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DAMASCUS, capital of Syria; in olden times a caravan center at an oasis in Southern Syria, on the principal crossroads between Mesopotamia-Syria and Palestine-Transjordan.

In the Bible

The name appears as דַּמֶּשֶׂק Dammesek (but once as דּוּמֵשֵׂק Dummesek, II Kings 16:10) and דַּרְמֶשֶׂק Darmesek, as in Chronicles (e.g., II Chron. 16:2) and also in the Dead Sea Scrolls and rabbinic sources. The meaning of the name is obscure; derivations from Semitic sources have been suggested but the etymology of the name remains uncertain. In Assyrian documents of the first millennium B.C.E. Dimašqi is interchangeable with the peculiar epithet ša imérišu, the city or land "of his donkey," though the epithet most probably refers to the country only. The Egyptian Execration Texts and the *Mari documents (18th century B.C.E.) refer to the Damascus region as the "Land of Apum," ruled by West Semitic princes. Damascus is mentioned by name for the first time in the geographical lists of Thutmosis III (15th century B.C.E.). In the El-Amarna letters (14th century B.C.E.) Damascus is mentioned several times, once explicitly, as being in the "Land of Upe" (i.e., Apu[m]); at this time its rulers bore Indo-Aryan names. The patriarchal narratives twice mention Damascus in passing (Gen. 14:15; 15:2), and the biblical account includes it within the Land of Canaan (Num. 34). Though this region lay within the Egyptian dominion until Egypt's decline in the 12th century, the Hittites sporadically penetrated and held it.

The desert oasis of Damascus became an important center for the *Arameans shortly after their appearance in Syria toward the end of the second millennium. David, in his campaigns against the Aramean confederation, conquered the city and posted Israelite governors there (II Sam. 8:5–6). Damascus cast off the Israelite yoke during Solomon's reign and became the capital of the kingdom of *Aram Damascus, remaining so until its destruction by the Assyrians in 732 B.C.E. It reached its height in the ninth century as an important political, economic, and cultural center. Even so, Damascus was forced to grant Israelite merchants special rights in the city, as indicated by the Aramean king Ben-Hadad's submission to Ahab: "… you may establish bazaars for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria" (I Kings 20:34).

The city of Damascus was repeatedly attacked by Assyria, as the latter gained power. In 841 B.C.E. and again in 838 B.C.E., Shalmaneser III besieged it, destroying the vineyards and orchards surrounding the city; later Adad-Nirari III twice (or even three times) spared the city only after being paid a heavy tribute; in 773 B.C.E. Shalmaneser IV also campaigned against Damascus, weakening it sufficiently to allow Jeroboam II, king of Israel, to impose his suzerainty over it; and in 732 B.C.E. the final blow was delivered by Tiglath-Pileser III. Reduced to the status of the capital of an Assyrian province, Damascus was still mentioned in Assyrian sources in 727, 720, and 694 B.C.E. and even as late as the reign of Ashurbanipal (668–627 B.C.E.). In the Persian period, Damascus was an important administrative center, and may have been the capital of the satrapy of Trans-Euphrates (cuneiform, ebir nãri; Aram. avar nahara [Ezra:4:10, etc.]; Heb. ever ha-nahar [Ezra 8:36; Neh. 2:7, 9]). The geographical position of Damascus, dominating the major trade routes, led to an economic prosperity in the biblical period, as did the fertility of the desert oasis, as reflected in the Bible (II Kings 5:12; Ezek. 27:18, where its trade in wine and wool is specified). Damascus was a cultic center for the god Hadad (cf. *Ben-Hadad, the name typical of the Damascene kings), apparently worshiped locally under the name Rimmon (cf. "the house of Rimmon," II Kings 5:18). The ancient city of Damascus has not yet been uncovered. One of the few chance finds from the biblical period is a ninth-century B.C.E. basalt orthostat depicting a cherub/sphinx in Phoenician style, which had been built into a substructural wall of the Umayyad mosque. The latter building apparently stands on the site of the ancient temple of Hadad-Ramman (cf. II Kgs. 5:18). In addition, Damascus is mentioned in an Aramaic stele, fragments of which were uncovered at *Dan in northern Israel.

From the time of Alexander the Great's invasion of the Near East in 333 B.C.E., Damascus served as a Macedonian colony, later becoming the capital of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia (from 111 B.C.E.), and then eventually becoming incorporated into the Roman Empire. Very little archaeological data is known about the pre-Classical city of Damascus, except for a few chance finds. The general plan of the present Old City may have been modeled on the general plan of the Hellenistic city, as some scholars have proposed (including Sauvaget), but there is no certainty about this. Roman remains include the architectural remains and inscriptions of the Damascene Temple of Jupiter, and a very distinctive street running east-west, which may very well be the same as the "Street called Straight" mentioned in Acts 9:11. A church dedicated to John the Baptist, which may have housed his relic head, existed in the city in the Byzantine period. Most of the ancient buildings visible today in the city are Islamic, including the impressive Great Mosque built by Caliph al-Walid in 705–15.


ANCIENT TIMES: Albright, in: BASOR, 83 (1941), 30–36; 163 (1961), 46–47; Abd el-Kader, in: Syria, 26 (1949), 191–5; Malamat, in: Tarbiz, 22 (1950/51), 64; idem, Near Eastern Archaeology in the Twentieth Century (1970), 164–77; Speiser, in: JAOS, 71 (1951), 257–8; Gordon, in: IEJ, 2 (1952), 174–5; M.F. Unger, in: Israel and the Arameans of Damascus (1957); Tocci, in: RSO, 35 (1960), 129–33; Mazar, in: BA, 25 (1962), 98–120. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. Vilk, "Yehudei Surya Haselvekit," doctoral thesis (1987); B.Z. Luria, Ha-Yehudim be-Surya bi-ymei Shivat Zion, ha-Mishnah ve-ha-Talmud (1957); E. Bareket, Shafrir Miẓrayim (1995), 17, 23, 51, 60, 71, 76, 84, 89, 114, 149, 153–55, 158–60, 162, 186, 200; L. Rot-Garson, Yehudei Suriya (2000). MEDIEVAL AND MODERN PERIODS: Alḥarizi, Taḥkemoni, ed. by A. Kaminka (1899), index; Mann, Egypt, index; Rosanes, Togarmah, 1 (19302), 175ff.; 2 (1937/382), 140ff.; 3 (19382), 218ff.; 4 (1935), 297ff.; 5 (1938), 207ff.; Assaf, in: Tarbiz, 9 (1937/38), 26–27; idem, in: BJPES, 11, no. 3–4 (1943–45), 42–45; E. and J.Y. Rivlin, in: Reshumot, 4 (1926), 77–119; Baron, in: PAAJR, 4 (1932/33), 3–31; A.J. Brawer, in: Zion, 5 (1940), 294–7; 11 (1946), 83–108; Ashtor, Toledot, 1 (1944), 295ff., 321, 325, 334; 2 (1951), 9ff., 114ff., 158, 171, 423ff., 413ff.; 3 (1970), 6, 142ff., 149, 150, 152, 155; idem, in: JQR, 50 (1959/60), 61; Benayahu, in: Sinai, 24 (1949), 91–105; S. Landshut, Jewish Communities in the Muslim Countries of the Middle East (1950), 57–60. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: L.A. Frankl, Yerushalayma (1860), 106–21; A.K. Rafeq, The Province of Damascus 1723–1783 (1966); A. Yaʿari, Iggerot, index; N. Zenner, in: Pẹamim, 3 (1979), 45–58; M. Gil, in: B.Z. Kedar (ed.), Perakim be-Toledot Yerushalayim bi-Yimei ha-Beinayim (1979), 39–106; J.M. Landau and M. Maoz, in: Peʿamim, 9 (1981), 4–13; S. Schwarzfuchs, in: Michael, 7 (1982), 431–44; A. Cohen, in: Sefunot, 17 (1983), 99–104; J. Sutton, Aleppo Chronicles: The Story of the Unique Sepharadeem of the Ancient Near East in Their Own Words (1988); H. Abrahami, in: Shorashim ba-Mizraḥ (1989), 133–72; A. Rodrigue, De L'instruction à l'émancipation (1989), index; idem, Ḥinukh, Ḥevrah ve-Historiyah (1991), 240–42; N.A. Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times (1991); N. Al-Qattan, in: T. Phillip (ed.), The Syrian Land in the 18th and 19th Century (1992), 196–216; Z. Zohar, Massoret u-Temurah, Hitmodedut Ḥakhmei Yisrael be-Miẓrayim uve-Surya im Etgerei ha-Modernizaẓiyah 1880–1920 (1993); idem, in: Peʿamim, 44 (1990), 80–109; idem, in: Peʿamim, 66 (1996), 43–69; M. Harel, in: Bein Shenei Olamot: Tenuʿot ha-Noʿar be-Arẓot ha-Islam (1995); W.P. Zenner, in: W.P. Zenner (ed.), Jews among Muslims: Communities in the Precolonial Middle East (1996), 161–72, 173–86; M. Ben-Sasson, in: Peʿamim, 66 (1996), 5–19; Y. Harel, in: Peʿamim, 67 (1996), 57–95; idem, in: Zion, 61 (1996), 183–207; idem, in: Peʿamim, 67 (1996), 56–95; idem, Bi-Sefinot shel Esh la-Ma'arav (2003); idem, in: Peʿamim, 74 (1998), 131–55; idem, in: Peʿamim, 86–87 (2001), 67–123; M. Laskier, in: Peʿamim, 66 (1996), 70–127; J. Frankel, The Damascus Affair: "Ritual Murder," Politics and the Jews in 1840 (1997); M. Bar-Asher, in: Peʿamim, 67 (1997), 125–41; R. Lamdan, A Separate People, Jewish Women in Palestine, Syria and Egypt in the 16th Century (2000), index.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.