1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bashan
BASHAN, a region lying E. of the Jordan, and towards its source. Its boundaries are not very well defined, but it may be said in general to have been north of the territory of Gilead. The name first appears in Hebrew history in connexion with the wanderings of the Israelites. According to Numbers xxi. 33, the tribes after the rout of Sihon, king of the Amorites, turned to go by the land of Bashan; and its king, Og, met them at Edrei, and was there defeated and slain. The value of this narrative is a matter of much dispute. The gigantic stature of the king, and the curious details about his "bedstead" (Deut. iii. 11) are regarded as suggestive of legend; to say nothing of the lateness of all the documents relating to the wars of Og, and the remoteness of Bashan from the regions of the Israelites' wandering. The story, however, had so firm a hold on Hebrew tradition that it can hardly fail to have some basis in fact; and an invasion by Israel of Bashan before coming to Jordan is by no means an improbability.
The great stature of Og is explained in the passage of Deuteronomy mentioned by the statement that he was of the remnant of the aboriginal Rephaim. This was a race distinguished by lofty stature; and in Genesis xiv. 5 we find them established in Ashteroth-Karnaim (probably the same as Ashtaroth, which, as we shall see, was an important city of Bashan). The territory was allotted on the partition of the conquered land to the eastern division of the tribe of Manasseh (Numbers xxxiii. 33; Josh. xiii. 29). One of the cities of refuge, Golan, was in Bashan (Deut. iv. 43). By Solomon, Bashan, or rather "the region of Argob in Bashan," containing "threescore great cities with walls and brazen bars," was assigned to the administrative district of Ben-Geber, one of his lieutenants (1 Kings iv. 13, compare ver. 19). In the days of Jehu the country was taken from Israel by Hazael, king of Syria (2 Kings x. 33). This is the last historical event related in the Old Testament of Bashan. In the poetical and prophetic books it is referred to in connexion with the products for which it was noted. From a passage in the "Blessing of Moses" (Deut. xxxiii. 22) it seems to have been inhabited by lions. Elsewhere it is referred to in connexion with its cattle (Deut. xxxii. 14; Ezek. xxxix. 18), which seem to have been proverbial for ferocity (Ps. xxii. 12); Amos (iv. 1) calls the wealthy women of Samaria, who oppressed the poor, "kine of Bashan." It is also noted for its mountain (Ps. lxviii. 15), and especially for oaks, which are coupled with the cedars of Lebanon (Isa. ii. 13; compare xxxiii. 9; Zechariah xi. 2). Oars were made from them (Ezek. xxvii. 6).
The boundaries of Bashan may to some extent be deduced from the indications afforded in the earlier historical books. Og dwelt at Ashteroth, and did battle with the Israelites at Edrei (Deut. i. 4). In Deut. iii. 4, "the region of Argob" with its threescore cities is mentioned; Mt. Hermon is referred to as a northern limit, and Salecah is alluded to in addition to the other cities already mentioned. Josh. xii. 4 and Josh. xiii. 29 confirm this. Josephus (Ant. iv. 5. 3; Wars, ii. 6. 3) enumerates four provinces of Bashan, Gaulanitis, Trachonitis, Auranitis and Batanaea. Gaulanitis (which probably derived its name from the city of refuge, Golan, the site of which has not yet been discovered) is represented by the modern Jaulān, a province extending from the Jordan lakes to the Haj Road. Josephus (Wars, iv. 1. 1) speaks of it as divided into two sections, Gamalitis and Sogana. Trachonitis (mentioned in Luke iii. 1 as in the territory of Philip the tetrarch) adjoined the territory of Damascus, Auranitis and Batanaea. This corresponds to the Trachōnes of Strabo (xvi. 20), and the modern district of the Lejā; inscriptions have been found in the Lejā giving Trachōn as its former name. Auranitis is the Hauran of Ezekiel xlvii. 16, and of the modern Arabs. It is south of the Jaulān and north of Gilead. According to Porter (Journal Soc. Lit., 1854, p. 303), the name is locally restricted to the plain south of the Lejā. and the narrow strip on the west; although it is loosely applied by strangers to the whole country east of the Jaulān. The fourth province, Batanaea, which still is remembered in the name ‛Ard el-Bathaniyeh, lies east of the Lejā and the Hauran plain, and includes the Jebel ed-Drūz or Hauran mountain.
The identification of Argob, a region of the kingdom of Og, is a matter of much difficulty. It has been equated on philological grounds to the Lejā. But these arguments have been shown to be shaky if not baseless, and the identification is now generally abandoned. The confidence with which the great cities of Og were identified with the extensive remains of ancient sites in the Lejā and Hauran has also been shown to be without justification. All the so-called "giant cities of Bashan" without exception are now known to be Greco-Roman, not earlier than the time of Herod, and, though in themselves of very high architectural and historical interest, have no connexion whatever with the more ancient periods. No tangible traces of Og and his people, or even of their Israelite supplanters, have yet been found.
This fact somewhat weakens the various identifications that have been proposed for the cities of Bashan enumerated by name. Edrei for example is identified with Ed-Dera‛a. This is perhaps the most satisfactory comparison, for besides the Greco-Roman remains there is an extensive subterranean city of unknown date, which may be of great antiquity, though even this is still sub judice. The other identifications that have commanded most acceptance are as follows:—Ashteroth Karnaim, also called Ashtaroth and (Josh. xxi. 27) Be-eshterah, has been identified with Busrah (Bostra), where are very important Herodian ruins, but there is no tangible evidence yet adduced that the history of this site is of so remote antiquity. From the similarity of the names, it has also been sought at Tell Ashari and Tell ‛Ashtera. The true site can be determined, if at all; by excavation only; identifications based on mere outward similarity of names have always been fruitful sources of error. Salecah is perhaps less doubtful; it is a remarkable name, and a ruin similarly styled, Salkhat, is to be seen in the Hauran. It is inhabited by Druses. Another town in eastern Manasseh, namely Kenath, has been identified by Porter with Kanawat, which may be correct.
In the later history Bashan became remarkable as a refuge for outlaws and robbers, a character it still retains. The great subterranean "city" at Ed-Dera‛a has been partially destroyed by the local sub-governor, in order to prevent it becoming a refuge of fugitives from justice or from government requirements (conscription, taxation, &c.). Strabo refers to a great cave in Trachonitis capable of holding 4000 robbers. Arab tradition regards it as the home of Job; and it is famous as being the centre of the Ghassanid dynasty. The Hauran is one of the principal habitations of the sect of the Druses (q.v.).
The physical characteristics of Bashan are noteworthy. Volcanic in origin—the Jebel ed-Druz is a group of extinct volcanoes—the friable volcanic soil is extraordinarily fertile. It is said to yield wheat eighty-fold and barley a hundred. The oaks for which the country was once famous still distinguish it in places.