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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

The Cities of Benjamin

Are for the most part still known. Of those mentioned in Joshua 18:21-28, we will notice the following:

Emek-Keziz עמק קציץ was a town probably situated in the valley Achor. (Compare with 1 Macc. 9:62 and 64, where mention is made of Beth-Keziz. This correct reading, however, is only found in the Latin version; other copies read Beth-Batzin.)

Zemaraim צמרים. There are found at present in the plain of the Jordan, 4 miles from the river, and north of Jericho, some ruins, called Chirbath al Zamra.

Ophrah עפרה. This town was situated, according to Eusebius, 5 mill east of Beth-El, but is at present quite unknown. It may probably have been in the vicinity of the modern village Taibi (which see).

Parah פרה lay in the valley which extends in an eastern direction to the southeast of Ramah, wherefore it is still called the Wady Pharah.

Kephar Ammoni כפר עמוני  is no longer known. In 1 Macc. 9:50, it is said "He (Bacchides) built the walls of Jericho, Ammonai, Beth-Choran, Beth-El, and Parah," no doubt including the two last-mentioned towns.

Ophni עפני Probably the modern village Djiphni (Giphni, and this by corruption for 'Ophni), which is situated 2 English miles north of the ruins of Beit-un (Beth-El). This town is probably the Gufnith of Berachoth 44a; the Gufna of Talmud Yerushalmi Taanith, chap. iv.; and the Beth-Gufnin of the Tosephtah of end of Ahaloth.

Gibeon גבעון, probably the village Djib (Gib), situated on a high rocky ridge, 6 English miles from Jerusalem, and 1 English mile north-northeast from Mizpeh. In the vicinity of this village is a lake, called by the Arabs Birkat Malchi, and which is already mentioned in Jer. 41:12, "the great waters that are in Gibeon." (In Josep. Ant. B. viii. ch. 2, is mentioned that Solomon sacrificed at Hebron, evidently an error, and should be Gibeon; see 1 Kings 3:5, where this is distinctly stated to have been the place of sacrifice.)

Ramah רמה is at present called Rahm, and lies on the road from Jerusalem to Shechem, on a small round mountain northeast of Mizpeh.

Beeroth בארות, now called Birya, is 2½ English miles north of Rahm, and is a large village.

Mizpeh מצפה lay in a northern direction, opposite to Jerusalem, on the top of a high mount, from which there is an extended view; whence its name Mizpeh, from צפה to overlook. This town, not to be mistaken for Mizpeh-Gilead, as Kimchi has done, was the place where the prophet Samuel often assembled the people (1 Sam. 7:5; 10:17). At present it is called Rama Nebi Samuel. (See farther, article Rama,-Ramathaim Zofim.) In 1 Macc. 3:46 we read: "They then assembled together and went to Mizpeh, opposite to Jerusalem, for in Mizpeh was formerly a place of prayer;" perhaps referring to the custom of assembling the people, thence "gathering-place," as Synagogue in Greek means nothing but meeting-place in its original signification. Two and a half English miles northeast of Mizpeh is a village called Bir-Nabala (i. e. the pit of wickedness), in which there is a great pit, which I believe is the one in which the wicked Ishmael, son of Nathaniah, slew Gedaliah and so many others (Jer. 41:7), and hence the name "Pit of Wickedness."*

* In Talmud Niddah, fol. 61a, we read, "They dug on a rock in Beth-Horon, and found a pit full of human bones, and this is said to be the pit which Ishmael son of Nathaniah, caused to be filled with slain." This strikes me as extremely singular; since Beth-Horon is at a considerable distance from Mizpeh, and this tragical event occurred in the latter place. Nevertheless I found this same story in Tosephtah Niddah, chap. 8, and there it is not said that this was Ishmael's pit; it would appear therefore that this addition in Talmud Niddah is not authentic. In 1 Sam. 4:13, we read יד דרך מצפה Yad derech Mezapheh, "by the wayside watching;" I almost am inclined to undertake another punctuation of this word, and to read it Mizpeh, and he was sitting by the wayside to Mizpeh, for the battle there spoken of took place near Eben Haezer (v. i.), and this stone was near Mizpeh, as appears from 1 Sam. 7:12; and Eli was therefore waiting there for early accounts of the engagement. Even the accents (נגינות) agree with the reading, and would seem to denote its correctness.

Kephirah כפירה; probably one of the villages (Kephirim) in the valley of Ono, of Nehemiah 6:2. (See Ono.)

Mozah מוצה is the village Kolonia, 3 English miles west of Jerusalem, as appears from T. Sukkah,. fol. 45a, that Moza is Kolonia.

Taralah תראלה is perhaps the village Thaniel=Thariel in the neighbourhood of Lod.

Zela צלע is perhaps identical with Sela, a place in the vicinity of Jerusalem. See Yalkut to 2 Samuel 21:14.

Gibeath-Kirjath גבעת קרית  See farther under Gebah and Gibeah.

In several passages of Holy Writ there are also spoken of the following places as belonging to Benjamin.

Anathoth ענתות (Joshua 21:18), is the little village Anatha, 3 English miles northeast of Jerusalem. North thereof is a stone quarry whence Jerusalem is supplied with building stone. (See Zohar end of Vayechi.)

Almon עלמון (ibid.); Bachurim בחורים (II Sam. 16:5); Alemeth עלמת (I Chron. 8:36); Azmoveth עזמות (Neh. 7:28), were all unknown hitherto to all inquirers into the situation of the country; but I have been favoured to discover the situation. When, in my journey of investigation through Palestine, I traversed the territory of Benjamin, I discovered some ruins of very ancient buildings on the top of a high mountain, 1 English mile northeast from the village Anatha. I made inquiry of the inhabitants of the above village concerning the name and fate of that ancient town; but no one could give me any information, until an old man, also belonging to the village, came to me and told me the following, which he gave as a tradition received in his youth from his parents:

"On that mountain lay once the city of Al-Muth, the inhabitants of which rebelled against the ruler of the land, and he caused, therefore, the whole town to be demolished." I took up my Bible, which I carried constantly with me, and searched carefully into the cities enumerated in Joshua 18 as belonging to Benjamin; but not one of them bore the name of Al-Muth. I then searched among the Levitical cities (21:18) for this name, and found there the town of Almon near Anathoth, whence then it would appear that this Al-Muth, 1 English mile from Anathoth, is actually the Almon of Joshua 21:18. The parallel passage of 1 Chron. 6:45, has Alemeth; compare with this ibid. 8:36, where it says, Jehoada begot Alemeth and Azmaveth. In Ezra 2:24, and Neh. 7:28, Azmaveth is mentioned as close to Anathoth; consequently it is without doubt identical with Almon or Alemeth, and the latter word is corrupted by the Arabs into Al-muth. Bachurim (2 Sam. 16:5), is translated by Jonathan with Almon; whence it is clear that all the four names at the head of this article are the Levitical town of Almon, 1 mile northeast from Anathoth, likewise belonging to the Levites, and situated on the same mount. It is impossible now to tell why so many names were given to one locality.

Gilgal גלגל (Joshua 5:9), was, according to Josephus, 10 stadia from Jericho, and 50 stadia from Jordan. At present there is found near the Jordan a hill which appears like a heap of stones, and is called by the Arabs Galgala.

Baal-Thamar בעל תמר (Judges 20:33). At the time of Eusebius there was a village Beth-Thamar, not far from Geba, but it is at present unknown.

Sela Rimmon סלע הרמון is the village Rimun, about 2½ English miles east of Beth-El. The whole village almost is built on a rock, whence, therefore, properly its name "the rock of Rimmon." See Tosephtah Sota, 18: "South of Jerusalem is a plain, and in the district of Geba and Rimmon are rocks and cliffs." In Yerushalmi, beginning of Berachoth, is mentioned Rabbi of Romnah, i. e. of Rimmon; in Zohar to Shemini, Rabbi Zera of the village  Ramin.*

* In Midrash Echa to chap. i., v. 16, is told that Hadrian caused a large number of Jews to be assembled in the valley of Beth-Rimmon, and had them there all slain, so that their blood flowed into the river Kypros. I take this river to be the present Wady Mudiah, which flows to the east of Rimun. Josepbus (Bell. Jud. book i., chap. 16.) makes mention of this Kypros, and relates that King Herod, in honour of his mother Kypros, built a castle of the same name near Jericho. Astori, in reference to the passage cited from the Midrash, thinks Kypros to mean Cyprus, and explains the matter allegorically, that the slaughter was so great that the course of the blood could, as it were, be traced through the sea as far as the island of Cyprus. But the Midrash speaks distinctly of a river, not an island Kypros. Still I found in Yerushalmi Sukkah 5, "the blood ran through the sea (בים) to Kypros;" but I think it ought to be כים like a sea, not  into the sea. Upon the whole, there is some trouble in reconciling all the difficulties connected with this event. The Yerushalmi (loc. cit.), also Esther Rabbethi (introd.), say that this tragic event befell the inhabitants of Alexandria in Egypt; and if this be so, the river cannot be the Wady Mudia; but in Esther Rabbethi there is not the addition "that the blood ran like a stream as far as Kypros."

Lebonah לבונה (Judges 21:19), is the present village Lubin, 2½ English miles west of Shiloh, on the road from Shechem to Jerusalem.

In Isaiah 10:28-34, occurs the following: "He (Sanherib) is come to Aiath, he is passed to Migron, in Michmash he hath laid up his carriages; they are gone over the passage; Geba is a night-lodging for us; Ramah trembleth, Gibeah of Saul is fugitive. Lift up thy voice, O daughter of Gallim; cause it to be heard in Laish (or 'listen Laish'), O poor Anathoth. Madmenah is moved; the inhabitants of Gebim gather to flee. Even this day will he rest in Nob; he will shake his hand against the mountain of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem."

Aiath עית i. e. Ai. See in the 31 Kings.

Migron מגרון. About half an English mile south of Beitun (Beth-El), are found some ruins, which the Arabs call Burdj Magrun (i. e. the town or fort of Magrun); and they are undoubtedly remains of the town of Migron.

Michmash מכמש. The village Mikmas, 2 English miles north of Djeba (Gibea), in the vicinity of which are the ruins of a place called Zanua, which would then argue that the correct reading in Menachoth 83 b, should be זנוחא מכמס Zenucha of Michmas, as the place where the best wheat grows; not as it is in many of our copies, since both the names as given by me still exist at this day.

Maabrah מעברה, the passage. It is the same narrow path through which Jonathan, son of Saul, went over to attack the Philistines (see 1 Sam: 14:4); but the names of the rocks there mentioned, Bozez and Seneh, are now unknown.

Geba גבע. See farther down.

Bath-Galliln בית גלין is the modern village Beth-Djallin, situated between Ramleh and Jaffa, and was the birthplace of Paltiel, the son of Laish (1 Sam. 25:44). The assertion of Eusebius, that Gallim lies near Ekron, is entirely incorrect, since Senacherib never penetrated thus far. On the contrary, the whole of the towns mentioned in Isaiah 10:28-32, as reached by the Assyrian king in his expedition against Judah, are north of Jerusalem, in the territory of Benjamin.

Laish and Madmenah ליש ומדמנה are no more known. The former is perhaps the city of Leasa, mentioned in 1 Macc. 9:5-15, whence Judah pursued Bacchides to the mountains near Ashdod.

Gebim גבים was, according to Eusebius, Ophni, situated near Geba; but it appears to me to have been identical with Gob, where the Philistines fought with Israel (2 Sam. 21:18) The parallel passage to this, however (1 Chron. 20:4), reads Geser. It is possible enough that Geser and Gob are identical, or that they were two places situated near one another.

Nob נוב is the present village Beth-Naba, distant 17 English miles northwest from Jerusalem.

Gebah, Gibeah, Gibath-Binjamin, Gibath-Shaul, גבע גבעת גבעת בנימן גבעת שאול Geba and Gibea denoted one and the same place, for in Judges 19 it is always called Gibeah; still in 20:30 we find Geba; also in 5:33, "the cave of Geba." So also in Joshua 18:24, the word is also Geba. It is also called Gibath-Binjamin (1 Sam. 13:2), also Geba-Benjamin. This proves that both names signify one and the same place. Its situation must have been very near to Ramah (Judges 19:13), and is no doubt the modern Djeba, 2½  English miles east of Rahm. We find, however, another town of the same name, to wit, Gibeah or Geba, on the frontier between Judah and Benjamin, in the neighbourhood of Kirjath-Jearim. In 1 Sam. 10:15, it is called Gibeah; but in 13:3, it is termed Geba, also Gibeath-Shaul, or Gibeah of Saul; for this was his birth-place, from here his she-asses ran away, from here he went out to seek fur them, and returned thither after consulting with Samuel. So also it is said in Isaiah 10:29, "Gibeah of Saul is fled." We find that Kirjath-Jearim is reckoned, in Joshua 15:60, among the cities of Judah; but in 18:28, among those of Benjamin. It must therefore have been situated, as a matter of course, on the boundary line, so that it was sometimes considered as belonging to the one, and at others to the other tribe. I therefore investigated carefully the situation and surrounding country of Kirjath-Jearim, and found that it is situated on the declivity of a mount, which is south of the same. Close to the village, in a northwest direction, is a height; and it appears evident that Geba must have stood upon it. Both Kirjath-Jearim and Geba formed but one continuous town. Kirjath-Jearim was at the south, and Geba at the north, and the boundary line ran through both; so that it is still visible at this day, namely, because the boundary line ran along the road which leads to Jaffa. Geba was thus a city of Benjamin, whilst Kirjath-Jearim is assigned to both Benjamin and Judah. It appears to me even that, owing to their geographical connexion, their names Kirjath­-Gibeath, (Joshua 18: 28), are put in the construct state,* so to say, placed in connexion as far as language can do it; for the first was in a measure Gibeath-Kirja (i.e. Gibeah of Kirjah), and the latter Kirjath-Gibeah (i.e. Kirjah of Gibeah). If it is now said in 1 Sam. 7:42, "And the men of Kirjath-Jearim came and fetched up the ark of the Lord, and brought it unto the house of Abinadab in Gibeah" (therefore afterwards called the "Hill of God," ibid. 10:5), "And it came to pass while the ark abode in Kirjath-Jearim," &c.,­this, however, will not appear as a contradiction, if we reflect that both formed but one city. (See Bemidbar Rabbah, chap. 4, which says distinctly that Gibeah and Kirjath-Jearim were but one town.)

* To those persons not acquainted with Hebrew, it may be enough to state that, when two nouns in Hebrew are related to each other as possessor and possessed, the first, or the possessed, is put in the construct state-not as in English, where the genitive form is attached to the possessor. So we say in Hebrew, עיר דוד the city of­-David. Many times this word is changed, either in vowels or consonants; particularly is the latter the case in feminine nouns ending in ה  or the end syllable ah, which is changed in ת or ath. So Kirjah, city, becomes Kirjath, city of, and so with all others.--TRANSLATOR.

The sons of Benjamin were at -- Ananiah, Chazor, Ramah, Gitthaim, Chadid, Zeboim, Neballat, Lod, and Ono, (in) the valley of Charashim." (Neh. 11:32, 35.)

Ananiah ענניה is probably the village Beth-Chanina, situated 3 English miles north of Jerusalem on the road to Mizpeh.

Chazor חצור Three English miles northeast of Beth-El, not far from the plain of Jordan, are yet seen the ruins of Tell­Chazor, and if this be the city in question, it was beyond the limits of Benjamin, as given in Joshua. In the vicinity thereof, was the city of Ephraim, mentioned in 2 Chronicles 8:17. Perhaps this Chazor was identical with the town Baal-Chazor, of 2 Samuel 13:23, near Ephraim (Ephrain).

Gitthaim גתים perhaps the present Ramleh, which is also called Gath, as I have learned from several Jewish documents, which favour the idea that Ramleh has been built on the site of the ancient Gath, which is also mentioned in 2 Samuel 4:3. The opinion advanced by others, that Ramleh should be the former Gath, in the land of the Philistines (Josh. 13:3), is erroneous. (See above, article Gath.) There was formerly a large and famous city named Gith, 5 English miles west of Shechem, situated on a singly standing but not high mountain, not far from the plain of the sea; and there is at present on the spot the village Kirjath­Djid (Gith); but as it was situated in the territory of Ephraim, it cannot be identical with this Gitthaim, which belonged to Benjamin.

Chadid חדיד is the village Al Chadida, situated 5 English miles east of Lod, on the summit of a round mountain. In the first book of the Maccabees 12:38, and 13:13, mention is made of Adida in the Lowland; see also Erechin chap. ix. § 6, and Eduyoth, chap. vii. § 5. The position assigned in the Maccabees agrees then with what I have advanced, that the so-called Lowland or valley extended up to the mountain of Lod.

Zeboim צבעים is the village Zuba, situated on a high mount, 3 English miles west of Jerusalem. In Challah iv. 10 is mentioned the Mount Zeboim. This place had a very strong fort, which was destroyed by Abraim (Ibrahim) Pacha in the year 5594 (1834).

Neballat נבלט is no doubt, according to my opinion, the large village Beth Naballa, 5 English miles south of Ramleh.

Lod לוד also called Lydia and Diospolis, is now the large village Lidi, 2½ English miles northeast of Ramleh. The Christians point out here the grave of their Saint George, which name the town also bore during their reign in Palestine.*

* Rabbi Benjamin, of Tudela, in his travels saysומשם לשרגוג והיא לוז, this is an incorrect reading and should beלשנק׳ גורג׳ והיא לוד "And from there to sact. Georg, which is Lod." In Semachoth chap. ii. § 4, it is said "the son of Gorgos in Lod," which I presume refers to the Georg in question. This city was for a long time the seat of the most learned men after the destruction of Jerusalem; so that we generally understand under the terms Chachme Negeb, or Dahrom, (חכמי דרום and חכמי נגב) "The wise men of the south," which often occur in the Talmud and Midrashim, especially in Talmud Yerushalmi, the learned men who dwelt at Lod. This will explain a somewhat obscure passage in Baba Bathra, fol. 25b, "He that wishes to become rich should turn northward, but if he desires to be wise let him turn to the south." Now it appears from Josephus that the land of Galilee was one of wealth, extraordinarily populous, and famous for its agriculture and industry, consequently the seat of riches, just as the south, the Dahrom, or Negeb, was the seat of learning. The Talmud then, means, if one desire wealth, let him go into the northern country, into Galilee; but if he wishes to become learned, let him go south to Lod, and acquire the wisdom there dispensed.

Ono אונו is entirely unknown now; but it was situated as the Talmud, end of Ketuboth, mentions, 3 mill from Lod. (See also Zohar Vayetze, 151a, and Pinchas, 117a.)

The valley of Charashim גי החרשים. In Talmud Yerushalmi Megillah, chap. i., is related that Lod and Ono lay in the valley of Charashim, and in fact constituted the same.

Azel אצל (Zech. 14:5; 1 Chron. 13:38, 9:44). I believe that this is the village Azaria instead of Azalia, changing ל L into ר R (as also is done in Ezek. 19:7), which is situated southeast of the Mount of Olives. Perhaps the name of this village may be derived from Azel, son of Elasah, belonging to the tribe of Benjamin (1 Chron. 8:37). In the Talmud, this place is named Hutzal; in the portion of Benjamin (Megillah v. 6 ). A town of the same name was in Babylonia, as appears from Yoma, fol. 52b.* See also, farther down, my description of the Mount of Olives.

* In Talmud Kethuboth, fol. 3a, is said "Hutzal of Benjamin in the land of Babylon." I, however, believe that "of Benjamin" is an erroneous addition, since the passage refers to the country of Babylon. And, in truth, I found in old editions, the correct reading הוצל בארץ בבלי "Hutzal in the land of Babylon."

Gimso גמזו (II Chron. 28: 18), is the village Djimsi, 2½ English miles east of Lod, on the way to Jerusalem. Nahum Ish Gimso was a native of this place. (Taanith 21a.)

Anab ענב (Joshua 11:21), is the village Anabah, 3 English miles east of Ramleh.

Shaphir שפיר (Micah 1:11). We have already remarked in the description of Judah, that southeast of Ashdod there is a village Suaphir; but also 2½ English miles northwest of Lod, there is a village named Saphiriah, which is probably the one meant in Micah. Nevertheless, nearly all the places mentioned by this prophet lie in the northwest part of Judah.

Aphek אפק (I Sam. 4:1; 7:12) ; there is not a vestige to be found any more of this city, which must have been situated in the neighbourhood of Mizpeh.

Beth-Kor בית כר (ibid. 7:11) is probably the modern village Karna, near Ramalah, which is a village situated on a mountain, 2 English miles west of Beeroth, and not to be mistaken for Ramleh. But it is also possible that Beth-Kor was situated on the Wady Kurava, which unites with the Wady Luban (Lebona), and extends as far as the Wady Udshe. (See article מי הירקון Me Hayarkon.) Probably it is the Kuria mentioned in Jos., Bel. Jud., book v. chap. 4.

We will now notice the following towns belonging to Benjamin, mentioned in the Talmudic writings.

Keni קני, (Ahaloth 18:9; Yerushalmi, end of Terumoth; Zohar Tazria, 42b, as Keni near Lod) is probably the village En-Keni, about 2 English miles east of Lidi; in the immediate neighbourhood thereof, is the cave in which Rabbi Simeon Ben Yochai and his son lived in concealment; as it appears clearly from the introduction to Tickune Zohar, that it was in the environs of Lod. This is also asserted in Talmud Yerushalmi Taanith, chap. iv., and in Pesiktah Rabbethi, 32. It is, therefore, quite erroneous to show this cave in Upper Galilee, near Pekiin, as it is said in the book Shibeche Yerushalem.

Kefar-Dichrin כפר דכרין (Gittin, fol. 57a) was a city situated on the Tur Malka, "the King's Mountain." It was probably identical with the town of Beth-Zachara, mentioned in 1 Macc. 6:32, and elsewhere, and in Josephus' Antiquities and War of the Jews, since Zachar is the same as the Chaldaic Dichrin, both signifying male. Astori found yet, 2½ English miles north of Lidi, in the mountains, a village called Dachrin, but it is now unknown.

Pekiin פקיעין (Chagigah, fol. 3a, Sanhedrin 32b,) was between Jabne and Lod, but is now unknown.

Be-Tray בי תרי (Sanh. 95a) is probably the village Bi-tharis, 1 English mile east from Lidi.

Kubi קובי (ibid.), is probably the village Kubab, 3 English miles southeast of Ramleh.

Zalmon צלמון, (Yebamoth, 122a; end chap. iv. Mishna Kelaim; Tosephtah Parah, 8; Torath Cohanim to Bechuckotai). In Greek authorities I find the following indication of this place: "Zalomine is a town in the vicinity of Diospolis (Lod), but the particulars are not any more known at present." It is possible, however, that the ruins of Calomon (for Zalomon), situated 1 English mile west of Kuneisa, on the shore of the Mediterranean, south of Chalfit, are the remains of the city in question.

Josephus' Antiq., b. v. chap. i., says, that the portion of Benjamin extended from Jerusalem to Beth-El; elsewhere he says, that it extended to the Great Sea (Mediterranean). He consequently contradicts himself with what he says concerning the position of the land of Dan.