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Genesis 2:10 KJV

And a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from thence it was parted and became four heads.

Genesis 2:10 NABRE

A river rises in Eden to water the garden; beyond there it divides and becomes four branches.

Map of Iran and Iraq showing the Tigris and Euphrates rivers

Since the Tigris and Euphrates (Genesis 2:14) are mentioned, this question relates specifically to them and their tributaries. I normally think of a river "dividing" as it flows downstream toward the sea, as in the case of a delta. What I'm wondering is whether "beyond there it divides and becomes four branches/heads" actually looks at the river from the opposite perspective. In other words, should I be searching for the four branches/heads upstream from where the Tigris and Euphrates join, and/or perhaps starting even lower, namely the location of Abadan on the map?

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  • In geographical reality, the Tigris and Euphrates are not part of a four river system, and there are no rivers that flow through a land directly east of Egypt and through Nubia that are in any way connected to the rivers of Mesopotamia. There is no undisputed archaeological evidence that it hasn't effectively always been this way in meaningful terms, nor that the archaeology was disrupted e.g. by a flood event. Nevertheless, I applaud your quest.
    – user59096
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 15:07
  • Perhaps it is meant to be unrecognisable, and that would have been known to people of the time/region? Or symbolically, four rivers of Eden perhaps represent earth's four corners (Isaiah 11:12, Revelation 7:1) and/or heaven's four winds (Jeremiah 49:36, Ezekiel 37:9, Daniel 7:2, 8:8, 11:4, Zechariah 2:6, 6:5, Matthew 24:31, Mark 13:27, REV 7:1)? 4 being one of those meaningful numbers.
    – user59096
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 15:21
  • In your quest, have you considered the waterways to the West of Eridu from c. 5-10 millenia BCE, before irrigation? Seems there was perhaps a seasonal lake, fed by 4 rivers. Hope this might help.
    – user59096
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 13:01

3 Answers 3

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The operative verb in Gen 2:10 is יָצָא (yatsa) meaning "to go or come out". This suggests that the source of the river was in Eden which then branched into four rivers. This was possibly on the basis of them arising from a huge underground spring as the source.

[I have read extensive description of how this might plausibly work but that is speculative and so I will not repeat it here.]

Admittedly, this is the opposite of what rivers usually do - smaller rivers flow into larger rivers. Nevertheless, Eden appears, as described in Gen 2:10-14, to be the source of all the main rivers in the area, and thus must have been in an elevated position.

This mitigates against one common notion that Eden was on one of the flood plains surrounding Babylon somewhere.

The actual location of Eden and these rivers has now been entirely lost.

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  • Does this imply that the Euphrates of Genesis 31:21, Deuteronomy 1:7, Ezra 4:11 etc. and the Tigris of Daniel 10:4 are not the Euphrates and Tigris of Gen. 2? Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 3:39
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    @DanFefferman - probably yes - they were different rivers because ethe flood so disrupted the landscape.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 5:56
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    That explanation leaves me wondering why the author (Moses? God? a later writer?) would use the name of two of the world's most famous rivers - mentioned several other times in the Bible to describe the contemporary Tigris and Euphrates - if he wasn't referring those rivers. Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 13:55
  • @DanFefferman - the reverse explanation is more likely - the modern Tigris and Euphrates were named after those ancient rivers. In any case, the actual Hebrew is פְרָת (Perath) and most translate this using the Greek name Euphrates. Something similar is the also true for the other three.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 20:04
  • The names of the four rivers in Gen 2:13, 14 are - (1) פִּישׁ֑וֹן (Pishon), (2) גִּיח֑וֹן (Gihon), (3) חִדֶּ֔קֶל (Hideqel), (4) פְרָֽת (Perath). All except the first have been re-used as names of post-flood rivers in only slightly modified forms.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 20:19
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The rivers are more of a reference. The search is of eden itself and the tree within. The land scape changed but the places have not. Find a river directly east of Egypt. From there follow it to its source at the top of a mountain. God is always found on the mountain. Be mindful the sword is real and the garden is covered. All this is of course speculative.

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  • Please take our Tour to see what we look for in well-researched answers: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour
    – Lesley
    Commented Jan 20 at 15:28
  • @ HCRO - It is a favorite pastime for us to "speculate." However, this doesn't further the search for truth on any topic. And when we do make an assertion, we must provide references, or solid reasons for doing so. Then we all become enlightened! Keep studying the Bible (with documented research); it's great for the soul!
    – ray grant
    Commented Jan 27 at 22:37
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If you note the words in Genesis 2:1-6, it is describing the stage of creation where there is no rain, no plants, and the ground is watered by mist rising from the earth. It is at this point God makes the garden east of Eden and plants the trees including the Tree of Life and Good and Evil.

Importantly, once the garden was planted, it required a river to water it. The garden earth remained a source of the "rising water mist", essentially evaporation, that would lead to clouds forming, dividing, and then becoming the source of "headwater" for the four rivers.

Genesis is describing the rain cycle by emphasising the garden and its importance as the source of the water for the four major river systems that supported the ancient civilisations (Nile, Euphrates, Tigris, Indus). It is also a reflection of how much water there was, given that the time coincides with the African Humid Period and a green Sahara.

Eden could therefore be a reference to the green Sahara, with the Levant or Canaan being the garden location east of this.

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