Since the late nineteenth century, Dilmun (transcribed in earlier works as “Niduk-ki”/”NI-TUK” or, in some, as “Tilmun” or “Telmun”) has commonly been taken to be Bahrain, partially due to an Old Babylonian inscription (pg. 213) found there from a palace. The inscription refers to Inzak (Ensag), a god who is described as “Lord of Dilmun” in “Enki and Ninhursaga” and is associated with Dilmun in other Mesopotamian texts. As it was later found that Bahrain was not inhabited significantly until the Akkadian period (pg. 38), scholars have generally agreed that earliest Dilmun was located in Eastern Arabia.
Perhaps the person who has questioned this hypothesis most persistently has been Walter Mattfeld of bibleorigins.net. Walter believes that Dilmun was a city located on an island on the Euphrates in the marshes of Iraq (the “Sealand” of the Akkadians and Sumerians), inhabited continuously for over three and a half thousand years. One of his hypotheses is that this city may be an “Umm Daleimin” at the join between the Karkheh, Tigris, and Euphrates (this reminds one of the description of the Garden of Eden’s location in Genesis 2). He agrees with Daniel Potts that the sea level of the Persian Gulf was not more than two meters above today’s. Mattfeld quotes frequently from Potts in the “Sealand” article, pointing out many good arguments for the idea sea levels stayed more or at the same level as they are today throughout the past five thousand years, including that tides make use of Euphrates water near the coastline of the Persian Gulf impossible due to the water’s salt content and that many archaeological sites known to have been inhabited before the Roman era would have been submerged below the Gulf’s waters had the sea level of the Gulf been significantly higher than it was today.
Walter Mattfeld’s case against an Arabian/Bahraini and for a Sealand location for Dilmun is built on several pillars. I will discuss the first of these pillars below.
Response to Pillar 1: Dilmun is, indeed, described as having freshwater pools and “great basins” which Bahrain had. Grain production, also mentioned in E&N, is also not impossible on Bahrain. While Dilmun is described as not having a river quay before the transformation of its pools into freshwater ones in lines 33-39, it is described as having a quay, though not a river quay, in lines 55-62, after the transformation. The part of the narrative that clearly takes place in the marshes of southern Iraq (probably of Eridu) and along a river bank, from line 63 and onward, is apparently a flashback, as Ninsikila, who is described as having sex with Enki at Dilmun in Lines 5-10 and asking Enki to ask Utu and Nanna to civilize Dilmun in Lines 29-43, is described as being made out of the head of Enki by Ninhursaga in Lines 254-263 and being made lord of Magan (Oman, a copper-producing land) in Lines 272-280. In short, Mattfeld has here confused two portions of the narrative as one, the first describing the origins of the civilization of Dilmun (and, possibly, of Qal’at al-Bahrain) and the second describing the origins of Ninsikila and Ensag, who become the gods of Magan and Dilmun (though, for some reason, Ninsikila, not Ensag, is portrayed as asking Enki to civilize Dilmun, possibly due to Magan’s reliance on Dilmun for exports to Sumer).