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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]


1. Name and extent. —The name (ἡ Περαία), while constantly used by Josephus, is not found in LXX Septuagint or NT, in both of which it is represented by the equivalent πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου = עֵבֶר־הַיַּרְדֵּן (cf.  Isaiah 9:1 [Heb. 8:23],  Matthew 4:25,  Mark 10:1). Judaea, Galilee, and Peraea were reckoned by the Jews themselves as the three Jewish provinces. The division is repeatedly assumed in the Mishna (Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] , ii. i. 2; cf. Josephus BJ , iii. iii. 3). The population of Peraea was, however, never so thoroughly Jewish as that of Judaea, or even of Galilee. In both Galilee and Peraea political vicissitudes had occasioned a large intermingling of Jewish and Gentile elements. Notwithstanding the close neighbourhood of the three provinces, the differences of their experience had produced differences of customs and manners, which gave to each of them an independent life of its own, and caused them to be regarded as in certain respects different countries (Schürer, l.c. ).

The name ‘Peraea,’ like the names of many of the districts east of the Jordan, was somewhat loosely used, having a wider and a narrower signification. Josephus ( l.c. ) states the length of Peraea as from Machaerus to Pella, i.e. from the Arnon to the Jabbok, and its breadth as from Philadelphia and Gerasa to the Jordan, limits corresponding with those of the modern Belkâ. But in BJ , iv. vii. 3, he calls Gadara ‘the metropolis of Peraea.’ In what sense he uses this term there is no means of ascertaining, but he must intend to include under the name ‘Peraea’ the region extending north from the Jabbok to the Yarmuk (Hieromax), close to which river Gadara stood, that is to say, all that the Hebrews meant by ‘beyond the Jordan.’ His usage may depend on whether he happened at the moment to be referring to the district which was more completely Jewish, or to the whole region, which was governed as one, and which included the Hellenistic towns of the Decapolis ( Ant. xiii. ii. 3, iv. 9). Peraea in its more limited sense corresponded with the kingdom of Sihon, or Reuben and a part of Gad. In its larger signification it was from 80 to 90 miles from north to south, and about 25 from east to west.

2. Characteristics. —As regards its physical features, Peraea consists for the most part of an elevated tableland, rising rapidly from the Jordan valley, but broken by frequent gorges and mountain torrents. It was, according to Mukaddasi, proverbially cold. Josephus ( BJ , iii. iii. 3) says that, while larger than Galilee, it is mostly desert and rough, and much less adapted than that province for the cultivation of fruit. Still he admits that it is in parts very fertile, and produces all kinds of fruits, and its plains are planted with various trees, chiefly the olive, the vine, and the palm. It is sufficiently watered by streams from the mountains and by springs which do not fail even in summer.

Mukaddasi ( c . 985 a.d.) says that the Belkâ district is rich in grain and flocks, and has many streams which work the mills. He divides Syria into four belts, from the Mediterranean eastwards. Of the third and fourth he writes: ‘The Third Belt is that of the valleys of the Ghaur (the Jordan valley), wherein are found many villages and streams, also palm trees, well-cultivated fields, and indigo plantations.… The Fourth Belt is that bordering on the desert. The mountains here are high and bleak, and the climate resembles that of the waste; but it has many villages, with springs of water, and forest trees.’ He also mentions the hot springs of the district, naming those of Al-Hammah . Guy le Strange, whose translation has just been quoted, thinks that the hot springs of Gadara or Amatha in the Yarmuk valley are those referred to, and he adds in regard to them, that ‘round the large basin may still be seen the remains of vaulted bath-houses. The sanitary properties of these sulphurous waters are highly extolled by many ancient writers, and to this day they have maintained their reputation among the Bedawin and fellahîn of Palestine, so much so that the bathing-place is regarded by all parties as a neutral ground’ ( Description of Suria , by Mukaddasi, translation by Guy le Strange [Pal. [Note: Palestine, Palestinian.] Pilgr. Text Soc.]). Of the Jordan valley Merrill ( East of the Jordan , p. 438) says: ‘From the Zerka (Jabbok) to the Sea of Galilee ( ib. ) it is exceedingly fertile; and in any period when the country was settled and a good government in power, it must have been one of the most wealthy and important sections of Palestine for the raising of wheat and other products, while the foot-hills would afford excellent pasturage,’

3. History, population, etc. —Under the will of Herod the Great, Galilee and Peraea were united for purposes of government under Antipas, and this arrangement was confirmed by Augustus. As these two provinces had but a very short common boundary where Galilee touched the Jordan north of Samaria, it might have seemed more natural to combine Peraea with the regions north of the Yarmuk, or with Samaria. But affinities of race and religion (cf. Josephus Ant. xx. i. 1; G. A. Smith, HGHL [Note: GHL Historical Geog. of Holy Land.] , p. 539) plainly suggested the wisdom of governing them together. For the same reasons Jews journeying between Galilee and Judaea often preferred to go by way of Peraea, where they were among their own countrymen, rather than pass through Samaria (the more direct route), where they incurred the risk at least of insult ( Luke 9:53,  John 4:4;  John 4:9; cf. Edersheim, LT [Note: T Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [Edersheim].] , i. 394; Josephus Ant. xx. vi. 1). They used the fords opposite Beisan, north of Samaria, and Jericho, south of it. The northern parts of Peraea mingled with the region of the Decapolis, where in the towns there was a vigorous Hellenistic civilization, and apparently north of the Yarmuk the Jewish element of the population was inconsiderable. The strongly Jewish character of Peraea is indicated in the Gospels. John the Baptist worked there during part of his ministry ( John 3:26;  John 10:40). In Peraea multitudes gathered round Christ, among whom were Pharisees who entered into controversy with Him and displayed all the animus of their sect ( Matthew 19:3 ff.). Mothers, evidently Jewish, brought their children to be blessed ( Mark 10:13), and the ruler who had kept the whole Law sought an answer to his question ( Matthew 19:16). The mission of the Seventy was to Peraea, and although the restriction laid upon the Twelve (whose number corresponded with that of the tribes of Israel), ‘Go not into any way of the Gentiles’ ( Matthew 10:5-6), is significantly absent in the case of the Seventy (whose number is typical of the nations of the earth), yet the scope of our Lord’s ministry makes it evident that they were to encounter, at least for the most part, Jews.

The immigration of Greek settlers into the country east of Jordan probably began with the presence there of Alexander the Great, and the towns of Pella (no doubt named from the Macedonian city which was Alexander’s birthplace) and Dion may have been founded by him, as Steph. Byz. states in a somewhat corrupt passage, or by some of his followers. Besides these towns, many other powerful Hellenistic communities sprang into existence, and flourished in the midst of a population from which they were separated by their distinctive culture, and, in so far as it was Jewish, by the practice of heathen worship. The Maccabees (b.c. 166–135) endeavoured to withdraw the Jews (who presumably were at that time the smaller section of the inhabitants) to Judaea ( 1 Maccabees 5:45-54). John Hyrcanus (b.c. 135–105) possibly first adopted the opposite policy, which was vigorously carried out by Alexander Jannaeus (b.c. 104–78), who brought the country from Lake Merom to the Dead Sea completely under his control (Josephus Ant. xiii. xv. 4; Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] , i. i. 192, 297, 306). He took Hippos, Gadara, Pella, Dion, and other important towns, and extinguished the Greek culture which had flourished in them. He forced them to assimilate Jewish manners and ideas, and those places which would not submit he destroyed. In b.c. 64 the Roman province of Syria was formed, and under Pompey and Gabinius the procurator the ruined cities were rebuilt, and the Hellenistic communities regained their independence. Indeed, the sympathy of Pompey was long remembered by them, as is attested by the numerous coins which have been found impressed with his era. It was probably he who organized the Decapolis (the term ἡ Δεκάπολις is found first in the Roman period). See Decapolis.

In b.c. 20, Herod the Great obtained permission to appoint his brother Pheroras tetrarch of Peraea ( Ant. xv. x. 3; BJ , i. xxiv. 5). Pheroras afterwards incurred the enmity of Herod, and retired or was driven to Peraea, where he died, not improbably by poison ( BJ , i. xxix. 4). At his death (b.c. 4) Herod left Galilee and Peraea to his son Antipas ( Ant. xvii. viii. 1). The tribute paid by these provinces was 200 talents ( Ant. xvii. xi. 4). Antipas ruled with the title of tetrarch till his banishment in a.d. 39 by Caius Caesar, who added his tetrarchy to the dominions of Agrippa ( Ant. xviii. vii. 2). Antipas was therefore in authority in Galilee and Peraea during the whole lifetime of John the Baptist and of Christ.

Among the towns of Peraea, Pella has a special interest as having been twice the refuge of the Christians fleeing from Jerusalem, in a.d. 68, and again in a.d. 135, when under Hadrian Jerusalem was taken for the second time and its name changed to aelia. The fact that Pella was a heathen city may have been an inducement to the Christians of Jerusalem to seek refuge in it, as it would not attract the hostility of the Romans. Merrill ( East of the Jordan , p. 462 f.) thinks that Christ probably several times passed through the Jordan valley and may well have visited Pella itself. His preaching may have been successful there, and His connexion with the town such as to suggest it as a refuge to the Christians.

Literature.—Besides authorities cited above, see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, artt. ‘Peraea,’ ‘Gadara,’ ‘Decapolis,’ ‘Machaerus’; Thomson, Land and Book . For later history, Guy le Strange, Palestine under the Moslems .

A. E. Ross.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]

PERÆA. The district called by Josephus ‘the Peræa’ is referred to in NT as ‘beyond Jordan’ (  Matthew 4:16 etc.). When Josephus says that it stretches from Machærus to Pella, and from Philadelphia ( ’Ammân ) to the Jordan, he probably gives political boundaries, excluding Decapolis ( BJ III. iii. 3), since (IV. vii. 3, 6) Gadara is called the capital of the Peræa. The name seems to have covered the ancient ‘Land of Gilead,’ what is now known as Jebel ‘Ajlûn and et-Betkâ . It is perhaps the most picturesque and beautiful part of Palestine. Rough mountain heights rise from the midst of wooded slopes, while rich fields stretch between; anon romantic vales break down into mighty gorges, where the sound of running water makes music all the year. The olive and vine flourish, and good harvests reward the husbandman’s toil.

The removal of the Jews from the Peræa by Judas ( 1Ma 5:45 ) left it in Gentile hands. Later, the Jews resumed possession and control. Alexander Jannæus held sway from the Dead Sea to the roots of Hermon. Peræa was given as a tetrarchy to Pheroras, the brother of Herod ( Ant . XV. x. 3, etc.), and later to Herod Antipas (XVII. viii. 1). From Peræa, Simon made his ill-starred raid upon Jericho (XVII. x. 6). It was part of the jurisdiction of Felix ( BJ II. xii. 8). Manasseh was made governor after the disaster to Cestius (II. xx. 4). Placidus effected its final subjugation to the Romans (IV. vii. 3, 6). It was attached by the Moslems to the province of Damascus, Subsequently it was under Kerak.

The Mishna recognizes the Peræa the land beyond Jordan as a province of the land of Israel, ranking with Judæa and Galilee on the west. On the border of the Peræa probably Jesus was baptized. It was the scene of happy and profitable intercourse with His disciples ( Matthew 19:1 etc.). It furnished the retreat from Jewish enmity, whence He was summoned by the distress at Bethany (  John 10:40 etc.). The most horrible story connected with the siege of Jerusalem is that of Mary, a native of the Peræa ( BJ VI. iii. 4). In the Peræa to-day the Jew is represented only by the travelling tinsmith and the pedlar. Colonies of Circassians are turning the soil to good account, e.g . at Jerash. At es-Salt the natives pursue a profitable trade in raisins, while in the barrîyeh , the uncultivated parts, the nomads find good pasture for their flocks.

W. Ewing.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [3]

pḗ - rē´a ( ἡ Περαία , Peraı́a , Περαῖος , Peraı́os , Περαΐ́της , Peraı́tēs ):

1. The Country:

This is not a Scriptural name, but the term used by Josephus to denote the district to which the rabbis habitually refer as "the land beyond Jordan." This corresponds to the New Testament phrase péran toú Iordánou (  Matthew 4:15;  Matthew 19:1 , etc.). The boundaries of the province are given by Josephus ( BJ , III, iii, 3). In length it reached from Pella in the North to Macherus in the South, and in breadth from the Jordan on the West to the desert on the East. We may take it that the southern boundary was the Arnon . The natural boundary on the North would be the great gorge of the Yarmūk . Gadara, Josephus tells us ( BJ , IV, vii, 3, 6), was capital of the Peraea. But the famous city on the Yarmūk was a member of the Decapolis, and so could hardly take that position. More probably Josephus referred to a city the ruins of which are found at Jedūr - a reminiscence of the ancient name - not far from es - Salṭ . The northern Gadara then holding the land on the southern bank of the Yarmūk , the northern boundary of the Peraea would run, as Josephus says, from Pella eastward. For the description of the country thus indicated see Gilead , 2.

In the time of the Maccabees the province was mainly gentile, and Judas found it necessary to remove to Judea the scattered handful of Jews to secure their safety ( 1 Maccabees 5:45 ).

2. History:

Possibly under Hyrcanus Jewish influence began to prevail; and before the death of Janneus the whole country owned his sway ( Hjp , I, i, 297,306). At the death of Herod the Great it became part of the tetrarchy of Antipas ( Ant. , Xvii , vii, 1). The tetrarch built a city on the site of the ancient Beth-haram ( Joshua 13:27 ) and called it Julias in honor of the emperor's wife ( Ant. , Xviii , ii, 1; BJ , II, ix 1). Here Simon made his abortive rising ( Ant. , Xvii , x, 6; BJ , II, iv, 2). Claudius placed it under the government of Felix ( BJ , II, xii, 8). It was finally added to the Roman dominions by Placidus ( BJ , IV, vii, 3-6). Under the Moslems it became part of the province of Damascus.

Peraea, "the land beyond Jordan," ranked along with Judea and Galilee as a province of the land of Israel. The people were under the same laws as regarded tithes, marriage and property.

Peraea lay between two Gentileprovinces on the East, as Samaria between two Jewish provinces on the West of the Jordan. The fords below Beisân and opposite Jericho afforded communication with Galilee and Judea respectively. Peraea thus formed a link connecting the Jewish provinces, so that the pilgrims from any part might go to Jerusalem and return without setting foot on Gentilesoil. And, what was at least of equal importance, they could avoid peril of hurt or indignity which the Samaritans loved to inflict on Jews passing through Samaria (  Luke 9:52 f; Ant. , XX, vi, 1; Vita , 52).

It seems probable that Jesus was baptized within the boundaries of the Peraea; and hither He came from the turmoil of Jerusalem at the Feast of the Dedication ( John 10:40 ). It was the scene of much quiet and profitable intercourse with His disciples (Mt 19; Mk 10:1-31; Lk 18:15-30). These passages are by many thought to refer to the period after His retirement to Ephraim ( John 11:54 ). It was from Peraea that He was summoned by the sisters at Bethany ( John 11:3 ).

Peraea furnished in Niger one of the bravest men who fought against the Romans ( Bj , II, xx, 4; IV, vi, 1). From Bethezob, a village of Peraea, came Mary, whose story is one of the most appalling among the terrible tales of the siege of Jerusalem ( Bj , VI, iii, 4). Josephus mentions Peraea for the last time ( Bj , VI, v, 1), as echoing back the doleful groans and outcries that accompanied the destruction of Jerusalem.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [4]

( Περαία , from Πέραν , beyond) , a name given to a portion of the country beyond Jordan, or on the east side of that river, the ancient possession of the two tribes of Reuben and Gad. According to Josephus (War , 3:3, 3), it was bounded on the west by Jordan, east by Philadelphia, north by Pella, and south by the castle of Machaerus. The country was fruitful, abounding with pines, olive-trees, palm-trees, and other plants, which grew in the fields in great abundance; it was well watered with springs and torrents from the mountains. It corresponds in an enlarged sense to "The Region Round About Jordan" ( Περίχωρος Τοῦ Ι᾿Ορδάνου ,  Matthew 3:5;  Luke 3:3; the earlier כַּכָּר of  Genesis 13:10). (See Palestine). The events connected with this region mentioned in the O.T. are noticed under the articles (See Gilead) and (See Bashan). It would seem to have been partially visited by our Lord ( John 10:14). (See Bethabara).