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PALESTINE (See also wiki article Palestine.)


situation, name | geology, geography | water supply, climate, natural products | history, races, antiquities | GEOLOGY: main divisions | geological formations | structure | regional.

1. Situation and name.

The land of Palestine is the territory which lies between the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Desert as E. and W. boundaries, and whose N. and S. boundaries are approximately at 31° and 33° 20', N. Lat. respectively. These boundaries have not always been clearly fixed; but the convention is generally agreed upon that Palestine is separated from Egypt by the Wadi el-'Arish or 'River of Egypt,' and from Syria by the Qasmiyeh or Litani River, the classical Leontes. Biblical writers fixed the limits of the territory by the towns Dan and Beersheba, which are constantly coupled when the author desires to express in a picturesque manner that a certain event affected the whole of the Israelite country (e.g. Jg.20.1). The name 'Palestine' (AV in Jl.3.4; in Ex.15.14, Is.14.29, 31 Palestina; RV, RSV Philistia), being derived from that of the Philistines, properly belongs only to the strip of coast-land, S. of Carrnel, which was the ancient territory of that people. There is no ancient geographical term covering the whole region now known as Palestine: the different provinces - Canaan, Judah, Israel, Moab, Edom, etc. - are enumerated separately when necessary. The extension of the word to include the entire Holy Land, both W. and E. of the Jordan, is subsequent to the introduction of Christianity.

2. Geology and geography.

Holy Land - Physical Regions.The greater part of the country is of a chalky limestone formation, which overlies a layer of red sandstone that appears on the E. shore of the Dead Sea and elsewhere. Under the red sandstone are the archaean granitic rocks which form a large part of the Sinai Peninsula. Above the chalk is a layer of nummulitic limestone, which appears on some mountains. Volcanic rock, the result of ancient eruptions, appears in the Hauran, Galilee (especially in the neighbourhood of Safed), and elsewhere. For fuller information on the geology of the country, see article GEOLOGY. With respect to the surface, Palestine divides naturally into a series of narrow strips of country running from north to south, and differing materially from one another in character, (a) The first of these is the Maritime Plain running along the coast of the Mediterranean from the neighbourhood of Sidon and Tyre southward, and disappearing only at the promontory of Carmel. This plain widens southward from Carmel to a maximum breadth of about 20 miles, while to the N. of that promontory it develops into the great plain of Esdraelon, which intersects the mountain region and affords the most easy passage into the heart of the country. This plain is covered with a most fertile alluvial soil. (b) The second strip is the mountainous ridge of Judaea and Samaria, on the summit of which are Hebron, Jerusalem, and other important towns and villages ; and which, with the single interruption of the plain of Esdraelon, runs continuously from the S. border of the country to join the system of the Lebanon, (c) The third strip is the deep depression known as the Ghor. down which runs the Jordan with its lakes, (a) The fourth strip is the great plateau of Bashan, Moab, and Edom, with a lofty and precipitous face towards the W., and running eastward till it is lost in the desert.

3. Water supply, climate, natural products.

There is no conspicuous river in Palestine except the Jordan and its eastern tributaries, and these, being for the greater part of their course in a deep hollow, are of little or no service for irrigation. In consequence, Palestine is dependent as a whole for its water supply on springs, or on artificial means of storage of its winter rains. Countless examples of both exist, the former especially in Galilee, parts of which are abundantly fertile by nature, and would probably repay beyond all expectation a judicious expenditure of capital. The case of Judaea is a little different, for here there are extensive tracts which are nearly or quite waterless, and are more or less desert in consequence.

Holy Land - Rainfall.The climate of Palestine is, on the whole, that of the sub-tropical zone, though, owing to the extraordinary variation of altitudes, there is probably a greater range of average local temperature than in any other region of its size on the world's surface. On the one hand, the summits of Hermon and of certain peaks of the Lebanon are covered with snow for the greater part of the year; on the other hand, the tremendous depression, in the bottom of which lies the Dead Sea, is practically tropical, both in climate and in vegetation. The mean local temperature is said to range from about 62" F. in the upland district to almost 100° F. in the region of Jericho.

Rainfall is confined to the winter months of the year.

Usually in the end of October or November the rainy season is ushered in with a heavy thunderstorm, which softens the hard-baked surface of the land. This part of the rainy season is the 'former rain' of the Bible (as in Jl.2.23). Ploughing commences immediately after the rains have thus begun. The following months have heavy showers, alternating with days of beautiful sunshine, till March or April, when the 'latter rain' falls and gives the crops their final fertilization before the commencement of the dry season. During this part of the year, except by the rarest exception, no rain falls; its place is supplied by night dews, which in some years are extraordinarily heavy. Scantiness of the rainfall, however, is invariably succeeded by poverty or even destruction of the crops, and the rain is watched for as anxiously now as it was in the time of Ahab.

Soon after the cessation of the rains, the wild flowers, which in early spring decorate Palestine like a carpet, become rapidly burnt up, and the country assumes an appearance of barrenness that gives no true idea of its actual fertility. The dry summer is rendered further unpleasant by hot east winds, blowing from over the Arabian Desert, which have a depressing and enervating effect. The south wind is also dry, and the west wind damp (cf 1 K.18.45, Lk.12.54). The north wind, which blows from over the Lebanon snows, is always cold, often piercingly so.

As already hinted, the flora displays an extraordinary range and richness, owing to the great varieties of the climate at different points. The plants of the south and of the Jordan Valley resemble those found in Abyssinia or in Nubia ; those of the upper levels of Lebanon are of the kinds peculiar to snow-clad regions. Wheat, barley, millet, maize, peas, beans, lentils, olives, figs, mulberries, vines, and other fruit; cotton, nuts of various species; the ordinary vegetables, and some (such as solanum or 'egg-plant') that do not, as a rule, find their way to western markets; sesame and tobacco - which is grown in some districts - are the most characteristic crops produced by the country. The prickly pear and the orange, though of comparatively recent introduction, are now among its staple products. The fauna includes (among wild animals) the bat, hyaena, wolf, jackal, wild cat, ibex, gazelle, wild boar, hare, and other smaller animals. The bear, cheetah, lion, and hippopotamus are now extinct. Among wild birds, the eagle, vulture, and partridge are still found, and there is a great variety of smaller birds. Storks are seen in great numbers during the migration periods. Among the domestic animals, cows, sheep, and goats are herded, and the horse, donkey, mule, and camel are used as draught animals.

4. History, races, and antiquities.

Remains dating from the Palaeolithic period have been found fairly widely over Palestine, mainly in caves and shelters. In caves on the western slope of Mount Carmel have been found deposits which cover the greater part of the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic. The skeletal remains suggest that the inhabitants of Palestine were allied to Neanderthal man of Europe, and the connexions between Western Asia and Europe seem to have been fairly close. With the end of the Ice Age, and the accompanying pluvials of the Mediterranean, the connexions with Europe seem to have become less close, though there are broad similarities between the Palestinian and European Mesolithic.

Palestine is one of the few places in which a development can be traced from the hunting and food-gathering Mesolithic stage to the firmly settled Neolithic stage, with agricultural communities. This succession is seen at Jericho (q.v.). Side by side with the settled communities at Jericho and comparable sites which are to be presumed but are not yet known, other groups, using the same types of flint implements, still continued to live a simple life, largely based on hunting, in caves and in open sites. This stage covers the period from the eighth to the 6th millennium BC.

In the 5th millennium groups allied to the village communities which had been growing up in N. Syria, seem to have established themselves in Palestine. For this and most of the subsequent millennium, there is evidence of a number of village groups.

It was during the 3rd millennium that town life seems to have spread over Palestine. It is presaged by the entry into Palestine of a number of groups at the end of the 4th millennium, and the coalescing of these groups in the 3rd millennium produced the population which founded many of the towns known in the Biblical period. It is usually presumed that this population was Semitic, though there is little direct evidence to that effect. This is the period of the Old Empire of Egypt, and it is probable that some Egyptian control was exercised over at least the coastal towns.

This civilization of the Early Bronze Age was completely blotted out, probably c 2300 BC by an invasion of nomads, who occupied the whole land during the Intermediate Early - Middle Bronze period (sometimes called Middle Bronze I). The newcomers can be identified with great probability as the Amorites. In Jos.10.6, the Amorites are recorded as being in the hill country and the Canaanites on the coast and the plains. The Amorites are therefore probably pastoralists. Archaeological evidence shows them to have been loose federations of tribes, with no interest in town life.

About 1900 BC, a fresh wave of immigrants brought a renewed civilization in the Middle Bronze Age. The links of the newcomers are with the Phoenicians of the Syrian coast, and they are probably to be identified with the Canaanites of the Biblical record. The civilization they established, based on numerous well-defended and closely built-up towns, lasted without a break until c 1200 BC.

But though the basic culture remained the same, Palestine was affected by a number of political events. The sway of the Middle Empire of Egypt certainly extended to at least part of the country, and widespread finds of Egyptian scarabs and of furniture, alabaster, and other objects imitating Egyptian originals, show that Egyptian cultures had a considerable influence. About 1730 B.C. the Middle Empire of Egypt fall before the attacks or infiltration of the Hyksos. The Hyksos are probably best to be identified as warrior bands partly of Semitic origin and partly yurrian. These bands must have passed through Palestine, and probably established a warrior aristocracy, of which evidence is found in the Human names of rulers of towns in the 14th cent. Archaeological evidence is probably to be found in a new type of fortification, consisting of a great bank crowned by a wall. About 1580 B.C. the alien rulers were expelled from Egypt, and some towns were apparently destroyed when the Egyptians chased them back into Palestine.

The recoil of the Hyksos from Egypt may have introduced some new foreign elements into Palestine, and some of the destroyed towns, for instance Jericho and Tell Beit Mirsim, were not immediately reoccupied, but there was no major cultural break with the beginning of the Late Bronze Age. Egypt's suzerainty was probably only gradually re-established, and was not effective until the campaigns of Thothmes III. in the early 15th cent. During the next century, contacts with Egypt were close, and the stability introduced by the New Empire of Egypt stimulated trade in the Eastern Mediterranean, of which imports from Cyprus and the Aegean are evidence.

The weakening of Egyptian power under the heretic king Akhenaten early in the 14th cent. coincided with raids from the Habiru which are the cause of appeals for help from rulers loyal to Egypt in the correspondence found at Tell el-Amarna. The philological identity of Hebrew with Habiru is probable, but the relationship of the Biblical Hebrews to the Habiru is not yet entirely clear. It is probable that some of the components of the later Israelite tribes were drawn from the groups which entered the country at this time. Archaeological evidence of the tribes that took part in the Exodus, and of the events of the conquest of the country as described in the Book of Joshua, is inconclusive. A destruction and subsequent abandonment of Jericho in the second half of the 14th cent., and a destruction of Hazor somewhat later, is probable. It is however clear that there was no major cultural break, though a deterioration in culture may reflect disturbed conditions. There was certainly no immediate conquest of the whole country under one leader, but more probably a gradual infiltration as suggested in Jg.1.

A major break is however suggested by archaeological evidence about 1200 BC. One cause of this was the invasion and settlement of the Peoples of the Sea, groups probably derived from Anatolia and the Aegean, which established the Philistine towns on the coast, and cut off the interior from contacts with the Mediterranean. No Philistine town has been thoroughly excavated, but their characteristic pottery is found over the coastal plain and the Shephelah.

In the hill-country a general cultural amalgamation of the descendants of the Habiru invaders and the indigenous Canaanites under the followers of Yahweh, with their tradition of the Exodus, was gradually taking place. By the end of the 11th cent., the Israelites were strong enough to defeat the Philistines, and the capture of Jerusalem, c 1000 BC, at last enabled the north and the south to be united under David.

The history of the short-lived United Monarchy and of the subsequent kingdoms of Judah and Israel need not be traced in detail. Archaeological finds provide evidence of a simple way of life in most of the towns, and in the finds of fertility figurines and other heathen cult objects, shows that the fulminations of the prophets against the back-slidings of the people had ample justification. Of Jerusalem during the time it was capital of the United Monarchy and subsequently of Judah, there is little evidence. Excavations at Samaria and Megiddo, however, have given evidence of the grandiose lay-out of royal cities in the Northern Kingdom; in each case the whole summit of the hill was laid out as a royal quarter, and building styles and ivory carvings show the employment of Phoenician masons and craftsmen.

In 722-720 BC, the Northern Kingdom fell before the attack of the Assyrians. Samaria and Tirzah (Tell el-Far'ah near Nablus) have provided evidence of the destruction of the towns, and the appearance of Assyrian types of pottery there and elsewhere is evidence of the introduction of foreign settlers. At Jerusalem the Assyrian threat, c 700 BC, is reflected by the construction of the Siloam Tunnel by King Hezekiah, to bring the water of the Virgin's Fountain within the city wall. The Assyrian attack on Lachish (Tell Duweir) is portrayed in reliefs in the palace of Sargon.

The Southern Kingdom however survived the Assyrian threat, and did not succumb till the attack of the Babylonians, successors of the Assyrians in the Mesopotamian empire, in 597 and 586 BC. The Babylonian attacks are vividly illustrated in the destruction of Lachish, and the last hours of the town are described in the Lachish ostraca in language reminiscent of the Book of Jeremiah.

The Second Exile marks the effective end of the old Jewish culture. Only the poorest in the land were allowed to remain; and even after the return of the descendants of the captives carried off into Babylonia, permitted by Cyrus in 538 BC, archaeological evidence suggests a poor and struggling existence. In the area of the Northern Kingdom, there was much racial admixture with the settlers planted by the Assyrians, and the resettled Jews in Jerusalem would not admit the northerners as pure Jews; from the northerners the modern sect of the Samaritans is descended. The rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple by the returned captives is recorded in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, but no archaeological evidence of this survives.

In 333 BC Syria fell to Alexander the Great after the battle of Issus. After his death followed a distracting and complicated period of conflict between his successors, which, so far as Palestine was concerned, had the effect of opening the country for the first time to the influence of Greek culture, art, and religion. From this time onward we find evidence of the foundations of such buildings as theatres, previously quite unknown and other novelties of western origin. Although many of the Jews adopted the Greek tongue, there was a staunch puritan party who rigidly set their faces against all such Gentile contaminations. In this they found themselves opposed to the Seleucid princes of Syria, among whom Antiochus Epiphanes especially set himself deliberately to destroy the religion of Judaism. This led to the great revolt headed by Mattathias the priest and his sons, which secured for the Jews a brief period of independence that lasted during the second half of the 2nd cent. BC, under John Hyrcanus (grandson of Mattathias) and his successors. The kingdom was weakened by family disputes; in the end Rome stepped in, Pompey captured Jerusalem in 63 BC, and henceforth Palestine lay under Roman suzerainty. Several important tombs near Jerusalem, and elsewhere, and a large number of remains of cities and fortresses, survive from the age of the family of Mattathias. The conquest of Joppa, under the auspices of Simon Maccabaeus, son of Mattathias (1 Mac.13.11), was the first capture of a seaport in South Palestine throughout the whole of Israelite history.

The Hasmonaean dynasty gave place to the Idumaean dynasty of the Herods in the middle of the 1st cent. BC, Herod the Great becoming sole governor of Judaea (under Roman suzerainty) in 40 BC. It was into this political situation that Christ was born in 4 BC. Remains of the building activities of Herod are still to be seen in the sub-structures of the Temple, the Herodian towers of Jerusalem, and (possibly) a magnificent tomb near Jerusalem traditionally called the Tomb of Mariamme. Many public buildings were also constructed at Samaria, renamed Sebaste in honour of Augustus. Herod died shortly after Christ's birth, and his dominions were subdivided into tetrarchies, each under a separate ruler: but the native rulers rapidly declined in power, and the Roman governors as rapidly advanced. The Jews became more and more embittered against the Roman yoke, and at last a violent rebellion broke out, which was quelled by Titus in AD 70, when Jerusalem was destroyed and a large part of the Jews slain or dispersed. A remnant remained, which about sixty years later again essayed to revolt under their leader Bar Cochba: the suppression of this rebellion was the final deathblow to Jewish nationality. After the destruction of Jerusalem many settled in Tiberias, and formed the nucleus of the important Galilaean Rabbinic schools, remains of which are still to be seen in the shape of the synagogues of Galilee. These interesting buildings appear to date from the 2nd cent. AD.

After the partition of the Roman Empire, Palestine formed part of the Empire of the East, and with it was Christianized. Many ancient settlements, with tombs and small churches - some of them with beautiful mosaic pavements - survive in various parts of the country: these are relics of the Byzantine Christians of the 5th and 6th cent. The native Christians of Syria, whose families were never absorbed into Islam, are their representatives. These, though Aramaean by race, now habitually speak Arabic, except in Ma'lul and one or two other places in North Lebanon where a Syriac dialect survives.

This early Christianity received a severe blow in 611, when the country was ravaged by Chosroes II., king of Persia. Monastic settlements were plundered, their inmates massacred, and the country reduced to such a state of weakness that without much resistance it fell to Omar, the second Caliph of Islam. He became master of Syria and Palestine in the second quarter of the 7th cent. Palestine thus became a Moslem country and its population received the Arab element which is still dominant within it. It may be mentioned in passing that coins of Chosroes are occasionally found in Palestine; and that of the early Arab domination many noteworthy buildings survive, chief of which is the glorious dome that occupies the site of the Hebrew Temple at Jerusalem.

The Moslem rule was at first by no means tyrannical; but, as the spirit of intolerance developed, the Christian inhabitants were compelled to undergo many sufferings and indignities. This, and the desire to wrest the holy places of Christendom from the hands of the infidel, were the ostensible reasons for the invasions of the Crusaders, who established in Jerusalem a kingdom on a feudal basis that lasted throughout the 12th cent. An institution so exotic, supported by men morally and physically unfit for life in a sub-tropical climate, could not outlast the first enthusiasm which called it into being. Worn out by immorality, by leprosy and other diseases, and by mutual dissensions, the unworthy champions of the Cross disappeared before Saladin, leaving as their legacy to the country a score or so of place names; a quantity of worthless ecclesiastical traditions ; a number of castles and churches, many of which have been converted into mosques. In 1516, Palestine was conquered by the Turks, and formed part of the Turkish provinces of Syria, until the Ottoman Empire disintegrated during the 1914-18 war. At the end of the war, Palestine was placed under the British Mandate by the League of Nations, with its eastern boundary formed by the river Jordan; east of the river the Emirate of Transjordan was established under the Emir Abdullah of the Hashemite house.

Some Jewish groups had continued to live in Palestine probably right through the Moslem domination, and in the later years of Turkish rule new settlers had entered the country. During the Mandate, as a result of the Balfour Declaration, new Jewish colonies were established, mainly in the coastal plain. The persecution of the Jews in Germany by the Nazis led to greatly increased immigration, and growing friction between Arabs and Jews started outbreaks of violence by the Arabs in 1936. During the European war, an uneasy truce existed, but at the end of the war illegal Jewish immigration led to a renewed outbreak of violence. Great Britain resigned the Mandate in 1948, and there was open warfare between the Jews and Arabs. When a truce was ultimately established in 1949, a purely artificial boundary was created running from "Aqaba up the 'Arabah and part of the W. side of the Dead Sea, swinging between Beersheba and Hebron, with a reentrant to touch the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, then W. again to run along the western edge of the hill country, and E. once more a little S. of the Plain of Esdraelon to the Sea of Galilee. To the W. of this line was established the state of Israel. The enclave of the old Palestine to the E. of this line was incorporated with Transjordan, to form the Hashemite Kingdom of the Jordan. In Jordan, the greater part of the 800,000 Arab refugees from Israel ae now housed in camps or new villages.
[Article: Dictionary of the Bible, J.Hastings, 2nd Ed., T&T.Clark, 1963 - R.A.S.M. - K.M.K.]


Holy Land - Geology.


Palestine is divided into four major north-south regions:
(i) the Coast Plain,
(ii) the Cis-jordan Highlands,
(iii) the central Rift Valley,
(iv) the Trans-jordan Tableland.


Palestine has always been a coastal region, with its shoreline fluctuating according to whether the sea of Tethys to the west encroached upon, or receded from, the Arabian tableland. Thus, terrestial sandstones are thicker in the east, and marine deposits in the west. The most important rocks are:
(i) the crystalline Archaean rocks of the underlying Arabian platform, exposed only in southern Trans-jordan,
(ii) the Nubian Sandstone (mid-Cambrian to early Cretaceous), east of the Dead Sea and WadI 'Arabah. The cupriferous sandstone of Edom was important (Dt.8.9), and copper was mined at Punon, possibly the site of the raising of the brazen serpent (Nu.21.9). The Nabataean city of Petra was carved out of this rock.
(iii) The Cenomanian-Turonian Limestones, the major rock of Cis-jordan, providing excellent building stone, and forming the steep, defensive cliffs and narrow valleys of Judah and Ephraim.
(iv) The Senonian Chalk, soft and infertile, and useless for building (Is.27.9). Its gentle valleys provided most of the OT roads, including the three passes across Carmel, and the Valley of Ajalon.
(v) The Eocene Limestone of the Shephelah, central Samaria, the central part of Carmel between Sharon and Esdraelon (probably the 'Shephelah of Israel' of Jos.11.16) and southern Galilee. Much of the flint desert of eastern Trans-jordan results from the Eocene transgression.
(vi) Post-Eocene deposits, including the Lisan marls of the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea, the Mousterian Red Sand of Sharon, the thin line of Pleistocene limestone hillocks along the coast, and the alluvium of the Coast Plain and down-faulted basins.


The most important time for earth-movements was the Miocene-Pliocene.
Three types of movement took place concurrently:
(i) Warping of the underlying platform produced the major highlands;
(ii) Folding of the sedimentary rocks on top of the warped platform;
(iii) Faulting, or the breaking of the platform, occurred when the strain became too great.
This faulting was extremely complex and produced
(a) the great NS. Rift Valley of the Ghor,
(b) the Acre-Beisan corridor,
(c) NS. faults outlining the hill country of Cis-jordan,
(d) several important EW. faults such as that dividing Upper from Lower Galilee,
(e) hinge-faults cutting in obliquely on either side of the Ghor. Such faults created the major canyons which divide the Trans-jordan tableland. There also occurred the great basalt outflows which formed the mountain of Bashan (Jebel Druze) and Trachonitis, and in Cis-jordan, the Hill of Moreh and the basalt dam which fills the Ghor north of the Lake of Galilee.


Palestine is divided structurally, not only into the four NS. regions, but also into three EW. zones cutting across them.
(i) The Central Zone, in the latitude of the Dead Sea, is one of relative structural simplicity. West of the Jordan the Judaean plateau is formed of a single upwarp of Cenomanian limestone. On either flank the Senonian Chalk forms an important protective area. On the drier eastern side is the desolate chalk Wilderness of Judaea, and on the west the narrow chalk moat dividing Judah from the Eocene Shephelah. East of the Jordan, in Moab, the strata are remarkably level and undisturbed, except where they have been pulled down into the Gh6r in a great plunging monocline. This zone is everywhere concluded on the north by hinge-faults, the Valley of Ajalon, the Valley of Achor north of Jericho, and the Plains of Moab north-east of the Dead Sea.
(ii) The Northern Zone is more complex. Ephraim is a Cenomanian dome, but Manasseh north of it is a basin in which the Eocene limestone in the centre stands up as hills (e.g. Ebal and Gerizim). The Senonian here forms interior valleys, making entry to the region much simpler than in Judah. Galilee is much broken into up-faulted hills and down-faulted basins, the eastern side being obscured by basalt outflows. East of the Jordan is the great dome of Gilead in which the Jabbok canyon cuts through the Cenomanian to the Nubian sandstone. There is also the large fault basin of the Beqa'.
(iii) The Southern Zone, south of the Dead Sea, is largely desert. In Cis-jordan the Negeb Uplands consist of a series of upwards which are nowhere very high, and have been broken open in three places to form great 'cauldrons' surrounded by steep cliff's, e.g. Wadi Raman. The Ghor here rises to 650 feet above sea-level in the Cretaceous fold of Jebel er-Risheh. East of the Ghor the plateau has been pushed up to its greatest height (5600 feet) in Edom. To the south of Edom the plateau ends abruptly, and is succeeded by the huge Archaean wedge of the Mountains of Midian, and the wild sandstone mountains of Jebel Tubeiq.
[Article: Dictionary of the Bible, J.Hastings, 2nd Ed., T&T.Clark, 1963 - A.D.B.]
[Geological Maps: NEW BIBLE ATLAS - © Inter Varsity Press. 1985.]