Bashan

Few areas in Israel have caused more confusion over their related placenames than the plain of Bashan in northeast Israel. This fertile land was seized from King Og after he attacked the Israelites as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 21:32-35; Deuteronomy 2:24-37; 3:1-4), and it was assigned to half the tribe of Manasseh (Deuteronomy 3:13-14; Joshua 13:29-31). It was renowned throughout Bible times as a land of oak forests (Isaiah 2:13; 33:9; Ezekiel 27:6; Zechariah 11:2) and verdant pastures for cattle (Ps. 22:12; Jeremiah 50:19; Ezekiel 39:18; Amos 4:1). Though Bashan’s boundaries were somewhat loosely defined, numerous biblical references to Bashan clarify that it generally encompassed the area shown here. Less clear, however, is the region intended by the scant references to an area called “the Argob” (Deuteronomy 3:4-14; 1 Kings 4:13), a term likely meaning “stony heap.” The Argob was a subregion within Bashan that, in its strictest sense, appears to have referred to an ancient bed of cooled lava that stood (and still stands) about twenty feet above the surrounding plain. At the same time, however, several references note that the Argob encompassed sixty cities, which must have spanned an area well beyond the lava bed, so that the term was essentially equivalent to Bashan. This broader meaning likely grew out of a natural tendency to reference the larger area by its most recognizable nearby feature–the cooled lava bed (e.g., “the whole region of Argob as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maakathites”). Another placename associated with this region that has caused much confusion among scholars is Havvoth-jair. The term, meaning “settlements of Jair” (Jair was one of the Judges of Israel; see Judges 10:3-5), is used throughout the entire span of Israelite history, from Numbers to Chronicles, with about half of its occurrences limiting the scope of Havvoth-jair to thirty towns in Gilead (Numbers 32:40-42; Judges 10:5; 1 Kings 4:13; 1 Chronicles 2:22) and the other half associating it with sixty towns in Bashan (Joshua 13:30; Deuteronomy 3:14; 1 Chronicles 2:23). Some scholars have tried to resolve this apparent descrepancy by assuming that the original scope included only the land we typically regard as Gilead (southwest of Bashan) and that later writers recast history to include Bashan in Havvoth-jair. This explanation, however, seems at odds with the fact that some of the references to Havvoth-jair in Bashan are made as far back as Joshua and as late as the book of Chronicles. Perhaps the most confusing passage is 1 Chronicles 2:22-23, where verse 22 locates Jair’s twenty-three towns in Gilead, but in the very next verse it seems to place Havvoth-jair in Bashan as well, as indicated by the mention of Kenath and sixty towns. It could be, however, that the term Gilead was used in some passages (e.g., Numbers 32:40-42) as a generic reference to all the land taken from King Og, that is, including both Gilead as we normally understand it and Bashan. Two other lesser known terms associated with this region are the land of Tob (Judges 11:3-5; 2 Samuel 10:6-8), likely located just south of Bashan, and Hauran, mentioned only in Ezekiel 47:16-18, which formed the southeast extreme of Bashan.

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