General Geographical Features:
Palestine West of the Jordan, between Da and Beersheba, has an area of about 6,000 square miles, the length from Hermon southward being nearly 150 miles, and the width gradually increasing from 20 miles on the North to 60 miles on the South. It is thus about the size of Wales, and the height of the Palestinian mountains is about the same as that of the Welsh. East of the Jordan an area of about 4,000 square miles was included in the land of Israel. The general geographical features are familiar to all.
(1) The land is divided by the deep chasm of the Jordan valley--an ancient geological fault continuing in the Dead Sea, where its depth (at the bottom of the lake) is 2,600 ft. below the Mediterranean.
(2) West of the valley the mountain ridge, which is a continuation of Lebanon, has very steep slopes on the East and long spurs on the West, on which side the foothills (Hebrew shephelah or "lowland") form a distinct district, widening gradually southward, while between this region and the sea the plains of Sharon and Philistia stretch to the sandhills and low cliffs of a harborless coast.
(3) In Upper Galilee, on the North, the mountain ridge rises to 4,000 ft. above the Mediterranean. Lower Galilee, to the South, includes rounded hills less than 1,000 ft. above the sea, and the triangular plain of Esdraelon drained by the River Kishon between the Gilboa watershed on the East and the long spur of Carmel on the West.
(4) In Samaria the mountains are extremely rugged, but a small plain near Dothan adjoins that of Esdraelon, and another stretches East of Shechem, 2,500 ft. above the level of the Jordan valley. In Judea the main ridge rises toward Hebron and then sinks to the level of the Beersheba plains about 1,000 ft. above the sea. The desert of Judah forms a plateau (500 ft. above sea-level), between this ridge and the Dead Sea, and is throughout barren and waterless; but the mountains--which average about 3,000 ft. above the sea--are full of good springs and suitable for the cultivation of the vine, fig and olive. The richest lands are found in the shephelah region--especially in Judea--and in the corn plains of Esdraelon, Sharon, and Philistia.
(5) East of the Jordan the plateau of Bashan (averaging 1,500 ft. above the sea) is also a fine corn country. South of this, Gilead presents a mountain region rising to 3,600 ft. above sea-level at Jebel Osha`, and sloping gently on the East to the desert. The steep western slopes are watered by the Jabbok River, and by many perennial brooks. In North Gilead especially the wooded hills present some of the most picturesque scenery of the Holy Land. South of Gilead, the Moab plateau (about 2,700 ft. above sea-level) is now a desert, but is fitted for raising grain, and, in places, for vines. A lower shelf or plateau (about 500 to 1,000 ft. above sea-level) intervenes between the main plateau and the Dead Sea cliffs, and answers to the Desert of Judah West of the lake.
The water-supply of Palestine is abundant, except in the desert regions above noticed, which include only a small part of its area. The Jordan runs into the Dead Sea, which has no outlet and which maintains its level solely by evaporation, being consequently very salt; the surface is nearly 1,300 ft. below the Mediterranean, whereas the Sea of Galilee (680 ft. below sea-level) is sweet and full of fish. The Jordan is fed, not only by the snows of Hermon, but by many affluent streams from both sides. There are several streams also in Sharon, including the Crocodile River under Carmel. In the mountains, where the hard dolomite limestone is on the surface, perennial springs are numerous. In the lower hills, where this limestone is covered by a softer chalky stone, the supply depends on wells and cisterns. In the Beersheba plains the water, running under the surface, is reached by scooping shallow pits--especially those near Gerar, to be noticed later.
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