The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Palestine

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The American Cyclopædia
Palestine
Edition of 1879. Written by Robert CarterSee also Palestine on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

PALESTINE (Gr. Παλαιστίνη, derived from the Heb. Pelesheth, Philistia), a country of western Asia, now forming a part of the Turkish empire, bounded N. by the Lebanon mountains, which separate it from Cœle-Syria, E. and S. by the desert which separates it from Arabia and Egypt, and W. by the Mediterranean. It lies between lat. 30º 40' and 33º 15' N., and lon. 33º 45' and 36º 30' E.; length about 200 m., average breadth 60 m.; area, 12,000 sq. m.; pop. estimated at 300,000. The name Palestine was never applied by the ancient Hebrews to anything more than the southern portion of the coast region, as synonymous with Philistia; and when it occurs in the English translation of the Bible it has this sense. The earlier Greek usage was the same; but under the Romans it became the general name for the whole country of the Jews, and Josephus uses it in both the early and the later application. Modern Palestine is included in the vilayet of Syria, and contains the two subpashalics of Acre and Jerusalem. It is a “land of hills and valleys.” It is remarkably separated by mountain and desert from other countries, and its seashore is without any good harbor. The ancient harbor of Caasarea, the principal port during the Roman dominion, was entirely artificial, and the ruins of its breakwater are now only a dangerous reef. From Tyre, which is N. of Palestine proper, to the borders of Egypt, there is now but one port, Jaffa, and this only allows landing by boats under favorable circumstances. From the coast on the west the land rises rapidly to a mountainous height in the centre, and declines on the other side to the low level of the desert, being cleft through the centre N. and S. by the deep valley of the Jordan. This depression, called by the Arabs el-Ghor, is the most characteristic feature of the physical geography of Palestine, and corresponds with the valley of the Orontes and Leontes in Cœle-Syria, and with the wady Arabah in Arabia Petræa. The coast level varies much in breadth, being in some places only a narrow pass between the mountains and the sea, and in others expanding into plains of considerable width. The southern portion of the coast level is termed in the Scriptures the plain or low country (Heb. Shefelah), and the western part of it was the abode of the Philistines. This plain is very fertile, and is covered with corn fields. N. of it is a plain less level and fertile, the Sharon of the Scriptures, a land of fine pastures, which under the Roman empire contained Cæsarea, the Roman capital of Palestine. Beyond Cæsarea the plain grows narrower, until it is terminated by Mt. Carmel, N. of which lies the plain of Acre, about 15 m. long from N. to S., and about 5 m. in average breadth from the seashore to the hills on the east. Mt. Carmel is a ridge about 10 m. long and 1,500 ft. high, stretching N. by W., and terminating at the sea in a high promontory which encloses on the south the bay of Acre. North of Mt. Carmel are the Lebanon mountains (in the wider sense), which consist of two parallel ranges running N. into Syria, and enclosing between them a beautiful and fertile plain, called in Scripture the valley of Lebanon, and by the classic writers Cœle-Syria, the “hollow or enclosed Syria.” This plain, only the extreme southern portion of which is in Palestine, is 90 m. long and from 10 to 20 m. broad, except at the S. end, where it is narrower. The western range of these mountains runs nearly parallel to the sea, into which it projects several promontories; and its average elevation is about 7,000 ft., while its loftiest summits, including Jebel Timarun (10,533 ft. according to Burton) and Jebel Makmel (9,998 ft.), are covered with perpetual snow. These summits are outside of Palestine, as is the natural amphitheatre in which grow the finest specimens that remain of the famous cedars that once covered all the mountains of Lebanon. This great western range was called Libanus by the classic writers, and to the eastern range they gave the name of Anti-Libanus. In the Scriptures both ranges are called Lebanon. They are composed of masses of limestone rock. The general elevation of Anti-Libanus is less than that of Libanus, but at its southern extremity rises the conical snow-clad peak of Hermon, called by the Arabs Jebel esh-Sheikh (the chief), or eth-Thelj (the snowy), to the height of about 10,000 ft., rivalling the highest peaks of Libanus, and overlooking all Palestine. S. of Hermon the Anti-Libanus sinks into the hills of Galilee, which rise from a table land elevated about 1,000 ft. above the sea, and sloping on the east to the Jordan, on the west to the plain of Acre, and on the south to the plain of Esdraelon. The last named plain, extending from the sea to the Jordan, is often mentioned in the Scriptures under the names of Megiddo, Jezreel, and others, and was the great battle field of Jewish history. It is traversed by ridges known as the mountains of Gilboa and Little Hermon. On its N. E. border stands Mt. Tabor, now known as Jebel et-Tur, the traditional scene of the transfiguration. Though only 1,800 ft. high, it is one of the most remarkable and interesting of the mountains of Palestine. It is sometimes called the southern termination of the Lebanon range, but rises abruptly from the plain, and is entirely insulated except on the west, where a narrow ridge joins it to the rocky hills about Nazareth. It is densely covered with trees and shrubs, except a small tract on the top. Its isolated summit commands a panoramic view of the principal places of Samaria and Galilee, and was the rendezvous of Barak from which he rushed down to the defeat of Sisera. In the middle ages it was the resort of many hermits. It is now covered with ruins of a fortress of Saracenic architecture, while there are also remains of a far earlier period. S. of the plain of Esdraelon stretches an unbroken tract of mountains, about 30 m. in breadth, and rising in height toward the south till near Hebron it attains an elevation of 3,000 ft. above the sea. The northern part of this region comprised Samaria, and the southern Judea. The principal mountains of Samaria are Ebal and Gerizim, which rise to the height of about 2,700 and 2,600 ft. respectively above the sea, the former N. and the latter S. of a narrow valley in which stands the town of Nablus, the ancient Shechem, the capital of the ten tribes after their secession from the rest of Israel. — The hills of Judea are masses of barren rock, for the most part of moderate apparent elevation, though their general height above the sea is 2,000 or 3,000 ft. On their E. face these mountains descend abruptly to the great valley of the Jordan, their general slope being furrowed by steep and rugged gorges, which form the beds of winter torrents. The precipitous descent from Jerusalem to Jericho is famous for difficulty and danger, and is an example of the valleys descending to the Jordan through all its length. The W. slope of the hills is more gradual and gentle, but still difficult of passage, and the central heights of Palestine are a series of natural fastnesses of great strength; and both in ancient and modern times armies have traversed the western plains from Egypt to Phœnicia without disturbing the inhabitants of the hill country. The Jordan is the only important river of Palestine. Its sources are mainly on the southern and western declivity of Mt. Hermon, and after a short course its head streams unite and flow into Lake Merom, now called Lake Huleh. After quitting this the river is sluggish and turbid for a short distance, till it passes over a rocky bed where its mud is deposited, and then rushes on through a narrow volcanic valley. About 13 m. below Lake Huleh it enters the lake of Gennesaret or Tiberias, or sea of Galilee, which is between 600 and 700 ft. lower than the level of the Mediterranean. On issuing from the S. end of this lake the river enters a valley from 5 to 10 m. wide, through which its course is so winding that within a space of 60 m. in length the river traverses 200 m. and descends 27 rapids through the ever deepening valley, until it finally enters the Dead sea at a depression of a little over 1,300 ft. below the level of the Mediterranean, after a total direct course from N. to S. of 120 m. At the mouth the river is 180 yards wide. Except the Jordan, Palestine has no streams considerable enough to be called rivers; those so called in its history are mere brooks or torrents which become dry in summer. The Kishon, now Nahr el-Mukutta, which enters the bay of Acre near Mt. Carmel, flows from Mt. Tabor, and in winter and spring is a large stream, while during the rest of the year it has water only in the last 7 m. of its course. The Kanah enters the Mediterranean between Cæsarea and Jaffa. The Arnon, often mentioned in Scripture, is now called the wady Modjeb; it rises near the S. E. border of the country, and flows circuitously to the Dead sea. The Jabbok, now the wady Zurka, N. of the Arnon, flows a parallel course into the Jordan. The brook Kedron flows through the valley of Jehoshaphat, on the E. side of Jerusalem, to the Dead sea, but is merely a torrent and not a constant stream. Springs and fountains of remarkable size, however, are found in different parts of the country. The principal lakes are the Dead sea in the south and the lake of Gennesaret in the north. — In many parts of the country, and especially in the valley of the Jordan and the vicinity of the Dead sea, there are indications of volcanic origin, and earthquakes are often felt. The mountains are mostly of oolitic limestone of a light gray color. Black basalt is very common. The general character of the scenery is stern and sombre. “Above all other countries in the world,” says Dean Stanley, “it is a land of ruins. In Judea it is hardly an exaggeration to say that, while for miles and miles there is no appearance of present life or habitation, except the occasional goatherd on the hillside or gathering of women at the wells, there is hardly a hilltop of the many within sight which is not covered with the vestiges of some fortress or city of former ages. The ruins we now see are of the most distant ages: Saracenic, crusading, Roman, Grecian, Jewish, extending perhaps even to the old Canaanitish remains before the arrival of Joshua.” (See Bashan.) — Palestine has a mild and steady climate, with a rainy season in the latter part of autumn, winter and a dry and almost rainless season constituting the rest of the year. The heat of summer is oppressive in the low lands, especially in the deep depression of the Jordan valley, but not among the hills; and the cold of winter is not sufficient to freeze the ground, though snow sometimes falls to the depth of a foot at Jerusalem. Though the mountains have an exceedingly barren appearance, the plains and valleys are remarkably fertile. The valley S. of Bethlehem is irrigated and cultivated with care, and has a rich and beautiful appearance. The hill country of the south is dryer and less productive than that of the north. In ancient times even the mountains were cultivated by means of terraces; but in consequence of wars and the depopulation of the country, the terraces have been neglected and broken down, and the soil of the mountains swept by rains and torrents into the valleys. On some of the hills, however, the terraces have been rebuilt, and planted with olives, figs, and the vine; but the greater part are either bare or covered with a rough growth of stunted oak. There are now no forests, and most of the trees of the country are small. The olive, fig, and pomegranate are largely cultivated, and are the most common trees. Besides these are the terebinth or turpentine tree, the oak, sycamore, mulberry, pine, pistachio, laurel, cypress, myrtle, almond, apricot, walnut, apple, pear, orange, and lemon. The number of shrubs and wild flowers is very great, and always attracts the attention of travellers; and there is such a prevalence of anemones, wild tulips, poppies, and other red flowers, as to give a scarlet color to the landscape. Palestine has always been famous for its grapes, which are remarkable alike for size and flavor. The chief agricultural productions are wheat, barley, maize, and rye. Rice is grown on the marshy borders of the Jordan and some of the lakes. Peas, beans, and potatoes are cultivated, and also tobacco, cotton, and sugar cane. The agriculture is of a rude and negligent character; the fields are seldom fenced, the few divisions being by dilapidated stone walls, or by irregular hedges of the prickly pear. More attention is paid to pastoral pursuits, and flocks of sheep and goats are very numerous. Cattle are few and poor. The roads being impracticable for wheeled vehicles, camels are the principal beasts of burden. Asses and mules are much used for riding, and fine Arabian horses are sometimes met with. The chief wild animals are bears, wild boars, panthers, hyaenas, jackals, wolves, foxes, and gazelles. Lions, which were found here in ancient times, are now extinct. Birds are few in number, though there are many distinct species, among which may be mentioned the eagle, vulture, osprey, kite, hawk, crow, owl, cuckoo, kingfisher, woodpecker, woodcock, partridge, quail, stork, heron, pelican, swan, goose, and duck. Venomous serpents are unknown, and the most noxious animals are scorpions. Mosquitoes are very common, and bees are extremely plentiful, depositing their honey in hollow trees and holes in the rocks. Locusts occasionally appear in vast swarms and devour every species of vegetation. — The present inhabitants of Palestine are a mixed race of very varied origin. The Mohammedans are the dominant and most numerous sect, and are composed of a few Turks who occupy the higher government situations, and of the great body of the common people, who are descended from mixed Arab, Greek, and ancient Syrian ancestors, the last element greatly preponderating. They are noble-looking, graceful, and courteous, but illiterate, fanatical, and indolent. The Christians are almost entirely of Syrian race, descendants of those who occupied the country when it was conquered by the Saracens. They belong mostly to the Greek church, of which there is a patriarch at Jerusalem, who has ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the whole of Syria. Under him are eight bishops, whose sees are Nazareth, Acre, Lydda, Gaza, Sebaste, Nablus, Philadelphia, and Petra. There are also a few Maronites and Roman Catholics in the large towns, and in Jerusalem about 200 Armenians under a patriarch of their own faith. The Jews, mostly from Spain, with a few from Poland and Germany, are about 10,000 in number, and live almost exclusively in the towns of Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, and Safet. The population is less than one tenth of what it was in ancient times. — Palestine was first known as Canaan. But this name was confined to the country between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, the principal region E. of that river being called the land of Gilead. Palestine was subsequently called the land of promise, the land of Israel, Judah, Judea, and the Holy Land. The term Judea, though in later periods of Jewish history frequently applied to the whole country, belonged, strictly speaking, only to the southern portion of it. In the earliest times in which Palestine or Canaan becomes known to us, it was divided among various tribes, whom the Jews called collectively Canaanites. The precise locality of these nations is not in every case distinctly known. The Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, and a part of the Amorites lived E. of the Jordan; while W. of that river dwelt the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, and most of the Amorites, in the hill country of the south; the Canaanites proper, in the middle; the Girgashites, along the E. border of the lake of Gennesaret; and the Hivites, mostly in the north among the mountains of Lebanon. The southern part of the coast was occupied by the Philistines and the northern by the Phœnicians. After the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites under Moses and Joshua, the land was distributed among the tribes. Judah, Simeon, Benjamin, and Dan occupied the south; Ephraim, half of Manasseh, and Issachar, the middle; and Zebulon, Naphtali, and Asher, the north. Reuben, Gad, and the other half of Manasseh were settled beyond the Jordan. After the division into two kingdoms by the secession of the ten tribes (about 975 B. C.), the boundary line between them was the northern limit of the tribe of Benjamin. In the time of Christ Palestine was subject to the Romans, and the country W. of the Jordan was divided into the provinces of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. Galilee was that part of Palestine N. of the plain of Esdraelon, and was divided into lower or southern and upper or northern Galilee. Samaria occupied nearly the middle of Palestine. Judea as a province corresponded to the N. and W. parts of the ancient kingdom of Judah; but the S. E. portion formed a part of the territory of Idumæa. On the other side of the Jordan the country was called Peræa, and was divided into eight districts, viz.: 1, Peræa in a limited sense, which was the southernmost district, extending from the river or brook Arnon to the river Jabbok; 2, Gilead, N. of the Jabbok; 3, Decapolis, or the district of ten cities, which, as nearly as can be ascertained, were Scythopolis or Bethshan (which however was on the W. side of the Jordan), Hippos, Gadara, Pella, Philadelphia or Rabbah, Dion, Canatha, Galasa or Gerasa, Raphana, and perhaps Damascus; 4, Gaulonitis, extending N. E. of the upper Jordan and of the lake of Gennesaret; 5, Batanea, E. and S. E. of Gaulonitis; 6, Auranitis, with Ituræa, N. E. of Batanea, now known as the desert of Hauran; 7, Trachonitis, N. of Auranitis; 8, Abilene, in the extreme north, among the mountains of Anti-Libanus. — The earlier part of the history of Palestine is treated in the article Hebrews. The country remained subject to the Roman and Byzantine emperors for more than six centuries after Christ. The Jews, after frequent rebellions, in one of which, A. D. 70, Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus, were mostly driven from the country and scattered as slaves or exiles over the world. With the spread of Christianity, Palestine became the resort of vast numbers of pilgrims, and Jerusalem was made the seat of a patriarch. The emperor Constantine and his mother Helena erected throughout the land costly memorials of Christian faith, marking with churches, chapels, or altars every spot supposed to have been the scene of the acts of the Saviour. In 614 the Persians under Chosroes II. invaded Palestine, and, assisted by the Jews to the number of 26,000, captured Jerusalem. It was regained by Heraclius, but was conquered by the Mohammedan Arabs in 637. For the next two centuries the country was the scene of civil war between the rival factions of the Ommiyade, the Abbasside, and the Fatimite caliphs. From the middle of the 8th century it was a province of the Abbasside caliphs of Bagdad till 969, when it fell under the power of the Fatimite rulers of Egypt. In 1076-'7 it was conquered by the Seljuk Turks, but in 1096 it was regained by the Egyptian sultans, in whose possession it was when invaded by the crusaders in the following year. The crusaders made Godfrey of Bouillon ruler of Jerusalem, and he and his successors reigned in Palestine till Jerusalem was retaken by Sultan Saladin in 1187, and the Christian kingdom overthrown. Two years afterward another crusade was undertaken under Philip, king of France, Richard I. of England, and the emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany. It did not regain Jerusalem, but partially restored the Christian rule upon the coast. Another crusade in 1216, chiefly of Hungarians and Germans, met with little more success. Still another, undertaken by the emperor Frederick II. in 1228, resulted in the recovery of Jerusalem, and the Christian dominion was reëstablished over a considerable extent of territory; but after various vicissitudes of fortune, and in spite of repeated succors from Europe, it finally yielded to the arms of the Egyptian Mamelukes in 1291. The sultans of Egypt held it till 1517, when it was conquered by the Turks, in whose possession it has remained till the present time, with the exception of a brief occupation in 1839-'41 by the forces of the rebellious pasha of Egypt, Mehemet Ali. — Much attention has been given in recent times to the careful exploration of Palestine, with important results in the identification of places named in Scripture. This began with the work of Dr. Edward Robinson, the results of which were published in his “Biblical Researches” (3 vols. 8vo, Boston, 1841) and “Later Researches” (1856). Among the most recent explorations have been those of the British society organized in 1865 under the name of the “Palestine Exploration Fund,” the reports of which appear in the work of Captains Wilson and Warren, entitled “The Recovery of Jerusalem” (8vo, London, 1871), and in quarterly statements issued since that work. Among the results of the English explorations have been the trigonometrical survey of a great part of Samaria and Judea, the discovery of some remarkable Greek inscriptions of Christian origin within the Haram enclosure at Jerusalem, and the identification of a great number of Biblical and classical sites, among which are the rock Etam, Alexandrium, Chozeba, Maarath, the cliff of Ziz, Hareth, Ziph, Maon, the hill of Hachilah, the Levitical city of Debir, Ecbatana (a Roman city on Mt. Carmel), Archelais, Sycaminum, Eshtaol, Seneh (the scene of Jonathan's victory and the site of the Philistine camp), the rock Oreb, the wine press of Zeeb, the altar of Ed, the high place of Gibeon, the city of Nob, and the cave of Adullam. Among the latest identifications is Bethabara, the scene of the baptizing by John, which Lieut. C. E. Conder in 1875 fixed at the ford known as Makhadet Abara, holding that it is a different place from the Bethabara of the book of Judges. The American “Palestine Exploration Society,” organized in 1871, sent out expeditions in 1872 under command of Lieut. Edgar L. Steever, jr., and in 1874 under Prof. H. M. Paine. This society has left the region about Jerusalem to the British organization already in the field, and has undertaken to survey the region E. of the Jordan. It has published the results of its work in three “Statements,” issued in 1871, 1873, and 1875. The report of 1875 states that Mt. Pisgah has been identified with the S. W. summit of a triple mountain called by the Arabs Jebel Siaghah, about 10 m. E. of the N. end of the Dead sea. (See Pisgah.) — Among the most important works on Palestine, besides those already named, are those of Kitto, “Palestine” (London, 1841); Munk, Palestine: description géographique, historique et archéologique (Paris, 1845; German ed. by M. A. Levy, Breslau, 1871); Lynch, “Official Report of the Expedition to the Dead Sea” (8vo, Philadelphia, 1849); Churchill, “Mount Lebanon” (4 vols. 8vo, London, 1853-'62); Stanley, “Sinai and Palestine” (8vo, 1856); Prime, “Tent Life in the Holy Land” (12mo, New York, 1857); Porter, “Handbook for Travellers in Syria and Palestine” (2 vols., London, 1858; 2d ed., 1868); Thomson, “The Land and the Book” (2 vols. 8vo, New York, 1859); Tristram, “Topography of the Holy Land” (8vo, 1872); and Ritter, Die Erdkunde, vols. xiv.-xvii., translated into English under the title of “Comparative Geography of Palestine and the Sinaitic Peninsula” (4 vols. 8vo, Edinburgh, 1866).