Words In The News -- By: Milton C. Fisher
Words In The News
Crisis in the Persian Gulf has turned all eyes on Iraq. Those familiar with ancient history, especially Bible history, know that today Iraq occupies the land between two rivers (the Tigris and Euphrates), called by ancient Greek historians MESOPOTAMIA or “midst-of-rivers.”
Mesopotamia first occurs in our English Bible at Gen 24:10, where we read that Abraham’s most trusted servant went to “Mesopotamia,” to the city of Nahor in Aram - Naharaim (=“Aram, or Syria of the two rivers”). Since Aram was located at the far northwest extremity of the Euphrates River, the two rivers in view here are more likely the Euphrates and Khabur (or Habor), a major tributary upon which Nahor was to be found.
Mesopotamia is mentioned once again in the Pentateuch, as the home of Balaam (De 23:4), in Judges (King Cushan-Rishathaim’s attack - 3:8 and 10), and in 1 Chronicles 19:6 (“chariots and horsemen from Mesopotamia”). Acts 2:9 records that some of the pilgrims in Jerusalem at Pentecost were from Elam and Mesopotamia. This and an Acts 67:2 reference to the area would concur with the more “modern” usage begun by Greek and Roman writers of the fourth century BC.
In its customary use, Mesopotamia covers the entire region bounded by the Tigris and Euphrates, from the Ararat Mountain range in the north to the marshlands at the head of the Persian Gulf. While Iraq does occupy the major portion of ancient Mesopotamia, some is in Syria. In all, it stretched some 600 miles north and south and as much as 300 miles east and west. Within, this territory, from south to north, we find evidence of the Sumerians, the Babylonians and the Assyrians. “Sumer and Akkad” was the name of Lower Mesopotamia around the beginning of the Biblical age of the Patriarchs — Abraham and his descendants.
But while Abraham’s original home was Ur (south of Babylon, though some argue for a site in the far north of the region), his kinsfolk were later centered in Aram. From there Isaac received his wife Rebekah and there Jacob spent time (and travail) with Uncle Laban, whose daughters Leah and Rachel became his wives. In this story the northern region of Mesopotamia is called, simply, Padan-Aram, “the fields of Aram.”
Interestingly, the modern Arabic name for the total area between the Tigris and Euphrates is al-Jazira, “the island,” an inland island, to be sure. Actually, the two main rivers do nearly touch in the north, where they originate in the Ararat-Zagros mountain range...
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