The Abana and the Pharpar

The Abana and the Pharpar have long been a subject of discussion. They are only mentioned in a single place in the Bible, 2 Kings 5:12, and have, conversely, been the subjects of much speculation. The verse reads as thus: “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.” This is in a context when an Aramean named Naaman, wishing to be cured of leprosy, complains about the seemingly absurd request of Elisha to be cleansed in the Jordan. Now, as we know, no river of Damascus has a discharge anything near to that of the Jordan. The goodness of those rivers might, therefore, stem from, as advocated by The Message, the rivers were cleaner than all those of Israel, or, as advocated by John MacGregor, from the fact those rivers were more important than all those of Israel, for the Kingdom of Damascus depended on them. Another interpretation of “better” may stem from the fact the rivers of Damascus were far more convenient for Naaman to get to. Due to the fact the rivers of Damascus were far more well known for their importance than their cleanliness, and the fact rivers, not waters, are being here compared, the best option here is the opinion of John MacGregor. In this case, therefore, we should look for the largest rivers of Damascus.

The identification of the Abana with the Barada (meaning in Arabic light hail, heavy snow) is mainly due to the short middle “a” in both, and from the fact the Abana is mentioned first, as the Barada is the greatest of the Damascene rivers. The Pharpar, meanwhile, is a more complex issue. While it is well known the Wadi/Nahr Barbar does not exist, the Pharpar’s identification with the Wadi/Nahr Awaj is also not certain. The Pharpar could be, with equal likelihood, to the north of Damascus, and possibly be the Wadi Halbun, or Nahr Yezid. The fact the Awaj is less central to the Damascus district is also an argument against its being the Pharpar. However, it still has some agricultural importance in its upper course.

Author: pithom

An atheist with an interest in the history of the ancient Near East. Author of the Against Jebel al-Lawz Wordpress blog.

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