Where was Eden?

Butterfly on blossoms

Somewhere around Mesopotamia?

by Lita Cosner and Robert Carter

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris [Hebrew: Hiddekel], which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates [Hebrew: P’rath]. (Genesis 2:10–14)

Genesis 2 reads like it is describing actual geography, but the sort that doesn’t exist anywhere on today’s globe—which is exactly what we would expect if today’s geography was totally reshaped by the global Flood in Noah’s day.

Yet, many people believe Eden should be located somewhere around Mesopotamia. Could they be right, and how can we know?

Genesis places Eden in the real world

There are many different ways to handle this passage. Some Bible commentators, sadly, argue that it is misguided to try to find Eden on a map, because, they say, Genesis was never intended to communicate a location on the globe. They draw analogies to the Temple or other spiritual meanings to explain the details given in Genesis 2. In their view, trying to locate Eden would be like trying to find Santa’s workshop at the physical North Pole.

On the other hand, many people try to argue that Eden was in the Middle East, specifically in lower Mesopotamia, maybe near ancient Ur or Sumer. They assert, correctly, that there is nowhere else in the historical passages of Scripture that gives an ‘unearthly’ geography, and there is nothing in the text that indicates anything other than an actual geographical description. As Derek Kidner comments: “verses 10–14 go to some lengths to present it as an actual, not an allegorical or mythical spot.” There are alternate possible locations proposed, but the goal is to ‘find’ Eden by looking at today’s geographical clues.

Yet, this view is in error, too.

Think about it—the Flood was global and highly destructive. Huge amounts of sediment were deposited on the continents, and massive amounts of erosion occurred during the Recessive Stage as the waters drained off the continents. Plus, the continental plates moved around, raising mountains and creating deep basins. Why would we expect the modern landscape to reflect the pre-Flood landscape? …

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image credit: Seyedeh Hamideh Kazemi