Iturea is the Greek name of a region in the Land of Israel during the Hasmonean, Herodian and Roman periods. It is mentioned only once in the Christian Bible, while in historical sources the name of the people, the Itureans (Greek: Ἰτουραῖοι or Ἰτυραῖοι), occurs. The latter are first mentioned by Eupolemus – as one of the tribes conquered by David – and subsequently by Strabo, Pliny the Elder, Josephus, and others, and they designate Itureans as an Arabian (Nabatean) people. They were known to the Romans as a predatory people, and were appreciated by them for their great skill in archery. The Itureans were conquered by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus and were forcefully converted to Judaism. 
Many Christian theologians, among them Eusebius, taking into consideration the above-cited passage of Luke, place Iturea near Trachonitis; but this seems contrary to all the historical sources. According to Josephus, the Iturean kingdom lay north of Galilee, and in 105 BCE Aristobulus I, having defeated the Itureans, annexed a part of their country to Judaea, imposing Judaism upon the inhabitants. Strabo (xvi. 2, § 10, p. 753) includes the land of the Itureans in the kingdom of Ptolemy, son of Mennaeus (Mennæus), whose residence was at Chalcis(?) and who reigned 85-40 BCE. Ptolemy was succeeded by his son Lysanias, called by Dio Cassius (xlix. 32) "king of the Itureans." About 23 BCE Iturea with the adjacent provinces fell into the hands of a chief named Zenodorus (Josephus, l.c. xv. 10, § 1; idem, B. J. i. 20, § 4). Three years later, at the death of Zenodorus, Augustus gave Iturea to Herod the Great, who in turn bequeathed it to his son Philip (Josephus, Ant. xv. 10, § 3).
That Iturea was in the region of Mount Lebanon is confirmed by an inscription of about the year 6 CE (Ephemeris Epigraphica, 1881, pp. 537-542), in which Q. Æmilius Secundus relates that he was sent by Quirinius against the Itureans in Mount Lebanon. In 38 Caligula gave Iturea to a certain Soemus, who is called by Dio Cassius (lix. 12) and by Tacitus (Annals, xii. 23) "king of the Itureans." After the death of Soemus (49) his kingdom was incorporated into the province of Syria (Tacitus, l.c.). After this incorporation the Itureans furnished soldiers for the Roman army; and the designations "Ala I. Augusta Ituræorum" and "Cohors I. Augusta Ituræorum" are met with in the inscriptions (Ephemeris Epigraphica, 1884, p. 194).
Several etymologies have been proposed for the name Iturea:
John Lightfoot considered possible derivation from the words hittur (wealth), chitture (diggings) or the word for "crowning" (i.e `ittur) or for "ten" (i.e the root `-th-r) relating to Decapolis ("ten cities"). He considered the last to be the least likely and favoured the derivation from chitture noting the descriptions of the landscape. .
William Muir suggested that the name might be a derived from Jetur (Hebrew Yetur) one of the former Hagrite encampments that had been conquered by the Israelites in the days of Saul, however in Josephus where both names are mentioned, Jetur (Ietour-) is rendered differently in Greek to Iturea (Itour-).
Smith's Bible Dictionary attempts to equate the modern Arabic region name Jedur with both Jetur and Iturea however the Arabic j corresponds to Hebrew g and not y, nor does the Arabic d correspond to Hebrew or Greek t and the mainstream view is that Jedur corresponds to the Biblical Gedor.
- This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.
- ↑ Luke iii. 1.
- ↑ Eusebius, Præparatio Evangelica, ix. 30.
- ↑ Cicero, Philippics, ii. 112.
- ↑ Cæsar, Bellum Africanum, 20.
- ↑ Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, in Flavii Iosephi opera, ed. B. Niese, Weidmann, Berlin, 1892, book 13, 9:1
- ↑ Onomasticon, ed. Lagarde, pp. 268, 298.
- ↑ Ant. xiii. 11, § 3.
- ↑ 'John Lightfoot, 'A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Cambridge and London, 1658-1674, Chorographical Notes, Chapter 1: Of the places mentioned in Luke 3, Iturea
- ↑ William Muir, Esq., The Life of Mohamet, 4 volumes, Smith, Elder & Co., London, 1861