931 to 722 B. C. Part 2
The one geographical region that both Israel and Judah shared was the Coastal Plain. The tribes of Asher, Manasseh, Ephraim, Dan, and Judah had all been allotted territory along the Mediterranean coast. This huge plain extended north for a distance of about 150 miles. It varies in width from about 3 miles in the north to about 25 in the south where it swings eastward toward Egypt. There will be a map showing each of the different plains at the end of this text.
Regions of the Coastal Plain
The Plain of Asher extended about 25 miles from 1,700 ft. Mount Carmel to Israel’s northern boundary. This region averages about 8 miles in width but narrows in the north and virtually disappears where “the ladder of Tyre” juts out into the Mediterranean Sea. It was originally inherited by the tribe of Asher, but the Israelites never really controlled it fully like God had intended, so it played an insignificant role in their history.
Sand and marshlands were characteristic of this region in the biblical period. The major cities were Acco (New Testament “Ptolemais”) and Achzib. The Bay of Haifa occupied the southern eight miles of the plain. This port is also an important deep water port today.
The Coasts of Dor extended about 25 miles south from Mount Carmel to the marshes of the Crocodile River. Here the coastal plain is only about 2 miles wide because here Mount Carmel lies very close to the coastline. Dor was part of the inheritance of Manaseeh, but the tribe did not gain possession of the land for several generations. It is characterized by low hills and sand dunes, which blocked the streams flowing from Mount Carmel and made the land swampy in the lower sections. The only town that is mentioned in the Bible in this region was the harbor city of Dor. in Judges 1: 27.
The Plain of Sharon extends south about 50 miles along the Mediterranean Coast from the Crocodile River to Joppa (Jaffa). The plain is about 10 miles wide and made up largely of sand dunes and alluvium. The Yarkon River cuts across the plain from Aphekk (Antipatris) to Tel Qasile (just north of Joppa), where it empties in the Mediterranean Sea. The Yarkon River arises from a spring at Aphek, and is the largest river on the coastal plain that flows into the Mediterranean Sea.
It was inherited by the tribe of Manasseh, and is the only section of the coastal plain that the Israelites effectively controlled during this period. There are six references to the Plain of Sharon in the Bible. Each of them suggests that it was a place of luxury. It was richly forested in biblical times and supports fabulous orange groves today. The important biblical cities of this region include Caesarea, Aphek, Lydda, and Joppa.
The Plain of Philistia extended south toward Gaza from Joppa to the Wadi el-Arish which was a distance of 70 miles. This region of the plain varies from 10 to 20 miles in width. Some of its sections are over a thousand feet above sea level due to the rise of mountains to the east. The sand dunes that border the area reach inland as much as two miles. Although it was not as well watered as the plain to the north, the rainfall was sufficient to make it a very productive granary.
The biggest difficulty about living there was that the Via Maris went right through the region and armies from both north and south had easy access and faced no natural barriers to thwart an attack. The powerful Philistines found the region to the liking. When Israel inherited the land, part of it fell to the tribe of Dan. They would not drive out the Philistines and eventually abandoned their inheritance and migrated to Galilee. The tribe of Judah had been assigned the rest of the Philistine territory, but found the hill country preferable. Major population centers of this region were the Philistine cities of Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron.
Climate of the Coastal Plain
This land encompassed the subtropical arid zone of Egypt and the subtropical wet zone of Lebanon. This helps explain the rather light rainfall on the southern coastal plain in contrast with the heavier rainfall to the north. In the south, the annual rainfall was about 6 inches annually, Gaza, further north received more like 15 inches annually. The Plain of Sharon and Coasts of Dor received around 20 inches, and the Plain of Asher in the very north received about 26 inches annually. But in addition to rainfall, moisture reaches the plain in the form of dew, which forms 200 nights per year. This is especially important for the production of crops in the summer, when there is no rainfall.
The mean annual temperature in the coastal regions is around 70° F. Because of the temperatures being constantly moderated by the sea, there is much less seasonal fluctuation here than elsewhere in Israel, because fluctuations always increase with the distance from the sea and elevation. While the coastal temperatures are comfortable most of the time, the relative humidity is higher here than elsewhere in the country. It is famous for its mild sea breeze, which picks up during the morning hours and continues throughout the day. During the summer, a light land-to-sea breeze may be experienced when the land cools below the Mediterranean’s temperature, usually happening late at night or in the early morning.
Economy of the Coastal Plain
The cities here became early centers for textile production due in part to the availability of the Murex shells used in making Tyrian purple. Texts found at Ugarit, dating from the 14th Century B. C., mention textiles imported from Acco, Ashdod, and Ashkelon. The two latter cities are also mentioned as export centers for the fish-preserving industry that existed in many coastal cities in the south. Other ports on the coastal plain involved in shipping and travel included Joppa and Dor. Beyond the sand dunes that fringe the coast, the Plain of Philistia was noted for its grain fields, while further north in the Plain of Sharon were heavily forested areas.
This wonderful place reaped both the benefits and hazards of being situated along the route of the Via Maris. The network of roads brought caravans and many trading opportunities, but it was also used in military campaigns that left desolation and destruction in their wake.
Cities of the Coastal Plain
Many important cities occupied the coastal plain during the biblical period. Examining these will give a better appreciation of this area.
Acco (Ptolemais/Acre) was located on the Plain of Asher at the north end of the Bay of Haifa. The ancient city was located about a mile away from the present site. Acco possessed the best and most important harbor in northern Palestine and served Galilee and the Jezreel. Although it was assigned to the tribe of Asher, it did not become an integral part of the Israelite territory until the time of David. During Solomon’s reign, it was transferred to Tyrian control and remained part of Phoenician territory until its conquest by Alexander the Great. It was known as Ptolemais in Hellenistic times and was granted the status of a Roman colony in A. D. 67. Paul stopped over for one day at Ptolemais at the end of this third missionary journey, on his way from Tyre to Caesarea. There he fellowshipped with a local group of believers. After the fall of Jerusalem to Islamic forces, the city functioned for some time as the capital of the Crusaders’ “Christian Kingdom”, and was the last city held by them.
Caesarea was located midway along the Mediterranean coastline between Joppa and Acco. It began in the middle of the third century B. C. as a small fortified city that was built by the Phoenicians called Strato’s Tower. It rose to greatness under Herod the Great, who in 22 B. C. began construction of the port city to be named Caesarea in honor of Caesar Augustus. Herod’s building projects there created the first artificial harbor in the ancient world. His engineers erected wooden forms and then poured concrete to build two breakwaters extending 1,500 feet into the Mediterranean Sea. The city also boasted a Roman theatre, hippodrome, Roman baths, a temple dedicated to Augustus, and an amphitheater larger than Rome’s. Since the city was lacking in natural springs, aqueducts were built to bring water from springs on the southern slopes of Mount Carmel and from the Crocodile River. The city was the seat of Roman Rule for the province of Judea. When Pilate was the prefect there, he occupied the governor’s residence that had been built there. The city also served as the headquarters for the Roman legions stationed in the province.
It was Philip the Evangelist that brought the Christian faith to Caesarea, and later Paul and his companions came there. It was also the home of Cornelius, the God-fearing centurion of the Roman army. Paul landed there when he returned from his second and third missionary journeys, and was imprisoned there for two years before sailing to Rome.
Aphek (Antipatris) is located 25 miles south of Caesarea, at the headwaters of the Yarkon River. The site is especially strategic, for here the Via Maris passes along a narrow gap between the city and the hills to the east. Occupation of Aphek meant control of this important trading route. The king of Aphek was one of the Canaanite rulers that was defeated by Joshua. It was also near Aphek that the Israelites were defeated by the Philistines and suffered the loss of the ark of the covenant. During the Roman period, the city was rebuilt by Herod the Great, who named it Antipatris in honor of his father, Antipater. The city served then as a military post between Jerusalem and Caesarea. After Paul’s life was threatened in Jerusalem, he was taken at night by military guard to Antipatris and on to Caesarea the next day.
Joppa is one of the most ancient ports on the Palestinian coast. It is located 35 miles northwest of Jerusalem. The ancient site of Joppa has been engulfed by the expanding borders of Israel’s modern Tel-Aviv. Although the city was assigned to the tribe of Dan, it did not come under Israelite control until David gained effective control of the coastal plain. Timber from Lebanon was brought by rafts to the port of Joppa and then carried to Jerusalem for Solomon’s temple. It was from Joppa that the disobedient prophet Jonah embarked for Tarshish in order to avoid going to Nineveh. In New Testament times, Joppa was the home of Tabitha, whom Peter raised from the dead. It was also in Joppa at the home of Simon the tanner that Peter received the vision that prepared him to minister to the Gentiles. A picture of this house is located at the bottom.
Ashkelon was located on the seacoast about 30 miles south of Joppa. It was temporarily occupied by Judah during the period of the judges, but reverted to Philistine rule by the time of Samson. It was located on the Via Maris and was conquered by the Assyrians under Tiglath-pileser III(734 B. C.) and Sennacherib (701 B. C.) and later destroyed by the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar around 604 B. C. This city was the birth place of Herod the Great, who later embellished the city with ornate buildings, temples, and colonnaded courts.
Below is a map of the Coastal Plain with all the cities listed, and everything that has been talked about previously in this text. Then below that is a picture of the house of Simon the tanner at Joppa, where Peter prayed on the roof.