Genesis presents a summary of the early history of our world. Its writing was inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is not a myth or an allegory or a metaphorical story. In the more detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 we learn that they lived in the Garden of Eden.
The only clues in the Bible of the geographical location of the Garden of Eden are that it was “in the east” (Gen. 2:8 NIV), and that the river in the garden separated into four rivers named: Pishon, Gihon, Tigris (Hiddekel) and Euphrates (Gen. 2:8-14). Also, the first three of these rivers flowed through regions named Havilah, Cush and Ashur, respectively.
As Moses probably compiled the book of Genesis from ancient documents and oral accounts under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we don’t know the reference point used for the statement “in the east.” Some think that Israel/Palestine is the reference point. Also, as we don’t know today of a river that separates into the four rivers named above, the topography of the earth was probably different in those days. The Bible suggests that the continents were once together (Gen. 1:9-10). However, today the continents are separated by oceans, and sedimentary layers with fossil sea shells have been found at the top of many Himalayan peaks, including Mount Everest.
Although the Bible doesn’t describe when the continents moved apart, it is likely that the earth’s landscape was changed significantly by the catastrophic global flood survived only by Noah’s family. “Every creature that has the breath of life in it” perished in this disaster and everything that existed before the flood was “deluged and destroyed” (Gen. 7:17; 8:21; 2 Pet. 3:5–6). Not only did it rain for 40 days, but “all the springs (fountains) of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of heaven were opened” (Gen. 7:11-12). The springs (or fountains) of the great deep may have been oceanic or subterranean water. This immense flood is the most likely source of the thickest layers of sedimentary rock on earth.
The abating flood waters may have been associated with the uplift of mountains and the sinking of valleys (Ps. 104:6-8). When the mountains rose, the flood waters eroded the land and flowed into the seas (Job 38:8-11). As there are many volcanic rocks interspersed between fossil layers, there may have also been volcanic eruptions at this time. For example, Mt. Ararat in Turkey is a volcanic cone near the junction of the Eurasian, African and Arabian crustal plates. Catastrophic plate collisions may have pushed up creating mountains at this time. If this is so, then God used the tectonic forces associated with the flood and its aftermath to alter the earth’s topography. It was a new start for our planet. (See the parallels between Gen. 1:28-30 and 9:1-5).
After the flood, Noah’s family moved to the Shinar plain (Sumeria/ Babylonia) where we find rivers today called Tigris and Euphrates. Because they flow above flood-deposited layers of rock containing billions of fossils, these are not the same rivers that flowed from the Garden of Eden. They were probably named after the original pre-flood rivers, just as settlers from the British Isles to America and Australasia gave familiar names to many places in their “new world.”
As the Garden of Eden was destroyed in the flood and covered by thick sediment and maybe even water, there is no such place today, and its location on the globe can’t be established with certainty. So, although it may have been located in Iraq, or somewhere nearby, in the days of Adam and Eve, we don’t know where Eden is today.
Published, February 2011; revised July 2019