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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

A Description of the Division of Palestine According to the Territories of the Twelve Tribes, as Given in the Book of Joshua.

Before commencing to describe this division, I wish to elucidate the 31 Kings mentioned in Joshua 12, and to determine, at the same time, to which tribe each of the respective cities belonged.

ירחו Jericho, a city in the portion of Benjamin, about 20 English miles east-northeast from Jerusalem, 4 English miles west of Jordan in the valley of the Jordan or Al Gor. The district between the so-called En Sultan, also En Elisa (2 Kings 2:22; see Jos., Bell. Jud., book v. chap. iv.), and the old castle Burdj Chadjla, about 2 English miles in length, is called by the Arabs Richa. But there is neither village nor ruin to be met with, and they know only from tradition that Jericho should have stood here. Hitherto the just-mentioned castle was always taken as a remnant of Jericho; according to my more accurate investigation, however, and the information I was able to collect, which I obtained circumstantially and correctly from the sheich of the Arabs of the neighbourhood, I must deem this view erroneous.* Jericho is called the City of Palms (Deut. 34:3, and Judges 3:13); here was the seat of the Moabite King Eglon, and here† he was slain by Ehud, as Josephus tells in his Antiq., book v. chap. v. The whole country is now occupied by the Arabs, who dwell in tents, whose tents form together quite a considerable circle, and have almost the appearance of a village, in the midst of which the cattle are encamped at night. The adults are dressed; but the children, even those of considerable size, go completely naked, without the least covering.

* See farther, article Beth-Choglah.

† Assuming this hypothesis will explain for us clearly the passage of Judges 3:28, And they went down after him, and took the fords of Jordan towards Moab, and suffered not a man to pass over;" since, if this event took place at Jericho, and the whole vicinity was full of Moabites, Ehud, by cutting off their escape over Jordan to their own country, naturally must have captured many of them; whereas, if the occurrence had taken place in the country of Moab proper, to the east of the Dead Sea, the passage in question would not be easy of explanation.

2.עי Ai, namely, that in the vicinity of בית אל Beth-El. We nowhere find among the cities of the 31 Kings such a definition of ai, as is given in Genesis 12:8, and 13:3; whence I am led to suppose that there was yet another city of the same name. But I wish now to refer to the Ai of Genesis; and we find, in fact, four names for the place: 1st עי Ai; then עיא Aija (Neh. 11:31); עוים Avim (Joshua 18:23); and עית Aiath (Isa. 10:28). If we now reflect that it is not likely that one place should have had four different names, we are led to suppose that there were two places called Ai; whence the diversity in writing the name. We cannot ascertain the neighbourhood where we should look for the one. But it is said in Shemoth Rabbah, chap. 32, that between Jericho and Ai there is but a distance of 3 mill, that is, 2¼ English miles. This Ai can, therefore, not possibly be the Ai near Beth-El, because it is more than 20 mill (15 English miles) from Richa; allusion must therefore be made here to the Ai which was near the present Richa.* About 2 English miles southeasterly from Beitun (see Beth-El), are found, near the edge of a valley, some ruins, called by the Arabs Chirbath Medinat Gai, marking unquestionable the ancient Ai. Whence, then, Beth-El to the west, and Ai to the east (Gen. 12:9). Joshua 8:11, refers to the valley north of the ruins of Gai; for the Israelites lay north of Ai; the men in ambush were between Ai and Beth-El, somewhat to the south; and the inhabitants of Beth-El, in pursuing the Israelites in a northern direction, did not perceive those in ambush who were to the southward.

* If we examine the passage cited from Shemoth Rabbah a little more closely, we shall find that it refers to a residence of a king, and can, therefore, refer only to the Ai near Beth-El, because it was here where the king in question dwelt. I suppose, therefore, that there is an error of the transcriber, and that it should read between Beth-El (not Jericho) and Ai is but 3 mill;" and in truth there is about this distance between Beitun (Beth Aven?) and Chirbath Medinat Gai.

3. ירושלם Jerusalem (see farther down, article Jerusalem).

4.  חברון Hebron (see article Hebron.)

5. ירמות Jarmuth. About 7½ English miles north-northeast of Beth-Djibrin (בית גוברין which see), is the village Yurmuk, probably for Yurmuth.

6. לכיש Lachish. 12 English miles west-southwest of Beth-Djibrin are the ruins Um Lachish, without doubt the Lachish of Scripture. the assertion of Eusebius that it was 7 mill southeast of Beth-Djibrin, appears to me erroneous.

7. עגלון Eglon. 2 English miles east of Um Lachish, are found the ruins of Adjlun; no doubt Eglon, the G having been changed into the Arabic Dj.

8.גזר Gezer.* 2 English miles east of Jaffa is the little village Gazur. It would appear, from Joshua 14:3, that Gezer was not far from the sea, which indicates precisely this Gazur (see 1 Macc. 7:39, 40); it therefore belonged to the tribe of Dan.

* The assertion of the author of Caphtor Vapherach p. 68, that the village Ganzur, 5 English miles south of En-Gannim (Djinin), is identical with Gezer, appears to me unfounded; since, to judge from Joshua 10:33, it could not have been far from Lachish, and must have been near the sea, in nearly a straight line from Beth-Horon (Joshua 16:3); it can therefore not possibly be identical with Ganzur, which is north of Nablus, the ancient Shechem.

9. דביר Debir, also called קרית ספר Kiriath-Sepher (Joshua 15:15), or קרית סנה Kiriath-Sannah (ibid. 49). Its site is unknown to me. But there is a valley in the mountains of Hebron, southwest of the town, called by the Arabs Wady Dibir, which perhaps marks the position of the ancient Debir.

10. גדר Geder. In the Wady Zarr (which see), 2½ English miles east of the mountain Modiim, I found the ruins of Gadara; probably those of Geder. It is also not unlikely that the village Djadr (by changing g in dj), 10 English miles north of Hebron, may be the ancient Geder.

11. חרמה Chormah. The actual position of this place is also uncertain; still it could not have been far from Maresha (2 Chron. 14:9); it belonged to Simeon.

12. ערד Arad. 22 English miles south of Hebron, and east of Moladah, is the village Tel Arad, probably on the site of Arad.*

* This is the city mentioned in Num. 21:1, and the vow which the Israelites made to destroy the towns belonging thereto, refers to the time when they should conquer the Holy Land; which was actually done under Joshua. And they called the name of the place Chormah," means that the site of the place obtained that name, and that they built another city where Arad had stood, as this was left without being built on, and is not to be taken for the residence of the king of Chormah, which was the ancient Zefath (Judges 1:17), and in the portion of Simeon; this was near Michmash, and far distant from Arad, which was in the portion of Judah. The destruction of Arad is not mentioned in Joshua, because it was already referred to in Numbers. But the overthrow of Zefath and a second naming of the town from the act of destroying it (חרמה from חרם to devote), is another affair, the reason of which has not come down to us; as a proof, I cite the difference of the wording; in Num. 21:3, it says, "And he called the name of the place," i.e. where the city once stood, but in Judges 1:17, the name of the city," &c.; the newly built town was called חרמה Chormah, instead of its predecessor Zefath; it is counted among the cities of Simeon, Joshua 19:4, also to Judah, ibid. 15:30; but Arad is not mentioned among the towns of Judah; it no doubt remained a תל עולם Tel Olam, a perpetual ruin," whence then probably the present Arabic name Tel Arad, as having a trace of this fact, which has perhaps been handed down traditionally to the present inhabitants of this vicinity, and been preserved among them to this day.

13. לבנה Libnah, is unknown. Eusebius says only that it was in the neighbourhood of Beth-Djibrin.

14. עדלם Adullam, is likewise unknown. Eusebius merely says that it was 10 mill east from Beth-Djibrin; it should probably be northeast, since Adullam must have been near Timnah. (See Gen. 38:13; also 2 Macc. 12:38.)

15. מקדה Makkedah is also unknown. Eusebius, however, places it 8 miles east of Beth-Djibrin.

16. בית אל Beth-El. I deem it proper to speak a little more circumstantially about this place, since it is generally assumed that there were two towns bearing this name; to wit, one belonging to the tribe of Benjamin, and situated in the neighbourhood of Jericho, consequently in the valley of the Jordan (Joshua 18:22); the other, however, on the border between Benjamin and Joseph (ibid. 16:1), on the mountain. This assertion is mainly supported by the passage (ibid. 16:2), And it went out from Beth-El to Luz;" now, according to Genesis 28:19, Beth-El and Luz are identical; the verse must therefore mean here from Beth-El in the valley to Beth-El on the mountain. But I maintain on the contrary that this opinion is incorrect, and that there was but one Beth-El. It appears from Genesis 12:8, Joshua 16:1, and 2 Kings 2:23, that it was situated in the mountains; and in the whole Al Gor there is no trace to be found of a single mount or a chain of mountains. It must therefore be sought for in the western mountains, those of Ephraim; wherefore it is impossible to assume that it can have been in the valley of the Jordan.* In rendering מבית אל לוזה I do not translate from Beth-El to Luz," as though the ה after לוז were indicating the direction (as מצרימה instead of למצרים to Egypt; ארצה for לארץ to the earth), but Beth-El Luzah," making Luzah (i.e. Luz with a feminine termination), the apposition to Beth-El, or Beth-El, otherwise caled Luz;" the meaning of the passage is, then, that the boundary ran from Beth-El, i.e. Luz to Archi Ataroth. We moreover find a ה at times at the end of a word without denoting the moving to a place; for example, ביטבתה Num. 33:33; לישה Isaiah 10:30; ברבלתה Jer. 52:10; בתמנתה Judges 14:1. In point of fact we can discover no trace of a Beth-El in the valley of the Jordan; and the one mentioned in Joshua 18:22, as situated in the portion of Benjamin, is identical with that spoken of (ibid. 16:1) as belonging to Joseph, because it was situated on the boundary line, and is therefore reckoned as the property of both the tribes. A similar method is pursued with Jerusalem and Kiriath-Jearim (Joshua 15:63, 68; 18:28), both of which are enumerated among the towns of Judah and Benjamin, because they were on the boundary. Beth-El is the city where Jeroboam introduced the worship of the golden calf, whence it was called בית און Beth-Aven, that is, instead of its being originally the house of God, it became the house of iniquity. It is probable, moreover, that the present Arabic name Beit-un, is derived from Beth-aven. (See for farther particulars Talmud Yerushalmi Abodah Zarah, chap. 3; Yerushalmi Shabbiith, chap. 9; Bereshith Rabbah, chap. 39; Targum Jonathan to Hosea 10:5.) In the mountains about 2 English miles northeast of Bireh (see בארות Beeroth), there is the village of Beit-un, undoubtedly the ancient Beth-El. The view of the author of Caphtor Vapherach, appears to me very obscure; for he says (fol. 61a.), South of Silo Beth-El is found; the Arabs call it Bitai, leaving out the ל (L)." The village Beita is about 5 English miles south of Shiloh, (Seilon, or Silo), and we cannot possibly look for Beth-El so far to the north.

* Nevertheless, I found a difficult passage, namely, 2 Kings 2:2, And they went down to Beth-El," whereas they were at Gilgal; wherefore it ought to be And they went up," which would lead one to look for a Beth-El in the valley. Nevertheless, I found in Ruth Rabbethi chap. 1 that the Beth-El to which Elijah and Elisha repaired, was the one where the golden calf was worshipped, consequently the same which was in the mountains. We must therefore explain the וירדו in this passage They went down", as the phrase וירדתי על ההרים (Judges 11:37), And I will go down upon the mountains" (English version, That I may go up and down"), but the words up and are not in the text; again וירד הסלע (1 Sam. 23:25), English version, He came down into a rock," should be he went down to the rock," the rock being evidently the highest point; עלה תמנתה (Gen. 38:13), Going up to Timnah," whereas in Judges 14:1, it is וירד שמשון תמנתה Samson went down to Timnah." This seeming confusion I would thus explain: that all moving from north to south is termed going down, from the fact that in general the northern portions of Palestine are higher than the southern, which gradually sink into the level of the desert; whence then also the moving from south to north is called going up. (See Abn Ezra to Gen. 38:1.) Probably Elijah and Elisha were going southward, from the northern portion of Gilgal to Beth-El, wherefore the phrase going down" is applicable, although Beth-El was on a mountain.

17. תפוח Tapuach, on the boundary between Ephraim and Menasseh (Joshua 16:8). At the present day the Arabs call the country between Nablus and the Jordan Balad Tapuach, as probably the town of this name was formerly in it.

18. חפר Chepher, also called גת חפר Gath Chefer (2 Kings 14:25). We can deduce from Yerushalmi Shebiith, chap. 6, that this city was not far from Zippori. Now 2½ English miles southeast of Safuri there is the village Medjath (from the Hebrew מגת Miggath, changing g into dj); and they point out there the grave of Jonah, of Gath Chepher. The modern name, therefore, has a trace in it of its former appellation, and we may therefore assume that Chepher (Hepher) formerly stood there.

19. אפק Aphek. We find that there were five towns of this name:—1, in the portion of Judah (Joshua 15:53); 2, on the boundary between Benjamin and Ephraim (1 Sam. 4:1); in the vicinity of the Eben Ha-ezer and Mizpeh; 3, in the portion of Issachar, in the valley of Jezreel, where the battle between Saul and the Philistines took place (ibid. 29:1); 4, in the portion of Asher (Joshua 19:30); and 5, in the Lebanon (ibid. 13:4).* It is uncertain to which place the king of Aphek in question belonged; to judge, however, from the succession of the enumeration, which stretches from south to the north, I should conclude that it was situated in the valley of Jezreel.

* Aphek, where Benhadad was defeated (1 Kings 20:26), appears to me to have been situated likewise in the valley of Jezreel, since he was counselled to attack Israel in the plain, and not on the mountain. There is a village Fik, probably for Aphek, on the east side of Lake Tiberias; but it does not appear to me to be likely that the battle could have occurred there, since this Fik also is situated in the mountains on which Benhadad was advised not to fight.

20. לשרון Lasharon. I have already said, in chapter 2, that the valley of Sharon is situated on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. About midway between Caesarea and Jaffa are found some ruins, which are called Saran, and are probably the remains of the city here mentioned.

21. מדון Madon. 2 English miles north of Safuri (Zippori) is the village Manda. I suppose that this is identical with Madon, as the Arabs frequently transpose the letters. The author of Caphtor Vapherach remarks (fol. 67): The Arabs likewise are in error, in calling a place in the vicinity of Zippori ‘Kafar Manda,’ as they maintain it to be the ancient Midian." But it strikes me that the error is merely in the naming of the place, that they pronounced it Midian instead of Madon, and this confirms me in concluding that Manda contains a trace of the ancient Madon.

22. חצור Hazor (Chazor) was the largest town in northern Palestine (Joshua 11:10). At the present day there is a village called Azur between Banias and Meshdel, probably the remains of the old Hazor. In an Arabic version I found this passage translated King of Caesarea," probably meaning Caesarea Philippi, which is Dan or Laish (which see), which is actually near Azur.

23. שמרון מראון Shimron Meron. Among the cities of Zebulun, we find, in Joshua 19:15, the name of Shimron. Yerushalmi Megillah, chap. 1, says Shimron is the present Simuni." In our own days there is the village Samuni, 5 English miles northwest of Safuri. The author of Caphtor Vapherach, fol. 68, says: South from the mountains of Gilboa is the town Dir Meruan, one of those belonging to the thirty-one kings." But there is a great distance between Samuni and Dir Meruan; still it is possible that the same king ruled over both places.

24. אכשף  Achshaph, in the portion of Asher, which see.

25. תענך Thaanach. In the portions of the sons of Joseph (which see).

26. מגדו Megiddo. See Thaanach, above.

27. קדש Kedesh, in the mountains of Naphtali (Joshua 19:37, 20:7), is doubtlessly the modern village Kedes, 15 English miles north of Zafed.

28. יקנעם לכרמל Jokneam of Carmel. In the valley near Akko, near the Carmel, is a valley called Wady Naman, which has some slight resemblance to the ancient Jokneam. Eusebiud says, 6 miles north of Megiddo is the city of Kamun," similar to Kanum; perhaps, then, this may be the Jokneam near Carmel.

29. דור לנפת דור Dor Lehaphath Dor. On the Mediterranean Sea, 10 English miles north of Caesarea, is the village Dandura (see in the tribe of Menasseh); 2½ English miles southeast of this is the village Naphata, probably the just-mentioned לנפת, the ל being a preposition. Naphath does therefore appear to be a proper name, not to be translated with coast, as in the English version.

30. גוים לגלגל Goyim Legilgal. 19 English miles northeast of Jaffa is the large village Dshilil, probably an incorrect manner of writing Dshildshil, which is Gilgal by the usual transmutations, and belonged therefore to Dan. In an Arabic version I found this passage rendered with the king of Al Achsab" (see Chezib); perhaps it is based upon some tradition that Gilgal and Chezib are identical. As respects the word Goyim, we find it appended to several other names, as Charosheth Haggoyim (חרשת הגוים), Judges 4:2, not far from Chazor. So also Gelil Haggoyim (Isa. 8:23), English version Galilee of the Gentiles, not far from Jordan.

31. תרצה Thirzah, in the portion of the sons of Joseph (which see).

The Possessions of the Tribes in General.

The southern portion of Palestine was assigned to Judah. Near this, to the north, was Benjamin. In the possession of Judah, in the southwestern part, was that of Simeon. North of this was Dan, the territory of which extended as far as Dor (Dandura), on the shore of the sea, and formed, as it were, the wall of separation, which separated the portion of Benjamin, Ephraim, and Menasseh from the sea. Towards the north of Benjamin were the lands of Ephraim and Menasseh, which extended to the valley of Jezreel. This valley, and a part of the mountains of Southern or Lower Galilee, belonged to Issachar. Zebulun’s portion was on the coast of Chinnereth, and extended towards the Mediterranean, to the south of Carmel. North of Zebulun was Naphtali, in an eastern direction, whereas Asher was on the west, on the shore of the Mediterranean, towards Zidon.