Jerash
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Abila Bet She'an Jerash Madaba Pella


The Forum at Jerash. A BIBARCH™ Photo.

Nestled in the heart of the Gilead Mountains about 45 minutes from Amman, Jerash, ancient Gerasa, is the site of one of the best-preserved cities of the classical period in the Near East. Jerash emerged from a small village to a Hellenistic town called "Antioch on the Golden River."

It is difficult to trace the roots of the city to any one founder. Some believe that Alexander the Great was the founder of Jerash, which emerged from the lands he had conquered in 334 BCE.  Other legends link the origin to Ptolemy II of Egypt in the middle of the third century BCE. The first historical reference to the town is at the end of the second century BCE when the historian Josephus recorded it as the location where Theodosus, the "Tyrant" of Philadelphia (modern day Amman) had hidden his treasure. It was soon after this event that Theodosus lost Jerash to Alexander Jannaeus, a Jewish high priest and ruler.

The Temple of Jupiter at Jerash. A BIBARCH™ Photo.

Of the original Hellenistic town there are no visible structures remaining today, however, many archaeological excavations uncovered artifacts from this early period of Jerash’s habitation. Aside from the Temple of Zeus, mentioned in historical writings, there is very little knowledge of the types of buildings that existed during the pre-Christian era. The Temple of Zeus, built in the first century CE, on the site of an early temple for the homosexual cult (the monks were homosexual). The Temple of Artemis, dating from the second century CE for the patron goddess of Gerasa served a lesbian cult (the nuns were all lesbian in the second century).

Early Byzantine churches were never built on Zeus or Artemis temple sites due to the reputation of the cults. Hence the reconstructions at Gerasa are quite authentic as they generally were not spoiled by conversion to churches. Other temples without the odiousness were converted to basilica use, and later to mosques following the Islam conquest of the region. As a general rule "holy sites" are consistently reused for religious worship purposes passing from one cult to another.

Gerasa remained in Jewish hands until 63 BCE when the Roman took the area. At that time Pompey overran the region and divided it into provinces. The Romans knew Jerash as Gerasa which was the Hellenized version of the Semitic name, Garshu, previously used for a village that predated Alexander’s conquest of the region.

The Temple of Artemas at Jerash. A BIBARCH™ Photo.

Under Roman dominion, Jerash flourished as an outpost of the Empire. In the first century CE, its citizens embarked on a complete rebuilding venture to redesign the city in typical Roman style. The plan called for a grand main street lined with columns topped by Ionic capitals replaced in the second century with the Corinthian capitals that remain to this day.

The intersection of the main street with two cross streets established a pattern for the rest of the town. There were no major changes from this framework completed in CE 75-76.

A century of prosperity, due to its strategic location along Near Eastern trade routes, made much of the construction possible. During this phase, engineers constructed many new temples and shrines along with a theater for a public forum.

In the early second century, the Emperor Trajan constructed a massive interconnecting system of roads throughout the provinces of the Empire. This brought even greater prosperity to Jerash.


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


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