Heshbon (also Hesebon, Esebon, Esbous, Esebus; Latin: Esebus; Arabic: حسبان) was an ancient town located east of the Jordan River in the modern Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and historically within the territories of Ammon and Ancient Israel.
Ancient Hesebon was beyond the Jordan. Hesebon was taken by the Israelites on their entry to the Promised Land, and was assigned to the tribe of Reuben (Numbers 32:37); afterwards it was given to the tribe of Gad (Joshua 21:37; 1 Chronicles 6:81).
The first reference in the Tanakh to Heshbon is found in the Book of Deuteronomy (2:24), where it is mentioned as the capital of Amorite king, Sihon (Sehon). It is later mentioned in Numbers 21:21-35, which tells the story of the Israelite victory over Sihon the Amorite during the time of the Exodus under Moses. In this passage, Heshbon is highlighted due to its importance as the capital of Sihon, King of the Amorites:
- "For Heshbon was the city of Sihon, king of the Amorites, who had
- fought against the former king of Moab and had taken all his land
- out of his hand, as far as the Arnon." (Numbers 21:26 NASB)
Similar passages appear in Deuteronomy and Joshua, with the primary emphasis being the victory of the Israelites over King Sihon at the site of Heshbon, which was his capital. These events occurred during the time of Moses, who soon after died in the region, after viewing the "promised land" from the top of Mount Nebo.
Following the death of Moses, Heshbon became a town at the border between the Tribe of Reuben and the Tribe of Gad. Further biblical evidence suggests that the town later came under Moabite control, as mentioned by Isaiah and Jeremiah.
Heshbon also makes it into the Canticle of Canticles, biblical love poem of Song of Solomon where, in verse 7:4, the poet likens his love's eyes to "the pools of Heshbon." The speaks of the magnificent fish-pools of Hesebon. The Prophets mention it in their denunciations of Moab (Isaiah 15:4, 16:8, 9; Jeremiah 48:2, 34, 45).
It occurs in Josephus very often under the form Esbonitis or Sebonitis. According to Josephus, Heshbon was in the possession of the Judeans since Alexander Jannaeus the Maccabee (106-79 B.C.) took it and made it a Jewish town. Herod the Great is also said to have had jurisdiction over the town and established a fort there.
After the Great Revolt (A.D. 68-70) the country was invaded by the tribe that Pliny calls Arabes Esbonitae 'Arabs of (H)esebon'. Restored under the name of Esboús or Esboúta, it is mentioned among the towns of the Roman Arabia Petraea by Ptolemy.
Under the Byzantine domination, as learned from Eusebius' Onomasticon, it grew to be a town of note in the province of Arabia; George of Cyprus refers to it in the seventh centuty and it was from Hesebon that the milestones on the Roman road to Jericho were numbered.
At the beginning of the Arab domination Hesebon was still the chief town of the Belka, a territory corresponding to the old Kingdom of Sehon. It seems never to have been taken by the Crusaders.
The town is believed to have been located at the ruin called Hisban or Hesbân, about 20 km (12 miles) southwest of Amman, to the north of Mâdaba, on one of the highest summits of the mountains of Moab. A large ruined reservoir is located east of the place, and below the town there is a fountain.
In 1968, archaeological excavations were undertaken at the site of Tall Hisban (alternatively spelled Tell Hesban). This excavation was the beginning of what became called the "Heshbon Expedition." This archaeological work was sponsored by Andrews University and under the authority of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR). The Heshbon Expedition continued with excavation seasons through 1976. The lack of evidence for occupation during the Bronze Age led excavators to conclude that the site is not Sihon's Heshbon, however classical period remains confirmed its status as the Roman-period city of Esbus. Following the cessation of Heshbon Expedition excavations, archaeological work at the site continued in 1996 under the Madaba Plains Project consortium. The site was last excavated in the summer of 2007.
From the Byzantine era two churches have been discovered and both churches produced impressive remains of mosaic floors. Particularly interesting is the nilotic mosaic of the presbytery of the North Church where the mosaicists have created a motif of a turtledove set on a nest made of an imaginary flower.
As Hesebon it still is a titular see of the ecclestiastical province of Arabia, suffragan of Bostra.
Christianity took root there at an early period. Lequien (Oriens christianus II, 863-64), and Pius Bonifacius Gams (Series Episcoporum, 435) mention three bishops between the fourth and seventh centuries:
- Gennadius, present at the Council of Nicaea (Heinrich Gelzer, Patrum Nicaen. Nomina, p. lxi)
- Zosius, whose name occurs in the lists of Chalcedon
- Theodore, champion of orthodoxy against Monothelism, who received (c. 649) from Pope Martin I a letter congratulating him on his resistance to the heresy and exhorting him to continue the struggle in conjunction with John of Philadelphia. To the latter the pope had entrusted the government of the patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem.
Eubel (Hierarchia Catholica, II, 168) mentions two Latin titulars of Hesebon in the latter part of the fifteenth century.
- Antq., XIII, xv, 4., XII, iv, 11; Bell, Jud., II, xviii, 1.
- Josephus, Ant., XV, viii, 5.
- Hist. Nat., V, xii, 1.
- Geogr. V, xvi.
- Tall Hisban 2007 Season in-field excavation reports
- Preservation and Restoration
- Article: The River Nile and Egypt in the Mosaics of the Middle East (by Basema Hamarneh)
This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain.