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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Ἀβιληνή sc. χώρα , Luke 3:1), the small district or territory in the region of Lebanon which took its name from the chief town, Abila (Polyb. v. 71, 2; Josephus, War, 2, 13, 2; 4:7, 5; Heb. Abel', אָבֵל, a plain), which was situated in Coele-Syria (Ptolem. v. 18), and (according to the Antonine Itin.) 18 miles N. of Damascus, and 38 S. of Heliopolis (lat. 68o 45', long. 33o 20'); but which must not be confounded with Abila of the Decapolis (Burckhardt, p. 269; Ritter, 15, 1059). (See AILA). Northward it must have reached beyond the upper Barada, in order to include Abila; and it is probable that its southern border may have extended to Mount Hermon (Jebel es-Sheikh). It seems to have included the eastern declivities of Anti- Libanus, and the fine valleys between its base and the hills which front the eastern plains. This is a very beautiful and fertile region, well wooded, and watered by numerous springs from Anti-Lebanon. It also affords fine pastures; and in most respects contrasts with the stern and barren western slopes of Anti-Lebanon.
This territory had been governed as a tetrarchate by Lysanias, son of Ptolemy and grandson of Mennneus (Josephus, Ant. 14:13, 3); but he was put to death, B.C. 33, through the intrigues of Cleopatra, who then took possession of the province (Ant. 15:4, 1). After her death it fell to Augustus, who rented it out to one Zenodorus; but as he did not keep it clear of robbers, it was taken from him, and given to Herod the Great (Ant. 15:10, 1; War, 1:20, 4). At his death a part (the southern, doubtless) of the territory was added to Trachonitis and Itursea to form a tetrarchy for his son Philip; but by far the larger portion, including the city of Abila, was then, or shortly afterward, bestowed on another Lysanias, mentioned by Luke (Luke 3:1), who is supposed to have been a descendant of the former Lysanias, but who is nowhere mentioned by Josephus. (See LYSANIAS). Indeed, nothing is said — by him or any other profane writer respecting this part of Abilene — until several years after the time referred to by Luke, when the Emperor Caligula gave it to Agrippa I as "the tetrarchy of Lysanias" (Josephus, Ant. 18:6, 10), to whom it was afterward confirmed by Claudius. At his death it was included in that part of his possessions which went to his son Agrippa II. (See Josephus, Ant. 13:16, 3; 14:12, 1; 3,2; 7,4; 15:10, 3; 17:11, 4; 19:5, 1; 10:7, 1; War, 1:13, 1; 2:6, 3; 11. 5; Dio Cass. 49:32; 54:9.) This explanation as to the division of Abilene between Lysanias and Philip removes the apparent discrepancy in Luke, who calls Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene at the very time that, according to Josephus (a part of) Abilene was in the possession of Philip (see Noldii Hist. Idum. p. 279 sq.; Krebs, Observ. Flav. p. 110 sq.; Susskind, Symbol. ad Illustr. Quaedam Evang. Loca, 1:21; 3:23 sq.; also in Pott, Syllog. 8:90 sq.; also in the Stud. u. Krit. 1836, 2:431 sq.; Miunter, De Rebus Ituraeor. Hafn. 1824, p. 22 sq.; Wieseler, Chronol. Synopsis, p. 174 sq.; Ebrard, Wissenschaft. Kritik, p. 181 sq.; Hug, Gutachten ub. Strauss, p. 119 sq.). In fact, as Herod never actually possessed Abilene (Josephus, Ant. 19:5, 1; War, 2:11, 5), and Zenodorus only had the farming of it, this region never could have descended to Herod's heirs, and therefore properly did not belong to Philip's tetrarchy. The same division of the territory in question is implied in the exclusion of Chalcis from the government of the later Lysanias, although included in that of the older (Josephus, Ant. 20:7, 1). We find Abila mentioned among the places captured by Placidus, one of Vespasian's generals, in A.D. 69-70 (Josephus, War, 4:7, 5); and from that time it was permanently annexed to the province of Syria (Smith's Dict. of Class. Geog. s.v.). The metropolis Abila is mentioned in the lists of the Christian councils as the seat of an episcopal see down to A.D. 634 (Reland, Palest. p. 529).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Abilene'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/a/abilene.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.