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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

Names of the Towns of the Sons of Joseph.

Shomerone (Samaria) שמרון (I Kings 16:24), was formerly the capital and residence of the kings of Israel, commencing with Omri. Its situation is on the Mount Shomerone, 5 English miles northwest of Shechem, and is at present but a small village, Sebasteh. This name, which also occurs even in the Talmud (Erechin, chap. ii.), is derived from the Greek σεβαστος (Sebastos, synonymous with Augustus); it was so called by Herod I., in honour of Augustus Caesar, when he adorned it with magnificent and large edifices. Even at this day several remarkable ruins can be seen near Sebaste (among which is a colonnade of sixty marble columns), which no doubt date from the time of Herod.*

* In Megillath Taanith, chap. vii., is mentioned באו לים בוסטי "they came to the sea of Busteh," which is evidently an error, as no such place or sea is known; it should read, however, לסבסטי "to Sebasteh," and the corruption is no doubt owing to the carelessness of a transcriber, by first dividing the word into two, and then adding a useless letter.

Tirzah תרצה (I Kings 14:17). This former place of residence of Jeroboam, son of Nebat, king of Israel, is now the village Tarza, and is situated on a high mount east of Samaria.

Shechem שכם (Gen. 12:6), is at present a city without walls, and is situated, south and north, between the mounts Gerizzim and Ebal. In the time of the Romans, it was named Flavia Neapolis, whence it is called, in the corrupted dialect of the country, Nablus.† Here live twenty Jewish families, and many Cutheans, who live nowhere else in Palestine. But I shall speak of this sect in another place. To the east of Shechem, at the distance of about 2 English miles, is the village Abulnita, where Joseph lies buried. (Joshua 24:32.)

† In Midrash Rabbah to section Massay מסעי we readשכם בהר אפרים זהו נפולין "Shechem, in the mountain of Ephraim, is Napulin," which is a faulty reading, and should be   Napulis, Neapolis, or Nablus. In Talmud Yerushalmi Abodah Zarah, chap. v., it is said, "Rabbi Ishmael went to Napulis when the Cuthians came," &c.; whence it will be seen that the Talmudists already made use of this word to denote Shechem.

The hill of Phinehas גבעת פינחס (ibid. 33). Five English miles southeast of Shechem is the village Avartha, i. e. inheritance (compare with Talmud Baba Bathra, 111b), in which the grave of Phinehas is. The grave of his father, Elazar, is close by it, on a high mountain. Below the village, in the midst of olive trees, is the brave of Ithamar. These sepulchres are ornamented with large monuments.

Thimnath-Serach תמנת סרח (Joshua 24:30), is the village Charas, 5 English miles south-southwest of Shechem. There are found the graves of Joshua, his father Nun, and Caleb, all of which are marked with large monuments.

Shalem שלם (Gen. 33:18), is the village Salin, 5 English miles east of Shechem.

Pirathon פרעתון (Judges 7: 15), "is probably the modern village Pretha, on the mountain of Amalek, 5 English miles west of Shechem." So says Astori; but at present it is quite unknown.

Shamir שמיר (Judges 10:1). This town was probably situated 5 English miles northeast from Samaria, on the same place where now are found the ruins of the fort Sanur, the n being substituted for the m.

Shiloh שילה (I Sam. 1:3). Ten English miles north-northwest of Sela-Rimmon is the village Thurmassia (Talmud Yerushalmi Barachoth, chap. ii., R. Jacob of Thurmassia), not far from which are found the ruins of Seilon or Shiloh. In the time of Astori Hapharchi, the town of Shiloh was yet standing; and there was a vault, which was named Kubah al Sechina, i.e. "the vault of the holy residence," synonymous with אהל מועד "the tabernacle."*

*In Talmud Zebachiin, 118b, also in Yerushalmi Megillah, chap. iv., we read: "A narrow strip of land went out from the portion of Joseph into the territory of Benjamin, and on this stood the altar of Shiloh." To one who knows the situation of the territories of Joseph and Benjamin, it must appear extremely strange to maintain that Shiloh, which, with all its environs, is situated in the portion of Joseph, should have stood on a strip of land, as here described. I therefore assert boldly that an error has occurred here in transcribing, and that the reverse would be the proper reading--"A narrow strip of land went out from the territory of Benjamin into the portion of Joseph," &c. I found, moreover, that such errors in transcribing are by no means remarkable scarce. For instance, it is said of the site of the altar at Jerusalem, in Yoma, fol. 12a, "A strip went out from Judah to Benjamin," on which it stood; and in Siphri to Deut. 33 the reverse is stated, "from Benjamin to Judah," one of which assertions must needs be erroneous. And we may assert this with regard to Shiloh, that an error is evident in the statement as it now reads. I also found latterly, quite to my satisfaction, that Kimchi to 1 Samuel 7:7, cites the above passage as I have corrected it, which proves that it is well founded. The circumstance of this narrow strip’s going out from Benjamin, will now explain the difficulty which I noticed when speaking of Hazor in the tribe of Benjamin, that the modern Chirbath-Tell-Chazor does not lie in that, but in the territory of Joseph. But as now this strip commenced near the vicinity of the town Sela-Rimmon, and extended to Shiloh, it will place the Chirbath-Tell-Chazor precisely in the portion belonging to Benjamin, although it is within the territory of Joseph.

Thebez תבץ (Judges 9:50), is the village Thubaz, 7 English miles northeast of Shechem.