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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Heb. Rabbah', רִבָּה ), the name of several ancient places both east and west of the Jordan, although it appears in this form in connection with only two in the A. V. The root is urob, meaning much, and hence great, whether in size or importance (Gesenius, Thesaur. p. 1254; Furst, Handworterb. ii, 347). The word survives in Arabic as a common appellative, and is also in use as the name of places — e.g. Rabba, on the east of the Dead Sea; Rabhah, a temple in the tribe of Medshidj (Freytag, 2, 107 a); and perhaps also Rabaut, in Morocco. In the following account we chiefly follow the usual Biblical and archaological authorities, with additions from other sources. (See RABBI).
1. A very strong place on the east of Jordan, which, when its name is first introduced in the sacred records, was the chief city of the Ammonites. In five passages (Deuteronomy 3:11; 2 Samuel 12:26; 2 Samuel 17:27; Jeremiah 49:2; Ezra 21:20) it is styled at length רִבִּת בְּנֵי עִמּוֹן, Rabbdth-bene-Ammon, A. V. "Rabbath of the Ammonites," or "of the children of Ammon;" but elsewhere (Joshua 13:25; 2 Samuel 11:1; 2 Samuel 12:27; 2 Samuel 12:29; 1 Chronicles 20:1; Jeremiah 49:3; Ezra 25:5; Amos 1:14) simply "Rabbah." The Sept. generally has ῾Ραββάθ, but in some MSS. occasionally ῾Ραβάθ, or ἡ ῾Ραββά . In Deuteronomy 3:5 it is τῆ ἄκρα τῶν υἱῶν ῎Αμμών in both MSS. In Joshua 13:25 the Vat. has῎Αραβα ἡ ἐστιν κατὰ πρόσωπον Ἀράδ, where the first and last words of the sentence seem to have changed places. Other various readings likewise occur.
Rabbah appears in the sacred records as the single city of the Ammonites; at least no other bears any distinctive name, a fact which contrasts strongly with the abundant details of the city life of the Moabites. Whether it was originally, as some conjecture, the Ham of which the Zuzim were dispossessed by Chedorlaomer (Genesis 14:5), will probably remain forever a conjecture. The statement of Eusebius (Onomast. s.v. ‘ Ajucav) that it was originally a city of the Rephaim implies that it was the Ashteroth Karnaim of Genesis 14. In agreement with this is the fact that it was in later times known as Astarte (Steph. Byz. quoted by Ritter, p. 1155). In this case, the dual ending of Karnainm may point, as some have conjectured in Jerushalaim, to the double nature of the city — a lower town and a citadel. When first named it is in the hands of the Ammonites, and is mentioned as containing the bedstead of the giant Og (Deuteronomy 3:11), possibly the trophy of some successful war against the more ancient Rephaim. With the people of Lot, their kinsmen the Israelites had no quarrel, and Rabbath- of-the-children-of-Ammon remained to all appearance unmolested during the first period of the Israelitish occupation. It was not included in the territory of the tribes east of Jordan; the border of Gad stops at "Aroer, which faces Rabbah" (Joshua 13:25). The attacks of the Bene-Ammon on Israel, however, brought these peaceful relations to an end. Saul must have had occupation enough on the west of' Jordan in attacking and repelling the Philistines and in pursuing David through the woods and ravines of Judah to prevent his crossing the river, unlless on such special occasions as the relief of Jabesh. At any rate, we never hear of his having penetrated so far in that direction as Rabbah. But David's armies were often engaged against both Moab and Ammon. His first Ammonitish campaign appears to have occurred early in his reign. A part of the army, unider Abishai, was sent as far as Rabbah to keep the Ammonites in check (2 Samuel 10:10; 2 Samuel 10:14), but the main force under Joab remained at Medeba (1 Chronicles 19:7). The following year was occupied in the great expedition by David in person against the Syrians at Helam, wherever that may have been (2 Samuel 10:15-19). After their defeat the Ammonitish war was resumed, and this time Rabbah was made the main point of attack (2 Samuel 11:1). Joab took the command, and was follovwed by the whole of the army. The expedition included Ephraim and Benljamin, as well as the king's own tribe (2 Samuel 11:11), the "king's slaves" (2 Samuel 11:1; 2 Samuel 11:17; 2 Samuel 11:24), probably David's immediate body-guard, and the thirty-seven chief captains. Uriah was certainly there, and, if a not improbable Jewish tradition may be adopted, Ittai the Gittite was there also. (See ITTAI).
The ark accompanied the camp (2 Samuel 11:11), the only time that we hear oft' its doing so, except that memorable battle with the Philistines, when its capture caused the death of the tli'lli-priest. On a former occasion (Numbers 31:6) the "holy things" only are specified-an expression which hardly seems to include the ark. David alone, to his cost, remained in Jerusalem. The country was wasted, and the roving Ammonites were'driven with all their property (xii, 30) into their single stronghold, as the Betdouin Kenites were driven from their tents inside the walls of Jerusalem when Judah was overrun by the Challanans. (See RECHABITE), The siege must have lasted nearly, if not quite, two years; since during its progress David formed his connection with Bathsheba, and the two children, that which died and Solomon, were successively born. The sallies of the Ammonites appear to have formed a main feature of the siege (2 Samuel 11:17, etc.). At the end of that time Joab succeeded in capturing a portion of the place — the "city of waters," that is, the lower town, so called from its containing the perennial stream which rises in and still flows through it. The fact (which seems uindoubted) that the source of the stream was within the lower city, explains its having held out for so long. It was also called the "royal city" (עַיר הִמְּלוּכָה ), perhaps from its connection with Molech or Milcom — "the king" more probably from its containing the palace of Hanun and Nahash. But the citadel, which rises abruptly on the north side of the lower town, a place of very great strength, still remained to be taken, and the honor of this capture, Joab (with that devotion to David which runs like a bright thread through the dark web of his character) insists on reserving for the king. "I have fought," writes he to his uncle, then living at ease in the harem at Jerusalem, in all the satisfaction of the birth of Solomon — "I have fought against Rabbah, and have taken the city of waters; but the citadel still remains: now, therefore, gather the rest of the people together and come; put yourself at the head of the whole army, renew the assault against the citadel, take it. and thus finish the siege which I have carried so far," and then he ends with a rough banter (comp. 2 Samuel 19:6) — half jest, half earnest — "lest I take the city and in future it go under my name." The waters of the lower city once in the hands of the besiegers, the fate of the citadel was certain, for that fortress possessed in itself (as we learn from the invaluable notice of Josephus, Ant. 7:7, 5) but one well of limited supply, quite inadequate to the throng which crowded its walls.
The provisions also were at last exhausted, and shortly after David's arrival the fortress was taken, and its inmates, with a very great booty, and the idol of Molech, with all its costly adornments, fell into the hands of David. We are not told whether the city was demolished or whether David was satisfied with the slaugnhter of its inmates. In the time of Amos, two centuries and a half later, it had again a "wall" and "palaces," and was still the sanctuary of Molech" — "the king" (Amos 1:14). So it was also at the date of the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 49:2-3), when its dependent towns ("daughters") are mentioned, and when it is named in such terms as imply that it was of equal importance with Jerusalem (Ezra 21:20). At Rabbah, no doubt Baalis, king of the Bene-Ammon (Jeremiah 40:14), held such court as he could muster, and within its walls was plotted the attack of Ishmael which cost Gedaliah his life and drove Jeremiah into Egypt. The denunciations of the prophets just named may have been fulfilled either at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, or five years afterwards, when the Assyrian armies overran the country east of Jordan on their road to Egypt (Josephus, Ant. 10:9, 7). See Jerome, on Amos 1:41.
In the period between the Old and New Testaments, Rabbath-Ammon appears to have been a place of much importance and the scene of many contests. The natural advantages of position and water supply, which had alsays distinguished it, still made it an important citadel by turns to each side during the contentions which raged so long over the whole of the district. It lqy on the road between Heshbon and Bosra, and was the last place at which a stock of water could be obtained for the journey across the desert; while, as it stood on the confines of the richer and more civilized country, it formed an important garrison station for repelling the incursions of the wild tribes of the desert. From Ptolemy Philadelphus (B.C. 285-247) it received the name of Philadelphia (Jerome, on Ezra 25:1), and under this name it is often mentioned by Greek and Roman writers (Pliny, Hist. Nat. v, 16; Ptolemy. Geog. v, 15), by Josephus (War, i, 6, 3; i, 19, 5; ii, 18, 1), and upon Roman coins (Eckhel, iii, 351; Muinet, v, 335), as a city of Arabia, Coele-Syria, or Decapolis. The district either then or subsequently was called Philadelphene (Josephus, War iii, 3, 3), or Arabia Philadelphensis (Epiphanius, in Ritter, Syriev, p. 1155). In B.C. 218 it was taken from the then Ptolemy (Philopator) b)y Antiochus the Great, after a long and obstinate resistance from the besieged in the citadel. A communication with the spring in the lower town had been made since (possibly in consequence of) David's siege, by a long secret subterranean passage, and had not this been discovered to Antiochus by a prisoner, the citadel might have been enabled to hold out (Polybius, v, 17). During the struggle between Antiochus the Pious (Sidetes) and Ptolemy. the son-in- law of Simon Maccabaeus (B.C. cir. 134), it is mentioned as being governed by a tyrant named Cotylas (Ant. 13:8, 1). Its ancient name, though under a cloud, was still used; it is mentioned by Polybius (v, 71) under the hardly altered form of Rabbatamana ( ῾Ραββατάμανα ). About B.C. 65 we hear of it as in the hands of Aretas (one of the Arab chiefs of that name), who retired thither from Judaea when menaced by Scaurus, Pompey's general (Josephus, War, i, 6, 3). The Arabs probably held it till the year B.C. 30, when they were attacked there by Herod the Great. But the account of Josephus (War, i, 19. 5, 6) seems to imply that the city was not then inhabited, and that although the citadel formed the main point of the combat, yet that it was only occupied on the instant. The water communication above alluded to also appears not to have been then in existence, for the people who occupied the citadel quickly surrendered from thirst, and the whole affair was over in six days.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Rabbah'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/r/rabbah.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.