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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

Explanation of the Boundaries of Palestine.

According to Numbers 34:3, &c.

"Then your south quarter shall be from the wilderness of Zin, along by the coast of Edom, and your south border shall be the utmost coast of the Salt Sea, eastward; and your border shall turn from the south to the ascent of Akrabbim, and pass on to Zin, and the going forth thereof shall be from the south of Kadesh-Barnea, and shall go on to Hazar-adar, and pass on to Azmon; and the border shall fetch a compass from Azmon unto the river of Egypt, and the doings out of it shall be at the sea."

Zin. צין

The Targum Jonathan (יונתן בן עוזיאל) explains צין as meaningציני טור פרזלא Tzinay Tur Parzela, i.e. "the iron mountain." Now, in Mishna Sukka, chapter 3. § 1 ציני טור פרזלא refers to an uncommonly close, strong, and hard species of palms;* the meaning, therefore, in this passage is "The wilderness of Zin, in the direction of the hard palm country," a well-known place of the desert, where this species of hard palms grew. We also find mention made at the end of Tractate Yebamoth, that the town of Zoar is called the "City of Palms;" the same occurs in Tosefta Shebiith, chapter 7, and in Talmud Pesachim, fol. 53a. It appears, therefore, to me that חצצון תמר Chazezon-Tamar† (Gen. 14:7) is the City of Palms, Zoar, situated in that neighbourhood (see farther down En Gedi, עין גדי) At the southwestern termination of the Dead Sea is found a salt mountain about 150 feet high, which extends about five miles in a northerly direction, and is called in Arabic Uzdum. At the northern end of this mountain, is a narrow pass, in the neighbourhood of which there are ruins called Zuari in Arabic. To me there appears no doubt that Uzdum is derived from the ancient Sodom, and Zuari from Zoar. In Pesachim fol. 93b, the distance from Zoar to Sodom, is stated as five mill, say in the neighbourhood of four English miles. But it is ascertained that the ancient Sodom did actually stand four English miles from the ruins of Zuari.‡ I take this pass to be "the Valley of Salt" of 2 Samuel 8:13.

* See Rashi's exposition of צינייתא in Sanhedrin, fol. 96b.

† Perhaps the Tamar of Ezekiel 47:19, is the above mentioned Zoar, the City of Palms, also called Palmyra, not as Ir hattemarim, in Deuteronomy 34:3, is taken by many commentators for Jericho יריחו.

‡ I am, however, somewhat in doubt concerning the true position of Zoar; because, in Jeremiah 48:34, Zoar is reckoned among the cities of Moab; it must, therefore, be in the Moabite country, and not on the west side of the Dead Sea. I am, therefore, induced to suggest that there were two towns bearing the name of Zoar. The village Safia, on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, and consequently in the country of Moab, was, according to a certain tradition, formerly called Zoar, and this appears actually to be the town of this name mentioned as belonging to Moab.

Zoar is also called the "City of Salt," in Joshua 15:62, on account of the salt mountain in its vicinity. In this mountain also must the pillar of salt (Lot's Wife) be sought for. Upon the whole, I take the entire country of the southwest portion of the Dead Sea, called in Arabic "Saideiyeh," to be that part of the desert called the Wilderness of Zin.

The Ascent of Akrabbim
מעלה עקרבים

Means literally the ascent of Scorpions, so to say, a most dangerous hill. The celebrated Saadia renders it, in his Arabic translation of the Scriptures, Ali Akbah Akrabin, i.e. or the country of Akbah Akrabin. The Arabs call the eastern bay of the Red Sea, Bachr Akabah; also the entire valley, from the Dead to the red Sea, they call ערבה Araba, Al Gor, also Akabah (see father down, art. Kikkar Hayarden ככר הירדן). It is therefore to be presumed that this ascent of Akrabbim must be sought for in this valley. And, in truth, westward from the village Chansiri, on the edge of Al Gor, not far from the Wady Kurahy, there is a fearfully high and precipitous rocky acclivity, which to pass is extremely dangerous; and I suppose this is to be the Ascent of Akrabbim, here mentioned.*

* I explain Judges 1:36, וגבול האמרי ממעלה עקרבים מהסלה ומעלה "And the coast of the Amorite was from the going up of Akrabbim, from the rock and upward," to refer to the city Selah, mentioned in 2 Kings 14:7, which was also called Joktheel, and at a later period Petra, and which is also found in this Al Gor; and this leads us to place the ascent of Akrabbim northward of Selah or Petra.

Kadesh-Barnea. קדש ברנע

No geographer or traveller has hitherto succeeded to discover a trace of this place, But I believe that, through means of our own literary treasures, I shall be able to throw some light on this obscure name, so that it will be possible to fix its position with some degree of certainty.

Our commentators Onkelos, Jonathan, and the Targum Yerushalmi, all translate Kadesh-Barnea with רקם גיעא Rekam Gaya. In this connexion I have also discovered that the Wady al Arish (see farther down, under Nachal Mitzrayim נחל מצרים), united eastwardly with another Wady, which the Arabs call Wady Abiat (White Valley), or Wady Gaian. Another Wady, called by them Wady Bierin, is connected on the southeast with the Wady Gaian. I have scarcely any doubt but that the name of Gaian is derived from the ancient Rekam Gaya, and that Bierin is derived from the ancient Barnea; although the Arabs believe that this name is applied to the Wady because there are found in it several wells. I therefore believe that the true position of Kadesh-Barnea is to be found at the point where the Wadys Gaian and Bierin unite; and this is about 45 English miles south of Gaza.

Azmon עצמן

Is likewise unknown; still I find that Jonathan translates it with קסם Kessam. Now about 22 English miles southeasterly of the Wady Bierin is the Wady Kiseimi, and there is no doubt that Azmon must have stood formerly in this Wady, and was called at a later period, for instance in the time of Jonathan, by the name of Kessam.

The River of Egypt (Nachal Mitzrayim)
נחל מצרים

Jonathan renders this with Nilos.* This, however, appears to me not to be the stream indicated, for Palestine never extended to the Nile. The more correct view is that given in Saadiah's translation, Wady al Arish, which has a northwesterly course, and falls into the Mediterranean, near the village of Al Arish, the ancient Rhinocolura.

* But the "Shichor which is before Egypt" (Joshua 13:3), is, according to my opinion, actually the Nile; because Shichor literally means the Black, which is most likely applied to the Nile, because it comes from the country of the Aethiopians, the black race known to the ancients.

"And this shall be your north border, from the great sea ye shall point out to you Mount Nor." (Numb. 34:7.)

The Mount Hor, הר ההר · אמנה · אמנים · טור אמנן · טוורוס אומניס · טוורוס מנוס Amanah, Amanim, Tur Amnon, Tavros Umanis, and Tavros Manis, are the different names applied to this celebrated mount. In the Song of Solomon, 4:8, it is called Amanah; Jonathan called it Tavros Umanis; the Yerushalmi calls it Tavros Manis, and in Talmud and Midrash it bears the name of Tur Amnon. or Amanim. It appears from Talmud Babli, Gittin, fol. 8a, and T. Yerushalmi, Shebiith, chap. 4, that this mount was on the coast of the Mediterranean, and that on its summit was a town called Kapladia. We also learn from Joshua 8:5, that the whole mountain of Lebanon, together with the country of the Giblites (ארץ הגבלי), afterwards called Biblus, must be contained within the northern boundary of Palestine, since these districts are enumerated among the yet unconquered parts of the country. We must, therefore, seek for a point north of the Lebanon as the true site of the Mount Hor, the northernmost boundary of Palestine. Now I found that, south of Tripoli, the Trablos al Sham, on the coast there is a promontory which runs into the sea, called in Arabic Ras al Shaka, or, during the period of the Greek domination, Theuprosopon. On this promontory is a high mountain, called Djebel Nuria, on which is the village Kalpadia, which I take to be identical with the above Kapladia, having the present appellation by a simple transposition of the p and l, a thing very common among the Arabs; as they call, for instance, שפרעם Shafram, שפעמר Shafamr. East of this mountain is the small town Amiun, also called Kalmiun, which I take to bear some resemblance to the former Amanah, and am certain that the Mount Nuria is identical with the ancient Hor.

"From Mount Hor ye shall point our your border unto the entrance of Hamath, and the going forth of the border shall be to Zedad."(Ib. 5:8.)

Entrance of Hamath. לבא חמת

We find this designation often given as the northern boundary, or the northern terminus of Palestine; e.g. Numb. 13:21, 2 Kings 14:25, 2 Chron. 7:8. It appears to me that this must be a natural boundary; and I suppose this to be Coelesyria, and means the "way which leads to Hamath;" and the road which goes to the land of Hamath actually is through the great valley which lies between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon. The Arabs call it Al Bakaa, which means "the valley," "the hollow;" the southern portion they call Al Bakaa tachtani, the lower valley, and the northern part Al Bakaa foki, or the upper valley; and this extends to the neighbourhood of Hams, and the other to the neighbourhood of Sur, Zor, or Tyre. As in the passage in question it is given as the northern boundary, the northern valley is naturally understood; but in Numb. 13:21, reference is made to the southern part.*

* The Talmud, as well as all the other commentators, explain "the entrance of Hamath" with Antiochia, or Daphné, דפני של אנטיוכיא; so also they explain Riblah, in the land of Hamath (Jer. 52:7), with Daphne. In itself is Daphne of mythological origin. A certain nymph bore this name; and not far from Antiochia was a temple of Daphne, where there was also a laurel-grove consecrated to her. Prior to this was at this place a summer palace of Nebuchadnezzar. To this day there is a village seven English miles south of Antiochia, called Beth Alma, which means "maiden's house," so called from the fact that the above Daphné temple stood here formerly. Now whereas Antiochia was the most important city of that neighbourhood, the whole country is designated and called after it, and the land of Hamath is therefore mentioned in the Talmud by the name of Antiochia, or the temple of Daphne in its immediate vicinity.

Zedad. צדד

In the just mentioned great valley of Coelesyria, eastward of Tripoli, is found a village, called by the Arabs Al Djededa; I believe that the ancient name of Zedad has given rise to this modern appellation.†

† In Targum Jonathan are given to this passage, as an explanation, several places, the remains of which still exist. There are,לכדכור דבר זעמה ולכדכור (ולכרכוי) דבר סניגורא ודווקינוס ותרנגולא עד רסרין In this, I believe, several errors of transcribers have to be corrected: in place of כדכור (Kadkor), it should read כרכה Karakah,* which means fort, castle, palace; and to this day there are found traces of the castle of Sanigura, and the Arabs call the ruins Kallath al Sani, but to the whole district they give the name of Sagura, and it is eastward of Akko, at a distance of about 7½ English miles south of Tyre. Tarnegola is the Greek Ornithon; Josephus calls it Gabar, and all these names signify the cock. I suppose that a temple of the idol Nergal (2 Kings 17:30), the god of the Cuthians, who, according to the Talmud Sanhedrin, was represented as a cock, once stood here. According to Josephus (Antiquities, book 17., § 17), the Samaritans (Cuthians) are of Zidonian origin; wherefore I conclude that this city in the vicinity of Zidon was devoted to Nergal; and hence its name of Tarnegola, Ornithon, or Gabar. Laklai is in the Lebanon (which see, art. Akluk.).

* My copy of Jonathan reads, in fact, in one place כרכוי Karkoy, as indicated in the parenthesis. --TRANSLATOR.

"And the border shall go on the Ziphron, and the going out shall be at Hazar-Enan, this shall be your north border."

Ziphron זפרון

Northeasterly of Damascus is a high mount called Djebl Sefira, which name I suppose to be derived from Ziphron, wherefore it is likely that the town in question must have been near this mount.

Hazar-Enan חצר עינן

From Ezekiel 47:17, we should conclude that Hazar-Enan must be not far from Damascus; and actually northwesterly from this place, at a distance of about 25 English miles, in the vicinity of the sources of the Pharpar (2 Kings 5:12), which the Arabs call Fidji, is the village of Dar Kanon. I take that Dar Kanon may be put for Dar Anon, because the Hebrew Hazar is the Arabic Dar, dwelling, and that Dar Anon is actually the Hazar-Enan. Perhaps the name of עינן Enan is derived from עין spring, from the fact that the source of the Pharpar is close to it, whence then the name Hazar-Enan, "the spring town."

"And you shall point out your east border from Hazar-Enan to Shepham." (Ib. 6:10.)

Shepham שפם

Jonathan and Targum Yerushalmi explain this with Apamyam or Aphmia, which is Banias, not far from the ancient Laish or Dan. (According to Josephus, Banais was situated 3¾ English miles east of Laish.) Here is the cave of Banias, out of which the Jordan issues (see farther down, art. Jordan.) The name of Banias is, properly speaking, of mythological origin, namely, from the Greek Pan, as it appears also, from inscriptions in said cave, that it was dedicated to the god Pan (see farther down, in art. Baal Gad).

And the coast shall go down from Sepham to Riblah, on the east side of Ain; and the border shall descend, and shall reach unto the side of the sea of Chinnereth eastward; and the border shall go down to Jordan, and the goings out of it shall be at the salt sea." (Numb. 34:11,12).

Riblah רבלה

Jonathan, Targum Yerushalmi, and Saadiah all render Riblah with Daphné; and I have already said that Daphné is near Antiochia, and that the Riblah in the land of Hamath is thus correctly rendered, and not the Riblah in the neighbourhood of Banias, which Josephus several times mentions as a Daphné being near the sea of Semechonitis. I made frequent inquiries, to ascertain whether I could not find a trace of this Daphné; when at length I ascertained that there dwells on the western shore of said sea a tribe of Arabs, called the Dufni Arabs. I inquired concerning the meaning of this name, but no one could give me any satisfactory account. But there can be no doubt that this name is derived from the ancient Daphné, which must have stood where this Arab tribe have taken up their abode. Still I am not able to say whether the origin of this Daphné is likewise to be sought for in mythology or not. At least this much appears certain, that there were two places by name of Riblah, the one in the land of Hamath, the other near Banias, and that both were also known as Daphné; wherefore the former is always designated as Riblah in the land of Hamath. (2 Kings 25:21; Jer. 39:5; Ibid. 52:9.)

Ain. עין

Josephus states that, between Kedesh (which see), and the sea Semechonitis, there was a city called Biri, near which was a large spring. Even at the present time this spring still exists, and the Arabs call it Ein al Malcha (salt spring); which then gives us the result that Daphné or Riblah must be eastward thereof, which then again correctly explains "Riblah on the east side of Ain."*

* I must notice a few errors in Jonathan. The cave of  סניאס "Senias," should be Panias; אבלו ודמוכו should be דמעכה (Chron. 1.19:6). In Targum Yerushalmi the following corrections should be made: מערביא מדירת עיינותא "westward of Hazar-Enan," should be מן מדינחא "eastward;" דימין צפון should be די מן ;טור תלנא דקיסריון should beתרנגולה דקסריון מערב דן should be מערת. I explain טרכון זמרא to be identical with the kings of Zimri, of Jeremiah 25:25, and Zimran (Gen. 25:2), as the father of the tribe. Josephus B. J. book 3 ch. 3, reads Simniti, which is evidently an error, and should be Simriti. The English translation of this passage, Silbonites, is also incorrect. שוקמזיי Shokmezay, is certainly this village Shikmoski, east of the sea of Tiberias, at the distance of about 15 English miles on the road to Damascus.

The boundary line of Palestine at the east was the Jordan, and the Dead Sea at the south; after the line had run somewhat southeast of this sea, to wit, to the ascent of the Akrabbim, it ran westward over the mount now called Djebl Madura, which is between the southern termination of the Dead Sea and the Wady Gaian (Kadesh-Barnea), and is probably the Mount Halak "Bald Mountain," in the land of Seir, mentioned in Joshua 11:17; then on the Wady Gaian, Wady Bierin, Wady Kiseimi and Wady al Arish to the Mediterranean Sea, which was the western boundary line. The northern boundary was over Ras al Shaka and Djebl Nuria, then eastward through the great valley of Coelesyria towards Al Djededa, then somewhat southeasterly through the mountain of Sefira, from there to the village Dar Kanon, then southerly to the village Banias, over the western shore of the sea Semechonitis to the Jordan. The southernmost points of the boundary are the Wady Bierin and Wady Kiseimi; the most northern, Ras al Shaka and Al Djededa. Palestine extends in latitude about 3½ degrees, but the longitude is uneven; at the north and south it is more than 1½ degrees, whereas in the centre, scarcely more than ½ a degree. I calculate the whole superficial space to be no more than about 600* German square miles; and if one wishes to form a square of this, it would give us only one of no more than 24½ German, or 122½ English miles.

* I deem it my duty to explain here a most difficult passage in the Talmud, which gives the extent of Palestine. We find in Tractate Megillah, fol. 3a, Sota, 49b; Baba Kama, fol. 82b, and Menachoth, fol. 64b, that Palestine had a superficial extent of ת׳ פרסא על ת׳ פרסא a square of four hundred Parsa in breadth and length, which would make 160,000 square Parsas; each Parsa of the Talmud is, however, 3 English miles, which would then give us 1,440,000 English square miles, which would take in more than 17 degrees of longitude and latitude, which would, therefore, extend Palestine to the Persian and Russian empires, which, in good truth, would necessarily appear too ridiculous to be entertained by the Talmudic writers. I took a great deal of pains to unravel this riddle, and I found that all these passages do not say that Palestine had actually the above extravagant extent, but only ונזדעזעה א״י ת׳ פרסא על ת׳ פרסא, which means that Palestine was shaken by an earthquake extending to four hundred Parsas, which may mean that the trembling was felt to that distance, which is actually often the case in earthquakes that they are perceived thus far, which was exemplified in the year 5597 (1837) that the earthquake which destroyed Zefad and Tiberias was felt in Bagdad and Vienna. But that the Talmudists could not have meant to assert that Palestine was actually as large is proved from Talmud Yerushalmi Taanith, 4. 5, where it says that Palestine was only 40 by 40 Parsas, and this corresponds exactly with my computation, since 40 Parsas are nearly 122½ English miles.

As farther proof that the assertion of the extent of 400 Parsas is by no means to be taken in a literal sense, I will mention that it occurs in twelve different passages, which argues that it represents an immensely great distance and nothing else. The passages are: 1. Pesachim, 95a; 2. Yoma, 96b; 3. Gittin, 68b; 4. Kiddushin, 40a; 5. Ketuboth, 111a; 6. Sanhedrin, 95b; 7. Abodah Zarah, 17b; 8. Chulin, 95b; 9. Zohar Pinechas, 233a; 10. Zohar Shemoth, 18a; 11. Yalkut Echa Rabbethi. i. 1; 12. In Piyut of Parashath Zachor, taken from Mechilta, to Exodus 17:8. Now, as it is impossible that all these measurements should signify the precise extent of 400 Parsas, it follows that, as said, they denote merely a great and unknown extent.

Although the northern boundary of Palestine extended to Mount Hor, Joshua did not, for all that, take possession of the land thus far; the most northern point of his conquest was Baal Gad, which is Banias; but the whole country of Mount Lebanon,* and the land of the Giblim (Biblus) up to Mount Hor was not occupied at that time. It appears to me, likewise, that Joshua divided among the tribes only that portion of the country which had been taken possession of already, but not what was yet to be conquered, that is, only as far as Zidon and Dan. And we actually do not find among the towns of Asher and Naphtali, any more northerly than these places; so also we find among the thirty-one kings of the 12th of Joshua, none more northerly than Kedesh and Chazor. It appears, therefore, that the country north of Zidon, was for a long time not inhabited by the Israelites; in proof of which, I refer to 2 Samuel 24:6, where we read that Joab, on being ordered by David to number the people, and when he for this purpose travelled through the whole country, only reached as far as Zidon and Dan, but we find no trace that he extended his journey north beyond these points. There are clear proofs that the Israelites had only conquered the land up to Zidon, although the actual boundary line extended much farther north. It was only at a later period that this northern portion was conquered and occupied by the Israelites.

* See Chulin, fol. 60 b; Senir or Sirion are mountains of Israel, wherefore the Anti-Lebanon mountains are properly reckoned to Palestine, although they are situated to the north of Dan and Zidon.

Suria. סוריא

Under this name, which so often occurs in Talmud and Midrashim, we understand all those countries which King David had conquered beyond the boundaries of Palestine. They are considered, in some respects, equal to Palestine; in others, however, as foreign countries. (See Gittin.) The chief portion of these possessions is the country of

Aram. ארם

This is divided into five different districts or divisions, which are:

I. ארם נהרים Aram Naharayim (Genesis 24:10), Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates, and is called מאספיטמיא in Bereshith Rabba, chapter 31, and Al Djisré, the island, because it is enclosed between the two rivers just mentioned. It is also called (Genesis 28:5) Padan Aram. In this district is yet the city of Ur, the birth-place of Abraham, and people point out the spot where the lime-kiln stood into which Nimrod is said to have ordered the patriarch to be cast when he made light of his idols. (See farther down, article Ur.)

II. ארם דמשק Aram Damascus (2 Samuel 8:6); is called in Arabic Belad al Sham, after Shem, the son of Noah, whom tradition alleges to have built the city.

III. ארם צובה Aram Zobah (2 Samuel 10:8); this is the present Syria proper beyond Palestine. The city of Aleppo is called by our brothers, according to tradition, Aram Zobah, because it is alleged that the residence of the king of the country was in this city. The fort of this place and the Jewish Synagogue likewise, are evidently the remains our of the highest antiquity. This district is likewise called the land of Hamath; its Arabic name is Al Chadshass, and extends from Palmyra to Antiochia.*

* Zobah is probably the Syria Zabal, Mesopotamia, Apamia, mentioned in Judith 3:1-12. [Not according to my copy.--TRANSLATOR.]

(In an Arabic translation of the Scriptures, not that of the celebrated Saadiah, I found in the passage cited, Zobah given by Nexibin, which is the Nizibus beyond Euphrates; but I deem this exposition not well founded, because Zobah did not extend that far.)
These three districts were beyond Palestine proper; the two next following were within the boundary line, and considered a portion of the land of Israel.

IV. ארם בית רחוב Aram Beth Rechob (2 Samuel 10:6) is Coelesyria, and extended southward to the Wady Chasmeia. The celebrated Baal-bek is in this district, and many sections of it are now inhabited by the Druses.

V. ארם מעכה Aram Maachah (1 Chronicles 19:6), lies east of Beth Rechob, and the snow-covered mountain of Hermon is found here. The town of Chasbeya (which see) and Abel Beth Maachah (see 1 Kings 15:20, also called Abel Mayim, 2 Chronicles 16:4), belonged to this part of Aram.