Haran (Genesis 27)

The ancient city of Haran, which probably derived its name from the Akkadian word harranu (“highway”), is located in the modern-day Turkey about 10 miles (16 km) north of the Syrian border. Strategically situated on the historic east-west trade route that linked the Tigris River with the Mediterranean Sea, Haran was one of northern Mesopotamia’s important commercial and religious centres, widely known for its dedicated worship of the moon god, Sin.

Occupied from the mid-third millennium B.C. until several centuries after the New Testament period, this city is best known for its links with the Biblical patriarchs, who lived during the Middle Bronze Age (first half of the second millennium B.C.). Mari texts attest that Haran was thriving during this time. En route to Canaan Abram and his family lived there for a time, perhaps to care for Terah, Abram’s ailing father who eventually died there (Genesis 11:31-32). Abram (now Abraham) later found a wife for his son Isaac from among relatives in Haran (cf. 24:1-7, 24), and Isaac’s son Jacob eventually secured refuge in the region with his uncle Laban (27:42-28:5), for whom he worked for 20 years. Before returning to Canaan Jacob married both Leah and Rachel (Laban’s two daughters) and fathered 11 sons in Haran (chapters 29-31).

For approximately one thousand years after the patriarchs, Haran continued to flourish on the basis of its trade with other nations and activities related to the moon god, Sin. Following a civic revolt, Assyrian forces captured the city in 763 B.C. Assyrian officials later use this victory to intimidate the Judean king Hezekiah, after which Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel (Isaiah 37:11-12). Haran became the last capital of Assyria in 612 B.C. but was captured in 609 B.C. by the Babylonians, who revived the declining worship of Sin and restored Haran as a thriving trade centre (cf. Ezekiel 27:23).

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