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The Extent of Palestine

Most maps of ancient Palestine assign far too much territory to that nation. They make the greatest length of the country from 160 to 175 miles, and its greatest breadth from 70 to 90, inclosing an area of from 10,000 to 12,000 square miles a little larger than the State of Vermont. They not only include the entire Mediterranean coast for 160 miles, but a considerable mountain-tract on the north, above Dan, and a portion of the desert on the south, below Beersheba, besides running the eastern boundary out too far. Moreover, they lengthen the distances in every direction. From Dan to Beersheba, the extreme northern and southern towns, the distance on Mitchell's map is 165 miles, and on Colton's, 150; but on a map accompanying Biblical Researches in Palestine, by Edward Robinson, D.D., the distance is only 128 miles.

The Israelites were never able to drive out the Canaanites from the choicest portion of the country the Mediterranean coast nor even from most parts of the interior (Judges 1 : 16-31; 1 Kings 9 : 20, 21). The Phoenicians, a powerful maritime people, occupied the northern portion of the coast, and the Philistines the southern; between these the Jebusites or some other people held control, so that the Israelites were excluded from any part of the Mediterranean shore. The map of their country must therefore undergo a reduction of a strip on the west at least 10 miles wide by 160 long, or 1600 square miles. A further reduction must be made of about 400 square miles for the Dead Sea and Lake of Tiberias. This leaves at most 9000 square miles by Colton's map. But on this map the extreme length of the country is 175 miles, which is 47 miles too great: for the whole dominion of the Jews extended only from Dan to Beersheba, which Dr. Robinson places only 128 miles apart.

There must therefore be made a further reduction of an area about 47 by 60 miles, or 2800 square miles. Then a slice on the east must be taken off, at least 10 miles broad by 60 long, or 600 square miles. Thus the area of is reduced from 11,000 square miles to 5600 a little less than the State of Connecticut. subtract from this what was wilderness and desert, and also what was at no time inhabited and controlled by the Israelites, further reduces their habitable territory about one-half. The land of Canaan being nearly all mountainous and bounded on the south and east by a vast desert which encroached upon the borders of the country, a great part of it was barren wilderness. Nor did but one-fifth of the Israelites (two and a half tribes) occupy the country east of the Jordan, which was almost equal in extent to that on the west, the proper Land of Promise. The eastern half, therefore, must have been but thinly populated by the two and a half tribes, who were only able to maintain a precarious foothold against the bordering enemies. So, then, it is not probable that the Israelites actually inhabited and governed at any time a territory of more than 3000 square miles, or not much if any larger than the little State of Delaware.

Jerusalem in the 19th Century was three-quarters of a mile long by half a mile wide, and its population was not more than 11,500, a large proportion of whom were drawn thither by the renowned sanctity of the place. The wall of the city is only 13,000 feet in circumference, or nearly two and a half miles. In a book entitled An Essay on the Ancient Topography of Jerusalem, by James Fergusson (London, 1847), a diagram is given of the walls of ancient and modern Jerusalem, from which it appears that the greatest length of the city was at no' time more than 6000 feet, or a little more than a mile, and its greatest width about three-quarters of a mile; while the real Jerusalem of old was but a little more than a quarter that size.

The ancient Sea of Galilee has a prominent place in Jewish geography and commerce, yet on this insignificant body of water, twelve miles long by seven wide, all the commerce of the Jews was carried on, except when they had the use of a port on the Red Sea. A large portion of the valley of the Jordan has been from the earliest time almost a desert. But in the northern part the great number of rivulets which descend from the mountains on both sides produce in many places a luxuriant growth of wild herbage. So too in the southern part, where similar rivulets exist, as around Jericho, there is even an exuberant fertility; but those rivulets seldom reach the Jordan and have no effect on the middle of the Ghor.

The promise to Abraham in Gen. 15 : 18 was by one account 'from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates.' But the Jewish possessions never reached the Nile by 200 miles. In Ex. 33 : 31 the promise is renewed, but the river of Egypt is not named. The boundaries are 'from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines (the Mediterranean), and from the desert to the river.' By 'the river' was doubtless meant the Euphrates; and assuming that by 'the desert' was meant the eastern boundary (though Canaan was bounded on the south also by the same great desert which reached to the Red Sea), there was in this promise a territory 600 miles long by an average of about 180 broad, making an area of about 100,000 square miles, or ten times as much as the Jews ever could claim, and nearly one-half of it uninhabitable. So, then, the promise was never fulfilled, for the Israelites were confined to a very small central portion of their land of promise, and whether they occupied 3000 or 12,000 square miles in the period of their greatest power, the fact is not to be disputed that their country was a very small one.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2012 18:43:08 ZULU