The River Euphrates serves both geographical and metaphorical roles in the biblical and noncanonical texts.
What is the geographical role that the River Euphrates plays in the Hebrew Bible?
Located in modern day Iraq and extending through Syria and Turkey, the Euphrates River is one of the two major rivers of the fertile crescent in ancient Mesopotamia. In the biblical text, it is first mentioned as one of four rivers that issues forth from the garden of Eden (
In the Hebrew Bible, the Euphrates is often seen as a geographic marker that delineates belonging and exclusion. For instance, in
How does the Euphrates play a metaphorical role in ancient texts?
In addition to a geographic boundary, the Euphrates can serve a metaphorical purpose in ancient texts. This is not an unusual occurrence. Geography scholars such as Edward Soja highlight that geography is not a neutral or objective category; it represents the goals and perceptions of its producers, whether modern or ancient. For example, in
Just as the Euphrates serves as a temporal marker in the prophetic literature, the river also serves as a boundary in time signifying the eschaton in some first century CE apocalypses. In John’s Apocalypse, four angels are bound in the Euphrates, and when the end is near, they will be released (
While always representative as a marker of the physical river, the Euphrates also serves as a boundary of future times, represented as an idealized or a temporal border.
- Lied, Liv Ingeborg. The Other Lands of Israel: Imaginations of the Land in 2 Baruch. Leiden: Brill, 2008.
- Havrelock, Rachel. River Jordan: The Mythology of a Dividing Line. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.
- Soja, Edward W. Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.