Mesopotamia generally refers to an ancient, fertile part of what is now known as the Middle East, an area mostly associated with land in modern-day Iraq. Mesopotamia comprised part of what is now often called the Fertile Crescent and was home to many different civilizations through the millennia. It is believed that in Mesopotamia cities were first established and writing was developed, and for those reasons the area is now sometimes called the Cradle of Civilization.
Mesopotamia derives its name from its approximate geographical boundaries, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The word Mesopotamia is a combination of two Greek words that literally mean “between the rivers.” Because of plentiful water supplies and great agricultural capacity, the region of Mesopotamia was home to several ancient empires, and it features often in the biblical story. Here are some important highlights:
• The mention of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Genesis 2:14 suggests that the Garden of Eden was located somewhere in Mesopotamia.
• Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people, was originally from Mesopotamia. His family lived near the major cities of Ur and Harran before moving to Canaan at God’s direction.
• Rebekah, the wife of Isaac, was from Mesopotamia.
• Jacob escaped the wrath of his brother, Esau, by fleeing to Mesopotamia and living with his uncle Laban.
• Cushan-Rishathaim, an Aramean king who subjugated Israel in the book of Judges, was based in Mesopotamia (Judges 3:8–10).
• Assyria, an ancient empire that exerted considerable influence over Israel at many points in history, was located in Mesopotamia. The Assyrian Empire destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BC, and the Assyrian king Sennacherib invaded the southern kingdom of Judah around 700 BC.
• The Babylonian Empire was also located in Mesopotamia. They subjugated and ultimately destroyed the nation of Judah around the sixth century BC. The Judeans were subsequently exiled into Babylon.
• The prophet Daniel and his three friends lived and worked in the Mesopotamian city of Babylon, the heart of the Babylonian Empire.
• Later, in the sixth century, the Persian Empire conquered most of Mesopotamia and permitted some of the Jews living there to return to Judah.
• Mesopotamians were among those gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. They witnessed the apostles preaching with the gift of tongues by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:9).
• Stephen, during his testimony before the Sanhedrin, recalls that Mesopotamia was Abraham’s homeland (Acts 7:2).
In summary, Mesopotamia features in many significant biblical narratives. The Bible records stories about real people, living at a real time in history.
God’s redemptive plan is not restricted to one geographical region but involves people from all over the world, including Mesopotamia. As the Scriptures testify, “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).