The most ancient city of Syria, at the foot of the S.E. range of Antilibanus, which rises 1,500 ft. above the plain of Damascus, which is itself 2,200 above the sea. Hence, Damascus enjoys a temperate climate cooled by breezes. The plain is a circle of 30 miles diameter, watered by the Barada (the ABANA of 2 Kings 5), which bursts through a narrow cleft in the mountain into the country beneath, pouring fertility on every side. This strikes the eye the more, as bareness and barrenness characterize all the hills and the plain outside. Fruit of various kinds, especially olive trees, grain and grass abound within the Damascus plain. The Barada flows through Damascus, and thence eastward 15 miles, when it divides and one stream falls into lake el Kiblijeh: another into lake esh-Shurkijeh, on the border of the desert. The wady Helbon on the N. and Awaj on the S. also water the plain.
The Awaj is probably the scriptural PHARPAR. First mentioned in Genesis 14:15; Genesis 15:2. Abraham entering Canaan by way of Damascus there obtained Eliezer as his retainer. Josephus makes Damascus to have been founded by Uz, son of Aram, grandson of Shem. The next Scriptural notice of Damascus is 2 Samuel 8:5, when "the Syrians of Damascus succored Hadadezer king of Zobah" against David. David slew 22,000 Syrians, and "put garrisons in Syria of Damascus, and the Syrians became servants to David and brought gifts" (1 Chronicles 18:3-6). Nicholaus of Damascus says Hadad (so he named him) reigned over "all Syria except Phoenicia," and began the war by attacking David, and was defeated in a last engagement at the Euphrates River. His subject Rezon, who escaped when David conquered Zobah, with the help of a band made himself king at Damascus over Syria (1 Kings 11:23-25), and was an adversary to Israel all the days of Solomon.
Hadad's family recovered the throne; or else frontBENHADAD I, who helped Baasha against Asa and afterward Asa against Baasha, was grandson of Rezon. He "made himself streets" in Samaria (1 Kings 20:34), so completely was he Israel's master. His son, Benhadad II, who besieged Ahab (1 Kings 20:1), is the Ben-idri of the Assyrian inscriptions. These state that in spite of his having the help of the Phoenicians, Hittites and Hamathites, he was unable to oppose Assyria, which slew 20,000 of his men in just one battle. Hazael, taking advantage of his subjects' disaffection owing to their defeats, murdered Benhadad (2 Kings 8:10-15; 1 Kings 19:15). Hazael was defeated by Assyria in his turn, with great loss, at Antilibanus; but repulsed Ahaziah's and Jehoram's attack on Israel (2 Kings 8:28), ravaged Gilead, the land of Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh (2 Kings 10:32-33); took also Gath, and was only diverted from Jerusalem by Jehoash giving the royal and the temple treasures (2 Kings 12:17-18). (See HAZAEL.)
Benhadad his son continued to exercise a lordship over Israel (2 Kings 13:3-7; 2 Kings 13:22) at first; but Joash, Jehoahaz' son, beat him thrice, according to Elisha's dying prophecy (2 Kings 13:14-19), for "the Lord had compassion on His people ... because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, neither east He them from His presence us yet" (2 Kings 13:23). Jeroboam II, Joash's son, further "recovered Damascus and Hamath, which belonged to Judah, for Israel ... according to the word of the Lord ... by Jonah the prophet" (2 Kings 14:23-28), 836 B.C. Rezin of Damascus, a century later, in a respite from the Assyrian invasions, allied himself to Pekah of Israel against Judah, with a view to depose Ahaz and set up one designated "the son of Tabeal." (See AHAZ.) The successive invasions of Pul and Tiglath Pileser suggested the thought of combining Syria, Israel, and Judah as a joint power against Assyria. Ahaz' leaning to Assyria made him obnoxious to Syria and Israel.
But, as their counsel was contrary to God's counsel that David's royal line should continue until Immanuel, it came to nought (2 Kings 15:19; 2 Kings 15:29; 2 Kings 15:57; 2 Kings 16:5; Isaiah 7:1-6). Elath on the shore of the Red Sea, in Edom, built by Azariah of Judah on territory alleged to be Syrian, was "recovered" by Rezin. Whereupon Ahaz begged Assyria's alliance; and the very policy of Damascus and Israel against Assyria, namely, to absorb Judah, was the very means of causing their own complete absorption by Assyria (2 Kings 16:6-9; 2 Kings 16:17; Isaiah 7:14-25; Isaiah 8:6-10; Isaiah 10:9). The people of Damascus were carried captive to Kir, as Amos (Amos 1:5) foretold, the region from which they originally came, associated with Elam (Isaiah 22:6), probably in Lower Mesopotamia = Kish or Cush, i.e. eastern Ethiopia, the Cissia of Herodotus (G. Rawlinson).
Isaiah (Isaiah 17:1) and Amos (Amos 1:4) had prophesied that Damascus should be "taken away from being a city, and should be a ruinous heap," that Jehovah should "send a fire into the house of Hazael, which should devour the palaces of Benhadad"; and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 49:24-25) that "Damascus is waxed feeble .... How is the city of praise not left, the city of my joy!" By the time of the Mede-Persian supremacy Damascus had not only been rebuilt, but was the most famous city in Syria (Strabo, 16:2,19). In Paul's time (2 Corinthians 11:32) it was part of (See ARETAS' (see) kingdom. It is still a city of 150,000 inhabitants, of whom about 130,000 are Mahometans, 15,000 Christians, and about 5,000 Jews. Damascus was the center through which the trade of Tyre passed on its way to Assyria, Palmyra, Babylon, and the East.
It supplied "white wool and the wine of Helbon" (in Antilebanon, 10 miles N.W. of Damascus) in return for "the wares of Tyre's making" (Ezekiel 27:18). Its once famous damask and steel were not manufactured until Mahometan times, and are no longer renowned. The street called "Straight" is still there, leading from one gate to the pasha's palace, i.e. from E. to W. a mile long; it was originally divided by Corinthian colonnades into three avenues, of which the remains are still traced (Acts 9:11); called by the natives "the street of bazaars." The traditional localities of Acts 9:3; Acts 9:25; 2 Corinthians 11:33 (Paul's conversion on his way to Damascus, and his subsequent escape in a basket let down from the wall) are more than doubtful. Now es-Sham, "The East." Magnus was its bishop at the council of Nice, A.D. 325. The khalif Omar A.D. 635 took it. It fell into the hands of the Turks, its present masters, under Selim I, A.D. 1516.
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