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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

The Towns in the Palestinian Desert.

Under this name are understood all the towns of that desert which commences on the western shore of the Dead Sea, and extends up to Zin. This district is briefly called "the Desert;" whilst those situated in the "South" of Judah are but small, and take their names from the towns nearest to them; for example, the Desert of Maon (1 Sam. 23:24); the Desert of Ziph (ibid. 24:12); the Desert of Jeruel (2 Chron. 20:10), &c.

Beth-Arabah בית הערבה. See above, The Divisions of Judah.

Ir-Hammelach (the City of Salt, עיר המלח). See Zoar.

En-Gedi עין גדי. Almost due east from Hebron, but a little to the south, and at a distance of 12 English miles, hard upon the shore of the Dead Sea, is a spot which the Arabs call En-Djedi, unquestionably the ancient En-Gedi, which was also called Hazezon Thamar חצצן תמר (Chron. 20:2). Two English miles north of this spot there is a valley or Wady, which the Arabs call Wady al Huzazan, which I conceive to be so named from the ancient Hazezon (Thamar).

The other cities of Judah mentioned elsewhere are--

Eloneh Mamreh אלוני ממרה (Gen. 14:13). North of Chebron, and sideward from Chalchul, is a plain about 2½ English miles in length, which the Arabs call Elon, no doubt the ancient dwelling place of Abraham in question.

Gerar גרר (ibid. 20:1). This town, which was still in existence in the time of Hieronymus, was situated, as he reports, 25 mill south of Eleutheropolis (Beth Djibrin); consequently between Beersheba and Gaza, for which reason the environs of Beersheba were called in the time of the Romans "the District of Gerar." In the Talmudic writings this district is termed Gerarki. (See Yerushalmi Shebiith, chap. vi.; and Bereshith Rabbah, chap. 64.) At present, however, no trace whatever of this town can be discovered.

Ephrath אפרת which is also called Beth-Lechem, (Gen. 35:19), is even at the present day a large village, 3 English miles south of Jerusalem.

The Grave of Rachel קבורת רחל.  Four English miles south-southwest of Jerusalem, about 1 English mile northwest of Beth-Lehem, on the road from the former to Hebron, is found this ancient and famous monument; it is a small, low, square chapel, with a cupola, which is somewhat pointed. In the middle of the same, running east and west, is a monument, composed of several large stones, about 7 feet in length, 4 broad, and 5 in height. It was always believed that this stood over the grave of the beloved wife of Jacob. But about twenty-five years ago, when the structure needed some repairs, they were compelled to dig down at the foot of this monument; and it was then found that it was not erected over the cavity in which the grave of Rachel actually is; but at a little distance from the monument there was discovered an uncommonly deep cavern, the opening and direction of which was not precisely under the superstructure in question.

In the year 5601 (1841), Sir Moses Montefiore, of London, caused the same to be entirely renovated, furnished it with a cupola, and an entrance hall, so that at present it is quite a handsome building. I think it advisable to speak somewhat more at large about this monument, since we find in the Scriptures several passages which almost seem to place it in another position than where it is. Let us first investigate the measure of distance employed in Gen. 26:16, "Kibrath Eretz" כברת ארץ between the grave and Beth-Lehem, so that thereby we may be able to ascertain the true position. The Arabic version of Saadiah has mill, a mile; the Persian translation gives it with Fersh, i. e. the length of a field, an acre; Ben Seruk explains כברת as derived from כביר "a great length;" Rashi alleges it to be a Parsah, or 3 English miles; Nachmanides (Ramban) expounds it as derived from בר Bar, "a very little, insignificant," as ברי בר in Prov. 31:2 ; and in point of fact the latter explanation does appear as the most correct, since the distance from the monument to Beth-Lehem is quite small, scarcely an English mile, and wherefore also we may take for granted that the building actually marks the grave of Rachel.

Still there is one passage which offers us some difficulty; I refer to 1 Sam. 10:2, where Samuel tells Saul, "When thou departest this day from me, thou wilt meet two men near the grave of Rachel, on the boundary of Benjamin in Zelzach." This then places the sepulchre on the border of Benjamin; and still we do not find this line to be within 4 English miles north thereof. I would ask farther, since Saul travelled at the time from Ramah (Ramathaim Zophim), to his home Gibeath Saul (Kirjath-Jearim), and as Beth-Lehem and the monument are near 10 English miles southeast of Gibeah, and consequently entirely out of his way: how should he happen to meet the two men at the grave of Rachel on his return journey? In Bereshith Rabbali to Section Vayishlach, the difficulty of the grave of Rachel being on the boundary of Benjamin, is indeed touched upon, and explained in two different ways; the solution is nevertheless obscure and unsatisfactory. But in Midrash Samuel to the passage cited, there is a more correct elucidation, as follows: "When thou departest (already) this day from me, thou wilt meet (to-morrow) at the boundary of Benjamin, at Zelzach, two men, (who will quit to-morrow) the grave of Rachel;" that is to say, he was going one way and they were coming from another direction, and would thus meet on the boundary line.* If Saul and the pilgrims had both commenced their journey at the same time, it would have been impossible for them to meet at Zelzach, because the distance from there to Ramah is far greater than to the grave of Rachel; but it was probable that they should so meet if Saul set out on the day he was speaking with Samuel, and the others set out only the day following. From all this, it appears that not the grave of Rachel but Zelzach must be sought for on the border of Benjamin; whence, therefore, the three words עם קבורת רחל or "by the grave of Rachel," must be taken as an explanation, giving the whereabout of the two men at the time Samuel was speaking, of whom it is said ומצאת שני אנשים בגבול בנימין בצלצח "And thou shalt find these men at the border of Benjamin at Zelzach."

* See also farther art. Zelzach, which is said to be, according to the same Midrash, no other than Jerusalem; and I suppose that a trace of the name may be found in that of the village Tsellsia.

There is also a difficult passage in Sifri to Deut. 33:3, where it says that Rachel died in the land of her son (Benjamin), and still her grave is in the land of Judah. But I would explain this, that the Sifri neither said nor meant that her grave is in Benjamin's portion, but that she died whilst Jacob was on his journey from Beth-El to Bethlehem, consequently whilst traversing the territory of Benjamin, and perhaps they were still in it when Rachel was taken dangerously ill, and being near death, she might be considered dead already before they reached the land of Judah. The explanation of Nachmanides to Genesis 48:7, "that she did not die on the journey, but in Ramah, a city of Benjamin, and that she was buried there," is extremely surprising. It appears that this very learned man wrote this before he lived in the Holy Land, and before he had the opportunity of convincing himself of the actual condition of the things, and the locality of the various places in question. (See also Mechiltha, chap. I.) Upon the whole, it is my conviction that the monument marks correctly the grave of Rachel, although others have without sufficient reason placed the sepulchre in another spot.

Migdal-Eder מגדל עדר (Gen. 35:21), was situated, according to a well-known tradition, 2½ English miles southwest of Beth­Lehem, on a hill near the aqueduct from the spring Etam (2 Chron. 11:6). See article EnEtam.

In the conquests of David (I Sam. 30.), are mentioned Beth-El, Aroer, the cities of the Kenites, and Athach.

Beth-El* בית אל  (I Sam. 30:27), also called Kesil (Joshua 15: 30), and Bethul (1 Chron. iv. 30), was situated 17 English miles southwest of Eleutheropolis; and to this day there are discoverable in this position, on a high hill, some ruins of a fort, which, as I learned from records, are called Bethulia. Near these ruins is the village Kesi (Kesil). It appears, therefore, that this Bethulia and Kesi are the Beth-El, Bethul, and Kesil of Samuel.

* In Echah Rabbethi to chap. 1:16, there is spoken of a Beth-El in Judah, which means that there was yet another, I presume the Beth-El in the land of the Philistines.

Aroer ערער (ibid. 5:28),. probably the modern village Arar, situated 2½ English miles south of Moladah.

The cities of the Kenites ערי הקיני. In the Greek translation of the Septuagint, there are added to these cities Zaphet, probably Zephath or Chormah of Joshua 15:30 ; next Karmilos, i. e. Karmel near Ziph;* but Haleis is unknown to me.

* This is in accordance with Josephus, who represents Ziph as a town situated in the land of the Kenites.

Athach עתך (ibid. 5:30). There is at this day a valley called Athacha, north of Mount Madura. Without doubt the town of Athach must have been situated there.

Geshurites, Gezrites גשורי גרזי (I Sam. 27:8). The first name is discoverable in the modern village Adshur, which is situated 1 English mile from Dir-Dibon, on the road leading to Migdal. The latter name is to be met with in that of the village Beth-Djirsi, which lies near the Wady Simsum.

The hill Chachilah גבעת החכילה (ibid. 23:19). Two and a half English miles west of Hebron, on the road to Beth­ Djibrin, is the village Beth-Chachal, which has derived its name, in all probability, from this hill.

Adoraim אדורים (II Chron. 11:9), is at present a village called Dura, situated 4 English miles west of Hebron. It is the seat of the sheich of the district Abd Rachman, whose territory extends to Egypt.

Etam עיטם (ibid. 11:6), is at present a little fort, called Al Burak, and distant 2½ English miles south of the grave of Rachel. For more particulars, see farther, in art. En Etam.

Tekoa תקוע (ibid.) Five English miles south of Beth-Lehem, there are still some ruins called Thakua. Two and a half miles northeast of this place there is a separately situated mount, called Djebl Fridis, also, the Franks' Mount,* because the Franks, i. e. the European Christians, maintained themselves for some time in a fort which once stood on this mount, after they had been driven out of Jerusalem and other cities of Palestine by the rulers of Egypt. This Herod's Mount, as Josephus calls it, has the shape of a long apple, and the ruins of the ancient fortification are still visible on its summit. Some are of opinion that this mount is the Beth­Hakkerem (the vineyard-house), which is mentioned in connexion with Tekoa, in Jer. 6:1, since to this day there are visible terraces suitable for the cultivation of the vine. Perhaps Solomon alludes to this mount in his Song 1:14, when referring to his vineyard at En-Gedi; since they are not far apart. Northwest from this mount is the cave Al Mama, 60 feet long and 6 high; and I suppose that this it was which Saul entered, when pursuing David in the desert of En-Gedi (1 Sam. 24:4). West from the ruins of Thakuah are found many caverns in the depths of the mountains; they are called Al Kreitun (Labyrinth), and served the inhabitants of Tekoa as places of refuge when they had to fly before the pursuing Arabic hordes, in the year 4898 (1138).†

* Although it is not my purpose to discuss and censure erroneous and false views of the learned of modern and the latest times, I nevertheless cannot avoid calling the reader's attention to a gross mistake made in several modern Hebrew descriptions of Palestine, in respect to the name of this mount. I do this merely to prove that all these works are but copies of ancient writings, which, however, were not correctly understood. Now the modern learned men call this Franks' Mount הר חפשי "The Mount of Freedom" (Exod. 21:2, because they understood the name of Franks to signify the idea of freedom, franco; whereas the real meaning is "the mount of the Franks," or the strangers who came from Frankland (France), wherefore they ought to have translated it הר עם פראנקא or הר בני ארץ פראנקיא

† This town belonged to the portion of Judah, as appears distinctly from the passage cited (2 Chron 11:6). The more surprising, therefore, appears the opinion of the celebrated David Kimchi to 2 Sam. 14:2, and Amos 7:10, that it belonged to Asher. This hypothesis is based, however, on a misunderstanding of a passage in Talmud Menachoth, fol. 85b, which says that Tekoa produced the best oil; and whereas the land of Asher produced much oil, so that it was said (Deut 33:24), "He (Asher) dips his foot in oil," this learned commentator concluded that Tekoa must have belonged to Asher. But Tekoa, as will appear from Mishna, Menachoth chap. 8 § 3, furnished merely the finest oil, but by no means in great abundance. But the place where it was produced in such uncommonly large quantities was Gush-Chalab גוש חלב, as is told as an historical fact in the above-cited passage from Talmud Menachoth, fol. 85; and this town actually belonged to Asher, as we read in Judges 1:31: "Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Achlab," i.e. those of the present Gush-Chalab. The error of Kimchi now arises from his mistaking Tekoa for Gush-Chalab, and placing the first in Asher, which is wrong.

Raphiach רפיח. Onkelos paraphrases Deut. 2:23, "And the Avites who dwell in open places (Chazerim) unto Gaza," with, "in Raphiach unto Gaza." To this day are some ruins on the shore of the Mediterranean between Gaza and the village Al Arish, which are called Rapha; another proof that the Avites had extended their settlements up to that place, and in the southern portion of Palestine. (See Hezron.)

Bor-Hassirah בור הסירה "the fenced in pit" (2 Sam. 3:26), was, according to Josephus, called Besera, and was 20 riss (2½ English miles) distant from Hebron. Perhaps we may discover a trace of the name in the modern Siar (see Zior), since it is precisely that distance from Hebron.

Lechi לחי (Judges 15:9). Josephus reports that this place was called by the Greeks Siaron (identical with the Hebrew Lechi "jawbone"). Since, however, there was a spring formerly near Eleutheropolis, called Siaron, it proves to a certainty that Lechi was near Beth-Djibrin (Eleutheropolis).

Shaphir שפיר (Micha 1:2), no doubt the village Suaphir as yet existing, situated 5 English miles southeast from Ashdod; and is perhaps identical with the Kefar Sephuria of Yerushalmi Kiddushin, chap. iii., and the Beth-Shuphrin of Vayikra Rabbah, chap. 22.

Charsha חרשא (Ezra 2:52), probably identical with the ruins, called by the Arabs Charsha, situated south of Wady Zarr, and at some distance from the ruins of Gadar.

Barkos ברקוס (ibid. 53), the modern village Barkusia, 6 English miles northwest of Beth-Djibrin.

Jeshua ישוע (Nehem. 11:26), the village Yesué, near the village Chulda, situated to the east of Ekron, at a distance of about 5 English miles. Here commences the so-called Lowland or plain, on this side.

Dibon דיבון (ibid. 25), the village Dir-Dibon, 5 English miles north of Beth-Djibrin.

Ir-Nachash עיר נחש (I Chron. 4:12), the village Dir Nachas, 1 mile east of Beth-Djibrin.

Rechah רכה (ibid.), the village Rashia, 3 English miles south of Hebron.

Zobebah צבבה (ibid. 8), the village Beth Zaphapha, 2½ English miles south of Jerusalem.

I will now mention the following places, noticed in the Talmudic writings as belonging to the tribe of Judah:

Beth-Gubrin* בית גוברין. This formerly very large and celebrated free city, called in the times of the Greeks and Romans Eleutheropolis, from Eleutheros "free," and polis "a city,"† is situated 17 English miles west-northwest of Hebron, and has remarkable buildings and ruins, together with a very large and wide subterranean cave, in which there are several Christian chapels, which date from the time when Christian princes bore rule in Palestine. In the year 4557 (797), the city was destroyed by the Saracens, and it is at present but a large village, called Beth-Djibrin. This city has been almost constantly in the hands of non-Israelites, wherefore it could hardly be regarded as Jewish property; which circumstance will explain the meaning of Bereshith Rabbah, chap. 61, which comments, "And of the dew of heaven from above (Gen. 27:39), means Beth-Gubrin," by which blessing this city was assigned by the patriarch Isaac to his son Esau. (See ibid. chap. 60; Shir Hashirim Rabbah, fol. 2a; Koheleth Rabbah, fol. 102b; Bereshith Rabbethi, chap. 10.)

* Literally "the city of the mighty," because in its vicinity lived formerly very strong and gigantic men. Jonathan translates Hebron (Gen. 23:2) with קרית דגוברא "the city of heroes."

† Compare with Bereshith Rabbah, chap. 42, which says, "And the Chori (Gen. 14:6), is Elitheropolis."

Barur Chayil ברור חיל; this is the manner in which the name is given in Sanhedrin, fol. 32a, and Tosephtah Maaseroth, beginning of chap. 2; but in Megillah 18a, it is given as גבור חיל Gibbor Chayil, and in Yerushalmi Demai, beginning of chap. 3, as בלי חיל  Blee Chayil, which, however, appears to be a mistake of the transcriber. I presume to discover in this name some historical allusion. Josephus relates in his Jewish War that the Emperor Vespasian sent a colony composed of the dismissed and meritorious veterans of his army to Emaus, 60 stadia (7½ English miles) from Jerusalem. I now consider that Barur Chayil refers "to the chosen men from the army," selected to occupy it, and that we find for the same reason Gibbor Chayil "the heroes of the army," and that it is the same with the town of Emaus. South of Saris (which see), about 7½ English miles from Jerusalem, are met with some ruins, which the Arabs call Baburaia, probably corrupted from Barureia, i. e. Barur Chayil, and that it marks the site of the military colony of Vespasian as given by Josephus.

Amus or Emius, עימאוס אמאוס formerly Nicopolis, "the City of Victory," is now the village Ameius, near which is a good spring. It is 7½ English miles east of Ekron, and south of Kabab. It is, however, not to be taken for the town just mentioned; as there were two places of similar names.

Beth-Deli בית דלי mentioned at the end of Yebamoth, is the village Beth-Dulia, or corrupted into Beth-Ulia, 7½ English miles from Hebron, on the road to Jaffa.

Beth-Garem  בית גרם (Erubin 19a, and perhaps the הגרמי of 1 Chron. 4:19). One and a half day's journey east from Gaza was, according to Astori, the author of Caphtor Vapherach, the village Mansul Garem; but it is now unknown.

Malchaya מלחיא of Vayikra Rabbah 26, is the village Malcha, 4 English miles west-southwest from Jerusalem; it has an excellent spring, the water of which is light and wholesome. Here are also found a large quantity of roses.

Abus כפר אבוס of Yerushalmi Sanhedrin, chap. ii., is, according to my opinion, the same with Abis, mentioned in Josephus, Bell. Jud. 8:5, and which he places in Upper Judea; it was probably near the ruins of Gadar in the Wady Zarr. To this circumstance it is no doubt owing that the spring found there is called "the Spring of Abis." (See also above in the northern boundary of Judah.)

Imra כפר אימרא of Yerushalmi Thanith, chap. iv., is the village Beth-Imra, 2½ English miles south-southwest of Hebron.

Aryeh כפר אריה of Yerushalmi Kelayim, chap. i., is, according to ancient records, a village near Eleutheropolis.

Barkah כפר ברקא of Talmud Cheritoth (end) was, according to Eusebius, not far from Ashdod, but is at present unknown.

Darum כפר דרום of Sota 20b, was the village Darum, 5 English miles southeast from Gaza, as reported by Astori; it is at present unknown.

Shachra  כפר שחרא  of Tosephtah, end Yebamoth, is probably the village Beth-Sachur, 2½ English miles northeast from Bethlehem, in the district of Tekoa. It may, perhaps, be the same as Achchur, comp. 1 Chron. 2:24, "Achchur, the father of Tekoa." Jos. Bell. Jud. i. 1, called it Beth-Zacharias.

Atim כפר עיטם of Yebamoth, end of chap. 12, for which see article En-Etam.

Places Mentioned in the Books of the Maccabees.

Kedron קדרון, I book, 15:39, 3 English miles west of Ekron, now the large village called Qadrun. It is remarkable that several learned men in their geographical descriptions of Palestine, have alleged, that despite of laborious investigation, they had not been able to find this place, and that there must have occurred a mistake in the transcriber by putting Kedron instead of Gedar. But it is undoubted, and easily capable of demonstration, that the author of the books of the Maccabees meant no other place than the present Qadrun, situated in the vicinity of the land of the Philistines.

Chamma חאממא, I book 3:40, is the village Chamameh, 2½ English miles south of Migdal, and is situated in the Lowland, as is stated in the book cited.