory, pertaining to the Gihon is based on the claim that the land of “Kush” refers not to Ethiopia, but to lands ruled at one time by the Kassites who are called “KHASHSHU” in Babylonian cuneiform (Kitchen, Kenneth, On the Reliability of the Old Testament,  2003, pp. 428-429).  Adding weight to this theory is the reference in Genesis to Nimrod being the “son” of “Kush,” and then, according to Biblical lore, Nimrod ruled in Mesopotamia (Gen. 10:8-12).

Kitchen’s thesis at first glance seems to make sense, but there are some problems with this view.  First off, though the Babylonians called the Kassites “Khashshu,” the Hebrews never did, as professor Kitchen is well aware.  They called them the “Kasideem.”  Furthermore, the Hebrew/Israelite/Jewish scribes had an intimate knowledge of Western Arabia and its connections with Ethiopian “Kush.”  They knew very well the difference between Ethiopian “Kush” and the lands ruled by the Kassites/Kasideem.  The personage of “Nimrod” is not attested to in any extra-Biblical literature so we can not make the assumption that he was a real historical personage.  However, “Nimrod” may well represent something else that did have historical validity. 


Early Mesopotamian accounts are replete with references to Semites they called the mare yamin.  That is Akkadian for the Hebrew ben-yamin, or “Benjamin” as we would say today in our corrupted English version of the name.  The Akkadian form of the name, being in the plural, simply means “sons of Yemen,” or “sons of the south,” and the Hebrew version, which is singular, means “son of Yemen,” or “son of the south.”  That means that according to early Akkadian accounts there were thousands of “sons of Yemen,” or “sons of the south,” running around Mesopotamia and Northern Syria between 2500 and 2000 B.C.  This is where the Hebrew scribes got the idea of “Nimrod, son of Kush” being a ruler in Mesopotamia.  They were simply drawing on a tradition that these powerful tribes had come from the general area described by Ethiopian Kush and the other western Arabian place names mentioned in Genesis in connection with “Nimrod” and “Kush.”

Another problem with Kitchen’s theory is that the Hebrew/Jewish scribes show an almost complete ignorance of even eastern Arabia, much less Elam/Persia, while demonstrating an intimate knowledge of Western and Southern Arabia.  This tells me that they could not have been thinking about Elam/Persia when talking about the rivers associated with the Garden of Eden/ancestral homeland.

Therefore, in view of all of this, I maintain that the Gihon river was in Ethiopian Kush just as the Bible says it was.  Not only could the Hebrew scribes have not confused Ethiopian Kush with any land the Kassites/Kasideem  dwelled in, there is also no chance that they could have confused Kush, or Ethiopia, with Mesopotamia, or with the Gihon in Jerusalem given their knowledge of all three areas.  (The particular river that Kitchen and others call the “Gihon” in Elam is actually the Karun river—which means that they had to do a lot of linguistic fudging to co-equate them).


It is my view therefore that the Hebrew/Jewish scribes who compiled the first book of Genesis choose to include the Gihon river of Ethiopia as one of the boundaries of “Eden” partly because it and the Mesopotamian rivers mentioned above described the geographic range from which Hebrew culture evolved, and included most, if not all, the lands of which they had a racial memory.  Consequently, their racial memory of “paradise lost,” or the “Garden of Eden,” would have to lie somewhere within that geographic range.

Now if we look at a map of that part of the world and locate Mesopotamia and the Tigris and Euphrates on the one hand, and then locate Ethiopia on the other hand, our eyes are immediately drawn to what lies between.  And, what lies between is Arabia.  Draw a line from Ur and Sumer on the lower Euphrates down to Ethiopia and that line will bisect the heart of Arabia.


This brings us to the first, and “final,” river in hopes that it can shed more precise light on the question of Eden’s possible location.  This first river was supposed to have been the greatest of all the rivers, which is why it was mentioned first.  It was the one which bisected Eden and provided the water for it (Genesis 2:10).  This river was the one river which made all the others seem as mere “tributaries” in comparison, at least in allegorical terms.  Verse 11 tells us that the name of this river was the PI-SON.

Look on any map of the world, ancient or modern, in any language, and you will never find the Pison river.  Not in Mesopotamia, not in Elam, not in Ethiopia, and not in Israel.  So, where could it have possibly been?

The Old Testament gives us a few more clues.  Genesis 2:11 says that the Pison “encompasseth the whole land of HAV-I-LAH, where there is gold.”
The land of Havilah!

The translators of the King James, and all other versions of the Bible, were completely stumped by that one.  Consequently they left it untranslated.  That is why you have that strange name in hyphenated transliteration in your Bible.  Just like the HID-DI-KEL river.  However, actually, they errored a bit in their transliteration.  The original Hebrew calls it the land of hHWILAH.  The intial “h” is the Hebrew definite article.  Therefore, the correct translation should read not that the river was in the land of “hav-i-lah,” but that the river was in the land of the HaWiLah.  The “V” that appears in modern transliterations and translations of the Bible is also in error and is based upon a pronunciation change in Hebrew picked up during the days of Persian rule.  The letter, or phoneme, in question is actually a “waw,” which was pronounced as a “W” in ancient times, and still is in Arabic today.  The “V” sound for “W” is a post-exilic Persian influence on Hebrew.  The final “ah” of the word hawilah  could be either the feminine gender marker or an archaic Semitic accusative/noun of place marker.


This leaves us with HWL as the root of the word which in Semitic bears the connotation of “moving,” “shifting,” “transforming.”  So hHaWiLah could be interpreted as the “shifting place,” the “place which moves,” or “transforms.”

The Hebrew-to-English lexicon of the Old Testament by William Gesenius renders Hawilah simply as “The land of sand,” and gives “dunes” as an alternate meaning.  So, Perhaps what was meant by the Biblical account was “the land of shifting sands,” or “the land of the shifting sand dunes.”

Now wouldn’t that be a strange description of the “Garden of Eden?”  Unless the Hebrew tribes had a racial memory of a land that had somehow been “transformed,” or “changed” into a “place of shifting sands” by the time the Hebrew scribes were first writing these stories down sometime around 1,000 B.C.  In other words, at the time the Genesis stories were being compiled, the land where their racial memory told them the “Garden of Eden” had been located was a “land of sand,” or the “land of shifting sands.”


Remember the imaginary line on the map we “drew” from Mesopotamia to Ethiopia?  Remember that the line bisected Arabia?  The Rub’ al-Khali (Empty Quarter) desert of Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest continuous sand desert, and the sands certainly do shift quite often and quite far.


The Bible gives us other clues and references to the land of the Hawilah which reinforces this idea.  Genesis 10:7 reads “And the sons of CUSH: SEBA, and HAWILAH, and SABTAH, and RAM’AMAH, and SAB-TE-CHA, and the sons of RA’AMAH: SHEBA and DEDAN.”

For anyone familiar with Arabian historical geography, this passage has nothing whatsoever to do with an actual genealogy of real persons, but, instead, has everything to do with place names.  The discipline of Comparative Semitics tells us that Yemen, western Arabia, and Ethiopia, all had a shared cultural and linguistic heritage during the 2nd millennium B.C.  That is what this Biblical passage is all about.  “Cush,” of course, is the Biblical name for Ethiopia (“Kush” in some texts).  “Sheba” refers to the ancient Yemeni kingdom of Saba’ from whence came the “Queen of Sheba” of “Solomon” fame.  “Ra’amah” was the capital city of Sheba/Saba’ (called Ma’rib today), and “Dedan” has been identified with the modern NW Arabian town of al-‘Ula.  “Seba” refers to another Yemeni community usually seen as subject to the rule of Sheba, or Saba’.  “Sabtah” and “Sabteca” (for “Sabtecha,”) were located in the Hadhramout area of eastern Yemen, western Oman.


What the authors of Genesis are telling us here, obviously, is that all of these place names are somehow connected with each other culturally, and, ultimately connected with Kush, or Ethiopia in one way or another.  Since all of these place names are located in an arc between Northwest Arabia (Dedan), and Southwest Arabia (Seba and Sheba), and Southern Arabia (Sabtah and Sabteca), we must assume that the other place names must also be located somewhere in, or near, that arc—and that includes our hHAWILAH.  In fact Kitchen himself has located a community in South West Saudi Arabia which bears the name of “Hawlan,” which is derived from the same root (HWL) as the Hebrew “Hawilah.”


Returning once again to the Genesis account, we notice that the land of the HAWILAH is also further identified as a land of much good Gold (Genesis 2:11 and 2:12).  This, again, is another key to understanding the location of the “Garden of Eden.”  Mesopotamia is entirely bereft of Gold, but it is very plentiful in Arabia, especially western Arabia.  One of the world’s largest, and oldest, gold mines is located just east of Medina (ancient Yathrib) in a place called "mahad azh-zhahab," which in Arabic means “cradle of gold.”  The gold mines there have produced vast quantities of high-quality gold since at least the days of “Solomon”—and probably for long before.


Now, just in case any potential readers of the Genesis account still did not get the picture as to the location of the “Garden of Eden,” the Hebrew scribes left us a couple of more clues.  Genesis 2:12 also says that this land of Hawilah contained a lot of the Onyx stone.  Onyx is described as a special kind of quartz which exists in great profusion in Arabia (but not in Mesopotamia) and was once valued as a raw material for producing arrow heads and other tools during the stone age. 


Genesis 2:12 also mentions another product that the land of the “Hawilah” was know for.  This is hBDLh, or, with the vowling, haBDoLah, which the King James Bible translates as “Bdellium.”  Don’t try looking that one up in your dictionary.  There is no such word, or mineral.  It was an attempt by the King James translators to transliterate the Hebrew hBDLh, since they didn’t know what it was either.  The Gesenius Hebrew lexicon renders it as an “odiferous transparent gum of yellowish colour.”  Could this be a reference to Myhrr?  The Arabic word “Murr” (from which Myhrr is derived) means “bitter” and also refers to a resin, which like Frankincense comes from only one part of the world, one small corner of the Arabian Penninsula.  The only place in the world where it can be found is in the southern part of the Hadhramaut near the borders of Yemen and Oman, and in the Dhofar region of Western Oman. 


This, coincidentally or not, is also the area where one finds the most place names associated with the very ancient, and mythical, prophet “Hud,” or HWD, in Arabic, which, of course, just happens to be the root of the word yaHUDah, or “Judah” in our garbled English, from which the even more garbled word “Jew” is derived.


At any rate, the clincher, from the Biblical standpoint regarding the location of the “Garden of Eden,” and of “Hawilah,” is that Gen. 25:18 says that “Ishmael” (the supposed mythical patriarch of the Arabs according to Biblical and Islamic genealogy) and his progeny dwelt from the “Hawilah” unto “Shur” after Abraham’s death.  In other words, the Arabs dwelt in area extending up from the “Hawilah” up to Sinai, or “Shur.”

So, it should be obvious by now that the Hebrew-speaking authors of Genesis were definitely trying to refer to Southern or Western Arabia, and not Mesopotamia, as the location of “Eden.”  That leaves us with the problem of trying to locate the Pison river in this “land of shifting sand.”  The idea of a river of any sort, much less a great river, being in Arabia probably seems like a joke to most people—which is why western scholars have heretofore failed to consider Arabia as being the possible location of “Eden.”  The common perception of Arabia today, much like the Hebrew scribes of Genesis, is that it is nothing but “a land of sand.”


However, that has not always been the case.  In fact, even today that view is not entirely correct.  There are areas of Arabia, mainly the mountains of southwest Saudi Arabia, and northern Yemen that receive abundant rainfall—enough to support large scale agriculture and profuse local flora.  There are numerous canyons in the mountains of Oman that are quite lush and remind one more of Africa than Arabia. 

Geological history tells us that all parts of Arabia have been inundated with water from time to time.  The Arabian Peninsula has gone through numerous stages of wet and dry spells ever since the continents split off from “Gondwanaland” hundreds of millions of years ago.  The most recent wet cycle (at least for the southern half of the Arabian Peninsula) came shortly after the end of the last Ice Age (12,000 to 8,000 years ago).  Even as recently as six thousand years ago the monsoons that now flow from Africa to the Indian subcontinent used to pass over southern Arabia depositing much of their load in parts of what is now the Empty Quarter and the Dhofar mountains of Oman before moving over to the Indian sub-continent (Thompson, Andrew, "Origins of Arabia."  2000, p. 68).


It was during such wet cycles that rivers flowed profusely and abundantly in Arabia.  Our problem then, is not in finding a river, because there are plenty of dry river beds in Arabia, but in trying to determine which one may have been the Pison referred to in the book of Genesis.  According to Andrew Thompson in “The Origins of Arabia,” during the Pleistocene era and down to about one million years ago there were three monstrous rivers that flowed mostly east across Arabia.  Each of these rivers would have been at least equal to today’s Nile in water flow.  The remains of these ancient river systems can still be seen today in the wadis of modern Arabia, and in the huge deltas of sand, silt, quartz, and other mineral deposits at where their mouths would have been in those days (Thompson, 2000, p. 60).


In the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula there was the Wadi ar-Rimah/Wadi al-Batn flow.  According to Thompson, an ancient branch of this river system began near present day al-‘Ula (in the northern Hijaz, and mentioned previously as the Biblical Dedan), flowed east towards the present day Hail area, while the main branch (still visible as a wadi today) began in central Arabia about 100 miles east of Medinah (ancient Yathrib), then flowed north and east towards Hail and what is now the great Nafud.  Both branches then merged into the Wadi al-Batn and veered northeast towards Kuwait to empty into the headwaters of the Arabian gulf.  Actually, what is now the entire country of Kuwait and much of Northeast Arabia was the delta formed by this mighty river.


Through central Arabia ran the Wadi Hanifah/Wadi as-Sahbah river system.  This system started just west of present day Riyadh near to the uplift of the Tuwaiq escarpment, and flowed straight east emptying into the Arabian gulf just south of Qatar.  The delta formed by this river extended from Haradah eastward to the gulf, a distance of 200 kilometers, and north to south it extended from al-Uqair to the south of Qatar, a width of 160 kilometers (Thompson, 2000, pp. 60-61).  Parts of this river system still nourish crops in the Riyadh area via a still easy to reach water table.  In fact the name “Riyadh” is the Arabic plural for “gardens” because there have always been Oases there up and down that section of the Wadi Hanifah. 


Southern Arabia was transected by the Wadi ad-Dawasir river system.  The source of this river system was in the mountains of the present day Asir province (near the Yemeni border).  From there it flowed north, then east where it entered what is now the Empty Quarter near present day Sulayl.  From there it flowed east by southeast possibly emptying into a large lake represented today by the Samin salt flats in the eastern part of the Empty Quarter.  From there the waters of the lake drained northward to empty into the Arabian Gulf through what is now the United Arab Emirates.  In its journey from west to east this already mighty river was joined by another immense flow from Yemen and southern Arabia.  The main course of this southern tributary is today called the Wadi Najran, the source of which is in Yemen.  All of the sand that today composes the dunes of the world’s largest continuous sand desert is the result of the countless tons of silt deposited in the area throughout the eons by the immense flow of this giant river system.


Now, given this choice of three major river systems in Arabia, the above-mentined professor  Kitchen has chosen the northernmost river, the one closest to Mesopotamia, the Wadi ar-Rimah/Wadi al-Batn river system.  At first glance, there is much to commend about this theory.  First of all, he does place the Pison river in Arabia, and that is a quantum leap forward over all previous accounts.  Secondly, all four of Kitchen’s rivers emptied into the upper Gulf close enough together to almost seem, at least figuratively, and with a little imagination, as if they had all been branches of the same source far off in the mountains of the west and/or north.  And, last, but not least, the origins of the Wadi ar-Rimah are reasonably close to the gold mining areas of Western Arabia, particularly the "mahd azh-zhahab."


However, as with the “Gihon in Elam” theory, there are a few points about the “Wadi ar-Rimah/Wadi al-Batn river system as the Pison” theory that I do not like.  First of all, this theory is dependent upon the “Gihon in Elam” theory so that all four rivers can be geographically close together, and I do not buy into the “Gihon in Elam” theory for the above stated reasons.    

Secondly, I believe that the scribes of Genesis named the Gihon river of Ethiopia as a counter-point to the Tigris and Euphrates first of all to delineate their cultural frame of reference, and secondly to indicate that the first river named, the most important of these rivers in terms of the “Garden of Eden,” was to be found midway between the points described by Ethiopia and Mesopotamia, i.e. the western edge of the Arabian Empty Quarter. 

Thirdly, Kitchen’s theory on Eden being near Mesopotamia does not jell with the Genesis account’s reference to the proximity of the “bitter spices” which have always come from the Dhofar region of southwestern Oman/southeastern Yemen. 

Fourthly, Kitchen’s account places Eden at the confluence of his four rivers, in other words, right smack dab in the middle of the upper part of what is now the Arabian/Persian Gulf.  In other words, what really sinks this theory is that his Eden was destroyed by a rising water level in the gulf, rather than by the desertification described in Genesis (Kitchen, 2003, p. 430). 

Fifthly, we have the above-mentioned problem of ALL of the Hawilah-associated place names describing an arc from NW Arabia to the Hadhramout, along with the total absence of any East Arabian place names—much less any Persian/Elamite place names. 

Sixthly, there is no evidence that the Wadi ar-Rimah/Wadi al-Batn river system has ever run, except sporadically, since the Pleistocene a million years ago (Thompson, Andrew, 2000, p. 61).


The Wadi ad-Dawasir is another matter altogether.  The upper portions of its channel from the Asir province to the city of Sulayl at the doorway of the Empty Quarter are still well defined.  Actually, the huge Amazonesque channel continues distinctly well into the Empty Quarter for a good 55-60 miles until it finally gets lost under the sand dunes.  As for recent continuous flow, well, the profusion of early, middle, and late Paleolithic stone tools and finely crafted Neolithic arrow heads and other tools all up and down the Wadi ad-Dawasir channel—especially in the Empty Quarter just to the east of Sulayl, speak of a reliable water source and steady human habitation from the time of Homo Habilis two million plus years ago until about six thousand years ago when the final dry out began.  But, even then, this river system did not completely dry up. 


Up until the mid-twentieth century (A.D.) there was a series of small fresh water lakes near the town of Layla where people from Riyadh and other areas used to go for recreation (Thompson, Ionis, Desert Treks from Riyadh, 1994, p. 60).  When these lakes were full of water their shores were lined with tall grasses and trees as a final echo of the once rich Africa-like mixed forested and savannah land that covered the Empty Quarter and much of the rest of Arabia some thousands of years ago.  These lakes of Layla fed a wadi that ran due south from Layla and fed into the Wadi ad-Dawasir some 50 miles or so east of Sulayl.  If there is any place in Arabia deserving to have been a “Garden of Eden” in terms of abundance of water, vegetation, and game animals from hippos down to tiny antelopes, it was here at the confluence of this tributary with the Wadi ad-Dawasir.


Supporting my theory about the Empty Quarter being the “Garden of Eden” is the fact that the radio carbon dating of fossilized lake beds throughout the Empty Quarter show that there were two main recent periods of high water levels throughout the area.  There was a wet period from 36,000 to 17,000 years B.C., and a second period from nine thousand to about six thousand years ago (Nayeem, Dr. Muhammad Abdul, Prehistory and Protohistory of the Arabian Peninsula, vol. I Saudi Arabia, 1990, p. 11). 


These wet periods were a result of the aforementioned monsoons swinging up a little further north than they do now before heading over to the Indian subcontinent.  The above-mentioned Wadi ar-Rimah never participated in these most recent wet periods because the monsoons simply did not go that far north.  And, it is this most recent wet phase, ending some six or seven thousand years ago, that fits most comfortably within the time frame of an exodus of the progenitors of the “Hebrew” tribes out of the “Garden of Eden” towards greener pastures as the Empty Quarter/Garden of Eden dried up.  (Of course, then later, they had to make up legends as to why they were “evicted” from their earlier “paradise-like” home.)


This location (the Empty Quarter just east of Sulayl) also fits in snugly within the arc delineated by the place names listed in the Genesis account with the Hadhramout due south, the Yeminite cities to the southwest, and Dedan to the northwest.  This location is also just about equa-distant form the gold mines of the "mahd azh-zhahab" in western Arabia and the spices of the Dhofar in the south.  It also has the advantage of having in its center rich lodes of flint and quartz (onyx stone) from which their tools were made.  This location is also right on the center of the imaginary line we drew from the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates river on the one hand, and Ethiopia on the other, and it is equa-distant between the two.

Taking all of this into account, I believe that the “Pison” river referred to in the book of Genesis is the Wadi ad-Dawasir river system.  This was the largest of Arabia’s three ancient rivers, and it and its tributaries encompassed the greater part of the territory from whence the Hebrew tribes first originated.  It is also the only one of the three big rivers that ran year around as recently as the Neolithic.  There is only one problem with my theory—if one wants to follow the Genesis account word for word all the way on this.


Genesis 2:10 says that these four rivers, the Tigris, Euphrates, Gihon, and Pison, all split off from the same headwaters or original source.  It was this passage that led Professor Kitchen to place his four rivers in geographic proximity and to place his “Garden of Eden” under water in the gulf where his four rivers emptied into.  It is this passage that has led generations of other writers to believe that the mysterious Gihon and Pison rivers must have been tributaries of the Euphrates and/or Tigris, all of which had their sources in the mountains of Eastern Anatolia—close enough to have been thought of as having the same source.

However, the four rivers that I have identified in this essay are so geographically separated that there is no way anyone could have imagined that they ALL had a common source.

Or is there?

It so happens that the ancients believed that ALL rivers, no matter how far apart they were geographically, had the same source.  One of the world’s oldest written stories is the myth of Enki and Ninhursag, copied more than 4,000 years ago from even earlier sources going back possibly to pre-history, and it talks about bringing water up from the earth’s deep water sources via wells in Dilmun and separating the “bitter” waters from the sweet waters.


From this and other legends we learn that the Sumerians believed that the earth and the sea rested upon another sea called the ABZU.  It is from the Sumerian term "abzu" that we get our modern term “abyss,” but unlike the ordinary seas and oceans, this "abzu" of the Sumerians was a sea of fresh water.  The bed of the salty seas and oceans prevented the “bitter” waters of the salt sea from mixing with the “sweet” waters of the "abzu."  This imagery most probably developed as a result of the Dilmun civilization being centered around the island of Bahrain. 

The word Bahrain in Arabic, of course, means “two seas,” one salty, or “bitter,” and one of sweet water.  This is because even though Bahrain is an island surrounded by the salty and bitter sea, it sports numerous wells of fresh water indicating an underground source of “sweet” water that somehow magically escapes being touched or influenced by the “other sea” containing the salty, bitter waters.  Of course, modern science has revealed for us the existence of immense aquifers deep underneath the Arabian land mass, and that one of these deep underground aquifers extends out from Saudi Arabia’s eastern province—underneath the sea—to the island of Bahrain where deep wells can be dug to bring these “sweet” waters up. 


But the ancients had no way of knowing what an aquifer was so they imagined that there must be a deeper, larger sea that sat underneath the “bitter” sea.  They then expanded this imagery to include a belief that this deep "abzu" of fresh water must wrap around the entire underside of the world so as to reappear behind the high mountains at the end of their geographical horizon, and thus, it became the source of all fresh water, including that from the rivers that flowed down from those distant mountains.  This imagery, and the mythologies connected with it, were then transported to the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, and from them to the Semitic inhabitants of the region finally ending up in the Hebrew book of Genesis as the above-mentioned source of the four rivers that define the geographical range of the Hebrew tribal histories.

This "abzu" of the Sumerians then, was the source of ALL fresh water.  All rivers had their source in the underground sea—and wells and springs are nothing but holes, manmade or natural, reaching down into the "abzu" (Bibby, "IN SEARCH OF DILMUN," p. 57).  Even the rain clouds were thought to have drawn their water from this "abzu" somewhere far beyond the horizon. 


In addition to the geographical explanations listed above, there are a couple of other interesting “Garden of Eden” connections that should be made.  In the royal tombs of the ancient Sumerian city of Ur (C. 2000 B.C.) there was found the famous “tree of life.”  What is interesting about this piece of sculpture is that the tree had two main branches stemming out from the same trunk and out of each branch we see, lo and behold, no less than four tributary branches.  Also note that our old friend ENKI, whose name means “God of the Earth,” happens to be the ruler of the above-mentioned "abzu", and in Mesopotamian art Enki is usually pictured showing the Tigris and the Euphrates either flowing out of his shoulders, or from a vase that he holds.  


Another interesting tidbit with “Garden of Eden” connections is a mural from the ruins of ancient Mari (C. 1800 B.C.).  This mural, like much of Mesopotamian art, shows the four rivers watering the tree of life, but uniquely, it also shows two sphinxes (“cherubim”) guarding the tree of life.  The city of Mari was composed of a mixture of three peoples, Akkadian, Amorite, and Hurrian, with the Amorites being in the majority (Dalley, Stephanie, Mari and Karana two Old Babylonian Cities, p.8). 

The Amorites, of course, were a Northwest Semitic people generally considered to be ancestral to the Hebrews, which might explain how the myth about the two “cherubim” guarding the entrance, or  exit, of the “Garden of Eden” found its way into our Bible.  The clay tablets of Mari list as one of the semi-nomadic tribal peoples that inhabited the nearby countryside a group of people called the (aforementioned) mare yamin in Akkadian (ben yamin in other Semitic languages).  This has been translated as both “Benjaminites,” and “Ben Yaminites,” both of which, of course, mean the same thing “sons of the south,” or a people who have originally come up from Yemen, or the regions thereabouts.

Be that as it may, from the standpoint of the writers of the book of Genesis, who were very heavily influenced by Mesopotamia, there was no conflict whatsoever in claiming that all four of their geographically dispersed rivers had the same ultimate source—the "abzu."

So, can there be any doubt now that the Garden of Eden was in the western edge of what is now Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter just as the Bible says it was?


But, some may ask, what about the Garden of Eden being “Eastward?”  Isn’t Arabia south?  Arabia is actually southeast of Israel, and the western edge of the Empty Quarter that I have selected as the site of the mythical “Garden of Eden” is especially far east of Israel being directly south of modern day Riyadh.  Thus, the definition of “eastward in Eden” still fits the Empty Quarter location rather well.


One final interesting note.  The Arabs have always thought that the “Garden of Eden” was in Yemen (there is a city in Yemen spelled with the exact same phonemes of ‘Ayin, Dal, Nun, that both the Qur’an and the Bible use for spelling the “Garden of Eden”).  Thus they believe that mankind’s descent was a topographical descent as well as a spiritual one.  According to local Saudi Arabian lore, the city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is reputed to be the burial place of “Eve,” the grandmother of us all and so they named their greatest city of western Arabia after her (“Jeddah” means “grandmother” in Arabic).


To sum up then, assuming that the progenitors of the Semitic tribes called the “mare yamin,” by the Akkadians (ben yamin in Hebrew), some of whom became progenitors of our “Hebrew” tribes departed the western edge of the Empty Quarter around six thousand years ago (4,000 B.C.), and then first show up in the northern Syria/Mesopotamia area around 2500 B.C. (or perhaps a few hundred years earlier), that would be about the right amount of time for a group of semi nomadic tribes to migrate northward and westward seeking greener pastures as their original homeland dried up.

Then, in later legends they interpreted this “forced-by-nature” migration due to the drying up of their original homeland as “punishment” by God for some imagined sin or other.  And, then they attached the “tree of life” and the “tree of knowledge” stories they picked up from the Mesopotamians to the general myth.

Interestingly, this 4,000 B.C. migration out of the Empty Quarter roughly agrees with the Biblical chronologies and time scale of mankind’s “eviction” from Eden.

Unfortunately, “Adam,” and “Eve,” are another story entirely and have been dealt with in a separate essay. 

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This thriller has movie written all over it. An ancient tablet is discovered that undercuts the foundations of both Christianity and Islam. That in itself is a gripping and original idea: imagine such a discovery in today's world, which in fact is the story's setting. But there's more. The tablet gives instructions for reawakening an older, vengeful god, who offers all humanity a kind of Faustian bargain: live forever, in peace, enjoying vast knowledge--but only in return for unquestioning devotion and surrender of free will.  This "god" is an artifact buried on the moon by ancient space travelers.

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The Jericho Tablet is a fast-paced novel that is a genuine page-turner. The author uses his extensive background in archaeology, languages, Middle East cultures, and the NSA to tell a contemporary (although set in 2020) and original story that both entertains and educates. The Jericho Tablet is filled with believable characters and incidents in the USA, Russia, and the Middle East. The ending both surprised and worked for me. The author also deftly interweaves simultaneous events taking place in different locales. The Jericho Tablet has all the ingredients to make a great film.

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