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.