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International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia - Israel

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PALESTINE

(pal'-es-tin) (pelesheth; Phulistieim, Allophuloi; the King James Version Joel 3:4 (the Revised Version (British and American) "Philistia"), "Palestina"; the King James Version Ex 15:14; Isa 14:29,31; compare Ps 60:8; 83:7; 87:4; 108:9):


The word properly means "Philistia," but appears to be first used in the extended sense, as meaning all the "Land of Israel" or "Holy Land" (Zech 2:12), by Philo and by Ovid and later Roman authors (Reland, Palestine Illustr., I, 38-42).

I. Physical Conditions.-The Bible in general may be said to breathe the air of Palestine; and it is here intended to show how important for sound criticism is the consideration of its geography, and of the numerous incidental allusions to the natural features, fauna, flora, cultivation, and climate of the land in which most of the Bible books were written. With the later history and topography of Palestine, after 70 AD, we are not here concerned, but a short account of its present physical and geological conditions is needed for our purpose.

1. General Geographical Features: Palestine West of the Jordan, between Dan and Beersheba, has an area of about 6,000 square miles, the length from Hermon southward being nearly 150 miles, and the width gradually increasing from 20 miles on the North to 60 miles on the South. It is thus about the size of Wales, and the height of the Palestinian mountains is about the same as that of the Welsh. East of the Jordan an area of about 4,000 square miles was included in the land of Israel. The general geographical features are familiar to all.

(1) The land is divided by the deep chasm of the Jordan valley-an ancient geological fault continuing in the Dead Sea, where its depth (at the bottom of the lake) Isa 2,600 ft. below the Mediterranean.

(2) West of the valley the mountain ridge, which is a continuation of Lebanon, has very steep slopes on the East and long spurs on the West, on which side the foothills (Hebrew shephelah or "lowland") form a distinct district, widening gradually southward, while between this region and the sea the plains of Sharon and Philistia stretch to the sandhills and low cliffs of a harborless coast.

(3) In Upper Galilee, on the North, the mountain ridge rises to 4,000 ft. above the Mediterranean. Lower Galilee, to the South, includes rounded hills less than 1,000 ft. above the sea, and the triangular plain of Esdraelon drained by the River Kishon between the Gilboa watershed on the East and the long spur of Carmel on the West.

(4) In Samaria the mountains are extremely rugged, but a small plain near Dothan adjoins that of Esdraelon, and another stretches East of Shechem, 2,500 ft. above the level of the Jordan valley. In Judaea the main ridge rises toward Hebron and then sinks to the level of the Beersheba plains about 1,000 ft. above the sea. The desert of Judah forms a plateau (500 ft. above sea-level), between this ridge and the Dead Sea, and is throughout barren and waterless; but the mountains-which average about 3,000 ft. above the sea-are full of good springs and suitable for the cultivation of the vine, fig and olive. The richest lands are found in the shephelah region-especially in Judaea-and in the corn plains of Esdraelon, Sharon, and Philistia.

(5) East of the Jordan the plateau of Bashan (averaging 1,500 ft. above the sea) is also a fine corn country. South of this, Gilead presents a mountain region rising to 3,600 ft. above sea-level at Jebel Osha`, and sloping gently on the East to the desert. The steep western slopes are watered by the Jabbok River, and by many perennial brooks. In North Gilead especially the wooded hills present some of the most picturesque scenery of the Holy Land. South of Gilead, the Moab plateau (about 2,700 ft. above sea-level) is now a desert, but is fitted for raising grain, and, in places, for vines. A lower shelf or plateau (about 500 to 1,000 ft. above sea-level) intervenes between the main plateau and the Dead Sea cliffs, and answers to the Desert of Judah West of the lake.

2. Water-Supply: The water-supply of Palestine is abundant, except in the desert regions above noticed, which include only a small part of its area. The Jordan runs into the Dead Sea, which has no outlet and which maintains its level solely by evaporation, being consequently very salt; the surface is nearly 1,300 ft. below the Mediterranean, whereas the Sea of Galilee (680 ft. below sea-level) is sweet and full of fish. The Jordan is fed, not only by the snows of Hermon, but by many affluent streams from both sides. There are several streams also in Sharon, including the Crocodile River under Carmel. In the mountains, where the hard dolomite limestone is on the surface, perennial springs are numerous. In the lower hills, where this limestone is covered by a softer chalky stone, the supply depends on wells and cisterns. In the Beersheba plains the water, running under the surface, is reached by scooping shallow pits-especially those near Gerar, to be noticed later.

3. Geological Conditions: The fertility and cultivation of any country depends mainly on its geological conditions. These are comparatively simple in Palestine, and have undergone no change since the age when man first appeared, or since the days of the Hebrew patriarchs. The country was first upheaved from the ocean in the Eocene age; and, in the subsequent Miocene age, the great crack in the earth's surface occurred, which formed a narrow gulf stretching from that of the `Aqabah on the South almost to the foot of Hermon. Further upheaval, accompanied by volcanic outbreaks which covered the plateaus of Golan, Bashan, and Lower Galilee with lava, cut off the Jordan valley from the Red Sea, and formed a long lake, the bottom of which continued to sink on the South to its present level during the Pleiocene and Pluvial periods, after which-its peculiar fauna having developed meanwhile-the lake gradually dried up, till it was represented only, as it now is, by the swampy Chuleh, the pear-shaped Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea. These changes all occurred long ages before the appearance of man. The beds upheaved include: (1) the Nubian Sandstone (of the Greensand period), which was sheared along the line of the Jordan fault East of the river, and which only appears on the western slopes of Hermon, Gilead, and Moab; (2) the limestones of the Cretaceous age, including the hard dolomite, and softer beds full of characteristic fossils; (3) the soft Eocene limestone, which appears chiefly on the western spurs and in the foothills, the angle of upheaval being less steep than that of the older main formation. On the shores of the Mediterranean a yet later sandy limestone forms the low cliffs of Sharon.
See GEOLOGY OF PALESTINE.

4. Fauna and Flora: As regards fauna, flora and cultivation, it is sufficient here to say that they are still practically the same as described throughout the Bible. The lion and the wild bull (Bos primigenius) were exterminated within historic times, but have left their bones in the Jordan gravels, and in caves. The bear has gradually retreated to Hermon and Lebanon. The buffalo has been introduced since the Moslem conquest. Among trees the apple has fallen out of cultivation since the Middle Ages, and the cactus has been introduced; but Palestine is still a land of grain, wine and oil, and famous for its fruits. Its trees, shrubs and plants are those noticed in the Bible. Its woods have been thinned in Lower Galilee and Northern Sharon, but on the other hand the copse has often grown over the site of former vineyards and villages, and there is no reason to think that any general desiccation has occurred within the last 40 centuries, such as would affect the rainfall.

5. Climate: The climate of Palestine is similar to that of other Mediterranean lands, such as Cyprus, Sicily or Southern Italy; and, in spite of the fevers of mosquito districts in the plains, it is much better than that of the Delta in Egypt, or of Mesopotamia. The summer heat is oppressive only for a few days at a time, when (espescially in May) the dry wind-deficient in ozone-blows from the eastern desert. For most of the season a moisture-laden sea breeze, rising about 10 AM, blows till the evening, and fertilizes all the western slopes of the mountains. In the bare deserts the difference between 90? F. by day and 40? F. by night gives a refreshing cold. With the east wind the temperature rises to 105? F., and the nights are oppressive. In the Jordan valley, in autumn, the shade temperature reaches 120? F. In this season mists cover the mountains and swell the grapes. In winter the snow sometimes lies for several days on the watershed ridge and on the Edomite mountains, but in summer even Hermon is sometimes quite snowless at 9,000 ft. above the sea. There is perhaps no country in which such a range of climate can be found, from the Alpine to the tropical, and none in which the range of fauna and flora is consequently so large, from the European to the African.

6. Rainfall: The rainfall of Palestine is between 20 and 30 inches annually, and the rainy season is the same as in other Mediterranean countries. The "former rains" begin with the thunderstorms of November, and the "latter rains" cease with April showers. From December to February-except in years of drought-the rains are heavy. In most years the supply is quite sufficient for purposes of cultivation. The plowing begins in autumn, and the corn is rarely spoiled by storms in summer. The fruits ripen in autumn and suffer only from the occasional appearance of locust swarms. There appears to be no reason to suppose that climate or rainfall have undergone any change since the times of the Bible; and a consideration of Bible allusions confirms this view.

7. Drought and Famine: Thus, the occurrence of drought, and of consequent famine, is mentioned in the Old Testament as occasional in all times (Gen 12:10; 26:2; 41:50; Lev 26:20; 2 Sam 21:1; 1 Kings 8:35; Isa 5:6; Jer 14:1; Joel 1:10-12; Hag 1:11; Zech 14:17), and droughts are also noticed in the Mishna (Ta`anith, i. 4-7) as occurring in autumn, and even lasting throughout the rainy season till spring. Good rains were a blessing from God, and drought was a sign of His displeasure, in Hebrew belief (Deut 11:14; Jer 5:24; Joel 2:23). A thunderstorm in harvest time (May) was most unusual (1 Sam 12:17-18), yet such a storm does still occur as a very exceptional phenomenon. By "snow in harvest" (Prov 25:13) we are not to understand a snowstorm, for it is likened to a "faithful messenger," and the reference is to the use of snow for cooling wine, which is still usual at Damascus. The notice of fever on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (Matt 8:14) shows that this region was as unhealthy as it still is in summer. The decay of irrigation in Sharon may have rendered the plain more malarious than of old, but the identity of the Palestinian flora with that of the Bible indicates that the climate, generally speaking, is unchanged.

II. Palestine in the Pentateuch.-The Book of Genesis is full of allusions to sites sacred to the memory of the Hebrew patriarchs.

1. Places Visited by Abraham: In the time of Abraham the population consisted of tribes, mainly Sem, who came originally from Babylonia, including Canaanites ("lowlanders") between Sidon and Gaza, and in the Jordan valley, and Amorites ("highlanders") in the mountains (Gen 10:15-19; Num 13:29). Their language was akin to Hebrew, and it is only in Egypt that we read of an interpreter being needed (Gen 42:23), while excavated remains of seal-cylinders, and other objects, show that the civilization of Palestine was similar to that of Babylonia.

(1) Shechem.-The first place noticed is the shrine or "station" (maqom) of Shechem, with the Elon Moreh, the Septuagint "high oak"), where Jacob afterward buried the idols of his wives, and where Joshua set up a stone by the "holy place" (Gen 12:6; 35:4; Josh 24:26). Samaritan tradition showed the site near BalaTa ("the oak") at the foot of Mt. Gerizim. The "Canaanite was then in the land" (in Abraham's time), but was exterminated (Gen 34:25) by Jacob's sons. From Shechem Abraham journeyed southward and raised an altar between Bethel (Beitin) and Hal (Chayan), East of the town of Luz, the name of which still survives hard-by at the spring of Lozeh (Gen 12:8; 13:3; 28:11,19; 35:2).

(2) The Negeb.-But, on his return from Egypt with large flocks (Gen 12:16), he settled in the pastoral region, between Beersheba and the western Kadesh (13:1; 20:1), called in Hebrew the neghebh, "dry" country, on the edge of the cultivated lands. From East of Bethel there is a fine view of the lower Jordan valley, and here Lot "lifted up his eyes" (13:10), and chose the rich grass lands of that valley for his flocks. The "cities of the Plain" (kikkar) were clearly in this valley, and Sodom must have been near the river, since Lot's journey to Zoar (19:22) occupied only an hour or two (verses 15,23) through the plain to the foot of the Moab mountains. These cities are not said to have been visible from near Hebron; but, from the hilltop East of the city, Abraham could have seen "the smoke of the land" (19:28) rising up. The first land owned by him was the garden of Mamre (13:18; 18:1; 23:19), with the cave-tomb which tradition still points out under the floor of the Hebron mosque. His tent was spread under the "oaks of Mamre" (18:1), where his mysterious guests rested "under the tree" (verse 8). One aged oak still survives in the flat ground West of the city, but this tree is very uncommon in the mountains of Judah. In all these incidental touches we have evidence of the exact knowledge of Palestine which distinguishes the story of the patriarchs.

(3) Campaign of Amraphel.-Palestine appears to have been an outlying province of the empire of. Chammurabi, king of Babylon in Abraham's time; and the campaign of Amraphel resembled those of later Assyrian overlords exacting tribute of petty kings. The route (14:5-8) lay through Bashan, Gilead and Moab to Kadesh (probably at Petra), and the return through the desert of Judah to the plains of Jericho. Thus Hebron was not atta

NOTE: This text has been truncated to the maximum allowable by copyright.

(from International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia

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Italy
Rome
Three Taverns
Appius Forum
Puteoli
Neapolis
Buxentum
Croton
Rhegium
Messana
Syracuse

Greece
Neapolis
Philippi
Amphipolis
Apollonia
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Cenchreae
Corinth
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Asia Minor
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Smyrna
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Israel
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Cana
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