Num 24:24

Yigal Levin Yigal-Levin at
Tue Sep 24 16:41:25 EDT 2002

Without commenting at the moment on the verse itself, I would like to
clarify the Assyria/Syria issue. WE, of course, know that the Assyrian
homeland was in the northern Tigris valley, more-or-less in today's Iraqi
Kurdistan. Presumably, the biblical writers, at least down to the 7th or
6th centuries knew this, too. But after the fall of Assur, Kalah and
Nineveh to the Medes and Babylonians in 614-612 BCE, what was left of the
Assyrian army and court regrouped at Harran, where they continued to rule
over the western part of the empire until 609. This territory then passed
to Necho of Egypt, and in 605 became the Babylonian territory of "Hurru".
The Persian name for the same province was "Athura" ("Eber-Nari" in
Akkadian, "Abar-Nahara" in Aramaic, "Eber-Hannahar" in Hebrew - "Beyond the
River", which was Herodotus' "Fifth Satrapy"). To the Greeks, who were in
the process of getting to know the Orient, this WAS "Assyria", eventually
shortened to "Syria". The real Assyrian homeland was pretty much forgotten,
which lead to the confusion in Josephus, the LXX and other later sources.
For example, the Talmudic name for the "square" Hebrew script, which was
adopted from the Aramaic scribes of the Persian Empire, is "Ketav Ashuri" -
"Assyrian". The Church that, to this day, calls itself "Assyrian", is
really "Syrian", preserving the Syriac dialect of Aramean (although in
recent times these people have "rediscovered" their "Assyrian" heritage.

Now getting back to Num 24:24, if your assumption is that the Balaam story
is post-exilic, it may very well mean "Syria", although it would be the
ONLY case that I know of in the Hebrew Bible. But the whole passage is so
strange, that I would go with a less literal approach.


At 09:38 PM 9/24/2002 +0200, Ian Hutchesson wrote:
>Does anyone have thoughts on the significance of this verse 
>which talks of ships coming from Kittim to afflict Asshur 
>and Eber, (given that Assyria was a landlocked country -- at 
>least until the ninth century BCE)?
>Could, for example, this Asshur be related not to Assyria 
>(the evil empire we know and love), but to Syria? There 
>does seem to be some alternation between the two: Josephus 
>calls the Seleucids kings of Assyria and Lucian from the 
>northern Syrian city of Samosata calls himself an Assyrian. 
>Is there any way to make sense of the verse as it was 
>written, given the problem of ships afflicting a landlocked 
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Dr. Yigal Levin
Dept. of Philosophy and Religion
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
615 McCallie Avenue
Chattanooga TN 37403-2598

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