What does the Bible tell us about the ancient city of Damascus?

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Geography

The city of Damascus is considered one of the oldest in the world. Geographically, it is situated on the eastern foothills of the Anti-Lebanon mountain. And it ranges 50 miles inland from the eastern coast of the Mediterranean on a highland 680 meters above sea level.

Damascus was an oasis in the Syrian desert. For its rivers, Abana and Pharpar, were, considered by the leprous Naaman, the Syrian general, superior than any river in Israel (2 Kings 5:12). Additionally, the river Abana, nourished by the snows of the Anti-Lebanon mountains, irrigated the territory and made it very fruitful.

Old Testament

The location of Damascus was probably the place where Abel was murdered (Genesis 4:1-16). Also, the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities i. 6. 4 [145]) attributes the city’s establishment to Uz, Shem’ grandson (Vol. I, p. 270).

Also, Damascus was also the birth place for Abraham’s steward (Genesis 15:2). And there, King David positioned garrisons (2 Samuel 8:6). However, under Rezon the city became an epicenter of hostility to Solomon (1 Kings 11:23–25). In fact, the city became the center of the Syrian kingdom in its coalitions and wars with Israel and Judea (2 Kings 14:28; 16:9, 10; Amos 1:3, 5).

Later on, Ezekiel the prophet mentioned that this city prospered as it traded wine and wool with Tyre (ch. 27:16, 18). Markedly, in 333 B.C. the Macedonian general Parmenion took the city for Alexander the Great. And in 64 BC, it was retaken by the Roman Pompey.

New Testament

In the New Testament, and at the time of Saul’s transformation, Damascus was under the authority of Vitellius, the Roman governor of Syria. But when Tiberius died in 37 A.D., Vitellius hurried to Rome, and Aretas IV, king of the Nabataeans, seized it and ruled it by a delegate.

Uniquely, Damascus was cosmopolitan for its population was mostly Aramaic, but the city had a huge Jewish gathering. As in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9), national groups there established their own synagogues. It is projected that there may have been 30 or 40 synagogues in the city of Damascus at that time.

Correspondingly, the account in Acts 9:2,14 infers that there were many “disciples of the Lord” (v. 1) living there. Of these, many may have been that fled from the Sanhedrin’s persecution in Jerusalem. As Christians attended the synagogues, Saul attacked and persecuted them.

Thankfully, the Lord interpreted Saul’s evil plans and appeared to him in a vision that changed his life. The Bible tells us that this vision took place near Damascus. For Saul’s companions “led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus” (Acts 9: 8). Then, according to Acts 9:10-19, God asked Ananias (Acts 22:12) to lay hands on Saul and lead him into baptism (Acts 9:10-19). Thus, Saul the persecutor was transformed to Paul the evangelist. And from that point on, Damascus became the center of the expanding Christian Church.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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