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From Classical Geography, by H. F. Tozer, from the series of Literature Primers edited by John Richard Green; New York :  American Book Company; pp. 31-43. [31]


1.   Syria. — We now turn to those districts of Asia which lie between the Mediterranean Sea and the deserts of Arabia. The name of Syria is sometimes used as embracing the whole of these, but it 32 may be more convenient to consider it in its more restricted sense, as signifying the country northward from the sources of the Jordan, thus excluding Palestine. Its mountains are an offset from the great range of Taurus in the south of Asia Minor and west of Armenia, and follow the line of the coast southwards, leaving at intervals spaces of level land between their bases and the sea. The northern part of this chain is called Mons Amānus, and where this descends on the sea, the difficult passage is formed which was called the Syrian Gates; while in the south are the two parallel ranges of Libănus (Lebanon) and Anti-Libanus, which are continued northward, though under different names, through the central region. Of these mountains, far the most conspicuous is Lebanon, which rises at one point to the height of nearly 12,000 feet; hence its name, like that of the highest mountains in many parts of the world, means the “White Mountain,” and Tacitus speaks of it as being, even in the heat of summer, a resting-place for snow — “fidum nivibus” (Hist. v. 6). Anti-Lebanon culminates at its southern extremity in Mount Hermon, which is 10,000 feet high. We hear in Scripture of the famous forests of fir and cedar on Lebanon, the wood of which was used in building the temple of Solomon, and furnished the Phœnicians with materials for their vessels; at the present day there is hardly any trace of these, a single group of cedars being all that remains. Between Libanus and Anti-Libanus lies the long and extremely fertile valley-plain of Cœle-Syria, or Hollow Syria, and here the four most important rivers of Syria and Palestine take their rise and flow in different directions — the Orontes and Leontes in the valley itself, the Jordan and Abăna in the neighbouring mountains. The source of the Orontes was in the neighbourhood of Baalbek or Heliopolis, remains of the famous temples of which place are still standing; from thence it 33 pursues its course to the north between the mountains in which Libanus and Anti-Libanus are prolonged, and then, making a sharp bend near Antioch, falls into the Mediterranean. The Leontes, rising in the same watershed, takes a similar, though shorter, course towards the south, and enters the seas with a corresponding bend between Sidon and Tyre. Of the Jordan we shall speak later on.

2.   Damascus; Antioch; Palmyra. — The Abana issues from copious sources on the eastern side of Anti-Libanus, and being joined by the other river which is mentioned in Scripture in the same connection, the Pharpar, flows in innumerable channels through and around Damascus, and then loses itself in two lakes in the direction of the desert. From this circumstance arises the luxuriant vegetation of that city, which is often spoken of as the most beautiful in the world. Damascus was the early capital of the Syrian kingdom, and dates from a high antiquity, for it is mentioned in the book of Genesis (xiv. 15; xv. 2). At a later period it was eclipsed by Antioch, the capital of the Greek rulers of Syria, the Seleucidæ. This place, which, to distinguish it from other cities of the same name, was called Antioch on the Orontes, was situated on the left bank of that river, about twenty miles distant from the sea. Its soft climate and beautiful surroundings made it a suitable place of residence for a luxurious dynasty. On the sea-coast, somewhat to the north of the mouth of the Orontes, was its port, Seleucia, while on the opposite side of that river the Mons Casius rose to the height of more than 5,000 feet. The site of Antioch was well chosen for purposes of commerce, for it was connected with the sea by a navigable river, and on the land the distance was comparatively short to the Euphrates and Mesopotamia. The old trade-route from Syria to the interior, however, was by Tadmor or Palmyra (both these names mean “the 34 city of palm-trees”), which was situated on an oasis in the Syrian desert, about half-way between Damascus and Circesium on the Euphrates. Hence that city was from early times an important station; but it rose to its greatest celebrity shortly before its fall, under Zenobia, the widow of its king, Odenāthus, in the time of the Emperor Aurelian (A.D. 270). Of the outlying regions of Syria, to the south of Damascus, we may notice Ituræa, to the east of Galilee, beyond the spurs of Hermon; and Trachonītis, which lay eastward of this towards the desert. Of Decapolis, or the district of the ten cities, we can speak with less confidence, for towns in very different parts of the country are included in it by different writers; but we may place it in part to the east of the Sea of Tiberias.

3.   Phœnicia. — Though Phœnicia was properly a province of Syria, yet both in its position and its history it is so independent of the rest of the country, that it requires to be considered separately. It comprised the district between Mount Libanus and the sea, extending from beyond the northern extremity of that range to a point somewhat south of Mount Carmel. This territory, though 120 miles long, is seldom more than twelve miles broad, and is divided into a number of small distinct areas by spurs of Libanus, which form promontories on the coast. In this respect it resembles the district of Achaia, in the north of the Peloponnese; and this may account for both those countries being under a federal government; for, as by nature they were formed into numerous separate states, contiguous to one another, and enclosed by a common boundary-line, it was necessary to their safety that these states should form a confederation. The principal cities of Phœnicia were :  Arădus, in the northern-most portion of the territory; then Tripolis, so called from its being the federal town of the three chief cities, Aradus, Tyre, and Sidon; between this and the conspicuous 35 headland on which Berytus (Beyrout) stands, was the river Adōnis, the name of which is associated with the licentious rites of the Syrian Aphrodite (Astarte or Ashtaroth), which were performed at its source; the waters of the stream were said to be annually reddened by the blood of Thammuz (Adonis). Then follow Sidon, Tyre, and Ptolemāis, the modern Acre, with its famous bay, the southern boundary of which was formed by Mount Carmel.

4.   Tyre and Sidon. — Two of these cities, Tyre and Sidon, were of the utmost importance to the ancient world, not from their having fostered any of “the thoughts that shake mankind” — for their policy, like that of Venice, which state in so many points they resemble, was from first to last a selfish one, and even their maritime discoveries were kept secret, lest other rivals should enter on the same field — but because of their widely-extended colonies, including Carthage, and still more because they carried the arts of life to Greece, where they found a more congenial home. Nowhere in antiquity was the art of shipbuilding so early and so fully developed; nowhere was navigation so skilful and so bold. To the Greek waters they resorted for the purple mussel, from which was extracted the famous Tyrian dye, and on the shores of the Ægean, as, for instance, on the Island of Thasos, and at Scapte-Hyle on the mainland of Thrace, they had settlements for the working of gold-mines; and in return they introduced into those countries the alphabet and other inventions, and various southern trees, such as the cypress and the palm. At an early period it would seem that Sidon was the more important of the two cities, but Tyre has been more famous from its more lasting prosperity, and from the famous sieges it underwent from the armies of Shalmanezer, king of Assyria, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and Alexander of Macedon. No better idea can be obtained of the greatness of 36 Tyre than by reading the xxvi.-xxviii. chapters of Ezekiel, which refer to the siege of Nebuchadnezzar. That by Alexander is the most famous siege in ancient history, on account of the extraordinary devices resorted to on both sides. The city of Tyre (in this point also resembling Venice) was situated on an island, separated by a channel, about three-quarters of a mile wide, from the mainland, where stood the old town, or Palæ-Tyrus. In order to approach the city, Alexander filled up the whole of the intervening space with a huge mole, so that ever since that time Tyre has been joined to the neighbouring continent. At the end of seven months the place was captured (B.C. 332), but not from the land side, for the breach was made from the sea by means of battering-rams fixed on vessels. The native name of Tyre was Sor, whence comes the name Sarra, sometimes used by the Romans, as where Virgil speaks of Tyrian purple as “Sarranum ostrum.”

5.   The Jordan and Dead Sea. — The determining feature of the topography of Palestine is the Jordan. Its name signifies “the descender,” and is especially appropriate, because hardly any other river in the world has so rapid a fall in proportion to the length of its course. Rising between two spurs of Anti-Libanus, near the city of Cæsarea Philippi, where once stood Laish, or Dan, the northernmost limit of the Holy Land, it flows due south, which direction it maintains throughout its course, and after passing through the small lake of Merom, reaches that of Galilee or Tiberias, which is more than 300 feet beneath the level of the sea. Emerging from this, it descends in rapids with such steepness to the Dead Sea, that that piece of water is actually 1,300 feet below the Mediterranean. There it is lost, the waters escaping, it is supposed, by evaporation. That extraordinary lake, from its barren, salt-encrusted shores, its bituminous waters, its power of supporting heavy 37 bodies, and the volcanic phenomena by which it is surrounded, has excited the wonder both of ancient and modern writers. At its southern end a low-watershed separates it from the long valley which runs down to the head of the Gulf of Akaba, suggesting the idea that at some remote period the Jordan may have flowed into the Red Sea. From the eastern side a tributary, the Jabbok, flows into the Jordan, and another stream, the Arnon, into the Dead Sea.

6.   Physical Conformation of Palestine. — Into the geography of Palestine, full as it is of interesting details, we can only enter very briefly. In order to understand its physical conformation, it will be well to take two sections of the country, first from west to east, and then from south to north. If we draw a line across it at the parallel of Jerusalem, we first pass through a level district between the sea and the foot of the mountains, the western part of which is a sandy strip skirting the coast, the eastern a belt of extremely fertile land. Then the hills rise towards the east until they reach the height of 2,000 feet, after which they descend steeply in a succession of terraces to the Ghor, or Jordan valley. In this the vegetation is almost tropical, from its deep depression and sheltered situation. On the further side the ground again rises in the mountains of Gilead, which pass by a gradual transition into the desert uplands of Arabia. Again, if we follow the central mountain-chain from south to north, we commence with what is called in Scripture “the south country,” on the edge of the southern desert, from whence there is a rapid rise towards Hebron, near which the highest elevation (about 3,000 feet) is reached; after this the range continues to be well defined, until it is suddenly brought to an end by the plain of Esdraēlon or Jezreel, which crosses the whole country from the sea almost to the Jordan, intersected by the stream 38 of the Kishon, and flanked on its western side by the steep slopes of Mount Carmel. To the north of this plain the mountains again rise, and ultimately attach themselves to the chain of Anti-Libanus. From Hermon also at the end of that chain proceeds the parallel range, which skirts the eastern side of the Jordan valley. This diversified area, though now for the most part bare, was in ancient times highly productive — “a land flowing with milk and honey.” We can also see from its position that, though it lay between the great empires of Assyria and Ægypt, at the meeting-point of the east and the west, and consequently was specially fitted to become, in the fulness of time, a starting-place for the preaching of the Gospel, it was yet a land apart, in which the true religion could be maintained intact; being bounded on the one side by a wide expanse of desert, and on the other by an almost harbourless sea.

7.   Position of the non-Israelite Inhabitants of Palestine. — Before the entrance of the Israelites into Palestine the country was in the hands of a number of tribes, either related to them through the family of Abraham, or of a distinct race; though it should be remembered that the Canaanites, and also the Phœnicians, belonged to the same Semitic stock as the Hebrews. The Philistines are an exception, for they seem to have come from over the sea, whence arose their worship of the fish-god, Dagon, and their name in the Septuagint version is “aliens” (ἀλλόφυλοι). By them the southern part of the maritime plain was inhabited, while in its northern part was the plain of Sharon, famous for its fertility and its flowers. This and the other level lands, the plain of Jezreel and the Jordan valley, were in possession of the Canaanites (“Lowlanders”), in the restricted sense of the term. The central mountains were occupied by the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Hivites, lying in that order from south to north — the Hittites 39 about Hebron, the Jebusites about Jerusalem (anciently Jebus), the Hivites about Gibeon. In the wild mountains to the west of the Dead Sea, lived the Amorites (“Highlanders”), but their principal seat was on the east of the Jordan, where, after expelling the Ammonites and Moabites, they had founded two great kingdoms, that of Sihon, in the land of Gilead, and that of Og, further to the north, in Bashan. Of the tribes related to the Israelites we find the Ammonites and Moabites, the descendants of Lot, beyond the Dead Sea and Jordan; Ammon, between the Jabbok and the Arnon, Moab to the south of the last-named stream. For some distance to the south of the Dead Sea extended Idumæa, the territory of the Edomites, Esau’s descendants, which contained the celebrated defile of Petra, the direct route from the Gulf of Akaba to the eastern side of Palestine. One tribe of this family, the Amalekites, were settled between the Philistines and the Amorites on the southern border of the Holy Land. The Ishmaelites and Midianites, descended from the children of Abraham by Hagar and Keturah, occupied parts of the southern desert.

8.   Position of the Tribes of Israel. — The history of the tribes of Israel is intimately connected with their position in the country. In some cases the occupation of the tribes was determined by it. In the history of the Judges, the tribe from which a judge arises is frequently decided by the neighbourhood of that tribe to the common enemy. The outlying tribes, also, and those in the least defensible positions, either disappear or remain in insignificance, while the power is in the hands of those well posted in the centre of the country. Simeon, who occupied the “south country,” soon faded away on the edge of the desert, according to Jacob’s prophecy, that he should be “divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel” (Gen. xlix. 7). On the lofty mountains to the north 40 of this lay the lion tribe of Judah, which, especially after the capture of the citadel of Jebus (Jerusalem), held the strongest position. To the north-west of Judah, towards the country of the Philistines, was the tribe of Dan, from which arose Samson, the great opponent of that nation. Further northward on the ridge was Benjamin, the tribe of Saul, which commanded the passes that led, on the one side from the Jordan up to Bethel, and on the other by Beth-horon and Ajalon into Philistia. Then followed Ephraim, Joshua’s tribe, in the territory of which Samaria was situated; and on the extremity of the ridge, overlooking the plain of Jezreel, the half tribe of Manasseh, descended from Joseph’s other son. When the wandering Midianitish tribes overran that plain, it was from this tribe that Gideon was raised up as a deliverer. The plain itself was possessed by Issachar, who fulfilled Jacob’s prophecy, that like “a strong ass couching between two burdens,” he should become a servant to tribute for the sake of the pleasantness of the land. Owing to its position, the plain of Jezreel has been in all ages the great battle-field of Palestine. The northern territory was occupied by the three tribes of Zebulon, Naphtali, and Asher, which from their outlying position were the first to be carried into captivity. Of these, Zebulon lay between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean, Naphtali still more remote towards the sources of the Jordan, while Asher (to use the words of Deborah’s song) “abode in his creeks,” being the only one of the tribes which lay along the seashore. The land on the further side of the Jordan was chosen by the two and half tribes, as being suited for flocks, they being pastoral tribes. The half tribe of Manasseh settled in the forest land of Bashan, Gad in the uplands of Gilead, and Reuben further south, where, like Simeon, they gradually disappeared.

9.   Subsequent Divisions of Palestine. — At 41 the time of the Gospel history, we find Palestine consisting of three divisions, Judæa, Samaria, and Galilee, Samaria being intermediate between the other two. The territory on the other side of Jordan bore the name of Peræa, or “the land beyond.” Of the towns most frequently mentioned in the Gospel narrative, Bethlehem lay to the south of Jerusalem, Bethany to the east of the Mount of Olives, Jericho on the western side of the Jordan valley, near where that river enters the Dead Sea, Nazareth on the hills to the north of the plain of Esdraelon, and Tiberias, Bethsaida, and Capernaum on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. When regarded as a Roman province, its capital was Cæsarea Stratonis, on the coast south of Carmel, as Antioch was the capital of the province of Syria. Thus it was that St. Paul was taken to Cæsarea for trial, that being the residence of the Roman procurator, whereas the officer in charge at Jerusalem, called in Scripture “the chief captain,” was only a military tribune. A good deal of confusion is introduced into the divisions of the different districts at this period by the Roman custom of encouraging the formation of native kingdoms from time to time. Such was the kingdom of Herod the Great in Judæa, and also the tetrarchies, into which his dominions were distributed between his sons. Again, in St. Paul’s time, while a portion of this territory, varying in extent, was ruled in succession by the two kings called Herod Agrippa, and other portions by Roman procurators, Damascus was in the possession of Aretas, the king of Arabia. Similar kingdoms have already been noticed in Sophene and Commagene, in the north of Syria. We must not suppose, however, that these states were really independent of Rome; and the object the Romans had in view in permitting them to exist was to render these outlying parts of their empire more tranquil through native influence, and to secure a more regular payment of their revenues.


10.   Jerusalem. — The site of Jerusalem at once determined it as the most commanding spot in the Promised Land. It was beyond all others a mountain city. Though surrounded by mountains, so that it could truly be said, “the hills stand about Jerusalem,” it was itself 2,000 feet above the sea, on the edge of a table-land, which slopes on the one side towards the Jordan, on the other towards the Mediterranean. On three sides it is surrounded by deep valleys, which form, as it were, a natural trench around it — on the west and south by the valley of Hinnom, on the east by that of Jehoshaphat, in which flowed the brook Kedron. From these, especially on the south side, the rocks rose precipitously; but towards the north the access was more easy, and from this side it was attacked in the final siege under Titus. Jerusalem was composed of three quarters — the Upper, the Lower, and the New City — defended by separate walls, which had to be stormed successively by the Romans in that siege. The first of these quarters, which lay towards the south, overlooking the valley of Hinnom, was the lofty citadel of the Jebusites, which so long defied the Israelites, and after its capture was known as Zion, or the City of David. Beyond this to the north was the Lower City, or Acra, which, as its name implies, was also a conspicuous eminence. When Tacitus in his description of Jerusalem speaks of “duos colles immensum editos” (Hist. v. 11), he refers to this and Zion. From the eastern side of this, though separated from it by a ravine, and inferior in elevation, Mount Moriah projected towards the valley of Jehoshaphat, facing the Mount of Olives, which was on the opposite side of Kedron. Moriah was occupied by the temple area, the courts of which rose one within the other, until the whole was crowned by the Temple itself. The Roman fortress, which in the classical writers is called the Turris Antonia, and in the Acts of the Apostles “the castle,” was built in a precipitous 43 position at the north-west angle of this area. Between Zion and Moriah intervened the valley of Tyropœon, or the Cheesemakers, at the mouth of which was the Pool of Siloam. These divisions composed the original city of Jerusalem, but as time went on, when the population became too large for these limits, a part of the more level land towards the north was enclosed, and this was called the New city, or Bezetha.

Next :

CHAPTER IV. Arabia, Ægypt, Africa.

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