ABILENE (ăb'ĭ-lēn, Gr. Abilēnē, probably from Heb., meadow). A tetrarchy near Anti-Lebanon.
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 (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, TheDocuments (5th ed.; 1960), 87, 88.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
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 Lysanias.. On Agrippa’s death, toward the close of the 1st century, his kingdom was incorporated in the province of Syria. See