use of these place names after the Flood carries over the
memories of the pre-Flood world. It is a vehicle of tradition
and remembrance associated with the paradise of Eden.
A more contemporary example is in AD 1620 when the
Pilgrim Fathers sailed in the ‘Mayflower’ from Plymouth in
England and landed near Cape Cod. They named their first
permanent settlement ‘Plymouth’ in ‘New England’. That is,
they took a name from the old world with them into the new
world in order to invest their environment with tradition.
We see this when the manna in the wilderness is
compared to Bdellium in Numbers 11: 7. We see it again
in the biblical reusing of the name Gihon for a river in
Jerusalem. The Israelites did not think they had found
the original river Gihon when they gave the spring near
Jerusalem that name ( 1 Kings 1: 33), but instead wished to
ascribe to Jerusalem the theological significance that the
original Gihon had in Eden.
34 That is, Jerusalem was to be
considered like a New Eden. The river section in Genesis 2
is therefore, amongst other things, etiological, explaining
the historical origins of the names of important places.
Claus Westermann declares that “all attempts to explain
or locate the sources of the four rivers geographically are
ruled out” on the basis that the “intention of the author ...
was not to determine where paradise lay.”
36 Rex Mason
says that “the writer does not intend us to try to identify the
exact topography of the garden.”
37 I agree with them both:
all attempts to identify the location of the paradise of Eden
today are considered hopeless, but not because the language
is “hazy and primitive”
38 or mythological. The author of
Genesis intended to write of these places historically whilst
at the same time knowing that Eden was destroyed with
the cataclysmic Flood and therefore no longer exists in our
1. See, for instance, Halton, C., Hoffmeier, J.K., Wenham, G. J. and Sparks, K. L.,
Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?—Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest
Chapters, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2015.
2. As an illustration, see the second century writer Theophilus, Letter to
Autolycus. After asserting the factuality and historicity of Genesis 1, he
indulges in a good deal of allegory. See Bouteneff, P., Beginnings: Ancient
Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives, Baker Academic,
Grand Rapids, MI, pp. 68–70, 2008.
3. As cited in Matthews, K.A., Genesis 1–11: 26, NAC, B&H Publishers,
Nashville, TN, p. 67, 1996; himself citing Grant, R. and Tracy, D., A Short
History of the Interpretation of the Bible, 2nd edn, Fortress, Philadelphia, PA,
p. 90, 1984.
4. See, for instance, Averbeck, R. E., A literary day, inter-textual, and contextual
reading of Genesis 1–2; in: Peabody, J.D.C. (Ed.), Reading Genesis 1–2: An
Evangelical Conversation, Hendrickson, Peabody, MA, pp. 7–34, 2013.
5. See, for instance, Longman III, T., How to Read Genesis, Paternoster Press,
Milton Keynes, UK, pp. 78–79, 2005.
6. See work of Tsumura, D., The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2: a
linguistic investigation, JSOTSupp 83, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield,
1989; and my own, McKitterick, A., The Language of Genesis; in: Nevin,
N.C. (Ed.), Should Christians Embrace Evolution?: Biblical and Scientific
Responses, InterVarsity Press, Nottingham, UK, pp. 27–42, 2009.
7. Matthews, ref. 3, p. 89.
8. Brueggemann, W., Genesis, John Knox Press, Atlanta, GA, p. 16, 1982.
9. Knight, G.A.F., Theology in Pictures: A Commentary on Genesis, Chapters 1–11,
Handsel Press, Edinburgh, UK, p. x, 1981.
10. Anderson, B. W., The Living World of the Old Testament, 4th edn, Longman,
Harlow, UK, p. 167, 1988.
11. Barstad, H.M., History and the Hebrew Bible; in: Grabbe, L.E. (Ed.), Can a
‘History of Israel’ Be Written?, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, UK, pp.
37–64, 45, 1997.
12. Waltke, B.K., Genesis, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, p. 29, 2001.
13. Waltke, ref. 12, p. 80.
14. Waltke, ref. 12, p. 87.
15. Waltke, ref. 12, p. 29.
16. Waltke, ref. 12, p. 86f.
17. Knight, ref. 9, p. 27.
18. Speiser, E.A., The rivers of paradise; in: Hess, R.S. and Tsumura, D. T. (Eds.),
I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood, Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, IN,
pp. 175–182, 179, 1994.
19. Speiser, ref. 18, p. 175.
20. See Hirsch, E.G., et al., Garden of Eden; in: Jerusalem Encyclopedia, www.
jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5428-eden-garden-of, accessed 16 December
21. Collins, C. J., Genesis 1–4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary,
P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, p. 120, 2006. See also the reference to
archaeologist Dr Juris Zarins in Dora Jane Hamblin, Has the Garden of Eden
been located at last?, www.ldolphin.org/eden/, accessed 26 August 2016.
22. Westermann, C., Genesis 1–11: A commentary, Augsburg, Minneapolis, MN,
p. 218, 1984.
23. “If the city of Ashur is meant, then there must be a very ancient tradition
here which goes back to the time before Nineveh became the capital of the
Assyrian kingdom.” Westermann, ref. 22.
24. Cassuto, U., A Commentary of the Book of Genesis, Part 1, From Adam to
Noah, Genesis I–VI, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, pp. 115–121, 1978.
25. Waltke, ref. 12, p. 86.
26. Collins, ref. 21, p. 119.
27. Cassuto, ref. 24, p. 117.
28. Cassuto, ref. 24, p. 118.
29. For a fulsome discussion about deixis and its related term ‘indexicality’
see Levinson, S.C., ‘Deixis and Pragmatics’ for Handbook of Pragmatics,
30. Fillmore, C.J., Lectures on Deixis, CSLI Publications, Stanford, CA,1971.
31. Lyons, J., Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics, Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge, UK, p. 275, 1969.
32. Munday Jr, J.C., Eden’s Geography Erodes Flood Geology, Westminster
Theological J. 58:123–154, 129, 1996.
33. Cassuto, ref. 24, p. 119.
34. For extensive illustration of this point, see Beale, G.K., Eden, The Temple,
and the Church’s Mission in the New Creation, JETS
48( 1): 5–31, 2005; and
Beale, G.K., The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of
the Dwelling Place of God, IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 2004.
35. So, when settlers found a river flowing to the East of a land they called ‘New
Ashur’, they would, of course, call it the Tigris (Hiddeqel ). And later readers of
Genesis 2 would say to themselves: “Ah, so that’s why they call it the Tigris.”
Thus there were two ‘Tigris’ and two ‘Euphrates’ rivers: one in Eden before
the Flood, one in Mesopotamia after it.
36. Westermann, ref. 22, p. 216.
37. Mason, R., Propaganda and Subversion in the Old Testament, SPCK, London,
UK, p. 26, 1997.
38. Westermann, ref. 22, p. 216.
Alistair McKitterick ( B.Sc., B.A., M.A.) is tutor and
lecturer at Moorlands College, Dorset, UK, where he
teaches a variety of biblical studies and apologetics
modules. He is currently pursuing doctoral studies
in practical theology with a focus on the teaching of
intelligent design. He is married with four children.