PALESTINE (păl'ĕs-tīn, Heb. pelesheth).

I. Name.. The term Palestine is not used in the NIV; it occurs four times in the KJV (Exod.15.14; Isa.14.29, Isa.14.31; Joel.3.4). In all four contexts it refers to Philistia (so niv), the SE coastal strip of the Mediterranean occupied by the Philistines, an Indo-European people from Crete. Philistia derives from the Hebrew term for the region, eres Pelistim (“the land of the Philistines”), and Philistine was a native term of unknown origin and significance. Josephus used Palaistinē in the same restricted geographical sense (e.g., Antiq. 1.6.2; 13.5.10). It is in Herodotus, the fifth-century Greek historian, that the extension of the term to cover a wider area is first seen (2.104; 3.5; 91.7.89). The name Palestine is therefore another example of the common phenomenon whereby a land or a people is named after the part or the division with which first contact is made. The Romans, for example, called the Hellenes Graeci, and the land of Hellas Graecia, after the minor tribe immediately opposite the heel of Italy. The French name for Germany, Allemagne, derives from the trans-Rhenane federation of the Allemanni. The Arabs call all Europeans “Franks.” Herodotus, who derived his knowledge of Palestine from Egypt, possibly popularizes the Egyptian nomenclature, which named the whole ill-defined area to their north from the name of the occupants of the “Gaza Strip.” A Philistine settlement had existed there since patriarchal times (Gen.26.1-Gen.26.35). The older Semitic name was Canaan, a word of doubtful origin. According to Sir George A. Smith, the great geographer of Palestine, Canaan may mean “sunken” or “low land” and hence may have originally applied only to the coastal strip, as distinct from the highlands, extending then, after the fashion already noted, to wider geographic significance.

II. Locality and Area. The limits of Palestine in ancient times lack precise definition, save in the case of the second-century Roman province of that name, whose boundaries may be fairly certainly drawn. The Leontes River (modern Litani) is commonly regarded as the logical northern boundary, and the Wadi el ‘Arish the natural frontier with Egypt. Political frontiers, ancient and modern, have not always respected these ideal boundaries. Even the limits of Israel poetically marked in the phrase “from Dan to Beersheba” do not correspond (Judg.20.1). Dan was Laish, 30 miles (50 km.) due east of Tyre on the sources of the Jordan. Beersheba lay 150 miles (250 km.) to the south, as the crow flies, just where Palestine merges into the desert of the Negev. The “Promised Land” of Josh.1.4 is geographically much more inclusive. The seacoast formed a definite enough western boundary, though alien powers, from ancient Philistine to modern Egyptian, have always disputed the possession of these fertile lowlands behind the coast. The deepening desert made a firm, though changing boundary line to the east. West of a line drawn down the Jordan Valley, Palestine measures 6,000 square miles (15,385 sq. km.). If areas east of the Jordan, from time to time counted part of Palestine, are also included, the total area is nearer 10,000 square miles (25,640 sq. km.). It is thus a little larger than the state of Vermont. Again, the distance from Dan to Beersheba is 150 miles (250 km.). From west to east the distances are smaller still. In the north, from Acco to the Sea of Galilee, the distance is 28 miles (47 km.). From Gaza to the Dead Sea in the south the distance is 54 miles (90 km.).

III. Climate. In spite of its narrow limits, the varied configuration of Palestine produces a great variety of climates. Thanks to the adjacent sea, the coastal plain, lying between latitudes 31 and 33, is temperate, with an average annual temperature of 57 degrees at Joppa. Inland 34 miles (57 km.), Jerusalem, thanks to its height of 2,600 feet (813 m.) registers an annual average of 63 degrees, though with wider variations. At Jericho, 15 miles (25 km.) away, and 3,300 feet (1,031 m.) below Jerusalem or 700 feet (219 m.) below sea level, tropical climate prevails with intense and enervating summer heat. A similar contrast marks the temperate climate around the Sea of Galilee and the tropical heat around the Dead Sea. Prevailing winds are west or SW and precipitate their moisture on the western slopes of the high country in a rainy season extending roughly from October to April. An occasional sirocco, or east wind, brings burning air from the great deserts of the hinterland (Job.1.19; Jer.18.17; Ezek.17.10; Ezek.27.26). The southern desert, south of Beersheba, is a parched wilderness, at present the scene of some of the world’s major experiments in “dry-farming.” The chief climatic advantage is a heavy fall of dew. The “former rain” of the biblical phrase (Jer.5.24; Joel.2.23 kjv; niv “autumn rain”) was the early part of the rainy season. The period is commonly followed by a time of heavy falls alternating with fine clear weather, until March or April, when the “latter rain” (niv “spring rain”) falls with immense advantage to the maturing crops before the dry season, the ripening, and the harvest.

IV. Geography.

A. The coast. The coast of Palestine is a line that sweeps south, with a slight curve to the west, without break or indentation. North of Carmel is Phoenicia, where a great maritime nation found the means to use and tame the sea; in this area, significantly, the coast is more hospitable, and offers hope of haven for ships. Those who lived behind the stern, flat coast of Palestine necessarily found the sea a barrier (Josh.1.4) and an image of violence and restlessness (Isa.17.12-Isa.17.13). By the same token, they were agricultural rather than maritime. From Carmel south to the Nile Delta, the coastline is built of sandhills and low cliffs, without a sheltering offshore island to form a roadstead, or a river mouth to give minimum protection from the sea. It is “a shelf for the casting of wreckage and the roosting of sea-birds” (G. A. Smith: Historical Geography of the Holy Land, p. 128). The currents are parallel with the coast, and still bear the silt of the Nile. The prevailing wind beats on the shore with ceaseless surf. No intruder, with the possible exception of the Philistines themselves, has ever landed there. Palestine’s invaders have followed the open roads of her north-south plains and valleys. For the same reason, artificial harbors anciently built on the coast, even Herod’s fine port of Caesarea, have always been difficult to maintain: on the first relaxation of human effort, the sea has overwhelmed them. A recent survey of the coast has indicated that the lost ports of Palestine are likely to prove a fruitful field of underwater archaeological exploration. The makeshift or artificial ports on the Mediterranean coast may be listed as follows: Dor was used as a port, but it was an open roadstead, and never in firm control of the Israelite authorities. Joppa was little better, save that some offshore reefs broke the force of the Mediterranean swell and offered a fair-weather port. First under Philistine and later under Syrian control, Joppa fell to the Jews as a conquest of Simon Maccabaeus in 148 b.c. “To add to his reputation,” runs the account, “he took Joppa for a harbor, and provided an access for the islands of the sea” (1Macc.14.5). Simon found a considerable Greek population in the port and had some trouble in occupying and fortifying it. After eighty-five years, during which the Syrians twice reoccupied the port, Pompey allotted it to Syria in his organization of the East (63). In 47 Caesar returned it to the Jews, and Augustus made it part of the domains of Herod the Great. These historical vicissitudes illustrate the disadvantages of a coastline that is geographically so disadvantageous. Ashkelon, the only Philistine city actually on the coast, and a foundation old enough to find mention in the Tell-el-Amarna Letters, served also as a port, and archaeology may establish the presence of harbor works. Caesarea, Herod’s ambitious foundation twenty miles (thirty-three km.) south of modern Haifa, was an efficient port. Herod spent twelve years building, not only a harbor, but also a city of some magnificence. Enormous blocks of stone formed a breakwater, two hundred feet (sixty-two m.) wide in twenty fathoms (thirty-eight m.) of water, and made the only real harbor on the coast. Hence the Hebrew name Leminah, a Hebraic rendering of Greek limen, “a harbor.” Associated harbor buildings, navigational aids, and a well-equipped town made Caesarea the natural seat for Roman authority in Palestine.

B. The Maritime Plain. A coastal plain shaped like a long spear point, with its tip where Carmel thrusts to the sea, is the main western geographical feature of Palestine. North of Carmel, the small plain of Acco or Acre, a detached section of the coastal plain, should be mentioned. South of Carmel, widening from eight miles (thirteen km.) to twelve miles (twenty km.), and extending for forty-four miles (seventy-three km.), is the Plain of Sharon, once an extensive oak forest, well-watered, and bounded to the south by low hills. South again of this inconsiderable barrier, and similarly widening over the course of its forty miles (sixty-seven km.) to the borders of Egypt, is the famous Plain of Philistia, after which the entire land was named. Marshes—the “Serbonian Bog” of Strabo, Diodorus, and Pliny—were found at the southern end of the Philistine plain. These were salt marshes behind the coastal dunes and are mentioned because they were a breeding ground of disease, which has played its part in history. Somewhere near here Sennacherib’s army was destroyed, perhaps by some devastating plague, sent, as Scripture says, by the angel of the Lord (2Kgs.19.35-2Kgs.19.36). Historical records, extending even to Napoleon, refer to similar decimating attacks of pestilence among large bodies of men traversing this area. However, in spite of the unhealthiness of the marshy strip, the coastal plain has always been a highway of commerce or aggression. By this path traveled the Egyptian conquerors Thothmes III, Ramses II, and Seti I, seeking out their northern foes, the Hittites. By this same path, and thence into the Plain of Esdraelon, traveled Cambyses, Alexander, Pompey, Saladin, Napoleon, and Allenby. The plain forms the western blade of the Fertile Crescent, the grand highway between Africa, Asia, and Europe.

C. The Uplands. The tumbled hill-country that forms the core or backbone of the land, is a continuation of the more clearly defined Lebanon ranges to the north of Palestine. This extended mountain chain breaks up into confused hills in the desert of the south. Three divisions are to be distinguished: Galilee, Samaria, and Judah. Galilee is rugged, especially to the north, where a height of 4,000 feet (1,250 km.) above sea level is reached near Merom. The southern portion is less hilly and might even be described as rolling land, arable, fertile, and temperate in climate. South of Galilee, the Valley of Jezreel, or the Plain of Esdraelon, cuts the range, the location of many important ancient towns and an open highway to the north. The town of Megiddo controlled the pass into the Plain of Sharon. Since Mount Carmel dominated the road along the coast, Megiddo was a place of paramount strategic importance. From the strife that, through the centuries, necessarily gathered around it, Armageddon, or “the Hill of Megiddo” became a symbol of the struggle of nations (Rev.16.16). Two valleys from Esdraelon give access to the Jordan. One passes between Tabor and Moreh, the other between Moreh and Gilboa. Here lay the best east-west travel routes of the land.

The Samaria hill-country forms the geographical heart of Palestine. The uplands rise in the north to 1,640 feet (513 m.) in Mount Gilboa, and cast up two conspicuous peaks: Ebal (3,077 ft.-962 m. above sea level) and Gerizim, a lower eminence. Fertile valleys intersect these high masses, and since the valley floors are themselves of considerable altitude, the higher country has not the visible height or prominence that the sea level figures appear to indicate.

The third division of the hill country is Judah. Here the summits are lower than in the region of Samaria, falling to 2,600 feet (813 m.) in Jerusalem and touching their highest point, 3,370 feet (1,053 m.), near Hebron. This country forms a watershed that strains the moisture from the Mediterranean sea breezes. The eastern slopes, in consequence, deteriorate into the barren “wilderness of Judah,” deeply intersected by the arid ravines that converge on the Dead Sea. This barren wasteland was the refuge of David in his outlaw days. Ordered life and agriculture was concentrated on the west in the so-called “Shephelah,” the sloping foothills and valley tongues that led up from the coastal plain into the Judean hills. In sheltered folds of the hills, agriculture flourished, and fertility seeped down from the higher land. The Shephelah was disputed territory. In days of strength the Hebrew highlanders pressed down toward the plain. When their strength wavered or flagged, the Philistine lowlanders thrust up into the foothills. The Shephelah saw a pressure front between the Semitic claimants from the desert and the east, and those from the west. Fortresses such as Lachish, Debir, Libnah, Azekah, and Beth Shemesh were located in the Shephelah. To the south the Judean hill-country breaks up into the arid wilderness of the Negev. There is strong archaeological evidence for a considerable population in this area in the early centuries of the Christian era, made possible by efficient water conservation, irrigation systems, and the effective use, through rock-mulching, of the heavy fall of dew.

E. The Plateau of Transjordan. This is not part of modern Palestine and was alien territory over much of ancient history. It was, however, intimately connected with biblical history, and its geography is relevant in consequence. North of the Yarmuk, a tributary of the Jordan south of the Sea of Galilee, is Bashan. Through this region in NT times curved the eastern members of the federation of ten cities known as the Decapolis. In its eastern quarter lay the Trachonitis of the Greeks (Luke.3.1), a tumbled waste of ancient volcanic stone, a natural defensive area, and part of the principality of Og of Bashan (Deut.3.4). South of Bashan, and extending to the river, is Gilead. The Jabbok, whose banks were the scene of Jacob’s contest (Gen.33.1-Gen.33.20), rose near Rabbath Ammon, the Philadelphia of the Decapolis, and irrigated a considerable territory. In the tribal settlement recorded in Num.32.1-Num.32.42 and Josh.12.1-Josh.12.24, Manasseh was allotted all Bashan in the north, Reuben the Moabite highlands in the south, and Gad the central land of Gilead. Hence the identification of Gad with Gilead in Judg.5.17. In Gilead was the Kerith, scene of Elijah’s retreat, and David’s refuge of Mahanaim. It was well watered and wooded. South of Jabbok, down to the Arnon, which joins the Dead Sea halfway down its eastern coast, the plateau becomes increasingly arid and desolate. This area contains the height of Nebo, the old land of Ammon. South of Arnon is Moab, a high plateau seldom controlled by Israel; and further south still is Edom, a region valuable for its mineral deposits and first controlled and exploited by David and Solomon. It was possibly the iron of Edom, smelted in the considerable industrial district that had been developed just north of the Gulf of Aqabah, that enabled Israel to emerge from the Bronze Age and meet the iron-using Philistines on their own terms. Petra, the strange rock of the desert trade routes, was originally an Edomite stronghold.

V. Animal Life. Besides the common domesticated animals of the ancient Middle East (horse, ox, sheep, goat, camel, ass, mule), Palestine was the habitat of numerous predatory beasts, principally the lion, leopard, wolf, jackal, and fox. The hare, the coney (a species of rabbit), the wild boar, and the deer were also found. A concordance, under any of these heads, will show the variety of metaphor and imagery based on animal life, both tame animals and the “beasts of the field.” The dog was considered almost a wild creature and provided a term for uncleanness, treachery, and contempt. The dog of Palestine was a pariah and scavenger; no mention is made of its being used in hunting nor shepherding, except Job.30.1 (see Animals). The cryptic reference to dogs in Deut.23.18 (jb, kjv, mlb, nasb, rsv) probably has to do with homosexual prostitution (neb, niv). Song birds are rare, but scavenger and predatory fowl included the eagle, vulture, owl, hawk, and kite. The heron, bittern, osprey, partridge, peacock, dove, pigeon, quail, raven, stork, and sparrow were common and find frequent reference in both Testaments (see Birds). Fish were plentiful, especially in Galilee, where the shoals were dense. The chief edible fish seem to have been carp. Bees, grasshoppers, and locusts were among the insects (see nodetitle). Palestine lies in the belt of territory subject to locust invasion, and the Book of Joel is striking evidence for the destructive visitation of such insect swarms.


PALESTINE păl’ ə stīn (פְּלָֽשֶׁת, perhaps migrant). A commonly used name for the Holy Land.


The name Pal. appears four times in the KJV (Exod 15:14 and Isa 14:29, 31 as PALESTINA; Joel 3:4). The ASV and RSV, acknowledging the origins of the name, have preferred Philistia in each case, for its primary application was to the Philistine homeland, i.e, the coastlands of the E Mediterranean from Gaza N to Joppa. Application of the name to the wider region lying inland from this coastline was the work of classical writers, so that by the time of the Rom. occupation it could be understood in its modern sense, embodied in the Rom. province of Palestina. Josephus used the name Syria (reserving Palestina for Philistia), and this usage held good for virtually the entire period of the region’s history thereafter, until 1919-1920. Under the rule of Arab and Ottoman, Pal. was but a part of a larger, Syrian, unit of government, and it was really only with the breakup of the Turkish empire at the end of the first world war that the name Pal. again took on any precise significance. Under the agreements and treaties of 1916-1920, Britain assumed a mandate over parts of the empire that became known as Iraq, Trans-Jordan, and Pal., with the French occupying Syria and Lebanon. Boundaries of these territories were partly arbitrary and partly based on the old Turkish vilayets, or administrative divisions. Britain held the Palestinian mandate through increasingly troubled times, until the modern states of Israel and Jordan were born out of the upheavals following the second world war. The new international boundary (or, more properly, cease-fire line) of the period 1948-1967 cut postwar Pal. in two. Consequently the name seems, over the centuries (with the exception of the period 1920-1948), to have covered either too little or too much to have precise meaning; either it described a part of the larger whole that was Syria, or it covered parts of the political unities formed by adjoining states. In popular thought, however, it is prob. most common to equate the name Pal. with the “Holy Land,” i.e., the land occupied by the Twelve Tribes and later identified as sacred—as “The Land”—in Jewish religious thought; and the land where Jesus carried out His ministry and lived His life. There can be little objection to the popular usage, in view of the checkered career of the name from the days of the Exodus onward.


The crossroads position of this land bridge between Eurasia and Africa in the Middle E is sufficiently obvious to justify the 13th-cent. map makers in their decision to show Jerusalem as the center of the world—a world which to them was made up of a T-shaped land area with the encircling ocean forming an “O” around it, and Jerusalem at the intersection of the “T.” Attempts have repeatedly been made—those of George Adam Smith (HGHL) are prob. the most scholarly and vivid—to express the geographical situation of Pal. in a way that will best bring out its unique character. No one statement can do justice to this situation, but the following points taken together will serve to explain something of the uniqueness of Palestine.

Palestine and the Mediterranean world.

It forms part of the ring of Mediterranean coastlands, a ring whose unity has formed the theme of works by numerous geographers and historians, e.g., Semple, Newbiggin, Ogilvie, Siegfried. Not only in terms of vegetation and forms of agriculture, but judged also by the less tangible indices, such as quality of light, the Mediterranean borderlands have a common quality from Spain to the Levant. The sea has united, rather than separated, the peoples on its shores; being enclosed and relatively narrow, it has encouraged exploration and contact by a number of coastal peoples who have carried on its commerce and established its cross-routes. However early and however strong Palestine’s land connections with the E may have been, its frontage on the Mediterranean gave it, for better or worse, an identity with the coastlands, and so with Europe and Africa, which could not be overlooked, once sea travel became established.

But it would be quite insufficient to think of Pal. as only Mediterranean in character, because everywhere around its shores the influence of the sea is limited inland by relief and modification of climate. In fact, the Mediterranean influence in Pal. does not penetrate far enough inland to claim the whole even of this narrow land as its preserve. Other influences must be taken into account.

Palestine and the desert.

Palestine lies on the outer margin of one of the world’s great deserts. In numerous ways that desert makes its influence felt within the land—by the hot, dustladen winds that blow out from it; by the fingers of desert that encroach upon southern Judea and the Jordan Rift; most of all, however, by the repeated excursions of desert tribes from Arabia, reaching out to the more fertile lands beyond the desert rim. Over much of the Middle E, the desert continues down to the seashore. Here in Pal., there is a humid littoral some fifty to eighty m. wide, in which the ancient rivalries between the inhabitants of the desert and the sown land could be fought out. Thus George Adam Smith writes of Syria (HGHL, p. 30) as “the north end of the Arabian world,” and “the most common receptacle of the Arabian drift.”

Palestine and the ancient trade routes.

In Smith’s words is an implicit challenge to the normal “western” view of Pal. as a terminus of routes from the W; that is, as the eastern end of the Mediterranean world (which, in turn, was the world of Southern Europe). Since the desert lay behind the narrow Levant coastlands, there was no question of European trade routes continuing due E; it was necessary either to establish interchange points on the coast, or to avoid the area by diverting to N or S (i.e., along the lines which, in a much later period, became the Suez Canal route and the “Berlin-Baghdad” railway.) Quite apart, therefore, from the religious motivation that inspired the Crusades and produced their “foothold” kingdoms in the 12th and 13th centuries, there was excellent economic reason for European presence at the “end of the line” on the Levant coast, and excellent natural reason for Europeans penetrating no further. At the same time, and in the long run prob. more importantly, Pal. served as the “end of the line” in quite another sense for the inhabitants of the Arabian world, whether moving seasonally or permanently into its richer lands from their own arid territories.

Palestine and the nodetitle.

This northern end of the Arabian world is bordered by a belt of better watered lands that, roughly semicircular in shape, is well-known as the Fertile Crescent. It stretches from Egypt, through Pal. and northern Syria, to the Mesopotamian plain and the Persian Gulf. Its fertility is not due to a single cause—in the center of the arc it is largely attributable to rainfall, whereas at the two ends it is a result of irrigation waters from the Nile and Euphrates—but fertility of any kind has been attractive when bordered by desert and rugged mountains. Here in the Crescent grew up the early riverine civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, and communication between them made of Pal. a land of passage, the great routes of the ancient world following the narrow fertile belt between desert and sea (see Roads). With such a tantalizing zone of fertility forming the northern rim of their horizon, it is not difficult to explain the eruption of the desert tribes into the settled lands of the Crescent, or, for that matter, the rivalry between its two ends.

It has therefore become commonplace to speak of Pal. as a narrow bridge between N and S, at a point where the Fertile Crescent is curving in that direction, parallel with the Mediterranean coast. The list of invasions that has moved across this bridge, in both directions, is a long one (Smith, HGHL, pp. 32, 33). Today, however, this function is largely in abeyance, and it is safe to say that, if normal relations are ever restored in the Middle E, it is as a bridge between E and W rather than N and S that Pal. will be viewed, the oil pipelines of the 20th cent. replacing the Venetian trade links of the 13th. What is certain, however, is that the revelation of Himself made by God was set in lands whose situation has assured them, in successive periods, of focal importance in world affairs.

Landscapes and regions

Strategic though its position may be at the Middle Eastern crossroads, the land of Pal. is remarkable for its small size in contrast to such neighboring entities as Egypt, Arabia, or Syria. Its dimensions should be realized: from Dan to Beer-sheba, the historic limits of the land, is 145 m.; from the nearest point on the Mediterranean coast Jerusalem lies, as the crow flies, thirty-two m. inland, with Jericho fifteen m. further on. From Nazareth to Jerusalem, the straight-line distance is less than sixty-five m. (although the journey made by the boy Jesus and His parents would, admittedly, have involved greater distance and considerable detour). Lastly, the distance between Jerusalem and the city that was for so long its rival, if not its enemy—Samaria—is thirty-six m., or well within the everyday range of the modern commuter. On this small stage almost the whole of the Biblical drama, from Joshua to the early chs. of Acts, was played out.

Smallness does not mean in this instance, however, lack of variety. Within the confines of the land there are a coastal plain, two ranges of mountains, the world’s deepest surface gash, and an inland sea fifty m. in length. At least seven distinctive regions can be identified, whereas a refined version of this regional subdivision involves no less than forty-two units (Kallner and Rosenau [1939]).

The heartland (central highlands).

The heartland of Israel, in the centuries following occupation of Pal., lay in the hills that run between the coastline and the Jordan, and is roughly parallel to both. This “hill country” rises to a little over 3,000 ft.; it is at its broadest and highest in the latitude of Hebron, and both declines and becomes more broken as one goes either N or S from there. On the W, the slope of the hills toward the Mediterranean is relatively gentle: on the E, the descent to the Jordan valley is much more abrupt. None of this upland is genuinely fertile; cultivation is possible only where springs or wells of water are available, and much of it is true desert. The general impression is one of a bare and stony land, for the forests that once covered its moister parts have long since given way to axe or animal. In places, the horizontal limestone strata (see below) create the illusion that the hill slopes have been terraced, protruding as they do in a series of benches; terracing has indeed sometimes taken place, but in the main this is a country for pastoralists, rather than for cultivators.

The hills of Judea—the “mountains...round about Jerusalem” (Ps 125:2)—form a sufficiently compact mass to afford some military advantage to the nation occupying them, and this undoubtedly helped the southern kingdom by contrast to the northern, whereas the Philistines, the long-time enemies of Israel within the land, do not seem ever to have penetrated the massif. Northward from Jerusalem, in the “hill country of Ephraim,” lay the strongpoint of the northern kingdom after the separation. Here the upland becomes more broken and less defensible; it is more of a dissected plateau, with isolated summits such as Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, and it terminates northward in the broad block of nodetitle. Where it does so, the “heartland” terminates also, for as the hills open out northward they give access to the central lowland of Pal.—the nodetitle; that is to say, these northern hills are open to one of the great routeways of the ancient world. The heartland is essentially mountainous—the enemies of Israel reasonably concluded that Israel’s God was a god of the hills (1 Kings 20:23). In its fertile pockets, the most powerful of the twelve tribes made their homes, very much as the Scottish clans occupied the fertile glens among the barren hills, the strength of the tribe or clan depending upon the extent of the fertile area under its control.

The northern end of the upland includes the region of Samaria, an intermediate zone of scattered hills, where movement is easier (Smith points out [HGHL, p. 220] that most of the references to chariot driving in the OT apply to this area; such a vehicle could have made little headway over the hills of Judea) and where attack was more likely. The main range, although interrupted by the descent to the Plain of Esdraelon, sends out an arm in a NW direction that reaches the sea coast in the blunt promontory of Mount Carmel.

Carmel rises to less than 2,000 ft., but it does so directly from the seashore, and therefore forms a more impressive feature than its altitude figure would suggest. Projecting westward as it does, the Carmel range receives a somewhat higher rainfall than the area to the E of it, and its vegetation is different in consequence; the cover is denser and included, in the past, a good deal of woodland.

The Carmel range is only four to five m. broad, but it effectively cuts off the coastal plains of Philistia and Sharon to the S from the narrower coastlands of Phoenicia. It also acts as a low but definite barrier between Sharon and the Plain of Esdraelon, and so lies across the historic route between Egypt and Mesopotamia (see nodetitle). This has given to the passes through the range a particular importance, out of all proportion to the difficulty of crossing it: an importance that has in the past extended to the towns that stood at the northern end of the gaps, esp. Megiddo, and which persisted at least up to the time of Napoleon’s campaign of 1797.

The Plain of Esdraelon.

The mountains that form a rugged backbone for Pal., from Judea N to the Lebanon, are interrupted for a short distance N of Samaria by a downfaulted basin that affords a lowland passage from the seacoast N of Carmel to the Jordan valley. Nowhere along this E-W line does the altitude rise above 300 ft.: the basin itself is linked with the coast by the valley of the Kishon and with the Jordan by the narrow vale of Jezreel. The central plain itself is roughly triangular in shape, with a side of some fifteen miles. It has a floor of alluvium that, when drained, yields excellent soil, given peaceful conditions in which to cultivate it. Formerly it was marshy, and Sisera’s chariots came to grief there (Judg 4:15; 5:21).

From the surrounding hills, the plain must have appeared a tempting goal, and the Israelites duly occupied it. As Baly remarks (Baly, 1957, p. 148), if it was Jewish territory, it was “a possession for which they paid very dearly.” For if Judea has been the heartland, Esdraelon has been the cockpit—the crossroads where armies converged and battles were fought. Seldom has the potential fertility of the plain been available for peaceful exploitation: its location is too vital to the broader purposes of peace and war. (For a list of the battles fought here, see Smith, HGHL, pp. 253-268. Rev 16:16 would seem to indicate that the list is not yet complete: Armageddon-Mount Megiddo.)


Beyond the transverse break in the mountain chain created by the Plain of Esdraelon, the land rises again, abruptly, to the hills of Galilee. A series of scarp edges overlook the plain on the N, rising as much as 1,000 ft. above it, and forming the rim of Lower Galilee. This northern edge of the plain is dominated by the isolated summit of Mount Tabor. The region is normally divided into two—an upper and a lower section—for descriptive purposes; Lower Galilee has summits averaging 2,000 ft. in elevation, whereas Upper Galilee beyond it rises to 3,000 ft. and more. Similar in structure, the two parts of the region are very different in landscape. Lower Galilee, a land of limestone hills and fertile basins, was one of the garden spots of the ancient world, well populated, and supporting a considerable number of cities. It received the accolade from Josephus as “universally rich and fruitful,” and certainly from the gospel narratives there emerges the picture of a region throbbing with life. The settlements and cultivated lands lay in a series of basins in the hills, separated from each other by low and often barren divides. The ministry of Jesus would have taken Him out of the Nazareth basin, which lies just N of the scarp above Esdraelon, and over the surrounding hills, from settlement to settlement, through the olive groves that spread over the lower slopes and the fields of grain that covered the basin floors.

Upper Galilee, by contrast, is in Baly’s phrase “aloof and windswept.” It is higher, wetter, and more exposed, and it forms a kind of transition zone between Pal. proper and the mountains of Lebanon. Its population has always been sparse, and Smith (HGHL), ever alert to the military or strategic situation, saw a parallel with the mountain rim of Britain’s Indian Empire on the NW Frontier. The “step up” from Lower to Upper Galilee occurs on a line level with the northern end of the nodetitle, N of which summit levels increase to 3,000 ft. and above.

These Galilean hills fall away eastward to the shores of the lake; from 2,000 or 3,000 ft. above sea level they drop to 680 ft. below. Level by level during the descent, the climate and vegetation change—from cheerless moorland and woods to tropical heat and vegetation at the lakeside. Formerly, these eastward-facing slopes of the Galilean hills, with their fruit and grain crops, supported a whole string of lakeshore towns; not only did the lake itself provide employment in fishing and transport, but this western shore of the lake carried a section of the main N-S trade route, a route that crossed the lowland just N of the lake and headed for Damascus. Lower Galilee then lay across the commercial axes of the land favored both by climate and by situation, and its population grew dense. At the time of the Jewish war it is estimated that its population was 400,000 (Reifenberg [1955]) and that it possessed at least nine towns with a population of more than 15,000.

These three regions, the heartland, the central plain, and Galilee, together make up the N-S spine of Pal. Parallel with this spine, to E and W, runs a line of lowland.

The coastal plain.

On the W, between the mountains and the sea, is the coastal plain, comprising the plain of Philistia in the S (the Philistine homeland that contained their five cities of Gaza, Gath, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ekron); the plain of Sharon to the N of this, up to the point where the Carmel promontory (see above) reduces the coastal lowland to a few hundred ft. in width, and the plain of Asher N of Carmel. The last of these three areas of plain is linked by the Kishon valley with the Plain of Esdraelon. At its northern end, the coastal lowland is finally squeezed out by the mountains and N of here, in Phoenicia, it is present only in a few isolated areas.

As the Israelites first knew it, in the 13th cent. b.c. or thereabout, the plain that bordered their Great Sea was of little value to a nation of cultivators; although it possessed alluvial soils of high quality, much of it was covered with either drifting sand, forest, or marsh. Along the coast a dune barrier made sheltered landing points rare, and diverted the outflowing rivers into lagoons and swamps, which had to be drained. The forest of Sharon was gradually reduced by cutting, and the drifting sands have now to some extent been halted by planting trees.

With all these natural drawbacks, it was still an area that had much to offer to a people subsisting in the Judean hills. It was also a part of the land of promise. This being the case, the Israelites made constant attempts to occupy it. Their wars with its inhabitants, the Philistines, are a prominent feature of the record of Judges and Samuel, but their successes were rare. It was not until the reign of David that decisive victories were registered against the Philistines, and it prob. would be fair to say that, in modern terms, Israel had a thorough-going inferiority complex about them before David showed the way by killing their champion, Goliath (1 Sam 17). It was prob. in consequence both of the natural hosility of the coastline and the military hostility of its inhabitants that Israel developed no attachment to the sea (see Sea). Most of the important harbor cities of the Levant lie N of Carmel—esp. in Phoenicia—and it was not until a Herod constructed Caesarea that a significant port was created S of Carmel, and then it was a wholly artificial harbor.


With its northern tip under the shadow of Mt. Carmel, the coastal plain broadens steadily southward between the sea and the hills. As it does so, an intermediate or piedmont zone appears, breaking the descent from the mountains to the sea. This piedmont zone was given by the Hebrews the paradoxical name of “valley” (shephelah q.v.), although in reality it is a belt of gently rolling, low hills between 500 and 1,000 ft. in height (Smith [HGHL] describes them as “downs” in the English sense), separated from the mountain chain by a narrow valley. The name Shephelah is now commonly used in regional descriptions of the area.

The main significance of this region was military. Because the Shephelah lay between the coastal plain and the mountains of Judea, it could act as a kind of “outwork” to the defenses of the heartland. As Baly puts it (Baly [1957], p. 144), “Whereas conquest of the Shephelah was always a necessary preliminary to the conquest of the mountains, it was only a preliminary.” These wooded hills (they formerly had a covering of sycamores) would serve to slow an attack from the W, which would thus lose its momentum before it confronted the main mountain defenses of Judea. In all their campaigns against Israel, the Philistines do not seem to have breached the outwork; their decisive victory against Saul was gained far to the N, at Mt. Gilboa (1 Sam 31), whereas a number of Israel’s successful actions against the Philistines took place precisely in the area protected by the Shephelah (cf. 1 Sam 14:13; 2 Sam 5:25, etc.).

The Shephelah, however, protected Judah only and not that part of the central spine lying further N. These piedmont hills, of Eocene limestone (see IV below), do not extend much further N than the latitude of Jerusalem—one more military disadvantage for the northern kingdom after its separation from Judah. They terminate, in fact, immediately N of the famous valley of Aijalon, up and down which so many of the invaders of Judah either marched or fled.

The Jordan Rift Valley.

To the E of the central spine, the hills drop precipitously to what is not so much a plain as a hole in the earth’s surface. Nowhere else does that surface sink to such levels: -1,274 ft. at the shore of the Dead Sea, and -2,600 ft. at the sea’s deepest point. This hole, occupied in turn by the upper Jordan, the Sea of Galilee (600 ft. below sea level), the main stem of the Jordan, the Dead Sea, and the broad valley of the Arabah is the result of crustal faulting of the surface and forms part of a much larger system of faults crossing the Middle East into Africa.

It begins in the N, where the headstreams of the Jordan drop down from Lebanon, and reach the small Lake Huleh (now largely drained and reclaimed) as a normal valley. South of here, however, the Jordan enters a gorge, and cuts its way down to the Sea of Galilee. There is nothing in the appearance of the rolling, grass-covered slopes of this once busy region to betray the fact that it is below sea level; the lake is some twelve m. by five, and its shores are steep though not precipitous. South of the lake, the Jordan enters a trench known as the Ghor, and continues to fall, entering an environment on the trench floor that is largely desert. In this floor, the river has incised itself to a depth of as much as 150 ft. Within the incision, there is a dense, jungle-like vegetation of tamarisk and willow, but this ends abruptly where steep, bare cliffs mark the rise to the main floor of the trench; stained with minerals, these cliffs give “the impression of a chemical slagheap in an industrial area” (Fisher [1961], p. 403).

Crossing the Ghor would have been a laborious undertaking in OT times, and Joshua’s monument at Gilgal (Josh 4:20) marked an important milestone in Israel’s journeys. To recross the Jordan, starting from the hills of Judah, involves a 4,000 ft. descent into the cauldron of the Ghor (where the temperature may reach 100oF. every day for three months in the summer), and then the problem of crossing the Jordan bed itself before starting up the 4,000 ft. climb into the hills of Moab.

The Jordan emerges eventually into the Dead Sea basin, with the mountains of Judea towering in huge cliffs above the western shore (one of them crowned by Herod’s great stronghold of Masada) and the eastern wall of the valley rising more smoothly, but to an equal height, across the eight to nine m. wide sea. South of here the trench bears the name of Arabah; it is virtually waterless, and rises to some 650 ft. above sea level before falling away to the Gulf of Akaba.


Beyond the Jordan to the E, the mountains rise in another N-S chain to form what is, in many ways, a different world from that W of the river. Although the two are separated in space only by the width of the Ghor, “it is necessary to insist upon the ‘otherness’ of the country E of the Jordan, because it goes a long way to explain the constant tendency of the Trans-Jordanians to feel that they are a separate people” (Baly [1957], p. 218). Yet owing to the original settlement of two and a half tribes E of Jordan (Num 31:1-27), part at least of this area must be—and by the Jews was—regarded as belonging to “the land.”

The mountains E of the river increase generally in height from N to S; in Bashan, E of Galilee, they are around 2,000 ft., and they rise southward, through Gilead and Moab, to reach over 5,000 ft. in Edom (where they form the Biblical Mt. Seir). This rise in height runs counter to a general decline in rainfall going from N to S (see V below), so that the mountains represent a narrow belt of well-watered land, thirty to fifty m. wide, between the tongue of desert in the Ghor to their W, and the main Arabian desert to their E. The highest summits are on the W, overlooking the Jordan valley, and both the surface and the amount of rainfall drop away to the E toward the margin of the true desert. The Mediterranean influences and specifically Mediterranean crops such as the olive and vine do not penetrate so far inland as to cross this second range of mountains, but the region is fertile and attractive enough to have diverted the two and a half tribes from any ambition to settle W of Jordan, whereas the resources of the region enabled Moab and Edom to develop sufficient strength to be quite formidable rivals of Israel. They also served as a constant temptation to desert tribes from further E.

This N-S strip of fertility and heathy upland is divided by nature into several sections by the valleys of Jordan tributaries cutting deep gorges where they plunge down to reach the floor of the Jordan Trench. These gorges form major obstacles even today, and the ancient highway that ran along the chain (see nodetitle) wound round their heads. From N to S the rivers are the Yarmuk, which divides Bashan from Gilead, the Jabbok, the Arnon, and the Zered, the latter forming the historic boundary between Moab and Edom.

Since the rivers divide the terrain into sections, it is possible to distinguish several subregions from N to S. The northern end of the range (lower in altitude), known both as Bashan and Hauran, receives plentiful rainfall from across Lower Galilee and possesses fertile volcanic soils. Consequently, it became an important cereal growing area, and served as one of the granaries of Rome. Its surface is that of an irregular plateau.

To the S lies Gilead, more mountainous and formerly almost as well known for its trees as was Lebanon. It produced its famous balm and it yielded excellent pasture which was what originally attracted the tribes of Reuben and Gad (Num 32:1), and which still attracts desert tribes to it in summer. To the S of Gilead lies Moab, whose king was a “sheep breeder” (2 Kings 3:4), able to deliver 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams to the king of Israel, although his country was subsequently devastated. Still further S lies Edom, among the highest mountains of the range (up to 5,700 ft.). The Edomites appear constantly in the Biblical narrative, but seldom in the role for which they were best known in the contemporary world—as traders, operating across the deserts from their rock hewn base at Petra. Their territory lay, on the whole, S of Pal., their northern boundary, the Zered River, entering the Dead Sea at its southern tip.

Thus this narrow strip of well watered land on the desert boundary, all of which fell for, some period at least, under Israel’s control, displays a wide variety of surface and produce, and added considerably to the resources of Pal. proper.

Regions bordering Palestine.

These seven regions (above) comprise the land of Pal., but it is necessary also to place them in their larger setting by noticing how they relate to bordering regions on the N, E and S.


Reference already has been made to the transitional character of Upper Galilee. Going N from the land, the traveler finds himself climbing steadily toward higher mountains—the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon. The former, to the W, rise directly from the coast, and are separated from the latter by a valley some ten to fifteen m. wide. The Anti-Lebanon, lying twenty-five to thirty m. inland, terminate at their southern end in the great mass of Mt. Hermon, “the majestic newel post of Israel” (Baly), rising to over 9,000 ft., and capped with permanent snows. The Lebanon mountains themselves rise above 10,000 ft., and with their abundant rainfall carry a forest cover that once included the famous cedars (only a few groups of these remain). High up on their limestone slopes, spring lines occur, and the most important role played by these northern mountains is undoubtedly to provide water, not only for the Jordan, but, in larger quantities, for the rivers flowing N and W through Syria.

Between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon lies the N-S valley known as the Bekaa which is followed by parts of the Orontes and Litani rivers and contains the “entrance to Hamath” (Num 34:8), or northern gateway to Palestine.

The Anti-Lebanon, although its snows supply the rivers Abana and Pharpar (2 Kings 5:12) with water as they flow E past Damascus, generally lacks the springs, like those that occur on the slopes of the Lebanon, and is a dry, barren range for the most part. To the E of it lie a series of lesser ranges of the same character, which fade off into the desert and are the home of nomads who pasture animals on their sparse vegetation.

In the desert, however, E of the mountains, lies the oasis of Damascus, and this has given to the NE corner of Pal. a much greater importance than its resources might lead one to expect. This has been a gateway into the land over which countless invaders have traveled, and through which the Apostle Paul passed to his encounter on the road (Acts 9:3)—the road along the foot of the Anti-Lebanon and skirting the hills of Bashan. By this route, the influence of civilizations and lands further E has penetrated into northern Palestine.

The desert to the east.

The desert everywhere touches, of course, the eastern border of the land. The higher rainfalls produced by the Trans-Jordan mountains quickly fade out in the “rain-shadow” to the E, and the steppe becomes desert. Much of what lies beyond the margin is volcanic in character; lava flows of basalt form ragged outcrops or isolated hills, and these reach their highest elevation in the Jebel Druse (almost 5,000 ft.), a wild region of rocks and caves, which has historically served as a refuge for outlaws and minority groups. The northeastern edge of the land was not always so desolate as it today appears: the Decapolis (q.v.), the league of Gr. cities E of the Jordan, extended far out into the desert, supported by elaborate aqueducts and irrigation works, and carrying on a flourishing trade between E and W.

The desert to the south.

There remains the southern border of the land. It was on this side that Pal. lay most open to attack by desert tribes. There is no topographic barrier like the Jordan Valley on the E; the land rises in gentle undulations to the Judean mountains. Nor is there a counterpart of the Shephelah to provide an outpost line. On the contrary, here in the S, the desert penetrates deep into the land, embracing southern and southeastern Judea, which thus formed a natural part of the territory over which the desert tribes ranged. It was a troublesome frontier, therefore. Its barren character (see South) gave the Hebrews their word for the S—נֶגֶב, parched. Israel’s hold on the desert was never long maintained S of Beer-sheba; Baly (1957) states that only three times in their history did the Jewish kingdoms overcome the natural obstacles sufficiently to hold the Negev for a short time. The Negev in any case did not belong to the land of promise: the border of the land promised to Abraham was to extend from the “river of Egypt” to the Euphrates (Gen 15:18) and the former, now the Habesor, reaches the sea at Gaza, having risen SE of Beer-sheba. On this frontier at least, then, Judah maintained its position in the God-given land up to the time of the captivity.

Geology and structure

The general position of Pal. in relation to Middle Eastern structures can be likened to a building. The principal feature is the basement complex or stable shield area, formed of very ancient crystalline materials, against which pressure from the N has forced younger materials. The effect of this pressure (which appears to be still continuing) has been to cause cracks in the basement rocks—since they tend to fault rather than fold—and some of the major faults determining structures are shown on the relief map. To this pressure, in particular, are attributable the form of the Red Sea, the separation of Arabia from Africa, and the existence of the Rift Valley occupied by the Jordan and Dead Sea.

North of the Arabian and Egyp. shield areas, the main zone of folding is to be found in Asia Minor and Iran, whereas between these two major belts is an intermediate zone of moderate folding—less pronounced than that of the Anatolian or Persian mountains, but sufficient to raise the Lebanon Mountains as an anticlinal chain reaching 10,000 ft.

As is often the case in a zone of pressure against a stable mass, the Palestinian borderland has for long periods been submerged beneath seas forming in a downfold at the margin of the shield. Consequently, marine deposits are abundant, and whereas the early geological history of the land was dominated by the deposition of Nubian sandstone (which seems to have continued over a very long period of Paleozoic and Mesozoic time), the later stages were marked by deposition of limestone, chalk, and chalky marls.

These materials have been gently folded, mainly on a N-S axis, so that the Lebanon, the Anti-Lebanon and the Judean mountains all represent anticlinal features. Much more prominent, however, are the results of the faulting. These are concentrated in two areas: (1) Galilee, where a large number of step faults occur, mostly running E-W, giving the region its basin structure and the general form of the “staircase” descending from Upper to Lower Galilee; (2) the main Rift Valley. The latter must rank as one of the outstanding tectonic features of the earth’s crust, a feature to rank with the erosional wonders of the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. The line of the rift can be traced S from Pal., through the Arabah and the Gulf of Akaba to the Red Sea, and thence through Ethiopia into E Africa. As the map shows, the rift becomes pronounced only where it reaches its lowest point at the Dead Sea, but from there S, the faults on either side are almost continuous and remarkably parallel. The floor of the rift has been let down and then filled with a considerable depth of recent deposits among which the most prominent are the white Lisan beds on the shores of the Dead Sea. Elsewhere, by contrast, there is little evidence of faulting, and the geological map does not indicate the presence of any faults, e.g., in the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem. (There has in the past been speculation regarding a connection between tectonic activity and possible fulfillment of apocalyptic statements set in this area.)

With the long continued marine deposition and the lack of severe folding, most of the rocks exposed in Pal. are of secondary age or later. The oldest formation covering any substantial area is the Nubian sandstone, the main spread of which lies S of Pal. (It is in this rosecolored sandstone that the desert city of Petra is carved.) The dating of this formation seems difficult to establish, but its deposition appears to have stretched from Paleozoic into Mesozoic time, and to represent tribal conditions beyond the marine transgressions occurring further W. It overlies the granites of the basement complex, so that the latter are not exposed anywhere within the borders of Pal., although they are close to the surface in the Negev.

To a remarkable degree, the spine of Pal. is the province of two, and only two, formations, both of them of Cretaceous age. These are the Cenomanian limestones and the Senonian chalk, both of them named for comparable formations occurring in the Paris Basin in France. They were laid down in a series of marine transgressions, beginning in the Jurassic period (and attested by the presence of limestones of that age), and reaching their climax in the Cretaceous period that succeeded it. Deposition of limestone or chalky sediments continued through the Senonian (or Upper Chalk) period into the Eocene, and these Eocene limestones also cover considerable expanses within the land.

The oldest of these formations, the Cenomanian, is the limestone that underlies W Judea, much of Galilee, and the Carmel range; in area, it is the most extensive in Pal. It is folded only gently, if at all, and on the bare hillsides the individual strata often protrude in such horizontal bedding that they create the impression of being artificial terraces. As in most limestone country, caves are common; surface water is scanty, and karstic features are found everywhere, so that in this climate the resulting landscape is often rock strewn and uneven in appearance. Water supply occurs in the form of springs and spring lines, and the population that these can support is necessarily clustered around them and limited in numbers. The Cenomanian yields little soil, and in general produces at best a grassland and shrub vegetation.

The Senonian, or Upper Chalk, is rather less extensive. It can, however, easily be distinguished from the limestone above and below it by the landscape it creates. It is softer than either the Cenomanian or Eocene limestone, and forms smoothly rounded or rolling hills, quite different in outline from those carved from the more massive limestones. In Judea, this transition from smooth slopes to abrupt ones with cliffs, crags, and gorges is best seen on the eastern side of the mountains, where they fall toward the Dead Sea.

Chalky marls (or chalk with an admixture of clay) often are found in association with the chalk, and in the desert these form a truly depressing landscape, “a series of greyish white or yellow hillocks” (Fisher, 1961).

The Senonian formations, being less resistant, also can be distinguished from the Cenomanian because they normally form lower features or valleys. Thus the valley, e.g., which separates the Shephelah from the main upland of Judea, is developed on the Senonian.

The Eocene period, at the beginning of the Tertiary, saw the continued deposition of limestones, and these remain intact in Upper Galilee, Samaria, and the Shephelah, although most of the cover has been removed from the main mountain areas. In the case of the Shephelah, the Eocene forms rolling hills on the flank of the main upland.

To these basic Palestinian structures and formations, a great variety of more recent materials has been added in the form of a drift cover. One of the main sources of these materials has been vulcanicity. Basalt flows of various dates have spread over the land, mainly from the much larger lava fields to the E, e.g., the Jebel Druse. Galilee is the region of the land most affected, for to the lava it owes not only the existence of the Sea of Galilee (ponded back behind a basaltic barrier) but also the fertility of its soils. There is indeed a striking contrast between the limestone and the lava in this respect.

Most of this volcanic activity is recent, and some of it is still going on, as witness the hot springs at Tiberias on the shore of Galilee and at other points in the Rift Valley, where the reaction of heat with mineral substances produces rock colors that remind one of the comparable area of Yellowstone Park.

Others of the recent surface materials are produced by wind action. There are patches of loess, the fine wind-borne dust that settles in thick blankets around desert areas and produces soils of fine structure and fertility, if they can be watered. There are also, esp. on the borders of the Negev, areas blown clear of all finer materials, and which therefore possess a surface of stones and pebbles; in some cases the wind has blown out considerable hollows or depressions, with stony floors. These features are known as hamadas. Along the coast, too, are wind-blown sand dunes stretching, in some cases, several m. inland, a permanent threat to the cultivated lands.

The remainder of the drift cover is composed of alluvia; that is, of water-borne materials, which in some cases date back to the Tertiary period and in others represent the product of the last winter’s rainfall. The dry summers of Pal. and the centuries of soil erosion that have stripped the land (as discussed in sections V and VIII below) have produced between them a huge volume of loose, eroded material to be washed either to the sea or to the Jordan, and in the case of the latter it must be borne in mind that the great depth of the Rift Valley gives the rivers flowing—or rather falling—into it an immense cutting power. Changes in level of the Mediterranean Sea have insured the existence of a broad alluvial plain S of Carmel, whereas in the Rift Valley it is necessary to imagine the Dead Sea, or some predecessor of it, as occupying the whole valley floor as far N as Galilee and well S of its present terminus. Likewise the Plain of Esdraelon is floored with recent materials; like the Lake Huleh basin further N it was, until reclaimed in the 20th cent., swampy and of little agricultural use.


The marginal character of Pal. is first and foremost a fact of climate. It is a product of the interplay between continental and maritime influences, in a small but mountainous area bordered on three sides by landmasses and on the fourth by the sea. This situation is then rendered more complex by the interlocking of sea and land in the Middle E; the Persian Gulf, for example, considerably affects the pressure systems, esp. in summer, and the Mediterranean itself acts in some climatic senses more like a large lake than an ocean. As a result, the main source areas of the air masses that affect Pal. are the Indian Ocean and Asia Minor, but air from these regions reaches Pal. along circuitous routes and is considerably changed in character by the time it arrives.

Summer conditions.

In summer, a trough of low pressure lies over the Persian Gulf and a smaller low is to be found in a direct E-W line with this, over Cyprus. These lows draw in from the Indian Ocean monsoon air; it flows over Mesopotamia, and tends to circle round Cyprus, arriving back over the Pal. coast from the W. Such moisture as it had at its source is long since shed, and it is this air that dominates over Pal. in summer, yielding a little cloud and dew but virtually not a drop of rain between June and September. Rarely does cooler air from northern latitudes succeed in reaching the area in these summer months; the only variations occur when continental air from Africa and Arabia is drawn northwards, intensifying the heat. These inflows of desert air are common occurrences all along the outer margins of tropical deserts; they may be known by the name of sirocco applied to the hot desert wind, or in Egypt as khamsin, and in the Levant sometimes as shlouq. They make life almost intolerable while they last, with relative humidity very low and clouds of dust and grit filling the stifling air.

Winter conditions.

In winter, although the Eurasian and African landmasses are dominated by high pressure conditions, the Middle E and esp. the Levant experience much more variable conditions than in summer. Between the two highs there is an irregular succession of lows—that is, of depressions—that form and reform during the winter months. Most of these have their origins over the Mediterranean, whose indented coastline and irregular mountain border offer plenty of atmospheric “backwaters” in which depressions can form. Some of them are prob. the survivors of the Atlantic depressions that cross southern France from the Bay of Biscay. All of them tend to strike the Levant coast, with its obstructing mountains, and some of them survive and even intensify as they veer northward toward Iraq and Iran. As they pass, they draw in continental air from both N and S, and this may be of varied character, wet or dry, cold or relatively warm, by the time it reaches the Levant coast. Consequently, winter weather in Pal. is considerably less predictable than summer heat and droughts; Eurasia, Africa, and the sea all in turn influence temperature and rainfall.


Palestine lies between 30o and 33o N Latitude. Summer temperatures are therefore likely to be high, but modified locally by elevation and distance from the sea. In fact, the relief of the country is broken enough to provide some striking local variations in temperature. Along the coastal plain, the summer winds blow steadily onshore, and tend to hold down temperatures from reaching oppressive levels. The daily range in summer is small, but the relative humidity is high. Further from the coast in summer, the effect of the sea breezes is lost (they may arrive, but too late in the day to moderate the heat), and while relative humidity falls to very low levels (less than twenty percent at noon in Jericho) the daily range of temperature is somewhat greater, making the heat slightly more bearable. In the mountains, temperatures fall off with increasing elevation, but at Jerusalem the average daily temperature in August is still over 74oF, despite the 2,500-ft. elevation.

In winter, as might be expected, the coastal plain possesses a mild climate, and frost is virtually unknown. In the mountains, however, temperatures fall off markedly with height, to produce a long lying snow cover in Lebanon and the mountains of Trans-Jordan. The effect of relief is, in fact, rather complex; Jerusalem, at 2,500 ft., has a January mean of 47oF., whereas Jericho, at -840 ft., has 59o, not simply because of low elevation, but because, down in the Rift Valley, winter nights are bitterly cold although winter day temperatures will rise high. The mean is misleading in giving the impression that Jericho in January has the same temperature conditions as Florida; it certainly does not.

The annual range of temperatures for stations on the coast, in the Judean hills and in the Rift Valley, is as set out in the following table:

The fierce summer heat of the desert, intensified by the sunken nature of the Rift, shows in the high summer figures for Jericho. With a mean of 88oF. for two months, and daily range of 25-27o, the daytime temperature exceeds 100o regularly between June and September. Although such maxima do not occur at higher elevations within the land, the rest of Pal. does experience, from time to time in summer, desert-like conditions, when air from Arabia is drawn N by a period of lowered pressures in that direction. Strong winds blow from the S (Luke 12:55; see also nodetitle), the temperature may rise by as much as 30oF., and the relative humidity falls to ten percent or less.


Rain is the most important factor in Palestine’s climate; not only in amount, but in season of occurrence, its regime dominates life in the land (see also Rain).

Rain-bearing winds reach the Levant from the SW. They are charged with moisture by their passage across the Mediterranean, and those reaching the northern Levant have had a longer fetch over the sea than those that merely “cut the corner” from Egypt to Philistia. Consequently, it is generally true that rainfall declines from N to S throughout the Levant. Equally, it follows that the amount diminishes as one leaves the coast behind, so that there would be, over a level surface, a regular transition from, for example, forty inches of rainfall annually on the coast, through a steppe region with twenty or fifteen inches, to desert where the rainfall in a given year may be two inches or zero.

Rainfall, however, is not the result simply of distance from the sea but of relief. The mountains of the Levant lie across the path of the rain bearing southwesterlies, obliging them to rise and to precipitate their moisture. Especially during the second half of the rainy season (i.e., the spring), this relief or orographic factor is important in determining the amount of rain that falls, at least on the windward slopes of the hills. On the E, or leeward, side in consequence, there is likely to be a “rain shadow”; the winds have deposited their moisture on the W facing slopes, and are drying out as they descend the E side of the mountains. This situation accounts for the tongue of desert that protrudes N up the Jordan Rift, and it intensifies the change to desert conditions that takes place on the E side of the mountains of Edom, which themselves receive fifteen to twenty inches. It equally works to the advantage of a few areas: Bashan (or Hauran), lying E of Galilee, receives a rainfall high enough to have made it fertile and prosperous as a granary of the Rom. empire because between it and the sea lies the Plain of Esdraelon and the relatively low region of Lower Galilee, and the rain-bearing winds from the sea can pass over these low elevations without losing all their moisture.

There are thus two possible generalizations about rainfall: (1) it diminishes from N to S, and (2) it diminishes from W to E across Pal. Both of these must be qualified by a third: (3) it depends on elevation and aspect. The resultant pattern is shown on the map.

The amounts shown on the map, however, are by no means dependable. Records kept in Jerusalem since 1846 show that whereas the long term average is in the region of twenty-five inches, only ten inches were received in 1932/3 and 1950/1, but in 1877/8, forty-three inches fell. In Nazareth, the figures for maximum and minimum annual totals are fifty-five and fifteen inches. It is axiomatic that, the lower the rainfall, the more unreliable it tends to be, and the more serious the fluctuations become. Famine plays a prominent part in the Biblical record from its first pages onward: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all experienced privations in the land, and Elijah warned Ahab (1 Kings 17:1) of famine conditions which lasted for three years. Although the tribes of the desert expected drought, and led a nomadic, pastoralist life, to the settled cultivators of Pal. it came as a periodic disaster, unpredictable and ruinous. As farmers and ranchers on the Great Plains of America have cause to know, it is the tendency of dry years to occur in rows that is the most devastating part of their effect: the farmer can withstand one, or perhaps even two, and still tide himself over but Elijah and Israel lived through three and Joseph saved the Middle E when no less than seven subnormal years of rainfall occurred in succession.

In the absence of rain, the dew (q.v.) plays an important part in the water supply of Pal., producing as much as one-quarter of the total amount of moisture in some areas. Dew is produced by cooling overnight of moisture-bearing air, and the source of this is, of course, the Mediterranean. Consequently, dews are heaviest on the coast, where they may occur on over 200 nights in the year, and diminish inland.

Undoubtedly the most significant factor in Palestine’s rainfall is its concentration in the winter season. This is a characteristic of all Mediterranean climates, and it is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Falling in winter, the precipitation is not immediately claimed by evaporation under a hot summer sun; it has a chance to soak into the earth and to charge springs and wells. The fact that it falls in winter also means that there is no precipitation in the growing season, when it is most needed. Mediterranean farmers historically, therefore, either have had to rely on snow-melt from the mountains (e.g., the Alps) for their summer moisture, or else must resort to storage of winter rain water and irrigation in summer.

The dry season in Pal. is clearly defined. Between mid-June and mid-September, it is virtually certain that no rain will fall. The blocking effect of a generally high pressure area in the western Mediterranean insures the undisturbed dominance in this period of dry and stable air that has crossed from the Persian Gulf and remained well warmed over the landlocked Mediterranean. Consequently, summer conditions are highly predictable. The longterm means for Jerusalem shows negligible rainfall recorded in June, July, August, and September; Tel Aviv over the period 1931-1960 recorded zero precipitation for June, July, and August, and only one-third to half a percent of the annual total falling in May and September.

For the farmer everything depends on the rains falling in the other seven or eight months of the year. The replacement of the dry monsoon air of summer by moister air from the W starts, rather hesitantly, in September, when a few showers may fall. It is not until October that thunderstorms generally herald the inward movement of maritime air from the W, nor does this moist air achieve anything like the same dominance over Pal. as does the summer air mass. Indeed, the “take-over” may be considerably delayed, which is disastrous when it occurs. Delay holds up farm work, esp. plowing, and reduces the period during which the rains can recharge the springs and wells from which the population has drawn its summer water supply. It is therefore not surprising (see nodetitle) that the Bible pictures the farmer as waiting for the “early” rain (James 5:7, etc.); that is, for the onset of the rainy season to relieve the drought of summer. He is almost certain (Baly, 1957) that the later the start of the rains, the smaller his harvest will be the following year.

After the onset of the rains in October, there may be another pause, and then the winter months are all wet. Eighty-four percent of the annual precipitation at Tel Aviv occurs in the months November through February; in the mountains of Judea the figure is seventy-seven to eighty percent. On the coast, December is the wettest month. In the mountains of the central “spine” it is usually January, and in the northern Negev the maximum—though scanty in total—occurs in March. March is also often the wettest month in Trans-Jordan. The rains come in with the depressions from the W; they are irregular in occurrence, and normally last for a day or two, after which there is a dry and finer period. This sequence is repeated at weekly or ten-day intervals throughout the rainy period. Rains usually are heavy and brief, rather than gentle and prolonged; they are produced by the movement of unstable air over a highly differentiated land surface.

By March, on the coast, and April, further inland, the rains begin to taper off. As this is the season of intense activity on the land, and the only part of the rainy season with rising temperatures and consequent plant growth, the importance of these late (or latter) rains is very great. A dry spring will reduce the volume of the harvest (the barley crop will be harvested in April or early May) and perhaps increase the danger of late frosts. Since the following months, as the farmer knows, are going to be completely dry, the longer the rains continue, the better he is likely to be pleased.

As, therefore, the rains between November and February are assured, even though their total may be uncertain, the incidence of rainfall in October and March is highly uncertain, and consequently becomes a matter for prayer to God and patient acceptance of what He is pleased to send.

Climatic regions.

It will now be possible, following Baly (1957), to give a brief regional description of the climates of Pal.

Coastal plains.

On the coastal plains, the proximity of the Mediterranean is felt in the cooling sea breezes that moderate daytime heat, and in the greater amounts of moisture received here, either as rainfall or as dew, compared with points inland. The summer weather is not particularly pleasant, however, as considerable heat often combines with high humidity in a way known to those who live on the Middle Atlantic seaboard of the USA; and although daytime maxima are depressed by sea breezes, night temperatures are uncomfortably high. Rainfall diminishes from N to S, and beyond Gaza the desert reaches the coast. The rainfall maximum occurs here early in December rather than in January.

Central highlands.

In the mountains of the central spine, elevation tends to compensate for distance from the sea to maintain rainfall at constant amounts; thus Tel Aviv at sea level and Jerusalem at 2,500 ft. have virtually the same totals. In the mountains, the N receives more precipitation than the S, height for height. The increasing elevation reduces maximum temperatures and widens the daily range so that frost, unknown on the southern coast, is a common occurrence on the Judean hills, and snow falls from time to time. At higher levels, e.g., on Mt. Hermon or across the Rift Valley in Edom, snow lies long in winter. The mountain climate is generally invigorating and pleasant, apart from occasional very low temperatures in winter and injections of hot desert air in summer.

Rift Valley.

In the Rift Valley E of the mountains, the influence of the Mediterranean is seldom felt. The valley lies in a profound rain shadow, and the desert margin swings N to include the floor of the Rift almost as far as the Sea of Galilee. The valley S of Jericho receives a very uncertain two inches of rain a year; the rain-bearing winds blow over this great gash and deposit their moisture on Edom or Gilead. In the N, however, where Lower Galilee offers little barrier to the passage of these winds, the latter retain some part of their moisture and arrive over the depression around the lake to encounter conditions that cause instability, and violent storms can occur over the lake.

The absence of maritime influence is also felt in the intense summer heat; the only possible comparison is with Death Valley in California. Temperatures at the southern end of the Dead Sea (Sodom) may be expected to exceed 100oF. almost daily for three months, and although the Galilee lakeshore does not heat up quite so fiercely, the August mean at Tiberias, beside the lake, is 87oF., only 1o lower than that of Jericho. At the same time, night temperatures in winter may fall quite low in the Rift, and the Dead Sea region possesses all the characteristics of an arid continental type of climate.


East of the Jordan, the climate in the mountains resembles that of Judea, but with increasing distance from the sea the range of temperature becomes greater and the effect of the cooling sea breezes less. Rainfall increases, here also, with height, so that a narrow belt of well-watered hill country runs parallel with the Rift. Since the rainfall is diminishing southward, this belt becomes narrower in Edom (see map), but is still emphatically marked out from the desert to the S and E of it, for the mountains of Edom rise over 5,000 ft. and attract a rainfall of fifteen inches or more. On this E side of the Jordan, as on the southern fringe of Pal. around Beer-sheba, there is a narrow belt of what, technically, would be classified as steppe (or semi-arid continental) type climate, intermediate between the desert and the sub-humid zones, and having a rainfall of 8-12 inches.

There are thus three climatic types represented in Pal.—the Mediterranean type, with precipitation in winter and totalling 12-30 inches; the steppe type; and the desert type. This gives to the region the primary characteristic of being climatically transitional, with all that that implies concerning the way of life and methods of cultivation that the population must adopt.

Water supply

As already indicated, the problem of water supply in Pal. is one of making a seasonal supply last throughout the year. In the dry season, many of the streams dry up, and conversely, when they flow in winter, they often do so as torrents, and flood uselessly down to the coast, or the Dead Sea. In this respect, the land is at least favored by possessing wide areas of limestone, through which rain water may percolate into underground aquifers; this reduces runoff and waste. It is fortunate, too, that the mountains of Lebanon and Hermon act as a snow trap, for it is the melting of their snows that insures a water supply for the Jordan in summer, and makes it a perennial stream—and not the Jordan only, but the Orontes and Litani also.

The Jordan is the only river of any significant size in Pal. It rises on the W side of Mt. Hermon a little to the N of Dan, the historic northern border town of “the land.” Flowing S, it passes through a depression where lava flows ponded back its waters to form Lake Huleh, a small lake fringed with swamp, which was once a malarial waste but has now largely been drained and reclaimed. The Jordan passes through the Sea of Galilee and only then does it receive a major tributary, the Yarmuk, which enters, like all the main Jordan tributaries, from the E. The higher rainfall of the Trans-Jordan mountain line (see above) produces about one-half of the total flow of the Jordan by the time it enters the Dead Sea. Unfortunately, from the point of view of the farmer, the Jordan and these E-bank streams are deeply entrenched for most of their courses S of the Sea of Galilee, so that it is difficult if not impossible to use them for irrigation: the main channel is as much as 150 ft. below the level of the Rift Valley floor, and the tributary valleys are too narrow to enclose much riverside land that might be irrigable. Consequently, to use the Jordan below Galilee it is necessary to make a major diversion and pump its waters up to a considerable height, and this is the basis of modern schemes for utilizing its waters.

The Jordan empties into the Dead Sea, from which its waters can find an outlet only through evaporation. Neumann (1959) offers the following figures for the water balance of this remarkable inland body of water:

Annual evaporation from surface 60.5 inches Inflow compensating for evaporation equivalent to:

Since the main inflow is in winter and evaporation is most rapid in summer, the level of the sea fluctuates by ten-eleven inches between Feb. and Aug., but from year to year it remains remarkably constant. However, there seems to be no doubt that, over the past two centuries, there have been major changes in level. The best evidence of these is contained in the numerous accounts, dating from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, of travelers who reported that it was possible to ford the Dead Sea at its narrows—the Lisan Strait. Today, the depth of water at this point is some 40 ft., so that a major change of level is apparent. The sea S of the Lisan Strait, was at that period no more than a shallow lagoon or salt marsh.

Few of the streams of the Mediterranean slope of Pal. are perennial; those that are flow mainly in the better-watered N. These seasonal streams are a feature of all areas with a dry season, including western N America; in an area of winter rainfall like Pal., they tend to run in spate uselessly in the season when they are of little service to the farmer, and their erratic flow is a threat to adjacent lands and settlements because they carry a great deal of debris and tend to block themselves with it and to flood. Consequently, their beds, whether known as wadis or arroyos, are potentially dangerous places to locate; Christ’s parable of the house built on the sand is prob. a reference to this danger.

Under all these circumstances, water supply for most communities in Pal. depended on the existence of springs and wells. It was by digging wells that the patriarchs established themselves in the land (cf. Gen 26:17-33), and the possession of a reliable well became a source of pride (John 4:12). Because of the presence of wide areas of limestone, springs may emerge in the most unlikely places; cf. Smith’s description of Engedi (HGHL, pp. 183, 184): “The oasis bursts upon him [the traveler] from one of the driest and most poisoned regions of our planet....He hears what perhaps he has not heard for days—the rush of water; and then through the bush he sees the foam of a waterspout, 6 feet high and almost 2 feet broad....” Between them, the locations of wells and springs account for a high proportion of all the settlement sites of Pal.

With such a restricted choice of water supply points, the inhabitants of the land found it necessary to build aqueducts of various sorts. The water supply of Jerusalem was a particular problem, and was evidently not assured until Hezekiah built his conduit to bring water into the city (2 Kings 20:20). Conversely, by destroying these elaborate works in the path of an invader (2 Chron 32:2-4), Hezekiah hoped to deny him a water supply—a kind of “scorched earth” policy particularly appropriate in a dry land.

With the coming of the Gr. and Rom. influences to Pal., the water problem was tackled on a much larger scale, making possible, e.g., the establishment of the cities of the Decapolis on the desert edge E of Jordan. The Herodian city of Caesarea was supplied, through two aqueducts, with water on a scale that would be considered generous even today. Elsewhere, irrigation was developed by means of a device known as the foggara. Since some strata retain water and act as underground reservoirs, it was found to be possible to tunnel through to such strata and drain off the water collected in them, which would flow under gravity out onto lower lands. Usually these water-bearing strata were clays or marls, and the systems of tunnels were elaborate; they might extend for distances up to five m., and formed a striking feature in the settlement and agriculture of Syria and NE Pal.

All such artificial water supply involves the care and maintenance of the works, and when this was not given, the supply quickly ceased. In a war torn land like Pal., therefore, the life of a settlement might be abruptly ended by deliberate destruction of aqueducts and wells, or slowly strangled by neglect of maintenance.


The vegetation of Pal. is necessarily adapted to the circumstances of soil formation and climate, esp. seasonal drought, which are to be found there.

In the desert areas there is little or no true soil; there are rock surfaces, pebble beds, sand, and patches of alkaline crust. The only potentially fertile areas are the wind-blown loess deposits, which yield well if irrigated. Sand is under cultivation (citrus groves) today where it can be found mixed with a proportion of clay or silt. The salt pans can sometimes be planted to trees, if each tree is rooted down carefully below the level of the alkaline crust.

The steppe areas possess a reasonable brown soil, and in the ten-fifteen inches rainfall areas they can be successfully, if rather precariously, cultivated. The dominant soil color in Pal. is undoubtedly red. This color marks the existence of the so-called terra rossa, a soil characteristically developed in a Mediterranean climate where limestone is present. It is not naturally a fertile soil, for its color betrays its lack of organic matter. It is produced by the chemical weathering of the limestone, and is rich in iron and alkalis.

This is not an impressive list of soils. Almost all those mentioned are easily eroded and need careful cultivation. Climate also imposes limitations on the range of vegetation, whether natural or cultivated. The hot, dry summer means that most Mediterranean and desert vegetation types are adapted either to growth in winter, or to storage of moisture in roots or leaves.

Under Middle Eastern conditions, the natural sequence of vegetation to be expected is, from the interior to the coast, desert scrub—steppeland with shrubs and grasses—grassland—transitional woodland. If there is also a considerable change of elevation (as there is on Mount Hermon), the transitional woodland should give way to denser stands of wood, to mountain forest, and then to alpine pasture.

All these vegetation types are to be found in Palestine and Lebanon, but their character today is far removed from the original, either in quality or distribution. Occupancy of the land over the past three or four millennia, and esp. over the period since the early Iron Age (c. 1200 b.c.) has resulted in changes, and esp. the cutting of forest trees. This change is not confined to Pal.; it is true for all the old civilization areas of the Middle E, since all of them have suffered from a shortage of timber, and when the iron axe became available, any local supplies were quickly attacked.

Forests remained on the mountains and were highly prized at least up to the 1st cent. a.d.; Reifenberg (1955) cites the discovery of forest preserve markers of Rom. origin in an area that is now “wildly eroded karst” (p. 27). Generally the vegetation became degraded by clearance and subsequent soil erosion. The original forest consisted of both softwoods and hardwords—cedar, fir, pine, oak, sycamore. References to these are plentiful in the Bible. When they were felled, however, and their regrowth was hindered by the browsing of goats (the chief enemies of forest regeneration), they were generally replaced by the vegetation that is so widespread in Mediterranean lands today, and is known by the French names maquis and garrigue. These differ little in appearance; both consist of a mixture of bushes, scrub, and small scattered trees (often holm oaks). Normally a thick, thorny vegetation cover results, but one with few grasses and bare patches between the shrubs. In N America, the closest analogy would be with the piñon-juniper belt in the Rocky Mountains or the chaparral of California.

The maquis is of very limited usefulness—it provides neither good grazing nor good timber. Often almost impenetrable, it merely testifies to the fact of long-standing human occupancy. It is found generally over the areas of former woodland in Pal., and where it spreads it gives the country a rough, bushy appearance.

There was never a great extent of natural grassland in Pal. proper, but in the steppe areas grasses are found that flourish in winter and disappear in summer. These give way at the desert margins to the shrubs that alone can survive there—thorn bushes, tamarisk, heaths. A few grasses flourish briefly, and are eagerly sought out by the desert nomads as pastures for their animals. On the other margin, the steppe gives place to more luxuriant vegetation on the mountain slopes, where perennial grass cover exists on the edges of the upland forest. The lower limits of the latter are marked by the presence of deciduous species such as the oak; this lower edge is—or used to be, since it has generally been cut down—at about 3,000 ft. in Pal. Above the oaks are to be found the conifers, the most famous of them the cedars of Lebanon, one of the prized resources of the ancient world. Solomon bought cedar wood from the king of Tyre when he was assembling the finest possible materials for the Temple (1 Kings 5:6), and used cedar to finish his own quarters (7:2-12). The few survivors of the cedar forest are today a jealously guarded tourist attraction.

Undoubtedly, the long-term effects of forest clearance were to accelerate soil erosion and to impoverish the land. Reifenberg (1955) ascribes to soil erosion, for example, the fact that southern Moab, a region today sparsely settled, was “so densely occupied in the Early Iron Age that the fertile areas on top of the plateau and even the mountain slopes were utilized” (p. 41). Such loss of fertility continued virtually unchecked down to the time after the first world war when the Jewish colonists began to arrive in Pal. under the British mandate. If the landscape of 1919 bore little relationship to the land of milk and honey of Joshua’s day, the transformation in the past half cent. has been hardly less striking, and opposite in effect. The Jewish colonists have deliberately set out to restore the fertility of the land, recreating the cultivation of grains and introducing new tree crops, chiefly citrus, as well as continuing to grow the olive. The dark green of their orchards today covers areas which, before their coming, were sandhills or maquis-spread slopes. Altogether, these determined settlers have produced the most marked advance of cultivation over waste that has occurred since Rom. times, bridging centuries of misuse and neglect.

The problem of landscape change

In view of the description given of Pal. so far, the question inevitably arises as to whether the land as we see it today is, in terms of its resources, better or worse than it was when the Israelites entered it. The references in Exodus to the land of promise described it very favorably; so, too, did the spies sent ahead to prospect from Kadesh-barnea (Num 13:27; 14:7, 8). Yet the bare, barren hillsides of Pal. today hardly seem to confirm these reports, and the kibbutz worker of modern Israel, toiling on the dry soil, might well feel that Pal. could have been a land “flowing with milk and honey” only by force of contrast to a nation grown accustomed to the desert. Yet this would be to charge Israel’s God with a kind of confidence trick—with conditioning His people so that they would think that He was offering them a good land when in reality the bargain was a poor one.

What are the facts? The question posed above is really a twofold one: (1) have climatic conditions changed since the Exodus (i.e., since 1400 or 1300 b.c.)? (2) is the land as it is seen today the same in quality as it was in OT times?

There have undoubtedly been climatic changes within recent geological times. Evidence of these is to be found in such physical features as valleys in desert regions that are manifestly carved out by water; there is even a possibility that features exist in the deserts S of Pal. that are of glacial origin, but this is unconfirmed. For the period of human occupancy, archeological evidence can offer such items as the ruins of settlements located where no water supply is available today, and drawings of animals known to require an environment more humid than that of the Middle E under present conditions.

Within the period of real interest—1400 b.c. to the present day—whereas there is a certain amount of evidence of climatic fluctuation, just as there is in other parts of the world, there is almost none of long term change, in particular of desiccation. Where rainfall is low, of course, even a slight fluctuation is critical to the individual cultivator. It does not seem as if the total water supply of Pal. is any less than it was in Rom. times; in a number of instances works constructed at that period to tap springs of water have been cleaned out and put to use, and found to fit precisely the amount of water available at the present time. Although the Israelites were certainly made conscious of their dependence upon God for fruitful harvests and needed rains, it does not therefore appear to be true—as has sometimes been implied—that God brought them to the land of promise and then dried it up beneath their feet.

This is not to say, however, that there have been no changes in Pal. since Biblical times but only that the changes are not due to long-term climatic trends. There can be, in fact, little resemblance between the landscape of the pre-Exodus period and that of any part of the 20th cent.—either the pre-1918 landscape that was marked by the traces of centuries of Turkish rule, or that of the period since the modern state of Israel embarked on its programs of settlement and reclamation. To imagine Pal. in OT times, “One must strip the country of its orange groves, its hedges of prickly pear, its fields of tomatoes, and must clothe instead its hill country with forest, clog much of its lowlying land with marsh, and wall up its little towns and villages” (Baly [1963], p. 62).

The land, which the Israelis have done so much to restore since 1948, would not at that starting date have struck the unbiased observer as flowing with milk and honey. It was barren and largely treeless; its soils had been eroded to a point where the bare bones of the underlying rock structures protruded, and everywhere could be seen the traces of former cultivation long since abandoned—blocked aqueducts and crumbling terraces. Much of this damage and neglect had been caused during the centuries of Arab and Turkish rule, because of the attitude of these rulers to land and its use (Reifenberg [1955]). All uncultivated lands were regarded as commons, to be grazed at will by the owners of animals: agriculture itself was not highly regarded as a way of life, and even arable land often was held in common so that its cultivators had no incentive to improve their farming. By the 18th cent., such was the state of taxation and simultaneous depredation under Turkish rule that many cultivators had simply abandoned this way of life as unprofitable.

Granting, however, that all this happened after the Jews had lost control of the land, it still remains interesting to notice the peculiar relationship of the Pal. environment to the spiritual state of the people within the Biblical period. Reifenberg lists as the main factors responsible for the decline of prosperity in rural Pal.: (1) war, (2) clearance of forest for arable land, (3) cutting of trees for fuel, (4) forest cutting for charcoal burning and limekilns, (5) overgrazing. No doubt some forest clearance under (3) and (4) was inevitable, and the OT does not completely rule out treecutting (Deut 20:19, 20). In the life of Israel, war, shortage of arable land, and overgrazing were not chance factors; they were the result of specific policies and even more specific failures.

War was a recurrent event in the life of Israel. From the time of Joshua onward, however, it was much more frequent than it need have been. It is only necessary to recall how many of Israel’s wars they brought upon themselves—by unnecessary and disastrous alliances that made their land a battleground for other nation’s quarrels; by appeals for military help when they should have sought divine help; most of all, by bringing upon themselves the judgments of God (including the great judgment of the Captivity) by their own disobedience. Each of these wars would lead to destruction, esp. of the all-important tree-cover (cf. 2 Kings 25:1). Each unnecessary military adventure would increase the effect.

The second and third of these factors, clearance for agriculture and overgrazing, are opposite sides of the same coin. They bespeak a situation in which an agriculture-based community is overcrowded on its available lands: the density of the population, both human and animal, has risen above acceptable levels. In any part of the world, but esp. in one with a marked dry season, such a situation will produce soil erosion; the erosion reduces fertility and soil-holding capacity still further, and so a cycle is initiated, which can only be reversed by total transformation of the economy and massive expenditure (on the lines of the Tennessee Valley Authority or the efforts of the modern Israeli state).

The effect of this failure to take what had been promised them can be judged by comparing the size of Israel as divided between the twelve tribes with the size of the kingdom at its apogee, under Solomon. Although the exact borders of the latter are in doubt, it seems clear that Solomon held sovereignty over an area between three and four times as large as the “basic” kingdom. Spread over such an area, and even allowing for the infertility of some parts of this greater empire, Israel should have suffered much less from overcrowding than, in practice, they did.

Bearing these factors in mind, it is not unreasonable to argue that God’s purpose in leading His people to this particular land was, like everything else in His purpose for them, moral in intention. This was certainly the case when He led them into the desert (Exod 13:17, 18), a hostile environment where they were to become a nation and to learn dependence on Himself. The desert was not the land of promise, and neither were the lands of Egypt and Mesopotamia, where life is based on irrigation agriculture, that is, on rivers “to whose operations man has but to link his own, and the fruits of the year are inevitable” (Smith, HGHL, p. 68). On the contrary, God called Abraham away from Mesopotamia and his descendants away from Egypt, the land of slavery for which they experienced such homesickness (Exod 16:3; Num 11:5).

The land where they were to settle is intermediate between the deserts of the S and E and the humid environments of the N; it is in every sense marginal land, and its occupation demands care on the part of those who exploit it. “Palestine is not a country where crops grow easily, and nothing there can be obtained without an effort” (Baly [1957], p. 107). Its variable winter rainfall must be conserved and used wisely; its hillsides must be terraced to avoid soil loss; its vegetation must be safeguarded or it will degenerate into scrub or bare earth. If its inhabitants neglect these tasks and relax their efforts, then the very appearance of the landscape will soon betray the fact. Just as one is impressed today by the work of the Israeli rural communities, so the destruction of the land has been witnessed by earlier travelers who recorded the effects of Turkish rule or Heb. neglect. Palestine, in fact, is very much what its inhabitants make of it, and what they are making of it can be seen by all. (There is, perhaps, a parallel in the dustbowls of the 1930s; when dust from Oklahoma or Kansas darkened the skies as far away as the Atlantic coast, it was evidence of the most embarrassing kind that all was not well with the farming system on the Great Plains.) It is, in other words, an environment that encourages virtue and that advertises idleness, disobedience, and (in Israel’s history) lack of faith in God. It is hard to believe that His choice was a random one.


E. C. Semple, The Geography of the Mediterranean Region: Its Relation to Ancient History (1931); D. H. Kallner and E. Rosenau, “The Geographical Regions of Palestine,” Geography Review, XXIX (1939), 61-80; A. Reifenberg, The Struggle Between The Desert and The Sown (1955); Atlas of Israel (1956); D. Baly, The Geography of the Bible (1957) and Geographical Companion to the Bible (1963); J. Neumann, “Tentative Energy and Water Balances for the Dead Sea,” Israel Meteorological Notes, No. 16 (1959); W. B. Fisher, The Middle East (ed. of 1961); G. Adam Smith, The Historical Geography of the Holy Land (ed. of 1966); Israel Journal of Earth Sciences and State of Israel Meteorological Notes, numerous articles.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. General Geographical Features

2. Water-Supply

3. Geological Conditions

4. Fauna and Flora

5. Climate

6. Rainfall

7. Drought and Famine


1. Places Visited by Abraham

2. Places Visited by Isaac

3. Places Visited by Jacob

4. Mentioned in Connection with Judah

5. Review of Geography of Genesis

6. Exodus and Leviticus

7. Numbers

8. Deuteronomy


1. Book of Joshua

2. Book of Judges

3. Book of Ruth

4. Books of Samuel

5. Books of Kings

6. Post-exilic Historical Books


1. Book of Job

2. Book of Psalms

3. Book of Proverbs

4. So of Songs


1. Isaiah

2. Jeremiah

3. Ezekiel

4. Minor Prophets


1. Book of Judith

2. Book of Wisdom

3. 1 Maccabees

4. 2 Maccabees


1. Synoptic Gospels

2. Fourth Gospel

3. Book of Acts


The word properly means "Philistia," but appears to be first used in the extended sense, as meaning all the "Land of Israel" or "Holy Land" (Zec 2:12), by Philo and by Ovid and later Roman authors (Reland, Palestine Illustr., I, 38-42).

I. Physical Conditions.

The Bible in general may be said to breathe air of Palestine; and it is here intended to show how important for sound criticism is the consideration of its geography, and of the numerous incidental allusions to the natural features, fauna, flora, cultivation, and climate of the land in which most of the Bible books were written. With the later history and topography of Palestine, after 70 AD, we are not here concerned, but a short account of its present physical and geological conditions is needed for our purpose.

1. General Geographical Features:

Palestine West of the Jordan, between Da and Beersheba, has an area of about 6,000 square miles, the length from Hermon southward being nearly 150 miles, and the width gradually increasing from 20 miles on the North to 60 miles on the South. It is thus about the size of Wales, and the height of the Palestinian mountains is about the same as that of the Welsh. East of the Jordan an area of about 4,000 square miles was included in the land of Israel. The general geographical features are familiar to all.

(1) The land is divided by the deep chasm of the Jordan valley--an ancient geological fault continuing in the Dead Sea, where its depth (at the bottom of the lake) is 2,600 ft. below the Mediterranean.

(2) West of the valley the mountain ridge, which is a continuation of Lebanon, has very steep slopes on the East and long spurs on the West, on which side the foothills (Hebrew shephelah or "lowland") form a distinct district, widening gradually southward, while between this region and the sea the plains of Sharon and Philistia stretch to the sandhills and low cliffs of a harborless coast.

(3) In Upper Galilee, on the North, the mountain ridge rises to 4,000 ft. above the Mediterranean. Lower Galilee, to the South, includes rounded hills less than 1,000 ft. above the sea, and the triangular plain of Esdraelon drained by the River Kishon between the Gilboa watershed on the East and the long spur of Carmel on the West.

(4) In Samaria the mountains are extremely rugged, but a small plain near Dothan adjoins that of Esdraelon, and another stretches East of Shechem, 2,500 ft. above the level of the Jordan valley. In Judea the main ridge rises toward Hebron and then sinks to the level of the Beersheba plains about 1,000 ft. above the sea. The desert of Judah forms a plateau (500 ft. above sea-level), between this ridge and the Dead Sea, and is throughout barren and waterless; but the mountains--which average about 3,000 ft. above the sea--are full of good springs and suitable for the cultivation of the vine, fig and olive. The richest lands are found in the shephelah region--especially in Judea--and in the corn plains of Esdraelon, Sharon, and Philistia.

(5) East of the Jordan the plateau of Bashan (averaging 1,500 ft. above the sea) is also a fine corn country. South of this, Gilead presents a mountain region rising to 3,600 ft. above sea-level at Jebel Osha`, and sloping gently on the East to the desert. The steep western slopes are watered by the Jabbok River, and by many perennial brooks. In North Gilead especially the wooded hills present some of the most picturesque scenery of the Holy Land. South of Gilead, the Moab plateau (about 2,700 ft. above sea-level) is now a desert, but is fitted for raising grain, and, in places, for vines. A lower shelf or plateau (about 500 to 1,000 ft. above sea-level) intervenes between the main plateau and the Dead Sea cliffs, and answers to the Desert of Judah West of the lake.

2. Water-Supply:

The water-supply of Palestine is abundant, except in the desert regions above noticed, which include only a small part of its area. The Jordan runs into the Dead Sea, which has no outlet and which maintains its level solely by evaporation, being consequently very salt; the surface is nearly 1,300 ft. below the Mediterranean, whereas the nodetitle (680 ft. below sea-level) is sweet and full of fish. The Jordan is fed, not only by the snows of Hermon, but by many affluent streams from both sides. There are several streams also in Sharon, including the Crocodile River under Carmel. In the mountains, where the hard dolomite limestone is on the surface, perennial springs are numerous. In the lower hills, where this limestone is covered by a softer chalky stone, the supply depends on wells and cisterns. In the Beersheba plains the water, running under the surface, is reached by scooping shallow pits--especially those near Gerar, to be noticed later.

3. Geological Conditions:

The fertility and cultivation of any country depends mainly on its geological conditions. These are comparatively simple in Palestine, and have undergone no change since the age when man first appeared, or since the days of the Hebrew patriarchs. The country was first upheaved from the ocean in the Eocene age; and, in the subsequent Miocene age, the great crack in the earth’s surface occurred, which formed a narrow gulf stretching from that of the `Aqabah on the South almost to the foot of Hermon. Further upheaval, accompanied by volcanic outbreaks which covered the plateaus of Golan, Bashan, and Lower Galilee with lava, cut off the Jordan valley from the Red Sea, and formed a long lake, the bottom of which continued to sink on the South to its present level during the Pleiocene and Pluvial periods, after which--its peculiar fauna having developed meanwhile--the lake gradually dried up, till it was represented only, as it now is, by the swampy Chuleh, the pear-shaped Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea. These changes all occurred long ages before the appearance of man. The beds upheaved include: (1) the Nubian Sandstone (of the Greensand period), which was sheared along the line of the Jordan fault East of the river, and which only appears on the western slopes of Hermon, Gilead, and Moab; (2) the limestones of the Cretaceous age, including the hard dolomite, and softer beds full of characteristic fossils; (3) the soft Eocene limestone, which appears chiefly on the western spurs and in the foothills, the angle of upheaval being less steep than that of the older main formation. On the shores of the Mediterranean a yet later sandy limestone forms the low cliffs of Sharon.

See Geology of Palestine.

4. Fauna and Flora:

As regards fauna, flora and cultivation, it is sufficient here to say that they are still practically the same as described throughout the Bible. The lion and the wild bull (Bos primigenius) were exterminated within historic times, but have left their bones in the Jordan gravels, and in caves. The bear has gradually retreated to Hermon and Lebanon. The buffalo has been introduced since the Moslem conquest. Among trees the apple has fallen out of cultivation since the Middle Ages, and the cactus has been introduced; but Palestine is still a land of grain, wine and oil, and famous for its fruits. Its trees, shrubs and plants are those noticed in the Bible. Its woods have been thinned in Lower Galilee and Northern Sharon, but on the other hand the copse has often grown over the site of former vineyards and villages, and there is no reason to think that any general desiccation has occurred within the last 40 centuries, such as would affect the rainfall.

5. Climate:

The climate of Palestine is similar to that of other Mediterranean lands, such as Cyprus, Sicily or Southern Italy; and, in spite of the fevers of mosquito districts in the plains, it is much better than that of the Delta in Egypt, or of Mesopotamia. The summer heat is oppressive only for a few days at a time, when (espescially in May) the dry wind--deficient in ozone--blows from the eastern desert. For most of the season a moisture-laden sea breeze, rising about 10 AM, blows till the evening, and fertilizes all the western slopes of the mountains. In the bare deserts the difference between 90ø F. by day and 40ø F. by night gives a refreshing cold. With the east wind the temperature rises to 105ø F., and the nights are oppressive. In the Jordan valley, in autumn, the shade temperature reaches 120ø F. In this season mists cover the mountains and swell the grapes. In winter the snow sometimes lies for several days on the watershed ridge and on the Edomite mountains, but in summer even Hermon is sometimes quite snowless at 9,000 ft. above the sea. There is perhaps no country in which such a range of climate can be found, from the Alpine to the tropical, and none in which the range of fauna and flora is consequently so large, from the European to the African.

6. Rainfall:

The rainfall of Palestine is between 20 and 30 inches annually, and the rainy season is the same as in other Mediterranean countries. The "former rains" begin with the thunderstorms of November, and the "latter rains" cease with April showers. From December to February--except in years of drought--the rains are heavy. In most years the supply is quite sufficient for purposes of cultivation. The plowing begins in autumn, and the corn is rarely spoiled by storms in summer. The fruits ripen in autumn and suffer only from the occasional appearance of locust swarms. There appears to be no reason to suppose that climate or rainfall have undergone any change since the times of the Bible; and a consideration of Bible allusions confirms this view.

7. Drought and Famine:

II. Palestine in the Pentateuch.

1. Places Visited by Abraham:

The Book of Genesis is full of allusions to sites sacred to the memory of the Hebrew patriarchs. In the time of Abraham the population consisted of tribes, mainly Semitic, who came originally from Babylonia, including Canaanites ("lowlanders") between Sidon and Gaza, and in the Jordan valley, and Amorites ("highlanders") in the mountains (Ge 10:15-19; Nu 13:29). Their language was akin to Hebrew, and it is only in Egypt that we read of an interpreter being needed (Ge 42:23), while excavated remains of seal-cylinders, and other objects, show that the civilization of Palestine was similar to that of Babylonia.

(1) Shechem.

(2) The Negeb.

(3) Campaign of Amraphel.

Palestine appears to have been an outlying province of the empire of. Hammurabi, king of Babylon in Abraham’s time; and the campaign of Amraphel resembled those of later Assyrian overlords exacting tribute of petty kings. The route (Ge 14:5-8) lay through Bashan, Gilead and Moab to Kadesh (probably at Petra), and the return through the desert of Judah to the plains of Jericho. Thus Hebron was not attacked (see Ge 14:13), and the pursuit by Abraham and his Amorite allies led up the Jordan valley to Dan, and thence North of Damascus (Ge 14:15). The Salem whose king blessed Abraham on his return was thought by the Samaritans, and by Jerome, to be the city near the Jordan valley afterward visited by Jacob (Ge 14:18; 33:18).

See Jerusalem.

(4) Gerar.

Abraham returned to the southern plains, and "sojourned in Gerar" (Ge 20:1), now Umm Jerrar, 7 miles South of Gaza. The wells which he dug in this valley (Ge 26:15) were no doubt shallow excavations like those from which the Arabs still obtain the water flowing under the surface in the same vicinity (SWP, III, 390), though that at Beersheba (Ge 21:25-32), to which Isaac added another (Ge 26:23-25), may have been more permanent. Three masonry wells now exist at Bir es Seba`, but the masonry is modern. The planting of a "tamarisk" at this place (Ge 21:33) is an interesting touch, since the tree is distinctive of the dry lowlands. From Beersheba Abraham journeyed to "the land of Moriah" Septuagint "the high land") to sacrifice Isaac (Ge 22:2); and the mountain, according to Hebrew tradition (2Ch 3:1), was at Jerusalem, but according to the Samaritans was Gerizim near the Elon Moreh--a summit which could certainly have been seen "afar off" (2Ch 3:4) on "the third day."

2. Places Visited by Isaac:

Isaac, living in the same pastoral wilderness, at the western Kadesh (Ge 25:11) and at Gerar (Ge 26:2), suffered like his father in a year of drought, and had similar difficulties with the Philistines. At Gerar he sowed grain (Ge 26:12), and the vicinity is still capable of such cultivation. Thence he retreated Southeast to Rehoboth (Rucheibeh), North of Kadesh, where ancient wells like those at Beersheba still exist (Ge 26:22). To Beersheba he finally returned (Ge 26:23).

3. Places Visited by Jacob:

When Jacob fled to Haran from Beersheba (Ge 28:10) he slept at the "place" (or shrine) consecrated by Abraham’s altar near Bethel, and like any modern Arab visitor to a shrine--erected a memorial stone (Ge 28:18), which he renewed twenty years later (Ge 35:14) when God appeared to him "again" (Ge 35:9).

(1) Haran to Succoth.

His return journey from Haran to Gilead raises an interesting question. The distance is about 350 miles from Haran to the Galeed or "witness heap" (Ge 31:48) at Mizpah--probably Suf in North Gilead. This distance Laban is said to have covered in 7 days (Ge 31:23), which would be possible for a force mounted on riding camels. But the news of Jacob’s flight reached Laban on the 3rd day (Ge 31:22), and some time would elapse before he could gather his "brethren." Jacob with his flocks and herds must have needed 3 weeks for the journey. It is remarkable that the vicinity of Mizpah still presents ancient monuments like the "pillar" (Ge 31:45) round which the "memorial cairn" (yeghar-sahadhutha) was formed. From this place Jacob journeyed to Mahanaim (probably Machmah), South of the Jabbok river--a place which afterward became the capital of South Gilead (Ge 32:1 f; 1Ki 4:14); but, on hearing of the advance of Esau from Edom, he retreated across the river (Ge 32:22) and then reached Succoth (Ge 33:17), believed to be Tell Der`ala, North of the stream.

(2) From the Jordan to Hebron.

Crossing the Jordan by one of several fords in this vicinity, Jacob approached Shechem by the perennial stream of Wady Far`ah, and camped at Shalem (Salim) on the east side of the fertile plain which stretches thence to Shechem, and here he bought land of the Hivites (Ge 33:18-20). We are not told that he dug a well, but the necessity for digging one in a region full of springs can only be explained by Hivite jealousy of water rights, and the well still exists East of Shechem (compare Joh 4:5 f), not far from the Elon Moreh where were buried the teraphim (Ge 35:4) or "spirits" (Assyrian, tarpu) from Haran (Ge 31:30) under the oak of Abraham. These no doubt were small images, such as are so often unearthed in Palestine. The further progress of Jacob led by Bethel and Bethlehem to Hebron (Ge 35:6,19,27), but some of his elder sons seem to have remained at Shechem. Thus, Joseph was sent later from Hebron (Ge 37:14) to visit his brethren there, but found them at Dothan.

(3) Dothan.

Dothan (Ge 37:17) lay in a plain on the main trade route from Egypt to Damascus, which crossed the low watershed at this point and led down the valley to Jezreel and over Jordan to Bashan. The "well of the pit" (SWP, II, 169) is still shown at Tell Dothan, and the Ishmaelites, from Midian and Gilead, chose this easy caravan route (Ge 37:25,28) for camels laden with the Gilead balm and spices. The plain was fitted for feeding Jacob’s flocks. The products of Palestine then included also honey, pistachio nuts, and almonds (Ge 43:11); and a few centuries later we find notice in a text of Thothmes III of honey and balsam, with oil, wine, wheat, spelt, barley and fruits, as rations of the Egyptian troops in Canaan (Brugsch, Hist Egypt, I, 332).

4. Mentioned in Connection with Judah:

5. Review of the Geography of Genesis:

Generally speaking, the geography of Ge presents no difficulties, and shows an intimate knowledge of the country, while the allusions to natural products and to customs are in accord with the results of scientific discovery. Only one difficulty needs notice, where Atad (Ge 50:10) on the way from Egypt to Hebron is described as "beyond the Jordan." In this case the Assyrian language perhaps helps us, for in that tongue Yaur-danu means "the great river," and the reference may be to the Nile itself, which is called Yaur in Hebrew (ye’or) and Assyrian alike.

6. Exodus and Leviticus:

Exodus is concerned with Egypt and the Sinaitic desert, though it may be observed that its simple agricultural laws (Exodus 21-23), which so often recall those of Hammurabi, would have been needed at once on the conquest of Gilead and Bashan, before crossing the Jordan. In Leviticus 11 we have a list of animals most of which belong to the desert--as for instance the "coney" or hyrax (Le 11:5; Ps 104:18; Pr 30:26), but others--such as the swine (Le 11:7), the stork and the heron (Le 11:19)--to the `Arabah and the Jordan valley, while the hoopoe (the King James Version "lapwing," Le 11:19) lives in Gilead and in Western Palestine. In Deuteronomy 14 the fallow deer and the roe (14:5) are now inhabitants of Tabor and Gilead, but the "wild goat" (ibex), "wild ox" (buball), "pygarg" (addax) and "chamois" (wild sheep), are found in the `Arabah and in the deserts.

7. Numbers:

In Numbers, the conquest of Eastern Palestine is described, and most of the towns mentioned are known (21:18-33); the notice of vineyards in Moab (21:22) agrees with the discovery of ancient rock-cut wine presses near Heshbon (SEP, I, 221). The view of Israel, in camp at Shittim by Balaam (22:41), standing on the top of Pisgah or Mt. Nebo, has been shown to be possible by the discovery of Jebel Neba, where also rude dolmens recalling Balak’s altars have been found (SEP, I, 202). The plateau of Moab (32:3) is described as a "land for cattle," and still supports Arab flocks. The camps in which Israel left their cattle, women and children during the wars, for 6 months, stretched (33:49) from Beth-jeshimoth (Suweimeh), near the northeastern corner of the Dead Sea over Abel-shittim ("the acacia meadow"--a name it still bears) in a plain watered by several brooks, and having good herbage in spring.

8. Deuteronomy:

(1) Physical Allusions.

The description of the "good land" in Deuteronomy (8:7) applies in some details with special force to Mt. Gilead, which possesses more perennial streams than Western Palestine throughout--"a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills"; a land also "of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates, a land of olive-trees and honey" is found in Gilead and Bashan. Palestine itself is not a mining country, but the words (8:9), "a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig copper," may be explained by the facts that iron mines existed near Beirut in the 10th century AD, and copper mines at Punon North of Petra in the 4th century AD, as described by Jerome (Onomasticon, under the word "Phinon"). In Deuteronomy also (11:29; compare 27:4; Jos 8:30) Ebal and Gerizim are first noticed, as beside the "oaks of Moreh." Ebal the mountain of curses (3,077 ft. above sea-level) and Gerizim the mountain of blessings (2,850 ft.) are the two highest tops in Samaria, and Shechem lies in a rich valley between them. The first sacred center of Israel was thus established at the place where Abraham built his first altar and Jacob dug his well, where Joseph was buried and where Joshua recognized a holy place at the foot of Gerizim (Jos 24:26). The last chapters of Deuteronomy record the famous Pisgah view from Mt. Nebo (34:1-3), which answers in all respects to that from Jebel Neba, except as to Dan, and the utmost (or "western") sea, neither of which is visible. Here we should probably read "toward" rather than "to," and there is no other hill above the plains of Shittim whence a better view can be obtained of the Jordan valley, from Zoar to Jericho, of the watershed mountains as far North as Gilboa and Tabor, and of the slopes of Gilead.

(2) Archaeology.

But besides these physical allusions, the progress of exploration serves to illustrate the archaeology of Deuteronomy. Israel was commanded (12:3) to overthrow the Canaanite altars, to break the standing stones which were emblems of superstition, to burn the ’asherah poles (or artificial trees), and to hew down the graven images. That these commands were obeyed is clear. The rude altars and standing stones are now found only in Moab, and in remote parts of Gilead, Bashan, and Galilee, not reached by the power of reforming kings of Judah. The ’asherah poles have disappeared, the images are found, only deep under the surface. The carved tablets which remain at Damascus, and in Phoenicia and Syria, representing the gods of Canaan or of the Hittites, have no counterpart in the Holy Land. Again when we read of ancient "landmarks" (De 19:14; Pr 22:28; 23:10), we are not to understand a mere boundary stone, but rather one of those monuments common in Babylonia--as early at least as the 12th century BC--on which the boundaries of a field are minutely described, the history of its grant by the king detailed, and a curse (compare De 27:17) pronounced against the man who should dare to remove the stone.

See illustration under NEBUCHADNEZZAR.

III. Palestine in the Historic Books of the Old Testament.

1. Book of Joshua:

Joshua is the great geographical book of the Old Testament; and the large majority of the 600 names of places, rivers and mountains in Palestine mentioned in the Bible are to be found in this book.

(1) Topographical Accuracy.

(2) The Passage of the Jordan.

Israel crossed Jordan at the lowest ford East of Jericho. The river was in flood, swollen by the melting snows of Hermon (Jos 3:15); the stoppage occurred 20 miles farther up at Adam (ed-Damieh), the chalky cliffs at a narrow place being probably undermined and falling in, thus damming the stream. A Moslem writer asserts that a similar stoppage occurred in the 13th century AD, near the same point. (See Jordan.) The first camp was established at Gilgal (Jilgulieh), 3 miles East of Jericho, and a "circle" of 12 stones was erected. Jericho was not at the medieval site (er Richa) South of Gilgal, or at the Herodian site farther West, but at the great spring `Ain es SulTan, close to the mountains to which the spies escaped (Jos 2:16). The great mounds were found by Sir C. Warren to consist of sun-dried bricks, and further excavations (see Mitteil. der deutschen Orient-Gesell., December, 1909, No. 41) have revealed little but the remains of houses of various dates.

(3) Joshua’s First Campaign.

The first city in the mountains attacked by Israel was Ai, near Chayan, 2 miles Southeast of Bethel. It has a deep valley to the North, as described (Jos 8:22). The fall of Ai and Bethel (Jos 8:17) seems to have resulted in the peaceful occupation of the region between Gibeon and Shechem (Jos 8:30-9:27); but while the Hivites submitted the Amorites of Jerusalem and of the South attacked Gibeon (el Jib) and were driven down the steep pass of Beth-horon (Beit `Aur) to the plains (Jos 10:1-11). Joshua’s great raid, after this victory, proceeded through the plain to Makkedah, now called el Mughar, from the "cave" (compare Jos 10:17), and by Libnah to Lachish (Tell el Chesy), whence he went up to Hebron, and "turned" South to Debir (edh Dhaheriyeh), thus subduing the shephelah of Judah and the southern mountains, though the capital at Jerusalem was not taken. It is now very generally admitted that the six letters of the Amorite king of Jerusalem included in Tell el-Amarna Letters may refer to this war. The ’Abiri or Chabiri are therein noticed as a fierce people from Seir, who "destroyed all the rulers," and who attacked Ajalon, Lachish, Ashkelon, Keilah (on the main road to Hebron) and other places.

See The Exodus.

(4) The Second Campaign.

The second campaign (Jos 11:1-14) was against the nations of Galilee; and the Hebrew victory was gained at "the waters of Merom" (Jos 11:5). There is no sound reason for placing these at the Chuleh lake; and the swampy Jordan valley was a very unlikely field of battle for the Canaanite chariots (Jos 11:6). The kings noticed are those of Madon (Madin), Shimron (Semmunieh), Dor (possibly Tell Thorah), "on the west," and of Hazor (Chazzur), all in Lower Galilee. The pursuit was along the coast toward Sidon (Jos 11:8); and Merom may be identical with Shimron-meron (Jos 12:20), now Semmunieh, in which case the "waters" were those of the perennial stream in Wady el Melek, 3 miles to the North, which flow West to join the lower part of the Kishon. Shimron-meron was one of the 31 royal cities of Palestine West of the Jordan (Jos 12:9-24).

The regions left unconquered by Joshua (13:2-6) were those afterward conquered by David and Solomon, including the Philistine plains, and the Sidonian coast from Mearah (el Mogheiriyeh) northward to Aphek (Afqa) in Lebanon, on the border of the Amorite country which lay South of the "land of the Hittites" (Jos 1:4). Southern Lebanon, from Gebal (Jubeil) and the "entering into Hamath" (the Eleutherus Valley) on the West, to Baal-gad (probably at `Ain Judeideh on the northwestern slope of Hermon) was also included in the "land" by David (2Sa 8:6-10). But the whole of Eastern Palestine (Jos 13:7-32), and of Western Palestine, except the shore plains, was allotted to the 12 tribes. Judah and Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh), being the strongest, appear to have occupied the mountains and the shephelah, as far North as Lower Galilee, before the final allotment.

Thus, the lot of Simeon was within that inherited by Judah (Jos 19:1), and that of Da seems to have been partly taken from Ephraim, since Joseph’s lot originally reached to Gezer (Jos 16:3); but Benjamin appears to have received its portion early (compare Jos 15:5-11; 16:1,2; 18:11-28). This lot was larger than that of Ephraim, and Benjamin was not then the "smallest of the tribes of Israel" (1Sa 9:21), since the destruction of the tribe did not occur till after the death of Joshua and Eleazar (Jud 20:28).

The twelve tribes were distributed in various regions which may here briefly be described. Reuben held the Moab plateau to the Arnon (Wady Mojub) on the South, and to the "river of Gad" (Wady Na`aur) on the North, thus including part of the Jordan valley close to the Dead Sea. Gad held all the West of Gilead, being separated from the Ammonites by the upper course of the Jabbok. All the rest of the Jordan valley East of the river was included in this lot. Manasseh held Bashan, but the conquest was not completed till later. Simeon had the neghebh plateau South of Beersheba. Judah occupied the mountains South of Jerusalem, with the shephelah to their West, and claimed Philistia South of Ekron. Benjamin had the Jericho plains and the mountains between Jerusalem and Bethel. The border ran South of Jerusalem to Rachel’s tomb (1Sa 10:2), and thence West to Kiriath-jearim (`Erma) and Ekron. Da occupied the lower hills West of Benjamin and Ephraim, and claimed the plain from Ekron to Rakkon (Tell er Raqqeit) North of Joppa. Manasseh had a large region, corresponding to Samaria, and including Carmel, Sharon and half the Jordan valley, with the mountains North of Shechem; but this tribe occupied only the hills, and was unable to drive the Cannanites out of the plains (Jos 17:11,16) Ephraim also complained of the smallness of its lot (Jos 17:15), which lay in rugged mountains between Bethel and Shechem, including however, the grain plateau East of the latter city. Issachar held the plains of Esdraelon and Dothan, with the Jordan valley to the East, but soon became subject to the Canaanites. Zebulun had the hills of Lower Galilee, and the coast from Carmel to Accho. Naphtali owned the mountains of Upper Galilee, and the rich plateau between Tabor and the Sea of Galilee. Asher had the low hills West of Naphtali, and the narrow shore plains from Accho to Tyre. Thus each tribe possessed a proportion of mountain land fit for cultivation of figs, olives and vines, and of arable land fit for corn. The areas allotted appear to correspond to the density of population that the various regions were fitted to support.

2. Book of Judges:

(1) Early Wars.

In Judges, the stories of the heroes who successively arose to save Israel from the heathen carry us to every part of the country. "After the death of Joshua" (Jud 1:1) the Canaanites appear to have recovered power, and to have rebuilt some of the cities which he had ruined. Judah fought the Perizzites ("villagers") at Berek (Berqah) in the lower hills West of Jerusalem, and even set fire to that city. Caleb attacked Debir (Jsg 1:12-15), which is described (compare Jos 15:15-19) as lying in a "dry" (the King James Version "south") region, yet with springs not far away. The actual site (edh Dhaheriyeh) is a village with ancient tombs 12 miles Southwest of Hebron; it has no springs, but about 7 miles to the Northeast there is a perennial stream with "upper and lower springs." As regards the Philistine cities (Jud 1:18), the Septuagint reading seems preferable; for the Greek says that Judah "did not take Gaza" nor Ashkelon nor Ekron, which agrees with the failure in conquering the "valley" (Jud 1:19) due to the Canaanites having "chariots of iron." The Canaanite chariots are often mentioned about this time in the Tell el-Amarna Letters and Egyptian accounts speak of their being plated with metals. Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher and Naphtali, were equally powerless against cities in the plains (Jud 1:27-33); and Israel began to mingle with the Canaanites, while the tribe of Da seems never to have really occupied its allotted region, and remained encamped in the borders of Judah till some, at least, of its warriors found a new home under Hermon (Jud 1:34; 18:1-30) in the time of Jonathan, the grandson of Moses.

(2) Defeat of Sisera.

The oppression of Israel by Jabin II of Hazor, in Lower Galilee, appears to have occurred in the time of Rameses II, who, in his 8th year, conquered Shalem (Salim, North of Taanach), Anem (`Anin), Dapur (Deburieh, at the foot of Tabor), with Bethanath (`Ainitha) in Upper Galilee (Brugsch, History of Egypt, II, 64). Sisera may have been an Egyptian resident at the court of Jabin (Jud 4:2); his defeat occurred near the foot of Tabor (Jud 4:14) to which he advanced East from Harosheth (el Charathiyeh) on the edge of the sea plain. His host "perished at Endor" (Ps 83:9) and in the swampy Kishon (Jud 5:21). The site of the Kedesh in "the plain of swamps" (Jud 4:11) to which he fled is doubtful. Perhaps Kedesh of Issachar (1Ch 6:72) is intended at Tell Qadeis, 3 miles North of Taanach, for the plain is here swampy in parts. The Canaanite league of petty kings fought from Taanach to Megiddo (Jud 5:19), but the old identification of the latter city with the Roman town of Legio (Lejjun) was a mere guess which does not fit with Egyptian accounts placing Megiddo near the Jordan. The large site at Mugedd`a, in the Valley of Jezreel seems to be more suitable for all the Old Testament as well as for the Egyptian accounts (SWP, II, 90-99).

(3) Gideon’s Victory.

The subsequent oppression by Midianites and others would seem to have coincided with the troubles which occurred in the 5th, year of Minepthah (see nodetitle). Gideon’s home (Jud 6:11) at Ophrah, in Manasseh, is placed by Samaritan tradition at Fer`ata, 6 miles West of Shechem, but his victory was won in the Valley of Jezreel (Jud 7:1-22); the sites of Beth-shittah (ShaTTa) and Abel-meholah (`Ain Chelweh) show how Midian fled down this valley and South along the Jordan plain, crossing the river near Succoth (Tell Der`ala) and ascending the slopes of Gilead to Jogbehah (Jubeichah) and Nobah (Jud 8:4-11). But Oreb ("the raven") and Zeeb ("the wolf") perished at "the raven’s rock" and "the wolf’s hollow" (compare Jud 7:25), West of the Jordan. It is remarkable (as pointed out by the present author in 1874) that, 3 miles North of Jericho, a sharp peak is now called "the raven’s nest," and a ravine 4 miles farther North is named "the wolf’s hollows." These sites are rather farther South than might be expected, unless the two chiefs were separated from the fugitives, who followed Zebah and Zalmunna to Gilead. In this episode "Mt. Gilead" (Jud 7:3) seems to be a clerical error for "Mt. Gilboa," unless the name survives in corrupt form at `Ain Jalud ("Goliath’s spring"), which is a large pool, usually supposed to be the spring of Harod (Jud 7:1), where Gideon camped, East of Jezreel.

The story of Abimelech takes us back to Shechem. He was made king by the "oak of the pillar" (Jud 9:6), which was no doubt Abraham’s oak already noticed; it seems also to be called `the enchanter’s oak’ (Jud 9:37), probably from some superstition connected with the burial of the Teraphim under it by Jacob. The place called Beer, to which Jotham fled from Abimelech (Jud 9:21), may have been Beeroth (Bireh) in the lot of Benjamin. Thebez, the town taken by the latter (Jud 9:50), and where he met his death, is now the village Tubas, 10 miles Northeast of Shechem.

The appendix to Judges includes two stories concerning Levites who both lived in the time of the 2nd generation after the Hob conquest (18:30; 20:28), and who both "sojourned" in Bethlehem of Judah (17:8; 19:2), though their proper city was one in Mt. Ephraim, In the first case Jonathan, the grandson of Moses, founded a family of idolatrous priests, setting up Micah’s image at Da (Tell el Qadi) beside the sources of the Jordan, where ancient dolmen altars still exist. This image may have been the cause why Jeroboam afterward established a calf-temple at the same place. It is said to have stood there till the "captivity of the ark" (St. Petersburg MS, Jud 18:30), "all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh" (Jud 18:31). From this narrative we learn that the tribe of Da did not settle in its appointed lot (Jud 18:1), but pitched in the "camp of Dan," west of Kiriath-jearim (Jud 18:12). This agrees with the former mention of the site (Jud 13:25) as being near Zorah; and the open valley near Beth-shemesh is visible, through the gorges of Lehi, from the site of Kiriath-jearim at `Erma.

(4) Appendix: The Defeat of Benjamin.

3. Book of Ruth:

The Book of Ru gives us a vivid picture of Hebrew life "when the judges ruled" (1:1 the King James Version), about a century before the birth of David. Laws as old as Hammurabi’s age allowed the widow the choice of remaining with the husband’s family, or of quitting his house (compare 1:8). The beating out of gleanings (2:17) by women is still a custom which accounts for the rock mortars found so often scooped out on the hillside. The villager still sleeps, as a guard, beside the heap of winnowed grain in the threshing-floor (3:7); the head-veil, still worn, could well have been used to carry six measures of barley (3:15). The courteous salutation of his reapers by Boaz (2:4) recalls the common Arabic greeting (Allah ma`kum), "God be with you." But the thin wine (2:14) is no longer drunk by Moslem peasants, who only "dip" their bread in oil.

4. Books of Samuel:

(1) Samuel.

(2) Saul’s Search.

(3) Saul’s Coronation and First Campaign.

Saul concealed the fact of his anointing (1Sa 10:16) till the lot fell upon him at Mizpah. This public choice by lot has been thought (Wellhausen, History of Israel, 1885, 252) to indicate a double narrative, but to a Hebrew there would not appear to be any discrepancy, since "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of Yahweh" (Pr 16:33). Even at Mizpah he was not fully accepted till his triumph over the Ammonites, when the kingdom was "renewed" at Gilgal (1Sa 11:14). This campaign raises an interesting question of geography. Only 7 days’ respite was allowed to the men of Jabesh in Gilead (1Sa 11:3), during which news was sent to Saul at Gibeah, and messengers dispatched "throughout the borders of Israel" (1Sa 11:7), while the hosts gathered at Bezek, and reached Jabesh on the 7th or 8th day (1Sa 11:8-10) at dawn. Bezek appears to be a different place from that West of Jerusalem (Jud 1:4) and to have been in the middle of Palestine at Ibzik, 14 miles North of Shechem, and 25 miles West of Jabesh, which probably lay in Wady Yabis in Gilead. The farthest distances for the messengers would not have exceeded 80 miles; and, allowing a day for the news to reach Saul and another for the march from Bezek to Jabesh, there would have been just time for the gathering of Israel at this fairly central meeting-place.

(4) David’s Early Life.

(5) The Defeat and Death of Saul.

(6) Wellhausen’s Theory of a Double Narrative.

The study of David’s wanderings, it may be noted, and of the climatic conditions in the Jeshimon desert, does not serve to confirm Wellhausen’s theory of a double narrative, based on the secret unction and public choice of Saul, on the double visit to Hachilah, and on the fact that the gloomy king had forgotten the name of David’s father. The history is not a "pious make-up" without "a word of truth" (Wellhausen, Hist Israel, 248-49); and David, as a "youth" of twenty years, may yet have been called a "man of war"; while "transparent artifice" (p. 251) will hardly be recognized by the reader of this genuine chronicle. Nor was there any "Aphek in Sharon" (p. 260), and David did not "amuse himself by going first toward the north" from Gibeah (p. 267); his visit to Ramah does not appear to be a "worthless anachronistic anecdote" (p. 271); and no one who has lived in the terrible Jeshimon could regard the meeting at Hachilah as a "jest" (p. 265). Nor did the hill ("the dusky top") "take its name from the circumstance," but Wellhausen probably means the Sela`-ha-machleqoth ("cliff of slippings" or of "slippings away"), now Wady Malaqeh near Maon (compare 1Sa 23:19,24,28), which lay farther South than Ziph.

(7) Early Years of David’s Reign.

(8) Hebrew Letter-writing.

(9) The Later Years of David’s Reign.

On the rebellion of Absalom David retreated to Mahanaim, apparently by the road North of the Mount of Olives, if the Targum of Jonathan (2Sa 16:5) is correct in placing Bahurim at Almon (`Almit), Northeast of Jerusalem. It is not clear where the "wood of Ephraim," in which Absalom perished, may have been, but it was beyond Jordan in Gilead (2Sa 17:22; 18:6); and oak woods are more common there than in Western Palestine. The latest revolt, after Absalom’s death, was in the extreme north at Abel (Abil), in Upper Galilee (2Sa 20:14), after which Joab’s journey is the last incident to be studied in the Books of Samuel. For census purposes he went East of the Jordan to Aroer (perhaps the city on the Arnon), to the "river of Gad" (Wady Na`aur) near Jazer, and through Gilead. Tahtim-hodshi (2Sa 24:6) is believed (on the authority of three Greek manuscripts) to be a corruption of "the Hittites at Kadesh" (Qades), the great city on the Orontes (see Hittites), which lay on the northern boundary of David’s dominions, South of the kingdom of Hamath. Thence Joab returned to Zidon and Tyre, and after visiting all Judah to Beersheba reached Jerusalem again within 10 months. The acquisition of the temple-site then closes the book.

5. Books of Kings:

(1) Solomon’s Provinces.

The Books of Kings contain also some interesting questions of geography. Solomon’s twelve provinces appear to answer very closely to the lots of the twelve tribes described in Josh. They included (1Ki 4:7-19) the following:

(a) Ephraim,

(b) Dan,

(c) Southern Judah (see Jos 12:17),

(d) Manasseh,

(e) Issachar,

(f) Northern Gilead and Bashan,

(g) Southern Gilead,

(h) Naphtali,

(i) Asher,

(j) part of Isaachar and probably Zebulun (the text is doubtful, for the order of 1Ki 4:17 differs in the Septuagint),

(k) Benjamin,

(1) Reuben.

The Septuagint renders the last clause (4:19), "and one Naseph (i.e. "officer"’) in the land of Judah"--probably superior to the other twelve. Solomon’s dominions included Philistia and Southern Syria, and stretched along the trade route by Tadmor (Palmyra) to Tiphsah on the Euphrates (4:21,24; compare 9:18 = Tamar; 2Ch 8:4 = Tadmot). Another Tiphsah (now Tafsach) lay 6 miles Southwest of Shechem (2Ki 15:16). Gezer was presented to Solomon’s wife by the Pharaoh (1Ki 9:16).

(2) Geography of the Northern Kingdom.

(3) Places Connected with Elisha.

6. Post-exilic Historical Books:

The topographical notices in the books written after the captivity require but short notice. The Benjamites built up Lod (Ludd), Ono (Kerr `Ana) and Aijalon (Yalo), which were in the lot of Da (1Ch 8:12; Ne 11:35), and it is worthy of note that Lod (Lydda) is not to be regarded as a new town simply because not mentioned in the earlier books; for Lod is mentioned (number 64) with Ono in the lists of Thothmes III, a century before the Hebrew conquest of Palestine The author of Chronicles had access to information not to be found elsewhere in the Old Testament. His list of Rehoboam’s fortresses (2Ch 11:6-10) includes 14 towns, most of which were on the frontiers of the diminished kingdom of Judah, some being noticed (such as Shoco and Adoraim) in the list of Shishak’s conquests. He speaks of the "valley of Zephathah" (2Ch 14:10), now Wady Cafieh, which is otherwise unnoticed, and places it correctly at Mareshah (Mer`ash) on the edge of the Philistine plain. He is equally clear about the topography in describing the attack on Jehoshaphat by the Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites. They camped at En-gedi (`Ain Jidi), and marched West toward Tekoa (Tequ`a); and the thanksgiving assembly, after the Hebrew victory, was in the valley of Beracah (2Ch 20:1,20,26), which retains its name as Breikut, 4 miles West of Tekoa.

IV. Palestine in the Poetic Books of the Old Testament.

1. Book of Job:

2. Book of Psalms:

3. Book of Proverbs:

In Proverbs the allusions are more peaceful, but not geographical. They refer to agriculture (3:10; 11:26; 12:11; 25:13), to trade (7:16; 31:14,24) and to flocks (27:23-27). The most remarkable passage (26:8) reads literally, "As he that packs a stone into the stone-heap, so is he that giveth honor to a fool." Jerome said that this referred to a superstitious custom; and the erection of stone heaps at graves, or round a pillar (Ge 31:45,46), is a widely spread and very ancient custom (still preserved by Arabs), each stone being the memorial of a visitor to the spot, who thus honors either a local ghost or demon, or a dead man--a rite which was foolish in the eyes of a Hebrew of the age in which this verse was written (see Expository Times, VIII, 399, 524).

4. So of Songs:


V. Palestine in the Prophets.

1. Isaiah:

Isaiah (1:8) likens Zion, when the Assyrian armies were holding Samaria, Moab and Philistia, to "a booth in a vineyard, a lodge in a garden of cucumbers." He refers no doubt to a "tower" (Mt 21:33), or platform, such as is to be found beside the rock-cut wine press in the deserted vineyards of Palestine; and such as is still built, for the watchman to stand on, in vineyards and vegetable gardens.

The chief topographical question (Isa 10:28-32) refers to the Assyrian advance from the north, when the outposts covered the march through Samaria (whether in 732, 722, or 702 BC) to Philistia. They extended on the left wing to Ai (Chayan), Michmash (Mukhmas), and Geba, South of the Michmash valley (Jeba`), leading to the flight of the villagers, from Ramah (er-Ram) and the region of Gibeah--which included Ramah, with Geba (1Sa 22:6) and Migron (1Sa 14:2) or the precipice. They were alarmed also at Gallim (Beit Jala), and Anathoth (`Anata), near Jerusalem; yet the advance ceased at Nob (compare Ne 11:32) where, as before noted, the first glimpse of Zion would be caught if Nob was at or near Mizpah (Tell en Nacbeh), on the main north road leading West of Ramah.

2. Jeremiah:

3. Ezekiel:

4. Minor Prophets:

VI. Palestine in the Apocrypha.

1. Book of Judith:

The Book of Judith is regarded by Renan (Evangiles, 1877, 29) as a Haggadha’ (legend), written in Hebrew in 74 AD. It is remarkable, however, that its geographical allusions are very correct. Judith was apparently of the tribe of Manasseh (8:2,3); and her husband, who bore this name, was buried between Dothaim (Tell Dothan) and Balamon (in Wady Belameh), East of Dothan. Her home at Bethulia was thus probably at Mithilieh, on a high hill (6:11,12), 5 miles Southeast of Dothan (SWP, II, 156), in the territory of Manasseh. The requirements of the narrative are well met; for this village is supplied only by wells (7:13,10), though there are springs at the foot of the hill to the South (7:7,12), while there is a good view over the valley to the North (10:10), and over the plain of Esdraelon to Nazareth and Tabor. Other mountains surround the village (15:3). The camp of the invaders reached from Dothart to Belmaim (Balamon) from West to East, and their rear was at Cyamon (Tell Qeimun), at the foot of Carmel. The Babylonians were allied with tribes from Carmel, Gilead and Galilee on the North with the Samaritans, and with others from Betane (probably Beth-anoth, now Belt `Ainun, North of Hebron), Chellus (Klalach--the later Elusa--8 miles Southwest of Beersheba), and Kades (`Ain Qadis) on the way to Egypt. Among Samaritan towns South of Shechem, Ekrebel (`Aqrabeh) and Chusi (Kuzah) are mentioned, with "the brook Mochmur" (Wady el Chumr) rising North of Ekrebel and running East into the Jordan.

2. Book of Wisdom:

The philosophical Book of Wisdom has no references to Palestine; and in Ecclesiasticus the only allusions are to the palm of En-gaddi (24:14), where palms still exist, and to the "rose plant in Jericho" (24:14; compare 39:13; 50:8); the description of the rose as "growing by the brook in the field" suggests the rhododendron (Tristram, NHB, 477), which flourishes near the Jordan and grows to great size beside the brooks of Gilead.

3. 1 Maccabees:

Judas Maccabeus.--The first Book of Maccabees is a valuable history going down to 135 BC, and its geographical allusions are sometimes important. Modin, the home of Judas-Maccabaeus (1 Macc 2:15), where his brother Simon erected seven monuments visible from the sea (1 Macc 9:19; 13:25-30), was above the plain in which Cedron (Qatrah, 5 miles East of Jamnia) stood (1 Macc 15:40,41; 16:4,9), and is clearly the present village el Midieh on the low hills with a sea view, 17 miles from Jerusalem and 6 miles East of Lydda, near which latter Eusebius (Onom under the word "Modeim") places Modin. The first victory of Judas (1 Macc 3:24) was won at Beth-horon, and the second at Emmaus (`Amwas) by the Valley of Aijalon--the scenes of Joshua’s victories also.

The Greeks next attempted to reach Jerusalem from the South and were again defeated at Beth-zur (1 Macc 4:29), now Beit-cur, on the watershed, 15 miles South of Jerusalem, where the road runs through a pass. Judas next (after cleansing the temple in 165 BC) marched South of the Dead Sea, attacking the Edomites at Arabattine (perhaps Akrabbim) and penetrating to the Moab plateau as far North as Jazar (1 Macc 5:3-8). On his return to Judea the heathen of Gilead and Bashan rose against the Israelites of Tubias (1 Macc 5:13) or Tobit (Taiyibeh), and the Phoenicians against the Galilean Hebrews who were, for a time, withdrawn to Jerusalem until the Hasmoneans won complete independence (1 Macc 11:7,59). In the regions of Northern Gilead and Southern Bashan (1 Macc 5:26,36,37) Judas conquered Bosor (Bucr), Alema (Kerr el-ma), Caphon (Khisfin), Maged (perhaps el Mejd, North of `Amman), and Carnaim (Ashteroth-karnaim), now Tell Ashterah. The notice of a "brook" at the last-named place (1 Macc 5:42) is an interesting touch, as a fine stream runs South from the west side of the town. In 162 BC Judas was defeated at Bathzacharias (1 Macc 6:32), now Beit Skaria 9 miles South of Jerusalem, but the cause was saved by a revolt in Antioch; and in the next year he defeated Nicanor near Caphar-salama (perhaps Selmeh, near Joppa), and slew him at Adasah (`Adaseh), 8 miles Southeast of Beth-horon (1 Macc 7:31,40,45). The fatal battle in which Judas was killed (1 Macc 9:5,15) was fought also near Beth-horon. He camped at Eleasa (Il`asa), close by, and defeated the Greeks on his right, driving them to Mt. Azotus (or Beth-zetho, according to Josephus (Ant., XII, xi, 2)), apparently near Bir-ez-Zeit, 4 miles Northwest of Bethel; but the Greeks on his left surrounded him during this rash pursuit.

On the death of Judas, Bacchides occupied Judea and fortified the frontier towns (1 Macc 9:50,51) on all sides. Simon and Jonathan were driven to the marshes near the Jordan, but in 159 BC the Greeks made peace with Jonathan who returned to Michmash (1 Macc 9:73) and 7 years later to Jerns (1 Macc 10:1,7). Three districts on the southern border of Samaria were then added to Judea (1 Macc 10:30; 11:34), namely Lydda, Apherema (or Ephraim) now Taiyibeh, and Ramathem (er-Ram); and Jonathan defeated the Greeks in Philistia (1 Macc 10:69; 11:6). Simon was "captain" from the "Ladder of Tyre" (Ras en Naqurah), or the pass North of Accho, to the borders of Egypt (1 Macc 11:59); and the Greeks in Upper Galilee were again defeated by Jonathan, who advanced from Gennesaret to the plateau of Hazor (Chazzur), and pursued them even to Kedesh Naphtali (Qedes), northward (1 Macc 11:63,73). He was victorious even to the borders of Hamath, and the Eleutherus River (Nahr el Kebir), North of Tripoils, and defeated the Arabs, called Zabadeans (probably at Zebdany in Anti-Lebanon), on his way to Damascus (1 Macc 12:25,30,32). He fortified Adida (Chadditheh) in the shephelah (1 Macc 12:38), West of Jerusalem, where Simon awaited the Greek usurper Tryphon (1 Macc 13:13,20), who attempted to reach Jerusalem by a long detour to the South near Adoraim (Dura), but failed on account of the snow in the mountains. After the treacherous capture of Jonathan at Accho, and his death in Gilead (1 Macc 12:48; 13:23), Simon became the ruler of all Palestine to Gaza (1 Macc 13:43), fortifying Joppa, Gezer and Ashdod (1 Macc 14:34) in 140 BC. Five years later he won a final victory at Cedron (Qatrah), near Jamnia (Yebnah), but was murdered at Dok (1 Macc 16:15), near Jericho, which site was a small fort at `Ain Duk, a spring North of the city.

4. 2 Maccabees:

The second Book of Maccabees presents a contrast to the first in which, as we have seen, the geography is easily understood. Thus the site of Caspis with its lake (2 Macc 12:13,16) is doubtful. It seems to be placed in Idumaea, and Charax may be the fortress of Kerak in Moab (2 Macc 12:17). Ephron, West of Ashteroth-karnaim (2 Macc 12:26,27), is unknown; and Beth-shean is called by its later name Scythopolis (2 Macc 12:29), as in the Septuagint (Jud 1:27) and in Josephus (Ant., XII, viii, 5; vi, 1). A curious passage (1 Macc 13:4-6) seems to refer to the Persian burial towers (still used by Parsees), one of which appears to have existed at Berea (Aleppo), though this was not a Greek custom.

See Asmoneans.

VII. Palestine in the New Testament.

1. Synoptic Gospels:

We are told that our Lord was born in "Bethlehem of Judea"; and theory of Neubauer, adopted by Gratz, that Bethlehem of Zebulun (Jos 19:15)--which was the present Beit-Lachm, 7 miles Northwest of Nazareth--is to be understood, is based on a mistake. The Jews expected the Messiah to appear in the home of David (Mic 5:2); and the Northern Bethlehem was not called "of Nazareth," as asserted by Rix (Tent and Testament, 258); this was a conjectural reading by Neubauer (Geog. du Talmud, 189), but the Talmud (Talm Jerusalem, Meghillah 1 1) calls the place Bethlechem-ceridh (or "of balm"), no doubt from the storax bush (Styrax officinalis) or stacte (Ex 30:34), the Arabic `abhar, which still abounds in the oak wood close by.

(1) Galilean Scenery.

The greater part of the life of Jesus was spent at Nazareth in Zebulun, and the ministry at Capernaum in Naphtali (compare Mt 4:13-15; Isa 9:1), with yearly visits to Jerusalem. The Gospel narratives and the symbolism of the parables constantly recall the characteristic features of Galilean scenery and nature, as they remain unchanged today. The "city set on a hill" (Mt 5:14) may be seen in any part of Palestine; the lilies of the field grow in all its plains; the "foxes have holes" and the sparrows are still eaten; the vineyard with its tower; the good plowland, amid stony and thorny places, are all still found throughout the Holy Land. But the deep lake surrounded by precipitous cliffs and subject to sudden storms, with its shoals of fish and its naked fishers; the cast nets and drag nets and small heavy boats of the Sea of Galilee, are more distinctive of the Gospels, since the lake is but briefly noticed in the Old Testament.

(2) Nazareth.

Nazareth was a little village in a hill plateau North of the plain of Esdraelon, and l,000 ft. above it. The name (Hebrew natsarah) may mean "verdant," and it had a fine spring, but it is connected (Mt 2:23) in the Gospels with the prophecy of the "branch" (netser, Isa 11:1) of the house of David. Its population was Hebrew, for it possessed a synagogue (Lu 4:16). The "brow of the hill whereon their city was built" (Lu 4:29) is traditionally the "hill of the leap" (Jebel Qafsi), 2 miles to the South--a cliff overlooking the plain. Nazareth was not on any great highway; and so obscure was this village that it is unnoticed in the Old Testament, or by Josephus, while even a Galilean (Joh 1:46) could hardly believe that a prophet could come thence. Jerome (Onomasticon, under the word) calls it a "village"; but today it is a town with 4,000 Christians and 2,000 Moslems, the former taking their Arabic name (Nacarah) from the home of their Master.

(3) Capernaum.

(4) Chorazin.

The site of Chorazin (Kerazeh) has never been lost. The ruined village lies about 2 1/4 miles North of Tell Chum and possesses a synagogue of similar character. Bethsaida ("the house of fishing") is once said to have been in Galilee (Joh 12:21), and Reland (Palestine Illustr., II, 553-55) thought that there were two towns of the name. It is certain that the other notices refer to Bethsaida, called Julias by Herod Philip, which Josephus (Ant., XVIII, ii, 1; iv, 6; BJ, III, x, 7) and Pliny (NH, v.15) place East of the Jordan, near the place where it enters the Sea of Galilee. The site may be at the ruin edition Dikkeh ("the platform"), now 2 miles North of the lake, but probably nearer of old, as the river deposit has increased southward. There are remains of a synagogue here also. The two miracles of feeding the 5,000 and the 4,000 are both described as occurring’ East of the Jordan, the former (Lu 9:10) in the desert (of Golan) "belonging to the city called Bethsaida" (the King James Version). The words (Mr 6:45 the King James Version), "to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida," may be rendered without any straining of grammar, "to go to the side opposite to Bethsaida." For the disciples are not said to have reached that city; but, after a voyage of at least 3 or 4 miles (Joh 6:17,19), they arrived near Capernaum, and landed in Gennesaret (Mr 6:53), about 5 miles Southwest of the Jordan.

(5) Country of the Gerasenes.

The place where the swine rushed down a steep place into the lake (Mt 8:32; Mr 5:1; Lu 8:26) was in the country of the Gerasenes (see Codex Vaticanus MS), probably at Qersa on the eastern shore opposite Tiberias, where there is a steep slope to the water. It should be noted that this was in Decapolis (Mr 5:20), a region of "ten cities" which lay (except Scythopolis) in Southwest Bashan, where a large number of early Greek inscriptions have been found, some of which (e.g. Vogue-Waddington, numbers 2412, 2413) are as old as the 1st century AD. There was evidently a Greek population in this region in the time of our Lord; and this accounts for the feeding of swine, otherwise distinctive of "a far country" (Lu 15:13,15); for, while no Hebrew would have tended the unclean beast in Palestine, the Greeks were swine-herds from the time at least of Homer.

(6) Magadan-Magdala.

(7) Other Allusions in the Synoptic Gospels.

Other allusions in the Synoptic Gospels, referring to natural history and customs, include the notice of domestic fowls (Mt 23:37; 26:34), which are never mentioned in the Old Testament. They came from Persia, and were introduced probably after 400 BC. The use of manure (Lu 13:8) is also unnoticed in the Old Testament, but is mentioned in the Mishna (Shebi`ith, ii.2), as is the custom of annually whitening sepulchers (Mt 23:27; Sheqalim, i.1). The removal of a roof (Mr 2:4; compare Lu 5:19) at Capernaum was not difficult, if it resembled those of modern Galilean mud houses, though the Third Gospel speaks of "tiles" which are not now used. Finally, the presence of shepherds with their flocks (Lu 2:8) is not an indication of the season of the nativity, since they remain with them "in the field" at all times of the year; and the "manger" (Lu 2:7) may have been (as tradition affirmed even in the 2nd century AD) in a cave like those which have been found in ruins North and South of Hebron (SWP, III, 349, 369) and elsewhere in Palestine

2. Fourth Gospel:

(2) The site of Sychar (Samaritan: Iskar, Arabic: `Askar) near Jacob’s well (Joh 4:5,6) lay West of Salim, and just within the Samaritan border. The present village is only half a mile North of the well. Like the preceding sites, it is noticed only in the Fourth Gospel, as is Bethesda, while this Gospel also gives additional indications as to the position of Calvary. The town of Ephraim, "near to the wilderness" (Joh 11:54), is noticed earlier (2Sa 13:23; compare Ephraim, 2Ch 13:19 margin), and appears to be the same as Apherema (1 Macc 11:34), and as Ophrah of Benjamin (Jos 18:23; 1Sa 13:17). Eusebius (Onom under the word) places it 20 Roman miles North of Jerusalem, where the village Taiyibeh looks down on the desert of Judah.

3. Book of Acts:

In the Book of Ac the only new site, unnoticed before, is that of Antipatris (23:31). This stood at the head of the stream (Me-jarkon) which runs thence to the sea North of Joppa, and it was thus the half-way station between Jerusalem and the seaside capital at Caesarea. The site is now called Ras el `Ain ("head of the spring"), and a castle, built in the 12th century, stands above the waters. The old Ro road runs close by (SWP, II, 258). Caesarea was a new town, founded by Herod the Great about 20 BC (SWP, II, 13-29). It was even larger than Jerusalem, and had an artificial harbor. Thence we may leave Palestine with Paul in 60 AD. The reader must judge whether this study of the country does not serve to vindicate the sincerity and authenticity of Bible narratives in the Old Testament and the New Testament alike.


Though the literature connected with Palestine is enormous, and constantly increasing, the number of really original and scientific sources of knowledge is (as in other cases) not large. Besides the Bible, and Josephus, the Mishna contains a great deal of valuable information as to the cultivation and civilization of Palestine about the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. The following 20 works are of primary importance. The Onomasticon of Eusebius and Jerome shows intimate acquaintance with Palestine in the 4th century AD, though the identification of Bible sites is as often wrong as right. The rabbinical geography is discussed by A. Neubauer (La geographie du Talmud, 1868), and the scattered notices by Greek and Roman writers were collected by H. Reland (Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata, 2 volumes, 1714). The first really scientific account of the country is that of Dr. E. Robinson (Biblical Researches, 1838, and Later Biblical Researches, 1852; in 3 volumes, 1856). The Survey of Western Palestine (7 volumes, 1883) includes the present writer’s account of the natural features, topography and surface remains of all ages, written while in command (1872-1878) of the 1-inch trigonometric survey. The Survey of Eastern Palestine (1 vol, 1889) gives his account of Moab and Southern Gilead, as surveyed in 1881-1882. The natural history is to be studied in the same series, and in Canon Tristram’s Natural History of the Bible, 1868. The geology is best given by L. Lartet (Essai sur la geologie de la Palestine) and in Professor Hull’s Memoir on the Geol. and Geog. of Arabia Petrea, etc., 1886. The Archaeological Researches of M. Clermont-Ganneau (2 volumes, 1896) include his discoveries of Gezer and Adullam. Much information is scattered through the PEFQ,(1864-1910) and in ZDPV. G. Schumacher’s Across the Jordan, 1885, Pella, 1888, and Northern ’Ajlun, 1890, give detailed information for Northeast Palestine; and Lachish, by Professor Flinders Petrie, is the memoir of the excavations which he began at Tell el-Chesy (identified in 1874 by the present writer), the full account being in A Mound of Many Cities by F.J. Bliss, 1894. Other excavations, at Gath, etc., are described in Excavations in Palestine (1898-1900), by F.J. Bliss, R.A.S. Macalister, and Professor Wunsch; while the memoir of his excavations at Gezer (2 volumes) has recently been published by Professor Macalister. For those who have not access to these original sources, The Historical Geography of the Holy Land by Professor G.A. Smith, 1894, and the essay (300 pp.) by Professor D.F. Buhl (Geographie des alten Palastina, 1896) will be found useful. The best guide book to Palestine is still that of Baedeker, written by Dr. A. Socin and published in 18765, 1912. This author had personal acquaintance with the principal routes of the country. Only standard works of reference have been herein mentioned, to which French, German, American, and British explorers and scholars have alike contributed.

See nodetitle.

C. R. Conder