Genesis 2:10-14 tell us about the four rivers that flow from the one main river that waters the Garden of Eden. The first one is the Pishon. The second one is the Gihon. The third one is the wild and wooly Tigris. “And the fourth river is Euphrates, or the sweet,’ from… parath, signifying to be sweet, referring to the sweet and pleasant taste of its waters.”[1] The ancient commentator, Philo, said, “For the Euphrates is very gentle and life-giving and nourishing, wherefore the wise men of the Hebrews and Assyrians call it ‘augmenting’ and ‘prospering.’”[2] Although the waters of the Euphrates might be “sweet”, the Children of Israel taken captive and taken as slaves into Assyria will not find their lives to be sweet. Jeremiah 2:18-19 says, “Or what do you gain by going to Assyria to drink the waters of the Euphrates? Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God.”

Walton has an opinion on the difficulty of using the last two rivers, even though we know their names and current locations, to locate the Garden of Eden.  The saying “all roads lead to Rome” isn’t giving directions to a physical place, but rather it was a statement about its centrality in all areas of life. He says, “Locating Eden in reference to the Tigris and Euphrates is the same kind of statement. Its location is not given so that it can be found but so that its strategic role can be appreciated. All fertility emanates from the presence of God.”[3]

There have been many symbolic interpretations of these four rivers. Carasik shares one; “The four rivers symbolize four aspects of creation: mineral, vegetable, animal, and human (Abarbanel).[4] The better symbolic attempts to understand the four rivers that flow from Eden attach them to either the preaching of the Gospel or the Gospels themselves. Voicu, quoting from an ancient Frankish Monk, Rabanus Maurus, who adds the Jordan River to the four rivers of Genesis 2, said, “The five rivers make the earth fruitful and cleanse it like the preaching of Christ’s disciples.”[5] An article from the Biblical Archeological Review shows a picture of the cross planted on Golgotha from which is flowing the four rivers from Eden. It says, “Christian tradition compares the four life-giving rivers flowing from the rock to the four Gospels, which quench the spiritual thirst of mankind.”[6] In the Wisdom of Sirach, an Old Testament Apocrypha book, the four rivers suggest that the wisdom of God flows out from the Jerusalem Temple Centered Torah. It says that all the wisdom of the world is like the four rivers flowing in the Garden of Eden. Speaking of the “Torah” It says in 24:25-29, “It brims like the Pishon with wisdom, and like the Tigris in the days of the new crops, It overflows like the Euphrates with understanding, and like the Jordan at harvest time. It floods like the Nile with instruction, like the Gihon at vintage time. The first human did not know her completely, nor has the last succeeded in fathoming her. For deeper than the sea are her thoughts, and her counsel, than the great abyss.”[7]

[1] Spence-Jones, H. D. M., ed. 1909. Genesis. The Pulpit Commentary. London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[2] Philo. 1953. Philo: Questions and Answers on Genesis and Exodus. Translated by Ralph Marcus. Vol. 1. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press; William Heinemann Ltd.

[3] Walton, John H. 2001. Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Carasik, Michael, ed. 2018. Genesis: Introduction and Commentary. Translated by Michael Carasik. The Commentators’ Bible. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society.

[5] Voicu, Sever J., ed. 2010. Apocrypha. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[6] BAR. 2004, 2004.

[7] Evans, Craig A. 2004. Of Scribes and Sages : Early Jewish Interpretation and Transmission of Scripture: Ancient Versions and Traditions. Vol. 50–51; 9–10. Library of Second Temple Studies; Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity. London: T & T Clark International.