Palestine, 1

pal'-es-tin (pelesheth; Phulistieim, Allophuloi; the King James Version Joe 3:4 (the Revised Version (British and American) "Philistia"), "Palestina"; the King James Version Ex 15:14; Isa 14:29,31; compare Ps 60:8; 83:7; 87:4; 108:9):


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. Song 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).

See a list of verses on PALESTINE in the Bible.

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.

See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.

1. General Geographical Features:

Palestine West of the Jordan, between Dan 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 Sea of Galilee (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.


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:

Thus, the occurrence of drought, and of consequent famine, is mentioned in the Old Testament as occasional in all times (Ge 12:10; 26:2; 41:50; Le 26:20; 2Sa 21:1; 1Ki 8:35; Isa 5:6; Jer 14:1; Joe 1:10-12; Hag 1:11; Zec 14:17), and droughts are also noticed in the Mishna (Ta`anith, i. 4-7) as occurring in autumn, and even lasting throughout the rainy season till spring. Good rains were a blessing from God, and drought was a sign of His displeasure, in Hebrew belief (De 11:14; Jer 5:24; Joe 2:23). A thunderstorm in harvest time (May) was most unusual (1Sa 12:17-18), yet such a storm does still occur as a very exceptional phenomenon. By "snow in harvest" (Pr 25:13) we are not to understand a snowstorm, for it is likened to a "faithful messenger," and the reference is to the use of snow for cooling wine, which is still usual at Damascus. The notice of fever on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (Mt 8:14) shows that this region was as unhealthy as it still is in summer. The decay of irrigation in Sharon may have rendered the plain more malarious than of old, but the identity of the Palestinian flora with that of the Bible indicates that the climate, generally speaking, is unchanged.

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.

The first place noticed is the shrine or "station" (maqom) of Shechem, with the Elon Moreh, the Septuagint "high oak"), where Jacob afterward buried the idols of his wives, and where Joshua set up a stone by the "holy place" (Ge 12:6; 35:4; Jos 24:26). Samaritan tradition showed the site near BalaTa ("the oak") at the foot of Mt. Gerizim. The "Canaanite was then in the land" (in Abraham's time), but was exterminated (Ge 34:25) by Jacob's sons. From Shechem Abraham journeyed southward and raised an altar between Bethel (Beitin) and Hal (Chayan), East of the town of Luz, the name of which still survives hard-by at the spring of Lozeh (Ge 12:8; 13:3; 28:11,19; 35:2).

(2) The Negeb.

But, on his return from Egypt with large flocks (Ge 12:16), he settled in the pastoral region, between Beersheba and the western Kadesh (Ge 13:1; 20:1), called in Hebrew the neghebh, "dry" country, on the edge of the cultivated lands. From East of Bethel there is a fine view of the lower Jordan valley, and here Lot "lifted up his eyes" (Ge 13:10), and chose the rich grass lands of that valley for his flocks. The "cities of the Plain" (kikkar) were clearly in this valley, and Sodom must have been near the river, since Lot's journey to Zoar (Ge 19:22) occupied only an hour or two (Ge 19:15,23) through the plain to the foot of the Moab mountains. These cities are not said to have been visible from near Hebron; but, from the hilltop East of the city, Abraham could have seen "the smoke of the land" (Ge 19:28) rising up. The first land owned by him was the garden of Mamre (Ge 13:18; 18:1; 23:19), with the cave-tomb which tradition still points out under the floor of the Hebron mosque. His tent was spread under the "oaks of Mamre" (Ge 18:1), where his mysterious guests rested "under the tree" (Ge 18:8). One aged oak still survives in the flat ground West of the city, but this tree is very uncommon in the mountains of Judah. In all these incidental touches we have evidence of the exact knowledge of Palestine which distinguishes the story of the patriarchs.

(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).


(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:

The episode of Judah and Tamar is connected with a region in the Shephelah, or low hills of Judea. Adullam (`Aid-el-ma), Chezib (`Ain Kezbeh), and Timnath (Tibneh) are not far apart (Ge 38:1,5,12), the latter being in a pastoral valley where Judah met his "sheep shearers." Tamar sat at "the entrance of Enaim" (compare Ge 38:14,22 the English Revised Version) or Enam (Jos 15:34), perhaps at Kefr `Ana, 6 miles Northwest of Timnath. She was mistaken for a qedheshah, or votary (sacred prostitute) of Ashtoreth (Ge 38:15,21), and we know from Hammurabi's laws that such votaries were already recognized. The mention of Judah's signet and staff (Ge 38:18) also reminds us of Babylonian customs as described by Herodotus (i.195), and signet-cylinders of Babylonian style, and of early date, have been unearthed in Palestine at Gezer and elsewhere (compare the "Babylonian garment," Jos 7:21).

5. Review of the Geography of Genesis:

Generally speaking, the geography of Gen 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 (Ex 21:1-36 through Ex 23:1-33), 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 Le 11:1-47 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 De 14:1-29 the fallow deer and the roe (De 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.

Continued in PALESTINE, 2.

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