katapi HOMEkatapi new bible atlas | HOME | Damascus DECAPOLIS | <Region | [MAP] | [EARTH]

Damascus (See also wiki article Damascus.)


1. Situation, etc.

The chief city of inland Syria and the modern political capital, it lies in a plain E. of the Anti-Lebanon famous for its beauty and fertility and watered by the Barada River, biblical Abana (q.v.). It derives its modern importance from local manufactures (woodwork, furniture, artistic metal, and textile work), from its situation as the metropolis of the N. Arabian steppe and from its position as the capital of the state. Formerly it was the starting-point of the annual Syrian pilgrim caravan to Mecca. In Ottoman times it was connected by rail with Beirut, Haifa, Aleppo, and Medina, the last line now being discontinued at Ma'an.

The history of Damascus begins reputedly in remote antiquity, this being suggested by its favourable natural situation, though its actual origins are not certainly known. It certainly appears as the capital of a city-state in Egyptian inscriptions of the 15th cent. BC.

2. OT references.

Reference is made to Damascus in defining the line of Abram's pursuit of the four kings (Gn.14.15). In Gn.15.2 the name of Abram's steward is given in the MT as Dammesek Eliezer (so RV). It is explained in the Targum and Syriac version as 'Eliezer the Damascene' (cf RSV), though this does violence to Hebrew grammar. Probably dammesheq of the MT is an early Midrashic gloss such as the Qumran 'commentaries' have made familiar to us. As a reprisal for assistance given to Hadadezer, king of Zobah, David garrisoned Damascus and reduced it to a tributary condition (2 S.8.5f, 1 Ch.18.5). Rezon, however, Hadadezer's general, succeeded in establishing himself as king in Damascus in the time of Solomon and made himself continuously a very troublesome neighbour (1 K.11.23f). in the wars between Asa and Baasha (1 K.15.17ff, 2 Ch.16.2ff) the king of Judah invoked the aid of Benhadad, king of Aram, whose royal city was Damascus, against his Israelite enemy, suborning him to break the existing truce with Israel, thus enabling Judah to fortify her N. frontier to within two miles of Bethel. Hostilities continued between Aram (Damascus) and Israel till the days of Ahab; Ahab's sparing of Benhadad after the battle of Aphek and his making a truce with him were the cause of a prophetic denunciation (1 K.20.42). This incident may be connected with an alliance of W. Asiatic states against Assyrian aggression culminating in the famous stand at the battle of Qarqar (853 BC). The relative significance of Damascus is indicated by the fact that in the inscription of Shalmaneser III. Ahab is recorded as having sent 2000 chariots and 10,000 footmen, while Damascus sent 1200 chariots and the same number of mounted cavalry, and 20,000 footmen. In the reign of Jehoram, the Syrian general Naaman came to be cleansed of leprosy and Elisha's directions led to his famous depreciating comparison of the muddy Jordan with his own Abana and Pharpar (2 K.5). The Chronicler reports a victorious invasion by Damascus on Judah in the days of Joash (2 Ch.24.23). During this time, however, Damascus bore the brunt of Assyrian attack and it was probably after one of her many reverses that Jeroboam II. took the city (2 K.14.28), though he apparently could not hold it, since it was again in open revolt against Assyria in the time of Ahaz under its king Rezin (2 K.16) in alliance with Pekah of Israel. Prophetic denunciations of Damascus are found in Is.17, Jer.49.23, Am.1.3-5, and Zec.9.1, the last referring to Damascus and Hamath as part of the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd cent. BC. The state of which Damascus was the capital was liquidated by Assyria in 732 BC. Damascus as a commercial centre was always of great importance and Ezekiel (27.18) alludes to trade in wine and wool. It is included in the imaginary restoration of the kingdom (Ezk.47.17).

Roman Damascus.

3. NT references.

Damascus appears only with reference to St. Paul. His conversion is located here (Ac.9.22, 26), and his escape from Aretas (q.v.), the Nabataean ruler, by being lowered in a basket over the wall (Ac.9.25, 2 Co.11.32f), and here he returned after his Arabian retirement (Gal.1.17).

4. Later history.

After the Asiatic campaigns of Alexander the Great, Damascus became a centre of Hellenism, being occupied both by Ptolemies and Seleucids. As the metropolis of the N. Arabian steppe and an important land-port it was the object of Nabataean ambition and twice fell into their hands, once in the 1st cent. BC and again in the time of St. Paul. At other times in the same period it was one of the cities in the mercantile federation of the Decapolis. The great temple of the city, devoted to the cult of Baal-Hadad, was transformed into a church, dedicated to St. John, which was converted into the famous Umayyad mosque, the principal mosque in the city, which contains the tomb of Salah ed-Din. Since AD 635 Damascus has been a Moslem city. It was the brilliant capital of the Umayyad Caliphs under whom the Empire of Islam reached the Pyrenees. It was conquered by the Seljuk Turks in 1075. In the Crusades it was the fatal mistake of the Crusaders to allow it to stand untaken as a vital link in the internal line of communication between Iraq and Egypt. The Umayyad mosque, a mediaeval castle, and part of the Byzantine walls are the principal relics of antiquity to be seen in the modern city. There are the usual traditional sites of historical events, such as the house of Ananias and the street called Straight, but these are not more trustworthy at Damascus than they are in Palestine, though, if, as is probable, 'the street called Straight' referred to the main thoroughfare, cardo maximus, of the Graeco-Roman city, tradition here is more than usually reliable. [Article: Dictionary of the Bible, J.Hastings, 2nd Ed., T&T.Clark, 1963. - R.A.S.M. - J.Gr.]