GERASA (Jarash ; Heb. גֶּרֶשׁ; Ar. شﺮ َ ﺟ َ), ancient city in Transjordan, north of the Jabbok River. Its ruins are situated 1,870 feet (570 m.) above sea level near the small Circassian village Jarash between Amman and Irbid in a fertile region with extensive fields, remains of forests, and scenic surroundings. Wadi Jarash (called Chrysorrhoas in antiquity) passed through the ancient city. According to pottery finds, the site was inhabited as early as the Neolithic period in the seventh millennium b.c.e. and settlement continued into the Early Bronze Age (Canaanite period). Although the name Gerasa, of Semitic origin, also testifies to its early occupation, the first mention of the city appears in the Hellenistic period when it was called "Antioch on the River Chrysorrhoas" – a name indicating that the Hellenistic settlement was established under the Seleucid dynasty. It was apparently founded by Antiochus iv, although a Greek legend attributes its establishment to Alexander the Great. The city's jurisdiction extended in the south beyond the Jabbok, in the north beyond Wadi Yābis, in the west as far as Regev (Ragaba, Rājib), and in the east to the desert. During the decline of the Seleucid kingdom, control of Geresa was seized by Zeno and Theodorus, the rulers of Philadelphia (Ammān), from whom it was captured by Alexander Yannai. It remained a Hasmonean possession until the time of Pompey after which a Jewish community continued to live in the city and maintained friendly relations with the other inhabitants. Under Roman rule the importance of the autonomous city of Gerasa increased, especially after the conquest of the Nabatean kingdom by Trajan (105 c.e.) and the establishment of the Province of Arabia. The great highway connecting Boẓrah (*Basrah) with Elath and the Red Sea passed through Gerasa making it one of the centers of the caravan trade. During the disturbances leading to the Jewish War the inhabitants of Gerasa sent the Jewish population away unharmed. Under the emperor Hadrian – who visited the city in 129/30 – and his successors, Gerasa reached the peak of its development and possessed several splendid buildings. In the time of Caracalla in the third century, the title of Roman colony was conferred on Gerasa. In the middle of the century a period of decline set in and continued until the mid-fifth century. Subsequently, however, Gerasa experienced renewed prosperity as a Christian city: its temple of Dionysus was converted into a center of Christian worship and during the years 464 to 611, 11 churches were built, one of them on the ruins of a synagogue. Gerasa's final decline was precipitated by the Muslim conquest (635). In the eighth century the city was destroyed by a series of earthquakes and during the Middle Ages it lay deserted and in ruins until Circassians settled there some time after 1878. The excavation of Gerasa by an Anglo-American expedition began in 1928. It uncovered a triumphal arch, the city wall, a hippodrome, the temple of Zeus, two theaters, the forum (circular marketplace), a columned street 2,624 feet (800 m.) long running through the city, a public fountain (nymphaeum), the temple of Artemis with a magnificent entrance connected to the bridge, baths, as well as the ruins of numerous churches containing mosaic pavements, decorated with representations of cities and animal and plant motifs. More than 500 Greek and Latin inscriptions were discovered in the city. The mosaic pavement of a synagogue with a Greco-Jewish inscription recording the names of its donors and representations of animals entering Noah's Ark, a candelabrum, and various sacred objects, was found under the foundations of a church built in 530–33. R. Joshua, "the Garsi," a pupil of R. Akiva (Er. 21b; Lam. R. 3:43, no. 9), may have been named after Gerasa. Since 1982 the Jerash Archaeological Project composed of an international team of investigators has been working at the site, excavating in areas on the western side of the city, particularly the Temples of Artemis and Zeus, the hippodrome, tombs, and other remains.
Guthe, in: Das Land Der Bibel, 3 pt. 1–2 (1919); C.H. Kraeling (ed.), Gerasa, City of the Decapolis (1938); G. Lankester Harding, The Antiquities of Jordan (1959), 78ff. add. bibliography: I. Browning, Jerash and the Decapolis (1982); R.G. Khouri, Jerash: A Frontier City of the Roman East (1986); F. Zayadine (ed.), Jerash Archaeological Project (1989).
[Michael Avi-Yonah /
Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]