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LEBANON (Heb. לְבָנוֹן), Middle Eastern state named after a mountain chain running parallel to the Mediterranean coast N. of Israel. The name Lebanon is derived from lavan (lbn; "white") in reference to the snow covering its peaks. It was variously called Levanon in Hebrew, Libnah in Phoenician, Labnanu in Assyrian, and Lablani or Niblani in Hittite.

In Ancient Times

Like most high mountains, Mt. Lebanon was imagined in early times to have been the abode of a god, Baal Lebanon, who is sometimes identified with Hadad. The area was inhabited by a number of different peoples in the prehistoric period. It appears to have been eventually settled by a West-Semitic population, later designated Canaanite and in Hellenistic sources Phoenician. The mountains of the Lebanon, rich in cedars and other coniferous trees, attracted the attention of the rulers of the treeless Nile Valley at an early date. As early as the fourth dynasty, the pharaoh Snefru probably sent to Byblos for cedars, firs, pines, and other trees. For 1,500 years the forests of the Lebanon supplied Egypt with wood for a number of purposes, including shipbuilding and construction of temples, sacred and funerary boats, and doors for palace gates. As the mountains became denuded, more and more harbors were opened by the Egyptians. From the 12th century B.C.E. onward the Assyrians competed with the Egyptians for the wood of the Lebanon. Tiglath-Pileser I advanced into the region in order to obtain wood for building temples to the gods Anu and Adad. In 877 B.C.E. Ashurnaṣirpal II took firs and pines from the Lebanon back to Assyria. The devastation caused by Sennacherib among the cedars and firs is described in the Lord's answer to Hezekiah's prayer (II Kings 19:23). According to Isaiah, the trees of the Lebanon rejoiced when Sargon of Assyria passed away (14:8).

In general, the Lebanon marks the northern boundary of the Promised Land (Deut. 1:7; 3:25; 11:24; Josh. 1:4; 9:1). Its cedars are praised as the finest of trees (I Kings 5:13) and are contrasted with the bramble in Jotham's parable (Judg. 9:15). Isaiah praises the cypress, the plane tree, and the larch of the region (60:13). In the Song of Songs and other books of the Bible the wild animals, waters, trees, flowers, wine, and snow of the Lebanon are described in glowing terms. When Solomon built the Temple, he was supplied with cedars from the Lebanon by his ally Hiram, king of Tyre (I Kings 5:15–24), who sent the logs in floats to a harbor near Jaffa (Tell Qasīla; II Chron. 2:15). The same procedure was repeated for the construction of the Second Temple, at which time the forests belonged to the king of Persia (Ezra 3:7). In Hellenistic and Roman times the Lebanon was divided among the various Phoenician cities then largely Hellenized; it became part of the province of Syria, and from the third century a separate province, Phoenicia (Augusta Libanensis).

Post-Second Temple and Arab Periods

In post-biblical times, the forests of the Lebanon continued to be exploited by the Phoenician cities in whose territories they stood for the benefit of the Hellenistic and Roman rulers. In the seventh century (the Byzantine period) the mountaineers of the region adopted the theological views of the emperor Heraclius, becoming Monotheletes; the followers of this sect were called Maronites after their patriarch John Maron. They maintained their religion throughout the Arab domination.

There is scant information about the existence of Jews between the seventh and 15th centuries, but small Jewish communities continued to exist in the area which is now Lebanon. The Arab author al-Balādhuri relates that the Caliph Mu'āwiya settled Jews in *Tripoli . The Palestinian academy established its seat in Tyre in 1071. *Benjamin of Tudela, in the 12th century, relates that the Jews lived in the same area as the *Druze, with whom they traded and engaged in various crafts. In crusader times, the Lebanon was divided between the count of Tripoli and the king of Jerusalem, remaining in the hands of the crusaders almost until the end of the Latin kingdom (1291).

There were also Jews living in the village districts. In the town of Deir al-Qamar in Mount Lebanon, situated halfway between *Beirut and *Sidon , there was a Jewish community (80 families at the beginning of the 19th century), which engaged in agriculture and the breeding of silkworms as well as commerce, the manufacture of soap, and the extraction of some iron from the surrounding ore deposits. Some Jews also lived in villages within the direct or outlying vicinity of Deir al-Qamar (including Mukhtara, ʿAyn Qanya, ʿAyn Zaḥlata, and others). The common factor which characterized almost every one of these Jewish concentrations was their dependency on the Druze inhabitants, with whom they coexisted on friendly terms. In 1860, as a result of the inter-communal war between the Druze and the Maronites of Lebanon, the Druze gradually abandoned the region of Deir al-Qamar. They were followed by the Jews who settled in Beirut, the town of Aley (southeast of Beirut), and Sidon. In the interior of Lebanon, the only remaining Jewish community was to be found in Ḥāṣbayya, on the slopes of the Hermon, where its presence was already known from the 18th century. Most of the Jews of this town were transferred to Rosh Pinah in 1888 by Baron Rothschild but it was only in 1913 that the last three families left. The relations between the Jews and the dominant Maronite community were at times strained and there were several blood libels. The development of modern Lebanon was accompanied by an increase in the Jewish population, most of which was of Sephardi origin. The Jews arrived in Lebanon, especially to the capital, Beirut, from Greece and Turkey, and they gradually became an important commercial factor.


L.F. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine, 1 (1933), 340–4; I. Ben Zvi, in: Zion, Me'assef, 2 (1927), 76–79; 4 (1930), 142–54; idem, in: Tarbiz, 3 (1931/32), 436–51; idem, Ereẓ Yisrael ve-Yishuvah (1967), index; S. Landshut, Jewish Communities in the Muslim Countries of the Middle East (1950), 54–56; E. de Vaumas, Le Liban (1954); N. Robinson, in: J. Freid (ed.), Jews in the Modern World, 1 (1962), 50–90; Pauly-Wissowa, S.V.; Press, Ereẓ, S.V. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Z. Schiff and E. Ya'ari, Israel's Lebanon War (1984); L. Zittrain Eisenberg, My Enemy's Enemy: Lebanon in the Early Zionist Imagination, 19001948 (1994); K.E. Schulze, The Jews of Lebanon: Between Coexistence and Conflict (2001).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.