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ABILENE (ăb'ĭ-lēn, Gr. Abilēnē, probably from Heb., meadow). A tetrarchy near Anti-Lebanon. Luke.3.1 mentions it as the tetrarchy of Lysanias when John the Baptist began his ministry. Its capital, Abela, was about eighteen miles (thirty km.) NW of Damascus. In a.d. 37 the tetrarchy, with other territories, was given to Agrippa. When he died in 44, it was administered by procurators until 53, when the emperor of Rome conferred it on Agrippa II; on Agrippa II’s death, toward the end of the century, it was made a part of the province of Syria.

ABILENE ăb’ ə lē’ nĭ (̓Αβιληνή, G9). A region to the NW of Damascus taking its name from its principal city Abila, Âbil as-Sûq of the medieval Arab geographers, modern Sûq Wâdî Baradâ, possibly the Abel (’br for ’bl) mentioned between Damascus and Hamath among the conquests of Thutmosis III in the 15th cent. b.c. This site, which was distinct from the city of the same name in the Decapolis, lay about eighteen m. from Damascus on the River Abana (modern Baradâ), which flows S from between the Anti-Lebanon range and Mount Hermon to Damascus. The most direct route from Damascus to Berytus (modern Beirut) on the coast lay up the Abana, and this accounts for the importance of Abila.

In the middle of the 1st cent. b.c. this area formed a part of the principality of Ituraea which centered on Chalcis and Heliopolis (Ba ’albak) in the Biqâ’ plain, and extended almost to Damascus in the E. The sources indicate that it was ruled (c. 85-40 b.c.) by Ptolemy son of Mennaeus and then by his son Lysanias (40-36 b.c.), but in 36 b.c. Lysanias was executed by Mark Antony and the territory given to Cleopatra, who leased it to Zenodorus, possibly Lysanias’ son. During Zenodorus’ period of rule (c. 30-20 b.c.) much of the Ituraean principality was taken from him by the Romans, some being assigned by them to other nominees, and, though the details are not clear, it seems that by the end of the cent. Abilene was established as a separate unit. It was now bounded on the W by a much curtailed territory centering on Chalcis, and an extensive Rom. colony based on Berytus; on the E by (Nabataean) Arabia; and on the S by Damascus.

A hint of the position of Abilene in the early 1st cent. a.d. is given in two virtually duplicate inscrs. from the site of Abila recording the dedication of a temple for “the Lords Imperial (ΤΩΝ ΚΨΡΙΩΝ ΣΕΒΑΣΤΩΝ),” a title which in this context could have applied only to Tiberias (a.d. 14-37) and his mother Livia (d. a.d. 29) jointly while they were both alive and therefore datable in the period a.d. 14-29, by a freedman of “Lysanias the tetrarch (ΛΥΣΑΝΙΟΥ ΤΕΤΡΑΡΧΟΥ).” This Lysanias is referred to by Josephus as tetrarch of Abilene when he records that the Emperor Gaius (Caligula) on his accession in a.d. 37 granted the “tetrarchy of Lysanias” to Agrippa (Jos. Antiq. 18. 6. 10), and that his successor Claudius confirmed this grant on his accession in a.d. 41 (Jos. Antiq. XIX. v. 1; XX. vii. 1).

Abilene is mentioned in the NT when Luke (3:1) defines the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist (c. a.d. 27) by reference to a number of rulers among whom is “Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene” (Λυσανίου τε̂ς ̓Αβιληνη̂ς τετρααρχου̂ντος).


R. Savignac, RB, IX (1912), 533-540; A. H. M. Jones, Journal of Roman Studies, XXI (1931), 265-275; F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents (5th ed.; 1960), 87, 88.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Mentioned in Lu 3:1 as the tetrarchy of Lysanias at the time when John the Baptist began his ministry. The district derived its name from Abila, its chief town, which was situated, according to the Itinerarium Antonini, 18 Roman miles from Damascus on the way to Heliopolis (Baalbec). This places it in the neighborhood of the village of Suk Wady Barada (see Abanah), near which there are considerable ancient remains, with an inscription in Greek stating that a "freedman of Lysanias the tetrarch" made wall and built a temple, and another in Latin recording the repair of the road "at the expense of the Abilenians." The memory of the ancient name probably survives in the Moslem legend which places the tomb of Abel in a neighboring height where there are ruins of a temple. Josephus calls this Abila, he Lusaniou, literally, "the Abilene of Lysanius," thus distinguishing it from other towns of the same name, and as late as the time of Ptolemy (circa 170 AD) the name of Lysanias was associated with it.

The territory of Abilene was part of the Iturean Kingdom, which was broken up when its king, Lysanias, was put to death by M. Antonius, circa 35 BC. The circumstances in which Abilene became distinct tetrarchy are altogether obscure, and nothing further is known of the tetrarch Lysanias (Ant., XIX, v, 1; XX, ii, 1). In 37 AD the tetrarchy, along with other territories, was granted to Agrippa I, after whose death in 44 AD it was administered by procurators until 53 AD, when Claudius conferred it again, along with neighboring territories, upon Agrippa II. On Agrippa’s death, toward the close of the 1st century, his kingdom was incorporated in the province of Syria. See Lysanias.