(Gen. 2:10-14) Are these mythical rivers?

CLAIM: Critics argue that the rivers in Genesis 2 are purely mythical, which supports the notion that Genesis is mythopoeic literature. Is this the case?

RESPONSE: Actually, the mention of these rivers gives further support for Genesis being history –not mythology or poetry. Specifically, four rivers are mentioned. Two are known (Tigris and Euphrates) and two are unknown (Pishon and Gihon). Moses doesn’t give any details for the Tigris and Euphrates –presumably because they were known to the people at the time. Instead, he gives more details for the other two rivers (Pishon and Gihon), presumably because they weren’t known to the people at the time. He writes that the Pishon “flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 The gold of that land is good…” (Gen. 2:11-12). Havilah is modern day Arabia, but there is no river to be found in the region described.

However, in 1994, the Spaceborne Imaging Radar (SIR-C image) took an image of a small section of Arabia, and it discovered that an ancient river formerly flowed through this area (Havilah). Moreover, during the age of imperialism, the British mined gold in this exact region! However, this river would have dried up before Moses wrote this book in 1400 BC. In fact, this river dried up sometime between 3500 and 2000 BC. Hoffmeier writes,

The idea that a river once flowed across the deserts of Arabia, and somehow connected with the Tigris and/or Euphrates River, seems far-fetched. But this all changed when evidence for such a river came from satellite radar images taken during the 1994 mission of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Boston University geologist Farouk el-Baz, who studied the images, noticed that traces of a defunct river that crossed northern Arabia from west to east were visible beneath the sands, thanks to the ground-penetrating capabilities of the radar technologies. He called it the “Kuwait River’, for that is where it apparently connected with the Euphrates or emptied into the Persian Gulf. Some scholars have proposed that this is the Pishon River of Genesis 2. Environmental studies in the region suggest that this river probably dried up sometime between 3500 and 2000 BC when an arid period was experienced. This new evidence suggests that the Bible has preserved a very ancient memory that predates the era of Moses. By the mid-second millennium BC, this river had already turned to desert 1,000 years or more earlier.[1]

[1] Hoffmeier, James Karl. The Archaeology of the Bible. Oxford: Lion, 2008. 34-35.