The rediscovery of a river that has been dry for most of recorded history has Bible scholars rechecking the second chapter of Genesis.

Former NASA scientist Farouk El-Baz was assessing environmental damage to the Kuwaiti desert after the Persian Gulf War when he first noticed smooth pebbles of basalt and granite that looked out of place amid the local limestone.

"We can find these rocks in abundance only in the western part of the Arabian peninsula," he said, "right on the east side of the Red Sea." El-Baz is now director of the Boston University Center for Remote Sensing. His satellite photo analysis revealed a dry channel connecting the western mountains with Kuwait, partially covered by sand dunes.

Genesis describes four rivers that water the Garden of Eden, two of which are the well-known Tigris and Euphrates. About the third, the Pishon, it says, "it winds through the land of Havilah, where there is gold."

The Hijaz Mountains, from which spring this "Arabian River," do produce gold, and the river passes a city called Hadiyah. The discovery makes it much harder for skeptics "to ignore the possibility that the biblical texts accurately preserve many earlier traditions," archaeologist James Sauer wrote in Biblical Archaeology Review.

El-Baz says the climate in the Arabian desert and other nearby areas was much wetter about 5,000 years ago. He believes some of the river's flow may still be in an underground aquifer and available for irrigation. The sand dunes covering the middle part of the river may also preserve intact riverside villages, which would interest archaeologists.

Last Updated: October 4, 1996

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