Skip to content

Biblical Geography

Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

With the exception of the didactic literature, there is no book in the Bible which, to a greater or less extent, does not contain mention of, or allusions to, the geography and topography of the Holy Land. In early times, when the perusal of the Sacred Books was confined within the limits of the country in which they had come to light, there was little need of any special attention to geographical details. Palestine has a small area, and every one of its inhabitants was acquainted with almost every by-corner and nook in it. Not so, however, the outside reader -- the Jew of the Diaspora, for instance. But little did he care, in many cases, for such trifles as topographical niceties; God's message was all he was looking for in Holy Writ ; as to those who longed for a fuller knowledge of the land of their forefathers, an occasional pilgrimage thither, at a time when local traditions were still alive, afforded ample opportunities. After A. D. 70, Jewish pilgrims ceased to flock to Palestine; on the other hand, zealous Christians, whilst at times casting a glance towards the land whence the light of the Gospel had come, would rather "stretch forth themselves to the things that are before", and direct their conquering steps to new shores. It thus happened that when the Church obtained her long-delayed freedom from the throes of persecution, and her scholars turned their minds to a searching study of the Bible , they realized that much of the book would remain sealed to them unless they were acquainted with the Holy Land. To this deeply-felt need Biblical geography, as a help to the study of the Scriptures, owes its birth (cf. St. Aug., De Doctr. Chr., II, xvi, 24; Cassiod., De institut. div. litt., xxv; St. Jer., Ad Domn. et Rogat. in I Paralip., Præf.). Its necessity has never since been questioned, and its growth has kept abreast of the strivings after a better knowledge of the literal and historical sense of the Scriptures. The study of Biblical geography is pursued more than ever in our time, and it may not be amiss to mention here the principal sources and means at its disposal.

First of all, of course, stands the Bible , some parts of which, however, must be singled out, owing to their importance from the present point of view. The ethnographical list in Genesis 10 is a valuable contribution to the knowledge of the old general geography of the East, and its importance can scarcely be overestimated. The catalogues of stations of the Hebrew people in their journeyings from Egypt to the bank of the Jordan supply us with ample information concerning the topography of the Sinaitic Peninsula, the southern and eastern borders of the Dead Sea. In the Book of Josue is to be found a well-nigh complete survey of Palestine (especially of Southern Palestine) and the territory allotted to Juda in particular. Later books add little to the wealth of topographical details given there, but rather give a casual glimpse of an ever-growing acquaintance with places abroad -- in Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia. The centuries following the Exile were for the adventurous Israelites a period of expansion. Colonies of thrifty merchants multiplied wonderfully East and West, above all throughout the Greek and Roman world, and Palestinian folks had to train their ears to many new, "barbarous" names of places where their kinsmen had settled. The Church at Jerusalem, therefore, was well prepared to listen with interest to the accounts of Barnabas's and Paul's missions abroad ( Acts 15:12 ; 21:19 ).

While the authors of the English Authorized Version (A.V.) have made efforts to preserve proper names in their old Hebrew mould, our Douay Version (D.V.) adheres, as a rule, to the Latin transliteration. This imperfection is, however, by no means to be compared with that which arises from the astounding transcriptions of the Codex Vaticanus from which the Greek textus receptus was printed. To cite at random a few instances, Bahurim has become Barakim ; Debbaseth, Hebrew Dabbasheth , Baitharaba ; Eglon, Hodollam or Ailam ; Gethremmon, Iebatha , etc., not to speak of the frequent confusion of the sounds d and r or of the proper names wrongly translated, as En Shemesh by he pege tou heliou , etc. Thanks to a systematic correction of the whole text, such divergences are not to be found in the Codex Alexandrinus. Biblical information is in a good many instances paralleled, and not un-frequently supplemented, by the indications gathered from the documents unearthed in Egypt and Assyria. No fewer than 119 towns of Palestine are mentioned in the lists of Thothmes III (about 1600 B. C. ); the names of some 70 Canaanite cities occur in the famous Tell-el Amarna letters (about 1450 B. C. ); on the walls of Karnak the boastful records of the conquests of Sheshonk I (Sesac) exhibit a list of 156 names of places, all in Central and Southern Palestine (935 B. C. ); the inscriptions of the Assyrian kings Tukalti Pal-Esarra III (Teglathphalasar, 745-27), Sarru-kinu (Sargon, 722-05), and Sin-akhi-erba (Sennacherib, 705-681) add a few new names. From the comparison of all these lists, it appears that some hundred of the Palestinian cities mentioned in the Bible are also recorded in documents ranging from the sixteenth to the eighth centuries B. C.

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

"The immovable East" still preserves under the present Arabic garb a goodly proportion (three-fourths, according to Col. C. R. Conder) of the old geographical vocables of the Bible ; in most instances the name still cleaves either to the modern city which has supplanted the old one (e.g. Beit-Lahm for Bethlehem), or to the ruins of the latter (e.g. Khirbet' Almîth ), or the site it occupied (e.g. Tell Jezer for Jazer; Tell Ta 'annak for Taanach); sometimes it has shifted to the neighbouring dale, spring, well, or hill (as Wâdy Yabîs ). The history of the Palestinian cities and of the changes which some local names have undergone in the intervening centuries is traced, and the identification helped, by the information supplied by geographers, historians, and travellers. In this regard, parts of the works of classical geographers, such as Strabo and Ptolemy, are consulted with profit; but they cannot compete with Eusebius's "Onomasticon", the worth of which was already recognized by St. Jerome, any more than the Peutinger Table, however useful, can rival the Madaba Mosaic Map (dating probably from Justinian's time ) discovered in the autumn of 1897. The "Peregrinatio Silviæ" (whatever the true name of the authoress), the descriptions of the Bordeaux pilgrim, the accounts of those whom the piety of the Middle Ages brought to the Holy Land, the histories of the Crusades and of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, and, lastly, the Arab geographers afford valuable material to the student of Biblical geography.

The topography, as well as the history, of Palestine is a favourite study of the present day. Governments commission to the East diplomatic agents who are masters of archæology; schools have been founded at Jerusalem and elsewhere to enable Biblical students, as St. Jerome recommended (in lib. Paralip., Præf.), to acquire a personal acquaintance with the sites and the natural conditions of the country; and all -- diplomats, scholars, masters, and students -- scour the land, survey it, search its innermost recesses, copy inscriptions, make excavations, sift on the spot the evidences furnished by the Bible and all available authorities. The results of their labours are published in periodicals founded for that particular purpose (such as the "Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement", the "Zeitschrift", and the "Mittheilungen und Nachrichten des deutschen Palästina-Vereins", the "Palästinajahrbuch") or appear as important contributions in reviews of a wider scope (like the "Revue Biblique", the "Mélanges d'Archéologie orientale" or the "American Journal of Archæology"). In the bibliography given at the end of this article the reader will find a list of the works of scholars who, especially in the last fifty years, have earned fame in the field of Biblical geography, and a right to the gratitude of all students of Sacred Scripture .

The name Palestine , first used to designate the territory of the Philistines, was, after the Roman period, gradually extended to the whole southern portion of Syria. It applies to the country stretching from the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon to the Sinaitic Desert, and from the Mediterranean to the Arabian Desert. Politically, the limits varied in the course of Biblical times. The old Land of Canaan was relatively small: it included the region west of the Jordan between a line running from the foot of the Hermon Range to Sidon, and another line from the southern end of the Dead Sea to Gaza. David's and Solomon's possessions were considerably larger; they probably extended north-eastward to the Syrian, and eastward to the Arabian Desert. Two classical expressions occur frequently in the Bible to designate the whole length of the land in historical times: "from the entrance of Emath [i.e., probably, the Merj Ayûn ] to the river of Egypt [ Wâdy el-Arish ]", or "to the Sea of the Wilderness [ Dead Sea ]" and "from Dan to Bersabee ". This represents, in the estimate of St. Jerome, about 160 Roman miles (141 Engl. m.). As to the breadth of the country, the same Father declared himself ashamed to state it, lest heathens might take occasion from his assertions to blaspheme (Ep. ad Dardan., 129). According to the measurements of the English surveyors, the area of the Holy Land is about 9700 square miles, a trifle over that of the State of Vermont . These figures are humble indeed compared to those found in the Talmud, where (Talm. Babyl., "Sotah," 49 b ) Palestine is given an area of 2,250,000 Roman square miles -- more than half the area of the United States.

The Land of Israel is a "land of hills and plains" ( Deuteronomy 11:11 ). To the north, two great ranges of mountains, the Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon, or Hermon, separated by the deep valley of Cœlesyria (El-Beqâ'a), raise their summits to a height of 9000 or 10,000 feet. The Lebanon was never within the borders of Israel ; it remained the possession of the Phœnicians and of their Syrian successors; but the Hebrews liked to speak about its majestic grandeur, its slopes covered with oaks, firs, and cedars, its peaks capped with nearly perennial snow. Glistening closer on the northern frontier, Mt. Hermon -- Sirion of the Sidonians, Sanir of the Amorrhites, Jebel esh-Sheikh -- was perhaps more familiar. On both sides of the Jordan the mountains of Palestine prolong these two ranges. West of the upper course of the river, the mountains of Galilee gradually decrease towards the plain of Esdrelon which alone divides the highland. Only a few hills, among which Thabor (A. V. Tabor; J. et-Tôr ), Moreh ( Nebî-Dahî , "Little Hermon"), and the heights of Gelboe (A. V. Gilboa; J. Fuqû'a ), bordering the plain to the east, connect the lesser ranges of Galilee with the mountains of Ephraim. The country then rises steadily, studded with rounded hills -- among them Ebal and Garizim (A. V. Gerizim) -- riven east and west by torrents, and is continued in the "Mountains of Juda" (3000 ft.), to decrease farther south (Bersabee, 700 ft.) and be connected through the "Mountains of Seir" ( Jebel Madera, J. Maqra, J. Arãif ) and the J. et-Tih , with the first approaches of Sinai. The mountains of Ephraim and those of Juda decline gradually towards the Mediterranean Sea, the last western hillocks bordering on the rich plain of Saron (A. V. Sharon), south of Mount Carmel, and on the Sephelah (A. V. Shephelah). As the Jordan Valley sinks while the plateau rises, the eastern ravines are the deeper (the Cedron falls 4000 ft. between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea ), and west of the Dead Sea the wilderness of Juda becomes a labyrinth of rugged and precipitous gorges, the favourite haunt of outlaws at all times (cf. 1 Samuel 22 , 23 , 24 ), the last stronghold of Jewish independence (Masada, April, A. D. 78), and the time-honoured retreat of the Essenes and of the early Christian hermits.

East of the Jordan, the Hermon range is prolonged by the "mountains of Basan" [A. V. Bashan] ( Jôlan ), to the north of the Yarmûk ( Sheri' at el-Menadhireh ), the "mountains of Galaad" [A. V. Gilead] from the Yarmûk to the Arnon ( J. 'Ajlûn and J. Jil'ad ), north and south respectively to the Jaboc, or Wâdy Zerkâ , the Abarim Mountains, and the highlands of Moab, east of the Dead Sea ; farther south this orographic system is continued by the ranges east of the 'Araba ( Jebâ, J. esh-Sherâ ), the J. Tâuran and the mountains of Western Arabia ( Hedjaz , etc.). Tumbling down abruptly towards the Jordan and the Dead Sea, the mountains of Basan, of Galaad, and of Moab buttress the plateaux of the desert, where from time immemorial the nomad tribes of Bedouin have roamed. Only east of the watershed of the Yarmûk, some fifty miles from the Jordan, does the plateau rise to an altitude of 3500 feet in the volcanic region of the Hauran, where some peaks tower to a height of over 5000 feet, and north-east of which stretches, 25 miles long and 20 miles wide, and with the average depth of 500 feet, the broken sea of lava of the Trachon ( Lejâh ). With the exception of the Trachon, and the mountains of Hauran -- which lie beyond the limits of classical Palestine -- and of a small volcanic section in the north-east, which lies between Mount Hermon and the river Yarmûk, and extends westwards to Mount Thabor, the surface rock of Palestine is a soft limestone containing many fossils; it is hollowed by numberless caverns, some of which are mentioned in Scripture, once, probably, the dwelling-places of the early inhabitants of the country; in later times the favourite cells of anchorites.

The most wonderful geographical and geological feature of Palestine is the gigantic depression which divides the country into two halves. It is the natural continuation of the ravine through which the Orontes ( Nahr el-'Asî ) and the Leontes ( N. el-Litâni ) have furrowed their beds. From "the entrance of Emath", the Ghôr , as this depression is called by the Arabs, runs directly south, falling persistently with an average gradient of 15 feet per mile, and passes at an altitude of 1285 feet below the sea level, under the blue waters of the Bahr Lût, the bed of which reaches a depth of more than 1300 feet below the water level, this being the lowest point of this unparalleled depression. Towards the south the bed of the Salt Sea rises, but the furrow is continued through the 'Araba, which, although in some places it goes to a height of 781 feet above the Red Sea , remains much lower than the bordering regions, and finally plunges into the Gulf of 'Aqaba. From the "waters of Merom" ( Bahrat el Hûleh ) to the Lake of Tiberias ( Bahr Tabarîyeh ) the Ghôr is scarcely more than a narrow gap; it broadens to about four miles south of the lake, then narrows to a mile and a half before reaching the plain of Beisan, where it spreads to a breadth of eight miles. South of 'Ain es-Saqût , down to the confluence of the Jaboc, the valley is only two miles wide; but it soon expands again and north of the Dead Sea measures twelve to fourteen miles.

Inside the Ghôr the Jordan has ploughed its double bed. The larger bed, the Zôr, is an alluvial plain, the width of which varies from 1200 feet to a mile and a half; it is sunken eighteen to twenty feet in the upper course of the river, forty to ninety feet in the middle course, and about one hundred and eighty feet at some distance north of the Dead Sea. The Zôr is very fertile except in its few last miles (the 'Arabah or "desert" of Scripture ), where the salt-saturated soil is barren and desolate. Sunken within the Zôr, and hidden behind a dense screen of oleanders, acacias, thorns, and similar shrubbery, the Jordan ( esh-Sheri-'at el-Kebîr , 'the Great Trough") follows its serpentine course, swiftly rolling its cream-coloured waters through a succession of rapids which render it practically unnavigable. "The Great Trough" of Palestine is much narrower than its celebrity might lead one to suppose. A few miles below Lake Hûleh, its width is only 75 feet; about twenty miles, as the crow flies, north of the Dead Sea, it measures some 115 feet; but as it goes down towards the Sea, the river broadens to 225 feet. Before the Roman period no bridges existed over the Jordan ; communications were active, nevertheless, between both banks, thanks to the shallowness of the water, which is fordable in five or six places ( Joshua 2:7 ; Judges 3:28 ; 7:24 ; 12:5, 6 , etc.). Early in the spring, however, this is utterly impossible, for the river, swollen by the melting snow of Mount Hermon, overflows its banks and spreads over the whole area of the Zôr ( Joshua 3:15 ; 1 Chronicles 12:15 ; Sirach 24:36 ). The Jordan is formed by the union of three springs, respectively known as Nahr el-Hasbâni, N. el-Leddân, and N. Banîyas, which meet nine miles north of Lake Hûleh. On both sides it receives many tributaries, very few of which are explicitly mentioned in Scripture. We may mention, on the west side, the N. el-Bîreh, which comes down from Mount Thabor , the N. el-Jahûd, bringing down from Nebî Dahî the waters of 'Ain-Jalûd, possibly the site of the trial of Gideon's companions ( Judges 7:4, 6 ), the Wâdy Far'ah, which originates near Mount Hebal and Mount Garizim, the W. Nawaimeh, the pass to the heights of Bethel ( Beitîn; cf. Joshua 16:1 ), and, below Jericho, the W. el-Kelt, the "torrent of Carith (A. V. Cherith)" mentioned in III (A. V. I) Kings, xvii, 3, according to many Biblical geographers. On the east, besides many brooks draining the hill country of Galaad, the Jordan receives, south of the Lake of Tiberias, the Sherî 'at el-Menadhîreh, not spoken of in the Bible (Yarmûk of the Talmud, Hieromax of the Greek writers), the W. Yabîs, the name of which recalls that of the city of Jabes-Galaad W. ( 1 Samuel 11 ; 31:11-13 ), the Jaboc ( N. ez-Zerqa ),the Nimrîn (cf. Bethemra, Numbers 32:36 ; Joshua 13:27 ), and, a few miles from the Dead Sea, the united waters of the W. Kefrein and W. Hesbân (cf. Hesebon, A. V. Heshbon, Numbers 21:26 ; Joshua 21:39 , etc.).

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

Among the rivers and torrents debouching into the Dead Sea from the mountains of Juda, only one deserves notice, viz., the Wâdy en-Nâr, made up of the often dry Cedron (Wâdy Sitti Maryam), east of Jerusalem, and the "Valley of Ennon" (W. er-Rabâbi) to the south of the Holy City. Many torrents stream from the highlands of Moab ; among these may be mentioned the Wâdy 'Ayûn Mûsâ, the name of which preserves the memory of the great leader of Israel, the Arnon (W. el-Mojîb), the Wâdy of Kerak, probably the Biblical Zared, the "waters of Nemrim [A. V. Nimrim]" ( Isaiah 15:6 ; Jeremiah 48:34 . -- W. Nemeira), and finally the W. el-Qurâhi, very likely the "torrent of the willows" of Is., xv, 7.

In the Mediterranean watershed, from the extreme north of Phœnicia, the most famous rivers are the Eleutherus ( 1 Maccabees 11:7 ; 12:30 . -- Nahr el-Kebîr), the N. el Qasimîyeh (Leontes of the Greeks), the N. el-Muqattâ (Cison; A. V. Kishon), the N. ez-Zerqâ, very likely the "flumen Crocodilon" of Pliny (Hist. Nat., V, xvii) and the Sichor Labanah of the Bible ( Joshua 19:26 -- A. V. Shihôr-libnath), the N. el-Falêq, possibly the Nahal Qanah (D. V. "valley of reeds"; A. V. Kanah) of Jos., xvi, 8 and xvii, 9, the N. Rabin, one of the confluents of which, the W. es-Sarâr, runs through the famous "valley of Sorec" (A. V. Sorek. -- Judges 16:4 , etc.), the N. Sukreir, into which opens the "valley of the terebinth" (A. V. "valley of Elah". -- 1 Samuel 17:2, 19 ; 21:9 -- probably the W. es-Sunt), the W. el-Hasy, the main branch of which passes at the foot of Lachis (Tell el-Hasy), while another originates near Khirbet Zuheilîqa, not unlikely the site of Siceleg (A. V. Ziklag. -- Joshua 15:31 , etc.); the W. Ghazzeh, into which flows the W. esh-Sherî'a, perhaps the "torrent Besor" ( 1 Samuel 30:9 , etc.), and the W. es-Seba', which recalls to the mind the city of Bersabee (Beer-Sheba), both being the natural outlets of all the hydrographic system of the Negeb; finally, the W. el-'Arîsh, or "torrent of Egypt ", Shihôr of the Hebrews and Rhinocolurus of the Greeks, which drains all the northern and north-eastern portions of the Sinaitic Peninsula. The Scriptures mention likewise a few inland rivers, particularly two in the territory of Damascus : the Abana (N. Barâda), which, after watering the city of Damascus, loses itself some twenty miles east in the Bahrat el-'Ateibeh, and the Pharphar, which feeds the Bahrat el-Hijâneh.

Besides the two lakes just mentioned, which are outside of Palestine proper, and the Lakes Hûleh and Tiberias, in the course of the Jordan, the Holy Land possesses no other lakes of any extent except the Birket er-Ram (the Lake Phiala of Josephus -- Bell. Jud., III, x, 7) to the south of Banîyas; but ponds and marshes are numerous in certain parts of the land. Marshes near the lower Jordan, at a short distance from the Dead Sea, are mentioned in I Mach., ix, 46.

Deut., viii, 7, describes Palestine as "a land of brooks and of waters and of fountains". Many springs are mentioned in Scripture, and nearly all belong to Western Palestine. Going from north to south, and leaving aside those in the neighbourhood of cities to which they gave their names (Engannim, Enhasor, etc.) we may mention here: the "fountain of Daphnis" ( Numbers 34:11 , in the Vulgate only: other texts have merely: "the fountain") identified by Robinson with 'Ain el-'Asy, the main spring of the Orontes in Cœlesyria; the "fountain which is in Jezrahel" ( 1 Samuel 29:1 ) generally recognized in the 'Ain Jalûd, near the Little Hermon; the "fountain that is called Harad" ( Judges 7:1 ), possibly the same, or 'Ain el-Meiyteh, 180 feet below 'Ain Jalûd; the "fountain of Taphua" ( Joshua 17:7 ), near the city of that name; the "fountain of Jericho " or "of Eliseus " (D. V. Elisha. -- 2 Kings 2:19, 22 ), 'Ain es-Sultân, to the north of Jericho ; the "fountain of the Sun" ( Joshua 15:7 ), 'Ain el-Haûd, or Apostles' Fountain, on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho ; the "fountain of the water of Nephtoa" ( Joshua 15:9 ), near Lifta, north-west of Jerusalem ; the "source of the waters of Gihon" ( 2 Chronicles 32:30 ), 'Ain Umm ed-Derej, or, as the Christians call it, 'Ain Sitti Maryam, on the south-east slope of the Temple hill at Jerusalem ; the "fountain Rogel" ( Joshua 15:7 ), Bîr Eiyûb in the W. en-Nâr, south of Jerusalem ; the "dragon-fountain" ( Nehemiah 2:13 ), somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Holy City, unidentified; "The Spring of him that invoked from the jawbone" (so D. V.; A. V. Enhakkore -- Judges 15:19 -- rather, "the Spring of the partridge, which is in Lehy"), identified by Conder with some 'Avûn Qâre, north-west of Sor'a; the "water" where Philip baptized the eunuch of Candace ( Acts 8:36 ) 'Ain ed-Dirweh, near the highroad from Jerusalem to Hebron ; "the fountain of Misphat that is Cades " (A. V. "Enmishpat, which is Kadesh" -- Genesis 14:7 ) 'Ain Kedeis in the desert.

In places where the supply of water was scanty the ancient inhabitants constructed pools, either by damming up the neighbouring valley or by excavation. Of the former description were very likely the pools of Gabaon [A. V. Gibeon. -- 2 Samuel 2:13 ], Hebron ( 2 Samuel 4:12 ), Samaria ( 1 Kings 22:38 ), Hesebon (Cant., vii, 4), and certainly the lower pool of Siloe near Jerusalem ( Isaiah 22:9, 11 ); of the latter description are the "upper pool" of Siloe ( 2 Kings 20:20 ) and the famous "pools of Solomon ", probably alluded to in Eccl., ii, 6, near Bethlehem. These pools, frequent in the East, are supplied either by natural drainage, or by springs, or by aqueducts bringing water from a distance.

In its climate , as well as in everything else, Palestine is a land of contrasts. At Jerusalem, which is 2500 feet above the sea level, the mean temperature of the whole year is about 63º F.; during the winter months, although the mean temperature is about 50º, the mercury occasionally plays around the freezing-point; whereas in June, July, August, and September, the average being between 70º and 75º, the thermometer sometimes rises to 100º or higher. For six or seven months there is no rain; the dry wind from the desert and the scorching sun parch the land, especially on the plateaux. The first rains generally fall aboul the beginning of November; the "latter rain", in the month of April. Plenty or famine depend particularly on the April rains. On clear nights, all the year round, there falls a copious dew; but in summer time there will be no dew if no westerly breeze, bringing moisture from the sea, springs up towards the evening. Snowfalls are only occasional during the winter, and usually they are light, and the snow soon melts; not seldom does the whole winter pass without snow (as an average, one winter in three). Owing to the neighbourhood of Lebanon and Hermon, the Upper Galilee enjoys a more temperate climate; but in the lowlands the mean temperature is much higher. Along the coast, however, it is relieved almost every evening by the breeze from the sea. In the Ghôr, the climate is tropical; harvesting, indeed, begins there in the first days of April. During the winter months, the temperature is warm in the daytime, and may fall at night to 40º; in summer the thermometer may rise in the day to 120º or 140º, and little relief may be expected from the night. "The valley concentrates the full radiance of an eastern sun rarely mitigated by any cloud, though chilled at times by the icy north winds off the snows of Lebanon and Hermon ; it is parched by the south wind from the deserts of the South, yet sheltered from the moist sea breezes from the West that elsewhere so greatly temper the climate of the Holy Land" (Aids to the Bible Student). The flora and fauna of the lowest portions are accordingly similar to those of India and Ethiopia. The coast of the Dead Sea, sunken deeper than the Ghôr, has a deadly equatorial climate, perhaps the hottest in the world.

Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

These orographic, hydrographic and climatic conditions of the Holy Land explain the variety -- wonderful, if we consider the size of the country -- of its fauna and flora. It is "a good land. . . . A land of wheat, and barley, and vineyards, wherein fig trees, and pomegranates, and olive yards grow: a land of oil and honey. Where without any want thou shalt eat thy bread, and enjoy abundance of all things" ( Deuteronomy 8:7-9 ). Palestine, indeed, even now, but much more so in Biblical times, may be said fairly to repay the labour of its inhabitants. The north, on both sides of the Jordan, is a most fertile region; the plains of Esdrelon and of Saron (A. V. Sharon, except in Acts 9:35 ), the Sephelah and the Ghôr were at all times considered the granaries of the country. Even the land of Juda contains rich and pleasant dales, an ideal home for gardens, olive-groves, vineyards, and fig trees; and the high country, with the exception of the sun-baked and wind-parched desert, affords goodly pastures. (See ANIMALS IN THE BIBLE; PLANTS IN THE BIBLE.)

Palestine seems to have been inhabited about the fourth millennium B. C. by a population which may be called, without insisting upon the meaning of the word, aboriginal. This population is designated in the Bible by the general name of Nephilim , a word which, for the Hebrews, conveyed the idea of dreadful, monstrous giants ( Numbers 13:33, 34 ). We hear occasionally of them also as Rephaim, Enacim, Emim, Zuzim, Zamzommim , and Horites , these last, whose name means "cave-dwellers", being confined to the deserts of Idumæa. But what were the ethnological relations of these various peoples, we are not able to state. At any rate, the land must have been thinly inhabited in those early times, for about 3000 B. C. it was styled by the Egyptians "an empty land". Towards the third millennium B. C. , a first Semitic Canaanite element invaded Palestine, followed, about the twenty-fifth century, by a great Semitic migration of peoples coming from the marshes of the Persian Gulf, and which were to constitute the bulk of the population of Canaan before the occupation of the land by the Hebrews. From the twentieth century B. C. onwards, Aram continued to pour on the land some of its peoples. Palestine had thus, at the time of Abraham, become thickly inhabited; its many cities, united by no bond of political cohesion, were then moving in the wake of the rulers of Babylon or Susa, although the influence of Egypt, fostered by active commercial communications, is manifest in the Canaanite civilization of that period. As a result of the battle of Megiddo, the Land of Canaan was lost to Babylon and added to the possessions of Egypt ; but this change had little effect on the internal conditions of the country; administrative reports continued to be written, and business transacted, in the Cananæo-Assyrian dialect, as is shown from the Tell el-Amarna and the Ta'annak discoveries. About the same epoch the Hethites came in from the North and some of their settlements were established as far south as the valley of Juda, while the Amorrhites were taking hold of the trans-Jordanic highland. Speaking generally, when the Hebrews appeared on the banks of the Jordan and the Philistines on the Mediterranean shore (c. 1200 B. C. ), the Amalecites held the Negeb, the Amorrhites the highlands east of the river, the Canaanites dwelt in the valleys and plains of the west, and some places here and there were still in possession of the aborigines. The Philistines drove the Canaanites from the coast and occupied the Sephela, whereas the Zakkala settled on the coast near Mount Carmel. We know in detail from the Bible the progress of the Hebrew conquest of the rest of the land: the remnant of the former settlers were absorbed little by little into the new race.

Needless to tell here how the different tribes, at first without any other bond of unity than that of a common origin and faith, gradually were led by circumstances to join under a common head. This political unity, however, was ephemeral and split into two rival kingdoms -- that of Israel in the north, and that of Juda in the south. The vicissitudes of these two tiny kingdoms fill several books of the Old Testament. But they were doomed to be merged into the mighty empires of the Euphrates and to share their fate. A Babylonian province in 588, a Persian satrapy after Cyrus's victories, Palestine became for a few years part of Alexander's vast dominion. At the division of his empire the Land of Israel was allotted to Seleucus, but for fifteen years was a bone of contention between Syria and Egypt, the latter finally annexing it, until, in 198 B. C. , it passed by right of conquest to King Antiochus III of Syria. A short period of independence followed the rebellion of the Machabees, but finally Rome assumed over Palestine a protectorate which in time became more and more effectual and intrusive. Josephus narrates how Palestine was divided at the death of Herod ; St. Luke (iii, 1) likewise describes the political conditions of the country at the beginning of Christ's public life. West of the Jordan and the Dead Sea, Palestine included Galilee, Samaria, Judea, and Idumæa (Edom); east of that river, Gaulanitis corresponded to the modern Jolan; Auranitis was the administrative name of the plateau of Jebel-Hauran; north-west of it, the Lejah formed the main part of Trachonitis; Iturea must have been the country south-east of Hermon ; north of Iturea, on the banks of the upper Barâda, at the foot of the Anti-Lebanon, was situated the small, but rich, tetrarchy of Abilene; south of Iturea, between Gaulanitis and Auranitis extended Batanea; finally, under the name of Perea was designated the land across the Jordan from Pella to Moab, and westwards to the limits of Arabia, determined by the cities of Gerasa (Jerash), Philadelphia (Ammân), and Hesebon.

It is very difficult to form an estimate of the population of Palestine, so conflicting are the indications supplied by the Bible . We are told in 2 Samuel 24:9 , that in the census undertaken at David's command, there were found 1,300,000 fighting men. These figures, which may represent a total population of from 4,000,000 to 5,000,000, undoubtedly overshoot the mark. From what may be gathered in various places of Holy Writ , the figures given in 2 Samuel might fairly represent the whole population at the beat epochs.

In the foregoing portions of this article Palestine alone has been spoken of and described. However, as has been intimated above, Genesis, Exodus, Daniel, Esther, in the Old Testament, the Acts, the Epistles, and the first chapters of the Apocalypse, in the New, contain geographical indications of a much wider range. To attempt a description of all the countries mentioned would be to engage in the whole geography of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Roman empires, a task which the allusions made -- with the exception of the detailed description of the Israelites' journey from Egypt to the Jordan -- would hardly justify. On the other hand, it is certain that Palestine is the theatre where most, and those the most vital, of the events of sacred history took place. The following 1ist, which gives the names of most places, within and without Palestine, mentioned in Holy Writ , briefly supplies the indications needed. From the variety of countries to which these places belonged the reader may form an idea of the range of geographical knowledge possessed by the Biblical writers, and acquired by them, either from personal experience or by hearsay.


Many of the more important places mentioned below are subjects of special articles in THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA; where the title of such an article is identical with the local name given in the list, the reader will be referred to that article simply by the letters "q.v." ( quod vide ); where the special article is headed with a different name or a modified form of the same name, the cross-reference gives that name in CAPITALS AND SMALL CAPITALS. Cross-references to other titles in the list itself are given in the ordinary type.

Abana: river of Damascus. See Lt size=-2>EBANON.
Abarim (q.v.): mountains in N. Moab.
Abdon ( Joshua 21:30 , etc.): Khirbet Abdeh, N. of the Wâdy el-Karn.
Abel (the great: 1 Samuel 6:18 ) is a common name, "stone", as the D.V. suggests in the parenthesis. -- Abel ( Judges 11:33 ; Hebrew 'Abél Kerãmîm ), -- Abela ( 2 Kings 20:14 ) -- Abeldomum Maacha ( 1 Kings 15:20 ; 2 Kings 15:29 ); -- Abelmaim ( 2 Chronicles 16:4 ); -- Abelmehula ( Judges 7:23 , etc.); Abelsatim ( Numbers 33:49 ), the place where the Israelites were enticed into the impure worship of Beelphegor ; in the Ghôr E. of the Jordan, at a short distance from the Dead Sea .
Aben-Boen ( Joshua 18:18 ), also "the stone of Boen" ( Joshua 15:6 ): a conspicuous rock marking the limit of Juda and Benjamin between Beth Hagla and the Ascent of Adommim.
Abes ( Joshua 19:20 ; Issachar ): prob. Kh. eb-Beidâ, in the plain of Esdrelon, between Nazareth and Mt. Carmel.
Abila (not mentioned in the Bible ), after which Abiline was named: Sûk Wâdy Barâda, S. of Anti-Lebanon.
Abran ( Joshua 19:28 ; Aser ): perhaps a mistake for Abdon. Unknown.
Accad (Achad; Akkad). See Bt size=-2>ABYLONIA.
Accain ( Joshua 15:57 ): mtn. of Juda, Kh. Yâqîn.
Accaron (q.v.).
Accho . See At size=-2>CRE.
Achazib , 1 ( Joshua 19:21 ; Aser ): Ez-Zib, betw. Accho and Tyre. -- 2 ( Joshua 15:44 ; Micah 1:14 ; W. Juda ): 'Ain el-Kezbeh.
Achor: a valley near Jericho, possibly Wâdy el Qelt.
Achsaph ( Joshua 11:1 , etc.; Aser ): prob. Kefr Yâsîf, N.E. of Acre.
Achzib . See Achazib 2.
Acrabatane: 1. Toparchy of Judea, including region betw. Neapolis (Naplûs) and Jericho. -- 2 ( 1 Maccabees 5:3 ), region of the Ascent of Acrabim.
Acrabim (Ascent of; D.V.: "Ascent of the Scorpion"; Joshua 15:3 ; S. limit of Juda ): most prob. Naqb es-Sâfâ, S.W. of the Dead Sea, on the road from Hebron to Petra.
Acron ( Joshua 19:43 ). See At size=-2>CCARON.
Adada ( Joshua 15:22 ; S. limit of Juda ): 'Ad'ada, E. of Bersabee.
Adadremmon ( Zechariah 12:11 ): in the plain of Esdrelon; in later times, Maximianopolis (St. Jerome): Rûmmâneh, S. of Lejûn.
Adama ( Deuteronomy 29:23 ): city of the Pentapolis.
Adami ( Joshua 19:33 ): also Adam: Damîeh, S.W. of the Lake of Tiberias. The Jordan may be forded there.
Adar ( Numbers 34:4 ; Joshua 15:3 ), also Addar and Adder: S. limit of Juda, N.W. of Cades. There is in that region a Jebel Hadhîreh.
Adarsa ( 1 Maccabees 7:40 ), also Adazer ( 1 Maccabees 7:45 ): Kh. 'Adaseh, N. of Jerusalem and E. of El-Jib.
Adiada ( 1 Maccabees 12:38 ), also Addus , in the Sephela: Haditeh, E. of Lydda.
Adithaim ( Joshua 15:36 )-- text perhaps corrupt; as it stands, designates a place, hitherto unidentified, in the neighbourhood of Gaza.
Adom ( Joshua 3:16 ): Tell-Damîeh, a little S. of the confluence of the Jaboc and the Jordan.
Adommim: (Ascent of; Joshua 15:7 ; 18:18 ), limit of Benjamin and Juda ; seems to correspond to Tal'at ed-Dûmm, on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a place notorious for the thieves who lurked round about ( Luke 10:30-35 ).
Adon ( Ezra 2:59 ), also Addon ( Nehemiah 7:61 ): a city of Chaldea, the same as Eden in Isaiah 37:12 ; Ezekiel 27:23 .
Adrumetum ( Acts 27:2 ): city and seaport in Mysia, over against the island of Lesbos; mod. Adramiti or Edremid, also Ydremid.
Adullam .
Aduram ( 2 Chronicles 11:9 , S. Juda ), also Ador ( 1 Maccabees 13:20 ): Dora, W. of Hebron.
Ænon .
Agar's Well ( Genesis 16:14 ), "between Cades and Barad": Bîr Mâyîn.
Ahalab ( Judges 1:31 ; Aser ): poss. the same as Mehebel ( Joshua 19:29 ; D.V. "from the portions"), the Makhalliba of the third campaign of Sennacherib. Unknown.
Ahava: stream, or perhaps canal, in Babylonia, possibly not far W. of Babylon.
Ahion ( 1 Kings 15:20 , etc.), also Aion ( 2 Kings 15:29 ): the name seems to be preserved in Merj 'Ayûn, between the valley of the Leontes and that of the upper Jordan. The site was possibly Tell-Dibbîn, or Khiam, a near-by place.
Aialon , 1 ( Joshua 10:12 etc.) town and valley: Yâlô, W. N.W. of Jerusalem, E. of Amwâs. — 2 ( Judges 12:12 ; Zabulon ): Kh. Jalîm, E. of Acre.
Ai: D.V. for Hai.
Aiath ( Isaiah 10:28 ): the same as Hai.
Aila, Ailath: the same as Elath.
Ain ( Joshua 19:7 ; Juda ), also called En,-Rimmon: Kh. Umm er-Rummânîm, N. of Bersabee, on the road to Beit-Jibrîn.
Alexandria (q.v.).
Alima ( 1 Maccabees 5:26 ): poss. Kh. 'Ilma.
Almath ( 1 Chronicles 6:60 : Hebrew 45) also Almon ( Joshua 21:18 ), in Benjamin : Kh. 'Almith, N.E. of Jerusalem, between Jebâ and Anâtâ.
Alus ( Numbers 33:13 ), encampment of the Israelites on their way to Sinai : poss. Wâdy el-'Ech, N.W. of Jebel Mûsa.
Amaad ( Joshua 19:26 ; Aser ): Kh. el-'Amud, N. of Acre, or Umm el-'Amed, W. of Bethlehem of Zabulon.
Amam ( Joshua 15:26 ; S. Juda ). Unidentified.
Amana ( Canticles 4:8 ): poss. the same as Mt. Hor of the N.
Amma ( Joshua 19:30 ; Aser ): perhaps ' Alma esh-Shâ'ûb, W. of the Scala Tyriorum (Râs en-Nâqûra).
Amona ( Ezekiel 39:6 ): if we should see in it the name of a town, might stand for Legio-Mageddo, mod. El-Lejûn.
Amosa ( Joshua 18:26 ; Benjamin ): either Qolonieh (so Talmud ), or Beit-Mizzeh, N. of Qolonieh.
Amphipolis ( Acts 18:1 ): in Macedonia, 30 m. from Philippi ; mod. Jenikoei.
Amthar ( Joshua 19:13 ; Zabulon ): prob. not a proper name, seems to mean "turns towards".
Ana: a town in Babylonia, on the Euphrates, possibly 'Anah.
Anab ( Joshua 11:21 ): mount. of Juda, once belonging to the Enacim; Kh. 'Anab, S. of Beit-Jibrîn.
Anaharath ( Joshua 19:19 ); Issachar ); Egyptian: Anuhertu: En-Na'ûra, N.E. of Zerâ'în.
Anania ( Nehemiah 2:32 ; Benjamin ): Beit-Hanîna, N. of Jerusalem.
Anathoth (q.v.).
Anem ( 1 Chronicles 6:73 , Hebrews 58; Issachar ), perhaps a contraction for Engannim, which stands in the same place, Joshua 19:21 . However, poss. 'Anîm, S. of Lejûn.
Aner ( 1 Chronicles 6:70 ; Heb. 55; W. Manasses ), perhaps a corruption for Thanach of Joshua 21:25 ; poss. also 'Ellar, N.W. of Sebastiyeh.
Ange ( Judith 2:12 ), a mount, in Cappadocia: Erjias.
Anim ( Joshua 15:50 ; mount. of Juda ): Kh. Ghuwein.
Antioch : 1. Of Pisidia. -- 2. Of Syria.
Antipatris (q.v.).
Apadno (

Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.

Prayer of the Day logo
Saint of the Day logo

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.