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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Gaza

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(Γάζα)

Gaza, the most southern of the five chief cities of Philistia, was important as the last place of call on the road to Egypt. It was ‘the frontier city of Syria and the Desert, on the south-west, as Damascus on the north-east’ (Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, London, 1877, p. 259). Writing about the beginning of the Christian era, Strabo (xvi. ii. 30) describes it as ‘once famous, but razed by Alexander [the Great] and remaining deserted’ (καὶ μένουσα ἔρημος). The last clause can scarcely be correct, for Gaza was a strong city in the time of Jonathan the Maccabee (1 Maccabees 11:61 f.), and it stood a year’s siege before it was destroyed by Alexander Jannaeus in 96 b.c. (Jos. Ant. xiii, xiii. 3). This was Old Gaza (ἡ παλαιὰ Γάζα), so called by Diodorus and Porphyry (see the references in Schürer, History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] II. i. [Edinburgh, 1885] 70). New Gaza (ἡ νέα Γάζα) was built by Gabinius, Governor of Syria (Jos. Ant. xiv. v. 3), apparently at some distance from the former site (Jerome, Onomast., ed. Lagarde, Göttingen, 1870, p. 125). In the time of Claudius, Mela describes it as ‘ingens et munita admodum’ (i. 11). It is said to have been destroyed by the Jews in a.d. 65 (Jos. Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) ii. xviii. 1), but the ruin cannot have been more than partial. In the time of Eusebius and Jerome it was still a notable Greek city, where paganism stoutly resisted Christianity; and it played an important part in the time of the Crusades. To-day it is a flourishing town of 16,000 inhabitants, built on and around a hill rising 100 ft. above the plain, and separated from the sea by three miles of yellow sand-dunes. Well watered, with broad gardens, and a great olive grove stretching northwards, it drives a considerable trade with the nomadic Arabs.

Gaza is mentioned once in the NT (Acts 8:26): ‘Arise,’ said the angel of the Lord to Philip, ‘and go toward the south (marg. [Note: margin.] , at noon) unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem to Gaza: the same is desert’ (αὔτη ἐστὶν ἔρημος). It is a much-disputed point whether ‘the same’ refers to the way or to Gaza. (l) If the former interpretation, which is the ordinary one, is right, the tract which the road traversed was ‘desert’ only in a qualified sense, for the writer expressly states that in passing through it Philip came upon water, in which he baptized the eunuch. The guiding angel’s words may refer merely to the solitariness of the road, being spoken ‘to bring out Philip’s trustful obedience, where he could not foresee the end in view’ (J. V. Bartlet, Acts [Century Bible, 1901], p. 214), or simply to prepare him for the uninterrupted interview which he enjoys with the eunuch. It is always possible that ‘the same is desert’ is a remark added by the narrator himself. (2) G. A. Smith (Historical Geography of the Holy Land (G. A. Smith) , London, 1897, p. 186ff.) and Cheyne (Encyclopaedia Biblica , 1650) hold that ‘the same (αὔτη) refers to Gaza. The former, to whom it seems impossible to describe any route from Jerusalem to Gaza as desert, suggests that while New Gaza was built by the seashore, the road to Egypt passed the inland and at least comparatively deserted Old Gaza. This view, however, puts a strained meaning upon ‘the same,’ while Schürer (ii. i. 71) holds that the new city, to which αὕτη would naturally refer, also lay inland, probably a little distance to the south of the old. Some scholars (Beza, Hilgenfeld, Schmiedel, and others) have contended that ‘the same is desert’ is an explanatory gloss. Schmiedel suggests that it was set down in the margin by a reader who had been misled by Strabo, and then incorporated in the text.

Literature.-See, in addition to the works mentioned above, E. Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine, London, 1841, p. 373ff.; V. Guérin, Description géographique … de la Palestine, pt. i.: ‘Judée,’ Paris, 1869; L. Gautier, Souvenirs de Terre-Sainte, Lausanne, 1897, p. 116ff.; T. Zahn, Introd. to the NT, Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1909, ii. 438.

James Strahan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Gaza'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/g/gaza.html. 1906-1918.

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