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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850


Although the boundary line of this tribe is described in Holy Writ, I found it, nevertheless, difficult to ascertain it with accuracy, because, despite of all my efforts and investigations, I could not discover the greater part of the names mentioned in the Scriptures when describing them. I mention only as many of the towns as I could ascertain, and will afterwards seek to determine the principal points of the boundary.

Jokneam יקנעם See above, in the description of the 31 Kings.

Kisloth-Tabor and Daberath כסלת תבור דברת have already been described in Issachar. (See above, p. 167.)

Japhia יפיע is the village Jafa, situated 2 English miles northwest from Aksal.

Gath Chepher גת חפר. See above, in the 31 Kings, p. 89.

Rimmon רמון is the village Rumaneh, about 3 English miles northeast from Safuri. According to my view, this place is identical with the Levitical town Dimnah, described in Joshua 21:35 as belonging to Zebulun, the ר Resh being exchanged with ד Daleth, from a similarity of the form--a procedure not unusual in other names, as דעואל and רעואל Deuel and Reuel (Num. 1:15, and 2:14). In proof of this supposition being correct, we find this same town called, in 1 Chron. 6:62, Rimmono רמונו; wherefore I think that דמנה Dimnah is equal to רמנה Rimnah, and the vowels are changed to suit the new conformation of the word. About 2 English miles west from this village, and 1 English mile north from Safuri, are found the ruins of Rumi. In respect to this I have to observe, that we read in the commentary of Moses Alshech to Shir Hashirim, cap. 7, v. 6, "Even at this day there is found, near Zippori, a town called Romi, where the Emperor Antoninus sojourned, and gave it this name, after his own capital in Italy." I believe that these ruins of Rumi occupy the site of the somewhat late town Romi; and it is also possible that its name was also derived in part from Rimmon, in the vicinity of which it was erected, and was thus, so to say, a second Rimmon, and had in this manner a double signification, and gives us, at the same time, a vestige of the ancient Rimmon.* (See also the description of the cities of the sons of Joseph, article Archelio, which is mentioned in the Sepher Hajashar.)

* Several learned men have therefore adopted the opinion that the city Romi, so often mentioned in Talmud and Midrashim, does not always mean Rome in Italy, but the then newly built up Romi in Palestine, since it was several times the place of sojourn of several Roman emperors. This view would explain, indeed, several obscure passages in the Talmud; but it cannot be always taken as correct, which is proved by a passage in Yerushalmi Horiyoth, chap. 3, from which it clearly appears that Romi there spoken of, and which occurs in a narrative mentioned also in Talmud Babli, Gittin, fol. 58, and which is taken by many scholars for Romi in Palestine, must have been beyond the confines of the Holy Land, and, consequently, Rome proper, in Italy.

Kattath, Nahalal, Shimron, and Yidalah קטת נהלל שמרון ידאלה cannot be traced any more in the modern names of the country. But fortunately I found an explanation of these names in Yerushalmi Megillah, chap. 1, where it says that Kattath is the modern Katunith, Nahalal the modern Mahalul, Shimron is Simunii, and Yidalah is Chirii; and I was enabled to find out all these places.

Kattath or Katunith. (End of Sota is mentioned Rabbi Jose Katnutha, so called, probably, from being a native of this place; as we also find him described in Tosephtah Sota, 15, as R. Jose, son of Katnuth, a native of Ketuntha or Katunith.) By closely investigating the matter, I found that the town of Kana is called, in the Chaldean, Katna, which has the same signification with Katunith. Now, 1 English mile northeast from Rumani is the village Kana el Djelil, i.e. Kana of Galilee, to be distinguished from a town of the same name near Tyre. This proves to my mind that it is the Kattath of the Bible.

Nahalal or Mahalul (see also Yerushalmi Maasser Sheni, chap. v.), is no doubt the modern village Malul, 2 English miles southeast from Semunie.

Shimron or Simunii (see also Bereshith Rabbah, 81) is the village Semunie, situated 3 English miles southwest from Sefuri. It is also probably identical with the Simmiada mentioned in the Life of Josephus.

Yidalah or Chirii, no doubt the village Kellah al Chire, 6 English miles southwest from Semunii.

Beth-Lehem בית לחם is the village of that name, about 7 English miles south from Shaf-Amer, and the same distance west from the village Nazara (Nazareth). All the villages near Nazara, are for the most part inhabited by Christians, who point out there to the traveller, many relics and antiquities.

There Belonged Also To Zebulun

Kitron קטרון (Judges 1:30). The Talmud Megillah, fol. 6a, says, "Kitron is Zippori," which is the village Sefuri, situated on a mount 7 English miles southeast from Shafamer. According to Echa Rabbethi to chap. 2:2, there is a distance of 18 mill, i.e. 13½ English miles, from Tiberias to Zippori. In the Graeco-Roman period, it was called Dicepolis (see Jos., Bell. Jud., b. iii. chap. iii.*)

* In Taanith, fol. 24b, it is said "There came so heavy a rain that the water from the roof-gutters of the town of Zippori flowed into the Digluth=Chidekel or Tigris." This is evidently an erroneous reading, and should be Mechusah, which was in Babylonia, not far from the Tigris. I found this name introduced in the old editions, which is thus incorrectly given in the modern ones as Zippori.

Madon מדון. See above, in the account of the 31 Kings, where I maintain that Madon is the present Kefar Manda. In Shemoth Rabbah, chap. 52, the name of Madon is still retained; but otherwise we find nearly everywhere either Manda or Mandon. So in Vayikra Rabbethi, chap. 1, is mentioned Rabbi Issachar, of Kefar Manda; and the people there show to this day the grave of this worthy Rabbi. In Tosephtah Yabamoth, chap. 10, the name of Mandon is applied to the place. All this proves that Madon, Manda, and Mandon, are synonymous. It is about 5 English miles north of Sefuri and 4 English miles northwest of Rimuni.

In Talmud and Midrashim, the following places are mentioned:--

In Yalkut to Genesis 49:13, it is said that the towns in which the great Sanhedrin had their seat, after the destruction of Jerusalem, were nearly all, with the exception of Jabné, in the portion of Zebulun, to wit: Usha אושא; Shafram שפרעם; Beth-Shearim בית שערים, Zippori צפורי, and Tiberias טבריא. The situation of these places was as follows:

Usha, which is also mentioned in Tosephtah Mikvaoth, chap. 6, is the village Usa, situated 6 English miles west-northwest from Feralthi; for which, see under Naphtali.

Shafram is the modern large village Shafamer (derived from the original name by transposing M and R), situated 7 English miles east from Chepha, and west of Manda. In this village live about thirty Jewish families, who have an old Synagogue. Between this and Usa, is the grave of the martyr Rabbi Jehudah ben Baba, who was slain there, as appears from Talmud Abodah Zarah, fol. 8b.

Beth-Shearim is no doubt the modern village Turan (= to the Chaldean תערא Taara, which is the Hebrew שער "Shaar" gate), 5 English miles east-northeast from Sifuri. Astori calls the place Ashara; but this name is no longer in use. It is probable that תורן Turan, which is mentioned in Talmud Sabbath, 120b, means no other than Beth-Shearim, as it was then called.

Zippori. See above, article Kitron.

Tiberias. See farther down, where I shall speak more at length of this town.

In Bereshith Rabbah to Genesis 49:13, it is said, "‘And his border shall be unto Zidon,’ means Zebud, of Galilee, according to one authority, and Bigdal Riv, according to the other." The first זבוד דגלילה is undoubtedly the modern village Sibdia, situated 5 English miles northeast from Sur (Tyre), since Upper Galilee extended, as already said in the description of Galilee, to the vicinity of Tyre. As to Bigdal Riv (בגדל ריו), it is extremely difficult and obscure of elucidation; but I have no doubt that here again is an error of the transcriber to be corrected, and that for בגדל ריו we should read מגדל ריו Migdal (or Tower of) Revi, and signifies the modern village Burdj al Rui, i.e. fort or tower of Rui, situated on the seacoast between Zidon and Ras Zarfand (see article Zarephath). This would give us the result that Zebulun extended to the northeast of Tyre and the south of Zidon.

Old Kazerah, near Zippori, קצרה ישנה של צפורי of Erechin, ch. 9 § 6; it was, according to Yerushalmi Erubin, chap. 5, scarcely 70 cubits from Beth-Maun. It is true that at present the name of Kazerah is no longer in use; but its former site is readily ascertained; since the grave of the renowned martyr Rabbi Akiba, as is generally well known, was at Kazerah, as I have already stated above, in a note to Gibthan, and it is pointed out, about 2 English miles northwest from Tiberias, on the mountains between Medjdl and Kallath Abn Miun.* In Midrash Samuel, chap. 26, is mentioned Rabbi Isaac ben Kazeartha; and the probability is that his father was from Kazerah.

* The meaning of the word Kazerah I believe to be the same as that of  קסטרה or גסטרה; since this town is called in Talmud Bab. Shabbath, 121a, גסטרה של צפורי Gasterah of Zippori, whereas in Yerushalmi Shabbath, chap. 16, Yerushalmi Nedarim, chap. 5, and Yerushalmi, end of Yoma, it is uniformly termed Kazerah of Zippori. The proper meaning of Kazerah, Gasterah, Kasterah, is, according to Rashi, to the above passage of Shabbath שלטון prefect, superintendent, overseer, or manager. In Latin, the word Castrum means a camp, a place where soldiers stay over night, or take up their temporary abode; (and this term in various changes or abbreviations has become incorporated in various modern names of towns, as Lancaster, Chester, Doncaster, Winchester, &c.—TR.) The Romans built a fortified camp for their soldiers near Zippori; and as there was already a town in the neighbourhood, this was called the Old, whilst the modern erection became known as the New Kazerah, Gastera, or Castrerah, of Zippori, the change in the pronunciation being merely required to make the Roman word appear in the usual Hebrew dress. It appears to me that the town mentioned in Kiddushin, 76a, asהישנה של צפורי Hayeshanah, i. e. the Old of Zippori, means no other than our Kazerah, although Rashi considered it as a proper name, which is incorrect, because the definite article ה is never applied to proper names as such, and besides this, the name in question does not occur in this locality. There is a town Jeshena mentioned in 2 Chron. 13:19 ; but it was not in Galilee, but near Beth-El, and is the modern Al Sania. (See the cities of the sons of Joseph.)

Shichin שיחין was, according to Sabbath, 121a, near Zippori, and was an uncommonly large and important city, as appears from Echa Rabbethi to chap. 2:2; at a later period, that is, after the destruction of Jerusalem, it also was reduced to a mere unimportant village, and is hence called Kefar Shichin in Sabbath, 150b, and in end of Yebamoth it appears as Kefar Shichi. Josephus, in Bell. Jud., b. ii. chap. 25, mentioned Soganes near Sephoris, which is without doubt the Shichin of the Talmud. I am almost led to believe that it is identical with the Sochoh of 1 Kings 4:10, which was gradually changed into Shichin.

Guftha or Gubabtha גופתא גובבתא is mentioned in Yerushalmi Megillah, chap. 1, where we read of Rabbi Jonathan, secretary of the town of Guftha; also in Yerushalmi Shekalim, chap. 7. In Talmud Babli Erubin, 64b, it is called Gufthi. It would appear, from Midrash Koheleth to chap. 16:10, that this place was 3 mill, or 2½ English miles, from Zippori;* but at present I could discover no trace of it.

* I believe that this will elucidate a passage in Bereshith Rabbah to Gen. 49:13, where some remarks are made concerning the birth-place of the prophet Jonah, and it is asserted of Gath-Chepher אולין גובבתא דצפורי that it is Gubabtha of Zippori. The commentators seem at fault to explain the meaning of this passage; but it strikes me that it is probable that our Gufthi and Gath­Chefer were the names of the same town, as it is clear that both refer to a place near Zippori. It is therefore probable that the modern Meshad (see in the 31 Kings, art. Chepher), must be the site of the town in question.

The Old Jodephath יודפת הישנה of Erechin, chap. 9 § 6, was an uncommonly strongly fortified town, and was situated near the modern Jafa, the Japhia of the Bible; Josephus defended it (Jotapata) long against the Romans, as he has circumstantially narrated in the third book of the Wars of the Jews. I believe we discover a resemblance to this name in the modern village Djepatha or Depatha, which is about 1½ English miles south of Jafa. I must at the same time notice an opinion common among our people, though erroneous, in their calling the castle near Zafed, Jorephah, which is, by the by, also an erroneous spelling of the word, since they exchange the D with R, and there can be no doubt that the real name should be Jodephath; since it appears from the passage just cited from Josephus, that Jotapata or Jotapha was by no means in the vicinity of Zafed. The Rabbi Menachem Jodephaah of Zebachim, 110b, derived his name probably from this place.

Ma'un מעון of Zebachim,118b. In Tosephtaha Shebiith, chap. 7, it is said that Maün is in Lower Galilee. In the Life of Josephus, § 12, is mentioned Beth-Maus, as being 4 stadia (½ English mile) from Tiberias. The same is asserted by Astori, and he found the place still inhabited when he visited it. The present Kallath Aben Miun, which is west of Medjdl, at a distance of about 1 English mile, does not, according to my view, occupy the exact site of Maün, as it is too far to the northwest. I cannot here avoid to notice the opinion of the learned Astori, who endeavours to prove in his work, fol. 66 b, that this Maün is the same Maön whither David fled before Saul (1 Sam. 23:25). As David did not enter Galilee in his wanderings, it is not necessary to employ any arguments to disprove Astori’s opinion; but I may surely express my astonishment that one so learned should commit such an error.

Kefar Shubethi כפר שובתי of Bereshith Rabbah, chap. 85, is the modern village Kefr Sabth, situated on a mountain, 5 English miles southwest from Tiberias.

Rebitha רביתא of Chulin, 60a, is probably the village Rabuthia, situated at a distance of 3 English miles from the northwestern shore of Lake Chinnereth, which receives, to the north of Medjdl, the Wady Rabuthia, which has its source in the environs of Feradi and Kefr Anan.

Senabrai סנבראי of Yerushalmi Megillah, i. (R. Levi of Senabra, Yerushalmi Shebiith, 9), is the Sennabris mentioned in Josephus, Bell. Jud., b. iii., chap. 9, as being 30 stadia, or about 4 English miles, south of Tiberias. Even at the present day there are found in this vicinity traces of ruins called by the Arabs Sinabri.

Amos עמוס (Koheleth Rabbethi, fol. 106b). Josephus speaks of Emaus in Galilee, not far from the hot spring of Tiberias; but it is at present unknown. (See farther, art. חמת.)

Hatulim or Chatlim הטולים . גרסת הערוך חטלים (of Menachoth, 86b), is the modern village Al Chatli, east from Mount Tabor, and not far from the river Jordan.

The town of Laban (the White Town), in the mountain עיר לבן בהר, of Menachoth, 86b. I have ascertained from ancient documents, that the town of Nazareth was called the White Town, since the houses thereof, as also the whole environs, the soil and stones, being calcareous, have all a white appearance; and as it is situated on a mountain, it is undoubtedly the town in question.

Beth-Rimah בית רימה of Menachoth, 86b, is probably the modern village Rameh, 1½ English miles east from Usa.

Garsis גרסיס Erubin, 21b. (Rabbi Joshua from Garsis.) Josephus mentions this place, and calls it a city of Galilee, 20 stadia (2½ English miles) from Sephoris. At present no vestige of it can be found.

The Gulf of Kantir גולפא דקנטיר of Zohar Bereshith, 56b; "on the other side of Lake Chinnereth is the village Kantir, consequently the place in question means the gulf or harbour of Kantir;" thus reports Rabbi Menachem de Lozano, in his Maärich; but it is at present unknown.

I believe now to be able to state the following, as ascertained, in regard to the possessions of Zebulun. In the blessing of Jacob concerning him (Gen. 49:13), he said, "Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the seas," not "sea," as in the English version. The whole prophecy of Jacob always refers to the possessions in the Holy Land; and the plural ימים "seas" says plainly that Zebulun should have the coasts of two seas in his territory, which would then give us the respective shores of the Mediterranean and Chinnereth. I found farther proof that Zebulun was bounded by both seas, from the following: in Tractate Megillah, 6a, it is said that the purple shell (Chalazon חלזון) is only found in the territory of Zebulun; in Tractate Sabbath, 26 a, it is said that this shell is only to be met between Tyre and Cheifa,* which is also confirmed by experience at the present day. It is also stated in Yalkut to Deut. 33:19, that the fishing for the purple snail took place only on the coast of the Great Sea, in the territory of Zebulun.

* To this is found a contradiction in Zohar to Exodus 14:25, הוה בעדבה (דזבולון) אשתכח חלזון לתכלתא "And the sea of Chinnereth was in the portion of Zebulun, and thence was obtained the purple shell for the Techaleth" (the blue of Exod. 25:4). The same is said in Zohar Terumah, 149b, that the purple shell is found in Chinnereth, which belonged to Zebulun. But I could not find the least evidence that this shell is ever found in Chinnereth. The learned Rabbi Jacob Emden, mentioned in his work מטפחת הספרים, already, that this passage is most surprising.

There are, besides this, several contradictory statements made respecting the possession of the Lake Chinnereth. It is said in Zohar Behaalotecha, 150a, and in several other passages besides those already cited, that this lake belonged to Zebulun, and that several of the towns already named—for example, Tiberias—were situated on this lake. Nevertheless, in Baba Kamma, 81b, it says that this lake, and even some land lying south of it, belonged to Naphtali. It is also asserted in Megillah, 6a, רקת זו טבריא of Joshua 19:35, "Rakkath is the (later) Tiberias;" and since Rakkath is reckoned in Joshua to Naphtali, it would appear that the Lake Chinnereth in the vicinity of Tiberias belonged to Naphtali. In Yalkut to Deut. 33:23, it is said that the lake of Tiberias, as also Semechonitis, belonged to Naphtali; and in Baba Bathra, 122a, it is likewise stated that the district of Gemsur (Genezareth) was in Naphtali. It appears, therefore, that Chinnereth was considered as belonging to both tribes, as was the case with frontier towns, as has been noted above, at Baalah, in the land of Dan.

The southern boundary line of Zebulun went, therefore, westward from this lake to Mount Tabor,--the mount, however, and town of the same name, belonged to Issachar,--then ran farther to Doberath, which town belonged to both Zebulun and Issachar; thence somewhat northerly, towards Shion, which belonged to Issachar; thence to Mount Carmel to the river Kishon, which flows there (Joshua 19:11), to the vicinity of Akko, which district belonged to Zebulun, according to Baba Bathra, 122a, though Akko itself belonged to Asher. At the northeast, Zebulun extended to Tanchum (Kefar Nachum), since it was situated on the boundary between Zebulun and Naphtali; thence the line ran westwardly to Kitron (Sifuri); thence it extended, in a long and narrow strip, to the vicinity of Zidon; so that a small part of this territory touched the Mediterranean, whereas the greater portion of this coast belonged to Asher, as will be shown hereafter.

Josephus says that Zebulun extended from Chinnereth to the Great Sea, near Mount Carmel.