The Big Freeze
In Noah’s Flood: New Scientific Discoveries About the Events That Changed History (1998), distinguished American geophysicists,1 William Ryan and Walter Pitman, suggest that during the period before the Flood, which they believe was limited to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea regions, the earth was recovering from a climatic period referred to as the Younger Dryas, also known as The Big Freeze. This period, which took place perhaps between 12,000 and 9,000 BC, has been defined as one in which the earth saw a rapid return to conditions similar to previous ice ages: a severe drop in temperature, lack of moisture, an increased accumulation of dust in the atmosphere, and snow and glaciations in the mountains.
While it is thought that The Big Freeze affected vast portions of the earth, including the Middle East, “warm pockets” continued to exist during this period. First proposed by American geologist, Raphael Pumpelly, in the early 1900s, this theory came to be known as the Oasis Theory of Agricultural Origins.
Throughout his extensive travel, he [Pumpelly] noted that the climate in central Asia had become significantly drier in the wake of the last ice age [Younger Dryas]. He wondered whether, during this desiccation, “stone age hunters and gatherers” had found themselves clustered together around the edges of the remaining water holes, along with wild animals and plants.2
In their book, Ryan and Pitman present evidence that one of these oases may have existed in the Black Sea region:
The Black Sea offered warmer temperatures and perennially flooded river valleys to cereals and grasses no longer able to survive the cooler temperatures in their previous habitat… The Black Sea had all the prerequisites of an ideal refuge. Due to its setting below the level of the external ocean, it remained warm when the mountain flanks of the Fertile Crescent, the Negev highlands, and the Anatolian plateau chilled. It held vast volumes of fresh water when the lakes elsewhere shriveled to undrinkable salt ponds and marshes, and the Jericho spring dried up. Streams from the Balkans, the Alps, and Caucasus mountains kept the Black Sea’s rivers in flow year-round when the Euphrates water no longer arrived at Abu Hureyra.3
Based on their research, conditions for an oasis, such as the Garden of Eden, within the perimeter of the Black Sea region, existed between 12,000 and 7,000 BC. In the minds of most Bible students, this time frame may appear too early for the appearance of Adam and Eve, but these dates are only an estimate — perhaps the effects caused by the Younger Dryas may well have extended upwards of 4,000 BC, the era in which Christians have typically situated Adam. Moreover, The Big Freeze did not simply end one day with the world transformed overnight into warmer climes. The period in the wake of the Younger Dryas was most likely still cool and dry, as glaciers slowly receded. Given then, the possible harsh climatic conditions that existed on the earth at the time of Adam, it may explain why God “placed” Adam in a garden. There, in that oasis-like microclimate, where “all kinds of trees grow out of the ground — trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Gen 2:9), Adam and Eve were sheltered from either the direct or residual effects of the Younger Dryas.4
Beyond the oasis
Either during or in the wake of the Younger Dryas, as one moved beyond the Garden of Eden climatic conditions would have worsened. For example, the Garden would have been, as noted, an oasis (Gen 2:8-10). By comparison, the land of Eden, in which the oasis was situated, would have been, by degrees, drier and cooler; vegetation would not have been as abundant, or as easily obtainable. And, in comparison to Eden, the land of Nod, which was everything outside of Eden, would have been even more dry and cool. Thus life in Nod would have been very difficult, which may explain — in part — why, when contemplating the prospect of having to “wander” in that land, Cain exclaimed to God, “My punishment is more than I can bear!” (Gen 4:13).
It may also help explain the specific nature of the “curse” that God pronounced upon Cain in the wake of Abel’s murder:
Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth” (Gen 4:11-12).
The land was considered “cursed,” because Nod was still suffering the effects of the Younger Dryas period, and was simply too dry and cool to produce the kind of harvest Cain had formerly enjoyed in the more lush environs of Eden. Cain’s curse was specific to him because he, alone (not including his wife), was exiled to a land that was cooler and drier, and where farming would be near-impossible — for a time. As the direct or residual effects of the Younger Dryas period lessened, and the land became warmer and wetter, agriculture would have become possible. Whenever this occurred, however, Cain may no longer have been alive, and thus this particular curse would have appeared (and was) relegated to him (and may have included his immediate kin) — in accordance with God’s pronouncement (Gen 4:11).
At the same time, as the effects of the Younger Dryas disappeared, Adam’s curse — “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you” (Gen 3:17) — would have gradually appeared, growing in intensity, until it reached it’s zenith at the time of Noah’s birth in the 10th generation. On that occasion, his father, Lamech, remarked: “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed” (Gen 5:29). Thus the nature of Adam’s curse must have been gradual, since there is no mention of the effects of the curse from the time of Adam until the time of Noah’s birth — about 2,000 years.
Therefore, in Cain and Adam, we see the interaction of both curses at play: the Younger Dryas created in this part of the world, a cool, dry climate. And, as one moved away from the various oases that existed in such places as the Black Sea region, farming would have been near-impossible. This resulted in Cain’s inability to grow crops as he once had when he lived in Eden, which was closer in proximity to the warmer, wetter oasis of Eden: hence, exile to Nod resulted in his “curse.” However, the Younger Dryas also prevented the effects of Adam’s curse from appearing suddenly. As the Younger Dryas receded, the land would have become generally warmer and wetter, which made farming possible. At the same time, however, it also brought on the effects of Adam’s curse: the thorns and thistles, as well as insects, animals, weeds, and other nuisances farmers are typically plagued by, and which exist in great abundance in warmer climes. These nuisances or “curse” would have come on gradually, until the Younger Dryas had completely disappeared, and the world was a warmer, wetter place — the time of the birth of Noah.
The search for Eden
In tandem with Ryan and Pitman’s research, are the findings of David Rohl, a British Egyptologist, former director of the Institute of the Study of Interdisciplinary Studies (ISIS), and author of several books on archaeology and ancient history. In his book, Legend: The Genesis for Civilization (1998), he provides linguistic and archeological evidence showing that the Garden of Eden was located to the east of the Black Sea — the same region Ryan and Pitman’s research locates an “oasis” during the Younger Dryas period. Rohl narrows the location of the Garden of Eden to the Adji Chay Valley (formerly known as the Median Valley), which is located in the Ararat Mountains in Turkey, Armenia, and North-Western Iran. Rohl cites a little known article entitled, The Land of Eden, published in an archaeological paper in the UK in 1986 by British scholar Reginald Arthur Walker. In his paper, Walker argued:
It is possible to trace the origins of Greek mythology and religion back to the area which scholars have long believed to be the original homeland of the Indo-European culture — the Caucasus5 (Rohl 1998:53).
The Caucasus is an area east of the Black Sea, which is the same area where Ryan and Pitman found evidence for the existence of an oasis, and where, as we shall see, Rohl places the Garden of Eden and Eden — places where the first seeds of civilization took root, and where “religion” — as Walker asserts — or “faith” — as the Bible indicates — originated. Following Walker’s lead, Rohl concludes in Legend that the Garden of Eden was located in the Adji Chay Valley, which is situated in present day Armenia. We shall see how Ryan and Pitman’s research, along with Walker and Rohl’s arguments are in exact agreement with the details (clues really) in Genesis concerning the location of the Garden. The following is a brief summary of Rohl’s evidence based on Walker’s research.6
The Tigris and the Euphrates
A river flowed from Eden to water the garden, and from there it divided into four head-waters: Pishon, Gihon, Hiddekel, and Perath (Gen 2:10-14). Hiddekel was known among the Jews as the Tigris river (present day Iraq), while the Perath was known to the Greeks as the Euphrates.7 The source of both rivers is located near Lake Van and Lake Urmia, both of which lie in the mountains of Armenia. The identities of the two other rivers — the Pishon and the Gihon — have long remained a mystery.
In the past, the Gihon has been associated mostly with the Nile. Genesis 2:13 says that the river passes through the land of Cush, which is commonly associated with modern day Ethiopia. Furthermore, by placing the Gihon in Egypt, Eden’s geographical center becomes (more or less) Israel. This seems to fit with preconceptions about Israel’s past8 and future9 — that of being a lush and beautiful garden-like place, i.e. the Garden of Eden. However, there is no known association of the Nile River with the name Gihon, making the link between Israel and the Garden of Eden tenuous — the result of a preconceived bias towards Israel being the center of the universe. This type of thinking was popular in the medieval age, where ignorance of geography and a Christian-centric mind set caused maps to be drawn with Israel/Jerusalem as the geographical center of the world. According to Walker, Gihon was the ancient name of the river Araxes, whose source is north of Lake Van. During the period of the Islamic revolution in the 8th century, stretches of the river Araxes were still known as Gaihun. In the 19th century, the Persians continued to refer to the river as the Jichon-Aras, a name that represents the intermediate stage in its name change: Gihon=Gaihun=Jichon-Aras=Araxes. As noted, Genesis says that the Gihon travelled through the land of Cush. While Ethiopia has been known in the past as Cush, so have the mountains east of Lake Van in Armenia. This range is called the Kusheh Dagh, or the Mountains of Kush.
Therefore, the Gihon is to be identified as the present day river Araxes, located in the mountains of Kush, a place the ancients once considered to be rich in gold.
Walker believed the Pishon is presently known as the Uizhun, which flows out of Kurdistan, the same geographical area as the three other head-waters. The Uizhun is also known as the Kezel Uzon or “long gold,” a reference to Genesis 2:11-12, which says the land the Pishon meandered in was filled with gold. Ancient gold mines have been found in this area, and a river called the Zarrineh Rud, which flows from a volcano in the same area as the Pishon, means “Golden River.”
Rohl explains how the word Pishon became Uizhun:
Let us drop the initial vowel in Uizhun. This leaves us with […]izhun, which, allowing for the usual linguistic variations in vocalization (sh to s or z, and o to u) would be identical with the Biblical […]ishon. It appears that, in the Hebrew text of Genesis, the vowel ‘u’ underwent a conversion to the labial consonant ‘p.’ Uizhun is thus the original name of the river, stubbornly retained by local tradition into modern times, whilst the Pishon is a Biblical corruption of that original name (Rohl 1998:57).
Thus the river Pishon is most likely the river Uizhun, located in present day Kurdistan, which is also in the same geographical region as the other three rivers.
The Adji Chay
As has been shown, Eden’s four head-waters are situated within a geographical area occupied by Turkey, Armenia, Kurdistan, and Iran. As for the Garden of Eden itself, Rohl suggests that the river, which “watered the garden and flowed eastward from Eden” (Gen 2:10) was the Adji Chay. The river’s much older name is the Meidan, a Persian word meaning “walled garden” or “enclosed-court,” which has been used to describe enclosed parks or gardens of Persian kings (Rohl 1998:66).
Young’s Literal Translation translates Genesis 2:8 as, “God planted a Garden in Eden, at the east,” or “in the eastern part of Eden.” The land that the Meidan or present-day Adji Chay flows through is a still beautiful, lush valley, enclosed on three sides by high-mountain walls. The Persian meaning for Eden — “enclosed garden” — would therefore be an appropriate description of this legendary place. And, because the garden-valley is hemmed in on three sides, the Adji Chay river is forced to flow eastward, making it the garden-valley’s only natural entrance and exit. This geographical detail concurs with Genesis 2:10: [the Adji Chay] “watered the garden and flowed eastward from Eden.” Moreover, in order to restrict human access to the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve’s transgression, the Lord had only to place the cherubim on the eastern side of the Garden, since the northern, southern, and western routes into the Garden were not traversable, due to the valley’s high-mountain walls. Once again, the geography of the Adji Chay concurs with Genesis: “God placed the cherubim on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3:24). Note that He did not place cherubim on the north, south, or west sides. As noted, the Adji Chay represented not only the entrance into the Garden of Eden, but also its only natural exit. Therefore, when Adam and Eve left the Garden, this river would have been a natural road, which presumably they traversed, either on foot along its banks or floating down upon a raft, into the rest of Eden. The Adji Chay flows through Eden and into Nod. Therefore, when Cain was exiled from Eden, he probably followed the river eastward into Nod; that same river that his parents followed out of the Garden after their transgression. This eastward journey would have taken Cain to a region that is located near the modern city of Ardabil in Northern Iran. Perhaps testifying to Cain’s ancient presence in these lands, there remain two regions north of the city that are known as the Upper and Lower Nodqi (or “of Nod”), as well as a village that is called Noadi.
Setting the stage
Walker and Rohl’s linguistic and archeological research locates the Garden of Eden, Eden, and Nod in an area that is presently made up of north-eastern Turkey, Armenia, Kurdistan, and northern Iran. Corroborating their findings is Ryan and Pitman’s climate research, which shows that the Black Sea area was an oasis during the Younger Dryas period, a mini-ice age, which took place between 12,000 and 9,000 BC.10 Importantly, their research is in agreement with geographical details in Genesis. Altogether, they provide evidence that the location of the Garden of Eden was to the east of the Black Sea region, specifically in a mountain-valley in the Ararat Mountains, where the Adji Chay river flows out eastward, and where the four head-waters of the Tigris (Heddekel), Euphrates (Perath), Araxes (Gihon), and Uizhun (Pishon) are situated. In all probability, this is the stage upon which the first events of human-kind occurred, and where, in relation to Cain, the events of his tragic life unfolded.
Matthew Harrison (Ottawa, ON)
1. At the time of writing, William B.F. Ryan and Walter C. Pitman are adjunct professors at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and recipients of the Shepard Medal of Excellence in sedimentary geology.
2. Ryan and Pitman 1998:165.
3. Ryan and Pitman 1998:186-87.
4. Genesis 2 describes the formation of man and includes details concerning his immediate surroundings in the Garden — it does not describe what conditions were like outside of the Garden. If the rest of the earth was such an hospitable place — ideal for the propagation of humankind — we might ask ourselves why God chose to “place” Adam in a garden. It stands to reason that the Garden was a kind of shelter, and in this function, it sheltered Adam from harsh conditions that may have existed in the rest of the earth, i.e. The Younger Dryas period.
5. The Caucasus is a geopolitical region situated between the Black and the Caspian Seas. It borders Turkey, Armenia, and Iran, among other nations.
6. Legend: The Genesis of Civilization, 1998:53-68.
7. The Arabs have referred to the Euphrates River as the Firat. Notice the how similarly-sounding Perath and Firat are.
8. Israel was described to the Hebrews leaving Egypt for the Promised Land as a country “flowing with milk and honey” (Exod 3:8), which has the ring of being paradisiacal.
9. Future Israel is described by the prophet Amos: “New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills. I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit” (Amos 9:13-14).