Genesis 2:10-14, What Happened to the River of Eden?
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. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. (Genesis 2:10-14, NIV)
In my last post I proposed that the writer of Genesis 2:4-6 wrote from a perspective in his then-present agrarian Israel, which compared and contrasted thousands of years of human history. In it I deduced that the original author contrasted the pre-Flood and post-Flood worlds. Today I set out to further reprove his writing style, because the author does it again four lines later!
In Genesis 2:10-14, the original author compares the pre-Flood landscape of Eden with a post-Flood geography of four “headwaters”.
Obviously, Eden existed pre-Flood, but the lands surrounded by the four headwaters were named after Noach’s (Noah’s) decendants. Chavilah son of Yokthan (Gen. 10:29), Kush (N.B. it’s debatable which Kush – the one from Africa or the one from Mesopotamia – though the context seemingly points to the Kush from Mesopotamia), and Asshur (Gen. 10:11) are patriarchs of post-Flood civilizations. While it’s possible the writer used his contemporary geography only for illustrative purposes, it’s doubtful the landscape of Eden was preserved during a worldwide flood… intact.
The text also begs a “pre-Flood to post-Flood” interpretation. The two key words in verse 10 are sham and the verb parad. First, though sham is translated “there” it can be defined as “(as an adverb of time) then.” Parad is often translated as “it parted”, but both these translations occur under the presumption that Eden’s river and the four headwaters co-existed! The verb appears as yiPared – in passive form and imperfect tense. The imperfect tense of yiPared demonstrates an action not yet complete, as over the passage of time, with the completed action being “became four headwaters.” Therefore, reading Gen. 2:10 as “and a source went from Eden to water the garden. From then (mi-sham) it would parad and become four headwaters” is perfectly reasonable. The problem is, I believe translating parad as “it would part” as in ‘a man parts his hair’ is a mistake.
In examples where the verb parad used elsewhere in the Bible, it means something much different than a simple “parting” of water:
- “The old lion perishes for lack of prey. The cubs of the lioness are scattered” [Job 4:11. The lions did not separate through their normal coming of age, but because their parent-providers died. Therefore, the original den of lions ceased to be.]
- “Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom…” [Esther 3:8. Haman used parad as a synonym of “dispersed” to negatively describe the Jews as ‘gypsy troublemakers’ at a time when their original homeland was desolate.]
- “I am poured out like water. All my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax; it is melted within me.” [Psalm 22:14. In these examples, everything once whole- a pitcher of water, intact bones, and a whole heart, have been dissipated. Here the specific use of parad describes bones once in socket, becoming dislocated and isolated from the joints.]
- “Behold, your enemies shall perish. All the evildoers will be scattered.” [Psalm 92:9. This is the context that ‘hits the nail on the head’. It describes an entity (evildoers) that becomes no more.]
From the above examples, we see a verb used in contexts of adversity, used in context with non-existent entities. Therefore, parad is better understood as “scattered” because it means much more than its usual translation of “parted”, “divided”, or “separated”. It’s not that these translations are incorrect, but parad’s negative undertones describing some lost association are well, lost! Parad describes bones yanked from its joints, the enemies of God forever scattered in eternity, and the Jews’ Diaspora from Haaretz Yisrael (The Land of Israel). It is also used in the context of the scattering of the nations after the Flood (Gen 10:32, scene-setting the Tower of Bavel), Eliyahu (Elijah) eternally separated from Elisha in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11), and Ruth crying that only death will parad her from Naomi (Rut 1:17). All examples indicate that parad describes a ‘once-and-for-all’ separation of two entities!
With this evidence, I propose a re-interpretation of Genesis 2:10. I think that the use of parad indicates that the rivers were eternally detached one from the others, like the dislocation of bones from the marrow, and a race of people uprooted from their homeland. I think the original water source in Eden was scattered into four new sources (over a wide area) via a great worldwide flood, when “the fountains of the deep were broken up” (Gen. 7:11). The author could only describe the location of Eden in terms of his current geographical makeup, because the Garden and the heavenly atmosphere it represented could no longer be found. ♦