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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

The Principal Mountains of Palestine.


This celebrated mountain, situated on the northern boundary of Palestine, derives its name from its white colour (Jer. 18:14), since the snow scarcely ever melts on this elevated ridge, and because its snow-covered summit, which has an elevation of more than 10,000 feet above the sea, is so high that it can be seen by those navigating the Mediterranean, as soon as they approach the island of Cyprus, although they are then at a distance of 100 English miles from the same. This mountain takes its rise south of the town of Chams, and extends south of Tripoli as the promontory of Mount Hor (הר ההר Numb. 34:7, called in the period of the Grecian domination Theuprosopon, and now Ras al Shaka), as far as the Mediterranean, and thence it runs a distance of 12 English miles to the south of Tyre, to the Ras al Nakhara, where its rocky cliffs, which are visible at a great distance, extend into the sea. On this rock is a narrow ascent, shaped somewhat like steps, by which its summit can be reached; hence it is called in the Talmud סולמא דצור the Ladder of Tyre. (See Erubin, fol. 80a, and Betza, 20b.)

The highest point of the whole Lebanon range is the Djebl Makmal. North of this point, which is south of the town of Edn, is the village Beshirrai, in the vicinity of which there is a cedar forest, consisting now of about 350 cedars, which to all appearance are several thousand years old; and the largest of these measures about 40 feet in circumference, and 90 feet in height.

On the east of Lebanon there is a large valley, now called Al Bakaa, and formerly Coelesyria;* and beyond this is the eastern chain of this mountain, which is known as the Anti-Lebanon. This extends eastward to the vicinity of Damascus, where it gradually diminishes in height, and extends thus northward to the desert and the district of Chams, and southward to Dan or Laish. This range has two high peaks, one of which is called Djebl Sheich, also Djebl Theldj, i.e. Snow Mountain, and is the Mount Hermon of the Bible, and almost rivals the Makmal in elevation; the other peak is called Djebl Heish, and lies east of Dan, or Banias.

* See the Entrance of Hamath, p. 25.

In the Bible, the term Lebanon is used to designate both of the just described chains of mountains; i.e. "Like the tower of Lebanon, which looketh to the front of Damascus" (Song of Sol. 7:5), can only refer to the eastern range, the Anti-Lebanon; so also "And all the Lebanon, to the rising of the sun" (Josh. 13:5), cannot apply to the western portion, or the Lebanon proper.


Is, as said, the highest point of the Anti-Lebanon, and is also termed in Scripture Sirion and Senir (Deut. 3:8). Even at the present time this ridge is designated by various names; for instance, the mount northwest of Damascus is called Sanir (Senir); the one north of Chas peia Djebl Theldj; and the one west of Baal-bek is termed Lubnan. Hence it appears that the verse quoted refers to the Djebl Heish just named, for it is north of the district of Golan, where this mount appears as a high wall, sloping down to the neighbourhood of the town Beth al Dshana, near the spring Barady or Amanah. The Bible, however, does not always understand by the word Hermon the eastern part of Lebanon only, or the Djebl Heish proper, but also the western part; as in Judges 3:3, "And the Hivites, the inhabitants of Mount Lebanon,from Mount Baal Hermon to the entrance of Hamath," which proves that the terms Lebanon and Hermon are indifferently used, occasionally, for both the eastern and western ranges.*

* In Psalm 133:3, occurs the following: "Like the dew of Hermon, which descendeth on the mountains of Zion." This verse has greatly perplexed the commentators; but I venture to give this explanation. In Deut. 4:47, we read, "Unto Mount Sion (שיאן) which is Hermon," of course making the former a part of the latter; and assuming that the Psalmist refers to this Sion, easily corrupted into Zion ציון, the more familiar word, he means to refer to the lower height it has compared to Hermon, wherefore the dew of Hermon is said to descend on the lower mountains of Sion; and indeed we find to this day the Djebl Sanin, northeast of Beirut; and should this be the mountain referred to by the Psalm, the exposition will be quite natural and correct as I have indicated.