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BIBLICAL BEGINNINGS and EDEN
- point arising from Creation Magazine, March 1999
There is a natural interest in the question, Where precisely was Eden ? The Bible arouses this thought, in depicting it with such detail in Genesis 2:9ff.. The resources of related territories are mentioned in some detail, the four rivers affecting it are itemised, two being of the utmost fame, two more difficult to locate in present topography, so that efforts to identify those two have reached in various suggested composures, from India to Armenia, as well as in the more intimate places relating to those two known rivers as they now are.
That is the beauty of the position. As we shall see, it fits perfectly with the conditions relating to the situation.
There is no doubt that the writer of Genesis, Moses (Luke 24:27) - whatever records he consulted - in 2:11 was giving information. He was specifying location as much as the case required, and did so in a commercial-geographic style, using the present tense (2:11), so that we are made aware at least with reference to certain current considerations; for while people may use old names for new places, yet when one is reporting for location, the name used is to be expected with considerable certainty to reflect usable information for readers. Havilah, for the first named river, Pishon, is a family name used in Genesis 10:29, in reference to the children of Joktan, of Shem, and almost at once in the text, this name is related to territory to the East; while in 10:7, it would relate more to Africa. Certainly, with the Tigris Euphrates as two certain entrants, and Moses writing with the people in mind, the East would seem a better match, and has the advantage in terms of a unified text, that in this case, the territory is specified..
This leaves us with a Middle East extending towards India situation, with known and unknown elements, the former making the circle closer. What they knew, we may not; but what we both know from that date, is fixed: the Tigris-Euphrates. There is question as to the meaning of "heads" in the text: whether the rivers were dividing into four heads, or had four heads or origins; but whichever, current topography does not make easy any combination of all the features of the four rivers.
Creation Magazine in its latest 1999 issue for
March, has a reference to the effects of the flood on the river systems,
1) at the time of the Fall in Eden, the location of which is our question and
2) at the time of the writing, or the present, for Moses,
events of enormous magnitude had happened on earth, the flood dynamics being a sculpturing agency, to say no more.
It makes the point that huge earth movements were involved in the flood - and in fact, mountain ranges may have arisen, with the deep statedly emitting vast waters, a sweep of ocean extended over mountains. Indeed, large and detailed studies have been made of the interpretation of these vast geological activities. Without entering into the question of precisely which mountains and which deposits make for decisive results, but considering the text's own statements on the nature of the waters, such that
1) they were sufficient to fulfil the purpose, namely, "I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beat, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air" (Genesis 6:7), with exception for Noah and those with him, he having found grace in the eyes of the Lord.
2) "all the high hills that were under the whole heaven, were covered" (Genesis 7:19), with
3) the extent noted for the action, so that the waters "prevailed upon the earth" 7:24, which must contextually be interpreted to include so much of it as contained the aforementioned forms of life, and read in conjunction both with this total terrestrial purpose and total inclusion of the heights of the earth "under the whole heaven", which in context again, has the scope of the creative activities already covered in Genesis 1:
we are left with a certainty. That ? the earth covering waters were of huge transforming powers as they were generated from the "fountains of the deep", nascent waters from below within the earth, and marvellous descent from above, in the relentless rain-fall. It appears certain that mountain ranges arose in the pressures and powers that moved and that were aroused in the setting, some now towering far beyond the expected depth of the waters at that time.
Therefore the point is made that the character of the rivers in the days of Eden, and that in post-diluvian times would bear little resemblance. That is quite possible. There are ample grounds for such a possibility; and it is indeed a very good one! However, since the Tigris and the Euphrates AS THEY WERE KNOWN TO THE READERS with the culture and whatever pre-flood knowledge remained, this last an unpredictable item, and since they are specified for information: it would appear certain that such rivers in places that were meaningfully approximate in Moses' day, would be intended. This might distance us from precision in the location, but not from indication. It is not a question of fluvial identity, but meaningful indication to those addressed.
Certainly, the information would be outstandingly misleading if the area were wholly unrelated to the Tigris and Euphrates as known to the readers, and one must remember that the river in 2:11 is one which "encompasses" or moves circuitously through the whole land of Havilah. In fact, the map-reading sort of specification has it thus in speaking of the river Pishon: "The one encompassing the whole land" , or moving circuitously through the land. In modern parlance, it is like saying, "The River Yarra - that's the one that winds throughout the land in Melbourne". The emphasis is instructive, enlightening, teaching.
The "encompassing" here is an active participle, as indeed is the case with all these indications of lands for rivers. The term is translated by Keil and Delitzsch, "which encompasses". There is no indication that this was not the case at the time of the author; quite the contrary, the requirements of pre-flood world geography would be very considerable, if the words were to mean something far different from what they meant at the time of writing.
The first river mentioned, then, is followed by the construction, "the encompassing one" or the one which encompasses. It is thus distinguished from any other which the reader at the time may have had in mind. The description given is geographically not only distinct, it is also differentiating. If you like: it requisitions a known referent. It points the finger.
The precise location of that land mentioned in relation
to Eden here, one bearing an historically famous name, as noted, has some
question, but the point is that we are dealing with things to be pointed
out at the time of writing. It is, after all, not merely a name change
which would be involved (i.e. different land, same name, some memorial),
but a land change of vast, transmutative proportions, if there were to
be total obliterative alteration, a regional dislocation, a major alteration
in latitude and/or longitude!
For what ? for land specified in this informative, teaching, instructing manner and given in one case, a well-known name (Assyria); whilst, as to the rivers, in two cases, these also bear illustrious, famous names.
As to the rivers, those same rivers may have had a very different course, in pre-diluvian times; the structure and system of rivers almost certainly did so; it may have extended far beyond where it now is; and we must be careful in our approach. However, if this is present in disposition, for itemisation and notification, with this demonstrating kind of approach, specifying this and distinguishing that, as for a road map, or better, a tourist guide, even to the point of assessing the character of the gold to be found in the location noted (2:11): then we are dealing with things which at the time present for the reader, were meaningful.
Indeed, the mention of Assyria, like that of Tigris and Euphrates, is at least indicative of an area in distinction from others which could be mentioned, however comparatively variable might be, and have been, the regions so assigned. They are somewhat variable, but not diffuse! They DO have meaning. To assume the intended substantive meaning utterly different from the known and in some cases famous parameters of the terms so carefully used, would simply mean the teaching was astray, the indication false and the exercise vain.
At the extreme, one could find no ground for considering, with Creation Magazine in this instance, that the middle of the Pacific is quite possible as a site for Eden! That would render the information null, so that the currently meaningful specifications in their informative setting would be unaccountable, and the considerable data bank drawn up for geographical specification in this contextual setting, unenlightening. The meticulous articulation of inspired Moses would be in the wilds of the unknown, of distant data, if it were available at all, while employing the terms of fame in the process, and proceeding with intimate detail, even distinguishing this from that, in terms of geographical distinctions! This would merely render it the more misleading. The word of the Lord is however clear (Proverbs 8:9) to one seeking. Its terms are right.
Nevertheless, the point made in Creation does have some real value. Thus, it is obviously vain now to be considering what current collection of such four rivers might be involved, looking at their current sources and the current divisions of any such bodies of water. If one thing in the matter would be quite certain, barring miracle, it would be this: that the actual water courses would be different in precise origin and mutual relation from the present case. There might even be mountain ranges which had arisen, relative to river source.
Yet vast potential changes are not to be identified with
demonstrated alteration of a wholly
alien kind at a given place. These two things are not the same, so that
the statements on the Tigris and Euphrates, on Havilah and precious metals
do fit neatly with the Middle East towards Persia of old, and perhaps even
towards the India situation. The two known rivers may have been different
in point of origin, may have intertwined in their courses quite differently,
and so may other major streams have beeen very different; but that the
area could be in some sense specified both before and after the flood,
is quite possible. Indeed it is so specified. Accordingly, the continuity
of history proceeding from this point in Genesis is precise, terminology
This gives us an interesting consideration. In many Biblical questions, there is the danger of going beyond the text. It is not always intentional by any means. Imagination or emphasis special to any party can readily lead to positions of diverse character. One finds extremes for instance, as shown in detail in this site (see indexes for detail, on the topics about to be named): baptism; millenial issues; tongues; predestination and the love of God; the correct text or translation of the Bible - whether indeed it is the AV; psalm singing as an exclusive for formal church worship - no hymns (as distinct from very carefully checked hymns, true to the Bible); the power of God and Pentecostalism's manifestations, and so on.
The message is this: MODERATION. However that too needs interpreting. It is not the moderation of the middle ground between extremes which is in view; it is the moderation of NOT MOVING TO EXTREMES DEFINED AS DOCTRINE BEYOND WHAT THE BIBLE CERTAINLY GIVES. One may have opinion, but for teaching, the actual text is the point from which extremes often come, and this is the point back to which all must come.
Whether enthusiasm, distaste, or other, the reasons for undue movement in the flood of ideas must be watched, as in any careful study, lest inadvertently even, one move too far. Again, apologetics is only one field in which it is possible to give reasons which assume what it is not written. In such cases, as one has been careful to consider in this site, there must be a careful distinction between the analysis made to illustrate a point, and any certainty that the case MUST be such.
To show how various elements might fit together must not be taken to imply or mean a teaching that this is how in FACT they meet together. In apologetics it is quite sufficient to show how things CAN WELL fit together, to show the reasonableness of the total; but in this very effort, it is necessary to avoid dogmatism about the question whether this possibility is in all respects the actual. It may be: that is the point of the exercise; but such a service becomes a disservice when the point is carried too far, as if the harmony in view admits no other possibility. It is equally unserviceable if any hearer or reader of such apologetics, should imagine, despite statements to the contrary, that the particular harmony given in an apologetic case, is in fact doctrine being taught! The doctrine is this: that it CAN be so harmonised, showing the reasonableness of the presentation from the Bible.
In the end, it is the Bible which is always right; and that is the most notable fact. It makes no exception for devotees. What is written is neither more nor less, and it is only when this is respected in practice as well as acknowledged in belief, that the wonder of the text is fully realised. It simply never moves, and everything else can move as it will to such extremes as appeal, are fashionable or gain credence from time to time; but in the end, now here, now there, the error of adding - unintentionally or not - to the text begins to appear, fashions change, and the word of God sings along merrily. Quite undisturbed and undisturbable, it is always right, stable as rock, giving directions to history, confirmations for archeology, and promises to the saints.
THE WONDER OF THE WORD
The saints ? Yes one must always remember that as one finds in the greetings of Paul's epistles, the believers ARE saints. It is the downgrading of what a believer is, through the invasions of psychology, sociology and ecclesiastical presumption in false churches, which often brings in the thought that a saint is a word-producer or a church-slapped-on-the-spiritual-back party. The words of faith cannot be absent, but their presence per se is not a guarantee; for even in Israel of old, there were those who drew near with their mouths, while their hearts were in fact far from the Lord (Isaiah 29:13, Matthew 15:8). He should know! Indeed, He DOES KNOW, and one thing also known is this, "Let him who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity!" (II Timothy 2:19).
Faith is in the heart, in the depths of man, and the salvation with faith included, is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8 specifically says this). It involves a planting of a tree which, being of that seed, from God, bears good fruit (Matthew 7:18). It is not a perfect tree (I John 1:9-10), and it is most difficult even to imagine how anyone in the light of the glory in the face of Christ Jesus could think such a thing; but it is sure to be a fruitful one. The seed is guaranteed (Romans 8:28ff., 5:9-10, I Peter 1:3-5,18-23, I John 3:9, 5:12ff.) .
(For more on the Bible and beginnings see: The Shadow of a Mighty Rock Ch.2, A Spiritual Potpourri Chs. 1-8, and especially, Chs.9 and 16; The Biblical Workman, Chs. 4,7; That Magnificent Rock Ch.1, but even more specifically, Barbs, Arrows and Balms, Items 19 and 27.)