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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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1. Situation , etc. The chief city of N. Syria, situated in lat. 33° 30′ N. and long. 36° 18′ E. It lies in a plain east of the Anti-Lebanon, famous for its beauty and fertility, and watered by the Barada River, the Abanah (wh. see) of the Bible. The luxuriance of its gardens has long been renowned: the English traveller W. G. Browne in 1797 noted that the fruit-trees were so numerous that those which died and were cut down were sufficient to supply the town with firewood. Its population is estimated at from 150,000 to 220,000. It derives its modern importance from local manufactures (woodwork, furniture, artistic metal and textile work), from its situation and convenience as a market for the desert tribes, and from its religious significance as the starting-point of the annual Syrian pilgrim caravan to Mecca. Railways run from Damascus to Haifa, Beyrout, and Mezerîb, and the important line to Mecca, begun in 1901, is expected to be finished in 1910. The writer of Canticles, in his appreciation of the sensuous beauty of scenery, has not forgotten Damascus: the nose of the Shulammite is compared to the ‘tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus’ ( Song of Solomon 7:4 ).

The history of Damascus begins in remote antiquity: the time of its foundation is quite unknown; but that a settlement should have been founded in so desirable a locality was inevitable from the very beginning of human association. It was probably already an ancient city at the time of the Tell el-Amarna tablets, on which we meet with its name more than once. It also appears in the tribute lists of Thothmes III. as Demesku .

2. OT references . In the Biblical history we first meet with the name of Damascus as a territorial indication in defining the line of Abram’s pursuit of the five kings ( Genesis 14:15 ). In Genesis 15:2 the name of Abram’s steward is given in the MT [Note: Massoretic Text.] as Dammesek Eliezer (so RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) a name probably corrupt. It is explained in the Aram. [Note: Aramaic.] , Targum, and Syr. as ‘Eliezer the Damascene,’ which gives sense, though it presupposes a most improbable corruption in the Hebrew text. We must therefore pass this passage by with the remark that it is not unlikely that Abram’s servant was a native of Damascus. We hear nothing more of Damascus till 2 Samuel 8:5-6 , which describes David’s capture of the city as a reprisal for its assistance given to Hadadezer, king of Zobah; David garrisoned it and reduced it to a tributary condition (cf. 1 Chronicles 18:5 ). The general of Hadadezer, however, Rezon by name, succeeded in establishing himself as king in Damascus in the time of Solomon, and made himself continuously a very troublesome neighbour ( 1 Kings 11:23-24 ). In the wars between Asa and Baasha ( 1 Kings 15:17 ff., 2 Chronicles 16:2 ff.) the king of Judah invoked the aid of Ben-hadad, king of Syria, whose royal city was Damascus, against his Israelite enemy. By gifts he persuaded him to break the truce already existing between Ben-hadad and Israel, and to join partnership with Judah. Accordingly Ben-hadad proceeded to harass Baasha on his northern borders, and so induced him to desist from his plan of erecting border fortifications between the two Hebrew kingdoms. Hostilities continued between Syria and Israel till the days of Ahab: Ahab’s sparing of Ben-hadad after the battle of Aphek and his making a truce with him, were the cause of a prophetic denunciation ( 1 Kings 20:42 ). In the reign of Jehoram, the Syrian general Naaman came to be cleansed of leprosy ( 2 Kings 5:1-27 ), and Elisha’s directions led to his famous depreciating comparison of the muddy Jordan with the clear-flowing Abanah and Pharpar (v. 12). The Chronicler ( 2 Chronicles 24:23 ) reports a victorious invasion of Judah by Damascus in the days of Joash. The city of Damascus was re-taken by Jeroboam II. ( 2 Kings 14:28 ), though the circumstances are not related; but must have been lost again immediately, for we find the Syrian king Rezin there ( 2 Kings 16:1-20 ) oppressing Ahaz, so that he was led to the policy, which (as Isaiah foresaw, Isaiah 7:1-25; Isaiah 10:5-11 ) proved suicidal, of calling in the aid of Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, and submitting himself as a vassal of that great king. Prophetic denunciations of Damascus, as of the other enemies of the Hebrews, are found in Isaiah 17:1-14 , Jeremiah 49:23 , Amos 1:3-5 , and Zechariah 9:1 . Damascus as a commercial centre was always of great importance, and Ezekiel ( Ezekiel 27:18 ) alludes to its trade in vines and wool. It is, of course, included in the imaginary restoration of the kingdom ( Ezekiel 47:17 ).

3. NT references . Damascus appears only in connexion with St. Paul. Here took place his miraculous conversion ( Acts 9:1-43; Acts 22:1-30; Acts 26:1-32 ) with the well-known attendant circumstances, and his escape from Aretas (wh. see), the governor, by being lowered in a basket over the wall ( Acts 9:25 , 2 Corinthians 11:32-33 ), and hither he returned after his Arabian retirement ( Galatians 1:17 ).

4. Later history . The late extra-Biblical history is very complicated. In 333 b.c., after the battle of Issus, the city was surrendered to Parmenio, the general of Alexander the Great, and during the subsequent Græco-Egyptian wars it fell more than once into the hands of the Ptolemys. In 111 b.c., on the partition of Syria between Antiochus Grypus and A. Cyzicenus, the latter obtained possession of the city. His successor, Demetrius Eucærus, invaded Palestine in 88 b.c. and defeated Alexander Jannæus at Shechem. His brother, who succeeded him, was driven out by the Arabian Haritha (Aretas). For a while it remained in Arab hands, then, after a temporary occupation by Tigranes, king of Armenia, it was conquered by Metellus, the Roman general. It was a city of the Decapolis. The great temple of the city was by one of the early Christian emperors probably Theodosius transformed into a church. It is now the principal mosque of the city, but was partly destroyed by fire in 1893. Since 635 Damascus has been a Muslim city, though governed from time to time by different tribes and dynasties of that faith. It was conquered by the Seljuks in 1075. The Crusaders never succeeded in making a strong position for themselves in the city. In 1860 about 6000 Christians were massacred by the Muslim population of the city. Few remains of antiquity are to be seen in the modern city, which is attractive principally for its undiluted Oriental life and its extensive markets and bazaars. The mosque just mentioned, a mediæval castle, and part of the ancient walls, are the principal relics. Of course, there are the usual traditional sites of historical events, but these are not more trustworthy at Damascus than anywhere else in Syria and Palestine.

R. A. S. Macalister.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Damascus'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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