The reader must excuse me if I make a narrower search into the situation of Iturea, although Barradius may confidently enough have told him (upon his own trust merely, as far as I can learn), that "the country is in the tribe of Nephthali, at the foot of mount Libanus." Perhaps he hath followed Borchard, who himself writes only upon the credit of Jacobus de Vitriaco: "You must know, the region of Decapolis hath several names in Scripture. Sometimes it is called Iturea; sometimes, Trachonitis; sometimes, the plain of Libanus; sometimes, the land of Moab; in one place, Gabul; in another place, Galilee of the Gentiles, and the Upper Galilee; but everywhere it is all one and the same country." Thus he confusedly enough.
Pliny places some nation or other, called by the name of the Itureans, in Cyrrhestica of Syria: "Next that is Cyrrhestica, the Irneates, the Gindareni, the Gabeni, two tetrarchies, which are called Granii Comatitae, the Emisenes, the Hylatae, a nation of the Itureans, and those of them also called the Betarreni, the Mariamitani," &c.
[Strabo] "After Macra is Marsyas, wherein are some hilly places, on one of which stands Chalcis, a garrison of Marsyas. The beginning of it is Laodicea, about Libanus. The Itureans and Arabs hold all the mountainous places, a very mischievous sort of people, all of them."
[Eupolemus] "David made war with the Edomites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Itureans, the Nabathites, and Nabdites." He had said before, "That he had subdued the Syrians dwelling by Euphrates and Comagene, the Assyrians and Phoenicians that were in Galadene."
[Gul. Tyr.] "Taking the way by the sea of Galilee, we entered Phoenice, and, leaving Paneas, which is Caesarea Philippi, on the right hand, we came to Iturea."
"The king passing through the country of Sidon, and going up some hilly places which lay between ours and the enemy's borders, he came to a place every way accommodated with all necessaries, a fruitful soil and well watered; the name of it Messahara. Going thence into the valley called Bacar, he found the land which hath been said to flow with milk and honey. Some are of opinion that this country was of old called Iturea. But long before that, viz. in the days of the kings of Israel, it was called the Grove of Libanus."
Where at length shall we find this Iturea? Had Philip any part of his tetrarchy within Cyrrhestica, or Chalcis of Syria? And yet, if you believe either Pliny or Strabo, there were the Itureans. I suspect there is something couched in the etymology of the word, that may as much puzzle as the situation of the place.
If Bacar, as it is described by Tyrius, be indeed Iturea, it may be derived from Hittur, which signifies wealth; or from crowning, especially when the country itself is crowned with so much plenty. It is a notion familiar enough amongst the Talmudic authors.
Indeed, if I could believe that Iturea were the same with Decapolis, then I would suppose the word ten might have been altered by the change of Shin into Thau, according to the Syriac manner: but I neither can believe that, nor have I ever met with such a change made in that word, but rather that it would go into Samech.
May it not, therefore, be derived from Chitture, diggings, because of the caves and hollows underground? So that the Iturei might signify the same with Troglodytae, "those that dwell in caverns and holes." And so the Troglodytes, which were on the north of Israel, are distinguished from those on the south, viz. the Horites in Edom. Now that these countries, of which we are treating, were peculiarly noted for caves and dens; and they not only numerous, but some very strange and wonderful, Strabo, Josephus, Tyrius, and others, do abundantly testify.
"There are, beyond Damascus, two mountains called Trachones." Afterward; "Towards Arabia and Iturea, there are some cragged hills, famous for large and deep caves; one of which was capable of receiving four thousand men in it." But that was a prodigious cave of Zedekiah's, wherever it was, that was eighteen miles' space; at least, if those things be true which are related concerning it.
There was a cave beyond Jordan, about sixteen miles from Tiberias, that was three stories high; had a lower, a middle, and an upper dining room. Which, indeed, was fortified, and held a garrison of soldiers in it.
So that we may, not without reason, conjecture the Iturea of which we now speak might be so called from Chitture, such kind of diggings under ground: and that Pliny and Strabo, when they talk of the "nation of the Itureans in Cyrrhestica and Chalcis," do not place the country of Iturea there; only hinted that the Troglodytes, who dwelt in dens and caves, were there.
Iturea therefore, mentioned by our evangelists, was in the country beyond Jordan, viz. Batanea and Auranitis, or Auranitis alone, as may appear out of Josephus, compared with this our evangelist. For St. Luke saith, that "Philip was tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis": Josephus, that he was tetrarch of Trachonitis, Batanea, and Auranitis. Either, therefore, Auranitis and Batanea in Josephus is the Iturea in St. Luke or else Batanea in Josephus is confounded with Trachonitis mentioned in St. Luke, and Auranitis alone is Iturea. For that passage in Josephus ought to be taken notice of: "Caesar invest Agrippa with the tetrarchy that Philip had, and Batanea, adding moreover Trachonitis with Abella." Where it is observable, that there is mention of the tetrarchy of Philip, distinct from Batanea and Trachonitis. And what is that? certainly Auranitis in Josephus, and perhaps Iturea in St. Luke.