Genesis 2:11
The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasses the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
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(11, 12) The name of the first is Pison.—“The full-flowing” (Gesenius), or “free-streaming” (Fürst). Neither derivation has much authority for it in the Hebrew language, and we must wait for the true explanation till the cuneiform inscriptions have been more thoroughly examined. As two of the four rivers of Paradise rise in Armenia, so we must probably seek the other two there; but the conjectures of commentators have thus far suggested no probable identification of this stream.

Compasseth.—This word, without strictly meaning to go round, gives the idea of a devious course (comp. 1Samuel 7:16; Song of Solomon 3:3), as if the river had now reached a level plain.

Havilah may mean sandy land (Deutsch), or circuit region. There seems to have been more than one country of this name; but the most probable is that in South-Western Arabia, afterwards colonised by the Joktanites (Genesis 10:29), which this river skirted rather than traversed. But we know of no such river, rising in Armenia or elsewhere, which answers to this description now. Besides gold of great purity, pronounced emphatically “good,” this land produced” bdellium,” a scented gum, to which manna is compared (Numbers 11:7), though the meaning even there is uncertain.

Instead of bedolach, bdellium, the Syriac reads berulchê, that is, the same word in the plural, but with d instead of r. These two letters being very similar, not merely in the square Hebrew alphabet now in use, but in the original Samaritan characters, are constantly interchanged in manuscripts; and as berulchê means pearls, the sense agrees better with the other productions of Havilah, gold and onyx stones. As bedolach is a quadriliteral, while Hebrew words have only three root letters, we must look to the Accadi an language for its true signification, if this be really the right reading.

The onyx stone.—Though there is considerable authority for this translation, yet probably the LXX., supported by most ancient authorities, are right in regarding this gem as the beryl of a light green colour (leek-stone, LXX.). The root signifies something pale, while the onyx has its name from its markings resembling those of the human nail.

2:8-14 The place fixed upon for Adam to dwell in, was not a palace, but a garden. The better we take up with plain things, and the less we seek things to gratify pride and luxury, the nearer we approach to innocency. Nature is content with a little, and that which is most natural; grace with less; but lust craves every thing, and is content with nothing. No delights can be satisfying to the soul, but those which God himself has provided and appointed for it. Eden signifies delight and pleasure. Wherever it was, it had all desirable conveniences, without any inconvenience, though no other house or garden on earth ever was so. It was adorned with every tree pleasant to the sight, and enriched with every tree that yielded fruit grateful to the taste and good for food. God, as a tender Father, desired not only Adam's profit, but his pleasure; for there is pleasure with innocency, nay there is true pleasure only in innocency. When Providence puts us in a place of plenty and pleasure, we ought to serve God with gladness of heart in the good things he gives us. Eden had two trees peculiar to itself. 1. There was the tree of life in the midst of the garden. Of this man might eat and live. Christ is now to us the Tree of life, Re 2:7; 22:2; and the Bread of life, Joh 6:48,51. 2. There was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, so called because there was a positive revelation of the will of God about this tree, so that by it man might know moral good and evil. What is good? It is good not to eat of this tree. What is evil? It is evil to eat of this tree. In these two trees God set before Adam good and evil, the blessing and the curse.The Pishon waters in its subsequent course the land of Havilah. This country is noted for the best gold, and for two other products, concerning which interpreters differ. Bedolach is, according to the Septuagint, the carbuncle or crystal; according to others, the pearl, or a particular kind of gum. The last is the more probable, if we regard the various Greek and Latin forms of the word: Βδέλλα bdella, Βδέλλιον bdellion, Josephus Ant. iii. 1, 6; οἱ δὲ μάδελκον hoi de madelkon, οἱ δὲ Βολχὸν καλοῦσι hoi de bolchon kalousi, Dioscor. i. 71; alii brochon appellant, alii malacham, alii maldacon, Pliny H. N. 12, 9. Pliny describes it as black, while the manna, which is compared with it Numbers 11:7, is white; but עין ‛ayı̂n the point of resemblance may refer not to color, but to transparence or some other visible quality. This transparent, aromatic gum is found in Arabia, Babylonia, Bactriana, Media, and India. Shoham is variously conjectured to be the beryl, onyx, sardonyx, or emerald. The first, according to Pliny, is found in India and about Pontus. As the name Pishon means the gushing or spouting current, it may have been applied to many a stream by the migratory tribes. The Halys perhaps contains the same root with Havilah; namely, הול hvl (Rawlinson's Her. i., p. 126); and it rises in Armenia (Herod. i. 72). The Chalybes in Pontus, perhaps, contain the same root. The Pishon may have been the Halys or some other stream flowing into the Black Sea.9. tree of life—so called from its symbolic character as a sign and seal of immortal life. Its prominent position where it must have been an object of daily observation and interest, was admirably fitted to keep man habitually in mind of God and futurity.

tree of the knowledge of good and evil—so called because it was a test of obedience by which our first parents were to be tried, whether they would be good or bad, obey God or break His commands.

Pison, an eminent branch of the river Tigris, probably that called by others Pasi-tigris, or Piso-tigris.

That is it which compasseth, i.e. with many windings and turnings passed through; as this word is used, Joshua 15:3 Matthew 23:15.

This whole land of Havilah; either that which is in those parts of Arabia which is towards Mesopotamia, so called from Havilah the issue of Cham, Genesis 10:7; or that which is nigh Persia, and in the borders of India, so called from another Havilah of the posterity of Shem, Genesis 10:29. To either of these following the description agrees well. The name of the first is Pison,.... Not the river Nile in Egypt, as Jarchi, who thinks it is derived from "Pashah", which signifies to increase, expand, and diffuse, as that does at certain times, and spreads itself over the land of Egypt, or from "Pishten", linen, which grows there, Isaiah 19:9 nor the river Ganges in India, as Josephus (m), and others; for the country where it is afterwards said to run agrees with neither Egypt nor India: rather it seems to be the same river, which is the Phasis of Pliny (n), and Strabo (o), and the Physcus of Xenophon (p), and the Hyphasis of Philostorgius (q), a river in Armenia, and about Colchis; and which is sometimes called Pasitigris, being a branch of that river, and mixed with, or arising from channels, drawn from Tigris, Euphrates, and other waters (r).

that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; this country had its name from Havilah, one of the sons of Cush, Genesis 10:7 who very probably seated himself near his brother Seba, from whom came the Sabeans, who inhabited one part of Arabia; and Havilah, it is plain, was before Egypt, in the way to Assyria, and bordered upon the Ishmaelites, who inhabited Arabia Deserta, Genesis 25:16. So that it seems to be a country in Arabia, near unto, or a part of Cush or Arabia Cusea, and near to Seba or Arabia Felix: and so Strabo, among the nations of the Arabians, and along with the Nabatheans, places the Chaulotaeans (s), who seem to be no other than the posterity of Havilah: according to the learned Reland (t), it is the same with Colchis, a part of Scythia, and Phasis is well known to be a river of Colchis; and which runs into Pontus, as appears from Pliny (u) and includes Scythia, as Justin (w) says; and then it must have its name from Havilah, the son of Joktan, Genesis 10:29 and in either of these countries there was gold, and an abundance of it, and of the best, as follows:(After the global destruction of Noah's flood, it is doubtful that the location of these rivers could be determined with any degree of certainty today. Ed.)

(m) Antiqu. l. 1. c. 1. sect. 3.((n) Nat. Hist. l. 6. c. 4. 17. (o) Geograph. l. 11. p. 343, 345, 364. (p) Cyr. Minor. l. 2.((q) Hist. Ecclesiast. l. 3. c. 10. (r) Curtius, l. 5. c. 3. Strabo. Geograph. l. 15. p. 501. (s) Ib. p. 528. (t) De Paradiso, p. 16, &c. (u) Ut supra. (Nat. Hist. l. 6. c. 4. 17.) (w) E Trogo, l. 2. c. 2.

The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land {i} of Havilah, where there is gold;

(i) Havilah is a country adjoining Persia to the east, and inclining towards the west.

11. Pishon] The name of this river does not occur elsewhere in the Bible except in Sir 24:25. What river was intended, we can only conjecture, (a) from the description of its course, and (b) from the names of the rivers with which it is classed, two being the Tigris and the Euphrates. It is described as “compassing,” that is, encircling, “the whole land of Havilah.” The identification of Havilah is much controverted. In the present day scholars are of opinion that the name probably denotes a region either in N.E., or in S., Arabia. It is mentioned again in Genesis 10:7; Genesis 10:29; Genesis 25:18, passages in which Arabia seems to be indicated. Havilah is further called a land “where there is gold.” Arabia, in ancient times, was famous for its gold.

The river which would encircle Havilah is, therefore, quite probably rightly identified by P. Haupt, the Assyriologist, with the Persian Gulf and the sea that surrounded Arabia, on the east.

Josephus identifies it with the “Indus.”


Genesis 2:11-14The mention of the four rivers of Paradise has given rise to many endeavours to localize the site. A famous pamphlet by Prof. F. Delitzsch, entitled Wo lag das Paradise? (= What was the site of Paradise?), 1881, gave an immense impulse to the enquiry.

1. Delitzsch himself ingeniously identifies Pishon with the Pallakopas, a canal on the W. bank of the Euphrates, flowing into the Persian Gulf, and Gihon with the modern Shaṭṭ-en-Nil, a canal from the E. bank of the Euphrates, near Babylon, and returning to the Euphrates over against Ur. Hiddekel and Euphrates will then be the lower portions of the Tigris and the Euphrates; Havilah part of the desert W. of the Euphrates; Cush the name for that region in Babylonia, which gave its name to the Kassite dynasty. According to this theory, Eden is the plain (edinu) between the Tigris and the Euphrates, and the river in Genesis 2:10 is the Euphrates. It seems, however, fatal to this ingenious view that

(a) it identifies the river of Genesis 2:11 with one of the four heads into which it divides itself:

(b) “the whole land of Havilah” must be intended to denote something much more extensive than the small district enclosed by the Pallakopas canal: while the canal Shaṭṭ-en-Nil could never be described as encircling the land of Cush:

(c) “in front of Assyria” is a description of the Tigris to the N. of Babylonia, and is unsuitable to the region near Babylon where the two rivers approach most closely to each other.

2. Sayce, in H. C. M. 95 ff., proposes that the garden of Eden is to be identified with the sacred garden of Ea at Eridu, once the seaport of Chaldaea on the Persian Gulf; and the river which waters it (Genesis 2:11), with the Persian Gulf, while the four rivers are the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Pallakopas (= Pison), the Choaspes (modern Kerkha) = Gihon, their waters entering the Persian Gulf by separate mouths. The Persian Gulf was sometimes designated in the Babylonian language Nâr Marratum (“Bitter River”). It is an objection that the Biblical account makes the one river divide up into four, while this theory makes four rivers flow into one.

3. With this view should be associated that of Hommel (A.H.T. 314 ff.), who identifies Eden with the “garden” at Eridu, the river of Genesis 2:11 with the Persian Gulf, and the three rivers Pishon, Gihon and Hiddekel with three wâdis in N. Arabia.

4. Haupt, quoted in Driver, supposes the common source of the four rivers to have been an imaginary lake in N. Mesopotamia. The Pishon is the Persian Gulf encircling Havilah, or Arabia; the Gihon is the Karun, supposed to flow eventually through Cush and become the Nile; while the Tigris and the Euphrates entered, by separate mouths, the marshes, beyond which was the Persian Gulf.

5. Skinner suggests (p. 64) that the Hebrew geographer, who was himself only acquainted with the two great Mesopotamian rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, added to them the names of two others, the Pishon and the Gihon, by which he intended the two mysterious rivers of the Indian world, the Indus and the Ganges.

Delitzsch and Dillmann identify the Pishon with the Indus, and the Gihon with the Nile. “But if the biblical narrator believed the Nile to rise with Euphrates and Tigris, it is extremely likely that he regarded its upper waters as the Indus, as Alexander the Great did in his time; and we might then fall back on the old identification of Pishon with the Ganges” (Skinner).

6. Two of the rivers are the Tigris and the Euphrates, which were known to flow from a remote Northern region into Mesopotamia. The tradition supposed this Northern region to contain also the sources of two other rivers which rivalled the Tigris and the Euphrates. One of them, according to the vague notions of ancient geography, somehow encircled Havilah (= Arabia), while the other watered the region of Cush (= Soudan).

7. The well-known names embodied in this strange piece of ancient geography make it very improbable that any mythological or astrological explanation can meet the requirements of the problem.Verses 11, 12. - The name of the first (river is) Pishon, or "the full-flowing." This is the first of those marks by which the river, when discovered, must be identified. It was palpably a broad-bosomed stream. A second is derived from the region through which it flows. That is it which compasseth (not necessarily surrounding, but skirting in a circular or circuitous fashion - Numbers 21:4; Judges 11:8) the whole land of Havilah. Havilah itself is described by three of its productions. Where there is gold. I.e. it is a gold-producing country. And the gold of that land is good. Of the purest quality and largest quantity. There also is bdellium. Literally bedo-lach, which the manna was declared to resemble (Exodus 17:14; Numbers 11:7). The LXX., supposing it to be a precious stone, translate it by ἄνθραξ ιν the present passage, and by κρυστάλλος in Numbers 11:7 - a view supported by the Jewish Rabbis and Gesenius. The majority of modern interpreters espouse the opinion of Josephus, that it was an odorous and costly gum indigenous to India, Arabia, Babylonia, and Bactriana. The third production is the onyx (shoham, from a root signifying to be pale or delicate in color, like the finger-nails), variously conjectured to be the beryl, onyx, sardonyx, sardius, or emerald. From this description it appears that Havilah must be sought for among the gold-producing countries of Asia. Now among the sons of Joktan or primitive Arabs (Genesis 10:29) - "whose dwelling was from Mesha, as thou goest, unto Sephar, a mount of the east" - are Ophir and Havilah, whence Gesenius concludes that India, including Arabia, is meant. Other countries have their advocates, such as Arabia Felix, Susiana, Colchis, &c.; and other rivers, such as the Ganges (Josephus, Eusebius), the Phasis (Reland, Jahn, Rosenmüller, Winer), the Indus (Schulthess, Kalisch). "And there was a river going out of Eden, to water the garden; and from thence it divided itself, and became four heads;" i.e., the stream took its rise in Eden, flowed through the garden to water it, and on leaving the garden was divided into four heads or beginnings of rivers, that is, into four arms or separate streams. For this meaning of ראשׁים see Ezekiel 16:25; Lamentations 2:19. Of the four rivers whose names are given to show the geographical situation of paradise, the last two are unquestionably Tigris and Euphrates. Hiddekel occurs in Daniel 10:4 as the Hebrew name for Tigris; in the inscriptions of Darius it is called Tigrâ (or the arrow, according to Strabo, Pliny, and Curtius), from the Zendic tighra, pointed, sharp, from which probably the meaning stormy (rapidus Tigris, Hor. Carm. 4, 14, 46) was derived. It flows before (קדמת), in front of, Assyria, not to the east of Assyria; for the province of Assyria, which must be intended here, was on the eastern side of the Tigris: moreover, neither the meaning, "to the east of," nor the identity of קדמת and מקדם has been, or can be, established from Genesis 4:16; 1 Samuel 13:5, or Ezekiel 39:11, which are the only other passages in which the word occurs, as Ewald himself acknowledges. P'rath, which was not more minutely described because it was so generally known, is the Euphrates; in old Persian, Ufrâtu, according to Delitzsch, or the good and fertile stream; Ufrâtu, according to Spiegler, or the well-progressing stream. According to the present condition of the soil, the sources of the Euphrates and Tigris are not so closely connected that they could be regarded as the commencements of a common stream which has ceased to exist. The main sources of the Tigris, it is true, are only 2000 paces from the Euphrates, but they are to the north of Diarbekr, in a range of mountains which is skirted on three sides by the upper course of the Euphrates, and separates them from this river. We must also look in the same country, the highlands of Armenia, for the other two rivers, if the description of paradise actually rests upon an ancient tradition, and is to be regarded as something more than a mythical invention of the fancy. The name Phishon sounds like the Phasis of the ancients, with which Reland supposed it to be identical; and Chavilah like Cholchis, the well-known gold country of the ancients. But the Φάσις ὁ Κόλχος (Herod. 4, 37, 45) takes its rise in the Caucasus, and not in Armenia. A more probable conjecture, therefore, points to the Cyrus of the ancients, which rises in Armenia, flows northwards to a point not far from the eastern border of Colchis, and then turns eastward in Iberia, from which it flows in a south-easterly direction to the Caspian Sea. The expression, "which compasseth the whole land of Chavilah," would apply very well to the course of this river from the eastern border of Colchis; for סבב does not necessarily signify to surround, but to pass through with different turns, or to skirt in a semi-circular form, and Chavilah may have been larger than modern Colchis. It is not a valid objection to this explanation, that in every other place Chavilah is a district of Southern Arabia. The identity of this Chavilah with the Chavilah of the Joktanites (Genesis 10:29; Genesis 25:18; 1 Samuel 15:7) or of the Cushites (Genesis 10:7; 1 Chronicles 1:9) is disproved not only by the article used here, which distinguishes it from the other, but also by the description of it as land where gold, bdolach, and the shohamstone are found; a description neither requisite nor suitable in the case of the Arabian Chavilah, since there productions are not to be met with there. This characteristic evidently shows that the Chavilah mentioned here was entirely distinct from the other, and a land altogether unknown to the Iraelites.

What we are to understand by הבּדלח is uncertain. There is no certain ground for the meaning "pearls," given in Saad. and the later Rabbins, and adopted by Bochart and others. The rendering βδέλλα or βδέλλιον, bdellium, a vegetable gum, of which Cioscorus says, οἱ δὲ μάδελκον οἱ δὲ βολχὸν καλχὸν, and Pliny, "alii brochon appellant, alii malacham, alii maldacon," is favoured by the similarity in the name; but, on the other side, there is the fact that Pliny describes this gum as nigrum and hadrobolon, and Dioscorus as ὑποπέλιον (blackish), which does not agree with Numbers 11:7, where the appearance of the white grains of the manna is compared to that of bdolach. - The stone shoham, according to most of the early versions, is probably the beryl, which is most likely the stone intended by the lxx (ὁ λίθος ὁ πράσινος, the leek-green stone), as Pliny, when speaking of beryls, describes those as probatissimi, qui viriditatem puri maris imitantur; but according to others it is the onyx or sardonyx (vid., Ges. s.v.).

(Note: The two productions furnish no proof that the Phishon is to be sought for in India. The assertion that the name bdolach is Indian, is quite unfounded, for it cannot be proved that madâlaka in Sanscrit is a vegetable gum; nor has this been proved of madâra, which is possibly related to it (cf. Lassen's indische Althk. 1, 290 note). Moreover, Pliny speaks of Bactriana as the land "in qua Bdellium est nominatissimum," although he adds, "nascitur et in Arabia Indiaque, et Media ac Babylone;" and Isidorus says of the Bdella which comes from India, "Sordida est et nigra et majori gleba," which, again, does not agree with Numbers 11:7. - The Shoham-stone also is not necessarily associated with India; for although Pliny says of the beryls, "India eos gignit, raro alibi repertos," he also observes, "in nostro orbe aliquando circa Pontum inveniri putantur.")

The Gihon (from גּוּח to break forth) is the Araxes, which rises in the neighbourhood of the Euphrates, flows from west to east, joins the Cyrus, and falls with it into the Caspian Sea. The name corresponds to the Arabic Jaihun, a name given by the Arabians and Persians to several large rivers. The land of Cush cannot, of course, be the later Cush, or Ethiopia, but must be connected with the Asiatic Κοσσαία, which reached to the Caucasus, and to which the Jews (of Shirwan) still give this name. But even though these four streams do not now spring from one source, but on the contrary their sources are separated by mountain ranges, this fact does not prove that the narrative before us is a myth. Along with or since the disappearance of paradise, that part of the earth may have undergone such changes that the precise locality can no longer be determined with certainty.

(Note: That the continents of our globe have undergone great changes since the creation of the human race, is a truth sustained by the facts of natural history and the earliest national traditions, and admitted by the most celebrated naturalists. (See the collection of proofs made by Keerl.) These changes must not be all attributed to the flood; many may have occurred before and many after, like the catastrophe in which the Dead Sea originated, without being recorded in history as this has been. Still less must we interpret Genesis 11:1 (compared with Genesis 10:25), as Fabri and Keerl have done, as indicating a complete revolution of the globe, or a geogonic process, by which the continents of the old world were divided, and assumed their present physignomy.)

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