ITUREA: A region named in Luke iii. 1. The name of a people, "the Itureans," is older than "Iturea" as the name of a region, and is to be connected with the Jetur of Gen. xxv. 15, a son of Ishmael denoting a nomadic stock of the Syro-Arabian desert, whose home, according to the Genesis passage, was in the neighborhood of Teima on the western border of Najd, between Medina and the oasis of Jauf. I Chron. v. 18 -22 tells of a victorious campaign of the Hebrews of the East-Jordan land against Jetur and other nomads in pre-exilic times, which shows that Jetur must have changed its place of abode to the neighborhood of the Jabbok; but the mention in Luke iii. 1 can have nothing to do with this passage. Aristobulus I. (105-104 B.C.) fought the Itureans and annexed part of their territory (Josephus, Ant. XIII., xi. 3), and Strabo (XVI., ii. 10, 18) in Roman times locates them on the plain of Massyas (Marsyas) between Laodicea and Chalcis, i.e., in Cúle-Syria (q.v.), and he is corroborated by an inscription of Quirinius (Mommsen in Ephemeris epigraphica, iv. 537-542, Berlin, 1881). It is to be concluded therefore that Jetur and the Itureans are the same stock, and that they came north with the migrations of the Arab tribes, settled down, and adopted the manners of the people of the region.
Iturea as the name of a region is connected with this last phase of the people's history. The first ruler of whom mention is made is Ptolemy, son of Menneus, who reigned 85-40 B.C. and had a kingdom of considerable size, including some cities on the coast, and the region about the sources of the Jordan as far east as the neighborhood of Damascus (Josephus, Ant., XIII., xvi. 3). This Ptolemy paid Pompey 1,000 talents in order to make his rule secure with the Romans (Josephus, Ant. XIV., iii, 2), and he protected the last of the Hasmoneans. His son Lysanias is called king of the Itureans by Dio Cassius, and was executed by order of Antony, 36 B.C. (Josephus, Ant. XV., iv, 1). Later there were only remnants of the great Iturean kingdom, with Chalcis as the capital, one of which was Abilene, ruled by the tetrarch Lysanias Luke iii. 1); another was the region of Soëmus, north of Heliopolis; still another was the region of Chalcis, given by Claudius to Herod, grandson of Herod the Great; and finally the territory of Zenodorus, which came into the possession of Herod the Great (Josephus, Ant. XV., x. 1). After the death of Herod, Augustus joined a portion of the territory of Zenodorus to the territory of the tetrarch Philip (4 B.C.-34 A.D.), the part which included Batanea, Trachonitis, and Auranitis; thus Philip ruled a part of the Iturean territory, a fact which partly justifies the statement in Luke iii. 1.