BASHAN (Heb. בָּשָׁן, הַבָּשָׁן), a region north of the Yarmuk River and east of the Jordan and lakes Ḥuleh and Kinneret. In biblical times, the city of *Salchah (Salcah) was at the eastern extremity of Bashan (Deut. 3:10; Josh. 13:11) and the city of Dan at its western (Deut. 33:22). Most of its area, some 4,334 sq. mi. (11,200 sq. km.) is covered with basalt as a result of lava eruptions occurring during the Pleistocene period or later. In some parts of Bashan, the volcanic material has eroded into fertile soil, but others are still covered with rocks.
The meaning of the name is not clear; by analogy with the Arabic word batan it may mean a rockless plain. Targum Onkelos and the Palestine Targum translate Bashan as Matnan (a possible variant of Batnan) and the Syriac Peshitta as Matnin. The Palestine Targum has Butnaya as a variant (Deut. 33:22) as does the Jerusalem Talmud, probably through Greek influence (cf. Ma'as 4:6, 51b, et al.).
With its sufficient rainfall in normal years and lava soil, Bashan is a very fertile region. Once possessing forests and pastures, it is praised in the Bible for its lofty trees (Isa. 2:13; Ezek. 27:6; Zech. 11:2), its cattle and sheep (Deut. 32:14; Amos 4:1; Ps. 22:13), and, with the Carmel, it is mentioned as an area of outstanding fertility (Isa. 33:9; Jer. 50:19; Nah. 1:4). Although its forests disappeared many generations ago, good pasture is still found in Upper *Golan and on Jebel Druze. The Plain of Bashan is noted for its hardy, superior wheat, but years of drought occur there more often than on the western side of the
Jordan, with the exception of the Negev. The ancient "King's Highway" from Elath to Damascus passed through Bashan (Num. 20:17), merging with a branch of the Via Maris that crossed the Jordan near the Sea of Galilee; a second branch led to Damascus by way of Dan and Banias. Today Bashan is crossed by a highway that follows the same route and, in the east, also by the Hejaz railroad.
The ancient inhabitants of Bashan were the *Rephaim, one of whom was *Og, king of Bashan (Deut. 2:11; 3:11), whose 60 fortified cities were proverbial (Deut. 3:4; I Kings 4:13, etc.). Some of Bashan's important cities are mentioned in Egyptian documents from the Middle and New Kingdoms: Ashtaroth, Bozrah, Zer, Kenath, Tob, etc. Ashtaroth and *Edrei were the main cities of Og (Josh. 12:4–5), whom Moses defeated at Edrei (Num. 21:33). He allotted his land to the half-tribe of Manasseh (Num. 32:33–42), but most of the original inhabitants remained there (Num. 32:17). Foreign enclaves, such as those of the Geshurites east of the Sea of Galilee, and the Maacathites in Upper Golan south of Mt. Hermon survived into the early days of the monarchy (Josh. 13:13; ii Sam. 10:6–8; 13:37). In the period of the First Temple, Damascus attacked Bashan and *Gilead and, from time to time, imposed its rule on them (I Kings 22:3). *Joash and his son *Jeroboam II were the last Israelite kings to hold Bashan (II Kings 13:25; 14:25). In 732 b.c.e. it was conquered by Tiglath-Pileser iii who exiled many of its inhabitants (II Kings 15:29; cf. Isa. 8:23) and established two Assyrian provinces there – Karnini (Karnaim) and Hawrina (Hauran) – that evidently existed through Babylonian and Persian rule.
Under the Ptolemies, Bashan was divided into three provinces: Gaulanitis, Batanea, and Trachonitis. The Seleucids consolidated the whole of Transjordan north of the Arnon into a single unit called Galaditis (Gilead). In 164 b.c.e*Judah Maccabee went to the aid of the persecuted Jews of Bashan, defeated their enemies led by a certain Timotheus, and evacuated the Jews from Transjordan (I Macc. 5:9ff.; Jos., Ant., 12:330ff.). Alexander *Yannai in 85 b.c.e. wrested Golan from the Nabateans, who, by the latter part of the second century, had spread out from their settlements in Edom and reached as far as Damascus. Some 20 years later, however, Pompey conquered Golan from the Jews and gave it to the Itureans, who controlled most of Bashan. He granted autonomy to the Greek cities Hippos (Susita) in Lower Golan and Raphana and Kanatha in the Plain of Bashan and included them in the *Decapolis. From 30 to 20 b.c.e. Herod gradually received all of Bashan from Emperor Augustus, and it remained the domain of his heirs Herod Philip and Agrippa i and ii until about 100 c.e. In the days of Herod, Jews from Western Palestine and Babylonia were settled there. His army commander *Zamaris (Zimra), a Babylonian Jew, cleared Trachonitis (al-Lijā) of marauders and the area was later named for him – Terakhona de-Zimra, or Terakona. For halakhic purposes this region was considered part of Ereẓ Israel (Tosef., Shev. 4:11). In 106 c.e. Bashan was annexed to the Provincia Arabia, the capital of which was Bozrah.
In Byzantine times the al-Jafna dynasty of the Ghasān tribe ruled Bashan; its capital was Jabiyya, northwest of Nawe. Chosroes II, king of Persia, penetrated into Bashan in 614 and defeated the Byzantines near Edrei (Darʿa). The Muslims invaded in 634 and after the battle of the Yarmuk (Aug. 20, 636) Golan was included in Jund al-Urdun (Jordan Province), the capital of which was Tiberias. The rest of Bashan apparently became part of the district of Damascus – capital of the caliphate from 660 to 750. Because of its proximity to the centers of power and of Muslim culture, Bashan flourished under the Umayyad dynasty; thereafter it declined rapidly until, in Turkish times, it was inhabited by Bedouins, who plundered its few remaining villages. In 1711 Druze from Mt. Lebanon began to settle on Mt. Bashan, which was later renamed for them (Jebel Druze). Their number increased considerably there in 1860, when many Druze fled from Mr. Lebanon. Far from submitting to the Bedouin, the Druze established their authority over many tribes. The attempts of the Egyptians (from 1832 to 1840) and of the Turks (from 1840 to 1918) to extend their sovereignty over Jebel Druze were only partly successful. In 1925 the Druze rebelled against the French, who subdued the revolt, and subsequently granted the Bashan Druze area broad autonomy. Until the end of the British Mandate, Bashan was the most tranquil part of Syria; after 1944, it became part of the Republic of Syria. Attempts by the Damascus government to treat it like other provinces met with constant opposition and periodic rebellions.
On the Bashan Plain and in Golan, Turkish rule succeeded in enforcing its sovereignty over the inhabitants in the late 19th century. To strengthen its authority in these districts, the Turkish government settled Circassian refugees there in 1880–84. At the end of the 19th century, a French company laid a railroad line in Bashan from Damascus to al-Muzayyīb, north of the Yarmuk, to expedite the export of its wheat. In 1907 the Hejaz railway was built parallel to the French line as far as Edrei (Darʿa), and then branching off to cross the Yarmuk, thus connecting Bashan with Haifa. The French tracks were removed by the Turks during World War i. Good roads were constructed during the French Mandate, linking up with the road networks of Syria, Transjordan, and Palestine. During the 1890s, Baron Edmond de Rothschild purchased thousands of acres on both sides of Nahr al-ʿAllān and founded a Jewish settlement, but the pasha of Damascus expelled the settlers in 1899. A small private settlement called Benei Yehudah was founded in 1886 by Jews from Tiberias and Safed in the Golan, east of Lake Kinneret, but it was abandoned in 1920 as a result of the Arab riots and attacks after contact was broken between the two banks of the Jordan. In 1967 the area was captured from the Syrians and Israeli settlement there began. In 1981 the Golan Law declared the area part of Israel. In the early 2000s the Golan Heights included 33 settlements, mainly rural, with a population of 15,500 Jewish settlers and another 18,000 Druze concentrated in four large villages.
Avi-Yonah, Land, index; Glueck, in: D.W. Thomas (ed.), Archaeology and Old Testament Study (1967), 450ff.; EM, s.v. (incl. bibl.). add bibliography: A. Heber-Percy, A Visit to Bashan and Argob (1895); R.P.A. Beaulieu, "la première civilization du Djebel Druze," Syria, 24 (1947): 232–250; G. Barkay, Z. Ilan, A. Kloner, A. Mazar and D. Urman, "Archaeological Survey in the Northern Bashan," Israel Exploration Journal, 24 (1974), 173–184; Z. Ilan, Attempts at Jewish Settlement in Trans-Jordan, 1871–1947 (1984).
[Abraham J. Brawer /
Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]