How did it happen that such a mixed up geography of the rivers found its way into Genesis 2:11-14? I suggest the answer is very simple. The clue is the jump from 'Elohim' ( the Gods, or the Immortals) in Genesis 1, to 'Yhwh Elohim' in Genesis 2, Yhwh Elohim meaning Yhwh of the Immortals. This tells us it's a different story or 'history' now being told. Those who say that Genesis 1 was probably composed by priestly scribes (P) (about the mid-400s BC after the Hebrews return to Jerusalem from having been prisoners in Babylon) and that Genesis 1 was tacked on in front of the older strand or version in Genesis 2, are also saying that P did not stop there, but continued making insertions into the text here and there in the Pentateuch, or first five books of the Old Testament of the Bible.

Insertions (now called glosses) are a perennial problem for those studying ancient texts. Scribes not only copied older texts, they often made marginal notes explaining what they knew or thought they knew that would amplify or clarify what was meant in former times. The next scribe copying that text might not have had room beside a precious previous note in its margin where he wished to make his own note. So he incorporated the former scribe's notes into the text in the appropriate places and put his own note in his margin. That's how we get one kind of corruption in our ancient texts, causing some to throw up their hands and say it's all myth. It was not until printing of texts became available that this pernicious practice of glosses stopped. In fact I like to call P not priestly but pernicious, because that's what it is to modern scholarship.

Here's a 20th c. representation of what was understood of world geography by Near Eastern people in the time of Herodotus, the ancient famous historian who lived in the 400s BC, which was contemporaneous with the P strand in Genesis:

If this representation is at all close to being correct, we can see that P had no excuse for putting one of the four rivers in Ethiopia, because even in those days it was known to be in a different land on a different continent. Aethiopia is shown at the lower left of the map. The Hebrews in particular should have known better because in their past history they had spent about four hundred years in Egypt, and later generations spent about two hundred years as captives in Babylon. P, then, probably intended deliberate exaggeration in his locations for the four rivers to make the history more majestic and God-like.

I suggest that at least some of P's contemporaries knew far more about geography than the map shown here credits them with. Here's my reasoning:

1. In my 'Where Did Odysseus Go?' elsewhere on this website, I faced an obvious and exaggerated later gloss on 'Homer's' ancient Greek text which as a former navigating officer (navy) I could easily identify. It arose because the scribe did not know what a chart was for and as a result inserted a whole unnecessary section in the text to create a totally unwarranted voyage back east across the Mediterranean and then back west again to the original point ( Part 3: see the last quotation and my comment at the end).

Before 1600 AD very few people had sailed around the world. Magellan (c1470 - 1521 AD) died en route, only one of his ships reached home. Drake, (c1540 - 1596) actually 'circumnavigated the globe' (1577 - 1581) and returned safely. I suggest Odysseus was another such sailor, which is why he was a hero in ancient times. He sailed, I suggested, out of the Mediterranean and up the west coast of Europe looking for gold, tin and amber, all of which were there and valuable. I virtually proved this by getting a planetarium director to precess it back to 1200 BC. Then I tested the star positions against the directions and star information given in the text. They fitted perfectly where I had concluded he went, but they failed completely if he had stayed in the Mediterranean.

2. I found errors in glosses and mis-translations, discussed in my 'The Red Sea Crossing' chapter 2 (also on this web site). For example, all translations into English say there were 600,000 men in the Exodus. This is translating the word 'elef' as 'thousand' when it can mean 'unit' or 'squad' or 'troop' or platoon'; so there were in fact said to be only 600 units of men in the Exodus.

3. The Phoenicians in ancient times were adventurous seafaring people. Here's a map showing their colonization, starting from Sidon and Tyre:

Sidon has evidence it was perhaps inhabited as early as the neolithic period (6000 - 4000 BC) and was used for dwellings from about 4000 BC. Tyre was founded early in the 2000s BC. The Phoenician period began in the 1100s BC. Carthage, a colony, was founded in the 800s BC. We can see that the map shows clearly the Phoenicians went beyond the Mediterranean into the Atlantic. They, too, traded with Western Europe but are said to have kept secret their routes, charts of prevailing winds, tides, and currents. By this means they maintained a monopoly and high prices for their goods.

For these reasons I think the poor geography of P is more intentional exaggeration than ignorance. My suggested solution is therefore to remove the obvious P glosses and see what the text previously said. Here's the result, with numbered verses, and using the KJV text:

8. And Yhwh Elohim planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.

10. And a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from thence it was parted and became four heads.

15. And Yhwh Elohim took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

I suggest it flows perfectly and makes good sense. But there are two more important facts to consider. All the translations say 'eastward in Eden.' 'Mikkedem,' is the word translated as 'eastward.' It could also mean 'in ancient times' or 'long ago' or 'in antiquity' or 'in the beginning'. I suggest that meaning is the proper sense to be used here. I believe translators have used 'eastward' because of their religious belief that it all took place east of Jerusalem, somewhere in Mesopotamia. I submit that is allowing belief to supplant scholarship. So let's revise the sentence in verse 8, which then reads:

8. And in ancient times Yhwh Elohim planted a garden in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.

But there's a second problem: the word 'Eden.'The phrase used is 'gan b'eden.' It comes from a Sumerian word 'edin.' 'Edin' meant the open country around the cities. It was not part of the area which the cities cultivated. It was the open area where the wild animals were, where the earth had never been broken up by a digging stick or plough. It was the natural unchanged habitat beyond the cities. So we have a second revision to verse 8, which I suggest should read:

8. And in ancient times Yhwh Elohim planted a garden in a plain; and there he put the man he had formed.

There's one more problem. I suggest that the Immortal who planted the garden described in Genesis 2 was probably not Yhwh. For an explanation see my The Immortals (on this website) Chapter 9 third section 'dividing up territory,' and Chapter 5, 'The Immortals in the Bible.' Yhwh was clearly a younger generation Immortal, probably of the same generation as Apollo, or perhaps the next after that. Elyon, the old Caananite Immortal, allocated the patrimony to the various young Immortals and Yhwh's allotment was the House of Jacob. As Jacob probably lived somewhere around the 1700s BC, the chronology in Genesis itself which leads to an age of about 4000 BC for the 'Eden' story, gives a much earlier time than Yhwh's allotment.

Why, then, is Yhwh inserted here? I suggest it's another P insertion, under the influence of Ezra desiring to establish a tradition that concentrated on Yhwh as the god of the Israelites. At the same time, the consort of Yhwh, who was Asherah, was systematically downgraded and excluded from the text to create a monotheistic religion. This was aided by modern translators into English where the few remaining references to Asherah became a 'pole' or a 'grove.' ( see The Immortals, chapter 11). To remove these later changes to the story, I propose to eliminate Yhwh from the Genesis 2 text as an anachronistic insertion by P.

After making these adjustments here's the text, before the suggested additions by P. Eloah, a single god, the word probably used before P, is translated as 'an Immortal' :

8. In ancient times an Immortal planted a garden in a plain; and there he put the man he had formed.

10. And a river went out of the plain to water the garden, and from thence it was parted and became four heads.

15. And the Immortal took the man, and put him into the garden to dress it and to keep it.

Now we have a sensible and straightforward piece of ancient history to work with. Whether it enables us to find 'Eden', if it existed, remains for us to investigate, and that we'll attempt in the next chapter.