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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

Dan דן.

It is true that the boundaries of the territory of Dan are not given in the Scriptures; but they can be determined with tolerable accuracy from the towns of this tribe, as enumerated in Joshua 19:40-48. Through means of Josephus, who in various passages calls Jabné (Jamnia) a city of Dan, and gives Dor (Dandura) as the most northern, and Ashdod as the most southern towns of the same, we can easily fix the northern and southern boundaries. It appears also, from the description of the territory of Simeon, that the present village Beilin, the Baalath* of the Bible, was the most northerly point of this tribe; it lay therefore on the boundary between Simeon and Dan, and was thus the most southeasterly point of the latter. The boundary ran thence westward to Ashdod, on the Mediterranean, and on the other side from Baalath over Beth-Shemesh, the modern En-Sems, to Ajalon, now Jalo, and turning northwesterly it ran between Lod and Ramleh, for the former belonged to Benjamin, and then northerly over Djilil, Kefar-Saba, &c., to Dandura, the ancient Dor. It will thus appear that the territory of Dan was situated between the Mediterranean and the portions of Benjamin and Ephraim, so that the western parts of these tribes could by no means have extended to the sea. What is said therefore in the description of the limits of the sons of Joseph, "And the goings out thereof were to the sea," (Joshua 16:3,5,) means only that the boundary ran in a straight line, without turning to the north and south in the direction of the sea, but not that it ever touched the same. Josephus, by the by, contradicts himself, in extending the land of Ben jamin to the Great Sea, whilst he alleges that the coast belonged to Dan.

* In Yerushalmi Sanhedrin, chap. i., it says: "We find that the public announcement of the year and the monthly determination of the feasts and festivals (קדוש השנה וקדושהחדש) by the Sanhedrin (which would only take place in the territory of Judah), were made in Baalath, which sometimes belonged to Judah and at others to Dan. Eltheké, Gibethon, and Baalath, belonged to Judah; Baalah, Jyim, and Ezem, belonged to Dan. How could they then make the announcement in Baalath? Because the houses belonged to Judah, the fields, however, to Dan." This passage contains much of interest in a geographical point of view, so that I deem it proper to discuss it somewhat at length. It appears strange that Eltheké, &c., should be ascribed to Judah, and Baalah, &c., to Dan, when the reverse seems to have been the case, on reference to Joshua 15:29 and 19:44. Again, if Baalath belonged to Judah, the determination of years and festivals could legally take place there; the question, therefore, in the passage cited appears most surprising. There can, therefore, be no doubt but that a transposition has taken place in the passage before us, and that it ought to be read correctly "Eltheké Gibthon, and Baalath belonged to Dan, and Baalah, Jyim, and Ezeni, to Judah." We can deduce from this passage of the Yerushalmi that the Baalah of Joshua 15:29, is different from Baalatha of ibid. 19:44, since the former was quite to the south, and that the second, which was also called Baalath Beër (Ramoth Negeb), was in the portion of Simeon, and was on the boundary between this tribe and Dan, but is still considered by the Yerushalmi as a city of Judah, because originally all the part of Simeon was included in that of his powerful brother, so that the cities of the former are also considered as belonging to the latter. We learn farther from this that the frontier towns are often considered as belonging to one and again to the other tribe, and that in a measure the possession of them was alternately determined, since the text says, "Sometimes to Judah, at others to Dan." Again, that occasionally the division of these boundary towns was so, that the town itself, the buildings, as the Talmud has it, belonged to one, whilst the fields, meadows, and environs belonged to another tribe; which exposition will enable us to unravel many obscurities in the divisions of the tribes.

a I believe that Baalath is Baalah in the construct state, and is, so to say, an abbreviated phrase, and that the other noun belonging to it is to be understood. Thus Baalah of Bear. The Kametz in Joshua 19:44, is only because it concludes the verse.—TRANSLATOR.

We will now mention the following of the towns of Dan:

Zoreah and Eshtaol צרעה אשתאל see above, page 101.

Ir-Shemesh עיר שמש See above, page 104.

Shaalabbim שעלבין is no longer known. In the time of Eusebius there was a village in the vicinity of Sebasta (Samaria), called Shelbin. If now the territory of Dan extended so far as Dor, as Josephus reports, then is it easy to conceive that this tribe had some possessions up to the immediate vicinity of Samaria. The next mentioned town, Ajalon, is certainly a considerable distance from Samaria; but it is by no means unusual to enumerate several towns together, although they lie far apart from one another.

Ajalon אילון is the modern village Jalo, 11 English miles from Jerusalem, and 2½ English miles from Gibeon; wherefore the assertion of Rashi to Joshua 10:12, that Ajalon is far from Gibeon, is not borne out by the fact. East of Lod, on the road to Gimso, there is a large valley running between two high mountain peaks, of which one points to the south, the other to the north. On the southern mount, there is the just-mentioned Jalo, opposite to which lies, on the northern mount, the village Beth-Ur, which is Lower Beth-Horon of Joshua 10:10, and 16:3. Above the same, is a narrow pass which leads to a village lying on the summit of a steep mount, and is now called Beth-Ur Fok, which means Upper Beth-Horon (Joshua 16:5); but this appellation seems to me erroneous, since this place must have been much farther removed from Lower Beth-Horon; it would be more correct* to take it for "the descent to Beth-Horon" of Joshua 10:11. From this peak one can see Gibeon to the east and Ajalon to the west. It would then appear that Joshua must have stood here when (10:12) he called out in prophetic inspiration "Sun, stand still in Gibeon, and moon, in the valley of Ajalon."

* This narrow pass is also mentioned in Sanhedrin, 32b, and Tosephtah b, Niddah 8, also in Bereshith Rabbah 73, where it speaks of Rab Huna of Beth-Horon. In Yoma, chap. vi. § 9, it says: "It is a distance of 3 mill from Jerusalem to בית חידודו Beth Chidodo;" but the Yerushalmi to this passage and Maimonides read "to Beth‑Horon." I confess that this reading cannot be correct, since Beth-Horon is much farther than 3 mill from Jerusalem. Josephus says the distance is 100 stadia, about 12 English miles; and Beth-Ur is actually thus far from Jerusalem. The correct reading, therefore, is Beth-Chidodo, the name of a town or place now unknown, but which was probably southeast of Jerusalem, near the valley of Kidron, the rocky defiles of which was the place whither the scapegoat (שעיר המשתלח לעזאזל) was sent on the Day of Atonement, of which I may, perhaps, speak more hereafter.

Elon אילון although not any more known, it is nevertheless mentioned in 1 Kings 4:9, along with Shaalabbin, Beth-Shemesh and Beth-Chanan.

Eltheké אלתקה also called Elthekon (Joshua 15:59), is perhaps the village Althini, not far from Beilin (Baalath).

Baalath בעלת גבתון See above, page 122.

Jehud יהוד, is the village Jehudia, 7½ English miles southeast of Jaffa,

Bené Berak בני ברק There is a spot, 5 English miles northeast from Jaffa, which the Arabs call Barak, perhaps the former site of the town, although there are no ruins to be found at it. The assertion of Eusebius that this town should have been situated near Ashdod, is incorrect.

Gath-Rimmon גת רמון was situated, according to Eusebius, 12 mill north of Eleutheropolis, on the road to Lod. It is at present unknown.

Mé Hajarkon מי הירקון i.e. the waters of disease; this place was, according to my opinion, near the Wady Udshi, which descends from the mountains of Lod. Wady Udshi also signifies the stream of pain, nearly synonymous with the Hebrew appellation of the town, which was also most likely applied to the river near which it stood.

Jaffa יפו. This is a small town, surrounded with a wall and defended by a small fort. It is situated on the Mediterranean Sea, and forms the harbour of Jerusalem.* When I arrived in Palestine in the year 5593 (1833), there lived not even a single Israelite in this place; at present, however, are found here near thirty families. That many Israelites lived here in ancient times, is proved sufficiently by many passages in the Talmud; for instance, in Yerushalmi, end of Moëd Katone, and Pesiktah Rabbethi 15, we find mentioned R. Acha, of Jaffa; in Yerushalmi Pesachim, chap. i., R. Phineas, of Jaffa; in Talmud B. Megillah, fol. 16b, R. Adda Demin Jaffa ; in Vayikra Rabbah, R. Nachman, of Jaffa, and Pesiktah Rabbethi 17, R. Tanchum, of Jaffa. This town was totally destroyed in the year 5358 (1598); but was subsequently built up again. When Napoleon returned this way in the year 5560 (1800), after his unsuccessful expedition against Akko (St. Jean D’Acre), he caused, in his anger at his defeat, the walls of Jaffa to be battered down. (For farther particulars, see historical part.)

* In Yoma, fol. 38a, we read, "When they arrived at the harbour of Akko," i.e. at the time they carried the gates made for the temple from Alexandria to Jerusalem. I can scarcely believe that it was necessary to run so far north as Akko for this purpose, and I venture therefore to read Jaffa in its place; and in truth, the Talmud Yerushalmi for Yoma, in the same narration, has נמלא של יפו "The harbour of Jaffa."

Bené-Elam and Bené-Charim בני עילם בני חרים (Ezra 2:31,32), is perhaps the village Charim ben Elim, situated on a bay of the sea, 8 English miles north-northeast of Jaffa. The inhabitants point out here the grave of the high priest Eli, contained in an elegant building; but no one acquainted with the Bible, can have the least doubt of the incorrectness of assuming this monument to be what is alleged for it. For, why should Eli, who died at Shiloh (1 Sam. 4:18), have been carried hither to be buried? This error appears to me to have arisen from an incorrect interpretation of the name of the town Charim ben Elim. It is evidently a compound of Bené-Elam and Bené-Charim, both of which places, as is apparent from the others mentioned in Ezra 2, must have been situated in the neighbourhood of Jaffa. The people now changed Elam into Eli, and thus originated the false legend that the grave of Eli the high priest was existing there. On this grave, over which is built quite an elegant structure, there is a large tombstone, inscribed on one side with a Hebrew, and on the other with a Samaritan, inscription. It is well known, the Samaritans call themselves all priests, and their chief they called "high priest." It is, therefore, highly probable that this grave encloses the bones of one of these; perhaps his name may have been Eli, whence then the origin of this error becomes doubly apparent. The Samaritans, however, go constantly to this grave to perform at it their devotions; but every one who is truly pious, will guard himself against being misled by legends of so little credibility as this. Near this place are some ruins, which are probably the remains of Apollonia, mentioned in Josephus’ Antiquities and the Jewish War.

Ataroth, Beth Joab עטרות בית יואב (I Chron. 2:54). On the road from Jerusalem to Jaffa, 1½ English miles west of Saris, is the village Al Etron (incorrectly pronounced Latrun), and is no doubt the ancient Ataroth. Three-­fourths of an English mile north-northeast of this is Beth-Joab, near which is a large spring called Bir-Joab.

From those places of Dan mentioned in the Talmudic writings, we will describe the following.

Kefar Saba כפר סבא  (Yerushalmi Demai, chap. ii.), is still a village, situated 3 English miles north of Djilil, or Gilgal (Joshua 12:23). In this Kefar Saba is found a monument, which the Arabs call "the sepulchre of the sons of Jacob;" but I could not ascertain the reason of so naming it. This town was also called Antipatris (see Yoma, 69a, and Gittin, 76a); and Josephus relates of it, that Herod had it built up, and gave it the name of Antipatris, in honour of his father Antipater.

Bither [Betar] ביתר (Gittin, 57a). Of this formerly celebrated city, which was situated 10 English miles north of Kefar Saba, there remains nothing but some ruins. There is also a village of the same name 7½ English miles southwest of Jerusalem.

קיסרין also called Caesarea Palestinae (Megillah, 6a), is at present the miserable village Kisaria, and is situated on the Mediterranean, 7½ English miles south of Dardura. It was built by Herod, called the great, and named Caesarea, in honour of the Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar. This formerly famous seaport town, and the largest in Palestine after the destruction of Jerusalem, is now totally destroyed; and there is nothing visible of its former elegance, except large and still remarkable ruins, the interiors of which are filled up with the huts of fishermen. When Ibrahim Pacha undertook considerable repairs on the fortifications of Akko, he caused some large stones from the ruins of Caesarea to be brought away for the purpose. In order to distinguish this place from another of the same name at the foot of the Anti-Lebanon (Caesarea Philippi), this one was called Caesarea Palestinae.

Pundeka פונדקא (Yerushalmi Demai, ch. ii., "from Pundeka to Kefar Saba"), is the present village Phunduk, 5 English miles east of Kefar Saba. Also 2½ miles north north-east of Sebasta (Samaria), there is the village Phundokomi. It will appear from the passage just cited from the Yerushalmi, that there were two towns called Pundeka; and these are no doubt the two villages Phunduk and Phundokomi.

Zerifin צריפין (Menachoth, 64b), the present village Zaraphan, 2½ English miles north of Ramleh, on the road to Jaffa. Another village of the same name, Zeraphan Athikah, i. e. the old Zeraphan, is in the vicinity of Ekron.

Kushta קושטא (Sanhedrin, 97a), is probably the village Al Kustani, situated in the Lowland, 5 English miles southwest of Ekron.

Ramleh רמלא i. e. sand, in Arabic, so called on account of the large quantity of sand found on the road from Jaffa to this place, lies 10 English miles southeast of Jaffa, in the Lowland. It is therefore quite erroneous to assume that this town is identical with Ramathaim-Zofim, which was on the mountain of Ephraim. Not less surprised was I to find it stated, in a description by a non-Israelite, that in olden time no mention whatever occurs of Ramleh, the more so since the Mahomedan historian Abulfeda relates that it was built in the year 63 (i. e. 4435 A. M., or 675 C. E.) by Soliman Ebed al Maliki. This is evidently a mistake; because Ptolemy already speaks of Ramleh in his description of the country. The error of the author quoted may have arisen from a rebuilding of the town by Soliman.