There are only a number of ancient fording places on the Euphrates.
The crossings that may have been used by Abraham exist:
- north of Charchemish at modern Birecik (Turkey) or the greek Zeugma
- at Assuyrie (ancient Pethor in Syria)
- at Qa’alat Najm
- at the ancient greek Thapsacus or biblical Tiphshah; the limits of the lands of Solomon and where an ancient ferry service operated. It was close to Tiphshah that Crassus trashed the legendary booty of Hierapolis temple now at modern Mambej (2)
Whilst it has been said that to be a hebrew is to “cross over” the root word contains the active idea of crossing, or journeying. Thus the patriarchs were styled “sojourners” and “pilgrims” Gen 12:10; 20:1; 21:34; 23:4; 47:9; Heb 11:9,13. The word is first used of Abraham in Gen 14: 13 in a chapter describing the forces of Chedorlaomer who also had twice crossed the Euphrates to invade the lands of Jordan and Israel, Gen 14:3. Abraham was to in this chapter decline the offer of anything substantive or valuable in present possession, claiming his occupation and settlement to be in a greater and more lasting enterprise. This was a declaration of his sojourning, as he was looking for a city whose maker and builder was Elohim. Abraham was instructed to “walk through the land, in the length of it and the breadth of it, for I will give to thee” Gen 13:17 an instruction later repeated by Joshua to those espying their inheritance Josh 18:8 an instruction not repeated to Caleb, who obtained Hebron as the place where his feet had trodden Josh 14:9. The manner of treading is however described in this place: “because [Caleb] has wholly followed Elohim”. To walk then in the footsteps of the patriarchs is to follow after Elohim, and the visiting of locations within the inheritance were didactic pointers on the road to complete fellowship with Him. Abraham was then to become a spiritual father to all those that followed him, walking in the steps of “that faith” Rom 4:12 being “sojourners with me (Elohim)” Lev 25:33.
Qa’alat Najm is a fortress built on the banks of the Euphrates by Nur’u’din in the 12th century, and reconstructed under Sala’din’s son Al Zaher Ghazi in the 13th century, but it was founded on the foundation of roman legacy using this bridgehead as the important crossing point against the Parthians / Mesopotamia. To the Romans the place was known as Caeciliana. Near the castle are two iron age sites: Tel Jurn Kabir and Qaddahiye indicating the antiquity of this strongpoint.
The castle holds a dramatic visual panorama of the reaches of the Euphrates. It’s stonework was considered as fine as the ancient Greeks (1) Within the castle is a mosque with its characteristic niche pointed at Mecca and adorned with kufic script, and at its foot a graveyard with multiple headstones again pointed to the east. The picture above is the schoolyard where we visited to address the local children on one of our expeditions.
Qa’alat although an important crossing point of the Euphrates, it seems unlikely to be the location of Abraham’s passing, it however teaches the great lessons of sojourning with the Father, calling on Him, and passing our time in fear, 1 Peter 1:17.
- A Journey to China, Arnold Joseph Toynbee
An introduction to the study of ancient geography pg 243, Peter Edmund Laurent