Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Palaestine” (Text-02), Southern Literary Messenger, February 1836, 2:152-153


[page 152, column 2, continued:]


Palæstine derives its name from the Philistæi, who inhabited the coast of Judæa. It has also been called “The Holy Land” as being the scene of the birth, sufferings and death of our Redeemer. It was bounded on the north by Syria, on the east by Arabia Deserta, on the south by Arabia Petrea [[Petræa]], and on the west by the Mediterranean. The principal divisions of the country were Galilea in the north, Samaria in the middle, and Judæa in the south. This country is at present under the Turkish yoke; and the oppression which it now experiences, as well as the visible effects of the divine displeasure, not only during the reign of Titus, and afterwards in the inundations of the northern barbarians, but also of the Saracens and Crusaders, are more than sufficient to have reduced this country, which has been extolled by Moses, and even by Julian the Apostate, for its fecundity, to its present condition of a desert. Galilea, the northern division, is divided by Josephus into Upper Galilea, called Galilea of the Gentiles because inhabited by heathen nations — and Lower Galilea which was adjacent to the sea of Tiberias, and which contained the tribes of Zebulon and Ashur. Galilea was a very populous country: containing, according to Josephus 204 cities, and towns, and paying 200 talents in tribute. [page 153:]

The middle district, Samaria, had its origin in a division of the people of Israel into two distinct kingdoms, during the reign of Jeroboam. One of these kingdoms, called Judah, consisted of such as adhered to the house of David, comprising the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The other ten tribes retained the name of Israelites under Jeroboam. Their capital was Samaria, which also became the name of their country. The Samaritans and people of Judæa were bitter enemies. The former differed in many respects from the strictness of the Mosaic law. Among the Judæans, the name of Samaritan was a term of reproach.

The southern division, Judæa, did not assume that name until after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity — though it had been called long before “the kingdom of Judah,” in opposition to that of Israel. After the return, the tribe of Judah settled first at Jerusalem; but afterwards spreading over the whole country, gave it the name of “Judæa.”

The only rivers of any note in Palæstine are the Jordanes, and the Leontes, which latter passes through the northern extremity of Galilea. The Jordan, according to a curious story of Philip the Tetrarch, has its origin in a lake called Phiala, about ten miles north of Cæsarea of Samochon. This is said to have been ascertained by throwing into the lake some straw which came out where the river emerges from the ground, after having run fifteen miles beneath the surface of the earth — Mannert the German, thinks this fabulous, and places the source of the river in Mount Paneas, in the province of Dan. The Jordan holds a south-westerly course — flows through the lake Samochon, or Samochonites, or as it is called in the Bible, Merom; after which, proceeding onwards till received by the sea of Tiberias, or lake of Genesareth, it emerges from this, and is finally lost in the Dead Sea. In ancient times it overflowed its banks annually, about the period of early harvest; and thus differing from most other rivers, which generally swell in the winter, it was supposed to have a subterraneous communication with the Nile. But now, we can perceive no rise, which is probably owing to the channel having been deepened by the swiftness of the current. The name is supposed to be derived from the Hebrew “Jarden,” on account of the river's rapid “descent” through the country.

The Dead Sea, called also Asphaltites, from the “asphaltos,” or bitumen, which it throws up, is situated in Judæa, and near 100 miles long and 25 broad: but it is called by Tacitus “Lacus immenso ambitu.” Its waters are extremely salt; but the vapors exhaled from them are found not to be so pestilential as they have been usually represented. It is supposed that the thirteen cities, of which Sodom and Gomorrah, as mentioned in the Bible, are the chief, were destroyed by a volcano, and once occupied the site of the Dead Sea. Earthquakes are now frequent in the country. Volumes of smoke are observed to issue from the lake, and new crevices are daily found on its margin.

The country is mountainous. The range of Libanus, so named on account of their snowy summits, from the Hebrew “Lebanon,” white, is imperfectly defined. The principal part of them lies towards the north of Galilea, but the name of Libanus is sometimes given to several chains, which run through the whole extent of Palæstine. Between two of these ranges lay a valley [column 2:] so beautiful that some have called it a terrestrial Paradise; though situated in a much higher region than the greater part of the country, it enjoys perpetual spring — the trees are always green, and the orchards full of fruit. Libanus has been famed for its cedars. Mount Carmel is a celebrated mountain, properly belonging to Samaria, but on which the Syrians had an altar, but not a temple, dedicated to their god Carmelus. A priest of this deity, according to Tacitus, (Lib. 2, cap. 78,) foretold the accession of Vespasian to the throne.

The principal towns in Galilea were Dio-Cæsarea, Jotapata or Gath, Genesareth, and Tiberias. Tiberias was built by Herod, near the lake of the same name, and called after the emperor. After the taking of Jerusalem, there was at Tiberias a succession of Hebrew judges, till about the time of the abdication of Diocletian and Maximinianus [[Maximianus]]. Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis, says that a Hebrew copy of St. John, and the Acts of the Apostles, was kept in this city.

The chief cities of Samaria were Neapolis, Antipatris, Archelais, Apollonia, Samaria, and Cæsarea. Cæsarea, was the principal, and was anciently called “Turris Stratonis.[[”]] It was much embellished by Herod, who named it Cæsarea in honor of Augustus — and was the station of the Roman governors. Samaria was situated on Mount Sameron, and was the residence of the kings of Israel, from the time of Omri, its founder, to the overthrow of the kingdom.

In Judæa, were the cities of Engedi, Herodium, Hebron, Beersheba, Jericho, and Jerusalem. Jericho was in the tribe of Benjamin, near the river Jordan; and is called by Moses the city of palm-trees, from the palms in the adjacent plain, which are also noticed by Tacitus. It was destroyed by Joshua, but afterwards rebuilt. Jerusalem, the capital, was anciently called Salem, or Jebus, by the Jebusites, who were in possession of it till the time of David; but it was then called by the Hebrews Jeruschalaim, signifying “the possession of the inheritance of peace.” The Greeks and Romans called it by the name of Hierosolyma. It was built on several hills, of which Mount Sion, in the southern part of the city, was the largest. To the north was Acra, called the “second,” or “lower city” — on the east of which was Solomon's temple, built on Mount Moriah. North-east of this was the Mount of Olives, and north of it Mount Calvary, the place of the crucifixion. This city was taken by Pompey, who thence derived his name of Hierosolymarius. It was also taken and destroyed by Titus, (in the year of our Lord 71, by the account of Tacitus — but according to Josephus,) on the 8th of Sept. A.D. 70 — 2177 years after its foundation.

In this siege 110,000 persons are said to have perished, and 97,000 to have been made prisoners, and as Josephus relates, sold as slaves, or thrown to the wild beasts for the sport of the conquerors.






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