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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

The Principal Rivers of the Lebanon.

Besides the already described Amanah and Pharpar, the following large rivers have their sources in the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon.

I. Al Azy,

That is, the bold or the rebellious, is a large river which flows northward from Lebanon, and its name is, as I am told, partly derived from this circumstance, since all the other streams have a southern course, and partly because it is a wild and rapid water course, which tears away all the bridges which people attempt to throw over it. In ancient times it was called Orontes, but is not mentioned either in Talmud or the Scriptures. It issues out of a large meadow called Djord Dudunie, 12 English miles north of Baal-bek, takes a northerly course, by the town of Chamath (Epiphania), Phamia, and Antiochia, (Antakia), and falls south of the last into the Mediterranean.

II. Wady Chasmeia,

That is, the dividing or separating stream. This river, the ancient Leontes,* takes its rise south of the city of Baal-bek, flows southwesterly to the lower plain, Bakaatachtani, in the district of the ancient Beth-Rechob, and falls into the Mediterranean to the north of Tyre.

* In some ancient Arabic works, I found a river Nahr Aloud as existing between Zor and Seide (Zidon), This would place in this position the Eleitherus, which is, however, not found between Tyre and Zidon, as I shall explain hereafter. But it appears to me that this is an error of the transcribers, and that it should be Leond, or the Leontes, the same as the Wady Chasmeia in question, as this is also known in the Arabic books as Nahr Leond.

III. Nahr Abraim,

Formerly Adonis, flows northward of the district Kisruan, and south of Biblos, and falls there into the Mediterranean.

IV. The Aleud,

Also called Nahr al Kubbir, i.e. the Strong or Grand River, formerly Eleutherus, flows north of Arka (which will be more particularly described hereafter). The valley of the river forms the most northern boundary of the Lebanon, and extends from Hams (Epiphania) to the Mediterranean.

V. The Kelb (Dog River),

Flows north of Beirut, and takes its name, according to some, from the circumstance that the Avites formerly dwelt in this district, and had, as their god, the idol Nibchaz, who is said to have been figured as a dog, according to the authority of Talmud Sanhedrim, fol. 63a. (See also 2 Kings 17:31.) It had anciently the name of Licius (Lykos).

VI. The Tamur, or Al Kadi,

Flows at a distance of about 12 English miles west of the city Dir al Kamr, situated between Beirut and Zidon. In winter it increases to such a size that it becomes a rapid stream, and overflows its banks to a great extent; so that travellers are often detained on its shores six or eight days, till the water returns to its former channel.

VII. The Zabirani,

Is the last of these streams, and flows 5 English miles south of Zidon.

The Principal Places and Districts of Lebanon.

It would lead me too far to give a minute description of all the places in Lebanon and the country round about it. I will, therefore, only note those which are mentioned in the Scriptures, Talmud and other authoritative works.

Between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, there is a large valley, in Arabic, Al Bakaa, or "The Valley," anciently Coelesyria, or the Chul of Gen. 10:23; it extends northward up to the neighbourhood of Chams (Epiphania), and southward to the vicinity of Tyre, near which latter place it is called Bakaa-Tachtani, i.e. the lower valley.

This great valley of the Lebanon is the בקעת הלבנון "the Valley of Lebanon" of Joshua 11:17, and the לבא חמת "the entrance of Hamath" of Num. 13:21. In speaking of the battle which Joshua fought with the Canaanites at the Lake of Merom, it is said (Josh. 11:3) "that Jabin sent to the Canaanite on the east and the west, and to the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Jebusites in the mountain, and to the Hivite under Hermon in the land of Mizpeh." Now, according to my view, is here meant the eastern valley of the Djebl Heish, mentioned above, and now called Heish Shakara; where is found, at this day, 10 English miles north of Kanitra, the village of Tel Djube, Hebrew Goba, which is similar in signification to Mizpeh, both meaning a high place whence an object can be seen at a distance. (Gobi--Gibah is transformed into the Arabic Djube by changing the Hebrew Gimel into the Arabic Jim.) The most southern height of the Djebl Heish is called Tel Farash, that is, Joshua's Mount, because the Arabs call Joshua Farash, probably from the circumstance that he may have pursued the Canaanitish kings to this point. It is also said in the chapter cited, in verse 8, that the Israelites pursued their enemies (westward) as far as Zidon, and (eastward) to the valley of Mizpeh; it is farther said, in verse 17, that Joshua conquered the country from the Bald Mountain (Halak), which is in Seir, to Baalgad in the valley of the Lebanon, under Mount Hermon, which should induce us to assume that Baal-gad is identical with the present Banias, of which we have already spoken. This district of Baal-gad was particularly noted for the criminal idolatry which was at all times practised there. It was there that the idol Baal-gad, already existing in the time of Joshua, was worshipped as late as the days of Isaiah (chap. 5:11 ), "Who set a table for the Gad" (English version, "for that troup," which, however, hardly means anything; whereas, it is highly significant when taken as the name of a heathen divinity). It was there, at Dan or Laish, afterwards called Paneas, or Caesarea Philippi, where the children of Dan set up the image of Micah (Judges 18:31), and where, at a later period, Jeroboam set up one of the golden calves (1 Kings 12:28) to mislead Israel to sin. It was there where the image of the cock-idol was worshipped by the Cutheans in the town of Tarnegola, consecrated to the god Nergal (2 Kings 17:30; see also Targum Jonathan; Num. 34; likewise Talmud Yerushalmi, Demai, chap. 2.); and there it was at last, where in later times, the Grecian idol Pan was worshipped, whence then the name of the town of Paneas, near which is the cave of Banias, in which there are stones bearing inscriptions having reference to the worship of Pan. The more recent name of the time of the crusaders of Belias for Banias, is founded upon the original appellation of the same Baal-gad (Joshua 11:17).*

* This vicinity is also probably the site of Baal-Hamon, mentioned in the Song of Solomon 8:11, where it is not unlikely that the Egyptian idol Amon (see Jer. 46:23), was worshipped by Pharaoh's daughter, the wife of the Israelitish King. This idol, the Jupiter Ammon of the Greeks, was worshipped in the city Diospolis, i.e. Jupiter's town, which the Targumin suppose to be Alexandria, but which others allege to be Thebes, in Upper Egypt, where are still found the most remarkable and extensive ruins of idol temples. It is, therefore, probable that the idolatrous queen transplanted the name of Anion, changed into the Hebrew Hamon, from Egypt to the country around Lebanon, and hence, then, Baal-Hamon, the God Amon. Perhaps Baal may also refer to the idol Baal or Belus.

In this large plain, between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, there also stood formerly the celebrated city Heliopolis, consecrated by the Greeks to the worship of the sun (from Helis, the sun, Polis, town), which is now known as Baal-bek† (from Baal, Belus, and Bikah, valley). This town is still famous for its remarkable ruins, which are undisputably the most gigantic in all Palestine, and are well calculated to influence every beholder with astonishment. In the remains of the ancient Temple of the Sun can be seen stones which are 60 feet in length, 12 in thickness, and 12 in height; and the simple view of these blocks causes a species of awe; as no one can. imagine how human hands were enabled to erect so wonderful a structure. This colossal building,‡ erected by Solomon, it being undoubtedly the בעלת Baalath mentioned in the first book of Kings (9:18), was destroyed in the year 5162 (1402), by the conqueror Tamerlane;* and that which resisted his destructive inroad was overthrown 356 years later, through the terrific earthquake in the year 5518 (1758), which caused such great devastation in the plain of Lebanon and the country of Galilee.

† The passage in Tractate Maaseroth, chap. v. § 8, שום בעל בכי translated usually (strong) "garlick, which excites tears," appears to me to be only "the garlik of Baal-bek," the chi being substituted for the k.

‡ According to Josephus (Antiq. viii. book viii., chap. 2), was the Baalath erected by Solomon in the vicinity of Gezer of Joshua 10:33, not far from Jaffa on the Mediterranean, in the country of Ephraim. According to this assumption, it would appear that this town had the origin and derived its name from the same circumstances as that in the tribe of Dan. (See Joshua 19:44.) But Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela thinks that the temple of Baal-bek was originally the house built by Solomon for Pharaoh's daughter in Lebanon. (1 Kings 7:8.)

* Of which more in the historical part, which see.

Through a close inquiry, I have succeeded in ascertaining that Mount Lebanon is at present divided into 16 districts, of which, however, I mean to enumerate those only which are mentioned in the Talmudic writings, and which are situated south of the town of Tripoli (Trablus), in the direction of Mount Hor, the northern extremity of Palestine (Num 34:7); but I intend to devote, in the sequel, a chapter to the countries which form the northern boundary line of the land of Israel.


Or Trablus† al Sham (Tarpelites of Ezra 4:9), is the Sin of Gen. 10:17, wherefore Saadiah translates it with Trablision. Even at the present time there is, north of this city, a village called Al Sini; it is also called, in the Answers of Maharitz, Sinim (chap 34). Trablus is distant from the sea about 1½ miles, and the river Abulalia passes through it. Of our fellow-Israelites there reside at present only twelve families, although their Synagogue is a large, strong, and massive building, which would indicate that formerly there must have been here a much larger congregation. At the time of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, the celebrated traveller, this city was visited by a terrible earthquake, which threw down the walls of the town and many houses, and buried many inhabitants alive under the ruins of their dwellings. But in other places, also, the convulsion of nature was so great, that, as this traveller reports, more than 20,000 human beings lost their lives in Palestine through this calamity. The same occurrence is noticed by Rabbi Joseph Hackohen (fol. 22b), that in the year 4930 (1170) there happened a terrific earthquake in the East, through which the city of Tripoli was overthrown, burying its inhabitants, and that Antiochia also was nearly totally destroyed by the same calamity.

† In Talmud Yerushalmi Sabb. Chap. 1., is mentioned that Rabbi Simeon taught in Atrubulis, by which, probably, the present Trablus is meant.

Southeast of Trablus is the district Al Danie, where the above-described cedars of Lebanon are found. West of the highest peak of the Lebanon, Makmal, is the district Art Akluk, which is probably the writings. (See Negaim, in the קלקאי Kalkai often mentioned in the Talmudical writings. (See Negaim, in the beginning of chap. x.; also in Targum Jonathan, to Numb. 34:8.)

Southwest of this is the land of the Gibbim (Gebal, Joshua 13:5; 1 Kings 5:32; Ezek. 17:9), called by the Greeks Biblos, now called Djebel. East of this district, on the above-mentioned river Abraim, is the town of Aphica, which I take to be the Aphek of Joshua 13:4.

Between Tripoli and Biblos, on the shore of the sea, is the town of Botrus, of which Phoenician city Josephus speaks in his Antiq., book viii., chap. 7.

In the district of Al Shahar is found the village And (probably the village Aimi mentioned in Talmud Yerushalmi Nedarim, chap. iv., and ibid. end of Yoma).

East of the town Mar Hana, in the district of Al Shuf, belonging to the territory of Beirut, is the spring of Achab, in Arabic En Achab (see Parah, chap. viii. § 11), which falls into the river Abraim. In the same district is found the village Biyuth-athir, doubtlessly a corruption for Biyutar, a city referred to in Challah, chap. iv. § 10, as Bittar,* and not to be mistaken for the ancient Bethar, near Jerusalem, not far from Malcha, or the celebrated Bethar not far from Kaplar Saba (Gittin, fol. 57a).

* In Talmud Yerushalmi, and in some other old books, I find the passage in Challah to state ביותר Beyutar, not Bittar, as we read in our books.

In the district of Al Djurd is the town of Batchun; it is not to be mistaken, as no doubt some have done, for the Betach belonging to the cities of Hadarezer (2 Sam. 8:8).

Two and a half English miles south of Baal-bek is the village Rabcha, perhaps the Richpa mentioned in Maaseroth v. § 8, as the Arabs so often transpose the letters; hence Ripcha, then Rabcha.

Twenty-five miles southeast of Baal-bek is the village Sachala, where the inhabitants point out a monument, which they allege to mark the grave of Noah. That, however, but little faith can be placed in such like popular legends, will appear from the fact that also in the land of Armenia, in the vicinity of Mount Dshudi (the Ararat of Gen. 8:4), on which the ark rested at the flood, they also point out an alleged grave of Noah. But other similar examples can be cited to prove the credulity of the people in giving currency to unauthenticated legends. So the grave of Moses is shown south of the town of Hams, near the sea and the village, where it is, is called Keber Mosheh, Moses' Grave, when it is well known that the sepulchre of this holy man is east of the Jordan (Deut. 34:6). The grave of Job is pointed out at Constantinople, also east of the Jordan (see Caphtor Vapherach, fol. 70 b), again in Armenia, and finally in India, not far from the Persian boundary line, consequently in four different places.*

* There is a hint in Targum Echa (Lamentations) to chap. 4:21, that Job should have lived in Armenia, as עוץ the land of Uz, where Job dwelt, is given with Armenia.

The northern part of Lebanon is almost a complete desert and uninhabited, and only in its southern part are there any settlements, of which, however, agreeably to my plan, I shall mention the following only.

South of Djebl Sheich, which is identical with Hermon or the Snow Mountain, is the district Al Chaspeya, in which is found the city of the same name, mentioned in Talmud Yerushalmi,—Demai, chapter ii. South of this place, is the river Chaspeya, called by the Arabs Koroni, which is the source of the Jordan, and flows to the south of the district of Dan, and unites there with the river Dan and the Jordan. West of this river, that is to say, 12½ English miles north of the sea of Merom, is the village Abel (Beth Maacha 2 Sam. 20:14). Near this are the villages Abel al Kamach, and Abel al Krum,† which latter is not to be mistaken for Abel Keramim of Judges 11:33, which is the land of Gilead. South of the first Abel, and north of Abel al Kamach, is the village Zeredah, where the grave of Jose of Zeredah is found. This village also has the name of Chamas. Not far from this is the village of Barthotha, in which is the grave of Eliezer of Barthotha. (Aboth i.) Perhaps this is the town of Beruthi mentioned by Josephus, which I have noticed above.

† The Jewish inhabitants of the town of Chaspeya carry their dead across the stream to Abel al Krum, because they have a tradition that the river Chaspeya formed the boundary line of Palestine, and they wish to inter the dead in the Holy Land. But this boundary line was only so after the return from Babylon, as I have shown at the proper place above.

The inhabitants of Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon are mostly Druses; they are called Philistines by the Jews, who perhaps do this in consonance with some tradition that the present mountaineers are thus descended. These Druses are under the government of the Amir Abshir, who resides at Dir al Kamar, a town about 20 English miles northeast of Tyre. The religion of these people consists of a mixture of Christian and Mahomedan doctrines, and they are much given to immorality and general looseness of conduct. Their chief occupation consists in the production of silk and cotton fabrics; and they are also engaged in agriculture, and their wine especially is very good, and considerable quantities of cotton wool are likewise produced by them.

The Lebanon is also inhabited by a Christian sect, called Maronites, who have a convent in the town of Kanabin, in the district of Al Donie, where their patriarch, or the chief of their religion, resides. The Maronites are, however, often persecuted by the Druses, who far exceed them in numbers, and are occasionally murderously assailed by them. Only a few years back, in the year 5603 (1843) and in 5605 (1845), wars of this nature took place, in which a large number of Christians lost their lives. These Maronites, as well as the small Mahomedan population found in the mountains, are, with the Druses, under the government of the above-mentioned Amir.

In only three places of Mount Lebanon are Jewish inhabitants found: in Tripoli, as already stated, twelve families, in Dir Al Kamar eighty families, the heads of whom are mostly merchants, and in Chaspeya near thirty families. The Jews are greatly beloved by the Druses, and they are active agriculturists, like the other inhabitants of the mountains, and noted for their courage and bravery. Even the girls engaged in tending the flocks go armed with pistols and javelin, and boldly defend themselves against wild beasts and robbers. About twenty-four years ago, a Jewish girl of Chaspeya was tending her flock in the field, when a Turk threatened to do her violence, as she was alone, and no one near to come to her aid. But she drew forth her pistol and ordered him on pain of death to desist from his attempt; and as he would not listen to her, she levelled her weapon and shot him dead on the spot. She was cited to appear before the judges; and she was not only acquitted of all blame, but much praise was publicly awarded to her for her intrepidity and courageous behaviour.

In the year 5591 (1831), when the mountaineers of the district of Sanur (which see), who occupied the fort of the same name, rebelled against the then Pacha of Akko (St. Jean D'Acre), Abdalla, and had caused a great slaughter among his troops, he requested of the Amir to aid him with some of his bravest men to subdue the rebels. The Amir assented, and sent him about one hundred Jews from Dir al Kamar and Chaspeya, who, greatly to their renown, reduced the stronghold of Sanur, which the Pacha thereupon ordered to be levelled to the ground, and it has remained in this state ever since.

The Amir is subject to the Sultan of Constantinople, to whom he pays the legal tribute, that is, when it suits him, for he is nearly independent in his mountain fastnesses amidst the towering Alps, and he need not fear the armies which his nominal sovereign might be induced to send against him. In the year 5594 (1834), when the so-called peasant war raged in the Holy Land, and the Fallahin laid waste the city of Zafed, the Amir came with his army and delivered the Jews from the power of their enemies; for at that time the Druses Were on friendly terms with Ibrahim Pacha. Nevertheless, four years later, when the mountaineers were at war with their former ally, Ibrahim, they suddenly surprised Zafed, and plundered the Jews residing there. In the progress of the war, however, they were overcome by the Egyptian Pacha, notwithstanding the strength of their position, after a prolonged struggle. This occurred in 5598 (1838); and this defeat has greatly reduced their power. (Fuller particulars of these events will be found in the historical part of this work.)