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The region known as Palestine was "The Land" of ancient Israel. In essence, the land of Israel, albeit the land of the Canaanites before them, was coterminous with region of Palestine. Today, the state of Israel occupies only a portion of the land occupied by ancient Israel at its height. Palestine, in a geographical sense not a political one, can be thought of as the Coastal Plain (the low lands), the Shephelah (the Judean foothills), Mountain Region (the central hill country), the Great Rift Valley, and the Negev (southern desert). While this region has few natural harbors it did have important trade routes to Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and the Nile. Three major Levantine north-south land routes supporting trade extended through Palestine—the Via Maris ("Way of the Sea" or the coastal highway), the Ridge Route (through the central mountains), and the King’s Highway (the Transjordan Highway running through the Jordan Valley).

The Land of Canaan at the time of the Conquest by Israel

The Coastal Plain, along the Mediterranean Sea coast, can be broken into three parts geographically—(1) the Plain of Acco (north), (2) Upper and Lower Galilee, and (3) Samaria (Ephraim) and Judea (Judah). The Plain of Acco, whose name comes from Acco, a major town in that area, is not very wide. It is, however, quite fertile and it remained densely populated in ancient times. The Mount Carmel range of mountains interrupts the Coastal Plain separating the Acco Plain from the Plain of Sharon. The Sharon Plain is now conducive to agriculture but in ancient times settlers avoided it because it consisted mainly of forests and swamps. Ancient peoples found the Philistine Plain more attractive for it was wide, fertile, and well-drained in most parts. This is one reason why the Philistines chose to settle this part of the sea coast.

The Shephelah ("lowland") is a region of low valleys and hills, or foothills, lying between the Coastal Plain and the true hill or central mountain region. While well-drained and farmed, these limestone hills, suitable for pasture and for growing grapes and olive trees, were not as attractive to ancient peoples as the Coastal Plain. The Shephelah only exists in the southern part of the country. It does not appear in the area of Samaria but only in the region of Judea.

The Mountain Region, with names essentially surviving from ancient times, consists of the mountains of Upper and Lower Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. The mountains of Galilee, called Upper and Lower because of their elevation, are considerably higher in Upper Galilee than those in Lower Galilee. The Rosh Haniqrah, a ridge on the sea line, creates a natural border with Lebanon. Cenomanian limestone highlands, running north and south, form the central mountain ridge.

The Great Rift Valley, created by a massive eruption in the earth’s crust some twenty million years ago, is a 3,000-mile (4,830-kilometer) crack (fissure) in the earth’s surface. The rift is a deep depression in the earth’s crust extending from Mt. Hermon situated on the boundary of Lebanon and southwest Syria, along the Jordan River toward the Red Sea. The region includes the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) and the Dead Sea (Salt Sea). The rift extends beneath the Red Sea into East Africa terminating in Mozambique. This is an enormous fracture in the earth’s crust which explains why the lowest point on the surface of the earth, 1,306 feet (395 meters) below sea level, lies near the Dead Sea.

Since the Jordan River flows through part of the Great Rift Valley a portion of the valley is known as the Jordan Valley. This extends from the headwaters of the Jordan to the northern end of the Dead Sea. The Arabah Valley consists of the desert section of the Jordan rift lying between the Salt Sea (Dead Sea) and the Red Sea port of Ezion-geber. The Dead Sea appears in Deuteronomy 3:17 as the Sea of Arabah (translated "The Sea of the Plain"). Arabs commonly refer to the Dead Sea as Bahr Lut, which means "Sea of Lot." Many also refer to this lifeless body as the lake of Asphaltitis. "Lake" is a correct term when one considers the size of this body of water. It measures 46 miles long and only 3–10 miles wide, depending on the location. The Sea is fed by the Jordan River and contains no outlet or port. This explains its 33% salt content.

The Negev, lying in the far south, is desert. A veritable barren wilderness. the Negev, or Negeb, comes from the Hebrew word bg<n< which likely means "dry" or "to be parched."


Page last edited: 04/06/06 09:18 PM


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