The meaning of Arbela in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
ar-be'-la (en Arbelois): This place is mentioned in 1 Macc 9:1 ff., and in Ant, XII, xi, 1, describing the march and encampment of Bacchides. The former says that "Demetrius sent Bacchides and Alcimus into the land of Judea .... who went forth by the way that leadeth to Galgala, and pitched their tents before Masaloth, which is in Arbela, and after they had won it they slew much people." Josephus says that Bacchides "marched out of Antioch and came into Judea and pitched his camp at Arbela, a city of Galilee, and having besieged and taken those that were there in caves (for many people fled into such places) he removed and made all the haste he could to Jerusalem." It was from the caves near
the village of Arbela in Galilee that Herod dislodged the robbers (Ant., XIV, xv, 4 f.; BJ, I, xvi, 2 ff.). Josephus fortified the caves of Arbela in lower Galilee (Vita, 37), "near the lake of Gennesar" (BJ, II, xx, 6).
The references in Josephus point plainly to the caves in the cliff forming the south wall of the tremendous gorge of Wady el-Chamam which opens on the plain of Gennesaret, west of the village el-Mejdel. A series of these caves, skillfully adapted to purposes of refuge and defense, is still known as Qal'at ibn Ma'an, "fortress of the son of Ma'an." On the height above stand the ruins of Irbid or Irbil (both forms are heard today), which unquestionably represent the Arbela of Josephus. The army from Antioch may quite well have come this way. No name however in the least resembling Masaloth has been recovered in this district. We may mention Robinson's suggestion (BR, II, 398, note), that it may stand for the Hebrew mecilloth, "steps, stories, terraces," and may apply to the fortress in the rocks.
On the other hand the writer of 1 Macc is an earlier authority than Josephus. If we accept his guidance, Bacchides must have crossed the plain of Esdraelon and followed the main highway southward through Samaria. Galgala may then be identified with Jiljilia, about 8 miles North of Bethel, and Masaloth with Meselieh, about 3 miles Southeast of Dothan. Onomasticon mentions an Arbela in the great plain, 9 miles from Legio (Lejun), but it is now unknown. The phrase en arbelois might mean that Masaloth was in the district of Arbela; but there is no trace of this name as attaching to any tract in this neighborhood.
One or other of these routes must have been taken. While no certain decision can be reached, special weight attaches to the statement of Josephus, on account of his acquaintance with the localities in the region, and his unquestionable familiarity with the history.
See also BETH-ARBEL.
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