Carchemish is a city that spans modern borders. The acropolis and inner ancient city is found in modern Turkey, and most of the extended city are in northern Syria. The tel is famous for the investigations of Wooley and TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). Jarablus, the city that contains the Syrian component carries some wonderful memories for me. I have visited this place a few times now, and the hospitality afforded by the locals here has been astonishing, in particular the school principal, the local police and other locals have opened both their homes and their hearts to us here. The chief of police of Syria was introduced to us here on the banks of the Euphrates, and generously gave his prayer beads to a good friend of mine; sheik Daoud.
The city has an interesting name: “the fortress of Chemosh”. In the syriac it is Barchemosh, and the Assyrian is Kargamis or Gargamis. The name contains the name of Chemosh, the “detestable” 1 Kings 11:7,33 the “vile” deity of the Moabites 2 Kings 23:13. The connection with Moab is so strong that the Moabites are called the “people of Chemosh” Num 21:29; 2 Kings 23:13; Jer 48:13,46. It should be noted that the home place of Balaam at Pethor is only a short 25km from this city on the next fording place of the Euphrates downstream, and his strong connections with Moab are evident from the scripture, as the king of Moab called him from here to give counsel on the destruction of the children of Israel. The language of Jeremiah describing the battle of Carchemish was later to be called “a sacrifice” in the north country on the Euphrates Jer 46:10
It’s earliest history is a mention of Carchemish on a vase ca1900 BC. Further evidence connects Carchemish with the amassed Hittite forces attacking Ramases II at the battle of Kadesh (on Orontes) 1274BC, and shortly afterwards Tiglath Pilisser I plundered Carchemish in the land of the Hattu(Hittites) ca1268 BC. (1) Both of these documents alongside other Hittite reliefs, statues and temple found by Wooley indicate strong early Hittite control of Carchemish. While an important city in the area, it was smaller in area than other cities, for example Hatzor in northern Israel. It was later considered a significant victory for the invading Assyrians, alongside the fall of Calneh indicating significant fortifications and resilience to attack Isa 10:9 This fall happened in the time of Pisiris 717 BC at the hands of Sargon II. It is interesting to note that at the time of the battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar’s actions following the major battle was to conquer the whole country of Hatti (4)
Carchemish saw the watershed of the world superpowers of Babylon and Egypt. When Ashur ubalit, the last Assyrian king moved capital to Haran to establish the Assyrian capital there, he was supported by Egyptian troops whose aid held the city for two years before falling to Babylon in 610 BC the same year that Pharoah Necho came to the throne. Necho (610-594 BC) marched in 609 BC to the aid of the Assyrians, whether to assert Egyptian domination in the north, or whether to stand for honour of his troops already engaged is unsure. We have clues that he was an ambitious Pharaoh having commenced the building of the Suez (2) etc. The biblical interest is two-fold. Necho was blocked by Josiah at Megiddo, and lost his life 2 Kings 23:29 and the fortunes of Egypt were about to change for ever!
The battle 605/4 BC is described in the Babylonian chronicles held in the British museum: “[Nebuchadnezzar II] .. crossed the river to go against the Egyptian army which lay in Karchemiš. They fought with each other and the Egyptian army withdrew before him. He accomplished their defeat and beat them to non-existence. As for the rest of the Egyptian army which had escaped from the defeat so quickly that no weapon had reached them, in the district of Hamath the Babylonian troops overtook and defeated them so that not a single man escaped to his own country. At that time Nebuchadnezzar conquered the whole area of Hamath” (3)
But what is of significant interest to the bible student is that this marked the end of Egyptian splendour. Egypt was to become a base nation, a state that has continued to date. They would not be cured Jer 46:11 they would remain a base nation, and not a confidence of the house of Israel Ezek 29:13-16 The recovery of the land of Egypt will be not less spectacular, and is described as a sign and a witness of the power of deity. Isa 19:19-22 The remarkable thing about the prophecy of Isa 19 is that the events of Isa 19:2 have happened before our eyes in 2011! Only one verse later a northern host invades Egypt 19:4 which is the confederacy controlled by Russia and her demagogues, Ezek 38; Dan 11, an event that signals the return of Jesus as messiah, and king back into the earth. The events of Carchemish are marvelous witness to the impending certainty that God can change the fortunes of nations in an instant.
The scriptures give marvelous language for the action at the walls of Carchemish. The lyrical form of Jeremiah 46 runs like this:
Order ye the buckler and shield, and draw near to battle; Harness the horses, and get up ye horsemen, and stand forth with your helmets;
Furbish the spears, put on the coats of mail.
Wherefore have I seen it? they are dismayed,
And are turned backward, and their mighty ones are beaten down, And are fled apace, and look not back.
Terror is on every side, saith the LORD,
Let not the swift flee away, nor the mighty man escape: In the north by the river Euphrates have they stumbled and fallen.
Who is this that riseth up like the Nile,
Whose waters toss themselves like the rivers?
Egypt riseth up like the Nile,
And his waters toss themselves like the rivers;
And he saith, I will rise up, I will cover the earth; I will destroy the city and the inhabitants thereof.
Go up, ye horses; and rage, ye chariots; and let the mighty men go forth: Cush and Put, that handle the shield;
And the Ludim, that handle and bend the bow.
For that day is a day of the Lord, the LORD of hosts, A day of vengeance, that he may avenge him of his adversaries: And the sword shall devour and be satiate,
And shall drink its fill of their blood:
For the Lord, the LORD of hosts hath a sacrifice
In the north country by the river Euphrates.
Go up into Gilead, and take balm, O virgin daughter of Egypt: In vain dost thou use many medicines;
There is no healing for thee.
The nations have heard of thy shame, and the earth is full of thy cry: For the mighty man hath stumbled against the mighty, They are fallen both of them together.
- ISBE “Carchemish”
- Herod. ii. 158,159, iv. 42
- British muesum: Jerusalem Chronicle”; ABC 5 obverse lines 1-9
- Wiseman, Chronicles of the Chaldean kings pg 64,69,28