Outlines Of New Testament History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.

              I.              VARIOUS NAMES: Palestine: the most common origin.




              II.              SITE AND SIZE:

              1. Site: Latitude and Longitude.—Boundaries.—Admirable situation.


              2. Size: Length.—Breadth.—Total area.




              III.              GENERAL ASPECT AND DIVISIONS




              IV.              PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION OF


              1. Eastern Palestine:

              The high table-land beyond Jordan.


                            Rivers and mountains.




              2. Western Palestine:

              Three long Parallel Tracts:



                                          The hilly country.


                                          The Jordan valley.


                            Mountains (begin in the south and proceed northward).


                            Lowlands (three principal).


                            Rivers: Only one; streams or torrents besides.




1. Various Names. Palestine, the scene of Gospel history, has in different ages been designated by the following names: (1) the land of Chanaan; (2) the land of Promise; (3) the land of Israel; (4) the land of Juda or Judæa; (5) the Holy Land; (6) Palestine. This last, by far the most common name, was originally applied by the Hebrews merely to the strip of maritime plain inhabited by their encroaching neighbors, the Philistines, hence the name; but ultimately it became the usual appellation for the whole country of the Jews.

2. Site and Size. Palestine lies between the 31° and 33° 20′ of north latitude, and between the 34° 20′ and 36° 20′ of east longitude. In the time of Christ it was limited on the west by Phenicia and the Great or Mediterranean Sea; on the south by the Brook of Egypt, the Negeb, the south end of the Dead Sea, and the Arnon river; on the east by Arabia; on the north by Anti-Lebanon, Lebanon, and Phenicia. Its situation in the temperate zone, in the centre of the ancient world, has often been admired: it combined, with a sufficient isolation from heathen influences, a position well suited to the preservation and spread of the true religion among mankind.

Like many regions which have played a great part in the world’s history, Palestine is a very small country. Its average length is about 150 miles, and its average breadth west of the Jordan a little more than 40 miles, east of the Jordan a little less than 40 miles. The total area between the Jordan and the Great Sea is about 6600 square miles; the portion east of the Jordan has an area of about 5000 or perhaps 6000 square miles,—making the whole area of Palestine 12,000 or 13,000 square miles, or about equal to the two States of Massachusetts and Connecticut together.

3. General Aspect and Divisions. A single glance at a physical map of the Holy Land is quite sufficient to make us realize that its general aspect is that of a mountainous country. It owes this hilly appearance to the great Lebanon range, whose eastern branch (the Anti-Lebanon) is prolonged through Palestine by two distinct chains of mountains, the one on the west side, with the exception of one broad depression (the plain of Esdrælon), extending as far as the desert of Sinai, the other, on the east of the Jordan, reaching as far as the mountains of Arabia Petræa. To the west of each one of its mountain-chains Palestine has a large plain, namely, the valley of the Jordan and the sea-coast, so that the Holy Land is naturally divided into four parallel tracts extending north and south. Three of these parallel tracts are almost entirely situated to the west of the Jordan and are usually designated under the name of Western Palestine, while the track altogether east of the Jordan is known as Eastern Palestine or the Transjordanic region.

In the time of Christ Eastern Palestine comprised several great tracts of country, the exact limits of which cannot be defined at the present day. These regions were (1) Peræa Proper, which lay chiefly between the rivers Arnon and Jabbok; (2) Galaaditis (Galaad); (3) Batanea (Basan); (4) Gaulanitis (Golan); (5) Ituræa; (6) Trachonitis; (7) Abilene; (8) and finally, the Decapolis, which lay partly west of the Jordan.

The country west of the Jordan included only three great regions, viz., Judæa, Samaria, and Galilee. Of these regions Judæa was the most famous. It extended along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea almost as far north as Mount Carmel, but on the northeast its limit did not extend quite as far as Sichem. Its southern part formed a portion of Idumæa, and it extended westward from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean. It was about 40 miles wide, and was divided into eleven districts whose metropolis was Jerusalem. North of Judæa lay Samaria, which derived its name from the ancient capital of the kingdom of Israel, and whose central position in Western Palestine gave it great political importance. Finally, north of Samaria was Galilee, 50 miles long by 20 to 25 miles wide. It was divided into Upper or Northern, and Lower or Southern, Galilee.

4. Physical Description of Eastern and Western Palestine. The country beyond Jordan consists in a table-land whose length is about 150 miles from the Anti-Lebanon on the north to the Arnon river on the south, and whose breadth varies from 30 to 80 miles from the edge of the Jordan valley to the edge of the Arabian desert. Its surface, which is tolerably uniform, has an average elevation of about 2000 feet above the level of the sea, and while its western edge is broken by deep ravines running into the valley of the Jordan, its eastern edge melts away into the desert.

Eastern Palestine has three natural divisions, marked by the three rivers which cut it at right angles to the Jordan—the Arnon, the Jabbok, and the Yarmuk. Across the northernmost of these divisions, which extends from Anti-Lebanon to the Yarmuk, “the limestone which forms the basis of the country is covered by volcanic deposits. The stone is basalt, the soil is rich, red loam resting on beds of ash, and there are vast ‘harras’ or eruptions of lava, suddenly cooled and split open into the most tortuous shapes. Down the edge of the Jordan valley and down the border of the desert run rows of extinct volcanoes. The centre of this northern province is a great plain, perhaps 50 miles long by 20 miles broad, scarcely broken by a hill, and almost absolutely without trees. To the west of this, above the Jordan, is the hilly and once well-wooded district of Jaulan (Golan of Scripture); to the east the ‘harras’ and extinct volcanoes already noticed; and in the southeast, the high range of Jebel Hauran. All beyond is desert draining to the Euphrates.”

In the second division of Eastern Palestine, which extends from the Yarmuk to the Jabbok, the volcanic elements almost entirely disappear and the limestone comes into view again. The surface of the country is generally made up of high ridges covered with forests and furnishing rich pasturage; eastward, there are plains covered with luxuriant herbage.

The third division of the Transjordanic region lies between the Jabbok and the Arnon rivers. In it “the ridges and forests alike diminish, till by the north of the Dead Sea, the country assumes the form of an absolutely treeless plateau, in winter bleak, in summer breezy and fragrant. This plateau is broken only by deep, wide, warm valleys like the Arnon, across which it rolls southward; eastward it is separated from the desert by low, rolling hills.”

The country west of the Jordan, or Western Palestine, by far the most important in Gospel history, is naturally divided into three long parallel tracts extending north and south:

(1) Sea-coast. This tract is a plain, the main portion of which extends without a break from the desert below Gaza to the ridge of Mount Carmel. A great part of this plain is flat and naturally fertile. It is intersected by deep gullies which have high earthen banks, and through some of which flow perennial streams. The neighborhood of these streams is marshy, especially towards the north. This main portion of the maritime plain is some 80 miles long and from 100 to 200 feet above the sea, with low cliffs near the Mediterranean; towards the north it is 8 miles, and near Gaza 20 miles, broad. North of the headland of Carmel, which comes within 200 yards of the sea, is the second and narrower portion of the maritime plain extending to Phenicia through the territory of Acre; very near this town the plain has an average width of about 5 miles and is remarkably fertile.

(2) The Hilly Country. Next to the coast-plain eastward comes the high table-land, which gives to Western Palestine the aspect of a hilly region. This tract is about 25 miles wide, and its eastern slopes are extremely steep and rugged. The fertility of this highland region improves gradually as one goes northward.

The southern district below Hebron is mostly made up of barren uplands. Passing a little farther north into Judæa, we find the central and northern parts of the hilly country scarcely more fertile, for the soil is poor and scanty, and springs are very rare; its western and northwestern parts, being reached by sea-breezes, offer a better vegetation, olives abound, and some thickets of pine and laurel are to be noticed; the eastern part is an uninhabitable tract known as the wilderness of Judæa.

Proceeding northward from Judæa to Samaria, the central section of Western Palestine, the country gradually opens and is more inviting. Its rich plains become gradually larger; the valleys are tillable and possess springs; there are orange-groves and orchards; the mountains are still bare of wood; northwest of Nablous, however, the slopes are dotted with fields of corn and tracts of wood.

Proceeding still northward, we reach Galilee, the northernmost division of Western Palestine, where we find the plain of Esdrælon, 15 square miles in extent. The vegetation is more luxuriant here than elsewhere west of the Jordan, and springs are abundant. The hills are richly wooded with oaks, maples, poplars; covered with wild flowers, rich herbage, etc. East of these hills is the rounded mass of Mount Thabor, covered with oaks and contrasting with the bare slopes of the Little Hermon about 4 miles distant to the southwest. North of Thabor is the plain El Buttauf, of a similar nature to that of Esdrælon, but much more elevated.

(3) The Jordan Valley. This valley extends from the base of Mount Hermon to the southern shore of the Dead Sea. Its width varies from half a mile to 5 miles; at some points it is 12 miles broad. At the foot of Mount Hermon this valley is about 1000 feet above the sea; 12 miles below, it is upon the sea-level; 10 miles farther south it is lower by 692 feet; and 65 miles farther, at the Dead Sea, it is 1292 feet below the level of the Mediterranean. The mountains on either side reach a great altitude, some points being 4000 feet high. These heights, combined with the deep depression of the valley, afford a great variety of temperature, and bring into close proximity productions usually found widely apart.

Mountains, Lowlands, Rivers, and Lakes of Western Palestine. Along the coast the only mountain of importance is the ridge of Carmel, the highest point of which is about 1750 feet. In the hilly region, the best-known points of elevation are: Hebron, 3000 feet; Mount Olivet, 2600 feet; Mounts Hebal and Garizim, 3000 feet; Little Hermon and Thabor, 1900 feet.

The three principal lowlands are: (1) the maritime plain subdivided into Philistia, the plain of Saron, and the plain of Acre; (2) the plain of Esdrælon; (3) the valley of the Jordan.

The most important river of Palestine is the Jordan. At the junction of its three principal sources it is 45 feet wide and flows in a channel from 10 to 20 feet below the level of the plain. It traverses successively the lakes of Merom and Genesareth, and empties itself into the Dead Sea after an actual course of 260 miles, although the distance between its source and the Dead Sea is not more than 136 miles in a straight line. Its width varies from 45 to 185 feet, and its depth from 3 to 12 feet.

Three things are chiefly noticeable in connection with this river, namely: (1) its enormous fall of nearly 3000 feet; (2) its endless windings; (3) the absence of towns on its banks. The other streams of Western Palestine worthy of mention are the Leontes, the Belus, the Cison, and the Zerka.

The three principal lakes are the lake of Merom, the lake of Genesareth, and the Dead Sea.

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