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English Bible Dictionary

River

 

In the sense in which we employ the word viz. for a perennial stream of considerable size, a river is a much rarer object in the East than in the West. With the exception of the Jordan and the Litany, the streams of the holy land are either entirely dried up in the summer months converted into hot lanes of glaring stones, or else reduced to very small streamlets, deeply sunk in a narrow bed, and concealed from view by a dense growth of shrubs. The perennial river is called nahar by the Hebrews. With the definite article, "the river," it signifies invariably the Euphrates. (Genesis 31:21; Exodus 23:31; Numbers 24:6; 2 Samuel 10:16) etc. It is never applied to the fleeting fugitive torrents of Palestine, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. The term for these is nachal, for which our translators have used promiscuously, and sometimes almost alternately, "valley" "brook" and "river." No one of these words expresses the thing intended; but the term "brook" is peculiarly unhappy. Many of the wadys of Palestine are deep, abrupt chasms or rents in the solid rock of-the hills, and have a savage, gloomy aspect, far removed from that of an English brook. Unfortunately our language does not contain any single word which has both the meanings of the Hebrew nachal and its Arabic equivalent wady which can be used at once for a dry valley and for the stream which occasionally flows through it.

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