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We caught a local bus to Abilla early one morning. The bus driver stopped the bus in a long straight stretch of the road, which ended around  a few km further at the Yarmuk river. The countryside was heavily dotted with olive trees, so that no direct horizon was visible. The doors opened, and gesticulation indicated it was time for us to jump off. There was nothing visible in sight, no road, building, sign or person. Fen Abilla? I asked, {where is Abilla?} a pointed finger, a slamming door, and a engulfing cloud of diesel fumes left us on the side of this remote road. We walked off the road to the west to find looking across the valley a most magnificent ancient city, and all to ourselves, or so we thought. We had not walked too far down the hill when a wizened gentleman called to us, and after a pleasant greeting motioned that we should follow him. He took us to what has been to my travels the best presented rock tombs.

The picture of the tomb tells a story. In the centre of the floor lies large stone sarcophagi. In these large stone enclosures fresh burials would be laid out. Because of the effort taken to create this burial enclosure, the space was at a premium. After decomposition, the remaining bones would be collected and placed into a smaller stone box called an ossuary, the length of which was the longest human bone, the femur. The bones thus collected would  be placed in the niches on the side of the tomb, and each niche allocated for a family. Thus men would be gathered to their people, an expression familiar to bible students: Gen 25:8,17; 35:29; 49:29; Num 20:24; 27:13; 31:2; Deut 32:50. What is a remarkable thought is the collection of the bones of Joseph and his brothers which were carried throughout the wilderness wanderings and buried in Shechem in the most dramatic gathering of bones in the bible, Acts 7:15,16. A similar gathering was undertaken by David of the bones of Saul and his sons in 2 Sam 21 which is the basis of the parable of the gathering of the bones of the nation of Israel in Ezekiel 37. David gathers the bones from Jabesh Gilead (witness of dryness) and takes them to the tomb of his father Kish in a place called Zelah (a rib)!

Abilla is one of two places with the same name, and both at different times considered part of the Decapolis. Abilla in Syria was the subject of a previous post, a place in the Barada gorge mentioned in Luke 3:1 and it’s posterity marked by the inscription of Marcus Aurelius.  But this is another Abilla, and located on the northern border of Jordan, within a stones throw of the Yarmuk river, and the Golan heights. The tel was positively identified with an inscription found here in the Byzantine level.

The Decapolis was a greek invention, and was a co-operative collection of administrative centres located across mainly Jordan to both legislate and to control trade within the area. Deca meaning ten, and Polis city(ies) the greek word however is a misnomer. The Decapolis depending on sources was a collection of cities from around 8 through 13 cities. The only city of the Decapolis within the land of Israel was Bethshean. The Decapolis were mentioned in the bible in Matt 4:25; Mark 5:30; 7:31. That these cities controlled vast areas is evident in the testimony of Legion, the curing of the madness in the Gadara. Although the miracle was described in Gadara, the administrative centre for this area was some kilometres away, south of the Yarmuk and geographically separate from the sea of Galilee into which the pigs would run.

Abilla is a remarkable city. As seen in these photographs, the city had a main street aligned with columns, paved with large stones in which the ancient chariot and waggon marks can be seen today. An aqueduct and other significant buildings can be appreciated. The valley adjacent to the city is full of pomegranates, and here we witnessed a boy whistle and his sheep followed him.

The name Abila, is equivalent to the hebrew Abel meaning meadow, and Abil meaning green growth in Arabic. Located near the Ain Quweilbeh spring, the city had adequate water resources to develop from the early bronze age time and forward. The temple in the above photograph was used in the worship of  Hearkles, Tyche and Athena. Figurines to Dionysus were found in the adjacent tombs.

Some archeological details can be seen at http://www.abila.org/index.html  and   http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/1557/