Eight Days Journey Through Four Millennia of History (2) From Tarsus to Mount Ararat

By Ferrell Jenkins

The new road between Adana and Gaziantep was as good as any super highway one might find in the United States or Europe. Shortly before arriving at Gaziantep we reached an elevation of about 3600 feet above sea level, passing through beautiful mountains and valleys. Turkey is blessed with an abundance of grain fields in the valleys and on the hillsides which make up the country. We had to drive slower when we came to a stretch of the older two-lane road. Trucks, so vital to the movement of the produce of the country, seem to outnumber cars about 10 to 1 in eastern Turkey. This road was designated as a TIR road. Trucks with this tag are able to transport goods from Europe, across Turkey, to Syria, Iraq, Iran, and further east.

Carchemish: Where Neco Met His Match

Near Gaziantep we turned north toward Adiyaman. We would like to have continued east and south to visit the site of Carchemish, but we did not have the time and we might not have been allowed to make the visit. Carchemish is located on the west bank of the Euphrates along the border with Syria.

Carchemish is mentioned three times in the Old Testament. The city came under Assyrian control during the reign of Sargon II (717 B.C.), a fact noted in Isaiah 10:9. Pharaoh Neco of Egypt was on his way “to make war (against Babylon) at Carchemish on the Euphrates” when Josiah, king of Judah, went out to engage him at Megiddo (2 Chron. 35:20; 609 B.C.). Josiah was slain on the plain of Megiddo. Neco used Carchemish as a base from which, along with a remnant of Assyrian forces, to harass the Babylonians, but in 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar led the Neo-Babylonian army in a surprise attack in which the Egyptians were defeated. Details of the battle are given in the Babylonian Chronicle. See the biblical account in Jeremiah 46:1-26. Youngblood reminds us that “605 B.C. was a decisive year in ancient Near Eastern history” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 1:617). Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, had fallen to the Babylonians and Medes in 612 B.C., but the government held out at Harran when the city fell to the Babylonians and Scythians. Wiseman says, “Assyria ceased to exist and her territory was taken over by the Babylonians” (New Bible Dictionary, 101).

Nemrut Dagi: Megalomania to the Extreme Occasionally in the region south of Adiyaman we saw boys herding beautiful black angora goats. Goats seemed to outnumber sheep in this region. We observed that when-ever we saw flocks of only sheep the shepherd would be an older man. It takes a lot of experience to be a good shepherd; we remembered Jesus (John 10:14). We made a number of pictures of shepherds with sheep throughout the trip. I find it impossible to describe the mountains and valleys because the scene changes every few miles. I can say that they are beautiful beyond description. Agriculture is in abundance.

By 4:00 p.m. we reached Adiyaman which has a population of about 100,000. After stopping at the Hotel Antiochus in Adiyaman we decided to continue to Katha and Mount Nemrut (or Nemrud). When one looks at the map of Turkey this appears to be a nice, little drive  a distance of about 60 miles. Looks can be deceiving, how-ever. At Katha we turned north and continued to climb the mountains toward Nemrut. We passed through an oil field and some streams which flow into the Euphrates below. At Karadut we were greeted by smiling children, some of whom ran along side the car as we drove slowly through the village. There are many springs and water flows beside the road and across it. Each of these contribute to the Euphrates river. We were amused at the understatement of the phrase in the British produced Turkey: The Rough Guide: “Above Karadut the road deteriorates noticeably.” For the last eight miles before Nemrut Dagi the road was paved with basalt stones. The severe winter weather had left the road in such bad condition that it was very difficult to negotiate the hill and avoid the potholes. It would have been a long drop if we had gone over the side; guard rails are a rarity in Turkey! The scenery was magnificent, but the climb was too much for our little Fiat. At one point we had to stop for a while and allow it to cool. Eventually Curtis and Kyle walked the last few hundred feet to the parking area and I backed the car to the top. Several mini-buses loaded with a dozen or so tourists each passed us on their way to the top in time for the sunset.

What is here and why had we come so far with such difficulty? Nemrut Dagi is the resting place of King Antiochus I Epiphanes. Don’t confuse this man with the infamous Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.), one of 14 Seleucid kings, most of them bearing the name Antiochus, who ruled Syria after the death of Alexander the Great. On coins he was designated “Theos Epiphanes” guish on the Jews and prompted the Maccabean revolt.

The king who was responsible for the monuments on Mount Nemrut was Antiochus I Epiphanes. He was one of the important rulers of Commagene from 64-38 B.C. It was part of the Seleucid kingdom, having gained independence following a revolt in the first century B.C. Commagene was a small, wealthy kingdom located between the Anti-Taurus range and the Euphrates River. The rulers of Commagene claimed to be descendants of the Persian emperor Darius I on their father’s side and of Alexander the Great on their mother’s side. In inscriptions found at the site, Antiochus claimed to be a friend of Rome and Greece. Commagene served as a buffer kingdom between Rome and the Parthians.

Antiochus left orders for a magnificent funerary monument to be built on the highest mountain in his territory. The mountain is about 6885 feet high. From the time we reached the parking area and the ticket booth, it took an additional 20 minutes of stop-and-go walking to reach the mountain top. At this level one can see the gigantic monuments erected to Antiochus and various “other” gods  Apollo, Tyche, Zeus, Hercules  and lions and eagles. These monuments reminded me of those left by Ramses II at Abu Simbel in Egypt. The heads of the monuments have all toppled from their bodies  the last one fell in 1964 when struck by lightning. The throne and statue of Antiochus weighs approximately 62 tons. The fallen head, which stands proudly looking over his kingdom, is more than seven feet high.

Above the monuments is an artificial tumulus made of smaller than fist size stones which reaches an elevation of 7049 feet. We reached the monument in time to see marvelous views of the Euphrates valley below. National Geographic once described the monument as “Throne Above the Euphrates” (March 1961).The Turkish government has built dams on the Euphrates so that the valley below is flooded. Some books say that one can see for a hundred miles on a clear day. We could see Nemrut Dagi clearly from the Adiyaman-Sanliurfa road (high-way 875) the next morning.

Some have described this monument as the eighth wonder of the world. UNESCO declared the place “an international legacy” in 1987. As the sun sank below the mountains to the west at about 7:45 p.m., I sat motionless snapping photos of the silhouetted Antiochus. Before I had thought of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and Ramses II of Egypt as the greatest megalomaniacs, but now I had to admit that Antiochus excelled them. This monument which was built in the first half of the first century B.C. was only rediscovered in the winter of 1881-1882. We remember the beautiful hymn, “The kingdoms of earth pass away one by one, But the kingdom of heaven remains.”

It was windy and cold on Nemrut Dagi even on June 14, 1995. The Blue Guide: Turkey says, “Perhaps the best time of the year to visit Nemrut Dagi is early October, as then the loneliness and isolation of this bizarre funerary monument are very apparent. There are few visitors and the first flakes of snow on the summit herald blizzards that will soon isolate the mountain sanctuary completely. Abandoned by man, only the wild animals and birds that shelter among its ruined stones keep company with the spirit of Antiochus during the long, dark months of winter” (530).

By the time we started our descent it was dark, but we hurried to get ahead of the mini-vans in the event that we had trouble. We arrived back at Hotel Antiochus in Adiyaman about 10 p.m. to a late dinner and some welcomed rest.

The Adventure Continues: In the next parts we will tell you about the Euphrates River, Sanliurfa, Harran, Padan Aram, Mesopotamia, the Tigris River, Urartu (Ararat), and Mount Ararat.

Guardian of Truth XL: 6 p. 8-9
March 21, 1996