Genesis 2:10-14


וְנָהָרּ יֹצֵא מֵעֵדֶן לְהַשְׁקוֹת אֶת־הַגָּ֑ן וּמִשָּׁם יִפָּרֵד וְהָיָה לְאַרְבָּעָה רָאשִֽׁים׃ שֵׁם הָֽאֶחָד פִּישׁ֑וֹן הוּא הַסֹּבֵב אֵת כָּל־אֶרֶץ הַֽחֲוִילָה אֲשֶׁר־שָׁם הַזָּהָֽב׃ וּֽזֲהַב הָאָרֶץ הַהִוא ט֑וֹב שָׁם הַבְּדֹלַח וְאֶבֶן הַשֹּֽׁהַם׃ וְשֵֽׁם־הַנָּהָר הַשֵּׁנִי גִּיח֑וֹן הוּא הַסּוֹבֵב אֵת כָּל־אֶרֶץ כּֽוּשׁ׃ וְשֵׁם הַנָּהָר הַשְּׁלִישִׁי חִדֶּקֶל הוּא הַֽהֹלֵךְ קִדְמַת אַשּׁ֑וּר וְהַנָּהָר הָֽרְבִיעִי הוּא פְרָֽת׃

(Now, a river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.)


These verses, 10 through 14, seem out of place on first reading. In verse 9 we are left wondering about the two trees, one of life and the other of knowledge. Then in the next five verses we encounter a discourse on what Nahum Sarna calls the Rivers of Paradise – a description of the alluvial geography of the great river delta formed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers  tigres-euphrates-river-deltaas they flow East down through Mesopotamia’s Fertile Crescent.

Indeed, the abrupt transition from verse 9 to verses 10 through 15 is purposeful as shown by the author’s use of the disjunctive vav[1]Biblical Hebrew does not have parenthesis. Instead, biblical authors use a grammar rule called the disjunctive vav (explained here) to indicate the beginning of a parenthetical clause, verse, or even … Continue reading. In this way, the author suspends the narrative for a time in order to build narrative tension. 

This technique, the use of parenthetic clauses, is not uncommon in the Bible. For example, it occurs in the story of Joseph, where the digression of chapter 38 heightens the audience’s suspense at a critical moment in the development of the plot. An obvious way to represent these five verses as parenthetic would be to enclose these 5 verses in parenthesis. This is not the only way, but in this case, the context certainly suggests that for English readers, enclosing the 5 verses in parenthesis best captures the intent of the author.

פִּישׁ֑וֹן  (Pishon): The location of this river cannot be determined with certainty for three reasons: First, the word “Pishon” is unknown in Hebrew or in any of its cognate languages. If Pishon is assumed to be a Hebrew name, then its literal meaning is “sandy land”. Second, Pishon is described as flowing through the land of Havilah, “where there is gold”. But, this is problematic because there are two sites currently postulated as the land of Havilah – one far to the south of Egypt and the other in Arabia. As to the former, its primary sources of gold were the ancient mines of Nubia, a region that roughly corresponds to the Southernmost region of Sudan.

map-of-sudanWith respect to Arabia, Havilah is described as a brother of Ophir – a country that no longer exists but is thought to have been within Arabia. Ophir was famous in its day for its abundant gold deposits.

גִּיח֑וֹן (Gihon): This is the other river whose location cannot be determined with any certainty. Today, Gihon is known as the name of a spring in a valley just outside of Jerusalem. Its association in the text with the land of Cush (Kush) is confusing for the same reason as is Pishon. Its description as a brother of Egypt (see Gen 10:6-10) locates Gihon thousands of miles West of the Mesopotamia.

קִדְמַת  (qidmat): In verse 14 the Tigris is described as qidmat Ashshur (Assyria). However, qidmat is literally translated “in front of”, i.e., eastward as one faces the rising sun — the standard orientation in the Hebrew Bible.

פְרָֽת  (Phərat): In English this is the Euprhates river, a river so well known in ancient Babylon that it needed no description.

Preliminary Translations

My translation conventions can be found here.

Commercial Bible Translations

Since I’m simply copying verbatim the NIV’s translation, I see no need to show the other three.

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