HESHBON (Heb. חֶשְׁבּוֹן), biblical city in Transjordan, 50 mi. (80 km.) due E. of Jerusalem. The identification of Heshbon is undisputed; it was situated on the site of the present town of Ḥisbān in the southern Belka. The site was first explored in the 19th century; excavations at the site were conducted by S.H. Horn between 1968 and 1973, by L.T. Geraty between 1974 and 1976, and in 1978 by J. Taylor and L.G. Herr. Hesh bon was the capital of Siḥon, king of the Amorites (Num. 21:26), and was conquered by Moses and the Israelites in their first victory on the way to the Promised Land. This event is recorded in a kind of postscript to an ancient song extolling Heshbon's might (Num. 21:30). The city was assigned to the tribe of Reuben (Num. 32:37) but because of its proximity to the borders of Gad it is listed as a levitical city in the latter's territory (Josh. 21:39; I Chron. 6:66). Its fate in the conflict between Israel and Moab in the time of the Judges (Ehud) is uncertain (cf. Judg. 3:12ff.; I Sam. 12:9–11); the Ammonites also appear to have claimed it at that time (Judg. 11:26). Archeological excavations at the site have not brought to light remains predating c. 1200 B.C.E. A small unfortified village existed at the site during the 12th–11th centuries B.C.E. The territory remained Israelite until after the death of Ahab (c. 853 B.C.E.) when Mesha, king of Moab, reconquered it during his rebellion against his Israelite overlord. Remains of a settlement at the site were uncovered dating from the 7th–6th centuries B.C.E. Several inscribed sherds were found. In Isaiah (15:4) and Jeremiah (48:2, 34) Heshbon is still mentioned as a Moabite city although Jeremiah also speaks of it as belonging to Ammon (49:3). The fertile area around Heshbon is mentioned in Isaiah 16:8–9 and the memory of the pools of Heshbon lingers on in Song of Songs 7:5 where the eyes of the beloved are compared with them. In the early 13th century B.C.E. Siḥon was thus a conqueror who soon lost his lands to another invader (cf. Num. 21:25–30). Situated on the "King's Highway" (cf. TJ, Shev. 6:1, 36c, and parallels) and surrounded by fertile fields and vineyards, Heshbon was eminently suited as a central settlement. It was an important site during the Hellenistic to Roman periods (c. 200 B.C.E. to 130 C.E.). In Hasmonean times it was apparently conquered by John Hyrcanus early in his reign (135–104 B.C.E.) although the sources record only the conquest of Samaga, a village in its territory (Jos., Ant. 13:255; Wars 1:63). Although the city was apparently held by Alexander Yannai (Ant. 13:397), Hyrcanus II ceded it to the Nabatean king Aretas III (as may be concluded from Ant. 14:18). Herod recovered it from the Nabateans and established a colony of veterans there (ibid., 15:294). At the outbreak of the Jewish War in 66 C.E., it was attacked by Jews (Wars 2:458). In 106 C.E. Heshbon became part of the new Provincia Arabia (Eusebius, Onom. 84:4). From the 2nd-4th centuries C.E. the site has the remains of a temple and inn on the acropolis, the former destroyed in the earthquake of 365 C.E. In the third century it was renamed Aurelia Esbus and Jerome mentions it by this name and describes it as "a notable city of Arabia in the mountains in front of Jericho, 20 Roman miles from the Jordan" (Onom. 85:4–5). Its coins, struck under Elagabalus, show Zeus and Esculapius as well as the Arabian deities Dushara-Dionysus and Astargatis-Astarte. In the fourth and fifth centuries Heshbon was the seat of a bishop (two churches are known from the site) and after the Arab conquest it was the capital of the Belka district up to Mamluk times. Medieval and Ottoman remains are also known.
Glueck, in: AASOR, 18–19 (1939), 242–51; Avi-Yonah, Geog, index; A.S. Marmadji, Textes géographiques arabes sur la Palestine (1951), 22, 53, 108; EM, 3 (1965), 311–3; A. Musil, Arabia Petraea, 1 (Ger., 1907), 383ff. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: L.T. Geraty and D. Merling, Hesban After Twenty-Five Years (1994).
[Michael Avi-Yonah /
Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.