Does the Garden of Eden Still Exist?
The Bible is inspired,1 has not been corrupted,2 and Genesis reports historical events that actually occurred in the past.3 We know, therefore, that the Garden of Eden existed on planet Earth at some point. Many Bible believers, therefore, are naturally excited at the prospect of tracking down its location. Its discovery would further verify the Bible’s testimony, captivate the minds of virtually every person on Earth, and maybe even provide secrets to eternal physical life (assuming the cherubim and the flaming sword are not still guarding the Tree of Life—Genesis 3:24). That said, Bible believers should take care not to go beyond the evidence and draw “outlandish” conclusions without sufficient evidence to back their claims, or they will most certainly do damage to the cause instead of helping it. Believing that Eden has been found (or even still exists today) are prime examples of this danger. What does the evidence say? Does the Garden of Eden still exist?
Nobody knows, so caution is in order. But there are some facts that can help us arrive at a reasonable conclusion:
First, keep in mind that it would be easy to subconsciously assume that Genesis 2, where Eden is described, was being written “real time”—as though the writer lived alongside Adam and Eve in the Garden. In reality, however, Genesis was written by Moses roughly 2,500 years later4—long after the Flood—to an audience living in roughly 1,500 B.C.
The grammar of Genesis 2 (in English translations) implies that at the time Moses wrote the book, several topographical markers were still available that allowed his audience to know the general vicinity of Eden. The present tense is used in English translations throughout the chapter (vss. 11,12,13,14), indicating that various physical markers existed in Moses’ time. However, unlike English, Hebrew does not actually have tense, properly speaking. Virtually all modern English translations assume Moses intended to communicate the present tense, but the Hebrew does not necessarily demand it. Moses could have been communicating past tense, implying that the rivers did not exist in his day anymore, nor the valuable resources mentioned in conjunction with the rivers. The implication would be that some of the locations/rivers mentioned by Moses may have been names passed down through the centuries, and Moses could have simply been clarifying where those legendary markers were relative to Eden. However, it would seem odd for Moses (God) to spend so much time highlighting to his audience specific, now non-existent markers and the locations of precious resources relative to those markers. No doubt, that rationale helps to explain why modern English translations assume the present tense throughout the text. Implication: the topographical markers to which Moses referred (i.e., the rivers and lands) possibly existed in 1,500 B.C., though no doubt much different in nature compared to their characteristics at Creation (and compared to their current characteristics). Note, however, that Eden itself is not said in the text to have still existed at Moses’ time, nor is the single river which became four riverheads. Instead, the four rivers themselves are described (by English translators) as existing at the time of Moses, though apparently no longer connected to one another in the way described by Moses (see below).
The description of Eden’s location is given in Genesis 2:8-14. Though scholars have gone to great lengths attempting to nail down the identities of the lands of Havilah and Cush, they have been unable to do so conclusively, and the same is true concerning the identification of the four rivers listed by Moses: Pishon, Gihon, Hiddekel, and the Euphrates. While there are Tigris (Hiddekel) and Euphrates rivers today, it is uncertain if those are the rivers to which Moses was referring in Genesis 2. While he does mention the Euphrates River later in the Pentateuch (Genesis 15:18; Deuteronomy 1:7; 11:24), which is possibly the modern-day Euphrates River, it is not clear if the Euphrates of the pre-Flood world was the same river. As is often the case today, well-known names from previous places and times are often used elsewhere (e.g., the many names of locations in England which were used by Europeans upon moving to “New” England). To add further difficulty, Creation geologists highlight that there is no place on the Earth today where a river parts and becomes four riverheads (Genesis 2:10), implying that the surface of the Earth has drastically changed since Creation, as would be expected due to the effects of the Flood. Again, if the English translators are correct, the four rivers apparently still existed at the time of Moses, even if they do not still exist today.
Creation geologists are nearly unanimous in their understanding of which rock layers in the geologic column represent the beginning of the Flood: the Cambrian strata at the base of the Paleozoic rock layers. Just below the Cambrian strata is an erosion surface—a worldwide geologic unconformity (the Great Unconformity) representing the commencement of the Flood. Some of the rock layers that existed (i.e., pre-Flood rock layers) prior to the erosional event (the Flood) are missing. During the Flood, enormous amounts of sediment were eroded from the pre-Flood Earth’s surface and sediment from the continents and ocean were piled on the continents, forming the bulk of the fossil record and much of the geologic column, beginning with the Cambrian strata. The Flood strata continue upward through the Paleozoic and Mesozoic rock strata, and end at either the top of those rock layers or continue a certain distance into the Cenozoic strata. Much of the Cenozoic sediment was laid down after the Flood or at the very end of it. Translation: the pre-Flood Earth surface was apparently wiped clean and, in some cases, buried under several miles of sediment. Many commentators guess that Eden is located in modern day Armenia or Iraq, but they do so, apparently, without understanding how drastic the Flood’s geologic impact would have been across the entire surface of the Earth. The area where Eden is thought by many commentators to have been located is covered with immense amounts of Flood sediment. That means that Eden, if (1) it was not first completely eroded away by the Flood (which is likely), or (2) pushed down into the mantle during the Flood (there is a subduction zone along the north/northeast side of the Arabian plate in the area where Eden is thought to have been), is now covered with roughly three to five miles of mud/sediment deposited during and after the Flood.
With that knowledge in mind, it is difficult to imagine how the same four rivers of the pre-Flood world could have still existed after the Flood.5 Even if they did, however, river channels migrate over time as they erode the surface of the Earth and are affected by flooding and new obstacles. The Nile River, for example, is known to have migrated laterally, back and forth, over time, meandering to places that are now over three miles away from where it now migrates.6 Thus, even if the four rivers to which Moses referred could be specifically pinpointed, it is highly unlikely that they are in the same places that they were 3,500 years ago.
Bottom line: while unlikely, the four rivers that branched off of the river leaving Eden might have still existed in Moses’ day (after the Flood), but they are not the same today as they were during Moses’ day 3,500 years ago, much less after Creation week. The continued existence of Eden itself is highly doubtful, and its location—if still in existence—would be virtually impossible to find.
1 Eric Lyons and Kyle Butt (2015), “3 Good Reasons to Believe the Bible is from God,” Reason & Revelation, 35:2-11.
2 Dave Miller (2015), “3 Good Reasons to Believe the Bible Has Not Been Corrupted,” Reason & Revelation, 35:86-92.
3 Dave Miller (2020), “Genesis: Myth or History?” Reason & Revelation, 40:50-57.
4 Eric Lyons, et al. (2003), “Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch—Tried and True,” Reason & Revelation, 23:1-7.
5 The NIV translates Genesis 2:6 as “streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.” While the term “streams” (apparently relying on a Greek translation, verified by Akkadian and Sumerian cognates, according to Hebrew scholar Justin Rogers) is typically translated as “mist” in other translations, Hebrew scholars are uncertain about the real meaning of the word. Streams coming up from the Earth would possibly imply the existence of an underground aquifer that supplied the water for the river that watered Eden (Genesis 2:10), which separated into the four mentioned rivers. If the underground aquifer was not destroyed by the Flood (which is unlikely), it may be possible that after the Flood its waters would again reach the surface and result in the formation of other streams/rivers. It is notable that the Ras El Ain karstic springs feed the Khabour river which, today, is one of the main tributaries of the Euphrates River [Aysegul Kibaroglu (2014), “Euphrates-Tigris River Basin Report,” HARC, https://harcresearch.org/sites/default/files/Project_Documents/Reports1-EuphratesTigris.pdf, pp. 2-4].
6 John K. Hillier, Judith M. Bunbury, and Angus Graham (2007), “Monuments on a Migrating Nile,” Journal of Archaeological Science, 34:1011-1015, July.