Judea, Palestine, or the Holy Land

The following geographical description of “Judea, Palestine, or the Holy Land” is taken from an 1801 Bible published by Matthew Carey, but was found in many Bibles during this period.

Palestine is bounded on the north, by Mount Libanus, or Lebanon, which separates it from that part of Syria, anciently called Phœnecia; on the east by Mount Hermon, which separates it from Arabia Deserta; on the south by Arabia Petrea; and on the west by the Mediterranean Sea, or Sea of Syria.

This country received the name of Palestine, from the Philistines, who dwelt on the sea coast: it was called Judea, from Judah: and is termed the Holy Land, being the country where Jesus Christ was born, preached his holy doctrines, confirmed them by miracles, and laid down his life for mankind.

Palestine is about one hundred and eighty-five miles in length, and generally eighty in breadth; it is situated between 31 degree and 33 degree 40 second north latitude.

The climate of Palestine is, during a great part of the year, very hot. The easterly winds are usually dry, though they are sometimes tempestuous; and those which are westerly, are attended with rain. Though the heat might be expected to be excessive, yet Mount Libanus, from its uncommon height, is covered all the winter with snow.

The first rains, as they are called, generally fall about the beginning of November; and the latter rains, in the month of April. In the country around Jerusalem, if a moderate quantity of snow falls in the beginning of February, and the brooks soon after overflow their banks, it is thought to foretell a fruitful year; and the inhabitants make rejoicings upon this occasion, as the Egyptians do with respect to the Nile: but this country is seldom refreshed with rain during the summer season.

The rocks of Judea are, in many places, covered with a soft, chalky substance, in which is enclosed a variety of shells and corals. The greatest part of the mountains of Carmel, and those of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, are also covered with a white chalky stratum. In Mount Carmel, are gathered many stones, which, being in the form of olives, melons, peaches, and other fruit, are imposed upon pilgrims, not only as those fruits petrified, but, as antidotes against several diseases.

With respect to the rivers of the country, the Jordan, called by the Arabs Sceriah, is not only the most considerable, but, next to the Nile, is the largest, either in the Levant or in Barbary. It has its source at the bottom of Mount Libanus or Lebanon, and is formed from the waters of two fountains, which are about a mile distant from each other. One of them lies to the east, and is called Jor; the other which is exposed to the south, is named Dan. The confluence of the two streams is found near the ancient city of Cæsarea Philippi, which is at present only a village, and called Beline. The river begins its course between the E. and S. and after running seven miles, falls into the lake Samochon or Mathon, at present called Hulet-panias, which is six miles in length, from north to south, and about four in breadth east to west. The Jordan issues from this lake, and flows through the plain, passing under a stone bridge called Jacob’s Bridge, which consists of three arches well constructed. The river continues its course as far as the lake of Tiberias, near the ancient cities of Corazin and Capernaum, where it mixes with its waters. When it issues from this lake, which is about eighteen miles in length, and eight in breadth, it takes the name of Jordan Major, dividing Perea from Samaria, the plains of the Moabites from Judea, and receiving the waters of the Dibon, the Jazer, the Jacob, and the Carith; after being augmented by these streams, in a course of sixty-five miles from the lake of Tiberias, or sea of Galilee, it discharges itself into the Dead Sea. The Jordan, in the rainy seasons, overflows its banks, to the distance of more than four miles; and on account of the inequality of the ground, forms two or three channels. Its current is extremely rapid, and the water always muddy: but when taken from the river, and put into any kind of vessel, it immediately clarifies, and is sweet.

The Dead Sea, is a name of modern date; the ancients called it the lake of Asphaltites, the sea of Sodom, the Salt sea, the lake of Sirbon; the Arabs name it Bahheret-Lut, that is, the sea of Lot. It is an hundred and eighty miles in circumference. The lofty mountains of the country of the Moabites are on the eastern side, and discharge into it the waters of Arnon and the Jaret. It is bounded on the west and south by high mountains also. It is likewise on the west that the brook Cedron, which rises at Jerusalem, empties into this Sea.

We are informed that this vast lake was covered formerly with fruit trees and abundant crops, and that from the bosom of the earth, now buried under its waters, arose the superb cities of Sodom, Gomorrha, Adam, Seboiim and Segor. No plants of any kind grow in this lake. The bottom of it is black, thick, and fœtid. Branches of trees, which fall into it, become petrified in a little time. The Dead Sea Produces a kind of bitumen, which may be found floating on the surface, like large lumps of earth. This bitumen is a sulphurous substance, mixed with salt; it is as brittle as black pitch, is combustible, and exhales, while burning a strong and penetrating smell. The ancient Arabs used it for daubing and embalming the dead, to preserve them from perishing. The mountains near this sea produce a kind of black stone, which, when polished, has a beautiful luster.

Acra, or Acre, now called St. John de Acre, and which the Arabs call Accho or Akka, is one of the places from which the Israelites could not expel the ancient Canaanites, and was formerly reckoned among the ancient cities of Phœnecia. It is also known by the name of Ptolemais. Its situation is advantageous: on the north and east, it is encompassed by a fertile plain; on the west it is washed by the Mediterranean; and on the south by a large bay, which extends from the city as far as Mount Carmel. It contains little more than a few cottages, and heaps of ruins. It is the residence of the basha of the province.

To the south of Acra, is Sebasta, the ancient Samaria, the capital of the ten tribes after their revolt from the house of David. It is seated on a long mount, which rises in a fruitful valley, and is now converted into gardens.

A little farther to the south is Naplosa, the ancient Sychem, which stands in a narrow valley, between Mount Ebal on the north, and Gerizim on the south. At a small distance from Naplosa, is Jacob’s well, famous for Christ’s conference with the woman of Samaria.

Jerusalem is encompassed with hills, so that the city seems as if situated in an amphitheatre: there are few remains of the city, as it appeared in Christ’s time; the situation being changed; for, Mount Sion, the highest part of ancient Jerusalem, is almost excluded: while the places adjoining Mount Calvary, are nearly in the centre. This city, which is about three miles in circumference, is situated on a rocky mountain, on all sides of which are steep ascents, except towards the north. The walls are not strong, nor have they any bastions. The city has six gates. There are supposed to be about twelve or fourteen thousand inhabitants in Jerusalem.

Jaffa, the ancient Joppa, is the port where the pilgrims disembark. They generally arrive in November, and repair without delay to Jerusalem.

Bethlehem, also called Ephrata, and the city of David, is famous for being the birthplace of Christ. It is about two miles to the S.E. of Jerusalem, on the ridge of a hill; it is at present only an inconsiderable place.

Raha, the ancient Jericho, is eighteen miles N.E. of Jerusalem, situated in a plain sixty-seven leagues long, by three wide, round which are a number of barren mountains.

Habroun, or Hebron, is twenty-four miles S. of Bethlehem. The Arabs call it El-Kahil, the well beloved. It is situated at the foot of an eminence, on which are some remains of an ancient castle.

Nazareth is now a small village, on the top of a high hill.

Cana of Galilee, otherwise called Cana Minor, celebrated for the miracle wrought by Christ, of changing the water into wine, is at present only a small village, with very few inhabitants.

Sidon, called by the Turks Sayd, is situated on the sea-coast. It was anciently a place of great strength, and had a very extensive commerce. Though it is still populous, and a place of considerable trade, it has fallen from its ancient grandeur. Its exports consist in silks, with raw and spun cotton; the manufacturing of which employs most of the inhabitants, amounting to about five thousand. The city is defended by an old castle, built in the sea.

Tyre, called by the Turks Sour, is about twenty miles to the South of Sidon. It was once very famous for its purple, called the Tyrian dye, produced from a shell-fish. This city was, in ancient times, the centre of an immense commerce and navigation; and the nurse of arts and sciences. The ancient city stood, originally, on an island, joined to the mainland by a mole; the remains of which appear at present. It has two harbours; that on the north side is very good, but the other is choaked up with ruins. The present inhabitants are only a few poor fishermen, who live in vaults and caves.

Cesarea was at first called Strabo’s Tower; and was the capital of Palestine. This city was divided into two parts by a little hill, whereon was erected a temple dedicated to Cesar.

Jericho is situated in a large plain about twenty miles long, and ten broad, bounded by different mountains on the southwest, west, and north; at present it is inhabited by a few miserable Arabs.

The Mount of Forty Days is situated on the North side of the plain of Jericho: the summit of it is covered neither with shrubs, trees, nor earth; it consists of a solid mass of white marble: it is very difficult and dangerous to ascend, the path leading, by a winding course, between two dismal abysses. This mountain is one of the highest on the province, and one of its most sacred places. It takes its name from the rigorous fast which Christ observed here. This mountain overlooks the mountains of Arabia, the country of Gilead, the country of the Ammonites, the plains of Moab, the plains of Jericho, the river Jordan, and the whole extent of the Dead Sea. Opposite to Jericho, beyond Jordan, rises the mountain of Nebo.

Mount Carmel, on the south side of the bay of Acre, projects, at one part, into the sea, forming a great promontory, called, the point of Carmel. There are a number of grottos, gardens, and convents, on this mount; as also many cisterns for receiving the rain water. On this mountain was a fortress, called Ecbatane.

Mount Tabor is most delightfully situated, rising amidst the plains of Galilee, distant about twelve miles from the city of Tiberias; it is distinguished by different names, as Itabyrion, Taburium. And by the Arabs Gibel-el-Tor. It is in appearance, like a sugar loaf and is covered from the top to the bottom, with small trees.

Palestine, which comprehends the ancient country of Canaan, and was occupied by nine tribes of Israel, has experienced many and severe revolutions: The extreme fertility of the country, and its many advantages, and happy situation, induced the neighbouring and powerful kingdoms to attempt its subjection: most of them succeeded in reducing to obedience and slavery, the peaceable inhabitants; the Persians, Saracens, Syrians, and Romans, have alternately been masters for a time; and then obliged to yield to superior force: These treated the conquered with the utmost barbarity, and committed the greatest devastation and slaughter – not even sparing old or young, women, or helpless children: Thus it continued, changing its ferocious masters, until, in the twelfth century, the Turks taking Cesarea, the whole country fell into their possession; and has continued under their power ever since: The innumerable scenes of blood and desolation exhibited in this country, have reduced it from that happy, fruitful and prosperous state, so beautifully described in Deuteronomy, to an almost uninhibited desert, and heap of ruins-few traces of its ancient splendour remain; and confusion and doubt hang over all the researches of the enquirer.

The present masters exercise their unlimited and tyrannical authority over their slaves, in Palestine, keeping the miserable inhabitants in the utmost subjection; governing them by Caliphs and Bashas, with rods of iron; and holding them in the most deplorable ignorance and superstition.