The Mist, The Canopy, And The Rivers Of Eden -- By: R. Laird Harris

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 11:4 (Fall 1968)
Article: The Mist, The Canopy, And The Rivers Of Eden
Author: R. Laird Harris

The Mist, The Canopy, And The Rivers Of Eden

R. Laird Harris*

[*Professor of Old Testament and Dean of the Faculty, Covenant Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri]

The second chapter of Genesis has been much studied by conservatives and liberals alike. The latter have found in it much mythology and have claimed various contradictions with the so-called “other creation story” in Genesis 1. The conservatives, for their part, have perhaps, not been as reserved as they should have been in the interpretation of this section. Various conclusions on cosmology have been drawn from these verses that seem unfounded to the writer. He would rather claim that the first chapter deals with the great work of cosmic and terrestrial creation and that chapter 2 deals exclusively with the settlement of our first parents in Eden.

Basic to this contention is the translation of 2:5: there went up a “mist from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground.” A common interpretation is that this mist was world wide and that there was no rain until the flood. Following the flood a rainbow appeared for the first time. This view is associated with a canopy theory that some-times involves the idea that prodigious amounts of water were held above the canopy until it was released at the time of the flood.

A liberal view is given by E. A. Speiser in his Anchor Bible commentary on Genesis. He holds that this verse reflects ancient mythology. The word “mist” is translated “flow” and it refers to the idea that waters beneath the earth welled up and irrigated the land. Some have even suggested that Eden is pictured as a holy hill from which four rivers flowed in all directions.

Both of these views are deficient and a straightforward interpretation of the verse seems to make excellent sense when the meanings of the words are determined. To begin with, the translation “mist” is a guess. The word is used elsewhere only in Job 36:27 where it could possibly mean “mist” but could also mean “water course.” No Hebrew etymology is known for the word. “Mist” was conjectured by the King James translators apparently because the word concerned water and the verb used was “go up.” Water does not go up except in the form of a mist! The Greek translation is “spring” or “fountain.”

Speiser, however, has a better explanation of this Hebrew word ‘ed. He, like others before him whose work he cites, had traced the Hebrew word to the Akkadian word edu “flood, waves, swell.” ...

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