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I will be upfront about it - I am skeptical of our tradition about the Torah being given on Mount Sinai, and suspect that Judaism is a man-made religion. It's not that I don't want Judaism to be true, I do. It's just that it seems to make claims about this world that are falsifiable, and that I consider to be falsified. So I am asking about one of those claims here, hoping that I will get some good answers.

The four rivers. In Genesis 2:10-14 we are told that a river emerged from the garden of Eden and then parted into four heads:

The name of the first is Pishon; it is that which compasses the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold... And the name of the second river is Gihon; it is that which compasses the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel; it is that which goes towards the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.

There is no river in the world that parts into the four rivers mentioned. Although we are not acquainted with any river called Pishon, we know that Gihon is only a small spring in Jerusalem. The Hiddekel (which is the Hebrew name of the Tigris river) and the Euphrates are not two "heads" splitting off of one major river; the opposite is true: at Al-Qurnah (Iraq) these two rivers join to form the Shatt al-Arab. Some Rabbinic commentators on the Scripture (Rashi and R' Saadiah Gaon, for example) interpreted the name Pishon as referring to the Nile, but then we have a serious problem: there is not, and never has been, any connection between the Nile and the Tigris or the Euphrates.

Does anyone have any idea how a river could have split into these rivers and there be no evidence of it today?

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The great flood of Noah – sam Jan 29 '14 at 1:09
The Torah also says Gd has hands, feet, a face, a back, anger, jealousy, love, and a nose, yet our fundamental belief is that He can have none of those things. – Baby Seal Jan 29 '14 at 3:11
Targum Yonatan says that jewels flowed from the Garden of Eden to the Pishon River, to the Gihon River, to the Sea of Reeds, and that Israel was collecting them the Pharaoh discovered them with his army. It also says that Adam was deposited from The Garden on to the top of Mt. Moriah, from where he was created, after his sin. I don't think that the garden or the rivers that flow from it exist in a physical way, at least not in the way we understand gardens and rivers to exist. – Baby Seal Jan 29 '14 at 4:31
Assuming the 2nd perek is still considered part of the Creation narrative, the Rambam would say one shouldn't take it literally, e.g. see Moreh Nevuchim 2:30. – Eliyahu Jan 29 '14 at 15:49
I posted a more extensive illustration of the problem I have here: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/35059/… – Gregory Magarshak Jan 29 '14 at 19:12
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Does anyone have any idea...

So this is my own idea, and not based on a source, but in line with Baby Seal's comment:

Obviously the Garden was of quite a different fabric than the psychical world we live in. I imagine a gradual transition from spiritual to physical, where at some points the four rivers begin to appear physically (tiny springs etc.), remaining mostly spiritual, but slowly becoming more and more manifest (large rivers), only to eventually become wholly physical.

This would be similar to (or even an instance of) the ohr ein sof decending through the sfiros, eventually taking the form of our physical world in the sfira of malchus.

Being that the fully spiritual is beyond all limitations, location too, the physical distance between apparent starting points of the four rivers would not be problematic.

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In this article1, Dr. Juris Zarins places the garden at the north-western tip of the Persian gulf, currently submerged beneath its waters.

Progressive River Map

As seen in the above image, from as far back as 6000 b.c.e the gulfs northern shore began south-east of its current location, with the mouth of a channel that was fed by four different rivers.

Hiddekel and Prat remain the Tigris and the Euphrates. Zarins names Wadi Rimah and Wadi Batin Pishon. It is a fossil river that flowed from the west of the channel, through a region rich in bdellium and gold, (consistent with Gen 2:11-12). It still occasionally flows. He names the Karun River Gihon, identifying the land of Kush with the land of the Kashshites.

During the Flandrian Transgression, the Gulf began to fill with water, reaching its current level around around 4000 b.c.e, which lines up rather well with our dating for the birth of Adam, around 3760 b.c.e2.

What is left then is the understanding of Genesis 2:10,

וְנָהָר יֹצֵא מֵעֵדֶן, לְהַשְׁקוֹת אֶת-הַגָּן; וּמִשָּׁם, יִפָּרֵד, וְהָיָה, לְאַרְבָּעָה רָאשִׁים.

And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became four heads.

Which you argue seems to imply that the 4 rivers began at the Eden River.

Biblical scholar Ephraim Speiser claimed that the verse refers to the four rivers upstream of their confluence into the one river watering the garden. One would then read the verse from the perspective of one traveling out of Eden, (which is how the verse reads), rather than from the perspective of one following the river flow.

1. Here is another article that discusses this topic.

2. 2015-5775/6 = -3760/1

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Very nice. I actually had the insight this week about the vastly changed persian gulf, but didn't fill in the two missing rivers. Besides the Darshan in me was much more interested in identifying these four rivers with the four ancient river cultures. – user6591 Oct 13 '15 at 22:32

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