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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

The Mountains of Galilee.

Having thus described the Lebanon, situated at the northern limits of Palestine, we must now notice the other more southerly mountains of the Holy Land.

In the same manner as the Hermon (Djebl Sheich) gradually expands in a chain of lower hills to the southeast, forming there the Djebl Heish; it also extends to the southwest through means of the mountains of Upper Galilee, anciently the mountains of Naphtali, and both these chains enclose the plain of the Lake Semechonitis (Waters of Merom). On the northwest portion of this lake commence the mountains of Safed, which are a part of the southern portion of the Djebl Sheich. From the Bridge of Jacob's Sons, which spans the Jordan, there extends a plain about 4 English miles in length, and at its termination begin the mountains of Naphtali, the summit of which, called Djebl Zafed, is reached by a gradual ascent of 4 English miles in length. Djebl Sheich is thence visible in a northeast direction, and the sea of Chinnereth to the south. The descent of this mount to the south is also very gradual, and after a walk of 8 English miles, the traveller reaches the city of Safed. On the road to Mount Tabor, about 15 English miles in length, there are constantly in view, in the plain, ranges of mountains in the distance. Northwest of Safed, towards Tyre, there is a hilly country 30 miles in extent, which is very productive. On the west side of Safed, on a clear day, the Mediterranean Sea, near Akko, is distinctly visible. In the direction of Zippori (Sephoris), the country is an unproductive range of hills; whereas, in the immediate neighbourhood of the just-named city, there is a very fruitful plain, anciently called the plain of Zebulun. (See Megillah, fol. 6a.)* From the city of Nazareth to Tiberias, is a mountainous country; and the descent to Lake Chinnereth is by a steep road over the hills, of only 2½  miles, and from Nazareth southward to the valley of Jezreel it is 2 miles in length.

* Resh Lakish said, I saw the valley of Zippori flowing with milk and honey, and it was sixteen mill long by sixteen mill broad.

The Land of Galilee,

(1 Kings 9:11,)

Is an elevated plain, which gradually descends westward to the level of the sea, near Akko (St. Jean D'Acre), southward to the plain of Jezreel, but terminates abruptly at the east in the level of Lake Chinnereth and the plain of the Jordan. This country is divided into

Upper and Lower Galilee.†

The former comprises, in a word, the whole mountains of Naphtali, the Djebl Zafed to the mountainous district of Shaghar (see the foregoing note to Zedad to the name כרכה דבר סניגורא), consequently from the northwest point of Lake Chinnereth to the Mediterranean Sea near Tyre. Lower Galilee, however, comprises the mountain range of Zippori, the present Sefuri, the Mount Tabor, and the Little Hermon (Djebl Duhu), and the mountains of Gilboa, consequently the whole district, from the Jordan near Beth Shean, to Mount Carmel, and it forms the northeastern boundary, or edge, of the valley of Jezreel.

† We read in Mishna Shebiith, chap. ix. § 2, "From the village of Chananiah (now Kefer Anon), where no Shikmin (see Art. Shikmin farther on) grow, is Upper Galilee; but south of this village, where Shikmin do grow, is Lower Galilee;" consequently the present Kefer Anon, which is about 3 English miles southwest from Zafed, is here regarded as the dividing line between the two districts in question. Josephus, however, holds the following language concerning the bounds of Galilee, Bell. Jud. b. iii. chap. 3: "Now Phoenicia and Syria encompass about the Galilees, which are two, and called Upper Galilee and the Lower. They are bounded towards the sunsetting with the borders of the territory belonging to the Ptolemais and by Carmel, which mountain had formerly belonged to the Galileans, but now belonged to the Tyrians, to which mountain adjoins Gaba (Haifa חיפה which is called the City of Horsemen, because those horsemen that were dismissed by Herod, the king, dwelt therein. They are bounded on the south with Samaria and Scythopolis, as far as the river Jordan; on the east with Hippene and Gadaris, and also with Gaulanitis and the borders of the kingdom of Agrippa; its northern parts are bounded by Tyre and the country of the Tyrians. As for that Galilee which is called the Lower, it extends in length from Tiberias to Zebulon, and of the maritime places, Ptolemais is its neighbour; its breadth is from the village called Xaloth (Gineea), which lies in the great plain, as far as Bersabé, from which beginning also is taken the breadth of the Upper Galilee, as far as the village Baca, which divides the land of the Tyrians from it; its length is also from Meloth (Meroth) to Thella, a village near to Jordan." It is, indeed, difficult to ascertain the extent of Galilee from this description, since we do not know, accurately, all the names of the places mentioned therein. I presume that Baca (the Baba of some editions is undoubtedly an error of the press) is to be sought for in the southern part of Coelesyria, in Arabic Baaka (from בקע a hollow, a valley), which extends to the vicinity of Tyre, and that the village had the same name as the valley in which it stood (see לבוא חמתThella is undoubtedly the ancient Tellum, now Chirbath Tillum, situated on the northwest shore of the Lake of Tiberias. Meroth (in sonic editions Meloth) appears to me to be the village Al Magr (the Cave), 2½  English miles east of Akko. (The Arabic Magr is the Hebrew Ma'ar מער, as Gain stands for 'Ain). Xaloth cannot possibly be the town of Kesuloth, spoken of in Joshua 19:18, situated near Mount Tabor, since the Xaloth of Josephus is said to be the most southern point of Galilee, and can, therefore, not be sought for near Tabor. I, therefore, believe that the reading Gineea, is the correct one, in place of Xaloth, and signifies the modern Dshinin (En Gannim of Joshua 19:21), which is actually situated on the great plain Merdj Abu Amr, the ancient volley of Jezreel or Megiddo, and can, therefore, be taken justly as the most southern point of Galilee. I think myself authorized to maintain that the reading Xaloth is absolutely erroneous, and that it should be Cuth, the modern Kefer Kuth, 4 English miles west of Dshinin, since I find in this name a truce of the כפר עותנה, mentioned in Gittin, fol. 76a, and Yerushalmi Baba Mezia, chap. 7, Kefar 'Utna, and changing the 'Ain for Gain, would give us Gutna, which is easily corrupted into Kuth; and if this supposition be correct, then do Josephus, and the Talmud agree as to the southern point of Galilee. Zebulon: north of the Shafaram (שפרעם) on the road to Akko, is found a spring called Ain Zabulon; perhaps there once stood near it the city of the same name, which is mentioned by Josephus in the extract I have given. Others, however, think that the town of Zebulon mentioned by Josephus, is the town of Chabul, which is situated at a distance of 5 English, miles north-northeast of Akko.

In Upper Galilee, therefore, are situated the mountains of Naphtali, called Djebl Zafed, and in Lower Galilee, opposite Tiberias, near the village of Chittin, is the high mount, Kurn Chittin, which is, the Summit of Chittin. This mount is celebrated in history; for it was here that a great battle was fought on the 4th of July, 4947 (1187), between Saladin, King of Egypt, and the Christians, when Guy (Guidon) of Lusignan, was taken prisoner by the Mussulman king, who afterwards captured Jerusalem from the Christians, and put an end to their kingdom in Palestine. Five English miles from this mount is the one famous in the history of the prophetess Deborah (Judges 4:6), to wit:

The Mount Tabor.

This handsome mount, situated in the land of Issachar, and called by the Arabs Djebl Tur, commands a view of the most agreeable district of the whole country, and is near 3000 feet high.* On its summit, which is 1¼ English miles in circumference, was formerly a city of the same name, as will be made evident by a reference to Joshua 19:22, and which was a fortified place even as late as the times of Josephus, when, however, it was destroyed by Titus. The Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, had a monastery built on this mount; and to this day the ruins of this structure, consisting of the walls, are still existing, and on the western portion there is yet a large archway, in which the gate was. On the side of Tabor there is a forest of oak trees, in which many wild boars are found. The Turks built a fortress on this mount in the time of Innocent the Third.

* According to the Midrash Yalkut to Deut. 33:18, it is the mountain on which the temple ought of right to have been built, on account of its being the most elegant and highest of all the elevations in Palestine, had it not been for the express revelation which ordered the sanctuary to be erected on Mount Moriah.