1902 Encyclopedia > Bashan


BASHAN, a country lying on the east side of the Jordan valley, towards its northern extremity, often mentioned in Jewish history. The Hebrew form of the name is 1^3 or IK'^L1, represented in Greek by Bao-av and Bao-avms (LXX. and Epiphanius), or more frequently by Baravaia (Josephus, Ftolemy, Eusebius, <fcc.). The name is under-stood to be derived from a root signifying fertile, or, according to some, basaltic; and in some of the ancient versions of the Old Testament it is occasionally rendered by a word indicating fertility; thus, in Ps. xxii 13, the LXX. gives for Bashan moves, Aquila gives Xnrapoi, Sym-machus, O-LTUTTOL When we first hear of this region in the days of Abraham it is occupied by the Rephaim, whose chief city is Ashteroth Karnaim (Gen. xiv. 5). These Rephaim, with kindred tribes spread over the trans-Jordanic region, were in great part subdued and supplanted by the children of Lot (Deut. ii. 10. 11, 19-21), who in their turn were invaded and displaced by the Amorites (Num. xx. 26-30). By this people, at the time of the Exodus, the whole region north of the Arnon was occupied ; and they formed two kingdoms, the more northerly embracing all Bashan and a part of Gilead (Deut. iii. 8, 13; Josh xii. 4, 5). Og, who is described as a man of gigantic stature, belonging to the race of the Rephaim, was, at the time referred to, the ruler of this kingdom ; and having come out against the Israelities, he was overthrown in battle at Edrei, one of his own cities. Subsequently, his country became the allotment of the half tribe of Manasseh (Josh. xiii. 29-31).

The information given in connection with the Israelitish conquest enables us to define with considerable exactness the limits of the ancient Bashan. Towards the west it included Golan (Deut. iv. 43; Josh. xx. 8, xxi. 27), a name which to the present day has continued attached to the district, the Jaulän, lying on the east of the Jordan, in its upper course; while towards the east, it reached to Salchah (Deut. iii 10, &c), the modern Salkhat, situated on the south-eastern slope of the Haurän mountains. On the south it is represented as immediately adjoining the country of Gilead, whose northern boundary is known to have been the river Jarmuk, and on the north, it is expressly said to have extended to Mount Hermon (Deut. iv. 48, xxxiii. 22 ; Josh. xii. 5, xiii 11, 12). Within the limits thus indicated, may be pointed out the towns and other localities mentioned as belonging to Bashan. Ashta-roth, Og's metropolis, doubtless the Ashteroth Karnaim of Gen. xiv. 5, called also Beeshterah (cf. Josh. xxi. 27, and 1 Chron. vi. 71), has been sought in various places, especially in Tel Ashtereh (see Newbold, Jour. Geog. Sac, vol xvi), but has now, with much probability, been identified (by Wetzstein, Reisebericht über Haurän, p. 110) with the well-known Busräh, the Bostra of the Latins, whose position admirably adapts it for a capital city, and whose ruins attest its ancient splendour. Edrei, already mentioned, is to be identified with Derät, on the west of Busrah (Wetzstein, op. cit, p. 47, 77). The position of Golan and Salchah has been indicated, while Kenath (Num. xxxii. 42) is recovered in the modern Kunawät (Porter, Five Years in Damascus, vol. ii. p. 111). The region of Argob will be referred to immediately.

Within the same limits lie the provinces included by Josephus in the Bashan of the Israelites (cf. Ant. Jud., iv. 6, 3 ; ix. 8, 1; Bell. Jud., ii. 6, 3 ; iii. 3, 5), and recog-nized generally by the Greek and Roman writers. They are four—Gaulonitis, Trachonitis, Auranitis, and Batanaea, answering as nearly as possible to the natural divisions of the country. The first, Gaulonitis, deriving its name from the ancient Golan, and coincident more or less exactly with the modern Jaulän already mentioned, forms the western division, extending from the Jordan lakes to the Haj road. It is spoken of as divided into two sections, the territory of Gamala, or Gamalitis, and the territory of Sogana (Bell. Jud., iv. 1, 1). It forms a fertile plateau, diversified on its northern half by a range of low, richly-wooded hills, the Tell el Faras, which descends from Mount Hermon. The second, Trachonitis (mentioned Luke iii 1), lay east of the preceding, and adjoined the territory of Damascus, as well as Auranitis and Batanaea (Ant. Jud., i 6, 4; xv. 10,1). This leads us to the remarkable tract, now called the Lejäh, forming one of the two Trachones, or rocky volcanic districts, lying south and east of Damascus, mentioned by Strabo (Geog. xvi. p. 520). Inscriptions, moreover, have been found in the Lejäh (see Burckhardt, Travels in Syria, p. 117), which attest that the district was called Trachön. In this province we may with confidence recognize " the region of Argob," so often mentioned in the Old Testa-ment, as included in the country of Bashan (Deut. iii. 4, 13, 14; 1 Kings iv. 13). The arguments for this identification are,—1st, The etymology of the word Argob (see Gesenius and Fürst, sub voce); 2d, the descriptive term usually conjoined with the name, chebel Argob, indicating a tract clearly defined and measured off, and applied elsewhere to the line of the sea coast, which the boundary of the Lejäh resembles (cf. Porter, op. cit., vol. ii. p. 241); 3d, by the Targumists the name Argob is rendered Trachoma (Lightfoot, Chorographical Notes, § 4). The third province, Auranitis, presents a name known both in ancient and in modern times. In Ezelriel (xlvii. 16, 18) mention is made of Haurän (in the LXX. Auoavtus), as a locality on the border of the land of Israel The name is found also on the inscriptions of Assyria, under the form Havranu (Schräder, Die Keilinschriften und das A. T., p. 237), and it is common in Arabian writers. In regard to its modern use Porter says (Jour. Sac. Lit., July 1854, p. 303), " The name Haurän is at present applied by those at a distance to the whole country east of Jaulän and Jeidür. By the people of that country, however, it is used in a much more restricted sense, and is given only to the fertile plain on the south of the Lejäh, with the narrow strip on the west. The whole of this district is perfectly flat, with little conical hills at intervals. The soil is the most fertile in Syria, admirably adapted to the production of wheat." (Cf. Burckhardt, op. cit., p. 285). The fourth district is Batanaea, a name obviously derived from, and often used by Josephus and others co-extensively with, the old name Bashan. It has, however, a special application to the district lying on the east of the Lejäh and of the Haurän plain, including the central masses of the Jebel ed-Druz or Haurän mountain (apparently the Alsadamus or Alsalamus mons of Ptolemy, and, perhaps, the Salmon of Ps. lxviii. 14; see Beland, Palcestina, p. 458; Wetzstein, op. cit., p. 90) and its eastern slopes. To this portion of the kingdom of Bashan, the name Ard-el-Bathanyeh is still applied by the natives. Says Porter (op. cit., p. 305), " One of the most intelligent Druzes I met with in my whole journey, told me the whole mountains were com-prehended in the Ard-el-Bathanyeh."

The history of Bashan, after its conquest by the Israelites, merges into the general history of that nation, and of Western Asia. It is last mentioned in the Old Testament, in 2 Kings x. 33, in connection with the attacks made by Hazael, the king of Damascus, upon the territory of Israel. Throughout the Psalms and the Prophets, Bashan is celebrated for its fertility and luxuriance, its rich pastures, its strong bulls, its fatlings " of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bullocks ;" its oaks and its firs (Ps. xxii. 12; Amos iv. 1 ; Isa. iL 13 ; Jer. 1. 19; Ezek. xxxix. 18, xxvii. 6); and its extraordinary fertility is attested by the density of its population (Deut. iii 4, 5, 14)—a density proved by the unparalleled abundance with which ruined towns and cities are now strewn over the whole country. In the disturbed period which followed the breaking up of the empire of Alexander, its possession was an object of continual contest. " Idumsean princes, Nabathaean kings, Arab chiefs, ruled in their turn." The central portion of the country, Trachonitis, early became a refuge for outlaws and haunt of robbers, a character for which it is singularly fitted by nature, and which it retains to the present day. (Cf. Josephus, Ant Jud., xv. 1; xvi. 9, 2; Strabo, Geog., xvi. p. 520; Gul. ___., Hist, xv. 10.) In Arabian tradi-tion Bashan is regarded as the country of the patriarch Job (see Abulfeda, Hist. Anteislamica, p. 27, 208, and esp. Wetzstein, in Delitzsch, Das Buck Job, p. 507,/!); and it holds a prominent place in authentic Arabian history as the seat of the dynasty of the Ghassanides (see Caussin de Perceval, L'Histoire des Arabes, vol. ii. 202, /.; Wetzstein, op. cit., 121,/.). At the present day the Hauran is one of the seats of that singular people, the Druzes (see DRUZES).

Both in its natural and its archaeological aspects, the country of Bashan is full of interest. The Jebel ed-Druz, which rises to nearly 6000 feet in height, is a congeries of extinct volcanoes, and the products of eruption from this source, spread over the adjoining plains, have given to the soil that character of fertility for which it has been in all ages remarkable. (Cf. Lyell, Principles of Geology, 9th ed., p. 394.) This volcanic soil, we are told, yields on the average, in some places, eighty returns of wheat, and a hundred of barley (Wetzstein, op. cit., p. 30.) The mountains themselves are richly clothed, at least on their western side, with forests of various kinds of trees, among which the evergreen oak is especially abundant. The Lejah is one of the most remarkable regions on the earth's surface. " It is," says one of the latest observers (Burton, Unex-plored Syria, voL L p. 164), " in fact a lava bed ; a stone torrent poured out . . . over the ruddy yellow clay and the limestone floor of the Hauran valley, high raised by the ruins of repeated eruptions, broken up by the action of fumaroles or blow holes, and cracked and crevassed when cooling by earthquakes, and by the weathering of ages." (See also Burckhardt, op. cit, p. 112; Porter's Five Years in Damascus, vol. ii. p. 241 ; Wetzstein, op. cit, p. 25.)

In regard to the architectural monuments of the Hauran, the " striking feature," says Count de Vogue (Recovery of Jerusalem, p. 423), "is the exclusive use of _tone. The country produces no wood, and the only rock which can be obtained is a basalt, very hard and very difficult to work." The walls are formed of large blocks, carefully dressed, and laid together without cement, and often let into one another with a kind of dovetail. Roofs, doors, stairs, and windows, are all of stone. This, of course, imparts to the buildings great massiveness of appearance and great solidity, and in multitudes of cases the houses, though " without inhabitant," are as perfect as when first reared. Since buildings so strong are apparently capable of enduring for any length of time, and since some of these are known, from the inscriptions upon them, to date from before the commencement of the Christian era, it is not unnatural to regard them as, in fact, the work of the earliest known inhabitants of the land, the Amorites or the Rephaim. (See Ritter, Palast. u-nd Syrien, ii. 964 , Porter, Giant Cities, p. 79,/.). This, however, is contested, on the ground that the extant inscriptions and the archi-tectural style point to a much later date, and must be regarded as at least unproved. (See Wetzstein, op. cit, p. 103 ; Pergusson, in Aihenmum, July 1870, p. 148 ; Burton, op. cit., vol. L p. 192.) Many inscriptions have been found in this region,—most of them composed in Greek, a considerable number in two forms of Shemitic writing (the Palmyrenian or Aramaean, and the Sinaitic or Nabathasan), and some in an unknown character, resembling the Himyaritic. Arabic inscriptions are numerous on buildings of more recent date. The oldest recognizable Greek record bears the name of Herod the Great; and the Nabathaean kings, of the dynasty of Aretas, who reigned from about 100 B.C. at Bozrah have also left memorials.

To the works on this region above referred to the following may be added :—Seetzen, Reisen durch Syrien; Buckingham, Travels among the Arab Tribes; Graham, Jour. Geog. Soc., vol. xxviii.; De Vogue, Syrie Centrale; Waddington, Inscriptions Grecques de la Syrie; Freshfield, Travels in the Central Caucasus and Bashan. (W. TU.)

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