Damascus (Isaiah 17)

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Illustration: Ancient remains in Damascus

Damascus was, and still is, the capital city of Syria. As is the case today, ancient Damascus was often set against ancient Israel.

Continuous occupation of Damascus since antiquity make excavation of ancient remains there virtually impossible. Nevertheless Assyrian, Syrian and Egyptian sources all shed light on the Biblical data. The city’s location along the fertile Barada River at the crossroads of major trade routes (the Via Maris and the King’s Highway) ensured continued prosperity. Damascus is mentioned in a number of ancient writings. In a text at the temple of Amon at Karnak, for example, ThutmoseIII of Egypt claims to have forced Damascus to submit to him (ca. 1482 B.C.). Damascus was the dominant city of Aram (Syria) from the eleventh century B.C. to its annexation by Assyria in 732 B.C. The city and its kings had numerous dealings with the kings of Israel:

  • David subjugated the Aramean kingdom of Syria, but king Rezin of Damascus (ruled ca 955-925 B.C.) regained independence during Solomon’s reign.
  • Ben-Hadad I (ruled ca 900-860 B.C.) entered an alliance with Asa of Judah to attack Baasha of Israel (1 Kings 15:16-22), and Ben-Hadad II (ruled ca 860-843 B.C.) began an expansion that took most of Israel’s Transjordanian teritories. This project was interrupted in 853 B.C. when Damascus, Israel and other nations combined to check Assyrian expansion under Shalmaneser III at the Battle of Qarqar.
  • Under Hazael (ruled ca 843-796 B.C.) Syria’s expansion into Israel and Judah continued, despite losses Damascus suffered against Assyria.
  • Ben-Hadad III (ruled ca 796-770 B.C.) was successful against Israel early in his reign and later headed a coalition against Zakur, king of Hamath. Under Jeroboam II Israel recovered territory previously lost to Damascus
  • Rezin (ruled ca 750-732 B.C.) and Pekah of Israel tried to force Ahaz of Judah to join an anti-Assyrian coalition, but Ahaz paid Tilath-Pileser III to attack Damascus, resulting in its annexation into Assyria and in the death of Rezin.

Damascus continued as an influential provincial city under Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. It was a major cosmopolitan centre during the New Testament era, when it was home to a large Jewish community. Thus Saul of Tarsus travelled there searching for early Christians. “Straight Street” of Acts 9:11 may have been a major through-fare from the Roman period, called in Latin the Cardo Maximus.


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