The UK Bible Students Website

Christian Biblical Studies





Scripture references are to the New International Version, UK edition


GENESIS 2: 10-14, in describing the geography of Eden, states that from one river, four rivers flowed:


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[fn1]; 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. [Emphasis ours.]

Any modern atlas will show the Euphrates and the Tigris, their (separate) sources both in the Anti-Taurus mountains of Turkey. Both descend into present-day Iraq and define that part of the world known as Mesopotamia (Greek for ‘between the rivers’). The Tigris and Euphrates meet and become one at the Shatt-el-Arab, an estuary opening into the Persian Gulf.


In this brief study we will address the identity and location of the two lost rivers, Pishon and Gihon.


The Great Deluge

That such a catastrophe as Noah’s flood might have occurred within the past few thousand years (or at all), is scoffed at by the scientific establishment, accustomed to working in hundreds of millions of years and denying the validity of any Biblical account. But Christians inclined to doubt the record of the flood of Genesis 6 should remember that Jesus expressly refers to the event (Matthew 24: 37-39): ‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man’ .


The description of the four rivers of Genesis records the location before the planet was traumatized by the flood of Noah’s day. As a result of the massive inundation and subterranean convulsions that particular landscape was most likely altered, with temperatures plummeting in regions which used to be warm and creating the polar extremes.


The Antarctic, now covered by an ice sheet 1km to 4.5km thick, contains coal beds and fossils of leaves, trees, and creatures of a warmer clime. At the other side of the world, in the frozen tundra of Siberia, at least four whole mammoths have been found, still with hair, muscle and soft tissue. This suggests that at one time earth’s climate was globally temperate. According to Isaac N. Vail, a dense gaseous canopy of water vapour in the upper atmosphere could have made this planet a type of greenhouse.[fn2]  [fn3]


Tracing Pishon and Gihon

It is no surprise then that Eden was effaced, possibly buried by the deep sediments or landslips caused by the rising flood waters. And so the rivers Pishon and Gihon are most likely untraceable. Vast quantities of moving or cascading water of the titanic scale envisioned in the Flood of Noah would have dramatically reordered whole landscapes, levelling valleys and eroding hills.


But we are forced to ask, how did the Tigris and Euphrates survive the cataclysm? Are the present-day rivers the same as those of Genesis 2: 10-14 or have they been misidentified?


There are at least two possibilities.

The Ark may have been lifted by the waters incrementally, and not swept away on a tidal wave. That is, flood waters may have increased gradually (but rapidly) (Genesis 7:17-21). An observer would have witnessed a rising sea level, rather than a wall of water washing over the mountains. The waters crafted a new landscape, severing the Tigris and Euphrates from their source and removing the channels that fed and became the Pishon and Gihon. However, the dominant features of these two rivers could have been preserved through the Flood, sufficient to be recognised by Noah as he surveyed the land later.

Alternatively, the flood may have left all four rivers unchanged, and events since then have obscured their location. River courses do change over time oxbows widen and narrow, channels silt up, river banks erode. Earthquakes may also have played a part: the seismic movements of the hills and mountains over centuries may have obliterated the two rivers nearest Eden.


Or perhaps neither of these. Noah and his family, emerging from the Ark and faced with a strange new world, like the European settlers of North America, may have given familiar names to the foreign landscape.





[fn1] Not to be confused with the spring of the same name near Jerusalem

(1 Kings 1: 32-40).

 Return to Text




[fn2] Mammoth in the ice: (Copy and paste link into internet browser)

  Return to Text


[fn3] Genesis 1: 6 reads: ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.’ ‘Expanse’ here refers to the sky or, as we would say today, the atmosphere. The waters beneath the atmosphere evidently were the primal seas. What about the waters above? According to the model proposed by Isaac N. Vail (1840-1912)several dense bands of water vapour and ice crystals surrounded the primitive earth. Over epochs these annular rings broke up and collapsed to earth, with catastrophic consequences to the topography of the planet and pre-human life. If the theory is correct, it raises the possibility that Noah’s flood was caused by one or more of these bands falling. Vail’s ideas, set forth in Waters Above the Firmament (1874) and The Earth’s Annular System (1886), are not generally welcomed in scientific circles. For a synopsis of his theory see:


 Return to Text



Copyright September 2009

You may reproduce all or part of this material, but please let us know if you do.


Return top of page