One of the most frustrating issues with the Old Testament and the Bible is the unknown etymology and the unknown meanings of the names of protagonists as well as the names of the most important places, rivers and mountains that occur in these texts. Unlike the Vedic literature, where for the most part the meanings of names, their etymology and sources are crystal clear, the Old and the New Testaments provide no clear answers to such questions.

Says Edward Pococke in his book ‘India in Greece’ (1852) – “Let it be granted that the names given to mountains, rivers and towns have some meaning. Let it be granted that the language of the native name-givers will explain the meaning.”

Why is it then that Aramaic, the original language of the Bible, is unable to explain the meaning of the names of the rivers and towns, places and protagonists. In fact why is that these words do not directly exist in the Aramaic dictionary at all. It is quite evident therefore that these names are distorted, having travelled into the language from foreign sources; the Aramaic writers merely recording the events of a distant land rather than the history of their native geographical arena. 

For example, the etymology of the name ‘Eden’ is unknown. The name Eden is equated with ‘delightful place’, only because in the Genesis Eden is described as a ‘delightful place somewhere in the east’.

Traditionally, the favored derivation of the name ‘Eden’ was from the Akkadian edinnuEdinnu is itself derived from a Sumerian word meaning ‘plain’ or ‘steppe’.  In Sanskrit ‘edhini’ (एधिनि) simply means ‘earth’ – and probably best fits into the meaning of the verse. 

Genesis 2:10-12 states, “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.” In spite of a lot of conjecture the meanings of the names Eden, Pishon and Havilah are unknown, so is their location. What is known is that there is no location in the vicinity of either Canaan or Mesopotamia which is the source of four river systems or even four rivers. Also there is no known place in Canaan or Mesopotamia that fits in with the paradisical beauty of Eden.

Because the Genesis states that Eden was somewhere in the east, many historians have looked towards the east for a site and civilization that fits the description in the Genesis in a more apt manner. 

In his book, the Antiquities of the Jews, Roman-Jewish scholar Flavius Josephus (37 – 100 AD) stated that the unidentified river Pishon was either the Indus river or the Ganges, while the Gihon was the Nile.

The researchers of the Asiatic Journal had a similar view. In Vol 8 of the Journal published in 1819 this matter is dealt with in detail in the context of the origins of the Chinese civilization. It states, “The river Indus which constitutes the western boundary of India within the Ganges, may probably answer to the Pison river which is said to encompass the whole land of Havilah, or India.”

Again referring to the gold of the land the author states, “The gold-sand washed by rivers from the sides of mountains is likely to be the specimen of the metal first discovered in the primitive ages anterior to the art of working mines; and as the provisions of nature seem to have been pre-adjusted to the growth in the knowledge of mankind and the progress of invention, it is reasonable to suppose that the rivers of India, many of which in Sanscrit bear the epithet of golden-armed, were richer formerly in gold dust than they are now, though many of the streams from the Himalaya still afford it in some degree.”

In her book ‘Origins of Modern Witchcraft: The Evolution of a World Religion’ author Ann Moura Aoumiel states, “In Genesis, the land of Havilah, where the gold is, through which the main river of Eden flows, is a reference that definitely fits the irrigated farmlands and the legendary wealth of the Indus Valley. One of the great Indus cities has a name evocative of the strange name (Havilah) used in the Bible – Harappa. India’s rivers provide 90% of the total gold production in India today, so that just when the Genesis was written, these are rivers of gold. When we consider the theory of consonantal shift, called Grimm’s Law (1819), with the softening of the consonants over time and the systematic changes in words moving from one language to another, the development of Havilah from Harappa is easy to see…”.

However it is also true that Harappa’s ancient name was not Harappa – and is probably a distortion of an ancient Sanskritical name such as ‘Hara-Apa’ ,i.e., ‘Hara’s river’ or ‘Hara-rupa’ or ‘having the form of Hara’. So the name Havilah must arise from some other name, which is discussed ahead.

Gihon, the second of the four Biblical rivers, that supposedly encompasses Ethiopia has been interpreted as the White Nile. But neither the White Nile, nor the Red sea encompasses Ethiopia. Ann Moura Auomiel states the Gihon is “more likely to have bordered Kashmir…”. She further adds that when the Bible states that the Gihon encompassed the land of Cush, “…it was referring to the passes of the Kush“, or the mountain passes of the Hindu-Kush range as they are called today. In Sanskrit ‘Gahan’ (गहन) means ‘deep’ or ‘depth’.

The third river mentioned in the verse is the Hiddekel and is equated with the TigrisMatthew G. Easton,(1823–1894) a Scottish Presbyterian preacher states in Easton’s Bible dictionary,”Hiddekel was called by the Accadians id Idikla; i.e., ‘the river of Idikla’, the third of the four rivers of Paradise (Gen. 2:14).” many writers have assumed that the Hiddekel is the Tigris which is linked to the word ‘tiger’ equated with ‘rapid’. In any case the word ‘tiger’ is derived from the Sanskrit ‘vyagra’ also meaning ‘tiger’.

But looking at the names Eden and Heddekel, or Idikla through the Sanskrit lens, one finds that Eden and Idikla might be related. The Sanskrit ‘edhini’ (एधिनि) and ‘idika’ (इडिका) both mean ‘earth’ and are cognates of Eden and Idikla. 

The fourth river is the ‘Phrath’ and has been equated with the Euphrates.The Babylonians and Assyrians called Euphrates ‘Su-Purattu’. Fausset’s Bible dictionary states that in the word Euphrates, the first syllable Eu, is derived from the Sanskrit Su (सु) meaning ‘good’. 

Edward Pococke states in his book ‘India in Greece’ that the name Euphrates is a distortion of ‘Su-Bharata’ which changed into ‘Su-Purattu’, hence the Babylonian and Assyrian name. ‘Bharat’ (भरत्) is the name of ancient Indian king after which India was named ‘Bharata’ (भारत). Bharata is known to have extended his empire into Central Asia right up to the Mediterranean.

Vedic author and scholor Vinay Vaidya states, ” ‘Euphrates’ could be seen as ‘avaprathas’ (अवप्रथस्) of Sanskrit, ‘ava’ (अव) which means ‘low’, ‘prathas’ (प्रथस्) means flows, follows, moves. This is …after careful treatment according to the Laws and rules of Sanskrit structure and grammar and in the light of Vedic support, with proper investigation.”

Once again the author of the article “On the Origin of Chinese nation”, published in Vol 8 of the Asiatic Journal states, “The country called Eden must mean some part of India celebrated as the garden of the world, situated amongst the finest rivers and abounding with everything rich and luxuriant.” 

About the location of Havilah, Tse Tsan-tai (1872-1938) one of the earliest Chinese revolutionaries of the late Qing Dynasty wrote in his book named ‘The Creation, the Garden of Eden and the Origin of the Chinese’, published in 1914, that based on the geographical description in the Bible it is evident that the Garden of Eden was located in China and that Havilah was India. Here is a map from his book: 

Chines author Tese Tsan-tai identified Havilah as India , the rivers of Himalayas as the Biblical rivers and Eden some where in the Himalayas

Though India was never known as Havilah it was known as the land of Himalaya. If the four major river systems of the Himalaya are the rivers of the Bible, three can be identified as the Indus, Bramhaputra and the Ganges which all rise in the Himalaya. The Ganges and the Bramhaputra fall into the Bay of Bengal forming the largest delta in the word. The Indus falls into the Arabian Sea. The Indus, Bramhaputra and the Ganges, in a way surround the Indian peninsula as they fall into the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. For a little more about the river Pishon click here.

The land of Himalaya may be the ‘Havilah’ mentioned in the Bible.
The three river systems of Indus, Bramhaputra and the Ganges fall into the
 Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal which then surround the India Peninsula
to make the fourth water body.

Thus the Pishon that surrounds the land of Havilah or Himalaya, is the coming together of the waters of the three major river systems that arise in the Himalayas. The name Himalaya can very easily distort into Havilah if the ‘m’ consonant changes to ‘v’. The Garden of Eden then is a paradisical region inthe Himalayas, probably Kailasha and Mansarover, now in China.

It is interesting that many of the modern languages have been traced back to Indo-European roots of Sanskrit, but history is not yet ready to address the religious heritage of various cultures around the world which too along with the languages are embedded in Vedic culture and language of Sanskrit.

Suggested Readings:

1. Origins of Modern Witchcraft: The Evoloution of a World Religion by Ann Moura Aoumiel
2. Heritage of Herappa Vol 1 by Lakshmi Chatterjee

3. Journal of Asiatic Researches Vol 8


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