Dr Quinton’s days at Caxton College were never dull. Occasionally he joined one of the many tutorials, and in this way he became acquainted with the students, and quickly discerned which of them possessed academic ability, and which of them possessed the more beneficial spiritual dimension. His keen eye travelled round and retained all that he learned. Although now in his mid-seventies, his mind was alert, and his power of recall quite astonishing. But his memory failed him for many lesser-important things of more recent days. This was to be expected.
In the middle of the Spring Term, a few second-year students approached Dr Quinton in the Library Annexe one Friday afternoon. They had been discussing a topic from Genesis history, after listening to a lecture in the morning, and something didn’t add up. As was so often the case at Caxton, students tended to gravitate to the Doctor to obtain help and direction. Hence it became known as ‘Seekers’ Corner.’
“What seems to be troubling you?” asked Doc as they seated themselves around his table as he was just finishing his afternoon tea.
“It’s about Jacob’s journey away from Haran with his flocks and herds,” said Bennett.
“It’s just too far to travel with all those animals in the time stated,” said Grieveson. “We looked it up in an atlas and found that he must have travelled over 360 miles as the crow flies, in just ten days.”
“What is more,” said Curtis, “he would have had to cross the Euphrates at a point where the river is quite wide and deep, and we can’t imagine how he managed that.”
“Do you know of any alternative site for Haran, Doc?” asked Wenham.
Dr Quinton removed his spectacles, and looked at them intently for a few seconds before answering. “You’ve certainly unearthed a problem. . . . No, I have to admit that through all my years it has never occurred to me to question that matter. . . . But I see exactly what you mean, and it’s a puzzle. I agree with you that cattle could never have travelled 36 miles each day on the average. So what shall we do? Shall we divide up the research work? Bennett, you tackle the cattle problem. Find out how many cattle Jacob had, and how far he could have driven them in a day. Grieveson, see whether anyone else has observed this problem, and if so, what conclusion they draw. Curtis, you shall be the cartographer. Get out all the maps, and see whether you can find another Haran. That’s a bit of a teaser, isn’t it? And Wenham, have a look at place names and personal names, and see whether you can inject some sense into the whole passage. And while you’re about it, see if any of the extra-biblical texts give us any help. . . . How long do you want? . . . A few days? . . . Good, I’ll look forward to your results with great interest.”
In point of fact it was the following Friday afternoon when they appeared once again, armed with papers and books, and by the look on their faces they had obviously dug up some useful information.
“I’d better start,” said Bennett, “as you challenged me first about the moving of cattle. I’ve been looking into the Hebrew text, and also the text of the Book of Jasher, and although I cannot get an exact tally, I think it’s enough for us to say that Jacob must have had literally hundreds of cows, sheep, goats, and camels. The present he gave Esau amounted to 200 she-goats, 20 he-goats, 200 ewes and 20 rams, 30 milch camels and their colts, 40 cows ands 10 bulls, 20 she-asses and 10 he-asses. (Gen.32:13-15) So the amount he retained for himself must have been staggering. He must have had dozens of servants as drovers to help with the operation. This fact alone tells us that it would have been a slow journey, and I was lucky enough to be able to talk to a couple of farmers over the weekend, and they shook their heads in unbelief at the difficulties Jacob would have experienced, knowing that the terrain was uphill anddowndale. They eventually concluded that on a good day he might have managed ten miles, but more often than not, he might have only covered five. . . . So in the time slot given in the Genesis record, he would certainly have managed 50 miles, and with luck 80 or 90 miles, but no more. In fact Jacob told his brother Esau that his ‘children were tender, and the flocks and herds were with young, and if men overdrive them even for one day, they would die.’ This is in Genesis 33:13. So that makes the location of Haran, as shown on all the Bible atlases, out of the question. There simply has to be another answer. I think we’ve found that answer, but I’ll leave it to the others to reveal what they’ve found.”
“I found two references that might help,” said Grieveson. “In asking around, Dr Dunstan showed me a couple of sheets of photocopy from his files, which came from a book entitled “The New Knowledge.” Sadly he couldn’t remember the author’s name, but whoever it was, he had noticed the same problem that we have unearthed, and he said that ‘it has been suggested’, (by whom he didn’t say) that there is another Harran near Damascus, about 84 miles distant from the point where Laban met up with Jacob. Now that fits in well with what Bennett found, doesn’t it? . . . In the second place, I found in the International Standard BibleEncyclodedia, under the heading of Paddam-Aram, virtually the same conclusion. The actual name and position of this Harran was given, but I’ll leave it to our ‘cartographer’ to tell you more about it.”
“As soon as Grieveson told me about this other Harran,” said Curtis, “I put a call through to the Royal Geographical Society in London, and a most helpful man, by the name of Francis Herbert, (Curator of Maps) looked up the name spelt Haran without any success for Syria, but there is a Harran el-Awamid just ten miles east of Damascus. He sent this map, which shows it quite clearly. Wenham will tell you more about the meaning of names, but our calculation shows that Jacob could have managed the journey as stated in Genesis, if he had started fromHarran el-Awamid. As Grieveson said, it is just over 80 miles, and this fits in well with what Bennett found from the two farmers.”
“What about the crossing of the river?” asked Doc. “I see it is mentioned in the Genesisrecord.”
“In this case it would be the Pharpar, the southern river, which at Harran el-Awamid is very wide and hardly a foot deep before it disappears into the desert sands at a marshy region. There would be no trouble taking cattle across.”
“Good. Sorry to interrupt,” said Doc.
“Harran el-Awamid,” said Wenham, “is an Arab name. I have a friend who knows an Arab Christian living in Beirut, by the name of Gaby Saleet, and when he contacted him by email, he learned that Awamid is the plural of Ammud, which means a pillar, a tall round memorial stone celebrating some important historical event. Hence the village is Harran of the Pillars. Ammudis also found as a Hebrew word, and appears frequently in the Old Testament, where the pillars are seen to be of cylindrical design, and sometimes set up in pairs, like Jachin and Boaz in the Temple. So these pillars must have been erected to remember something. Perhaps they mark the site of Laban’s home and Jacob’s troubles. . . . The other matter which I found of interest was the word translated Mesopotamia in our Bibles. Mesopotamia is a Greek word meaning ‘between the rivers’, but in Hebrew it is Aram Naharayim, meaning Syria of the Two Rivers. Most people automatically assume that Syria extended to the north of the Euphratesbecause of this, and when they still find a town there by the name of Haran, that settles it. ButHarran el-Awamid is also situated between two rivers, known in the Bible as Abana andPharpar, but today as Barada and Awaj. These were the rivers extolled by Naaman the Syrian, who, in 2 Kings 5, applied to Elisha to be healed. Hence to the east of Damascus is a land, very fertile and by all accounts very beautiful, which may also be given the nameMesopotamia, and this eradicates the problem from the point of view of names and geography.”
“Bravo,” said Doc. “I think you’ve uncovered the truth, in fact I cannot see any problem attached to any of the material you’ve researched. Thank you very much for attacking the problem. . . . I hope you don’t mind me asking another question? Have any of you found any evidence relating to Abram’s departure from Ur, and where he actually went?”
“Oh yes,” said Wenham. “Our best text from ancient literature came from the 35th chapter of the Chronicles of Jerahmeel, where we read the following:- ‘Now, it came to pass, when Abram came from Babylon he betook himself to Damascus, he and his household, and was made king over that city; for Eliezer was then the ruler of Damascus; but when he saw that the Lord was with Abram he presented him with the kingdom and surrendered himself to his service. And I. Jerahmeel, have discovered in the Book of Nicolaos of Damascus that there existed a certain neighbourhood in Damascus called ‘The Dwelling Place of Abram.’ This theyhonoured exceedingly.’ In point of fact the Roman historian Gnæus Pompeius Trogusincluded Abraham in his king-list of Damascus.’
“How interesting,” said Doc. “Eliezer must therefore have been, not just an ordinary servant, but a man of very high rank in Abram’s household. No wonder we read about him in that light in the later history. Have you been able to find a location on the map corresponding to this Habitation?”
“Hastings’ Bible Dictionary,” continued Wenham, “under the heading ‘Damascus’ has a brief note to this effect:- ‘Nicolaos of Damascus, quoted by Josephus (Ant.I,vii,2) mentions a village called ‘The Habitation of Abram’ which may be identified with el-Burzeh, three miles north of the city, where there is a wely sacred to the patriarch.’ We found that name quite easily on the map from the R.G.Soc. Furthermore, the Librarian was kind enough to fish out a reference for me from a very ancient work known as ‘The Prayer of Joseph,’ in which we found the following words:- ‘And I, Jacob, when I was coming from Mesopotamia of Syria . . .’ In other words, ‘between the rivers of Aram’, defining yet again the location of Harran between the Abana and the Pharpa. Even the word Syria is derived from Tzur, translated Tyre in our Bibles. Tyre is the coastal city of the land of Aram. Finally, the Talmud asks questions about the site of the Garden of Eden, and in attempting to answer that question, it posits that ‘If it is located between the rivers, then its entrance is Damascus.’ (Erubin 19a) This ancient quotation shows that Jews were identifying Mesopotamia with Damascus.”
“One other factor,” said Bennett, “is quite clear from our Bibles. In Isaiah 7:8 the A.V. reads, ‘The head of Syria is Damascus.’ But in the Hebrew it reads ‘the head of Aram is Damascus.’ In other words the land of Aram, which became known as Syria, surrounded Damascus, not the far off country to the north of the Euphrates. I suggest the map makers should get to work and make a few alterations, based on these findings.”
“All this material is of vital importance to historical geography, and the establishment of Biblical accuracy,” said Doc. “May I suggest you now pool your resources, and write up a monograph on the subject, and present it to our Librarian to be kept in the archives. If ever this matter arises again, we shall send students to look at the result of your labours.”