from ldolphin Website
The author, a frequent contributor, met Dr. Zarins and his Eden theory when writing of Saudi archaeology (September 1983) and has followed his work since.
Then the words become quite specific:
But where now are the Pison and the Gihon? And where, if indeed it existed as a geographically specific place, was the Garden of Eden?
Theologians, historians, ordinary inquisitive people and men of science have tried for centuries to figure it out. Eden has been "located" in as many diverse areas as has lost Atlantis.
Some early Christian fathers and late classical authors suggested it could lie in Mongolia or India or Ethiopia.
They based their theories quite sensibly
on the known antiquity of those regions, and on the notion that the
mysterious Pison and Gihon were to be associated with those other
two great rivers of the ancient world, the Nile and the Ganges.
The area thought to be the Garden of Eden,
which was flooded
when Gulf waters arose, is shown in green.
paradise land of
Ubaidians and Sumerians
Another favorite locale for the Garden had been Turkey, because both the Tigris and the Euphrates rise in the mountains there, and because Mount Ararat, where Noah's Ark came to rest, is there.
In the past hundred years. since the
discovery of ancient civilizations in modern Iraq, scholars have
leaned toward the Tigris-Euphrates valley in general, and to the
sites of southern Sumer, about 150 miles north of the present head
of the Persian Gulf, in particular (map, above).
No single scholarly discipline will suffice to cover the long, intricate road Zarins has followed to arrive at his theory.
He began, as many another researcher has, with the simple Biblical account, which,
To this he added the unfolding archaeology of Saudi Arabia (SMITHSONIAN, September 1983), where he spent his field time for more than a decade.
Next he consulted the sciences of
geology, hydrology and linguistics from a handful of brilliant
20th-century scholars and, finally, Space Age technology in the form
LANDSAT space images.
There were prehistoric Ubaidians who built cities, Sumerians who invented writing and the Assyrians who absorbed Sumer's writing as well as its legend of a luxuriantly lovely land, an Eden called Dilmun.
Finally there were Kashshites in
Mesopotamia, contemporaries of the Israelites then forming the state
The first is about 30,000 B.C., with the transition from Neanderthal to modern Man. This, some anthropologists believe, took place along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean and Aegean seas and in Iraq. At that time the Great Ice Age still held most of Eurasia in its grip, and it caused the sea levels to fall by 400 feet so that what is now the Persian Gulf was dry land, all the way to the Strait of Hormuz.
It was irrigated not only by the
still-existing Tigris and Euphrates but also by the Gihon, the Pison
and their tributaries from the Arabian peninsula and from Iran. It
seems reasonable that technologically primitive but modern Mm, in
his endless search for food, would have located the considerable
natural paradise that presented itself in the area where the Gulf
From 15,000 B.C., rainfall diminished drastically. Faced with increasing aridity, the Paleolithic population retreated, some as far as the area known to us as the "Fertile Crescent" (north along the Tigris and Euphrates, westward toward the moist Mediterranean coast, south to the Nile), and also eastward to the Indus River valley.
Others, perhaps wearied by the long
trek, made do with the more austere conditions of central Arabia and
continued foraging as best they could.
Foraging populations came back to where the four rivers now ran full, and there was rainfall on the intervening plains. Animal bones indicate that in this period Arabia had abundant game. Thousands of stone tools suggest intensive, if seasonal, human occupation around now dry lakes and rivers.
These tools are found even in the Rub
al-Khali or Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia. And so about 6000 to 5000
B.C. the land was again a paradise on Earth, provided by a bountiful
nature-God - and admirably suited to the foraging life.
It grew up along the Mediterranean coast and in today's Iran and Iraq as groups of hunter-gatherers evolved in-to agriculturists. Foragers from central Arabia, returning to the southern Mesopotamian plain, found it already resettled by these agriculturists.
Because the process occurred before writing was invented, there is no record of what upheavals the evolution caused, what tortured questions about traditional values and life-styles, what dislocations of clans or tribes.
Zarins posits that it must have been far more dramatic than the infinitely later Industrial Revolution, and an earthquake in comparison with today's computer-age discombobulation of persons, professions and systems.
Who were these people?
Zarins believes they were a southern Mesopotamian group and culture now called the Ubaid. They founded the oldest of the southern Mesopotamian cities, Eridu, about 5000 B.C.
Though Eridu, and other cities like Ur
and Uruk, were discovered a century ago, the Ubaidian presence down
along the coast of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia has been known for little
more than a decade, when vestiges of their settlements, graves and
distinctive pottery turned up.
In Sumerian the word "Eden" meant simply "fertile plain." The word "Adam" also existed in cuneiform, meaning something like "settlement on the plain." Although both words were set down first in Sumerian, along with place names like Ur and Uruk, they are not Sumerian in origin. They are older.
A brilliant Assyriologist named
Benno Landsberger advanced the theory in 1943 that these
names were all linguistic remnants of a pre-Sumerian people who had
already named rivers, cities-and even some specific trades like
potter anti coppersmith-before the Sumerians appeared.
And the mythology of the lush and lovely spot called Eden was codified by being written.
How did it happen that an advanced people would perpetuate a myth making their own ancestors the sinners?
It may be that the Ubaidians, who are known to have sailed down the east coast of Arabia and colonized there, ran into descendants of foragers displaced from a drowning Eden, from them heard the awful story of the loss of paradise and repeated it until it became their own legend.
Or it may be that, responding to the increasing pressures and stresses of a society growing in complexity, they found comfort in a fantasy of the good old days, when life had been sweeter, simpler, more idyllic.
However, it was a tale firmly
established in Ubaidian mythology, then adopted and recorded by the
The evidence is beguiling: first, Genesis was written from a Hebrew point of view.
It says the Garden was "eastward," i.e., east of Israel. It is quite specific about the rivers. The Tigris and the Euphrates are easy because they still flow. At the time Genesis was written, the Euphrates must have been the major one because it stands identified by name only and without an explanation about what it "compasseth."
The Pison can be identified from the Biblical reference to the land of Havilah, which is easily located in the Biblical Table of Nations (Genesis 10:7, 25:18) as relating to localities and people within a Mesopotamian-Arabian framework.
Supporting the Biblical evidence of Havilah are geological evidence on the ground and LANDSAT images from space. These images clearly show a "fossil river," that once flowed through northern Arabia and through the now dry beds, which modern Saudis and Kuwaitis know as the Wadi Riniah and the Wadi Batin.
Furthermore, as the Bible says, this
region was rich in bdellium, an aromatic gum resin that can still be
found in north Arabia, and gold, which was still mined in the
general area in the 1950s.
It is the Gihon, which "compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia," that has been the problem.
In Hebrew the geographical reference was to "Gush" or "Kush." The translators of the King James Bible in the 17th century rendered Gush or Kush as "Ethiopia" - which is further to the south and in Africa - thus upsetting the geographical applecart and flummoxing researchers for centuries.
Zarins now believes the Gihon is the Karun River, which rises in Iran and flows southwesterly toward the present Gulf.
The Karun also shows in LANDSAT images
and was a perennial river which, until it was dammed, contributed
most of the sediment forming the delta at the head of the Persian
The wording in Genesis that Eden's river came into four heads" was dealt with by Biblical scholar Ephraim Speiser some years ago:
It was Speiser again who suggested that the mysterious Gush or Kush should be correctly written as Kashshu and further that it refers to the Kashshites, a people who, in about 1500 B.C., conquered Mesopotamia and prevailed until about 900 B.C.
This Zarins considers a vital clue.
The name Eve does not appear in Sumerian but there is a most intriguing link - the account of Eve's having been fashioned from Adam's rib in the Garden story.
Why a rib?
Well, in a famous Sumerian poem translated and analyzed by scholar Samuel Noah Kramer, there is an account of how Enki the water god angered the Mother Goddess Ninhursag by eating eight magical plants that she had created. The Mother Goddess put the curse of death on Enki and disappeared, presumably so she couldn't change her mind and relent.
Later, however, when Enki became very ill and eight of his "organs" failed, Ninhursag was enticed back. She summoned eight healing deities, one for each ailing organ. Now the Sumerian word for "rib" is "ti.," but the same word also means "to make live."
So the healing deity who worked on Enki's rib was called "Nin-ti" and, in a nice play on words, became both the "lady of the rib" and the "lady who makes live." This Sumerian pun didn't translate into Hebrew, in which the words for "rib" and "to make live" are quite different.
But the rib itself went into the
Biblical account and as "Eve" came to symbolize the "mother of all
Long before Genesis was written, Zarins believes, the physical Eden had vanished under the waters of the Gulf.
Man had lived happily there. But then, about 5000 to 4000 B.C. came a worldwide phenomenon called the Flandrian Transgression, which caused a sudden rise in sea level. The Gulf began to fill with water and actually reached its modern-day level about 4000 B.C., having swallowed Eden and all the settlements along the coastline of the Gulf. But it didn't stop there.
It kept right on rising, moving upward into the southern legions of today's Iraq and Iran.
Their original "Eden" was gone but a new one called Dilmun, on higher ground along the eastern coast of Arabia, enters the epics and the poems in the third millennium i.e.
The by then ancient mythology of a land
of plenty, of eternal life and peace, had lodged firmly in the
collective mind and in a specific geographical area.
Scholars began reading, in literature, not only about Eden and Adam and the "lady of the rib" but also about a Great Flood, a Sumerian hero called Gilgamesh and his search for the Tree of Life. There was even a serpent.
Gilgamesh had gone "down" from Sumer to the Gulf area where he had been told he would find a plant that would give him eternal life.
It is Zarins' - and most scholars' - conviction that it was the islands of Bahrain and Failaka and the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia.
One final question must be asked.
Why, when the Israelites accepted the ancient stories of Mesopotamia-Arabia, with all their freight of long-forgotten struggles, climatic changes, half-forgotten traditions, did they choose the word Eden instead of Dilmun?
It is an accident of history, of archaeology, of translation, perhaps, that Dilmun was lost and Eden remained. It should not shake the faith of any intelligent human being.
If Zarins is correct, there is embedded in the Bible a very ancient folk memory, not only the story of Creation but also the story of Man's emergence from total dependence to perilous self-reliance, with all the man-made dangers incipient therein.