Overlooking the Hulah Valley toward Lebanon.

LEBANON lĕ’ bə nun (Gr. Λίβανος; Heb. לְּבָנֹ֔ון; white [mountain]). (1) Mt. Lebanon just inland from the Phoen. coast and (2) the modern state which includes Phoenicia, Mt. Lebanon, The Baqaa, and the western slopes of the Anti-Lebanon range.

Lebanon in history and in the Bible.

The history of Mt. Lebanon is inseparable from the history of Phoenicia (q.v.). Here only the role of the cedars of Lebanon as an object both of military plunder and of peaceful trade will be noted. Both Mesopotamia and Egypt imported cedar wood from Lebanon. The Egyp. tale of Wenamon tells of an envoy sent to barter for cedar wood for Egypt.

In the Bible Lebanon had meaning both for nationalistic ideology and in lit. Nationalistic ideology in Deuteronomy and Joshua from the beginning made Lebanon part of the Promised Land (Deut 1:7; Josh 1:4; cf. also Judg 3:3). Moses prayed to see the “goodly hill country, and Lebanon” (Deut 3:25), and the Phoen. coast as far as Byblos (i.e. “the land of the Gebalites, and all Lebanon,” Josh 13:5) were included among the promised, but unconquered, territories. In their historical context, Solomon’s building activities in the Lebanon (1 Kings 9:19; 2 Chron 8:6) prob. refer to the eastern slopes of the Lebanon adjacent to the Beqaa into which the empire of David and Solomon extended. It is unlikely that the Heb. empire ever extended into Phoenicia proper or far into the Lebanon range.

Lebanon’s place in literary allusion is far more significant. There are literary motifs based upon the greatness of Lebanon and its cedars, motifs utilizing Lebanon as a romantic symbol, and motifs of prosperity and stability.

A single trip into one of the high, rugged valleys of the Lebanon should be sufficient to demonstrate that the Lebanon range is a fitting symbol of rugged grandeur and greatness. Thus God’s greatness is expressed poetically when the Lebanon “skips” at God’s voice (Ps 29:6) or by the fact that it is God who planted Lebanon’s mighty cedars (Ps 104:16). God’s destructive powers can destroy these same cedars (Isa 10:34). The cedars fittingly symbolize arrogant men (Ezek 31:3).

The inaccessibility of the mountains may have been aided by the luxurious wealth of Phoenicia in making the Lebanon a symbol of the romantic, the exotic, and the mysterious. Solomon’s litter was of “wood of Lebanon” Song of Solomon. The bride’s romantic beauty was extolled by summoning her as if from the Lebanon (and from the Anti-Lebanon and Mt. Hermon also; 4:8). Her garments were the scent of Lebanon (4:11; the pun on “Lebanon” and “lebonä'” i.e. frankincense, should be noted). The palace named “House of the Forest of Lebanon” exploited the romantic connotation of the term (1 Kings 7:2).

Prosperity and stability are symbolized by the statement that the righteous will “grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (Ps 92:12; cf. 72:16). Hosea describes the restored Israel as rooted and fragrant like the Lebanon (Hos 14:5-7); following Heb. text “Lebanon” instead of “poplar” in v. 5.


Mt. Lebanon extends from the Litani Gorge northward to the valley of the Nahr el-Kebir (i.e. The Kebir River, classical Eleutheros River) although the modern state extends some fifteen m. further to the S. In general, the mountains are separated from the sea by a coastal plain seldom more than a m. wide. Ridges jutting to the sea and rugged stream beds interrupt the coastal plain which is well-watered and quite productive. The plain of Sidon in the S and the valley of the Nahr el-Kebir provide more spacious agricultural areas.

Turning to Mt. Lebanon proper, its western face consists of a complicated system of ridges, highland plateaus, deep valleys, and foothills leading from the peaks to the coastal plain. Seasonal rains are adequate to make the highland plateaus and terraced hillsides quite productive. There are many villages on these western slopes. By contrast the eastern face tilts rather directly to the Beqaa and sparse rainfall limits their usage for grazing of sheep and goats. Some of the major peaks of the Lebanon are Jebel Akkar in the N, Jebel Makhmal (with the summit, Qurnet es-Sauda; c. 11,000 ft.), Jebel Mneitreh from which the Dog River flows, Jebel Sunnin which is visible from Beirut, Jebel Kneisseh, Jebel Baruk, Jebel Niha, and Jebel Rihan.

The Beqaa, classical Coele-syria, is the valley between the Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon. Its rainfall is limited so that it depends largely on streams and springs flowing from the mountains for agriculture. It is very fertile particularly in the vicinity of Zahleh, Shtoura, and Baalbek. Its rivers are the Nahr el-Asi (classical Orontes) flowing N and the Litani (classical Leontes) flowing S. The latter has been harnessed for Lebanon’s major electrical power and irrigation work. The slopes of the Anti-Lebanon are similar in appearance and usage to the eastern slopes of the Lebanon.

Lebanon produces a wide variety of crops. The plains and some of the plateaus and valleys are good for growing grain. The coastal plain and mountain terraces produce a wide variety of garden vegetables, nuts and fruits. Among these the olive and the vine still retain their age-old importance. In regions too high or too steep for agriculture, the forests flourish. Original growth included pines, myrtles, and the famous cedars of which only a few hundred remain until the present. In recent years much reseeding of barren slopes with pine trees has been carried out.

Lebanon is rich in archeological sites, chief of which are Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, and Baalbek as well as dozens of sites of lesser importance. Most of the actual remains date from Rom. times or later, but some sites, esp. Byblos, preserve a rich variety of remains from earlier ages.


“Lebanon,” HDB (1900); P. K. Hitti, Lebanon in History (1962); R. Fedden, The Phoenix Land (1965); K. S. Salibi, The Modern History of Lebanon (1965); M. K. Khayat and M. C. Keatinge, Lebanon, Land of the Cedars (1967).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(lebanon; Septuagint Libanos; Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) Libanus):

1. Name:

Derived from the root labhen, "to be white," probably from the snow which covers its summits the greater part of the year. "White mountains" are found in almost every country. The light color of the upper limestone may, however, form a sufficient reason for the name. In prose the article is usually connected with the name. In poetry it is more often without the article. In the Septuagint, however, the article is generally present both in prose and poetry.

2. General Description:

The Lebanon range proper borders the east coast of the Mediterranean, for a distance of 100 miles, running North-Northeast and South-Southwest from the mouth of the Litany river, the classic Leontes (which enters the sea a little North of Tyre), to the mouth of the Eleuthurus (Nahr el-Kebir), a few miles North of Tripolis. This river comes through a depression between Lebanon and the Nuseiriyeh mountains, known as "the entrance to Hamath," and connects with a caravan route to the Euphrates through Palmyra. For a considerable distance North of the Litany, the mountain summits average from 4,000 to 6,000 ft. in height, and the range is more or less dissected by short streams which enter the Mediterranean. Most prominent of these is the Nahr ez-Zaherany, which, after running 25 or 30 miles in a southerly direction through the center of the range, like the Litany, turns abruptly West opposite Mt. Hermon, reaching the sea between Tyre and Sidon. In roughly parallel courses Nahr el-`Awleh and Nahr Damur descend to the sea between Sidon and Beyrout, and Nahr Beyrout just North of the city. Throughout this district the mountain recesses are more or less wooded. Opposite Beyrout the range rises in Jebel Sannin to an elevation of 8,560 ft. Thirty miles farther Northeast the summit is reached in Jebel Mukhmal, at an elevation of 10,225 ft., with several others of nearly the same height. An amphitheater here opens to the West, in which is sheltered the most frequented cedar grove, and from which emerges the Nahr Qadisha ("sacred stream") which enters the Mediterranean at Tripolis. Snow is found upon these summits throughout the year (Jer 18:14), while formerly the level area between them furnished the snow fields from which a glacier descended several miles into the headwaters of the Qadisha, reaching a level of about 5,000 ft. The glacier deposited in this amphitheater a terminal moraine covering several square miles, which at its front, near Bsherreh, is 1,000 ft. in thickness. It is on this that the grove of cedars referred to is growing.

The view from this summit reveals the geographical features of the region in a most satisfactory manner. Toward the East lies Coele-Syria (the modern Buka), 7,000 ft. below the summit, bordered on the eastern side by the mountain wall of Anti-Lebanon, corresponding to the cliffs of Moab East of the Jordan valley, opposite Judea. This depression in fact is but a continuation of the great geological fault so conspicuous in the Jordan valley (see Arabah). As one looks down into this valley, Ba`albek appears at the base of Anti-Lebanon, only 20 miles away. The valley is here about 10 miles wide, and forms the watershed between the Orontes and the Litany. To the Northeast the valley of the Orontes is soon obscured by intervening peaks, but to the Southwest the valley of the Litany closes up only where the glistering peak of Mt. Hermon pierces the sky, as the river turns abruptly toward the sea 40 miles distant. Toward the West, the blue waters of the Mediterranean, only 25 miles distant as the crow flies, show themselves at intervals through the gorges cut by the rapid streams which have furrowed the western flanks of the mountain (So 4:15); 3,500 ft. beneath is the amphitheater many square miles in area, filled with the terminal moraine from which the Qadisha river emerges, and on which the grove of cedars (compare 1Ki 4:33; Ps 92:12; Ho 14:5) appears as a green spot in the center. Onward to the West the river gorge winds its way amid numerous picturesque village sites and terraced fields, every foot of which is cultivated by a frugal and industrious people. To the traveler who has made the diagonal journey from Beirut to the cedars, memory fills in innumerable details which are concealed from vision at any one time. He has crossed Nahr el-Kelb ("Dog River"), near its mouth, where he has seen Egyptian and Assyrian inscriptions dating from the time of Sennacherib’s invasion. Ascending this river, after passing numerous villages surrounded by mulberry and olive groves, vineyards, and fields of wheat, and pausing to study the ruins of a temple dating from Roman times, and having crossed a natural bridge at Jisr el-Hagar with a span of 120 ft., rising 75 ft. above the stream, he arrives, at the end of the second day, at the ruins of the famous temple of Venus destroyed by the order of Constantine on account of the impurity of the rites celebrated in it. Here, too, is a famous spring, typical of many others which gush forth on either side of the Lebanon range from beneath the thick deposits of limestone which everywhere crown its summit. The flow of water is enormous, and at certain seasons of the year is colored red with a mineral matter which the ancients regarded with mysterious reverence (see LB, III, 244). The lower part of the amphitheater is covered with verdure and a scanty growth of pine and walnut trees, but the upper part merges in the barren cliffs which lie above the snow line. Onward, alternately through upturned limestone strata, left by erosion in fantastic forms, and through barren areas of red sandstone, where the cedars of Lebanon would flourish if protected from the depredations of man and his domestic animals, he crosses by turns at higher and higher levels the headwaters of the Ibrahim, Fedar, Jozeh, Byblus and the Botrys rivers, and at length reaches, on the fourth day, the Qadisha, 5 miles below the cedars of Lebanon. Viewed from the Mediterranean the Lebanon range presents a continuous undulating outline of light-colored limestone peaks, the whole rising so abruptly from the sea that through most of the distance there is barely room for a road along the shore, while in places even that is prevented by rocky promontories projecting boldly into the sea. The only harbors of importance are at Beyrout and Tripolis, and these are only partially protected, being open to the Northwest. The eastern face of the range falling down into Coele-Syria is very abrupt, with no foothills and but one or two important valleys.

3. Geology:

Geologically considered, the Lebanon consists of three conformable strata of rock thrown up in an anticline with its steepest face to the East. The lowest of these are several thousand ft. thick, consisting of hard limestone containing few fossils, the most characteristic of which is Cidaris glandaria, from which the formation has been named Glandarian limestone. In its foldings this has been elevated in places to a height of 5,000 ft. Through erosion it is exposed in numerous places, where it presents picturesque castellated columns, whose bluish-gray sides are beautifully fluted by atmospheric agencies. The second formation consists of several hundred feet of red-colored sandstone alternating with soft limestone and clay deposits, occasionally containing a poor quality of bituminous coal, with pyrites and efflorescent salts. It is this that occasionally colors the water of the spring at Adonis. The characteristic fossil is Trigonia syriaca. Altogether this formation attains a thickness of 1,000 ft., and it is on its exposed surfaces that the most of the Lebanon pines are found. It contains also many signs of volcanic action. The third formation consists of hippurite limestone, a cretaceous formation, in some places almost wholly composed of fragments of the fossils from which it derives its name. This formation appears on all the highest summits, where in most cases it is nearly horizontal, and in places attains a thickness of 5,000 ft. Between the summits of the range and the foothills this formation has been almost wholly carried away by erosion, thus exposing the underlying formations. Cretaceous strata of still later age are found at low levels near the sea, which in places are covered by small deposits of Tertiary limestone, and by a porous sandstone of the Pleistocene age.

4. Scenery:

The scenery of the western slopes of Lebanon is most varied, magnificent, and beautiful, and well calculated, as indeed it did to impress the imagination of the Hebrew poets. Originally it was heavily covered with forests of pine, oak and cedar; but these have for the most part long since disappeared, except in the valley of Nahr Ibrahim, which is still thickly wooded with pine, oak and plane trees. Of the cedars there remain, besides the grove at the head of the Qadisha, only two or three, and they are of less importance. Every available spot on the western flanks of the Lebanon is cultivated, being sown with wheat or planted with the vine, the olive, the mulberry and the walnut. Irrigation is extensively practiced. When we let the eye range from the snowy summits of the mountain over all that lies between them and the orange groves of Sidon on the seashore, we understand why the Arabs say that "Lebanon bears winter on its head, spring on its shoulders, autumn in its lap, while summer lies at its feet."

In the more desolate places jackals, hyenas, wolves, and panthers are still found (compare 2Ki 14:9).

5. History:

The original inhabitants of Lebanon were Hivites and Gebalites (Jud 3:3; Jos 13:5,6). The whole mountain range was assigned to the Israelites, but was never conquered by them. It seemed generally to have been subject to the Phoenicians. At present it is occupied by various sects of Christians and Mohammedans, of whom the Maronites, Druzes and Orthodox Greeks are most active and prominent. Since 1860 the region has been under the protection of European powers with a Christian governor. No exact figures are available, but the population at present numbers probably about 275,000.

Ruins of ancient temples are numerous throughout Lebanon. Bacon estimates that within a radius of 20 miles of Ba`albek there are 15 ruined sun-temples, the grandeur and beauty of which would have made them famous but for the surpassing splendor of Ba`albek.

6. Anti-Lebanon:

Anti-Libanus (Judith 1:7; Jos 13:5; So 7:4) is an extension northward of the great mountain system facing on the East the great geological fault most conspicuous in the valley of the Jordan (see JORDAN, VALLEY OF), extending from the Gulf of Akabah to Antioch on the Orontes River. The system begins at the Barada River just North of Mt. Hermon, and, running parallel to Mt. Lebanon for 65 miles, terminates at Chums, the "entering in of Hamath." The highest points of the range reach an elevation of over 8,000 ft. Eastward the range merges into the plateau of the great Syrian desert. South of Ba`albek the Yahfufah, a stream of considerable importance, empties into the Litany, while the Barada (the "Abana" of Scripture), rising in the same plateau, flows eastward to Damascus, its volume being greatly increased by fountains coming in from the base of the dissected plateau.


The geographical and geological descriptions are largely obtained by the writer from an extended excursion through the region in the company of Professor Day of the Protestant College at Beirut, whose knowledge of the region is most intimate and comprehensive. For more detailed information see Robinson, BRP2, II, 435 ff, 493; G. A. Smith, HGHL, 45 ff; Burton and Drake, Unexplored Syria; Benjamin W. Bacon, and G.F. Wright in Records of the Past, 1906, V, 67-83, 195-204; Baedeker-Socin, Palestine.