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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

Jerusalem ירושלים—Arabic, The Holy, Al Kuds.

Its Former And Present Conditions.

To the east of the city is the Mount of Olives (Olivet), elevated 2555 feet above the level of the Mediterranean Sea; between it and the city is a deep narrow valley, called the valley of Kidron; it commences at the northeast, where there is a little plain, and extends to the south of the spring En Rogel, where the valley obtains a larger extent and forms a little plain or level piece of ground.

To the south and west there is likewise a valley, large and deep, called the valley of Gichon;* more southwardly, looking eastward, it bears the name of the valley of Rephaim,† and extends to the just-mentioned little plain, or the level near the spring Rogel, where, therefore, both the valleys Kedron and Gichon unite. Jerusalem is thus surrounded on three sides with deep valleys, entirely so on the south and east, partially at the west, whilst at the north and the northwest there is a plain.

* It appears to me that the stream Gichon, which rises at the Upper Pool (see farther, under En Shiloach, “the spring of Siloah”), once flowed through this valley to that of Kedron, near the En Rogel. Here also was the שדה כובס the washer’s or fuller’s field, whence the valley is called מסילת שדה כובס “the way or the course (of the water) into the fuller’s field.” (Isaiah 7:3.)

† I hold that Emek Rephaim is synonymous with the עמק הפגרים Emek Hapegarim, the valley of the corpses of Jer. 31:40, since it appears, from Psalm 88:11, that Rephaim signifies the same with Pegarin, i. e. the dead body.

Between the valleys of Kedron and Rephaim, and to the west of the spring Shiloach, there is a small narrow valley, running in a northern direction, and is partly embraced within the limits of the city at the northwest; I refer to the valley Gé Ben Hinnom גי בן הנם. Josephus, Bell. Jud., b. vi., chap. v., calls it Tyropoeon, i.e. Cheesemakers’ Valley. It also separates Mount Moriah from Zion.

Moriah, also called the Temple Mount, is 2280 feet in height, and lies to the west of Kedron, and at its west side is the northern part of the valley Ben Hinnom, consequently that portion called Tyropoeon; as the first name is applied to that part which lies beyond the limits of the city, but not to the northern division, which is within Jerusalem. Mount Zion is 2381 feet in height; it lies to the southwest of Moriah, and to the south of the city.*

* The passage of Psalm 48:3, הר ציון ירכתי צפון “The Mount Zion, on the sides of the north,” is extremely obscure, since Zion is at the south; we must therefore explain it as though it read וירכת׳ “and the sides,” meaning, first Zion the upper city, and then the lower town or the northern part, or Jerusalem proper, as will be spoken of more hereafter. (See also Pesiktah Rabbethi, 41, and Zohar to Vayiggash, fol. 206, where this remarkably irregular passage is already discussed.)

We will now say something concerning the boundary line between Judah and Benjamin (Joshua 15:7), which we broke off above, and refer to this passage.

The En Rogel mentioned in Joshua 15:7, is unquestionably the well which is one hundred and twenty-two feet deep, and covered over with a very ancient cupola, and bears now the name of Bir Juab (the well of Joab). I am unable to determine whence this name is derived; but the Arabic† version already gave the above with Bir Juab. This well, or rather spring, is found in the southern part of the Kidron valley, and near it is the above-mentioned Sedé Kobes, whilst En Rogel may signify the same idea, that of fuller’s or washer’s spring, since the washing or fulling of cloth was performed with the feet; hence Rogel is fuller, a washer with the feet, from Regel, foot. Jonathan also renders En Rogel with עין קצדא Ein Katzdah, “The fuller’s spring.”

† I greatly doubt whether this version is by Rabbi Saadiah Gaon רבנו סעדיה הגאון; for I think that the Pentateuch alone is the genuine work of Saadiah; and although he translated the entire remainder of Holy Writ, the other portions of the usual Arabic version are the work, for the most part, of later writers. Nevertheless, there is found in the very ancient Al Aleppo (Chaleb), which is said to have been built already in the time of David, an Arabic translation of the entire Holy Bible in manuscript, which is universally held to be the work of Rabbenu Saadiah.

The northern line of Judah now ran from this spring upward through the valley of Hinnom, turned then to the west, up to Mount Zion, which lies to the west of this valley, (Ps. 15:8, “and goeth up to the top of the mount, that lieth before the valley of Hinnom westward;” at that time this mount was not yet called Zion, which name was not applied to it before the time of David, wherefore it is described briefly as “the mount.”) To the south of Mount Zion is the valley Rephaim, the most southern part of the valley of Gichon. I made diligent inquiry to ascertain by what name the Arabs call it, and I learned that it is in their language Wady Rafaath, i. e., Rephaim; the plural of Rafa in Arabic being Rafaath, as Rephaim is the plural of Raphé in Hebrew. I felt, therefore, convinced that my view on the subject was quite correct. I mention this thus circumstantially, since nearly universally, although erroneously, this valley is taken for the Gé Ben Hinnom.

Although Joshua defeated the King of Jerusalem (Jos. 12:10) it nevertheless appears that the city was not at that time taken possession of by the Israelites. It was captured only after Joshua’s death (Jud. 1:8). But the Jebusites were not finally conquered till the time of David and Joab, who were the first to capture the City of David, the fort of (Mezudath) Zion. It appears that it did not lie on the top of the mount, but on the declivity of the same, towards the valley of Hinnom; since we read of a going down to the fort of Zion (2 Sam. 5:17); and an “ascending” from the same to the valley of Rephaim is also spoken of (ibid. 19).* The Millo מלוא (ib. 5:9) was on the eastern declivity of Mount Zion, towards the spring of Siloah (שלוח). In 2 Kings 12:21, we read בית מלא היורד סלא, “they smote Joash at Beth-Millo, which goeth down to Silla.” I explain the last word to mean Shiloach, exchanging ס for ש and א for ח, such an exchange of letters being quite common, and that it means at the Millo which leads down to Shiloach.

In the same neighbourhood, to the southwest of the Temple Mount, was also the house of Solomon, built for his wife, the daughter of Pharaoh, whence a staircase led to the temple. (See 1 Kings 10:5; 2 Chron. 9:4, and Neh. 3:15.)

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