🔼The name Damascus: Summary
- The Beginning Of Salvation
- Full Turn In The Pattern Of Salvation
- The Beginning/ Full Turn Of Being Drawn Out
- From (1) דמם (damam), to be primitive, and (2) a mystery element משק (mesheq), liberally paraphrased as Salvation.
- From (1) דר (dor), period or cycle, and (2) the mystery element משק (mesheq), Salvation.
- From (1) either of the above and (2) the verb משך (mashak), to draw or draw out.
- From the verb δαμαζω (damazo), to domesticate.
🔼Damascus and the Word of God
The name Damascus is complicated, so let's first recount the basics: The Creator's invisible attributes and divine nature (Romans 1:20) come to mankind in the form of the Word of God (Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:3), initially in visionary form (Genesis 15:1) and then, after a long while, in bodily form (John 1:14). The Word of God came to mankind wholly and suddenly, but the assumption of his human form started in the smallest innovations that for the longest time slowly grew (Luke 2:40, 2:52).
The word Logos means Data, and forms the "-logy" part of words like sociology, psychology (which is the study of human behavior, not the study of the psyche because the psyche cannot be observed) and theology (which is the study of the whole of creation, not the study of God, since God cannot be observed). Modern linguists have established that without speech there is no contemplation and without script there is no abstract thought (see our article on ονομα, onoma, name or noun). Since script (including pens and paper) is a form of technology, the intelligent mind of man is a technology-dependent thing, and the Word of God in human form is, likewise, a technological thing (hence Bezalel and Oholiab, the makers of the tabernacle, were technicians not philosophers; Exodus 31:1-6).
The story of the Bible is the story of the rise of information technology: the development of the alphabet (see our article on YHWH, the name both of the Lord and of the alphabet) and the production of writing materials such as paper (see βιβλος, biblos) and parchment (see Pergamum), which allowed global correspondence and hence the original world-wide-web of the first postal services, which ultimately would be the "manger" in which the Word of God in human form would come to lay (Luke 2:7), that would expose and explain the deepest subconsciousness of mankind (Daniel 2:30) and come to Jerusalem seated on a donkey (ονος, onos, means donkey; οναρ, onar, means dream — see Zechariah 9:1 and 9:9).
From the beginning of the Second Temple Period (after the return from exile), Jews didn't actually speak Hebrew but Aramaic, the common language of the Persian empire. Even Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, which is made obvious by the few direct quotes in the gospels. Our Hebrew Bibles are not written in Hebrew letters but in Aramaic letters — the text itself remained the same, just the symbols were swapped. This transliteration probably happened for reasons of conservation and perpetuity, quite comparable to the transliteration of Cyrillic Serbo-Croatian texts into Latin characters in the modern era. When the Jews returned from their exile, the common people no longer spoke Hebrew but Aramaic. That meant that Hebrew ceased being a living language, and that the Scriptures would no longer be subject to the formative forces that work within any living language, and thus no longer change. But it also meant that the people would henceforth require explainers, who could translate between the unchanging holy Hebrew and the mundane but living Aramaic (Nehemiah 8:8). And this is how the Rabbinical Period started.
The people's adoption of popular Aramaic made Hebrew a holy language, which in turn separated and preserved the ancient revelations for all eternity (Ezekiel 44:23, 1 Corinthians 12:23). Damascus is the name of the capital of Aram, where the Aramaic letters and language came from. That means that in the Bible, Damascus is obviously not simply some city one or two days' travel north, but a key player that at times aided and often competed with Jerusalem in forging the world's information technology.
🔼The name Damascus in the Bible
The name Damascus belongs to the proverbially wealthy capital city of Aram (Isaiah 7:8, 8:4, and see our article on αργυρος, arguros, meaning silver or money, for a look at the layered levels of wealth), modern Syria, the country directly to the north-east of Israel, well within the extended local neighborhood of Jerusalem in the south, and Tyre and Sidon on the Mediterranean coast, just over the Phoenician border to Israel's north, in present day Lebanon (see Song of Solomon 7:4).
The evangelists report that at some point in his earthly ministry, Jesus "withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon" (Matthew 15:21), quite possibly to emphasize that Solomon's temple of YHWH in Jerusalem had never been an exclusively Jewish endeavor but rather a joint venture with the Phoenician king Hiram of Tyre (see 1 Kings 5:1 and Ezekiel 28:12). Damascus is situated about 80 kilometer due east of Sidon, about half the distance between Jerusalem and Tyre, and since there were no borders the way we moderns know them, trade and traffic between these centers abounded (Ezekiel 27:18).
We hear first of Damascus in the War of Four Against Five Kings, as part of the realm that Abraham policed (Genesis 14:15, also see Ezekiel 47:16-18, 48:1). His trusted servant Eliezer was from Damascus (דמשק) and in an obvious play on words, Abraham calls him בן־משק (ben mesheq), or son of acquisition (usually translated as 'heir', but see below) of his house. With the birth of Isaac, Eliezer no longer was Abraham's heir, but did prove instrumental in obtaining Isaac's bride Rebekah from Paddan-aram, in the Aramaic homeland, much further north.
We hear again of Damascus when the "Arameans of Damascus" came to help Hadadezer, king of Zobah, and king David killed 22,000 of them and made them, like Abraham's Eliezer, his servants (2 Samuel 8:5-6, 1 Chronicles 18:5-6). In reaction to Solomon's lavish use of marriage to strengthen his political position, God raised several opponents (literally: satans), among whom Rezon, son of Eliada, who took refuge in Damascus and took control of it and reigned Aram from there (1 Kings 11:24). Later still, king Asa of Judah sent tributes to Ben-hadad, king of Aram in Damascus, successfully forging an alliance against Israel (1 Kings 15:18, 2 Chronicles 16:2).
During the reign of Ahab over Israel, God sent the prophet Elijah to Damascus to anoint royal servant Hazael king over Aram (1 Kings 19:15), although this story appears to extend into the ministry of Elisha (2 Kings 8:7-9). Hazael's vicarious generosity certainly recalls that of Eliezer, but after his own demise, his son Ben-hadad allied himself with Ahab (1 Kings 20:34). Angry at Elisha's order to take a plunge in the Jordan, Aramean general Naaman exclaimed that Damascus' rivers Abanah and Pharpar are better rivers to wash in (2 Kings 5:12).
Aram destroyed and looted Judah under king Joash (2 Chronicles 24:23). Not much later, the second king Jeroboam of Israel won control over Damascus, after it had apparently been in the hands of Judah (2 Kings 14:28). As a prelude to the exile of Israel into Assyria (Amos 5:27), Damascus fell first (Isaiah 17:1-3, Jeremiah 49:23-27, Amos 1:3-5) and its people were deported to Kir. King Ahaz of Judah protected his realm by having priest Urijah copy a bronze altar that the Assyrians had erected in Damascus, and engage in daily sacrifices as token of his submission (2 Kings 16:9-12). Still, Ahaz was defeated and many Jews deported (2 Chronicles 28:5).
The Bible is a fractal (see our article on the name Stephen), and all Biblical stories always have previous stories as their narrative backbone. Although the news about Jesus spread throughout the whole Roman province of Syria (Matthew 4:24), we first hear about Damascus in the New Testament in the Book of Acts, where Saul (later Paul) was famously converted by Jesus in a vision (an obvious nod to Genesis 15:1) on the road toward Damascus, where he was traveling to persecute the people of the Way (Acts 9:2-3). Saul was struck blind, but convalesced first in the house of Judas, then of Ananias (Acts 9:10-11). Back on his feet, Saul began to reason with the Jews about the nature and identity of the Christ (Acts 9:22), which upset them to the point where he had to be lowered down the wall in a basket (Acts 9:25), which of course nods to Moses amidst the Nile's papyrus (Exodus 2:3).
The name Damascus occurs 15 times in the New Testament, see full concordance. The ethnonym Δαμασκηνος or Damascene (pertaining to Damascus, or a person from Damascus) occurs in 2 Corinthians 11:32 only.
🔼Etymology of the name Damascus
Damascus has existed since deep antiquity (as one of the oldest cities in the world) but wasn't originally Aramaic, just like Jerusalem wasn't originally Jewish but Jebusite. Both cities were conquered by their present populations in the wake of the Bronze Age Collapse (see our article on Hellas for more on that) and the indigenous names of both cities were adapted to match something with an appropriate meaning in the language of their new tenants.
The oldest recording of what would later be the name Damascus appears in an Egyptian text as T-m-s-q. What that meant, or even in which language it meant it, is no longer clear. By the time the Arameans moved in, the city's name had become דמשק (dammasq), which is how it commonly appears in the Hebrew Bible. In post-Biblical Aramaic (the common working language of Jewish communities before it became Yiddish), the name Damascus appears as a transliteration of the Greek name δαμασκος namely דמסקוס. The Chronicler most probably wrote after the return from the exile, in contrast to whoever wrote the Books of the Kings, who almost certainly worked before the exile. And besides telling the same stories again, the Chronicler also embraced considerable literary freedoms to comment on them — this too is an accepted Biblical style, to do with its fractal nature. Much later, the author of the Johanine gospel would do something similar relative to the synoptic gospels (see our article on χξς, ch-x-s, or 666, for more on this). Instead of using the common spelling דמשק (dammasq) for our name, the Chronicler consistently uses דרמשק (darammasq), apparently indicating that from a Biblical point of view, the identity of city of Damascus had been altered during the Jews' exile in Babylon (obviously, since they had switched from Hebrew to Aramaic).
Hebrew names often consist of two parts, and our name דמשק (dammasq) can best be explained as a combination of דם (dam) and משק (mesheq) — in such combinations the resulting double מ (mem) would merge into a single one — whereas the Chronicler's spelling דרמשק (darammasq) would consist of דר (dar) and משק (mesheq). Unfortunately, the second part of our name, משק (mesheq), is actually rather hard to explain, as it only happens once in the Bible:
Above we mention that Abraham regarded Eliezer "of Damascus" as the בן־משק (ben mesheq) of his house (Genesis 15:2). The word בן (ben) means son, with the huge footnote that, unlike a Greek son, a Hebrew son does not sequentially follow and surpass the father but is contained within the father as long as the father lives. As long as the "sons" are a united one, their society equals their "mother" (אם, 'em, mother; hence texts like Judges 5:7 and Galatians 4:26), whereas the constituting law that governs them embodies their "father" (אב, 'ab, father; hence constructions like Jeremiah 35:18-19). If the sons begin to disregard their father's commands, the father dies. If the sons fall apart as a social whole, the mother dies (see Matthew 22:32 and also Exodus 20:12).
These few principles pretty much explain every Biblical appearance of fathers, kings, mothers, widows and prostitutes. And they also explain why the idea of Jesus as Son of God does not hail back to a covert form of polytheism: all sons of God are contained within God, while God never stops to be One (John 17:21). These concepts were very difficult to imagine until the fortunate discovery of fractals in the 1960's. Now we understand that God, Jesus and the saints are all "part" of the same, single, unified fractal, in which the whole explains the parts and the parts the whole, and the parts aren't actually discrete parts but rather self-similarities of the whole and of each other.
Our word משק (mesheq) doesn't occur anywhere else in the Bible, which also means that we don't precisely know what it means. What we do know, however, is that the Torah could be written down because scribes had established and learned to respect spelling standards (which are forms of social consensus, and very important for any kind of progress and thus peace and prosperity), but also that their respect for their own divine creativity never waned to the point where they abhorred the use of word play (particularly names of important royals were pretty much fair game; see our article on the name Amraphel, or the name Onesimus for a look at the Pauline equivalent of narrative coding). Hence our unique word משק (mesheq) is widely considered a word-joke, or at least among theologians with a sense of humor, which unfortunately doesn't cover all of us. The unfortunate Job of Uz appears to have been in on the joke as he asserts that "the acquisition (משך, mashak, with a ך, kaph, instead of a ק, qoph) of wisdom is above that of pearls" (Job 28:18). The verb used actually means to draw out:
The verb משך (mashak) means to draw or draw out. Noun משך (meshek) describes the act of drawing or that which is drawn out (and that obviously covers a lot of things). The noun משכת (mosheket) probably means cord.
The pun continues in this verb's proximity to the verb משה (masha), to draw out or extract from water, from which we get the name Moses. And at this point it's probably prudent to recall that these stories serve not to tell the legendary history of Israel but rather the global quest for wisdom.
Another possible way to explain our mystery word משק (mesheq) is to consider the leading מ (mem) the same common particle of agency that also forms the word Muslim, meaning agent-of-peace from the word Islam, meaning peace-making. That would bring us to the verb שקק (shaqaq), meaning to run or rush, and its derived noun משק (mashaq), a running or rushing (Isaiah 33:4, speaking of Assyrians as destroying locusts). Before these words were pointed in the Middle Ages (see our article on the Masoretes), this verb שקק (shaqaq) was spelled identical to the unused verb שקק (saqaq), from which came the noun שק (saq), meaning sackcloth — the donning of which was a ubiquitous sign of mourning, which possibly developed from people's understanding of contamination, which made them burn infected clothes.
The wearing of sackcloth was commonly accompanied by the application of ashes on one's head, which probably stemmed from the same objective of decontamination. The word for ashes is אפר ('eper), hence the names Ephraim, Ephrathah and Ophir. Another word for dust is אבק ('abaq), from the identical but unique verb אבק ('abaq), which is only used to describe what Jacob did with the angel of YHWH at the Jabbok (commonly translated as "to wrestle").
The not dissimilar noun עפר ('apar) also means dust; hence the term עפר הארץ ('apar ha'eres), or dust of the earth, the elementary substance from which God had made the body of Adam (Genesis 2:7), and like which the seed of Abraham would be (Genesis 13:16). In 1 Samuel 2:8, Hannah proclaims that YHWH raises the poor from the dust, and that the מצקי ארץ (masuqy 'eres), are His. The first word of this somewhat comparable term uses the particle of agency מ (mem), and otherwise derives from the verb צוק (suq), to bring out from within by applying pressure; hence the name Ziklag.
All this suggests a playful association between the duo Aram (Damascus) and Israel (Jerusalem), and the duo Sackcloth And Ashes.
In Hebrew, as well as Aramaic, the first part of the regular spelling of our name immediately reminds of the root דמם (damam), which deals with beginnings, hence the name Adam, the color אדם ('adom), red, and דם (dam), meaning blood, hence the name Akeldama:
The root דמם (ddm) is all about beginnings — or rather the simplicity from whence complexity arises — from being still before the noise starts to being monochromatic before color vision starts. Verb דמם (damam) means to be still, noun דממה (demama) denotes calmness and דמה (dumma) denotes a silenced person. Noun דומה (duma) describes the silence of death, noun דומיה or דמיה (dumiya) the silence of waiting and noun דומם (dumam) the silence of inertia or inactivity.
Verb דמה (dama I) describes making a (still) image. Nouns דמות (demut) and דמין (dimyon) mean likeness. Verb דמה (dama II) means to stop, halt or arrest. Noun דמי (domi) means a halting. Whatever the unused verb דמן (dmn) might have meant, noun דמן (domen) denotes refuse and מדמנה (madmena) a manure pit.
Unused verb אדם ('dm) may have meant to produce or begin to produce. Noun אדם (adam) is one of a few words for man but means literally probably "product" or likeness-made-from-soil; man as corporeal unit of humanity. This word is never used in plural, and its feminine equivalent, namely אדמה (adama), denotes arable soil or clay-red earth.
Red is the first color a baby learns to see and red or ruddy is indeed the color of rudiment: verb אדם ('adom or 'adem) means to be red, adjective אדם ('adom) means red, noun אדם ('odem) denotes a ruddy gem, possibly quartz, noun אדם ('edom) denotes a kind of red stew, adjective אדמדם ('adamiddam) means reddish, and adjective אדמוני (admoni) means red or ruddy.
The ubiquitous noun דם (dam) means blood; the seat of life.
The spelling deployed by the Chronicler uses the element דור (dor) or דר (dor), period or cycle, from the verb דור (dur), to heap or dwell in a concentrated society:
The verb דרר (darar) means to flow freely. Noun דרור (deror) means freedom.
The verb נדר (nadar) means to vow, and noun נדר (neder) means a vow.
The verb דור (dur) means to heap or pile, also in the sense of concentrating one's activities, and thus: to dwell. Noun דור (dur) means circle, ball or heap. Noun דור (dor) or דר (dor) means period, age, generation or habitation. Noun מדורה (medura) means pile.
Whatever our mystery element משק (mesheq) may technically mean, it strongly associates with the seed of Abraham, who is Christ (Galatians 3:7, 3:16), and it takes no great leap to conclude that it refers to the greater Pattern of Salvation that runs from Abraham to Christ. Lacking a proper synonym, we could probably get away with paraphrasing our word משק (mesheq) with Salvation (but global salvation, not simply Abraham's private salvation: see Genesis 12:3), so that Eliezer was Abraham's "son of Salvation", until Isaac was born.
Of course, within two centuries after the Jews' return from exile, the rise of Alexander of Macedon made the whole world Greece, and the name Damascus had to be Hellenized as well. Fortunately, there was a readily available verb just perfect for the job, and the name became δαμασκος — the common Greek suffix -κος (-kos) roughly corresponds to the English suffix "-ness" and expresses pertaining to or being characteristic of (e.g. the noun Ρωμαιος, Romaios, means a Roman; the adjective Ρωμαικος, Romaikos, means Roman or Latin). The verb is δαμαζω (damazo), to domesticate:
The verb δαμαζω (damazo) means to tame or to synchronize (living) elements into a larger domestic whole, which is ultimately the basis of all speech, all culture and all complex society. Noun δαμαλις (damalis) describes a young cow that is old enough to understand yoke-training. The unused noun δαμαρ (damar) means wife. The unused noun δαμασις (damasis) means a taming or a synchronizing.
The Hebrew equivalent of this Greek verb is כנע (kana'), hence the name Canaan, and the ethnonym Canaanite was proverbial for the merchant class. International trade is of course the vehicle upon which the world's wisdom classes achieved their invention of script, and Abraham is indeed the father of international trade (see our article on that name). The term משך (mashak) we mention above (in reference to Job 28:18) is commonly translated with acquisition. The more common verb for to acquire is קנה (qana), hence the names Cain and Cana, where Jesus turned water to wine.
The story of the Bible is the story of the formation of modern script. Which precise contribution the city of Damascus made to this is not clearly stated, but it surely comprised the provision of Aramaic script and the Aramaic language for popular use. For more on the Bible's discussion of the formation of script, see our articles on the names YHWH, Shunammite and Philistine.
The Hebrew term for Damascus, namely דמשק (dammasq), means something like The Beginning Of Salvation. The Chronicler's slightly adapted term for Damascus, namely דרמשק (darammasq) means Period Of Salvation or perhaps more precise Full Turn In The Pattern Of Salvation. The Greek name Damascus means Tameness or somewhat more positive Synchronicity.