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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

The Boundary of Palestine After the Exile Under Ezra and Nehemiah.

In Talmud Yerushalmi, Shebiith, chapter 6, occurs the following, as descriptive of the boundaries of Palestine occupied by the exiles returning from Babylon:

תחומי ארץ ישראל כל שהחזיקו עולי בבל ٠ פרשת חומת ٠ מגדל שיד ושיני דרור ושורא דעכו וקצירא דגלילא וכבתה ובית זניתה וקובעיא מילת׳ דביר וכוריי רבת׳ תפניס וסנפתה ומחרתא דייתיר וממציא דאבהתא וראש מי געתון וגעתון עצמה מי ספר ומרחשת ומגדל חרוב ואולם רבתי ונוקבת׳ דעיון ותוקרת כרכה רבה סנגרא ותרנגולא עילא׳ דלמעלה מן קסרין ותרכונה דמתחם לבוצרה ומלח דזרבאיי ונמרין ובית סכל וקנת ורפיח דחגרא ודרך הגדולה ההולכת למדבר חשבן ויבקא ונחלא דזרך ויגר סהדותא ורקם דגיעה וגני׳ דאשקלון׃

A similar description is given in Siphri, section Ekeb, and Tosephtah Shebiith, chapter 6, with some divergencies, some of which are evidently errors of the transcribers, and additions, which I shall explain as far as possible.

However uninteresting this passage may appear, still it must be of importance to the learned; since by this means we shall be able to determine the boundaries and extent of Palestine at the period of its re-occupation by the Israelites under Ezra. The learned Reland quoted this passage from the Talmud Yerushalmi, but could give no satisfactory exposition of it, much as he was desirous of doing so. I, however, believe that I can explain it with tolerable accuracy, and trace the names here given.

פרשת חומת Perashath Chomath is evidently an improper method of writing the name of the place indicated, and should be חמת Chamath (Hamath), and, therefore, Perashath Chamath, the same as the entrance to Hamath לבוא חמת (which see), or the road which leads to the great valley of Coelesyria. In the Talmud, the phrase פרשת דרכים (Perashath Derachim) means the public highway, or cross-road; and I have already stated that this road runs southward through the valley to צור or Tyre.

מגדל שיד The Tower of Shid. The town of Caesarea in Palestine is also called Shid; here, therefore, the tower of Strato. See, however, for a farther explanation, under Ekron, in the land of the Philistines.

שיני דרור Shinay Deror, should be דדור Dedor, or the fortress, the walls of Dor, now called Tantura, or Dartura (see article Dor). The word שיני teeth, expresses the salient points of the bastions of a fortress.

שורא דעכו Shura Deakko, is the wall or circumvallation of Akko. שורא  is the Hebrew שור wall; see Gen. 49:22.

קצירא דגלילא  Kezira Degalila, is the town of Kazra in Galilee. (See גבתון Gibthon, and קצרה  Kazra.)

כברתה Kabartha, is 2½ English miles west of Shafamer (שפרעם), and is a village bearing the same name at this day.

בית זניתה Beth Zenita. I would prefer reading זויתה Zevita, which would give us the ancient Suite, 15 mill from Tiberias, destroyed by the Nazarenes in the year 4942, A.M., or 1182 C.E.

קובעיא Kubeaya, is north of Zafed, in the vicinity of Gish (גוש חלב), and is the village Kubea of the present day.

מילתא דביר Miltha Debir. Miltha, in the Chaldean, signifies rampart, mound, Hebrew  סוללה; therefore the fortification of the town ביר Bir, which is no doubt the village Biri in the neighbourhood of Zafed.

כוריי רבתי Kuryee Rabbethi, perhaps בירי Great Biri. Josephus makes mention of a large town, called Biri, near the sea Semechonitis, מי מרום, the Waters of Merom, where Joshua defeated the Canaanites. (Josh. 11:5.)--It appears to me, however, as more likely, that in place of a town, the lake or sea itself is meant, as Kuree in the Chaldean signifies a sea; therefore the Great Semechonitis, if my hypothesis be correct.

תפניס Taphnis, doubtlessly means Daphne, on the west shore of this lake. (See above, art. Riblah.)

מחרתא דיתיר Macharta Deyathir, is unknown to me.

ממציא דאבהתא Mamzi Deabhatha, is the village Abathia, not far from the southwestern shore of the sea of Tiberias. Mamzi means literally the way, the road, that which causes to find, which leads, or here the road to Abhatha, or Abathia.

ראש מי געתון וגעתון עצמה The head of the waters of Gaaton, and Gaaton itself. I am fully persuaded that the ancient מי מגדו Mei (waters of) Megiddo, were at a later period called געתון Gaaton; therefore here the source of the waters of Megiddo, and the town Megiddo itself. (See also farther down, art. Megiddo.)

מי ספר Me Sepher, would be in Chaldean the same as coast-land; probably, therefore, near Carmel, in the neighbourhood of Megiddo, or Gaaton.

מרחשת Marchesheth, in Siphri, is thus writtenמרעשת  Maresheth, is the village Marases (see מרוז Meroz), 2½ English miles northeast from Bethshean.

מגדל חרוב The Tower of Charub. Eastward from the sea of Tiberias is a village Kefer Charub; and near it is another by name of Megdel (Hebrew Migdal, tower). In Midrash Echah, fol. 71, col. c, is mentioned a place called Kafar Charub; and in the Life of Josephus, p. 254, we find Charaba in Upper Galilee.

אולם רבתי The Great Ulam, is the village Ulama, 5 English miles south from the above-named Abathia. It is true that we often find an Ulama mentioned in the Books of the Maccabees, as belonging to the fortified places of Gilead. Perhaps one was called the Great, the other the Little Ulama; but we cannot ascertain which of the two is meant here.

נוקבתא דעיון Nukbetha De-iyon, is perhaps the town עיון Ijon, of 2 Kings 15:29, which stood in the northern part of Palestine. At this day there is, east of the Wady Chasmeia (the ancient Leontes), a narrow valley, which the Arabs call Merdj I-un. A narrow valley is, in Arabic, called Nukub; Nukbetha De-iyon means, therefore, the narrow valley of I-un.

תוקרת Tokereth. This I take to be the Jukrath, often mentioned in the Talmud. On the road from Zafed to Gish, near the village Kaiomeia, is found the grave of Rabbi Jose of Jukrath; and, as it was customary to bury the great men of our people near the places of their nativity, it is highly probable that the town of Jukrath must formerly have stood here.

כרכה רבה דבר סנגרא  Karaka Rabbah Debar Sanegra, is as I have proved above, p. 26, in the note to Zedad, the present Kallath al Sani.

תרנגולה עילעאה דלמעלה מן קיסרין  The Upper Ornithon above Caesarea, is also explained in the same note.

תרכונה דמתחם לבצרה Tarchuna Demithcham Lebozrah, is the country which Josephus calls Trachonitis. The Arabs call it Ledja, and it is south of Damascus. דמתחם means "which borders," or leads, i.e. the road לבצרה to Bozrah, the road which leads to Bozrah, the formerly famous city in Hauran, of which more will be said hereafter. (See also farther down, article עוץ).

מלח דזרבאיי  Melach Dezarbayi, is unknown to me.

נמרין Nimrin, perhaps the place of that name about 10 English miles west of Tiberias, or the Beth-Nimrah (Num. 32:36) in the portion of Gad on the other side of Jordan (which see).

בית סכל  Beth Sachal, is unknown to me.

קנת Kenath, is probably the Kanuath in the mountains of Hauran, and is mentioned in Numb. 32:42. (See also בשן Bashan.)

רפיח דחגרא Raphiach Dechagra. Nearly all the prior commentators translate Chazor חצור, with Raphiach רפיח. I suppose that the place in question is the town of Chazor, near the sea Semechonitis. (See art. Chazor, in the commentary on the thirty-one kings of Joshua.) Chagra is the Arabic Chadshar,* stone, therefore the "stony country;" and in face there is found at the present day, northwest of Banias, at a distance of about 10 English miles, the village Chadshar,* and south thereof is the village Zuk; which name likewise means a high steep rock, so that the whole district is called "the stony country," which it actually is.

* This must not be mistaken for the Chagra in the southwest of Palestine, the ancient ברד Bared (Gen. 16:14), which is also rendered חגרא, and is situated in a stony country.

דרך הגדולה ההולכת למדבר The great road which leads to the desert. We have no data to determine either the road or the desert here meant.

חשבון Heshbon. See this article under its proper head.

יבקא  Yabka. See article יבק  Jabbok.

נחלא דזרך The stream of Zerech, evidently an error, should be זרד Zered.

יגר סהדותא Yegar Sahadutha, is in the land of Gilead (Gen. 31:47), and is also called Mizpah. I presume that the village Al Zuf, eastwardly in the mountains of Gilead, is the Mizpah in question, since both the words rendered in English have the same signification, and are derived from the Hebrew צפה to see, to look on.

רקם דגיעא  Rekam Degaya. See Kadesh-Barnea.

גינא דאשקלון Gina Deashkelon, that is, the environs, properly the angle of Ashkelon, no doubt from the Greek γωνια, wherefore it should be spelled גוניא angle.

It is very difficult to determine accurately the boundary of Palestine from these data, since they appear mostly to be merely isolated places. It is at all events certain that the northern boundary line did not extend far beyond Banias, and on the sea-coast not farther than Al Zib (Chezib); and at the present day, also, the Wady Kasmeia (Leontes) and the river Chasbeya are regarded as the western boundary of the present Palestine. Some maintain that even the Arabic name of Kasmeia is derived from the circumstance of its signifying "the separating," the dividing, or here, the river which separates Palestine, and determines the boundary line. Southward, however, both boundaries, to wit, that given in Numb. 34:4, and the other marking the possession of the Israelites under Ezra and Nehemiah, are very nearly the same, since we find in the latter Rekam Gaayah, which is Kadesh-Barnea, and the environs of Ashkalon. The extent of Palestine, however, according to these data, is considerably less than that which was determined by divine command in the thirty-fourth of Numbers.

Before concluding this division concerning the boundary of Palestine, I desire to say something with respect to the hypothesis of the celebrated Astori Farchi, who for several years travelled through Palestine, and investigated its localities, till the year 5082 A. M., and was the author of כפתר ופרח, the most renowned description of the land of Israel; and this regarding his assumption respecting the Mount Hor, the extreme northwest of the boundary of Palestine. The learned author took a great deal of pains to determine this point; still I may venture to assert that his hypothesis is incorrect.

In section xi. of his description, he asserts that Mount Hor is between Antakia and Ladikieh, on Ras Zodin, and deems it identical with Djebl al Mukra, not far from Ras Basid, about a half day's journey north of Ladikieh, and believes to have found a trace of several cities of the tribe of Asher in its vicinity, for instance Umah, Afek, and Rechob (Josh. 19:30). He also considers Hesn al Akrad, southwest of Chama, the ancient Epiphanis, as Hazar-Enan. But if we investigate the position of this alleged Mount Hor, we shall soon discover that the hypothesis is untenable; since Palestine could not have had possibly so great an extent northward, the more so as we cannot look for the country of Asher so far to the north, since, if this were so, the portion of this tribe would have been greater than that of all the other eleven tribes together; for the superficial extent from Akko, which belonged to Asher (Judges 1:31), to the Djebl al Mukra, is considerably more than from Akko to the Dead Sea, Wady Gaian, and Wady al Arish, the south boundary of Palestine, which division would evidently be incredible, since the land was to be divided according to the population of the tribes (Numb. 33:54). Farther, we find that the towns Ladikieh, Phamiah, Arca, Arvad, and Trablos are situated south of the said mountain, which is the alleged northern boundary of the land of Israel, wherefore these towns ought to be, as a matter of course, within the limits of Palestine; but this is not the case. For in Pesikthah Rabbethi, chap. 23, it is stated expressly that Ladikieh belongs to Suria, and not to Palestine. At the end of Tractate Challah, it is proved that Phamiah also belonged to Suria. From Gen. 10:17, 18, it appears that Arvad, Arka, and Sin (i. e. Trablos), did not belong to the possessions of the Canaanites, consequently not to Palestine proper. It is therefore impossible to assume that the northern portion of this district should belong to Palestine, whilst the southern portion was in Suria. It is therefore necessary to assume that the Mount Hor, the northern terminus of Palestine, is south of Trablos and Ladikieh, which it actually is, according to my supposition that it is identical with Ras al Shaka. I have also mentioned that there was no city of the tribes of Israel north of Zidon; and the places in the vicinity of the Djebl al Mukra can therefore not be regarded as having been those of Asher, though the names may have some similarity. The assertion, also, that Hazar-Enan is identical with the village Hesn al Akrad, is too arbitrary and bold, without proof and authentication; since the place in question is to be sought for in the vicinity of Damascus (Ezek. 47:17), and not so far northward; whereas my own idea that Dar Kanon, in the neighbourhood of Damascus, is the Hebrew Hazar-Enan, has a great deal of probability to recommend it as the correct site.