A friend mentioned that he had not seen a post on Damascus, so here it is!
We have visited Damascus a number of times and the city is a paradox. It contains a rich tapestry of ruins, culture, food and great hospitality. But the city is run down, with many houses and hotels in disarray. The city does not yield its secrets easily, and the ruins and clues to the ancient are tucked away in the back streets and alleys, behind creaking doors and dark places of worship. Damascus has played centre stage a number of times throughout history, and this has come at a price with the repeated domination by other forces, mostly without conquest, and without the city being flattened, unlike other cities such as Jerusalem which has been razed to the ground numerous times in keeping with its other name Jebus: to tread under foot.
The following are a summary of my notes on Damascus, and hope this of some benefit to the readers!
The Names of Damascus:
- Tell Ramad ruins of ancient dwellings outskirts of Damascus dated ca 6300BC
- T-m-s-q Thutmose II city list 15M BC
- T-ms-kw Egyptian
- City of Jasmin
- Dimasqa Akkadian, 1350BC in the Amarna letters (2)
- Head of Syria Isa 7:8
- Darmesq Qumranic
- Darmsûq Syriac
- Dimashq al-ShArabic
- Demetrias Greek name, city rebuilt by Demetrius II Philopater
- Es-Sham Arabic
- Capital of Syria on the plain east of Hermon, 205 km NE of Jerusalem, located on the Haj route from the north to Mecca
- Note external references to the city in the Damascus gate. This was the gate of northern wall of Jerusalem, leading to Ramallah and onto Damascus. (known by Arabs as Bal al-Amud, gate of the Column)
Damascus (Strongs 01834 qsmmd) With the meaning of silent is the sackcloth weaver
- Eliezer Gen 15:2
- Saul of Tarsus, Ananias Acts 9
- Aretas (III? Nabatean king) 2Cor 11:321
Biblical References to Damascus
Gen 14:15; 15:2; 2Sam 8:5,6; 1Kings 11:24; 15:18; 19:15; 20:34; 2Kings 5:12; 8:7,9; 14:28; 16:9,10,11,12; 1Chron 18:5; 2Chron 16:2; 2Chron 24:23; 28:5,23; Song 7:4; Isa 7:8; 8:4; 10:9; 17:1,3; Jer 49:23,24,27; Ezek 27:18; Ezek 47:16,17,18; 48:1; Amos 1:3,5; 3:12; 5:27; Zech 9:1; Acts 9:2,3,8,10,19,22,27; 22:5,6,10,11; 26:12; 2Cor 11:32; Gal 1:17
Hadad-rimmon Aramean: Rammau is good, a reference to the god of Damascus (Baal) who was the thunder god, possibly referred to as the Thunder from Damascus 2Kings 5:18. Rimmon is thought to signify thundering, numbered amongst 12 major deities, he was the god of storm, rain, thunder and lightning. Sometimes feared as the destroyer of crops, he was also revered as the god of harvest, and sometimes referred to as Hadad-rimmon, Zech 12:11.
Described as being the view from the tower of Lebanon Song 7:4. Mentioned alongside Hamath another historically strategic city; 2Kings 14:28; Isa 10:9; Jer 49:23; Ezek 47:16, 17; 48:1. Modern Arabs refer to Damascus as es-Sham, literally the left, a reference in juxtaposition to Yemen, the right. A play on this description is noted in Gen 14:15 where Hobah is found on the left hand of Damascus. This reference calls a memory of the commencement of the disaster of Lot who left the company of Abraham whose selection of either the left hand (perspective of Abraham looking to Jerusalem?) or right hand to be involved with city life Gen 13:9.
Josephus claims that Damascus was founded by Uz the son of Aram (1) Gen 10:23. Damascus does not feature heavily in the journeys of the patriarchs, but connections are evident. There are two references to Damascus in pre-monarchal Jewish history. One is a geographical reference to the Barada Gorge to the north-west Gen 14:15 (see article on Hobah) and the other is that a remarkable servant of Abraham’s came from this city Gen 15:2. Damascus found its roots early, and to this day claims the title of the longest continuously inhabited city in the world. Abraham’s knowledge of the area must have been sufficient for him to understand the strategic value of the Barada gorge, and connections within the city for the purchase of a slave on his travels southward. That the two appear together may also indicate the reliance on local knowledge and involvement of Eliezer within the campaign against Chedalaomer. Eliezer must have been a remarkable man. For Abraham to value his judgment and proffer the inheritance and continuing connection with God to this man, he must have been trusted deeply. This calibre of man is not common met, and relationships easily forged, and within our discussions with the locals in Damascus no prodigious care for the faith of Abraham was immediately evident
Early History of Damascus
Considered as the longest continually occupied city in the world. The city was settled in the 2nd millennium BC. Battle between the Hittites from the north and the Egyptians from the south ending with a signed treaty between Hattusili and Ramsis II where the former handed over control of the Damascus area to Ramesses II in 1259 BC.
• David (Israel’s king) terminates the house of the King of Aram-Damascus 2Sam 8.
• Haddad flees to Egypt returning after the death of David and Joab 1Kings 11:17f.
• Ezron, son of Elyada the claimant of Aram-Zobah but was denied the throne, conquered Damascus after leaving the Beqa’a in 965BC. This formed the nucleus of a strong power and threat to the south. This is biblical Rezin/Rezen “prince” 1Kings 11:23 (LXX Edron) ca 750BC (4) This man is equivalent to the Aramean Edran/Edron or Aramaic Idran/Idron mentioned in Neo-Assyrian cuniform texts. Josephus called him Hesron.
• Ezron’s son was TabRiimmon (see Biblical references:Hadad Rimmon) whose son was Ben-Hadad (I) 880-841 BC who had involvement in the time of Asa (Judah 911-870BC) and Baasha (Israel 909-886BC) The Aramaic Hadyan has the idea of replica, or to resemble used in Job 8:17 where roots entangle a heap, and then resemble the building of stones. The idea then appears to imply that Hadad was a resemblance of his deity Baal, so he becomes “son of god”. BenHadad has a boundary war with Israel and Judah 1Kings 15:16-22; 2Chron 16:1-6. He was at first an ally of Baasha, being enticed it appears by loot from Asa, and the offer of assistance in annexing the territory of Israel as a governate of Syria. He then invades Galilee, capturing Iyyon (=Tel Qadi the origins of the river Jordan near Hermon), Dan, Abel BethMaachah and Kinneroth 1Kings 15:20.
• Replaced by Hazael (I)
• Succeeded by Hadaezer II, who was contemporary with Omri (Israel 884-873BC and Ahab ca 878-852BC). His death is mentioned in 2Kings 8:7-15 where he is known as Ben-Hadad, most likely a title, but known in Assyrian inscriptions as Hadazezer. The Tel Dan inscription (Israel museum) indicates that Omri had previous taken Dan. Assyrian references to Omri are also found in the Tel-Qadi inscription – Israel Museum which reads: [ ] O’mri did not ob’serve [ ] and he cut [ ] against my father, so as to go up against him when he was fighting a Abil (=Iyyon of previous reference) and my father lay down so as to go to his fathers, And the king of Israel had entered afore into the land of Abil (Tel Qadi) This inscription implies military engagement and the death of Omri by Hadaezerat Tel Qadi? Ahab is noted to be an ally of Hadaezer on the Shalmanesser III inscription.
• Hadadzezer II killed by successor to the throne Hazael (II) and the united coalition collapses. His successor was a usurper to the family dynasty known as Hazael 843BC who conquered the Hauran and the Golan, and threatened Israel. He is noted in the biblical record with engagement at Ramoth Gilead 2Kings 8:28, around 842BC. At this time Jehu is elected king at Ramoth Gilead, during a Syrian engagement and Jehoram (Israel) and Ahaziah (Judah) are pursued to their deaths 2Kings 9:27f. His campaigns take country as far south as Philistia.2Kings 12:18; Amos 6:2 (Iron Age 2) The Tel Dan inscription was written around this time: “and the king of Israel had entered before into the land of Abil (Tel Qadi) but Hadad made me king, me in person, and Hadad went in from of me and overcame whomsoever had turned against the foundations of my reign, and I killed mighty kings who had harnessed thousands of chariots and thousands of horsemen, I killed Jehoram son of Ahab king of Israel and I killed Ahaziah his son (kin)g of the house of David and I led siege to towns of their land to”. This inscription reads that Jehu acted as an agent of Hazael. The throne then was taken by Ben Haddad (II) but he was captured when unsuccessfully campaigning against Samaria, and led to expanded trading rights to Israel in Damascus, and set the stage for Israel to dominate an alliance with Aram-Damascus against the impending threat of the Neo-Assyrians (3).
• Assurinapal II 883-859BC invades
• Shalmanesser III 858-824BC (his son) leads a series of invasions. First in 858BC on the bend of the Euphrates. And then further actions which are met by an alliance in 853BC joined forces against the Assyrians (Led by Hadadzezer II and Ahab; 12/13 nations in all) and met in conflict at Qarqar where they emerged successful. Invades again 849 BC with a re-engagement in central Syria. Again in 848 BC and 845 BC. Shalmansesser III had vast aspirations over Syria, much larger than his father Assurinapal, taking the Jezreel valley and Transjordan at least south as around Irbid. Jehu is noted to pay tribute to Shalmanesser III, (according to his inscriptions) in 841 BC. Shalmanesser III then is engaged in military exploits in Anatolia never to return to Syria or Transjordan. Thirty years of political confusion would lapse before Aram-Damascus attempts again to invade Israel, but Assyria invades again, with Syria plundered, and continual local revolts throughout the country, Hazael retreats into the walled segment of Damascus which is not captured, and continues to control the Beqa’a.
• Damascus in dark times during Assyrian occupation of the country.
• 727 BC sees a revolt from Damascus, but it is put down by the Assyrians and after ongoing local campaigns the capital falls to Assyrian hands Egypt.
• Assyrian power begins to dwindle, and by 609-605 BC the Egyptian control of the area is increasing, with it’s zentih under the rule of Necho Babylon.
• 572 BC all of Ss that Omri had previous taken Dan. Assyrian references to Omri are also found in the Tel-Qadi inscription – Israel Museum which reads: [ ] O’mri did not ob’serve [ ] and he cut [ ] against my father, so as to go up against him when he was fighting a Abil (=Iyyon of previous reference) and my father lay down so as to go to his fathers. And the king of Israel had entered afore into the land of Abil (Tel Qadi) This inscription implies military engagement and the death of Omri by Hadaezerat Tel Qadi? Ahab is noted to be an ally of Hadaezer on the Shalmanesser III inscription.
• 572 BC all of Syria is under Babylonian rule Greece.
• Under the control of Alexander the great almost immediately after the battle of Issus. It is reported that one of Alexander’s generals rushed here after the battle in pursuit of Persian wealth, and obtained large values of supplies and monies.
• The city became a struggle between the Seleucid empire to the north, and the Ptolemaic empire to the south. Selucius (I) Nicator having his capital at Antioch, bled Damascene influence to Latakia in the north.
• Greek ruler Demetrius (II) province of Syria with ancient Edom via the wadi Sirhan in eastern Jordan Rome (Again).
• 106 AD Damascus again is controlled by Rome.
• 222 AD called a colonia by Septimius Severus and an extended Pax Romana.
• Significant building works were completed bringing Aramean and Greek foundations into structured order in an area of 1,500 x 750 metres, most now still recognised as the old city. Of particular significance is the building of the temple to Jupiter on the site of the old temple of Haddad by Herod the great. This temple was maintained by the romans, and columns and arches from this period still exist at the end of the suq. Herodian ashlars apparently can be seen in the current Umayyad mosque which was built on the site of the temple to Jupiter. Islamic rule Damascus was a significant city in the psyche of the Arab. For a time to be in paradise was reflected as living in Damascus. The waterways leading to lush and widespread irrigated terraces, orchards led to Damascus being considered the world centre for many fruit-types and other delicacies created from them.
• Damascus was captured by Khalid ibn al-Wahlid in August 635 after a failed attempt previous year. Emperor Heraclius led the Byzantines in the spring of 636 taking the city and pursued the troops where at the battle at the Yarmuk where they were massacred in august 636, forming a solid foundation for control of Syria and Palestine.
•The city was ruled by Mu’awiya I who after the murder of Caliph Ali in 661, established himself as the caliph of the expanding Islamic empire • Abd al Malik 685f • Capital of the Umayyad Caliphate from 661-750. • Abd al-Malik’s successor, al-Walid initiated construction of the Grand Mosque of Damascus (known as the Umayyad Mosque) in 706 and completed by 715. But the empire stretching from India to Spain was collapsing.
• The Abbasid dynasty, moved the seat of Islamic power to Baghdad and Damascus saw decline throughout the Abbasid era, only later to regain significant importance in the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods.
• The Seljuk Turks took power in Damascus in the 11th century, with establishment of governance and court thereunder Abu Nasr Duqaq in 1079 AD • Mongol invasion of Syria in 1260, and following the Mongol defeat at Ain Jalut in the same year.
• During Ottoman rule, which commenced in 1516, expelled the then mamaluke governate and the city decayed completely.
• Freedom from the Ottoman rule occurred under the united Arab legions, led by King Faisal, with influence of TH Lawrence (of Arabia) entered Damascus on October 1, 1918.
• The subsequent international discussions led to the Picot-Sykes accord, with division of the middle east into French controlled (Syria/Lebanon) and British mandate controlled (Iraq/Jordan/Palestine) sectors.
• Independence of Syria was given in 1946.
Damascus National museum
Significant archeological findings from within Syria are exhibited at the National museum in Damascus, of some biblical interest the followings should be noted:
• Basalt stele in shape of sphinx (in Damascus National museum) with inscription corroborating the Tel Dan inscription’s description of Damascus being the superiority in the area.
• Ancient synagogue from eastern Syria.
• Neo-Hittite Basalt(?) portal lion, from Karnaim.
Particular plant noted for connection with Damascus is “tut Shamy” the Damascene Mulberry. It is grown for fruit and not for silkworms. It has crops in May, and has a sharp acidic taste more than blackberries.
Street called straight
“Straighter than a corkscrew, but not as straight as a rainbow” claimed Mark Twain in his tome Innocents Abroad. The street has indeed at least three bends in it marked with Roman arches. The original street once 26m wide is now only as wide to allow a single car and pedestrians scraping past. The street was known rather as strait, in the sense of constrained, referring to the area of government approved trade centres and regulated trade. It was here that the whole city gathered for their commerce, and the sight of Paul as blind would have been immediately known.
Other reference materials
(1) Josephus Antiq (2) Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography, London 1967, p147, No. 13. (3) Burns, Ross (2005), Damascus: A History, Routledge, ISBN 0415271053, 9780415271059 pg 11. (4) (1) Lapinski: The Arameans, their ancient history, culture, religion pg 368ff The Stele Dedicated to Melcarth by Ben-Hadad of Damascus, Frank Moore Cross. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 205. (Feb., 1972), p. 40 Ancient Damascus: A Historical Study of the Syrian City-State from Earliest Times Until Its Fall to the Assyrians in 732 BCE., Wayne T. Pitard. Review author: Paul E. Dion, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 270, Ancient Syria. (May, 1988), p. 98 Later Biblical researches in Palestine and ajoining regions Robinson 1852.