Iturea Ancient Greek: Ἰτουραία , Itouraía) is the Greek name of a levantine region north of Palestine during the Late Hellenistic and early Roman periods. It extended from Mount Lebanon across the plain of Massyas to the Anti-Lebanon mountains in Syria, with its centre in Chalcis.
The Itureans (Greek: Ἰτουραῖοι) were a nomadic semitic people, perhaps descended from the Jetur mentioned in Genesis, 25:15, as one of the tribes defeated by the transjordanian Israelities (1 Chronciles 5:19). The first non-Biblical source to mention them is Eupolemus, as cited by Eusebius, who identifies them as one of the tribes, together with the Nabateans, Moabites and Ammonites, against whom David waged war east of the Jordan. Modern scholarship identifies them as an Arab or Aramaean people. They first rose to power in the aftermath of the decline of Seleucid power in the 2nd century BCE, when, from their base around Mt. Lebanon and the Beqaa Valley, they came to dominate vast stretches of Syrian territory, and appear to have penetrated into northern Palestine as far as the Galilee and built their own state there.
In 105 BCE, Aristobulus I campaigned against Iturea, and added a great part of it to Judea, annexing the Galilee to the Hasmonean kingdom. Josephus cites a passage from Timagenes excerpted by Strabo which recounts that Aristobulus was:
Whether the Maccabees circumcized the Itureans and other populations against their will is uncertain: Strabo asserts that they simply created a confederation with such tribes based on the common bond of circumcision, which may be more plausible, though their policy appears to have been one of aggressive judaizing.
The Iturean kingdom appears to have had its centre in the kingdom of Ptolemy, son of Mennaeus (Mennæus), whose residence was at Chalcis(?) and who reigned 85-40 BCE. Ptolemy was succeeded by his son Lysanias, called by Dio Cassius (xlix. 32) "king of the Itureans." About 23 BCE, Iturea with the adjacent provinces fell into the hands of a chief named Zenodorus (Josephus, l.c. xv. 10, § 1; idem, B. J. i. 20, § 4). Three years later, at the death of Zenodorus, Augustus gave Iturea to Herod the Great, who in turn bequeathed it to his son Philip (Josephus, Ant. xv. 10, § 3).
The area and the Itureans are mentioned only once in the New Testament, in the Luke iii. 1, but are frequently described by pagan writers such as Strabo, Pliny the Elder, and Cicero. The Jewish writer Josephus also described them. They were known to the Romans as a predatory people, and were appreciated by them for their great skill in archery. They played a notable role in the defence of Jerusalem. A southern branch of the Itureans dwelt in Galilee but were conquered by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus and, according to Josephus, forcefully converted to Judaism.
Many Christian theologians, among them Eusebius, taking into consideration the above-cited passage of Luke, place Iturea near Trachonitis. According to Josephus, the Iturean kingdom lay north of Galilee. That Itureans dwelt in the region of Mount Lebanon is confirmed by an inscription of about the year 6 CE (Ephemeris Epigraphica, 1881, pp. 537–542), in which Q. Æmilius Secundus relates that he was sent by Quirinius against the Itureans in Mount Lebanon. In 38 Caligula gave Iturea to a certain Soemus, who is called by Dio Cassius (lix. 12) and by Tacitus (Annals, xii. 23) "king of the Itureans." After the death of Soemus (49) his kingdom was incorporated into the province of Syria (Tacitus, l.c.). After this incorporation the Itureans furnished soldiers for the Roman army; and the designations "Ala I. Augusta Ituræorum" and "Cohors I. Augusta Ituræorum" are met with in the inscriptions (Ephemeris Epigraphica, 1884, p. 194).
The origin of the Itureans is obscure. Scholars believe that the Itureans were either an Arab or Aramaic people. Shlomo Sand asserts that they were perhaps basically Phoenician, or an admixture of these with Arabs and Aramaeans.
Several etymologies have been proposed for the name Iturea:
John Lightfoot considered possible derivation from the words hittur (wealth), chitture (diggings) or the word for "crowning" (i.e. `ittur) or for "ten" (i.e. the root `-th-r) relating to Decapolis ("ten cities"). He considered the last to be the least likely and favoured the derivation from chitture noting the descriptions of the landscape.
William Muir suggested that the name might be a derived from Jetur (Hebrew Yetur) one of the former Hagrite encampments that had been conquered by the Israelites in the days of Saul, however in Josephus where both names are mentioned, Jetur (Ietour-) is rendered differently in Greek to Iturea (Itour-).
Smith's Bible Dictionary attempts to equate the modern Arabic region name Jedur with both Jetur and Iturea however the Arabic j corresponds to Hebrew g and not y, nor does the Arabic d correspond to Hebrew or Greek t and the mainstream view is that Jedur corresponds to the Biblical Gedor.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "Iturea". Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906.
- E. A. Myers, The Ituraeans and the Roman Near East (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010).
- D. Herman, Catalogue of the Iturean coins. Israel Numismatic Review 1:51-72.
- Said, Salah, "Two New Greek Inscriptions with the name ϒTWR from Umm al-Jimāl," Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 138,2 (2006), 125-132.
- Berndt Schaller, 'Ituraea' in Der Kleine Pauly:Lexicon der Antike, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 5 vols. Bd.2. 1979, p.1492.
- Kenneth Mathews, The New American Commentary Genesis 11:27-50:26, Volume 1B, B&H Publishing Group, 2005 p.359:Biblical accounts identify Jetur as one of the 12 sons of Ishmael.
- Knauf conjectures that Jetur derives from the Arabic ẓwr,rock, and thus would signify "one who builds stone fences" or "one who besieges". Kenneth Mathews, The New American Commentary Genesis 11:27-50:26, p.362.
- Eusebius, Præparatio Evangelica, Book 9:30.
- Steve Mason, Life of Josephus,Brill, 2007 p.54, n.306.
- Berndt Schaller, Ituraea, p.1492.
- Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 13,318-19.
- Shayne J.D.Cohen, 'Respect for Judaism by Gentiles According to Josephus,' in Shayne J.D. Cohen (ed.) The Significance of Yavneh and Other Essays in Jewish Hellenism, Mohr Siebeck, 2012 p.200.
- Shayne J.D. Cohen, 'Was Judaism in Antiquity a Missionary Religion,' in Cohen, ibid. pp.299-308, p.301.
- Cicero, Philippics, ii. 112.
- Cæsar, Bellum Africanum, 20.
- Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, in Flavii Iosephi opera, ed. B. Niese, Weidmann, Berlin, 1892, book 13, 9:1
- Seán Freyne, 'Galilean Studies: Old Issues and New Questions,' in Jürgen Zangenberg, Harold W. Attridge, Dale B. Martin, (eds.)Religion, Ethnicity, and Identity in Ancient Galilee: A Region in Transition, Mohr Siebeck, 2007 pp.13-32, p.25.
- Onomasticon, ed. Lagarde, pp. 268, 298.
- Ant. xiii. 11, § 3.
- Avraham Negev, Shimon Gibson (2005). Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (Paperback ed.). Continuum. p. 249. ISBN 0-8264-8571-5.
- Zuleika Rodgers, Margaret Daly-Denton, Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley (2009). A Wandering Galilean: Essays in Honour of SeÃ¡n Freyne (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism) (Hardcover ed.). Brill. p. 207. ISBN 90-04-17355-2.
- Mark A. Chancey (2002). The Myth of a Gentile Galilee (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series) (Hardcover ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 44. ISBN 0-521-81487-1.
- John Wilson (2004). Caesarea Philippi: Banias, The Lost City of Pan (Hardcover ed.). I. B. Tauris. p. 7. ISBN 1-85043-440-9.
- Steve Mason (2003). Flavius Josephus: Life of Josephus (Paperback ed.). Brill Academic Publishers. p. 54. ISBN 0-391-04205-X.
- Doron Mendels (1987). The Land of Israel As a Political Concept in Hasmonean Literature: Recourse to History in a Second Century B.C. Claims to the Holy Land (Texte und Studien zum antiken Judentum) (Hardcover ed.). J.C.B. Mohr. p. 66. ISBN 3-16-145147-3.
- Sand, ibid.p.159.
- 'John Lightfoot, 'A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Cambridge and London, 1658-1674, Chorographical Notes, Chapter 1: Of the places mentioned in Luke 3, Iturea
- William Muir, Esq., The Life of Mohamet, 4 volumes, Smith, Elder & Co., London, 1861