24 January 2001
The Canadian ‘National Post’ reported on 11 January 2001 a claim that the Garden of Eden has been located.1 Michael Sanders, director of expeditions for the Mysteries of the Bible Research Foundation, in Irvine, California, said he found the site after a careful study of satellite photographs taken by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Michael Sanders says that the Garden of Eden is in eastern Turkey because the Tigris and Euphrates rise in the mountains there (see diagram at right).2 In this region, Sanders identified four rivers and linked them with the rivers described in Genesis. These are the Murat River, the Tigris, the Euphrates, and the north fork of the Euphrates. This, he says, ‘proves that the Bible’s description of the Garden of Eden is completely and literally accurate.’
What are we to think of such claims? Many Christians would be encouraged by this report. Should we embrace this claim wholeheartedly? It seems to support the Bible.
The Bible tells us to ‘Test everything. Hold onto the good.’ (1 Thess 5:21) The Apostles commended the Bereans because they tested what they heard against the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). We too should check all such claims.
Eden is described in Genesis 2:10–14:
‘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.’
Biblical scholars have debated the exact location and even the existence of Eden for centuries. Because the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are clearly named in Genesis, it has been thought to be in the Middle East. Some have suggested Babylonia in Mesopotamia, and others Armenia, north of Mesopotamia.3 However, the other two rivers named, the Pishon and Gihon, are hard to identify. Some have speculated that the Gihon may have been in Mesopotamia because Genesis 2:13 says it winds through the entire land of ‘Cush’, or Ethiopia. Others think the Pishon and Gihon represent the Indus and the Nile, and that Eden included the whole of the Fertile Crescent from India to Egypt.
More recently, some scholars have claimed that the Garden of Eden was situated at the head of the Persian Gulf, where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers run into the sea (see diagram above).4 The site is now under water. Archaeologist Juris Zarins researched this area using information from many different sources including LANDSAT images from space. Under this theory, the Bible’s Gihon River would correspond with the Karun River in Iran, and the Pishon River would correspond to the Wadi Batin river system that once drained the central part of the Arabian Peninsula. According to Calvin Schlabach, an enthusiast for this theory, the importance of the discovery ‘is in the confirmation of the accuracy, historicity and literal veracity of the Bible.’5
So, we are faced with two competing sites for the Garden of Eden—one is in the mountains of eastern Turkey and the other submerged beneath the waters of the Persian Gulf. It would be hard to find a greater contrast, geographically, in elevation, or in environment. Yet, both sites are said to confirm the accuracy of the Bible. What are we to believe?
Neither! It is clear that neither site corresponds with the Biblical Garden of Eden. Each site only matches some of the details, and these are only superficial. Both sites conflict with other important information from the Bible.
The answer is obvious once we understand that the Bible describes a global cataclysm—Noah’s Flood—which destroyed the entire world, including the Garden of Eden. Everything that existed before the Flood was ‘deluged and destroyed’ (2 Peter 3:5–6). The Flood waters covered the highest mountains of the day (Genesis 7:19–20). We see the evidence of this cataclysm in the billions of fossils buried in sedimentary rock layers deposited from water all over the earth (see Q&A: Flood). This evidence is apparent in the rocks in Turkey and the Middle East where large areas of fossil-filled, sedimentary rock cover the land. Indeed, the pre-Flood vegetation buried deep underground in the Middle East now provides much of our global oil requirements. It is obvious that the present Tigris and Euphrates Rivers formed after the Flood, and on top of sediment laid down by the Flood. Thus, the Garden of Eden can’t be located in the Middle East (either in Turkey or the Persian Gulf) on top of rocks laid down by the Flood.
What about the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers? Don’t they prove that the Garden of Eden was located in the Middle East? If we were to base our conclusions simply on geographical names, then we could hardly find a better match than the delightful, seaside town of Eden, 400 km south of Sydney in Australia. Yet, it is clear that this town cannot be the Biblical Garden of Eden. Obviously, the original settlers thought ‘Eden’ would be a nice name for their town. In the same way, the present Tigris and Euphrates Rivers have nothing to do with the rivers described in Genesis 2, except for their names.
The same thing happened when settlers from Europe originally migrated to North America and Australia. For example, the coal-mining city of Newcastle in Australia was named after the coal-mining city in England with the same name, and there is also a Liverpool in Australia named after the English city. North America also has English place names such as London, Oxford and Cambridge. The settlers applied familiar names to many new places in their new world. It is perfectly understandable that some rivers in the post-Flood world, like the Tigris and Euphrates, were given the same names as rivers destroyed in the pre-Flood world.
Note also that the Bible speaks of one river breaking into four, only two of which are called the Tigris and Euphrates. This is not what is found in the Middle East today at either of the sites proposed.
So, what are we to make of this latest claim that the Garden of Eden has been found? The claim is wrong because the researchers did not account for all the Bible facts, especially the effects of Noah’s Flood. The Garden of Eden was not in eastern Turkey, or anywhere in the Middle East. It was destroyed in Noah’s global cataclysm and we do not know where it was, and probably never can know.
This shows how carefully we must read all Scripture. We must never re-interpret Scripture just to make some outside evidence support an event of the Bible.