EUPHRATES (Heb. פְּרָת; Dead Sea Scrolls Pwrt; from Akk. Purattu and Sumerian Buranun), the longest river (c. 1,700 mi., 2,700 km.) in Western Asia. In texts from the third millennium b.c.e. from Mari the river occurs as a deity. From its sources in northeast Turkey the river takes a southerly course into northern Syria, where it turns southeast and flows into the Persian Gulf after joining the *Tigris. According to Genesis 2:14, the Euphrates was one of the four branches of the river which rises in Eden to water the *garden of Eden. The Euphrates – also called "The River" or "The Great River" (see below) – forms the northern boundary of the ideal land promised to Israel (Gen. 15:18; Deut. 11:24; Josh. 1:4). The river is also referred to in Jeremiah 51:60–64, when Jeremiah instructed Seraiah upon reaching Babylon to read the prophecies of Jeremiah, bind them with a stone, and cast them into the Euphrates as a sign of the imminent destruction of that city. The Greek name *Mesopotamia, like the Hebrew Aram-Naharaim ("Aram of the [Two] Rivers"; e.g., Gen. 24:10), originally designated only the northwest corner of Mesopotamia which is bordered by the Euphrates on the north, west, and south. Later, however, the name was interpreted as the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates, i.e., Assyria and Babylonia. Since Mesopotamia is poor in rainfall, its inhabitants have always had to depend on the two rivers for irrigation. Water was brought to the individual fields through an elaborate system of canals. Naturally, a great many cities were built on or near the banks of the Euphrates; among the best known are Carchemish, Mari, Babylon, Erech, and Ur, known from biblical and cuneiform sources, and Pumbedita, Nehardea, Mata Mehasya, and Sura, known from the Babylonian Talmud.
The term "beyond the river" (ever ha-nahar) denotes the region along the Euphrates, but the exact region referred to changes according to the geographical viewpoint or to the emerging geopolitical and administrative situation. The term "beyond the river" in Joshua 24:2–3 refers to the region east of the Euphrates, the place of origin of the patriarchs. In contrast, in i Kings 5:4 it describes the empire of Solomon from a viewpoint east of the Euphrates: from Tiphsah (missing in Septuagint and probably a gloss; Greek Thapsakos; modern Dibseh, on the western bend of the Euphrates) to Gaza. The area thus described is designated in Assyrian royal inscriptions and documents by the term eber nāri, i.e., Hebrew ever ha-nahar. This term in its wider geographical connotation is identical with the geopolitical Hebrew term. Thus Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, includes in the expression "the kings of northern Syria and eber nāri" the kings of Tyre, Judah, Edom, Moab, Gaza, Ashkelon, Ekron, Byblos, Arvad, Samsimuruna, Ammon, and Ashdod, and he sums them up as: "12 kings of the sea coast" (I.J. Gelb et al., The Assyrian Dictionary, 4 (1958), 8).
In Sumerian and Old Babylonian documents, the Euphrates River was already a geographical demarcation. In the Old Babylonian *Mari documents, two West Semitic terms describe the regions on either side of the river: aḫarātum ("the far land") and aqdamātum ("the near land"). The first is perhaps "west," and the second "east." At the time of the Persian Empire, a later, second official term for the area was Athurā (Assyria), but the original official-geographical term prevailed in Neo- and Late Babylonian documents and in contemporary Hebrew and Aramaic sources (Ezra 8:36 (Heb.); Ezra 4:10, 11 (Aram. ʿabar naharah)). The Perath mentioned in Jeremiah 13:4–7 is not the river Euphrates, but most probably Parah (cf. Josh. 18:23), near Anathoth (today ʿAin Farah).
J. Obermeyer, Die Landschaft Babylonien… (1929), 52–61; E.Y. Kutscher, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 4 (1957), 12; J.J. Finkelstein, in: jnes, 21 (1962), 73–92; The Oxford Atlas (1963), map 56–57; eb, 8 (1967), 825–7. add. bibliography: W. Holladay, Jeremiah i (Heremeneia; 1986), 396; M. Stolper, in: jnes, 48 (1989), 283–305; K. van der Toorn, in: ddd, 314–16; J. Hull, in: abd vi, 572; S.D. Sperling, in: G. Knoppers and J. McConville (eds.), Reconsidering Israel and Judah (2000), 244–45; P. Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander (2002), index, 1165, s.v.Ebir Nāri.
Euphrates (yōōfrā´tēz), Turkish Frat, Arabic Al Furat, river of SW Asia, c.1,700 mi (2,740 km) long, formed by the confluence of the Kara and the Murad rivers, E central Turkey, and flowing generally S through Turkey into Syria, then SE through Iraq, joining with the Tigris River in SE Iraq to form the Shatt al Arab; the united river flows into the Persian Gulf. The Euphrates is unnavigable except for very shallow-draft vessels; a drainage project was begun in the 1960s involving the construction of a 342 mi (550 km) canal running between the Tigris and Euphrates to serve as a route for river barges.
In its upper course, the Euphrates flows rapidly through deep canyons and narrow gorges. In 1990, the Atatürk Dam, the first in the Southeast Anatolia Project in Turkey, was completed. Plans ultimately call for 22 dams on the Tigris and Euphrates that altogether will provide enough water to irrigate over 3,700,000 acres (1.5 million hectares) of land. A series of hydroelectric power stations is also being built; by 2014 more than half the dams had been completed. This huge diversion of water in Turkey may have serious implications for other countries, such as Syria and Iraq, that rely on the river.
The middle Euphrates traverses a wide floodplain in Syria, where it is used extensively for irrigation. Euphrates Dam, 230 ft (70 m) high, constructed with Soviet aid at Tabqa, N Syria, is the main unit of the Tabqa Barrage Scheme. The huge reservoir impounded by the dam provides electrical power but has failed to transform the region into a productive agricultural area. Below the dam the Euphrates receives the Belikh and Khabur rivers, its only major tributaries.
Entering the Syrian Desert and the plains of Iraq, the river loses velocity and becomes a sluggish stream with shifting channels. In N Iraq it is studded with islands, some with remains of old castles. The river's lower course supplies water through a system of dams and canals to allow wheat and barley cultivation. Flooding and overirrigation have resulted in serious problems of soil salinization. Before merging with the Tigris at Basra, Iraq, the Euphrates divided into many channels, forming a marshland and Lake Hammar. The marshes were drained in the early 1990s to increase Iraqi government control over the Shitte Marsh Arabs living there; restoration of the marshes began in 2003, and roughly half the marshes had been restored by 2006.
The modern waterworks along the Euphrates do not equal in scope those of ancient times when Sippar, Uruk, Ur, and Babylon flourished on the banks of the lower Euphrates. Mesopotamia, birthplace of many great civilizations, depended on the waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris for survival. However, as the maintenance of irrigation and drainage networks was neglected, the siltation of canals and the salinization of fields eventually made the land unsuitable for agriculture.