Rivers of Memory (2)

(1) Pishon                   (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

Pishon & Havilah

Pishon… that flows around the whole land of Havilah where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellyium and onyx stone are there.’
                                                     Genesis 2: 10-12

These early names carry echoes of a homeland, Eden meaning pleasure. Havilah means stretch of sand, a dry or coastal land associated in the collective memory with dry savannah, desert or coastal dunes, yet watered by the waterways of our first home. Fertility in the midst of a parched land of fragrant gum trees, precious alluvial deposits and banded quartz. This memory, handed down orally from our earliest understanding of home, is earlier than the ‘Garden’ of Adam and Eve. That was not Eden; the garden was in Eden, a dim, half-recollected image of another land in the west, unnamed and scarcely understood, from which Eden was eastward.

The only thing we are told which might identify Havilah is that there was good quality gold there, and bdellyium and onyx. Gold must be panned or mined and refined. It must be melted, moulded and crafted; bdellyium is a fragrant resin or gum from which perfumes and unguents were made. Onyx is a dark, banded agate, often treated by immersion in sugar or honey solution for several weeks, then soaked in acid solution turning its natural colour to bands of black and white. A jewel in its own right, the dark and light layers lent themselves to the production of cameos. The worlds choicest supply is in Algeria; one of the earliest onyx quarries was in Egypt.

The story of Pishon and Havilla would have been an oral tradition from long before the development of writing. Gold, bdellyium and onyx imply a level of expertise, co-operation and sophistication way beyond what one would expect in such an early society, but this has become a written account. By the time of the development of writing these skills were well developed, and writers have always been ready to add an editorial comment, here illustrating the land of Havilah with products known to readers.

To come, the final part: rivers Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates.

(1) Pishon                   (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

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