Glossary of Terms

Hiddekel or Tigris River


Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

Hiddekel, the term in the kjv for the rsv’s ‘Tigris,’ the major eastern river in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq; Dan. 10:4; Gen. 2:14)

Tigris River, one of the two major rivers (the other is the Euphrates) that nourished an extensive floodplain providing the physical basis for the rise of civilization in the ancient Near East. Its name is derived from Old Persian Tigra. In Assyrian-Babylonian it was known as Idiglat, and the Hebrew Hiddekel is preserved in Gen. 2:14 where it is identified as the third river ‘which flows east of Assyria’ running out of Eden. It was designated also as the location in which Daniel perceived a major vision (Dan. 10:4).

The headwaters of the river lie in the mountains of southern Armenia, modern eastern Turkey and northern Iraq, just west and south of Lake Van. It runs generally southeastward along the base of the western foothills of the Zagros Mountains. It is joined en route by three major tributaries and several minor ones draining the western slopes of the hills to the northeast. The main tributaries are the Upper Zab, the Lower Zab, and the Diyala.

Important ancient cities built on the Tigris include Assyria’s Nineveh (opposite modern Mosul) and Asshur (the original Assyrian capital), modern Qal¯at Shergat. Near modern Baghdad lay the Neo-Babylonian commercial center Opis, and farther south at modern Sulman Pak was the Parthian and Sassanian city named Ctesiphon. Its location is still marked by a most magnificent brick vaulted arch. Across the river on the west bank at modern Tell Umar are the ruins of the Seleucid capital Seleucia.

Physically the river is fast and rugged in the upper reaches, being navigable only from Mosul southward. Its 1,146-mile length was close enough to the Euphrates from about Baghdad south to allow canals to run irrigation water across from the higher western riverbed toward the Tigris. This 10,000-square-mile basin provided the agricultural sustenance for the earliest city-state and empire building of which we have record. The lower reaches of the river were slow flowing, meandering, and ended in salt marshes in antiquity. Now the bed joins that of the Euphrates to form the Shatt al-Arab before emptying into the Persian Gulf. This ancient setting provided the physical context for some of our most ancient literature, in which the survival of life depended on the constantly flexing battle between the forces of the fresh and salt waters.


All glossary terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
Top of page