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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Τραχωνῖτις ) is mentioned in the Scriptures only in describing the political divisions of Palestine at the time of John the Baptist's first public appearance: "Philip was then tetrarch of Itursea and the region (χώρας ) of Trachonitis" (Luke 3:1). Although Trachonitis was a distinct and vell- defined province, yet it appears that in this passage the phrase "region of Trachonitis" is used in a wider sense, and included two or three other, adjoining provinces. As considerable misapprehension has existed among geographers regarding Trachonitis, and as its exact position and boundaries were first clearly ascertained by the researches of recent writers, it may he well in this place to give a brief resume of the ancient notices of the province, and then to show how they can be applied in setting aside modern errors and establishing correct views. Josephus states that Uz, the son of Aram, founded Trachonitis and Damascus, which "lay between Palestine and Coele-Syria" (Ant. 1, 6, 4). His next reference to it is when it was held by Zenodorils; the bandit chief. Then its inhabitants made frequent raids, as their successors do still upon the territories of Damascus (Ant. 15, 1). Augustus took it from Zenodorus, and gave it to Herod the Great, on condition that he should repress the robbers (Ant. 16:9, 1). Herod bequeathed it to his son Philip, and his will was confirmed by Caesar (War, 2, 6, 3). This is the Philip referred to in Luke 3, 1. At a later period it passed-into the hands of Herod Agrippa (War, 3, 5). After the conquest of this part of Syria by Cornelius Palma, in the beginning of the 2nd century, we hear no more of Trachonitis.
From various incidental remarks anti descriptions in Josephus's writings, the position of Trachonitis in relation to the other Transjordanic proivinces may be ascertained. It lay on the east of Gaulonitis, while it bordered on both. Anranitis and Batanaea (War, 4:1, 1; 1, 20, 4). It extended, farther north than Gaulonitis, reaching to the territory of Damascus (Ant. 15:10, 3, and 10, 1; War, 3, 10,7), Ptolemy-locates the Trachonitic Arabs along-the base of Mount Alsadamus, and he includes this mountain in the province of Batanea, of which Saccea was a chief town (Geogr 5; 15). Stabo states that there were two Trachons (δύο Τραχῶνες ), amid he groups Damascus and Trachon together and states that the latter country is rugged and wild, and the people daring robbers (Geogr. 16:11). Jerome, speaking of Kenath, calls it a city of Trachonitis near Bozrah (Onomast. s.v. "Canath"); and the writers of the Talmud extend Trachon as far as Bobzrah (Lightfoot, Opp. 2, 473; comp. Jerome, Onomast. s.v. "Ituraea;" Reland, Palest. p. 109 sq.).
From these statements, compared with the results of modern research, the exact position and boundaries of this ancient province can be determined. It extended from the southern confines of Damascus, near the bank of the River Awaj (Pharpar), on the north, to Busrah (Bostra and Bozrah), on the south. Bozrah was the capital of Auranitis, and consequently that province lay along the southern end of Trachon. The province of Gaulanitis (now Jaulan) was its western boundary. Batanaea has been identified With Ard el-Bathanyeh, which embraces the whole ridge of Jebel Hauran, at whose western base lie the splendid ruins of Kenath, one of the ancient cities of Trachon (Jerome, Ozomnast. s.v. "Canath,'" Kenath"). Consequently the ridge of Jebel Hauran formed the eastern boundary of Trachon, which extended southward to Busrah in the plain, near the south-western extremity of the range (Porter, Damascus, 2, 259 sq.; also in Journal of Sac. Lit. for July, 1854). The region thus marked out embraces the modern district of the Lejoah, which may be considered the nucleus of Trachonitis; also the smooth plain extending from its northern border to the ranges of Khiyarah and Maiia. The rocky strip of land running along the western base of Jebel Hauran, and separating the mountain range from the smooth expanse of Auranitis, was likewise included in Trachonitis. This may explain Strabo's two Trachons. In the ruins of Muosmeih, on the northern edge of Lejah, Burckhardt discovered a Greek inscription, which proves that that city was Phaeno, the ancient metropolis of Trachon (Triavels in Syria, p. 117; see also Preface, p. 11).
At first sight it might appear as if Trachon, or Trachonitis (Τραχών .or Τραχωνῖτις ), were only a Greek name applied to one of the subdivisions of the ancient kingdom of Bashan; yet there is evidence to show that it is a translation of a more ancient Shemitic appellation, descriptive of the physical nature of the region. Τραχών signifies rough and rugged; and Τραχωνῖτις is "a rugged region" (τραχὺς καὶ πετρώδης τόπος ), and peculiarly applicable to the district under notice. The Hebrew equivalent. is Argob (אִרַגֹּב, "a heap of stones;" from רגב = רגם ), which was the ancient name of an important part of Og's kingdom in Bashan. The identity of Trachon and Argob cannot now be questioned. It was admitted by, the Jewish rabbins, for the Targums read תרכונא (Trachona) instead of ארגב (Argob) in Deuteronomy 3:14 and 1 Kings 4:13 (Lightfoot, Opp. 2, 473); and it is confirmed by the fact that Kenath, one of the threescore great cities of Argob (1 Chronicles 2:23), was also, as has been seen, a city of Trachon. Eusebius, led doubtless by similarity of names, confounded Argob with the castle of Erga or Ragaba, near the confluence of the Jordan and Jabbok. In this he has been followed by Reland (Palcest. p. 959, 201), Ritter (Pal. 2znd Syr. 2, 1041), and even Robinson (Bibl. Res. App. p. 166, 1st ed.). Nothing can be more clear, however, than that Argob, a large province of Bashan containing sixty great cities, was quite distinct from Ragaba, an obscure castle in Gilead (Porter, Dmnascus, 2, 271). Eusebius alsno confounded Trachonitis and Itiraea (Onomast. s.v. "Itureea"); a manifest error. William of Tyre gives a curious etymology of the word Trachonitis: "Videtur autem nobis a traconibus dicta. Tracones enim dicuntur occulti et subterranei meatus, quibusista regio abundat" (Gesta Dei pelr Fsrancos, p. 895). Be this as it may, there can be no doubt that the whole region abounds in caverns, some of which are of vast extent. Strabo refers to the caves in the mountains beyond Trachon (Geogr. 16), and he affirms that one of them is so large that it would contain 4000 men. Travelers have visited some spacious caves in Jebel Hauran, and in the interior of the Lejah.
The province of the Lejah (Arab. "the Retreat") comprises the principal part of the Hebrew Argob and Greek Trachon. It is oval in form, about twenty-two miles long by fourteen wide. Its physical features are unparalleled in Western Asia. It is a plain, but its surface is elevated above the surrounding plain to an average height of thirty feet or more. It is entirely composed of a thick stratum of black basalt, which appears to have been emitted from pores in the earth in a liquid state, and to have flowed out on every side until the surface of the plain was covered. Before completely cooling, it seems to have been agitated as by a tempest, and then rent and shattered by internal convulsions. The cup-like cavities from which the liquid mass was projected are still seen; and likewise the wavy surface such as a thick liquid generally assumes which cools while flowing. There are deep fissures and yawning gulfs with rugged broken edges; and there are jagged mounds that seem not to have been sufficiently heated to flow, but which were forced up by some mighty agency, and then rent and shattered to their centers. The rock is filled with air-bubbles and is almost as hard as iron. "In the interior parts of the Lejah," says Burckhardt, "the rocks are in many places cleft asunder, so that the whole hill appears shivered and in the act of falling down; the layers are generally horizontal, from six to eight feet or more in thickness, sometimes covering the hills, and inclining to their curve, as appears from the fissures which traverse the rock from top to bottom" (Travels in Syria, p. 112).
It is worthy of note how minutely this description accords -with that of Josephus, who says of the inhabitants of Trachon that it was extremely difficult to conquer them or check their depredations, as they had neither towns nor fields, but dwelt in caves that served as a refuge both for themselves and their flocks. They had, besides, cisterns of water and well- stored granaries, and were thus able to remain long in obscurity and to defy their enemies. The doors of their caves are so narrow that but one man can enter at a time, while within they are incredibly large and spacious. The ground above is almost a plain, but it is covered with rugged rocks, and is difficult of access, except when a guide points out the paths. These paths do not run in a straight course, but have many windings and turns" (Ant. 15:10, 1). The character of the inhabitants remains unchanged as the features of their country. They are wild, lawless robbers, and they afford a ready asylum to murderers, rebels, and outlaws from every part of Syria. It seems to have been so in Old-Test, times; for when Absalom murdered his brother, he fled to his mother's kindred in Geshur (a part of Trachon), and was there three years (2 Samuel 15:37, 38). (See GESHUR).
It is a remarkable fact that the great cities of Argob, famed at the time of the Exodus for their strength, exist still. The houses in many of them are perfect. The massive city walls are standing; and the streets, though long silent and deserted, are in some places complete as those of a modern town. The city gates, and the doors and roofs of the houses, are all of stone, bearing the marks of the most remote antiquity. It is not too much to say that, in an antiquarian point of view, Trachon is one of the most interesting provinces in Palestine (Porter, Bashaz's Giant Cities; Burckhardt, Travels in Syria; Graham, in the Journal of R. G. S. vol. 28; and Camb. Essays, 1858; Wetzstein, Reisebericht iiber Hauran ulid die Trachonen). Such as desire to compare with the above account the views previously set forth by geographers may consult Lightfoot, loc. cit.; Reland, Palaest. p. 108 sq.; Cellarius, Geogr. Ant. 2, 617 sq. (See ARGOB).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Trachonitis'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/t/trachonitis.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.