In the far western Iranian province of Khuzestan, just 50 km from the Iraqi border and on the outskirts of the city of Shush (ancient Susa, Shushan in the Bible), runs the river known in ancient times as the River Ulai, but in modern times as the Karkheh. Fed by the melting snows of the Zagros Mountains, it snakes its 900 km journey from the mountains to the plains, ending in the Hawizeh Marshes that straddle the Iran–Iraq border.

It is a winding river that contained sweet water and was considered sacred by the Persian kings. In modern times it has been cut in two with the construction of the Karkheh Dam and this has produced a large river basin that has become the food basket of Iran.

While the Karkheh flows a kilometre or two west of Susa, another major river (Shaur) flows parallel to it within a few kilometres to the east of Susa. When these rivers are in flood stage, the entire area south of Susa can be flooded, as the waters of the two watercourses mingle.

In Daniel 8:2 we learn that Daniel was taken to the banks of the River Ulai in vision and shown the defeat of the Medo-Persian empire at the hands of Alexander. This was because the River Ulai was the boundary of the kingdom of Elam.

The word “ubal”, here used for “river,” is an unusual one. It comes from a root meaning “to conduct,” and might better be translated “canal”. Another word from the same root signifies a “conduit”. The canal itself was once very wide (300 metres broad) and joined the Karkheh and the nearby Shaur. Today, all that is left of the canal is a dry riverbed.

This vast canal joining the two rivers would have been much used for water traffic and must have proved a source of wealth to Shushan. The silver empire of Medo-Persia was the monied kingdom, and the idea of wealth and abundance was in the minds of the Babylonians when they built these canals for commerce.

Jeremiah has these canals in his mind when, in his long prophecy against Babylon, he thus addresses her (Jer 51:13): “O thou that dwellest upon many waters, abundant in treasures, thine end is come, the measure of thy covetousness”. The mention of “covetousness” ( YLT “dishonest gain”) shows that the prophet connected the wealth of Babylon and her commercial greatness with the facilities for water-traffic offered by her canal system.The mention, then, of the Ulai, the broad canal of Shushan, as the scene of Daniel’s vision is suggestive of the vast wealth and the immense resources of the fast-approaching Medo-Persian kingdom. For in front of this canal, as if to defend his treasures, stood the Medo-Persian ram, when against him from the west with the speed of some bird of prey, not touching the ground, came the Grecian he-goat with that notable horn between his eyes.

The river was also famous for a famous battle in 653 BC when the Assyrians decisively defeated the kingdom of Elam and took control of the region, sacking Sushan two years later. For Daniel to stand near the place of the battle was a signal that Elam would fall once more, but this time to the Greeks. The Battle of Ulai is well known because of the re- lief carvings found in Ashurbanipal’s palace in Ninevah.

At this river, Daniel also underwent a symbolic death and resurrection and was awoken to receive the meaning of the vision and witness the Prince of Princes prevail against all enemies. May we, like Daniel, be caused to be set upright at the resurrection and stand in our lot at the end of the days.