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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850


The territory of Issachar, which was enclosed on three sides by Menasseh (to which probably Jacob's prophecy, "Issachar is a strong boned ass, couching between the stables," Gen. 49:14), extended on the east to the Jordan, near the southern shore of Lake Chinnereth, and on the north to Mount Tabor; from here the boundary ran over Kesulloth and Abez, to the vicinity of Mount Carmel, and the southern extreme appears to me to have been Remeth, i.e. Ramathaim-Zofim, in Mount Ephraim. To this tribe belonged the whole of the plain of Jezreel. Josephus states that the possessions of Issachar extended from Jordan to Mount Carmel.

The towns of Issachar were the following:

Jezreel יזרעאל no doubt the village Serain, which is 3 English miles north of En-Gannin (Djinin). The name of Serain has undoubtedly been put for Serail, abbreviated for Jezreel; and the change of n for l is nothing uncommon; as Beth-El becomes Beth-en or Beit-un, and Beth-Djibrin is also called Beth-Djibril. About 1 mile east from here is a mount called Djebl Djulud,* from which descends an unnamed rivulet, which runs southerly, in the direction of the mountains of Gilboa. Near Serain commences the valley of Jezreel, named now Merdj Abn Amer. The Greeks called Jezreel "Esdrela," whence the plain was named Esdrelon.

* This enables me to expound an extremely obscure passage in the Bible (Judges 7:3), which no commentator has hitherto been able to elucidate: "Now therefore go to, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from Mount Gilead." It appears almost like a riddle to decipher, how they should depart from Mount Gilead, which is on the east side of Jordan, whereas, the camp of the Israelites was in the valley of Jezreel, at a very great distance from the said mountain, with which it stood in no connexion whatever. But there can be no doubt, that the Mount Gilead referred to, is the Djebl Djulud, and that only a false pronunciation has obtained, putting Djulud for Djilead, i.e. Gilead. The rivulet which descends from it, is also doubtless the stream mentioned (ibid. 5:45), where the people were mustered, and it was likewise near this mount where the battle of Gideon took place. The learned Astori says in his work, fol. 67b: "To the east of Jezreel, as far as a horse can run (a stadium), is a spring, near which the Israelites encamped in the (last) war, under Saul. It rises south of Mount Gilboa, and is called En Djilud. The Arabs say, that there also took place the fight between David and the giant Goliath; but herein they are mistaken." This was probably merely an incorrect tradition, and an exchange of Goliath for Gilead. The author went carelessly over the ground without noticing whether this traditional name Djilud or Goliath was of any importance or not, or whether also the name of the mountain Djebl Djulud had in it a trace of the former Gilead. Still, all this proves that there was a Mount Gilead likewise on the west side of Jordan.

Whilst on the subject, I will explain another obscure passage, to wit, 1 Kings 21:19: "On the spot where the dogs have licked up the blood of Naboth, shall the dogs lick up thy blood also." Again it says (ibid. 22:38): "And they washed out the chariot in the pool of Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood." Naboth was stoned to death in Jezreel, and still it is said, as if in fulfilment of the prophecy, that Ahab's blood was licked up in Samaria; how was this? Kimchi, it is true, notices this difficulty; but believes that the water of this pool ran to Jezreel, where the dogs licked it up, dyed as it was with the blood of the deceased king. But whoever knows the relative positions, and the nature of the country of Samaria and Jezreel, will easily understand the impossibility of taking Kimchi's opinion as at all solving the difficulty; for Sebaste is more than 16 miles from Sarain, and then it is not to be supposed that the water should run upward from the former to the latter place, from a low to a high level. It therefore will appear evident that the word במקום translated "on the spot," should not be thus rendered, but with "in place of," "in punishment for, the dogs having licked up the blood of Naboth, they shall lick thy blood also." We also find in Hosea 2:1, והיה במקום "And it shall come to pass that instead of people's saying of them," &c. The difficulty in question is thus entirely removed, although it is quite surprising that all translators have failed in understanding, and all have mistranslated this passage. It will therefore be seen what interest and benefit a correct geography of Palestine must have for a true exposition of Holy Writ.

Kesulloth כסלות, is the village Aksal, 21 English miles west from Mount Tabor.

Shunem שנם is no doubt the village Sulim (again exchanging the 1 for n), 2½ English miles in a direct northern line distant from Sarain. At the time of Astori they yet professed to know the site of the house of the respectable woman who entertained Elisha so hospitably. (2 Kings 4:8.)

Chapharaim חפרים Eusebius and Hieronymus speak of the village Aframa, i.e. Chapharaim, about 5 mill north from Legion (Megiddo); but at present it is unknown.

Shion שיאון is probably identical with the modern village Sain, situated between Deburi=Daberath, and Jafa, i.e. Japhia (Joshua 19:12).

Harabbith הרבית There is, 3 English miles west from Beth-Shean, a village called Arubuni, in which I find a trace of the ancient Harabbith. Hieronymus says: "3 mill west from Beth-Shean, is the village Eraba," which I suppose to be the present Arubuni. Bereshith Rabbah, chap. 33, probably alludes to the same place when speaking of the town of Arabi in the vicinity of Beth­Shean.

Kishion קשיון Astori writes, fol. 67 b, "2½ miles south from Aksal is Kishion, near which the river (Kishon) has its source." At the present day the Arabs call the village near which the sources of Kishon are, and which is to the southwest of Tabor, "Sheich Abrik," i.e. chief Barak, in allusion to Barak, son of Abinoam (Judges 4:6), because he overcame on the banks of this stream the army of Sisera. Not far from this village is the village Muzr; it appears, therefore from the statement of Astori, that Sheich Abrik is the ancient Kishion. In 1 Chronicles 4:37, among the Levitical cities, it is called Kedesh.

Abez אבץ is probably the village Kunebiz, also called Karin En Abiz, which lies 3 English miles west­southwest from Aksal.

Remeth רמת See Ramathaim-Zofim.

En-Gannin עין גנים. This is the present large village Djinin, about 20 English miles north from Nablus, on the road from the latter place to Tiberias. In its vicinity is a small stream, called En-Djinin. (See also second chapter, article Ginai.) In I Chronicles 4:58, this town, one of the Levitical cities, is called Anem ענם equal to Annim ענים This shows the transmutation of ע Ayin into a ג Gimel, as in Arabic the Gayin is put for Ayin.

Tabor תבור Josephus relates that in his time there was a town with a fort on Mount Tabor, which probably had the same name as the mount itself. The present ruins on it are the remains of a church built by the Empress Helena.

Beth-Shemesh בית שמש i.e. house of the sun; I presume this to be identical with the small village Kaukab al Chama "the star* of the sun," which is 3 English miles north from Beth-Shean, and near the Jordan. Astori relates, "Beth-Shemesh, of Issachar, is south of Zippori (Sefuri), and is called Shumshi;" but I believe that, more correctly speaking, this Beth-Shemesh, near Sefuri, belonged to Naphtali (Joshua 19:38), and not to Issachar.

* This will explain for us an obscure passage in Pesiktah Rabbethi, chap. 16: שאלתי את ר"ד א' מן ככבה "I asked the Rabbi--one from Kochabah," which I hold to refer to some learned man from the city of Kochabah, probably the present Kaukab al Chama.

There Belonged Farther to the Portion of Issachar

Daberath דברת (Joshua 21:28); this is the village Diburi, 1½ English miles west from Tabor. This town was also reckoned as belonging to Zebulun (ibid. 19:12), which proves that the boundary lines of both tribes passed near it, wherefore it is often viewed as belonging to both. In the Life of Josephus it is called Dabarith.

Meron מראון (See description of the 31 Kings.)

Beth-Eked בית עקד (II Kings 10:12) . Eusebius says: "15 mill from Legion (Megiddo), in the plain of Esdrelon, may still be seen the ruins of this town," but at present it is quite unknown.

Aphek אפק (I Kings 20:26) is probably the modern village of Fukua, 2 English miles east from Djinin. (See also description of the 31 Kings.)

Dothan דותן (Gen. 38:17) is the village Dutha, 6 English miles south from Djinin; near it is shown the pit in which Joseph was cast before being sold by his brothers.

Meroz מרוז (Judges 5:23), probably the village Merasas, 2½ English miles northwest from Beth-Shean. (See also Maresheth in first chapter, page 36.)

Beth-Hashitta בית השטה (Judges 7:22), is probably the little village Shitta, l mill west from Djebl Duhu, i.e. the little Hermon.

Names of Places in the Portion of Issachar Occurring in the Talmudic Writings.

En-Tob עין טוב (Pesiktah Rabbethi, chap. 41; Talmud Rosh Hashanah, fol.25a), is the village Un al Taibe, which is between Tabor and Beth-Shean. Near this is the rivulet Wady Tubeni, i.e. En Tob, the spring Tob, which descends from the mountain of Gilboa. I believe that the oft-mentioned Tibaon טבעון (Machshirin, chap. 1; Talmud Megillah, 24b) was identical with En-Tob, and that the change of appellation arose from a mere transposition of the syllables. In Pesachim, fol. 53a, are spoken of אהיני דטובני a species of dates, from the vicinity of Tubeon.*

* I cannot again avoid to refute the view of a modern writer. I have read in the preface of a medical work, composed in the Hebrew language מרפא לעם The People's Physician," where the author quotes a passage from Nidda, fol. 22b, in the following words: "Rabbi Elazar, son of Zadok said, My father brought two cases from Tibeon to Jabne, &c.; the people asked my father, he asked the wise men, and they asked the physicians," &c.,--that he understands by Tibeon nothing else than Thebes, in Greece, and that hence our wise men obtained their medical knowledge from that country, since they sent their medical problems שאלות to Thebes for solution. This notion rests upon the erroneous mistaking Tibeon in Palestine for Thebes in Greece; since it appears clearly from Erubin, 29a, that the city in question was near Ardiska, and it can be proved positively from Tosephtah Terumoth, chap. 2, that the latter was unquestionably in Palestine; consequently the author has no proof whatever, that our wise men obtained their medical knowledge from Greece.

Serunia סרוניא (see Yerushalmi, end of Kilaim; Bereshith Rabbah, chap. 1; Zohar Tazria; also called in Yerushalmi Sanhedrin, chap. 7, Beth-Shirian בית שיריין) is no doubt the small village Sirin, situated on a mount between Tiberias and Beth-Shean, 2 English miles northwest from the Jordan bridge Midshama. At the foot of the mount, is the valley Sarané. (See second chapter, article Valley of Jezreel.)

Neurin נעורין (Chulin, fol. 5a), is the village Nuris, about 2 English miles southeast from Serain. The Naaran of 1 Chron. 7:28, is not to be mistaken for this, for it is the same as Naarah of Joshua 16:7, and is the present Naami.

Kapra כפרה (Yerushalmi Megillah, chap. i.; Yerushalmi Shekalim, chap. 5.), is the village Kaparah, situated 5 English miles southeast from Mount Tabor. Astori took this place for Chafaraim (which see); but this view appears to me incorrect.

Naim נעים (Bereshith Rabbah to Gen. 49:15), is the village Nain, 1 English mile southwest from En-Dor.

Thineam תנעם of the same passage, is the village Thenna, 1½ English miles northeast from Um al Taibe.

Pislon פסלון the valley of Pislon of the same passage. Between the Little Hermon and the mountains of Gilboa is a small valley, at the end of which, in the vicinity of the Jordan, is the village Phasal, in which I believe to discover a trace of the ancient Pislon, after which this valley is named.

Kefar Barkai כפר ברקאי (Pesachim, 57a, also end Kerithoth), is the village Barkin, 2 miles west from Djinin, and is also probably the Barkeas mentioned by Josephus (Bell. Jud., book 3, chap. 4.)

Kefar Thamartha כפר תמרתא (Megillah, 16a), is the village Thamra, 1½ English miles east from En-Dor.

Ulam אולם (Siphri to Balak; Yerushalmi Sanhedrin, chap. 10; Yerushalmi Shebiith, chap. 7.), is the village Ulama, 1 mile north from Sirin. (See 2d chapter, under this name.)

Gebul גבול (Kethuboth, 112a; Yerushalmi Challah, chap. 3), is the village Jebul, 3 English miles northeast from Beth-Shean, and is probably identical with the town of Gabala, in Lower Galilee, which was built by Herod, as reported by Josephus, Antiq., book 15, chap. 2.