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When did the cuneiform literature use the term “Cush” to refer to all or part of Mesopotamia, as happens in Genesis, if ever?

Why does this matter?

In the Pentateuch, “Cush” seems only to refer to Mesopotamia, but all subsequent Biblical “Cush” references from the late Monarchy until after the Exile are to Ethiopia (except a quotation in 1 Chr 1:8-10). The Mesopotamian sense of “Cush” seems so obsolete the Biblical authors never make a distinction. Or was the Mesopotamian usage of “Cush” still current during the Exile and is that when it would have been introduced into the text of the Pentateuch? But then why not use it in other parts of the Bible?

My hypothesis: "Cush" in the Pentateuch is Kassite Babylonia and the Pentateuch is contemporary with it.

Here is my supporting evidence:

                    (from the wikipedia article on the Kassite dynasty, with my comments)

-Kassite dynasty dates ca 1500 BC - ca 1155 BC, i.e. prior to Israelite monarchy but contemporary with putative Israelite bondage in Egypt through to period of Judges.

-Kassite homeland is in the Zagros mountains.

  • This region is identified with the second river of Eden, “Gihon, which winds through the entire land of Cush”(Gen. 2:13). The other rivers are Tigris, Euphrates, and Pishon, the now-dried-up Wadi of Kuwait (James A. Sauer, "The River Runs Dry," Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 22, No. 4, July/August 1996, pp. 52-54, 57, 64. ) that runs through Havilah, east of Egypt and reachable by land from Israel (I Sam. 15:7).

               (Herodotus, ca 500 BC (Histories, book 7, 70, Penguin))
    

-Herodotus confused the two types of “Cushites" when he said there were two types of “Ethiopians" in Xerxes' army

  • "The eastern Ethiopians — for there were two sorts of Ethiopians in the army — served with the Indians. These were just like the southern Ethiopians, except for their language and their hair: their hair is straight, while that of the Ethiopians in Libya is the crispest and curliest in the world. The equipment of the Ethiopians from Asia was in most respects like the Indian, except that they wore headdresses consisting of horses’ scalps, stripped off with the ears and mane attached — the ears were made to stand erect and the mane served as a crest. For shields they used the skins of cranes.”

                   (from the Bible, with my comments)
    

-Cush (Mesopotamia) in the Pentateuch:

  • Genesis 2:13; (see above)

  • Genesis 10:6-12(quoted in 1 Chr. 1:8-10); (Cush here refers to both a Mesopotamian group of nations and the single nation that leads the group. This is seen by how it parallels high-level nations that lead groups: Mizraim and Canaan. Put remains obscure. The Kassites are also both a nation and lead a group of nations.

  • Numbers 12:1. (Numbers refers to Zipporah, Moses’ “Cushite" wife, as the daughter of Reuel, priest of Midian. Although Midian is traced to Abraham through his wife Keturah (Gen 25:1-4), Midian's nephews include Sheba and Dedan, who are grandsons of Cush in Gen. 10:7. Furthermore, when the Moabites and Midianites seek to curse the Israelites in Numbers 23, they don’t rely on their priest Reuel (who supports the Israelites), but send for Balaam who lives on the Euphrates. They don’t go to Canaan or Egypt. This incident connects “Cushites” with Mesopotamia. There is nothing to indicate a connection to Ethiopia.)

-Cush (Ethiopia) in Psalm 68:31; Isaiah 11:11, 18:1 (note reference to the “people tall and smooth-skinned”, so not Mesopotamia), and many other places e.g. 2 Chr 12:3, 14:9-13; Jer 13:23; and Daniel 11:43.

-Other Biblical terms for Mesopotamia:

  • Babylon in the prophets, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Psalms, but “Babylon” means the city per se in Genesis 10 and 11.

  • Shinar occurs in the Pentateuch (Genesis 10:10, 11:2, 14:1, 14:9) and Joshua 7:21, but also Isaiah 11:11, Daniel 1:2, Zech. 5:11, so this term for southern Mesopotamia (Sumer) spans all Biblical eras.

  • Aram Naharaim — Gen 24:10; Num 23:4; Judges 3:8-10; 1 Chr. 19:6; title of Psalm 60 — Northern Mesopotamia. It has been suggested that name of the oppressor "Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia" in Judges 3:10 shows he is Mitannian, so not Kassite.

  • Chaldea — Gen 11:28, 31; 15:7 as in “Ur of the Chaldeans”, and many other places (e.g. 2 Ki 25:5; Ezra 5:12; Job 1:17), so this term also spans all Biblical eras.

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    Welcome to Stack Exchange. If you haven't done so already, check out the site tour to learn more about this site... This is a fine question and a fine answer. The problem is right now the question and the answer are both contained in the "question". It is perfectly OK to answer your own question. Would you mind removing everything starting at "My hypothesis" from the question and reposting it as an answer?
    – ThaddeusB
    Aug 11 '15 at 2:20
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Answering this requires understanding that the Dynasty of Lower Mesopotamia was: Sargon the Great; Uru-Mush (his second son); then Manes-Tusu (his first son); then Naram-Enzu. In the OT, their names are: Sargon = Ham; Uru-Mush = Cush; Manes/Menes = Mizraim. Whereas Sargon went to Egypt, and then Manes/Menes (Mizraim) re-conquered Egypt in 3100 BC, Uru-Mush (Cush) seems never to have gone there. He was content to stay as king in Sumeria/Babylonia while Menes (Mizraim) was king in Egypt. After 15 years, Menes (Mizraim) had Uru-Mush (Cush) assassinated, and became king of all the lands (Egypt, Sumer, Indus, and Crete). Why Cush's name becomes associated with Ethiopia is not clear, since he certainly never went there. Egypt was anciently named after Kham (Sargon = Ham, son of Noah) and was called Khemet for a time. There is a lot more to say, but I will stop there.

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  • This is all rubbish.
    – fdb
    Nov 7 '15 at 0:04
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Yes, there are some scholars that hold the view that Cush refers to Cassites. Here is the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament:

Although a number of suggestions as to the location of Cush in Gen 2:13 have been put forward, none has yet proven conclusive. The view of Speiser may be mentioned, however, that kûš sometimes equals Akkadian kashshu Cassites, and refers to the mountain country east of Mesopotamia. In this view, the river Gihon of Gen 2:13 ran into the Tigris-Euphrates valley from the east (Speiser, E. A., “The Rivers of Paradise” in Oriental and Biblical Studies, Univ. of Penna., 1967, 23–30. Also Harris, R. L., “The Mist, The Canopy, and the Rivers of Eden,” JETS 11:177–79). In several cases, especially in the prophets, Ethiopia is used in parallel construction as a synonym of Egypt (Isa 20:3–5; Ezk 30:4; Nah 3:9). This probably represents the dominance of Ethiopia (or, more precisely, Nubia) over Egypt between 750 and 663 B.C. Terhakah was a notable Nubian pharaoh who tried, unsuccessfully, to block Sennacherib’s westward expansion (II Kgs 19:9; Isa 37:9). After 663 B.C. Egypt was independent of Nubia (Jer 46:9; Ezk 25:4, 5, 9). The Ethiopian army of Zerah referred to in II Chr 14:9 [H 8] ff. is somewhat puzzling in that no extra-Biblical evidence as yet supports the idea of this large an Ethiopian force (one million) operating that far north in the time of Asa (c. 900 B.C.).

However, the currently accepted view is that it refers to people from Ethiopia. TWOT again:

As indicated in the table of nations (Gen 10:6–8), Cush was associated with the southernmost parts of the known world, falling in Egypt’s sphere of influence. Other indications of this view of Cush’s extremity are found in the statement of extent of the Persian empire (from India to Ethiopia, Est 1:1; 8:9) and in the promise that exiles would return from beyond Cush (Isa 11:1; Zeph 3:10; cf. Isa 18:1). To the Israelites who in pride saw themselves located at the center of the world and also at the center of God’s favor, the Lord (Amos 9:7) said that the distant Ethiopians were just as much his children. The conjunction of Cush with Sheba (in southern Arabia, Isa 43:3; 45:14, etc.), statements of her mercantile wealth (Job 28:19; Isa 45:14) and the fact that Moses’ wife is called a Cushite (Num 12:1; but cf. Ex 2:21 where Zipporah is clearly Midianite) have all combined to lead some students to believe that there was a Cush in Arabia. However, a glance at a map will show that southern Arabia is only separated from Ethiopia by a small expanse of water. Furthermore the fact that the Ethiopian language is Semitic is a further indication of the connection. A number of other possible solutions make it unnecessary to identify Zipporah and the Cushite woman.


[1] Oswalt, J. N. (1999). 969 כוּשׁ. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 435). Chicago: Moody Press.

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