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Lost Garden Of Eden River Found
Archaeology is subject to a degree of conjecture because it is necessarily interwoven with human interpretation. It simply is not enough to dig up the past. Artifacts recovered from the earth must be evaluated and linked to a real or theorized juncture in history. Such an analysis is often hindered by the examiner's unintentional or even intentional bias. Therefore, it is little surprise that archaeological discovery is frequently enveloped with some discord.
To illustrate this problem, I present the following scenario to my classes at West Virginia School of Preaching.
The year is 3157 and I bring to class a time capsule recently discovered in a local excavation (Moundsville, WV). At one time the site where this was found was on the eastern bank of the Ohio River (whereas it has been under 63 feet of water for nearly 800 years). The capsule is four feet tall, 18 inches in diameter and cylindrical. It is made of a primitive metal called "galvanized" and has a lid with a handle. The most exciting find inside the capsule is an ancient weapon. It is in the shape of what once was called a "gun." The device has a pistol grip and is constructed of something called "plastic." At this late date, it is difficult to ascertain whether pushing a combination of buttons produced a hot or cold, fast or slow, stun or lethal force. The gun was apparently used for defense of one's personal habitat, since it utilized an antiquated form of energy called "electricity," to which it had access through (and was confined to the reach of) a three-foot tail.
Described above, of course, is not a gun but rather a hand-held hairdryer. It was not found in a time capsule but a garbage can. The educated guess was faulty. While this may be an oversimplification, it, however, illustrates the interpretive nature of archaeology.
Despite some difficulty addressing an archaeological find definitively and with verifiable accuracy, there is a wealth of information available because of archaeology. One recent discovery was found not by sifting earth, but from a platform far above the earth (in outer space). Boston University scientist Farouk El-Baz used photos from satellites orbiting the earth and space Shuttle Imaging Radar to locate one of the lost rivers of the Garden of Eden. (James A. Sauer, "The River Runs Dry," Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 22, No. 4, July/August 1996, pp. 52-54, 57, 64. Molly Dewsnap, "The Kuwait River," Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 22, No. 4, July/August 1996, p. 55.)
In Kuwait, a dry riverbed (Wadi Al-Batin) cuts through limestone and appears to disappear into the desert of Saudi Arabia. Actually, the river ran underground along a fault line under the sand. From the Hyaz Mountains in Saudi Arabia, this river carried granite and basalt pebbles 650 miles northeast to deposit them at its delta in Kuwait near the Persian Gulf.
This lost river, once up to three miles wide, corresponds to biblical descriptions of the Pishon River associated with the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10-12)."And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone."
The Cradle of Gold mine in Saudi Arabia is identified with the "good gold" respecting the land of Havilah and the Pishon in Genesis Two. This mine is also thought to be King Solomon's mine (1 Kings 9:26-28).
Sauer, a self-described former skeptic, through studies on climate change, acknowledges that there are legitimate ". . . connections between the archaeological evidence and early Biblical traditions." (Sauer, 52.) By evaluating pollen in core samples taken from various sites at various depths in the Bible lands, Sauer determined that the whole region once supported dense plant life. Further, ". . . a global wet phase began around 7500 B.C.E. [before common era, substituted for and equal to B.C.]. This phase, though probably interrupted by some drier periods, was predominantly wet until at least 3500 B.C.E." (Ibid., 57.)
These calculations correspond to the rise and fall of peoples, population shifts, famines and the biblical narrative.
"In my opinion, the descriptions of the severe famines at the time of Joseph (Genesis 41-47) reflect this period of aridity. The famine reported at the time of Joseph is probably another accurate fragment of climatic memory reflected in the early Biblical traditions. If this is correct, we may place the patriarchal age sometime in the third millennium B.C.E." (Ibid., 64)
References to "extraordinary memory on the part of the Biblical authors" (Ibid.) regarding ". . . memories of climatic change and of early geography [that] seem so accurate . . ." are not by Sauer and others ascribed to divine inspiration, but to an early written record of human, oral tradition. (Ibid.)
Another uplifting article in the same issue of BAR concerns a pit into which Edomite cultic objects were thrown and purposely crushed with large rocks. If not the very action, at least this type of destruction of idolatrous objects in Canaan is associated with the reform of King Josiah of Judah (2 Kings 22-23; 2 Chronicles 34-35) in 621 B.C. (Rudolf Cohen and Yigal Yisrael, "Smashing the Idols," Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 22, No. 4, July/August 1996, pp. 40-51, 65.)
Old Biblical Archaeology (as opposed to New Biblical Archaeology) is vibrant, conservative and encouraging. The efforts and life-long labors of William F. Albright, Nelson Glueck and others are being revalidated, though reluctantly in many cases (Sauer, 52.) The evidences of a universal flood found by Leonard Woolley are also being revalidated.
"At Ur, Leonard Woolley discovered an almost 3-meter-thick sterile layer [of clay] that he originally considered evidence of the Flood, though he eventually abandoned that viewpoint because the level in question dated too early. But other flood deposits were later found at higher levels at several sites." (Ibid., 64. Molly Dewsnap, "The Ur Flood," Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 22, No. 4, July/August 1996, p. 56.)
In conclusion, archaeology is dependent upon interpretation. Hence, there is flawed archaeology because of flawed interpretation. There is, though, also more reliable archaeology owing to more reasonable interpretation. Doubtless there are archaeological discoveries about which little can be said with certainty, because of historical details that have escaped us. Additionally, the saga of "conservative Vs. Liberal" that pervades politics and theology, affects archaeology, too.
Often Bible archaeology contributes to the body of external evidence that serves to independently corroborate the Bible. Joseph P. Free's Archaeology and Bible History is one source of this type of evidence with which to fortify Christian faith. Biblical Archaeology Review publishes a mix of opposing articles that interpret archaeological discoveries in harmony with or antagonistic to the Bible. (Even authors who appear to favor the Bible with their interpretation of archaeological evidence, may not actually believe in a plenary, inerrant, inspired Bible. After he makes a good case for the discovery of the Pishon's dry riverbed, James Sauer, in closing his article writes: "I do not mean to imply that the early Biblical stories are literally true." (Sauer, 64.)
Bible translations are reliable insofar as they are accurately translated from the original languages. Irrespective of the corruptness of a specific translation, we do not ordinarily despair. We are confident that by using a more reliable translation, or by analyzing the original languages for ourselves, that we can grasp the message that God intends mankind to have.
Similarly, archaeological interpretations that do not appear to favor the Bible should not cause us to despair. For instance, a city may be unearthed which is subsequently designated as a biblical site at which a certain calamity occurred (e.g., Jericho). Through interpretation (often contrary to a previous interpretation), a date may be assigned to certain archaeological evidence that conflicts with the biblical record. In many cases, there may be doubt regarding the biblical identity of a site; several sites may compete for recognition as the biblical site (e.g., Mt. Sinai).
Happily, biblical archaeology enhances understanding of biblical narratives. Archaeological evidence that can be analyzed with a high degree of certainty exonerates the Bible. Instances wherein archaeology appears to conflict with the Bible are often the result of questionable (liberal) archaeological interpretation or misrepresentation of Bible text. Archaeology in its purest form is an unfailing friend of the Bible. Christians have everything to gain and nothing to lose by an appeal to archaeology fairly exercised.