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Holman Bible Dictionary
Setting Its geographical location enabled Damascus to become a dominant trading and transportation center. Standing 2300 feet above sea level, it lay northeast of Mount Hermon and about 60 miles east of Sidon, the Mediterranean port city. Both major international highways ran through Damascus the Via Maris from Mesopotamia in the east through Damascus and the Jezreel Valley to the Plain of Sharon and the Mediterranean coast, then south to Egypt; and the King's Highway from Damascus south through Ashtaroth, Rabbath-ammon, and Bozrah to Elath on the Red Sea and to Arabia. By the same token, Damascus saw armies march along the highways, often using Damascus as the staging area.
History Archaeology cannot contribute much to the study of Damascus, since the continued existence of the city makes excavation difficult, if not impossible. Explorations do indicate settlement from before 3000 B.C. Tablets from the Syrian center of Ebla mention Damascus about 2300 B.C. Thutmose III of Egypt claimed to have conquered Damascus about 1475 B.C. The Hittites battled Egypt for control of Damascus until the Hittites were defeated by the Sea Peoples about 1200 B.C. At this time Arameans from the nearby desert came in and took control of an independent Damascus, gradually establishing a political power base.
In the Bible Abraham chased invading kings north of Damascus to recover Lot, whom they had taken captive (Genesis 14:15 ). Abraham's servant Eliezer apparently came from Damascus (Genesis 15:2 ).
Soldiers of Damascus attempted to help Hadadezer, king of Zobah another Syrian city-state against David. David won and occupied Damascus (2 Samuel 8:5-6 ). The weakness of Zobah encouraged Rezon to organize a renegade band, much as David had in opposing Saul (1 Samuel 22:2 ). Rezon became the leader of Syria headquartered in Damascus (1 Kings 11:23-25 ). God used him to harass Solomon.
The new Syrian city-state faced a strong opponent from the east as Assyria rose to power. Ben-hadad strengthened Damascus to the point that Asa, king of Judah (910-869), paid him tribute to attack Baasha, king of Israel, and relieve pressure on Judah (1 Kings 15:16-23 ). This gave Damascus reason to interfere repeatedly in politics in Palestine.
1 Kings 20:1 also features Ben-hadad of Damascus, giving reason to believe that Ben-hadad (literally, “son of Hadad”) was a royal title in Syria, identifying the king of Damascus as a worshiper of the god Hadad, another name for Baal. See 1 Kings 20:26 ). Again a prophet pointed the way to Israel's victory. Ahab agreed to a covenant treaty with the defeated Syrian king, for which he met a prophet's strong judgment (1 Kings 20:35-43 ).
Naaman, a Syrian officer, sought Elisha's help in curing his skin disease but decided Abana and Pharphar, the great rivers of Damascus, offered greater help than did the Jordan (2 Kings 5:12 ). These rivers made Damascus an oasis in the midst of the desert. Elisha helped deliver Samaria when Ben-hadad besieged it (2 Kings 6-7 ). Elisha also prophesied a change of dynasty in Damascus, naming Hazael its king (2 Kings 8:7-15 ). Shalmaneser III of Assyria (858-824) claimed to have defeated both Ben-hadad and Hazael. The first important battle came at Qarqar in 853 B.C. Ahaziah, king of Judah (841), joined Joram, king of Israel (852-841), in battle against Hazael with Joram being wounded. Jehu took advantage of the wounded king and killed him (2 Kings 8:25-9:26 ).
Having fought against Damascus in campaigns in 853,849, 848, and 845, Shalmaneser III of Assyria severely weakened Damascus, besieging it in 841 and then receiving tribute again in 838. After this, Hazael of Damascus exercised strong influence, gaining influence in Israel, Judah, and Philistia (2 Kings 10:32-33 ). His son Ben-hadad maintained Damascus' strength (2 Kings 13:3-25 ). Finally, Jehoash, king of Israel (798-782), regained some cities from Damascus (2 Kings 13:25 ). Jeroboam II, king of Israel (793-753), expanded Israelite influence and gained control of Damascus (2 Kings 14:28 ). This was possible because Assyria threatened Syria again, as Adad-nirari III, king of Assyria (810-783), invaded Syria from 805 to 802 and again in 796. About 760 B.C. Amos the prophet condemned Damascus and its kings Hazael and Ben-hadad (Amos 1:3-5 ).
Tiglath-pileser III, king of Assyria (744-727), threatened Damascus anew. King Rezin of Damascus joined with Pekah, king of Israel, about 734 B.C. in an effort to stop the Assyrians. They marched on Jerusalem, trying to force Ahaz of Judah to join them in fighting Assyria (2 Kings 16:5 ). The prophet Isaiah warned Ahaz not to participate with Syria and Israel (Isaiah 7:1 ). He also said that Assyria would destroy Damascus (Isaiah 8:4; compare Isaiah 17:1 ). Rezin of Damascus had some military success (2 Kings 16:6 ), but he could not get Ahaz of Judah to cooperate. Neither could Isaiah. Instead, Ahaz sent money to Tiglath-pileser, asking him to rescue Judah from Israel and Damascus. The Assyrians responded readily and captured Damascus in 732 B.C., exiling its leading people (2 Kings 16:7-9 ). Damascus had one last influence on Judah; for when Ahaz went to Damascus to pay tribute to Tiglath-pileser, he liked the altar he saw there and had a copy made for the Jerusalem Temple (2 Kings 16:10-16 ). Damascus sought to gain independence from Assyria in 727,720 but without success. Thus Damascus became a captive state of first the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Ptolemies, and Seleuccids. Finally, Rome gained control under Pompey in 64 B.C. Jews began to migrate to Damascus and establish synagogues there. Thus Saul went to Damascus to determine if any Christian believers were attached to the synagogues there so that he might persecute them (Acts 9:1 ). Thus the Damascus Road became the sight of Saul's conversion experience and Damascus the sight of his introduction to the church. He had to escape from Damascus in a basket to begin his ministry (2 Corinthians 11:32 ). Damascus gained importance, eventually becoming a Roman colony. It also gained importance as a Christian city, with a bishop stationed there prior to A.D. 400. The Arabs captured it in 636 and made it a capital city for the Moslem world, which it continues to be. See Hadad; Syria .
Trent C. Butler
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Damascus'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/d/damascus.html. 1991.