Thursday, 1 September 2011

Province and capital

The practice of naming a province after the provincial capital and vice versa is not something new. It reminds me of the prophet Jonah whose sarcophagus allegedly stands in a room next to the Habib-i Neccar mosque in Antakya. [a]

According to the biblical account the prophet Jonah had to go to Nineve, the capital of Assyria, and proclaim its doom. In the book of Jonah (chapter 3 verse 3) it is said that Nineve "was an exceeding great city of three days' journey." (מהלך שׁלשׁת ימים)

This has been taken as a wild exaggeration. The Commentary on the Old testament of Keil and Delitzsch ventures this explanation:
"But Nineveh was a great city to God (lē'lōhı̄m), i.e., it was regarded by God as a great city. This remark points to the motive for sparing it (cf. Jon_4:11), in case its inhabitants hearkened to the word of God. Its greatness amounted to “a three days' walk.” This is usually supposed to refer to the circumference of the city, by which the size of a city is generally determined. But the statement in Jon_3:4, that “Jonah began to enter into the city the walk of a day,” i.e., a day's journey, is apparently at variance with this. Hence Hitzig has come to the conclusion that the diameter or length of the city is intended, and that, as the walk of a day in Jon_3:4 evidently points to the walk of three days in Jon_3:3, the latter must also be understood as referring to the length of Nineveh. But according to Diod. ii. 3 the length of the city was 150 stadia, and Herodotus (v. 53) gives just this number of stadia as a day's journey. Hence Jonah would not have commenced his preaching till he had reached the opposite end of the city. This line of argument, the intention of which is to prove the absurdity of the narrative, is based upon the perfectly arbitrary assumption that Jonah went through the entire length of the city in a straight line, which is neither probable in itself, nor implied in בּוֹא בָעִיר. This simply means to enter, or go into the city, and says nothing about the direction of the course he took within the city. But in a city, the diameter of which was 150 stadia, and the circumference 480 stadia, one might easily walk for a whole day without reaching the other end, by winding about from one street into another. And Jonah would have to do this to find a suitable place for his preaching, since we are not warranted in assuming that it lay exactly in the geographical centre, or at the end of the street which led from the gate into the city. But if Jonah wandered about in different directions, as Theodoret says, “not going straight through the city, but strolling through market-places, streets, etc.,” the distance of a day's journey over which he travelled must not be understood as relating to the diameter or length of the city; so that the objection to the general opinion, that the three days' journey given as the size of the city refers to the circumference, entirely falls to the ground. Moreover, Hitzig has quite overlooked the word וַיָּחֶל in his argument. The text does not affirm that Jonah went a day's journey into the city, but that he “began to go into the city a day's journey, and cried out.” These words do not affirm that he did not begin to preach till after he had gone a whole day's journey, but simply that he had commenced his day's journey in the city when he found a suitable place and a fitting opportunity for his proclamation. They leave the distance that he had really gone, when he began his preaching, quite indefinite; and by no means necessitate the assumption that he only began to preach in the evening, after his day's journey was ended. All that they distinctly affirm is, that he did not preach directly he entered the city, but only after he had commenced a day's journey, that is to say, had gone some distance into the city. And this is in perfect harmony with all that we know about the size of Nineveh at that time. The circumference of the great city Nineveh, or the length of the boundaries of the city of Nineveh in the broadest sense, was, as Niebuhr says (p. 277), “nearly ninety English miles, not reckoning the smaller windings of the boundary; and this would be just three days' travelling for a good walker on a long journey.” “Jonah,” he continues, “begins to go a day's journey into the city, then preaches, and the preaching reaches the ears of the king (cf. Jon_3:6). He therefore came very near to the citadel as he went along on his first day's journey. At that time the citadel was probably in Nimrud (Calah). Jonah, who would hardly have travelled through the desert, went by what is now the ordinary caravan road past Amida, and therefore entered the city at Nineveh. And it was on the road from Nineveh to Calah, not far off the city, possibly in the city itself, that he preached. Now the distance between Calah and Nineveh (not reckoning either city), measured in a straight line upon the map, is 18 1/2 English miles.” If, then, we add to this, (1) that the road from Nineveh to Calah or Nimrud hardly ran in a perfectly straight line, and therefore would be really longer than the exact distance between the two parts of the city according to the map, and (2) that Jonah had first of all to go through Nineveh, and possibly into Calah, he may very well have walked twenty English miles, or a short day's journey, before he preached. The main point of his preaching is all that is given, viz., the threat that Nineveh would be destroyed, which was the point of chief importance, so far as the object of the book was concerned, and which Jonah of course explained by denouncing the sins and vices of the city. The threat ran thus: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be destroyed.” נֶהְפָּךְ, lit., overturned, i.e., destroyed from the very foundations, is the word applied to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The respite granted is fixed at forty days, according to the number which, even as early as the flood, was taken as the measure for determining the delaying of visitations of God." [b]

This may all be very correct. Another explanation, though, might be that the three days journey relate to the whole province. The book of Daniel (chapter 3 verse 1) speaks of an image of gold set up "in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon." The word translated "province" is מדינה (medîne) and does not refer to the city itself. If the Babylonian Dura in question is close to Tell Hariri in Syria it is rather far from the city of Babylon.

It reminds me of the Turkish workers who came to Europe many years ago. When you asked them where in Turkey they came from many answered: "From the capital, from Ankara." Nevertheless, it showed up that they came from Haymana about a hundred kilometres south of the capital.

I have had a similar experience in Egypt although in the reverse. Once we took a taxi from Cairo to Memphis but when we had to return to Cairo the driver lost his way. Consequently he started to ask people on the road: "Which way to Egypt [Misr]?"


[a] For reasons unknown this Antiochene Jonah has been identified with the apostle Paul. However, Paul's Jewish name was not Jonah but Shaul. Stories run wild in this area. See

[b] Keil & Deltizsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, e-Sword, Version 9.6.0.

Antakya or Hatay

It seems that certain persons believe that somebody in Turkey want to have the name of Antakya changed to Hatay and this has created some stir in certain waters. What is behind it is this: The Turkish identification cards that show the personal data of the citizen also show the province and the city where the person was born. For at Turk born in Antakya the province would be Hatay and the city Antakya.

Nevertheless, most Turkish provinces take the name of the capital of the province. Thus the province of Konya (Iconium) has Konya as its capital. In police reports and other documents where the person's identity is described, the word Centrum [Merkez] is often used instead of the name of the provincial capital.
Now, the provincial capital of the province of Hatay is not just any city, it is Antakya, Antioch of old, the Queen of the East. To change its name to "Centrum" is to many of the locals something close to sacrilege.
In an article in the newspaper Milliyet[i] (August 16, 2011) İlber Oltaylı writes that the motivation behind this is not nationalism but simply inexperience or lack of good manners.
This, however, is contradicted by Emre Can Dağlıoğlu who in the newspaper Taraf of August 20, 2011, page 14 has an article with the headline "How Antakya really became Hatay." Dağlıoğlu writes: "In short, the attempt of erasing the name of Antakya is not 'inexperience' as Oltalı would have it. Although the derogative term 'so-called' is used on the practice it is in fact 'a nationalistic administrative measure,' part and parcel of Turkish assimilation policy."
Whether the observation of Dağlıoğlu is correct or not, I do not know. Both names are in fact foreign to Turkish. The word Hatay is derived from the word Hittite. When the great Hittite empire in central Anatolia collapsed a number of small Hittite principalities survived along the present border between Turkey and Syria. Today only the name Hatay survives as it was used by the Turks in the early twentieth century.[ii] At that time the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, said that the province had been a homeland for Turks for four millenniums. This may sound strange as it is common knowledge that the Turks only made their entry into Anatolia (or Asia Minor) after the battle of Malazgirt (or Manzikert) in 1071, but as Mustafa Kemal regarded the Turks as descendants of the Hittites, he at least to some extent had a point.[iii]
Whatever the case, even if the name of Antakya administratively were changed to Hatay Centrum following the procedure applied in the case of other provincial capitals in Turkey, nobody would forget that this city is the one called Antakya, Antâkiye or Antioch. This city has got its name inscribed into history for good and for bad. It is not easily forgotten. Two thousand years ago it was the third most important city of the Roman Empire and during the time of the Byzantines it was often frequented by the emperors. Every now and then ruins and mosaics from the past are found under the streets and at other places where excavation is done.
It is with Antakya as with Istanbul or Jerusalem: You may change its name, but it will not disappear.

[i] İlber Oltaylı, "Hatay'daki büyük görgüsüzlük," accessed August 31, 2011,
[ii] "HATAY, the name given by the Turks to the Sanjak of Alexandretta, at the time of the crisis of 1936-9." The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. 3 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986), 273
[iii] Compare Wikipedia, "Genetic origins of the Turkish people," accessed August 31, 2011, According to the chart less that 50 % of the gene pool of Anatolia is typical for people of Central Asia.