1406 – 1375 B. C.
The land west of the Jordan River provides the setting for most of the biblical events. This region provides the geographical background for the conquest, the period of the judges, the monarchy, the restoration after the exile, the life of Christ, and the early church. Although this region is significant because of the biblical events that happened there, it is also very significant because it served as a land bridge for virtually all the great powers of Asia, Europe, and Africa. In early times, almost all people that were traveling between the continents had to cross the territory of Palestine. The country which controlled this land bridge had great influence over the destinies of other nations. In this text Canaan, Israel, and Palestine are used interchangeably and mean the same thing.
In order to jog the memory, here is another review of the Israelite territories west of the Jordan River. Palestine extends north from the Wadi el-‘Arish to the southern slopes of the Lebanon Mountains. It covers a distance of about 200 miles. The land is bordered by the Rift Valley on the East and the Mediterranean Sea on the West. Its coastline reaches out toward Egypt in the south, which makes this portion wider than the northern portion of the land. The land is about 35 miles wide in the north and 85 miles wide in the south at the southern end of the Dead Sea. The expression “from Dan to Beersheba” is used in the Bible to describe the area of the land. The Israelite territories west of the Jordan are divided into four areas – the coastal plain, the hill country, the Rift Valley, and the Transjordan Highlands. To look at a map of these areas, see 5 – Geography of the Land of Israel.
The climate of Israel is determined by two major factors: distance from the sea, and elevation. Areas closer to the Mediterranean are more humid in contrast to the arid regions near the desert. Generally speaking, the places of higher elevation have cooler temperatures. To the west of the central mountain range, the climate of Palestine is predominantly influenced by the sea, and to the east, the desert is the principal determinant of the climate.
Rainfall generally increases toward the north where it is mountainous and toward the west where the great sea is. It greatly diminishes to the south and east where it is predominantly lowlands and desert. Instead of four seasons, there are primary two: a wet winter and a dry summer. Most of the rain they get falls mostly during the months of November through March, and the dry season is from May through September.
The “early rain and the later rain” that is mentioned in Deuteronomy 11: 14 occurs during the seasonal transitions at the beginning and end of the wet months. The “early” rains, usually falling in October, would soften the soil after the long summer drought. This would enable the farmer to plant winter wheat. The “later” rains would main be in April, and would cause the ripening heads of grain to swell and provide the farmer with a heavy crop of wheat. Both of the transitional rains were necessary for the farmer to make good crops.
The climate is strongly influenced by the Mediterranean sea-to-land breeze, which brings cooling relief from the hot sun. This sea breeze is felt along the coastal plain about mid-morning. As the hot air rises, the cooler sea air rushes in to fill the space. The wind is felt in the mountains about noon and then reaches the Rift Valley about two hours later. During the transitions between the wet and dry seasons, the country feels the effects of the hot, dry sirocco winds that blasted out of the desert. They can do extensive damage to winter crops if they come too soon. These winds are mentioned in the Bible in Psalms 103:16 and Isaiah 40 6-8.
Since Israel lies between 30 and 33 degrees latitude, the summer sun is almost directly overhead. This results in relatively high temperatures, but they are somewhat moderated in the higher elevations and also when the winds come in from the Sea. Summer temperatures average between 65 and 85° in the mountains and between 80 and 105° on the coastal plain and in the Rift Valley.
The Hill Country
The hill country encompasses the central mountain range that runs north and south through Palestine. This range is formed by an upwarp of limestone that is about 20 miles wide and averages about 2,500 feet above sea level. A number of valleys pierce the hill country from the east and west, with the largest being the Valley of Jezreel. For this study’s purpose we will concentrate on the hill country allocated to the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim. Galilee will be studied at a later time.
There will be a map at the end of these descriptions so that you can get a better idea of where each tribe’s land was.
The hill country of Judah began just north of the Beersheba basin and ran to a point just south of Jerusalem. It covered a distance of 35 miles. At this point the mountains are 15 miles wide. The highest elevation is near Hebron, where the mountains reach 3,373 feet above sea level. An ancient highway connecting Beersheba, Hebron, and Jerusalem follows the central range of this mountain area.
The territory of Benjamin was just north of Judah’s territory. This was a smaller region which measured about 10 miles from north to south. There was not a clear geographical boundary between the two tribes. Even though this territory was small, it provided strategic access into the hill country of Judah. Benjamin was accessible from the west by a road that served as the main approach to Jerusalem from the coastal plain. Since the control of this access was crucial for the defense of Jerusalem, this land was eventually absorbed into Judah’s territory.
The border between Benjamin and Ephraim ran between the cities of Mizpah and Bethel. The land from Bethel north to the Jezreel Valley was occupied by Ephraim and one-half of the tribe of Manasseh. This entire area was later known as Samaria and is today called Mount Ephraim. It measures thirty miles north to south and twenty miles east to west. The highest part of Mount Ephraim is just northeast of Bethel at Ba’al Hazor with an elevation of 3,000 feet. Then it descends on toward the north to Shechem which has an altitude of 2,000 feet. Dothan was on further north toward the Jezreel valley’s southern edge, and it had an elevation of 1,000 feet. The hill country of Ephraim was much more open than the mountains to the south. There were many wide valleys that went through its region. The land was much better here for agriculture, but it was also much more accessible to enemy invaders. It was a much harder area to defend, and it fell to the Assyrians in 722 B. C., with Judah surviving another 135 years.
Climate of the Hill Country
The hill country is generally a pleasant region in terms of climate. The winters are cool, but there is ample warm sunshine. The hot summers are moderated by a breeze from the sea. The Mediterranean breeze reaches the hill country about midday and brings cooling relief from the heat. This country also receives 25 to 30 inches of rain annually with most of the rain falling during about 45 days in January and February. An occasional snowfall occurs in the hills around Jerusalem and Hebron.
Geology of the Hill Country
One of Palestine’s most important resources is its rock. The hill country is dominated by a large exposure of Cenomanian limestone. For centuries this has provided building stones for its inhabitants. This variety of limestone breaks along even lines and can be easily shaped for building.
The unique composition of the limestone also makes it a natural water reservoir. It permits the rapid seepage of rainwater, which is absorbed until it reaches a nonporous stratum of rock. It then flows horizontally until it reaches the ground surface by breaking forth in the springs that are so prevalent in this area. This type of limestone weathers into a fertile, reddish-brown soil called terra-rosa. Much of it has been lost through erosion because of cutting of trees. They terrace the hillsides to retain the fertile soil and convert hilly regions into agricultural land by the terraces.
Economy of the Hill Country
The residents of the hill country were primarily an agricultural and pastoral people. They raised sheep and goats and grew the Mediterranean staples – wheat, grapes, and olives. They also produced nuts, pomegranates, dates, and figs. The hill country around Hebron still abounds with productive vineyards, and the wide valleys are well suited for the cultivation of wheat.
The main travel routes through the hill country followed the water line at the crest of the mountains and then joined the major highways by way of east-west valley roads. This system of roads united this rather isolated region with the other areas and was useful for communication, trade, and travel. The valley had to be fortified, though, so that advancing armies could not come in and invade the territories.
Below is a map of where the tribes lived. The second part of this will be continued in the next text.
This is a picture of the hills of Judaea from the plains of the Jordan Valley. From this you can get some feeling about the distances between the mountains. It basically goes from very flat to high mountains.