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MESOPOTAMIA (mĕs'ō-pō-tā'mĭ-a, from Gr. mesos, middle, and potamos, river). The name applied in particular to the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, a region that in Hebrew is called Aram, Aram Naharaim, or Paddan Aram, along with various other names for localities or peoples of this region. In present-day application the term is used of a territory practically coextensive with modern Iraq. There are indications of the latter usage in the NT, such as Acts.7.2 and possibly Acts.2.9. The KJV frequently translates ’aram naharayim, “Aram of the two rivers,” as “Mesopotamia,” while NIV transliterates as “Aram Naharaim.” Gen.24.10 states that the servant of Abraham “set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the town of Nahor.” This is in the vicinity of the Khabur River, and attempts have been made to localize Aram Naharaim between the Euphrates and the Khabur. Balaam, the soothsayer hired by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites, came from Pethor “in Aram Naharaim” (Deut.23.4; cf. Num.22.5). In Judg.3.8, Judg.3.10 the oppressor of the Israelites, Cushan-Rishathaim, is called “king of Aram Naharaim.” This geographic reference indicates the area east of the Euphrates, and some commentators have regarded this king as a foreign conqueror of this territory.

Several significant archaeological and historical features are associated with this Mesopotamian region. Tell Halaf is the type site for the period of beautifully painted pottery that appears from Assyria to Syria and the Mediterranean coast. To the SE on the Euphrates was Mari (Tell Hariri), which was an important state of the Hammurabi era. Its king, Zimri Lim, had a palace of almost three hundred rooms and also a library and archives of more than twenty thousand clay tablets. A royal concern for divination is attested by the presence of clay liver models found in one of the palace rooms; hepatoscopy was an important Mesopotamian practice, and its appearance here is instructive in relation to the determined effort made by the king of Moab to procure Balaam to curse the Israelites (Num.22.1-Num.22.41ff.). Just before the time of the Amarna Letters, this area was the seat of Mitanni, a powerful Hurrian (Horite) kingdom ruled by an Indo-European aristocracy. The king of Mitanni was involved in the official correspondence with Egypt found at el-Amarna, and shortly thereafter Mitanni was overwhelmed by the Hittite Subbiluliuma.

In the NT the mention of Mesopotamia as one of the regions from which the Jews of the Diaspora had come to Jerusalem (Acts.2.9, “residents of Mesopotamia”) probably has reference to that part of the Near East included in modern Iraq and may refer more particularly to the area near ancient Babylon. Stephen’s allusion to the fact that the call of God came to Abraham “while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran” (Acts.7.2), definitely puts southern Iraq in Mesopotamia, for Abraham was then in the city of Ur (Gen.11.31). The southern part of Mesopotamia, including Ur and a number of other city-states, was known as Sumer; the central section was called Akkad and later was named Babylonia, after the city of Babylon gained the ascendancy; the northern division along the Tigris was Assyria, the land of Asshur.——CEDV


MESOPOTAMIA mĕs’ o po tā’ mĭ a’ (אֲרַ֥ם נַֽהֲרַ֖יִם, LXX Μεσοποταμία, G3544, meaning in Heb. high place of two rivers, in Gr. between rivers. Cf. superscription of Psalm 60). The land around and between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

Mesopotamia basically refers to the land divided by the two rivers, which could mean anything from modern Eastern Turkey to the Persian Gulf. When it is used in the Bible usually the northern parts are understood.

According to Genesis 24:10, Abraham’s servant went to Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac. The town of Nahor, mentioned in the Mari texts, is located near the Balikh tributary of the Euphrates. Balaam’s home town of Pethor of Mesopotamia, mentioned in Deuteronomy 23:4, is in the same vicinity.

The judgeship of Othniel was occasioned by the aggression and oppression of Cushan-rishathaim, a king of Mesopotamia (Judg 3:8). The king’s name has not yet been attested nor is any definition of his realm certain.

Mesopotamia was the Ammonites’ source of chariots and horsemen when they battled with David in 1 Chronicles 19:6ff. Aram-naharaim in the title of Psalm 60 can be connected only with 2 Samuel 8:5, in that historical passage, but the country indicated is simply “Aram” and hence is tr. “Syria.”

Mesopotamia has gone under various names throughout its long history. In the beginning it was mostly “Sumer” in the extreme S, “Accad” in the middle, and “Subartu” in the NW. In the second millennium b.c., Babylon was the power in the lower half and Mitanni in the N. With the turn of the millennium, Assyria in the N gained control of the whole but lost it again to Neo-Babylonia in 587 b.c. This was followed by the Pers., Hel., and Rom. rules. Today most of Mesopotamia is in Iraq with small parts in Syria and Turkey.


M. A. Beek, Atlas of Mesopotamia (1962).

See also

  • Syria