The Decapolis
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The Decapolis was a ten-city Greco-Roman federation, or league, occupying all of Bashan and Gilead in northeastern Palestine. The territory was contiguous except for Damascus which some believe to have been an honorary member. Eusebius records it as  the region around Hippos, Pella, and Gadara (Eusebius, Onomasticon, s.v). Created under Pompey the Great, about 64-63 BCE as part of his eastern settlement, the league provided a formidable  means of defense on the eastern frontier of the empire. Such leagues existed in other parts of the Roman empire for purposes of trade and mutual protection.

Its cities, according to Pliny the Elder (CE 23-79)  were: Scythopolis (Bet She'an), Hippos (Susieh), Gadara (Umm Qais), Pella (Tabaqat Fahl), Philadelphia (Amman), Gerasa (Jerash), Dion (Adun), Kanatha (Kanawat), Damascus, and Raphana (Abila) (Pliny the Elder, Historia N v. 18). Each city in the Decapolis was a free-state (polis) whose territory included numerous small villages and rural settlements. The Decapolis dominated trade routes in the region bringing about prosperity and funding for public art and monumental Greco-Roman architecture such as that found in Gerasa.

Fertile soil and temperate climate encouraged the practice of intensive agriculture throughout the region. The presence of a significant Greek population, who settled in the region at the time of Alexander the Great and the Seleucids, is consistent with there being swine kept by the people of Decapolis (see Mark 5:11, 5:13, 5:20).

Cultural conflict continually plagued this region. The Greeks, intolerant of any physical imperfection and adhering to dualism, differed from the native Semitic populations in diet, in philosophy, in worship, and in other basic lifeways. For the Greeks the circumcision practiced by the Arabs and Jews was a profanation of the living temple wherein the immortal soul dwells. Mutilation of the human temple constituted despicable conduct and bizarre sacrilege. Moreover, in Hellenistic culture the open display, such as in the games or in the public baths, of a mutilated sex organ exposing the glands penis was obscene. To the Greek mind such behavior was lewd and indecent. This essentially excluded Semitic peoples from the venue of the public baths for matters of business and commerce.

Homosexuality was a well-accepted pattern of behavior in Greek culture. The games, such as those at Olympia, promoted homosexuality and cultic activity, the classical academies included homosexual philosophical apprenticeships, and the military utilized homosexual erotic apprenticeships to foster formation of close-knit teams of warriors. Semitic peoples, observant of such customs and particularly of Greek males satiating themselves with homosexual acts with boys and practicing anal intercourse with their wives, regarded them as unclean, barbaric pedophiles, and sodomites. The Jews particularly saw the widespread practice of Greek homosexual behavior as idolatrous and repugnant. They held the Greeks in contempt and attempted to expel them to remove the uncleanness from the land whenever they could.

These irreconcilable cultural differences resulted in numerous clashes between Greeks and the Jews. For example, when the Hasmonean ruler of Israel, Alexander Jannaeus, conquered Pella he sought to compel its people to repudiate their idolatrous religions and to embrace the law of Moses, as proselytes, or face banishment. They refused so Jannaeus had the city set afire thoroughly destroying it (Josephus, Ant., bk. XII, ch. xv, sec. 4). The league provided the Greek settlements a means for trade and a mutual defense system capable of resisting any military intrusions of the Jews, Nabatians, or other indigenous peoples.

Page last edited: 04/06/06 09:18 PM

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