Rabbah


Excavations by J. B. Hennessy revealed a Late-Bronze (1550-1200 b.c.) temple. Remains exist from the Roman period on the citadel above Philadelphia (the name of the city in the Roman times) and in the city below. These include a beautifully preserved, six-thousand-seat theater, a smaller odeum (music hall), and a nymphaeum. These all date to the second century a.d. The principal remains are on Citadel Hill, which contained all the public buildings, temples, churches, etc.


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RABBAH răb’ ə (רַבָּֽה, great or populous). Rabbah is, literally, the great city, i.e. the capital.

Geography.

The complete name is Rabbath of the Children of Ammon (Deut 3:11; Ezek 21:20). The modern name of this OT city is Amman, the capital of the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan. It is built upon the ruins of the Biblical city. Rabbah seems to be the only Ammonite city which is mentioned by name in the Bible. It is located about twenty-two m. E of the Jordan River and lies at the headwaters of the Wadi Amman which soon becomes the Jabbok River. This very strong spring on the edge of the desert was the reason for the city’s existence. It is called “the city of waters” (2 Sam 12:27).

Bible History.

In the first reference to the city (Deut 3:11), it is cited as the permanent location of the famous “iron bedstead” of Og, king of Gashan. The interpretation of this “iron bedstead,” possibly a sarcophagus, is still an enigma to scholars, since this episode came at the beginning of the iron age when iron was uniquely valuable. Within the territory of Gad, the city of Aroer is located to the E of Rabbah (Josh 13:25). The next reference to the capital of the Ammonites details the siege of that city by the Israelites under the direction of Joab, along with the interwoven episode of David and Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:1-12:31). Joab captured the section of the city located around the springs, but he waited for King David himself to capture the citadel section on the steep hill above the springs (12:27-31; 1 Chron 20:1-3). The city was a rich prize and its captured population was put to the corvée or public works battalion. This demonstrated that David anticipated his son Solomon in rebuilding Jerusalem. David, like Solomon, needed many laborers whom he secured from his prisoners of war. Later, when David was fleeing from his son Absalom, he came to Mahanaim and was aided by friends among whom was the son of Nahash the king of Rabbah (2 Sam 17:27-29). Apparently David had established a new dynasty on the Ammonite throne after he captured the capital.

By the time of Amos the city was again an independent capital of the Ammonite kingdom which was expanding its boundaries up into Gilead. Because of the ultra-brutal ruthlessness of this military conquest Amos predicted the destruction of Rabbah (Amos 1:13, 14). In Jeremiah’s day the Ammonites were again conquering the same territory of Gilead, and the prophet predicted the city’s destruction (Jer 49:1-3). Ezekiel made two prophecies against the Ammonites. He predicted that the king of Babylon would capture Rabbah in the same campaign that would see the destruction of Jerusalem (Ezek 21:20). The capital of the Ammonites, however, was not to meet its annihilation on this occasion; it would come later at the hands of the Arabs of the desert (Ezek 25:1-7). It was Rabbah’s control over these desert tribes of the Wadi Sirhan, who traded also with the Arabs, that had made Rabbah wealthy throughout many years. Ezekiel predicted that the Ammonite kingdom would return to desert pasture land through military conquest by the same desert tribes.

Intertestamental history.

The first reference to Rabbah after the close of the OT is its capture by Ptolemy Philadelphus. The city was renamed Philadelphia in his honor and it continued to bear that name through the Rom. period, although occasionally the older name Rabbath-ammon appeared in historical writings. Antiochus the Great captured the city in 218 b.c. after a long siege. In 199 b.c. it returned to the Ptolemaic sphere of influence. The city became Rom. when Pompey took over Pal. in 63 b.c. The Nabataeans, who were its normal occupants in the 1st cent. b.c., were conquered by Herod the Great c. 30 b.c. Under the Romans Philadelphia became one of the cities of the Decapolis, the southernmost city of that confederation.

4 Archeological history. Rabbah’s abundant water supply was the secret of the city’s continuing life. Archeological artifacts show occupation from the Palaeolithic through the Neolithic and Chalcolithic times. The same is true of its occupation in all the Bronze and Iron Ages (except Iron III), as well as the Hel. and Rom. periods. A tomb from the Hyksos period shows the wealth of the city at that time. Still more interesting is a Late Bronze Age temple in open country c. two and a half m. from the city. The richness of the finds seems to show that commerce from the Mediterranean of significant volume and great wealth was passing through Rabbah in addition to the normal N-S commerce of the King’s Highway shortly before the Israelites under Moses came through Trans-Jordan. The main commercial route was always this one between Arabia and Damascus.

The great Roman and Byzantine buildings on the citadel hill are too valuable to be removed in order to uncover earlier history. The cost of land purchase in the modern city around the citadel also makes it too expensive for archeological digging. The only Biblical phase found to date is a part of the city’s Iron Age wall.

The archeological remains above ground are almost all from the Rom. period, esp. 2nd and early 3rd centuries a.d., Byzantine or Omayyad. From Rom. times there can be seen today the great theater (cut in part out of the solid rock of the hill) seating c. 6,000 people. It is still used on special occasions. Nearby is an odeum, i.e. a small theater for various types of performances. There are also two temples, a nymphaeum, a bath, an aqueduct, and remains of various colonnaded streets. These great buildings of the Rom. period are valuable for NT parallels since the basic architectural forms changed little, and one can have a good idea of what Jerusalem, Jericho, and Samaria looked like when Jesus visited these cities. Still finer examples of a Palestinian Rom. city can be found at Jerash. It is one of the spectacular ruins of the Near E.

Bibliography

F. M. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine (1933); G. L. Harding, The Antiquities of Jordan, 45-54 (1959).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

rab’-a:

(1) (rabbah; Rhabba, Rhabbath, Rhabban. The full name is rabbath bene `ammon; he akra ton huion Ammon, Rhabbath huion Ammon, "Rabbah of the children of Ammon"): This alone of the cities of the Ammonites is mentioned in Scripture, so we may take it as the most important. It is first named in connection with the "bed" or sarcophagus of Og, king of Bashan, which was said to be found here (De 3:11). It lay East of the territory assigned to Gad (Jos 13:25). Whatever may have been its history in the interval, it does not appear again in Scripture till the time of David. This monarch sent an embassy of sympathy to King Hanun when his father Nahash died. The kindness was met by wanton insult, which led to the outbreak of war. The Ammonites, strengthened by Aramean allies, were defeated by the Israelites under Joab, and took refuge in Rabbah. After David’s defeat of the Arameans at Helam a year later, the Ammonites were exposed alone to the full-force of Israel, the ark of the covenant being carried with the troops. The country was ravaged and siege was laid to Rabbah. It was during this siege that Uriah the Hittite by David’s orders was exposed "in the forefront of the hottest battle" (2Sa 11:15), where, treacherously deserted by his comrades, he was slain. How long the siege lasted we do not know; probably some years; but the end was in sight when Joab captured "the city of waters" (2Sa 12:27). This may mean that he had secured control of the water supply. In the preceding verse he calls it the "royal city." By the chivalry of his general, David was enabled in person to enjoy the honor of taking the city. Among the booty secured was the crown of Melcom, the god of the Ammonites. Such of the inhabitants as survived he treated with great severity (2Sa 12:26-31; 1Ch 20:1 ).

In the utterances of the prophets against Ammon, Rabbah stands for the people, as their most important, or perhaps their only important, city (Jer 49:2,3; Eze 21:20; 25:5; Am 1:14). Jer 49:4 speaks of the "flowing valley"--a reference perhaps to the abundance of water and fruitfulness--and the treasures in which she gloried. Eze 21:21 represents the king of Babylon at "the head of the two ways" deciding by means of the divining arrows whether he should march against Jerusalem or against Rabbah. Amos seems to have been impressed with the palaces of Rabbah.

The city retained its importance in later times. It was captured by Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 BC), who called it Philadelphia. It was a member of the league of ten cities. Antiochus the Great captured it by means of treachery (Polyb. v.71). Josephus (BJ, III, iii, 3) names it as lying East of Peraea. In the 4th century AD, it ranked with Bostra and Gerasa as one of the great fortified cities of Coele-Syria (Ritter, Erdkunde, XV, ii, 1154 f). It became the seat of a bishop. Abulfeda (1321 AD) says that Rabbah was in ruins at the time of the Moslem conquest.

Rabbah is represented by the modern `Amman, a ruined site with extensive remains, chiefly from Roman times, some 14 miles Northeast of Heshbon, and about 22 miles East of the Jordan. It lies on the northern bank of Wady `Amman, a tributary of the upper Jabbok, in a well-watered and fruitful valley. Possibly the stream which rises here may be "the waters" referred to in 2Sa 12:27. Ancient Rabbah may have stood on the hill now occupied by the citadel, a position easy of defense because of its precipitous sides. The outer walls of the citadel appear to be very old; but it is quite impossible to say that anything Ammonite is now above ground. The citadel is connected by means of an underground passage with a large cistern or tank to the North, whence probably it drew its watersupply. This may be the passage mentioned in the account of the capture of the city by Antiochus. "It is," says Conder (Heth and Moab, 158), "one of the finest Roman towns in Syria, with baths, a theater, and an odeum, as well as several large private masonry tombs built in the valley probably in the 2nd century. The fortress on the hill, now surrounding a considerable temple, is also probably of this same date. The church with two chapels farther North, and perhaps some of the tombs, must belong to a later age, perhaps the 4th century. The fine mosque and the fine Moslem building on the citadel hill cannot be earlier than the 7th, and are perhaps as late as the 11th century; and we have thus relics of every building epoch except the Crusading, of which there appears to be no indication."

The place is now occupied by Arabs and Circassians who profit by the riches of the soil. It is brought into contact with the outside world by means of the Damascus-Hejaz Railway, which has a station here.

(2) (ha-rabbah; Codex Vaticanus Sotheba; Codex Alexandrinus Arebba): An unidentified city of Judah named along with Kiriath-jearim (Jos 15:60).