And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
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, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
– Genesis 2:8-14
The original hydrologic cycle was drastically different from that of the present day. The present cycle, which began at the time of the great [Noah’s] Flood, involves global and continental air mass movements, and annual and seasonal temperature changes. It is summarized quite scientifically in such Scripture passages as Ecclesiastes 1:6-7; Isaiah 55:10-11; Job 28:24-26; Job 36:26-29; Psalm 135:6-7, and others. This present cycle centers around the solar evaporation of ocean waters, transportation to the continents in the atmospheric circulation, condensation and precipitation in the form of rain and snow, and transportation back to the oceans via rivers. In the original world, however, there was no rainfall on the earth. As originally created, the earth’s daily water supply came primarily from local evaporation and condensation. There was also a system of spring-fed rivers.
The change in temperature between daytime and nighttime apparently was adequate to energize daily evaporation from each local body of water and its condensation as dew and fog in the surrounding area each night. This arrangement was implemented on the second and third days of the creation week, prior to the formation of the plants on the latter part of the third day.
The inhibition of true rainfall was probably, as discussed in the previous chapter, accomplished by the great vapor canopy, “the waters above the firmament.” Maintaining an approximately uniform temperature worldwide, no great air mass movements were possible under the canopy, and the necessary conditions for rainfall unsatisfied.
… information is given about the geography of Eden and the primeval water supply system. The luscious garden in Eden would require an abundance of water, probably more than could be derived from the diurnal mist. This supply of water came from a river flowing through the garden area, which would of course maintain a sufficiently high water table in the vicinity to amply nourish the roots of the trees and other plants in the garden.
The source of the river was said to be in Eden, though presumably somewhere outside the garden itself. Since there was no rainfall, the river would have to be supplied through a pressurized conduit from an underground reservoir of some kind, emerging under pressure as a sort of artesian spring. The fluid pressure, however, could not have been simple hydrostatic pressure (pressure resulting from gravitational flow of groundwater from a source area at a higher elevation), because this also would depend on rainfall.
The New Testament refers to events that took place in Eden as historical. It speaks of the creation of Adam and Eve and of their fall into sin. These literal historical events need a literal geographic place in which to occur.
The pressure in the subterranean reservoir could have been established either when the waters were first entrapped below the land surface and compressed by the weight of the overlying rocks (presumably on the third day of creation) or else by being heated from a deep-lying heat source. The latter is more likely, since otherwise the pressure would gradually be dissipated as the waters escaped to the surface. If there was a continuing heat source, however, as well as a continuing supply of water to the subterranean pool, then the artesian spring at the surface could be fed indefinitely.
The water coming into the pool must have flowed by gravity from one of the surface “seas,” through permeable sands or channels in the rocks, down into the great water heater below. There were probably similar subterranean channels and chambers in the earth’s crust all around the world. Thus the antediluvian hydrologic cycle conveyed water from the sea to the land via subterranean channels, whereas the postdiluvian cycle accomplishes this movement via the atmosphere. The prediluvian water chambers were destroyed by the upheavals at the time of Noah’s Flood; but to compensate for this loss, the concurrent precipitation of the vapor canopy permitted the circulation of the atmosphere to begin and continental rainfalls to supply the new river systems.
The water flow in the river of Eden must have been very large for, after traversing the garden, it separated into four “distributaries,” each of which was a large and long river. The rivers must eventually have reached one or more of the antediluvian seas, thus completing the cycle.
The names of the four rivers are given as the Pishon, the Gihon, the Hiddekel, and the Euphrates. The Hiddekel is a name which, in the Assyrian monuments, is also given to the Tigris. The other two names are not clearly identified with any known rivers, although some writers suggest the Gihon is the Nile and the Pishon either the Ganges or Indus. These latter identifications seem impossible in view of the other geographical features described, however; and it is more likely that these were rivers of the antediluvian world which do not even exist in the present world.
The Pishon is described as encircling the whole land of Havilah, and the Gihon as encircling the land of Ethiopia (or Cush). The land of Havilah is also of uncertain geography, but Cush is associated later in Scripture with both a region of Arabia and the present land of Ethiopia. In either case, there is certainly no river encircling it. Furthermore, the Tigris (Hiddekel) is described as going eastward of Assyria, whereas the Tigris of known history was on the west side of Assyria.
In general, it is evident that the geography described in these verses does not exist in the present world, nor has it ever existed since the Flood. The rivers and countries described were antediluvian geographical features, familiar to Adam, the original author of this part of the narrative. They were all destroyed, and the topography and geography completely changed, when “the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished” (2 Peter 3:6).
This means, in turn, that the names which seem to be postdiluvian (Ethiopia, Assyria, Tigris, Euphrates) were originally antediluvian names. The names were remembered by the survivors of the Flood and then given to people or places in the postdiluvian world, in memory of those earlier names of which they were somehow reminded later. Those who have tried to identify the garden of Eden as in the present Tigris-Euphrates region fail to realize that these antediluvian rivers were completely obliterated by the Flood, and have no physical connection with their counterparts in the present world.
The Garden of Eden was destroyed in Noah’s Flood, so that it is quite impossible to locate it now in terms of modern geography.