Hebrew, Perath; Assyrian, Purat; Persian cuneiform, Ufratush, whence Greek Euphrates, meaning "sweet water." The Assyrian name means "the stream," or "the great stream." It is generally called in the Bible simply "the river" ( Exodus 23:31 ), or "the great river" ( Deuteronomy 1:7 ).
The Euphrates is first mentioned in Genesis 2:14 as one of the rivers of Paradise. It is next mentioned in connection with the covenant which God entered into with Abraham ( 15:18 ), when he promised to his descendants the land from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates (Compare Deuteronomy 11:24 ; Joshua 1:4 ), a covenant promise afterwards fulfilled in the extended conquests of David ( 2 Samuel 8:2-14 ; 1 Chronicles 18:3 ; 1 Kings 4:24 ). It was then the boundary of the kingdom to the north-east. In the ancient history of Assyria, and Babylon, and Egypt many events are recorded in which mention is made of the "great river." Just as the Nile represented in prophecy the power of Egypt, so the Euphrates represented the Assyrian power ( Isaiah 8:7 ; Jeremiah 2:18 ).
It is by far the largest and most important of all the rivers of Western Asia. From its source in the Armenian mountains to the Persian Gulf, into which it empties itself, it has a course of about 1,700 miles. It has two sources, (1) the Frat or Kara-su (i.e., "the black river"), which rises 25 miles north-east of Erzeroum; and (2) the Muradchai (i.e., "the river of desire"), which rises near Ararat, on the northern slope of Ala-tagh. At Kebban Maden, 400 miles from the source of the former, and 270 from that of the latter, they meet and form the majestic stream, which is at length joined by the Tigris at Koornah, after which it is called Shat-el-Arab, which runs in a deep and broad stream for above 140 miles to the sea. It is estimated that the alluvium brought down by these rivers encroaches on the sea at the rate of about one mile in thirty years.
that makes fruitful
is probably a word of Aryan origin, signifying "the good and abounding river. " It is most frequently denoted in the Bible by the term "the river." The Euphrates is the largest, the longest and by far the most important of the rivers of western Asia. It rises from two chief sources in the Armenian mountains, and flows into the Persian Gulf. The entire course is 1780 miles, and of this distance more than two-thirds (1200 miles) is navigable for boats. The width of the river is greatest at the distance of 700 or 800 miles from its mouth --that is to say, from it junction with the Khabour to the village of Werai . It there averages 400 yards. The annual inundation of the Euphrates is caused by the melting of the snows in the Armenian highlands. It occurs in the month of May. The great hydraulic works ascribed to Nebuchadnezzar had for their chief object to control the inundation. The Euphrates is first mentioned in Scripture as one of the four rivers of Eden. ( Genesis 2:14 ) We next hear of it in the covenant made with Abraham. ( Genesis 15:18 ) During the reigns of David and Solomon it formed the boundary of the promised land to the northeast. ( 11:24 ; Joshua 1:4 ) Prophetical reference to the Euphrates is found in ( Jeremiah 13:4-7 ; 46:2-10 ; 51:63 ; Revelation 9:14 ; 16:12 ) "The Euphrates is linked with the most important events in ancient history. On its banks stood the city of Babylon; the army of Necho was defeated on its banks by Nebuchadnezzar; Cyrus the Younger and Crassus perished after crossing it; Alexander crossed it, and Trajan and Severus descended it." --Appletons Cyc.
u-fra'-tez (perath; Euphrates, "the good and abounding river"):
Its description naturally falls into 3 divisions--the upper, middle and lower. The upper division traverses the mountainous plateau of Armenia, and is formed by the junction of 2 branches, the Frat and the Murad. The Frat rises 25 miles Northeast of Erzerum, and only 60 miles from the Black Sea. The Murad, which, though the shorter, is the larger of the two, rises in the vicinity of Mt. Ararat. After running respectively 400 and 270 miles in a westerly direction, they unite near Keban Maaden, whence in a tortuous channel of about 300 miles, bearing still in a southwesterly direction, the current descends in a succession of rapids and cataracts to the Syrian plain, some distance above the ancient city of Carchemish, where it is only about 200 miles from the Northeast corner of the Mediterranean. In its course through the Armenian plateau, the stream has gathered the sediment which gives fertility to the soil in the lower part of the valley. It is the melting snows from this region which produce the annual floods from April to June.
The middle division, extending for about 700 miles to the bitumen wells of Hit, runs Southeast "through a valley of a few miles in width, which it has eroded in the rocky surface, and which, being more or less covered with alluvial soil, is pretty generally cultivated by artificial irrigation. .... Beyond the rocky banks on both sides is the open desert, covered in spring with a luxuriant verdure, and dotted here and there with the black tent of the Bedouin" (Sir Henry Rawlinson). Throughout this portion the river formed the ancient boundary between the Assyrians and Hittites whose capital was at Carchemish, where there are the remains of an old bridge. The ruins of another ancient bridge occur 200 miles lower down at the ancient Thapsacus, where the Greeks forded it under Cyrus the younger. Throughout the middle section the stream is too rapid to permit of successful navigation except by small boats going downstream, and has few and insignificant tributaries. It here has, however, its greatest width (400 yds.) and depth. Lower down the water is drawn off by irrigating canals and into lagoons.
The fertile plain of Babylonia begins at Hit, about 100 miles above Babylon; 50 miles below Hit the Tigris and Euphrates approach to within 25 miles of each other, and together have in a late geological period deposited the plain of Shinar or of Chaldea, more definitely referred to as Babylonia. This plain is about 250 miles long, and in its broadest place 100 miles wide. From Hit an artificial canal conducts water along the western edge of the alluvial plain to the Persian Gulf, a distance of about 500 miles. But the main irrigating canals put off from the East side of the Euphrates, and can be traced all over the plain past the ruins of Accad, Babylon, Nippur, Bismya, Telloh, Erech, Ur and numerous other ancient cities. Originally the Euphrates and Tigris entered into the Persian Gulf by separate channels. At that time the Gulf extended up as far as Ur, the home of Abraham, and it was a seaport. The sediment from these rivers has filled up the head of the Persian Gulf for nearly 100 miles since the earliest monumental records. Loftus estimates that since the Christian era the encroachment has proceeded at the rate of 1 mile in 70 years. In early times Babylonia was rendered fertile by immense irrigating schemes which diverted the water from the Euphrates, which at Babylon is running at a higher level than the Tigris. A large canal left the Euphrates just above Babylon and ran due East to the Tigris, irrigating all the intervening region and sending a branch down as far South as Nippur. Lower down a canal crosses the plain in an opposite direction. This ancient system of irrigation can be traced along the lines of the principal canals "by the winding curves of layers of alluvium in the bed," while the lateral channels "are hedged in by high banks of mud, heaped up during centuries of dredging. Not a hundredth part of the old irrigation system is now in working order. A few of the mouths of the smaller canals are kept open so as to receive a limited supply of water at the rise of the river in May, which then distributes itself over the lower lying lands in the interior, almost without labor on the part of the cultivators, giving birth in such localities to the most abundant crops; but by far the larger portion of the region between the rivers is at present an arid, howling wilderness, strewed in the most part with broken pottery, the evidence of former human habitation, and bearing nothing but the camel thorn, the wild caper, the colocynth-apple, wormwood and the other weeds of the desert" (Rawlinson). According to Sir W. Willcocks, the eminent English engineer, the whole region is capable of being restored to its original productiveness by simply reproducing the ancient system of irrigation. There are, however, in the lower part of the region, vast marshes overgrown with reeds, which have continued since the time of Alexander who came near losing his army in passing through them. These areas are probably too much depressed to be capable of drainage. Below the junction of the Euphrates and the Tigris, the stream is called Shat el Arab, and is deep enough to float war vessels.
Fried. Delitzsch, Wo lag das Paradies? 169; Chesney, Narrative of the Euphrates Exped., I; Loftus, Travels, etc., in Chaldoea and Susiana; Layard, Nineveh and Babylon, chapters xxi, xxii; Rawlinson, Herodotus, I, essay ix; Ellsworth Huntington, "Valley of the Upper Euphrates River," Bull. Amer. Geog. Soc., XXXIV, 1902.
George Frederick Wright
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