COELE-SYRIA se’ lĭ sĭr’ ĭ ə (Κοίλη Συρία, Hollow Syria). A geographical term used with varying connotation, of parts of Syro-Pal. The term is first attested in the early 4th cent. b.c., when it seems to have referred to the whole of the great rift valley which extends from the ’Amq plain in the N to the Dead Sea in the S, and often more particularly to the Biqâ’ plain between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains. During the Hel. period the Biqâ’ lay in the region where the Seleucid and Ptolemaic claims met. In the 3rd cent. the Ptolemies controlled it from Egypt and referred to the area as “Syria,” but in 200 b.c. the Seleucids conquered this part of Syria, and to distinguish it from those parts already in their possession, they called it “Coele-Syria,” the first official use of the term. With the end of the Seleucid empire in the 1st cent. b.c., and the rise of the Hasmonean kings in Pal., the term was confined to the Biqâ’ and the area to the E of it. From the time of Augustus it was further limited to the Biqâ’ alone. Finally in the late 2nd cent. a.d., Septimius Severus created a new province under this name, comprising the whole of N Syria, and excluding the Biqâ’ which fell in “Syria Phoenice.”


E. Bikerman, “La Coelé-Syrie,” RB (1947), 256-268.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

So the Greeks after the time of Alexander the Great named the valley lying between the two mountain ranges, Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon. It is referred to in the Old Testament as Biq`ath ha-Lebhanon, "the valley of Lebanon" (Jos 11:17), a name the echo of which is still heard in el-Buqa`, the designation applied today to the southern part of the valley. This hollow, which extends about 100 miles in length, is the continuation northward of the Jordan valley. The main physical features are described under LEBANON (which see). The name, however, did not always indicate the same tract of territory. In Strabo (xvi.2) and Ptolemy (v.15), it covers the fertile land between Jebel esh-Sharqy and the desert presided over by Damascus. In 1 Esdras 2:17; 2 Macc 3:8, etc., it indicates the country South and East of Mt. Lebanon, and along with Phoenicia it contributed the whole of the Seleucid dominions which lay South of the river Eleutherus. Josephus includes in Coele-Syria the country East of the Jordan, along with Scythopolis (Beisan) which lay on the West, separated by the river from the other members of the Decapolis (Ant., XIII, xiii, 2, etc.). In XIV, iv, 5, he says that "Pompey committed Coele-Syria as far as the river Euphrates and Egypt to Scaurus." The term is therefore one of some elasticity.