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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

Rivers of Palestine.

I. Jordan. ירדן

(Num. 13:29.) The Jordan has its sources near the most northern point of Palestine, and issues from the cave of Paneas, situated about one hour's distance south of the town of Banias, whence its name Jord (i.e. Yored, flowing down from), Dan (Bechoroth, fol. 55a); or יאור דן the "stream of Dan." It is at first very small, but receives afterwards an increase through the stream Dan, which has its source 2½ English miles northeast of Banias, and through the much larger one Chaspeia, called by the Arabs Kuruni, perhaps so denominated from the town of Korun, mentioned in 2 Maccabees 12:21. These various streams are united in the afore­mentioned Baehr Banias, and form afterwards, at its termination, the river Jordan. The farther south the Jordan flows, the deeper and broader it becomes. It is, for example, south of the waters of Merom, about 20; 80 to the south of Chinnereth; 90 near Jericho; and near the shore of the Dead Sea, 200, nay, at times 300 paces broad. In the same manner is its depth, which amounts near Chinnereth only from 6 to 7 feet, but near Jericho and the shores of the Dead Sea, from 10 to 12. This depth, however, it attains only in the winter months (Josh. 3:15; 1 Chron. 12:15), whereas in summer it is only about 3 feet deep.

The Jordan, the water of which is light and good for drinking, is so rapid a stream that even the best swimmer cannot bathe in it without endangering his life. In the neighbourhood of Jericho, the bathers are compelled to tie themselves together with ropes, to prevent their being swept off by the rapidity of the current. There are the three following bridges spanning the Jordan. The first is a large stone bridge, 60 paces in length, and was built by Baldwin IV., in the year 4872 A. M. (1112), and put again in good repair in modern times by Ibrahim Pacha; it is 7 English miles south of the point where the Jordan issues from the sea of Merom, and is called Djisr Abni Jaacob, which means the Bridge of Jacob's Sons, because it is designated as the spot where the patriarch Jacob, with his family, passed over the Jordan, on his return from Haran. (But this assumption is evidently erroneous, because he pursued his journey over Sukkoth and Salem; consequently not north, but south of the sea of Chinnereth. But it is possible that Jacob took this route when he first set out on his journey to the east, when quitting his father's house.) The second is the smaller bridge south of Chinnereth, Djisr Midshama, i. e. the Bridge of the Confluence of the Waters, because it is near the confluence of the Jordan and Yarmuch--(here is also a bridge leading over the Yarmuch)--and the third is also a small structure, near the village Samach, not far from Chinnereth, and bears the name of Djisr al Knaphir.

The Arabs call the Jordan, till its entrance into Lake Chinnereth, Al Urdan; but south thereof they designate it as Al Sherian, or Al Sheriath.

II. The Kishon קישון

(Jud. 4:7, 5:21; 1 Kings 18:40; Ps. 133:10)

Is called by the Arabs Nahr Mukata, i.e. the Stream of Slaughter--(the Mount Carmel has also the same designation, Ras al Mukata, because Elijah slew there the prophets of Baal)--and bears also the came of Keifa. It has its source south of Mount Tabor, runs southwesterly through the valley of Jezreel, runs then through a mountain ridge to the plains of Akko, near the foot of Carmel, and falls into the Mediterranean Sea east of Keifa.

Kishon, the waters of which are clear and of a greenish colour, is in summer a very small stream; but in winter, when the rains pour down torrents from the mountains of Ephraim and Samaria, it becomes so broad that the whole valley of Jezreel is covered with water, which renders it impassable for several days.

It strikes me that this Kishon is identical with the waters of Megiddo,מי מגדו mentioned in the song of Deborah (Jud. 5:19): "Then fought the kings of Canaan near Taanach by the waters of Megiddo." Taanach is 21 English miles south of Megiddo, and both towns are situated in the valley of Jezreel; and there is no other river in that vicinity beside the Kishon, and doubtlessly it was designated as the waters of Megiddo, because it flows by that town. (In the Talmud Yerushalmi, sect. Shebiith, there is mention made, among the boundary lines of the returning exiles, as stated above, of Gaathon and the waters of Gaathon, which I hold to be identical with Megiddo and the waters of Megiddo.) It is curious that the common people call, though erroneously, by the name of the waters of Megiddo, the stream which issues near Miron, and is used to drive several water-mills, and falls into Chinnereth after passing by Zafed. This latter bears the Arabic name of Wady Amud.*

* Southeast of Mount Tabor there is a small river, called Al Sharer, so termed from its passing near the village of that name. It is also called Wady Bire, and falls into Jordan 1½ English miles below the bridge of Midshama. The author of Caphtor Vapherach supposes this to be the Kishon; but this assumption is quite erroneous, as Kishon must be near Carmel, as appears from 1 Kings 18:40.

III. The Kanah קנה

(Josh. 17:9)

Forms the boundary line between Ephraim and Menasseh, and has its source about 1 English mile west of Shechem, on the road to Ladshinin (En Gannim), in a large spring called Ain al Kazab, or the spring of reeds, cane or reed being called in Arabic Kazab, as in Hebrew Kaneh. It flows westwardly, and is used for irrigating the fields; and after acquiring a considerable breadth, it falls into the Mediterranean Sea south of Cæsarea. It yet bears the name of Wady al Kazab, "Cane River," and is doubtlessly the River Kanah of the Scriptures.

IV. The Cherith. כרית

(1 Kings 17:3.)

This stream is not positively known. Some suppose it to be the little rivulet Al Pacha, which flows into Jordan opposite Shechem. But this must be erroneous, because in I Kings 17:3, it says distinctly, "which is before (east of) Jordan." I therefore am led to believe that the Wady Alias (Elias' brook), which is south of Mahanaim, opposite Beth Shean (which see), is the Cherith, and bears its present name because it was the hiding-place of the prophet Elijah. (See also Yerushalmi Terumoth, chap. 8.)

V. The Shichor-Libnath שיחור לבנת

(Josh. 19:26)

That is, the white or glass Shichor, was anciently called Belus, and is the present Numan of the Arabs, and issues from the mountains near the village of Meshdl al Krum, and falls into the Mediterranean near Akko. Some think that the little stream south of Akko, called by the Arabs Ramle Abiatz, i.e. the stream of white sand, is the river in question, since, as it is well known, the sand of this rivulet was formerly used in the manufacture of glass.*

* See Megillah, fol. 6a, where (Deut. 33:19) "the treasure hid in sand" is explained to mean "white glass."

VI. The Besore בשור

(1 Sam. 30:10)

Is at present a small stream south of Gaza, and is called Nahr Sheria; it issues from the mountains of Judah, and also falls into the Mediterranean Sea.

VII., VIII. Kidron and Siloa קדרון ושלוח

I will explain when speaking of the holy city Jerusalem.

IX. The Geena גינא נהרא

(Chulin, fol. 7a; Yerushalmi Shekalin 7.)

Is the name of a small river, which flows not far from Ladshinin (En Gannim), and becomes so broad in winter that it is often impassable.*

* The occurrence mentioned in the cited passage of Chulin took place at the time of Pesach, at which time the Geena was in the state of being impassable.

Rivers on the East Side of the Jordan.

I. The Jabbok יבוק

(Gen. 32:23)

Which forms the boundary between Palestine and the land of Ammon, issues from the high mountains of Hauran (which see), and divides the district of Mirad on the north, from Balka on the south; flows then westward in the plain a distance of 4 English miles, and falls into Jordan about midway between Chinnereth and the Dead Sea, opposite Shechem. The Arabs call it Al Zerka, because it passes by the fortress of Zerka, situated on the route of the pilgrims journeying from Damascus to Mecca.

II. The Arnon ארנון

(Numb. 21:13 ; Deut. 3:9)

Now called Al Mudjeb, divided the land of Moab from Palestine. It issues forth near the fortress of Katrani, also on the above pilgrim route, at the distance of a day and a half's journey east of the city of Karak (the ancient Kir Moab קיר מואב). It divides the district Balka from the just named one of Karak, and falls east of Hebron into the Dead Sea.

III. The Zered זרד

(Numb. 21:12; Deut. 2:13)

Is not distinctly known. Some, however, say that it is the little stream known as the Wady Abne Chamad, which is north of the city of Karak, and south of the Wady Mudjeb, just named, and falls likewise into the Dead Sea.

IV. The Yarmuch ירמוך

(Parah, ch. 8:10; B. Bathra, 74b)

Is now called Yurmuk, or Sheriath al Mandhur, also Wady Mizrib, issues out of the mountains of Djolon (the Golan of Deut. 4:43), near the fortress of Mizrib, flows through the district of Gader (Gadara), now called Amchais, and falls into the Jordan 4 English miles south of Chinnereth. This stream, in its course through the mountain, is small and shallow, but on the plain it has a breadth of thirty paces.

V. The Amanah אמנה

(2 Kings 5:12.)

Between the high mountains of the Djebl Heish, running from Manias to Damascus, on the road which leads to the village Midjdal (Migdal), there is found a village by the name of Beth al Djana. About 1½ English miles north of this village is found a large spring, called Al Barady, that is to say, "the cold." Its waters are clear and excellent for drinking, and it flows northeast to Damascus. This river, formerly called Chrysorrhoas, i. e. Gold River, and known in the Talmud Baba Bathra 74b, as the Karmion, is the identical Amanah of the Bible, as it is actually called by all the Jews of Damascus, according to a tradition which they have preserved. Near Damascus this river divides itself in two branches; the one part flows through the city, whilst the other portion holds its course without, and is used to irrigate the surrounding country; it then runs eastwardly 18 English miles, and then falls into the lake Al Baehr Murdj.

VI. The Pharpar פרפר

(2 Kings v. 12.)

On the road from Damascus to Baal-bek, not far from the village Dar Kanon (Hazar-Enan), there is a village called Fidjeh (the Figa of Parah 8:10), north of which is the source of the stream of the same name, which flows southeasterly to Damascus, and unites with the Amanah near the lake Murdj. Now this stream is the Pharpar, as it is still called by our fellow-Israelites in the vicinity, according to tradition which they have. In case, therefore, that a divorce takes place in Damascus, they write in the letter of divorce, "at Damascus, situated on the two rivers Amana and Pharpar."

The other small streams will be explained in their proper places.