Palestine Calling
by
W. M. Christie

Chapter XIII

The Haran of Abraham, Laban and Jacob


In connection with Roman history we read of the defeat and death of Crassus in 63 B.C., at Carrhae, in Northern Mesopotamia, and not infrequently we find, added by the historian, a phrase indicating that it is the "Haran of Scripture." Then in the year 217 A.D. we read of the death of Caracalla at the same place, and a like identification is made. As this latter event took place just at the time when close attention was being given to Bible study, and commenting had begun, especially at Edessa or Urha (the present Urfa), the great Syrian centre of learning, the recognition was unanimously accepted, and it has maintained itself till the present day.

But a careful reading of Genesis compels us to doubt either the accuracy of the identification, or the accuracy of Scripture. When one knows the country, or even seeks to measure the distances on a map, and trace the route of Jacob's flight from Laban, the difficulties become apparent. In Genesis 31:21, we read that Jacob "passed over the river, and set his face toward Mount Gilead." Three days later (verse 22) Laban pursued after him seven days' journey (verse 23) and overtook him in Mount Gilead. The place of meeting was named by Laban in his own Aramaic speech, "Jegar-sahadutha," and by Jacob in Hebrew "Galeed." This is explained (verse 49) as being the Mizpah of Gilead, now identified as Suf, beside Jerash. The identification is probably correct, but it does not affect the argument, were it even doubtful, as any site in Gilead leaves the difficulty all the same.

Now it is quite natural, if we accept the Mesopotamian site for Haran, that we accept the "river" (Gen. 31:21) as the Euphrates. But the nearest point to Mount Gilead, where a crossing of the Euphrates could take place, is 300 miles distant in a straight line, and from the nearest point to Haran, the distance between Gilead and the Euphrates is 380 miles. To each of these we have to add, in virtue of windings in the routes that would be taken, at least 120 miles. Accordingly the journey of 10 days for Jacob, and of 7 days for Laban would be 420 or 500 miles. Now according to the shorter but more unlikely route, Jacob had to travel at the rate of 42 miles per day, while Laban and his associates had a day's march of 60 miles for seven consecutive days. Then we must consider that Jacob was travelling with sheep, cattle, and young children. Later he offers the natural excuse to Esau (Gen. 33:13), that, if they be overdriven one day, the whole flock will perish. Clearly the journey from the Euphrates is impossible. The ground could not be covered, no, not by the fleetest Arab steed. There is misunderstanding somewhere.

There is another point of importance that also decides against the Mesopotamian Haran as the place of residence of Abraham, Nahor, Laban and Jacob, and that is that at that time the inhabitants belonged to the Mitanni, a kindred race with the Hittites. We may, of course, be told that Aramean groups may have been also settled there; but that would never have given the district the name of Aram Naharaim (Gen. 24:10), unfortunately translated "Mesopotamia" in the English versions, following the LXX. In Acts 7:2, Stephen used the word Mesopotamia, but it is for the place of Abraham's residence "before he dwelt in Charran." The name Aram Naharaim, and the speech of the Terachites, retained till the third generation at least, indicate an Aramaic land, in some manner enclosed by "two rivers." In addition we have the name "Paddan Aram." Now Paddan is a synonym of Harran, and in Assyrian both mean "way" or "highway." Of course Paddan Aram might be interpreted as "the highway to Aram," but it is more naturally understood as "the highway of" or "through" Aram.

Now geographical research in modern times has revealed another Haran, that fully meets the demands of every Scripture reference. Fifteen miles to the east of Damascus, and clearly visible from the hill of Salihiyeh, there is an ancient site bearing till to-day the name of "Haran el-Awamid" or "Haran of the pillars." It is situated in a stretch of country, well watered by the Abana and the Pharpar, between the water courses of which it is situated. The land is well adapted for pasturage, and the chief trouble to-day would be malaria, but the climate may in these long centuries have changed. The name Haran or Paddan would be quite suitable, as the great eastern highway (The Spice Route) to Transjordania and Arabia must have passed between this site and Damascus, and besides in ancient times, when the Syrian Desert was more fertile than it is to-day, there may have been through this district a direct route to Babylonia (again in use for motor service).

When once this site for the Haran of the patriarchs is accepted the difficulties vanish, and besides even seemingly incidental remarks are illuminated. The Aram Naharaim, then, of Genesis is the district between the Abana and the Pharpar, the latter of which may have been then of more importance than it now is, but, even as a dry water course, it would give enough trouble in the transport of flocks to deserve special note in the narrative. And from prehistoric days this district has borne the name of Aram, and no other.

Then from this Haran to the recognised Mizpah of Jacob and Laban the direct distance is seventy miles, and as the road is almost straight, we may reckon the distance traversed as not more than 80 miles. Sheep in Palestine travel at the rate of 10 to 12 miles a day, so that the journey could be accomplished without undue pressure. And if we consider that Laban was too long on the road before he overtook Jacob, we must remember that after three days he might not have been able to track him without doubt, and he would have to discover whether or not he had taken the western route into Northern Palestine.

This leads us to consider a remark made by Jacob (Gen. 32:11 [sic; 10]) in his prayer by the Jabbok, "With my staff I passed over this Jordan." Had the Haran of Meopotamia been his objective, that was not only unnecessary, but would have been a useless prolongation of the journey. The route thither was the well known one that ran from Assyria to Egypt, passing between Lebanon and Antilebanon. But to reach the Damascene Haran, it was natural for Jacob after leaving Bethel, to pursue his journey northwards, leaving Canaan at the bridge, or ford, over the Jordan at the end end of Lake Huleh, that now bears the name "Jisr banat Yakoob." On his return journey there was no reason for his getting into Transjordania, but there were many reasons against it, if he came from the distant north. These points not only support our contention for the southern site, but they at the same time cut out most undoubtedly the traditional identification.

Josephus (Ant. i., vii., 2) mentions that Abraham "reigned at Damascus." He quotes from Hecateus (500 B.C.) and from Berosus (250 B.C.) as also from Nicolaus of Damascus (fl. 4 B.C.). These men were all interested in history and travel, and a statement like this preserved from ancient times would appeal to them. A similar story has been preserved among the Arabs till the present time, and they assert that "Abraham was king of Damascus." And where, it may be asked, did Abraham get his servant, "Damascus Eliezer"? We would not make too much of the servant's name, as it is still a puzzle, nor would we literally accept the old world stories or traditions, but perhaps we may recognise in them an echo of the fact that Abraham sojourned for a time in Aram Naharaim or Paddan Aram beside Damascus.

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