ba’-shan (ha-bashan, “the Bashan”; Basan): This name is probably the same in meaning as the cognate Arabic bathneh, “soft, fertile land,” or bathaniyeh (batanaea), “this land sown with wheat” (“wheatland”).
It often occurs with the article, “the Bashan,” to describe the kingdom of Og, the most northerly part of the land East of the Jordan. It stretched from the border of Gilead in the South to the slopes of Hermon in the North. Hermon itself is never definitely included in Bashan, although Og is said to have ruled in that mountain (Joshua 12:5; Joshua 13:11). In Deuteronomy 3:10 Salecah and Edrei seem to indicate the East and West limits respectively. This would agree with Joshua 12:5; Joshua 13:11, which seem to make Geshur and Maacath the western boundary of Bashan. If this were so, then these unconquered peoples literally “dwelt in the midst of Israel.” On the other hand Deuteronomy 4:47 may mean that the Jordan formed the western boundary; while Deuteronomy 33:22 makes Bashan extend to the springs of the Jordan. If Golan lay in the district in which its name is still preserved (el Jaulan), this also brings it to the lip of the Jordan valley (Deuteronomy 4:43). “A mountain of summits,” or “protuberances” (Psalm 68:15, 16: Hebrew), might describe the highlands of the Jaulan, with its many volcanic hills as seen from the West. “A mountain of God” however does not so well apply to this region. Perhaps we should, with Wetzstein (Das batanaische Giebelgebirge) take these phrases as descriptive of Jebel Chauran, now usually called Jebel ed-Druze, with its many striking summits. This range protected the province from encroachment by the sands of the wilderness from the East. On the South Bashan marched with the desert steppe, el-Chamad, and Gilead. Of the western boundary as we have seen there can be no certainty. It is equally impossible to draw any definite line in the North.
Bashan thus included the fertile, wooded slopes of Jebel ed-Druze, the extraordinarily rich plain of el-Chauran (en-Nuqrah-see HAURAN), the rocky tract of el-Leja’, the region now known as el-Jedur, resembling the Chauran in character, but less cultivated; and, perhaps, the breezy uplands of el-Jaulan, with its splendid reaches of pasture land. It was a land rich in great cities, as existing ruins sufficiently testify. It can hardly be doubted that many of these occupy sites of great antiquity. We may specially note Ashtaroth and Edrei, the cities of Og; Golan, the city of refuge, the site of which is still in doubt; and Salecah (Calkhad), the fortress on the ridge of the mountain, marking the extreme eastern limit of Israel’s possessions.
The famous oaks of Bashan (Isaiah 2:13 Ezekiel 27:6) have their modern representatives on the mountain slopes. It seems strange that in Scripture there is no notice of the wheat crops for which the country is in such repute today. Along with Carmel it stood for the fruitfulness of the land (Isaiah 33:9 etc.); and their languishing was an evident mark of God’s displeasure (Nahum 1:4). The “bulls of Bashan” represent blatant and brutal strength (Psalm 22:12, etc.). It is long since the lion deserted the plateau (Deuteronomy 33:22); but the leopard is still not unknown among the mountains (Songs 4:8).
In pre-Israelite days Bashan was ruled by Og the Amorite. His defeat at Edrei marked the end of his kingdom (Numbers 21:33 Joshua 13:11), and the land was given to the half tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 13:30, etc.). In the Syrian wars Bashan was lost to Israel (1 Kings 22:3 2 Kings 8:28; 2 Kings 10:32 f), but it was regained by Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25). It was incorporated in the Assyrian empire by Tiglath-pileser III (2 Kings 15:29). In the 2nd century B.C. it was in the hands of the Nabateans. It formed part of the kingdom of Herod the Great, and then belonged to that of Philip and Agrippa II.