Plain (Valley) of Esdraelon

See also Esdraelon

ESDRAELON, PLAIN (VALLEY) OF ĕz’ drĭ ē'-lən (̓Εσδρηλών, modification of the Heb. עֵ֥מֶק יִזְרְעֶֽאל, the valley of God’s sowing, or God will sow, popularly “the Emek”).

A lowland that transects the central ranges of Pal. separating the hills of Galilee and Samaria. Though mentioned as “Esdraelon” only in the Apoc. (Judg 1:8; 3:9; 4:6; 7:3), it forms part and parcel of the Valley of Jezreel (Josh 17:16; Judg 6:33), “the rich valley” (Isa 28:1, 4), and forms the setting for several passages of Scripture. In broadest usage, Esdraelon may include the whole plain from the sea to the Jordan, but a stricter terminology excludes both the Acre plain and (less emphatically) the valley eastward from Jezreel. It thus denotes the central triangle of lowland, approximately fifteen miles along each side, with its apices at the Kishon Gorge, Jenin, and Mt. Tabor.

Structure.

Esdraelon was formed by subsidence at the center and faulting at the periphery, and defined to the SW by the relatively continuous limestone scarp extending from Carmel to Gilboa and on the NW by the analogous if somewhat lower limestone escarpment of the Nazareth ridge. But the northeastern limits are less regular, since clear-cut fault lines are replaced here by lowland salients that isolate the limestone dome of Tabor—keystone of a vanished geological arch—and the basaltic mass of Mt. Moreh. A slight volcanic “causeway” divides the eastern from the western plain, but the basins themselves are largely infilled with alluvial loams stripped from the encircling rim of limestone and basalt, and by the dark organic soils of former swamplands.

Roads and passes.

Enclosed within its triangle of hills, Esdraelon had its exits and its entrances, strategic keys to the Fertile Crescent. Cutting from E to W across the grain of Pal., the Emek opened a vital passage from the Mediterranean to the Jordan—the easiest lowland corridor in the length of the Syrian ranges. The western gate, guarded by ancient Harosheth, followed the ravine of the Kishon between the abrupt scarp of Carmel and the Galilean hills, whereas the eastern gate, properly the Valley of Jezreel, linked Esdraelon with Beth-shan and the fords of the Jordan.

But this E-W traverse gained added significance from its connections with N-S routeways. Since the forests and swamps of Sharon and the brusque promontory of Carmel impeded coastal movement, the “way of the Sea” turned inland for easier passage through the Samarian hill country to Esdraelon. Avoiding hard limestone uplands, the two westerly roads followed channels etched into softer chalk and reached the plain at Jokneam and Megiddo respectively, whereas the two easterly passes, following down-faulted valleys, emerged at Taanach and Ibleam. Each route had its particular advantages. The Jokneam road provided lower and more direct access from Sharon to Phoenicia; the Ibleam road, linking Samaria to Jezreel and the Jordan, was in constant use; and the Taanach route, though somewhat difficult, was an acceptable alternative to Megiddo should strategy dictate. The Megiddo route was crucial. Uniquely combining the chalk depression of the Wadi ’Ara with dry basaltic causeway, it carried the main route from Egypt across the Esdraelon marshlands and the fords of the Kishon to the Tabor gate—a further focus for traffic. For though the hills W of Tabor were not impassable and the narrow Wadi Bira led occasional traffic eastward to the Jordan, it was the easier Tabor gate that led most naturally to Galilee and Syria.

Settlement.

Highway towns and mercantile wealth apart, Esdraelon was less significant for settlement. Its drainage retarded by narrow gorge and basalt barrier, the Kishon broadened sporadically into malarial marsh and waterlogged soils. Ancient settlements—long Canaanite rather than Israelite—clustered on the marginal lines of hills and springs, whereas the plains were grazed in patchy and seasonal fashion; the drier Valley of Jezreel was better tilled and Megiddo sent wheat to Egypt. Since 1920, however, planned colonization with eradication of malaria, drainage, well-drilling, and intensive cultivation have transformed the Emek into a rich mosaic of farmland and settlement.

A pattern of violence.

Esdraelon, nevertheless, has been more noted for the arts of war than those of peace. Long before Thutmose III hailed the fall of Megiddo as “the capture of a thousand towns,” the strategic implications were clear. The tale continued with Sisera’s defeat and Gideon’s victory (Judg 5:19-21; 6:33), Saul’s last battle and Solomon’s chariot fortress (1 Sam 31; 1 Kings 9:15), Jehu’s relentless pursuit of Ahaziah and the downfall of Jezebel and Josiah (2 Kings 9:20-24, 37; 23:29). When John bore witness to the final triumph of Christ, it was Har-megiddo (Armageddon) that loomed in the Apocalyptic vision.

Bibliography

C. F. Kent, Biblical Geography and History (1924); G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (1931); (British) Naval Intelligence Division, Geographical Handbook Series, Palestine and Transjordan (1943); D. Baly, Geography of the Bible (1957); D. Baly, Geographical Companion to the Bible (1963); E. Orni and E. Efrat, Geography of Israel (1966).