Easton's Bible Dictionary
activity, The most ancient of Oriental cities; the capital of Syria ( Isaiah 7:8
; 17:3 ); situated about 133 miles to the north of Jerusalem. Its modern name
is Esh-Sham; i.e., "the East."
The situation of this city is said to be the most beautiful of all Western Asia.
It is mentioned among the conquests of the Egyptian king Thothmes III. (B.C. 1500),
and in the Amarna tablets (B.C. 1400).
It is first mentioned in Scripture in connection with Abraham's victory over the
confederate kings under Chedorlaomer ( Genesis 14:15 ). It was the native place
of Abraham's steward ( Genesis 15:2 ). It is not again noticed till the time of
David, when "the Syrians of Damascus came to succour Hadadezer" (q.v.), 2 Samuel
8:5 ; 1 Chronicles 18:5 . In the reign of Solomon, Rezon became leader of a band
who revolted from Hadadezer ( 1 Kings 11:23 ), and betaking themselves to Damascus,
settled there and made their leader king. There was a long war, with varying success,
between the Israelites and Syrians, who at a later period became allies of Israel
against Judah ( 2 Kings 15:37 ).
The Syrians were at length subdued by the Assyrians, the city of Damascus was
taken and destroyed, and the inhabitants carried captive into Assyria ( 2 Kings
16:7 - 9 ; Compare Isaiah 7:8 ). In this, prophecy was fulfilled ( Isaiah 17:1
; Amos 1:4 ; Jeremiah 49:24 ). The kingdom of Syria remained a province of Assyria
till the capture of Nineveh by the Medes (B.C. 625), when it fell under the conquerors.
After passing through various vicissitudes, Syria was invaded by the damascus
(B.C. 64), and Damascus became the seat of the government of the province. In
A.D. 37 Aretas, the king of Arabia, became master of Damascus, having driven back
This city is memorable as the scene of Saul's conversion ( Acts 9:1 - 25 ). The
street called "Straight," in which Judas lived, in whose house Saul was found
by Ananias, is known by the name Sultany, or "Queen's Street." It is the principal
street of the city. Paul visited Damascus again on his return from Arabia ( Galatians
1:16 , 1:17 ). Christianity was planted here as a centre ( Acts 9:20 ), from which
it spread to the surrounding regions.
In A.D. 634 Damascus was conquered by the growing Mohammedan power. In A.D. 1516
it fell under the dominion of the Turks, its present rulers. It is now the largest
city in Asiatic Turkey. Christianity has again found a firm footing within its
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
a sack full of blood; the similitude of burning
Smith's Bible Dictionary
One of the most ancient and most important of the cities of Syria. It is situated
130 miles northeast of Jerusalem, in a plain of vast size and of extreme fertility,
which lies east of the great chain of Anti-Libanus, on the edge of the desert.
This fertile plain, which is nearly circular and about 30 miles in diameter, is
due to the river Barada , which is probably the "Abana" of Scripture. Two other
streams the Wady Helbon upon the north and the Awaj, which flows direct from Hermon
upon the south, increase the fertility of the Damascene plain, and contend for
the honor of representing the "Pharpar" of Scripture. According to Josephus, Damascus
was founded by Uz grandson of Shem. It is first mentioned in Scripture in connection
with Abraham, ( Genesis 14:15 ) whose steward was a native of the place. ( Genesis
15:2 ) At one time david became complete master of the whole territory, which
he garrisoned with israelites. ( 2 Samuel 8:5 , 8:6 ) It was in league with Baasha,
king of Israel against Asa, ( 1 Kings 15:19 ; 2 Chronicles 16:3 ) and afterwards
in league with Asa against Baasha. ( 1 Kings 15:20 ) Under Ahaz it was taken by
Tiglath-pileser, ( 2 Kings 16:7 , 16:8 , 16:9 ) the kingdom of Damascus brought
to an end, and the city itself destroyed, the inhabitants being carried captive
into Assyria. ( 2 Kings 16:9 ) comp. Isaiah 7:8 and Amos 1:5 . Afterwards it passed
successively under the dominion of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Macedonians,
Romans and Saracens, and was at last captured by the Turks in 1516 A.D. Here the
apostle Paul was converted and preached the gospel. ( Acts 9:1 - 25 ) Damascus
has always been a great centre for trade. Its present population is from 100,000
to 150,000. It has a delightful climate. Certain localities are shown as the site
of those scriptural events which specially interest us in its history. Queens
Street, which runs straight through the city from east to west, may be the street
called Straight. ( Acts 9:11 ) The house of Judas and that of Ananias are shown,
but little confidence can be placed in any of these traditions.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. The Name
The English name is the same as the Greek Damaskos. The Hebrew name is Dammeseq,
but the Aramaic form Darmeseq, occurs in 1 Chronicles 18:5 ; 2 Chronicles 28:5.
The name appears in Egyptian inscriptions as Ti-mas-ku (16th century BC), and
Sa-ra-mas-ki (13th century BC), which W. M. Muller, Asien u. Europa, 227, regards
as representing Ti-ra-mas-ki, concluding from the "ra" in this form that Damascus
had by that time passed under Aramaic influence. In the Tell el-Amarna Letters
the forms Ti-ma-as-gi and Di-mas-ka occur. The Arabic name is Dimashk esh-Sham
("Damascus of Syria") usually contrasted to Esh-Sham simply. The meaning of the
name Damascus is unknown. Esh-Sham (Syria) means "the left," in contrast to the
Yemen (Arabia) = "the right."
2. Situation and Natural Features
Damascus is situated (33 degrees 30' North latitude, 36 degrees 18' East longitude)
in the Northwest corner of the Ghuta, a fertile plain about 2,300 ft. above sea
level, West of Mt. Hermon. The part of the Ghuta East of the city is called el-Merj,
the "meadow-land" of Damascus. The river Barada (see ASANA) flows through Damascus
and waters the plain, through which the Nahr el-Awaj (see PHARPAR) also flows,
a few miles South of the city.
Surrounded on three sides by bare hills, and bordered on the East, its open side,
by the desert, its well-watered and fertile Ghuta, with its streams and fountains,
its fields and orchards, makes a vivid impression on the Arab of the desert. Arabic
literature is rich in praises of Damascus, which is described as an earthly paradise.
The European or American traveler is apt to feel that these praises are exaggerated,
and it is perhaps only in early summer that the beauty of the innumerable fruit
trees--apricots, pomegranates, walnuts and many others--justifies enthusiasm.
To see Damascus as the Arab sees it, we must approach it, as he does, from the
desert. The Barada (Abana) is the life blood of Damascus. Confined in a narrow
gorge until close to the city, where it spreads itself in many channels over the
plain, only to lose itself a few miles away in the marshes that fringe the desert,
its whole strength is expended in making a small area between the hills and the
desert really fertile. That is why a city on this site is inevitable and permanent.
Damascus, almost defenseless from a military point of view, is the natural mart
and factory of inland Syria. In the course of its long history it has more than
once enjoyed and lost political supremacy, but in all the vicissitudes of political
fortune it has remained the natural harbor of the Syrian desert.
3. The City Itself
Damascus lies along the main stream of the Barada, almost entirely on its south
bank. The city is about a mile long (East to West) and about half a mile broad
(North to South). On the south side a long suburb, consisting for the most part
of a single street, called the Meidan, stretches for a mile beyond the line of
the city wall, terminating at the Bawwabet Allah, the "Gate of God," the starting-point
of the Haj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The city has thus roughly the shape
of a broad-headed spoon, of which the Meidan is the handle. In the Greek period,
a long, colonnaded street ran through the city, doubtless the "street which is
called Straight" (Acts 9:11). This street, along the course of which remains of
columns have been discovered, runs westward from the Babesh-Sherki, the "East
Part of it is still called Derb el-Mustakim ("Straight Street"), but it is not
certain that it has borne the name through all the intervening centuries. It runs
between the Jewish and Christian quarters (on the left and right, respectively,
going west), and terminates in the Suk el-Midhatiyeh, a bazaar built by Midhat
Pasha, on the north of which is the main Moslem quarter, in which are the citadel
and the Great Mosque. The houses are flat-roofed, and are usually built round
a courtyard, in which is a fountain. The streets, with the exception of Straight
Street, are mostly narrow and tortuous, but on the west side of the city there
are some good covered bazaars. Damascus is not rich in antiquities.
The Omayyad Mosque, or Great Mosque, replaced a Christian church, which in its
time had taken the place of a pagan temple. The site was doubtless occupied from
time immemorial by the chief religious edifice of the city. A small part of the
ancient Christian church is still extant. Part of the city wall has been preserved,
with a foundation going back to Roman times, surmounted by Arab work. The traditional
site of Paul's escape (Acts 9:25 ; 2 Corinthians 11:33) and of the House of Naaman
(2 Kings 5) are pointed out to the traveler, but the traditions are valueless.
The charm of Damascus lies in the life of the bazaars, in the variety of types
which may be seen there--the Druse, the Kurd, the Bedouin and many others--and
in its historical associations. It has always been a manufacturing city. Our word
"damask" bears witness to the fame of its textile industry, and the "Damascus
blades" of the Crusading period were equally famous; and though Timur (Tamerlane)
destroyed the trade in arms in 1399 by carrying away the armorers to Samarcand,
Damascus is still a city of busy craftsmen in cloth and wood. Its antiquity casts
a spell of romance upon it. After a traceable history of thirty-five centuries
it is still a populous and flourishing city, and, in spite of the advent of the
railway and even the electric street car, it still preserves the flavor of the
4. Its History
(1) The Early Period (to circa 950 BC).
The origin of Damascus is unknown. Mention has already been made (section 1 )
of the references to the city in Egyptian inscriptions and in the Tell el-Amarna
Letters. It appears once--possibly twice--in the history of Abraham. In Genesis
14:15 we read that Abraham pursued the four kings as far as Hobah, "which is on
the left hand (i.e. the north) of Damascus." But this is simply a geographical
note which shows only that Damascus was well known at the time when Genesis 14
was written. Greater interest attaches to Genesis 15:2, where Abraham complains
that he is childless and that his heir is "Dammesek Eliezer" (English Revised
Version), for which the Syriac version reads "Eliezer the Damaschul." The clause,
however, is hopelessly obscure, and it is doubtful whether it contains any reference
to Damascus at all. In the time of David Damascus was an Aramean city, which assisted
the neighboring Aramean states in their unsuccessful wars against David (2 Samuel
8:5). These campaigns resulted indirectly in the establishment of a powerful Aramean
kingdom in Damascus. Rezon, son of Eliada, an officer in the army of Hadadezer,
king of Zobah, escaped in the hour of defeat, and became a captain of banditti.
Later he established himself in Damascus, and became its king (1 Kings 11:23).
He cherished a not unnatural animosity against Israel and the rise of a powerful
and hostile kingdom in the Israelite frontier was a constant source of anxiety
to Solomon (1 Kings 11:25).
(2) The Aramean Kingdom (circa 950-732 BC).
Whether Rezon was himself the founder of a dynasty is not clear. He has been identified
with Hezion, father of Tab-rimmon, and grandfather of Ben-hadad (1 Kings 15:18),
but the identification, though a natural one, is insecure. Ben-hadad (Biridri)
is the first king of Damascus, after Rezon, of whom we have any detailed knowledge.
The disruption of the Hebrew kingdom afforded the Arameans an opportunity of playing
off the rival Hebrew states against each other, and of bestowing their favors
now on one, and now on the other. Benhadad was induced by Asa of Judah to accept
a large bribe, or tribute, from the Temple treasures, and relieve Asa by attacking
the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 15:18). Some years later (circa 880 BC) Ben-hadad
(or his successor?) defeated Omri of Israel, annexed several Israelite cities,
and secured the right of having Syrian "streets" (i.e. probably a bazaar for Syrian
merchants) in Samaria (1 Kings 20:34). Ben-hadad II (according to Winckler the
two Ben-hadads are really identical, but this view, though just possible chronologically,
conflicts with 1 Kings 20:34) was the great antagonist of Ahab. His campaigns
against Israel are narrated in 1 Kings 20:22. At first successful, he was subsequently
twice defeated by Ahab, and after the rout at Aphek was at the mercy of the conqueror,
who treated him with generous leniency, claiming only the restoration of the lost
Israelite towns, and the right of establishing an Israelite bazaar in Damascus.
On the renewal of hostilities three years later Ahab fell before Ramoth-gilead,
and his death relieved Ben-hadad of the only neighboring monarch who could ever
challenge the superiority of Damascus. Further light is thrown upon the history
of Damascus at this time by the Assyrian inscriptions. In 854 BC the Assyrians
defeated a coalition of Syrian and Palestine states (including Israel) under the
leadership of Ben-hadad at Karqar. In 849 and 846 BC renewed attacks were made
upon Damascus by the Assyrians, who, however, did not effect any considerable
conquest. From this date until the fall of the city in 732 BC the power of the
Aramean kingdom depended upon the activity or quiescence of Assyria. Hazael, who
murdered Ben-hadad and usurped his throne circa 844 BC, was attacked in 842 and
839, but during the next thirty years Assyria made no further advance westward.
Hazael was able to devote all his energies to his western neighbors, and Israel
suffered severely at his hands. In 803 Mari' of Damascus, who is probably identical
with the Ben-hadad of 2 Kings 13:3, Hazael's son, was made tributary to Ramman-nirari
III of Assyria. This blow weakened Aram, and afforded Jeroboam II of Israel an
opportunity of avenging the defeats inflicted upon his country by Hazael. In 773
Assyria again invaded the territory of Damascus.
Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 BC) pushed vigorously westward, and in 738 Rezin
of Damascus paid tribute. A year or two later he revolted, and attempted in concert
with Pekah of Israel, to coerce Judah into joining an anti- Assyrian league (2
Kings 15:37 ; 16:5 ; Isaiah 7). His punishment was swift and decisive. In 734
the Assyrians advanced and laid siege to Damascus, which fell in 732. Rezin was
executed, his kingdom was overthrown, and the city suffered the fate which a few
years later befell Samaria.
(3) The Middle Period (circa 732 BC-650 AD).
Damascus had now lost its political importance, and for more than two centuries
we have only one or two inconsiderable references to it. It is mentioned in an
inscription of Sargon (722-705 BC) as having taken part in an unsuccessful insurrection
along with Hamath and Arpad. There are incidental references to it in Jeremiah
49:23 and Ezekiel 27:18 ; 47:16. In the Persian period Damascus, if not politically
of great importance, was a prosperous city. The overthrow of the Persian empire
by Alexander was soon followed (301 BC) by the establishment of the Seleucid kingdom
of Syria, with Antioch as its capital, and Damascus lost its position as the chief
city of Syria. The center of gravity was moved toward the sea, and the maritime
commerce of the Levant became more important than the trade of Damascus with the
interior. In 111 BC the Syrian kingdom was divided, and Antiochus Cyzicenus became
king of Coele-Syria, with Damascus as his capital. His successors, Demetrius Eucaerus
and Antiochus Dionysus, had troubled careers, being involved in domestic conflicts
and in wars with the Parthians, with Alexander Janneus of Judea, and with Aretas
the Nabatean, who obtained possession of Damascus in 85 BC. Tigranes, being of
Armenia, held Syria for some years after this date, but was defeated by the Romans,
and in 64 BC Pompey finally annexed the country.
The position of Damascus during the first century and a half of Roman rule in
Syria is obscure. For a time it was in Roman hands, and from 31 BC-33 AD its coins
bear the names of Augustus or Tiberius. Subsequently it was again in the hands
of the Nabateans, and was ruled by an ethnarch, or governor, appointed by Aretas,
the Nabatean king. This ethnarch adopted a hostile attitude to Paul (2 Corinthians
11:32) . Later, in the time of Nero, it again became a Roman city. In the early
history of Christianity Damascus, as compared with Antioch, played a very minor
part. But it is memorable in Christian history on account of its associations
with Paul's conversion, and as the scene of his earliest Christian preaching (Acts
9:1 - 25). All the New Testament references to the city relate to this event (Acts
9:1:25 ; 22:5 - 11 ; 26:12 , 20 ; 2 Corinthians 11:32 ; Galatians 1:17). Afterward,
under the early Byzantine emperor, Damascus, though important as an outpost of
civilization on the edge of the desert, continued to be second to Antioch both
politically and ecclesiastically. It was not until the Arabian conquest (634 AD
when it passed out of Christian hands, and reverted to the desert, that it once
more became a true capital.)
(4) Under Islam.
Damascus has now been a Moslem city, or rather a city under Moslem rule, for nearly
thirteen centuries. For about a century after 650 AD it was the seat of the Omayyad
caliphs, and enjoyed a position of preeminence in the Moslem world. Later it was
supplanted by Bagdad, and in the 10th century it came under the rule of the Fatimites
of Egypt. Toward the close of the 11th century the Seljuk Turks entered Syria
and captured Damascus. In the period of the Crusades the city, though never of
decisive importance, played a considerable part, and was for a time the headquarters
of Saladin. In 1300 it was plundered by the Tartars, and in 1399 Timur exacted
an enormous ransom from it, and carried off its famous armorers, thus robbing
it of one of its most important industries. Finally, in 1516 AD, the Osmanli Turks
under Sultan Selim conquered Syria, and Damascus became, and still is, the capital
of a province of the Ottoman Empire.
C. H. Thomson
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