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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

Towns in the Land of the Philistines.

All the places designated in Joshua 13:2, 3, as the chief towns of the Philistines, are still known at present.

Geshur גשור now Adshur (see above, article Geshuri).

Gaza עזה is a large town, 20 English miles from Hebron, and is distant but 1 English mile from the Mediterranean. The inhabitants of this place, with the exception of a few Christians, are altogether Mahomedans. Up to the year 5571 (1811), there were found here also Jewish inhabitants, who had a handsome Synagogue, and a large burying-place, where are buried Rabbi Israel Negara, the celebrated poet, his father, and his son Moses. When the conqueror Napoleon passed through Gaza with his army in his expedition from Egypt to Palestine in the year 5559 (1799), the Jews were put in great straits, and many fled away; and they constantly diminished in number till the small remnant at length removed, in 5571 (1811), to Jerusalem and Hebron. The Synagogue became ruinous in consequence, and Ibrahim Pasha took of its stones to build a fort at Ashkelon.

Ashdod אשדד is at present a large village inhabited by Arabs, and called Sdud; it is south-southwest from Jabne, distant 5 English miles, and but 2½ English miles from the Mediterranean.

Ashkelon אשקלון. This, formerly called the Greek city, is at present but a small village, inhabited by Arabs and Christians, and bears the name of Eskelon; it is 7½ English miles south of Ashdod on the shore of the Mediterranean. When Ibrahim Pasha was in Palestine he commenced building a tower and fort, employing the large and remarkable stones brought from the Synagogue of Gaza; but the buildings were left incomplete.

Gath גת. The situation of this place is not so well ascertained as those previously mentioned; the usual assumption that it is the town of Ramleh, situated in the territory of Dan, I hold to be quite erroneous; since it appears, from I Samuel 30, that it must have been situated far to the south and west of this place. I therefore prefer the statement of Eusebius as far more correct, in placing Gath 5 mill from Eleutheropolis, sideward from Lod. At this day, also, there is found a village by the name of Gatha, 3 English miles south of Jaffa, and on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea; which is, without doubt, the remains of the ancient city of the Philistines.

Ekron עקרון, see above, Akar, in the description of the north boundary of Judah.*

* We read in Megilla fol. 6a, "Rabbi Eliezer said, The prophet said (Zeph. 2:4), And Ekron shall be rooted up; this refers to Kisri, the city of Edom, which was situated on the sands, and was a fixed nail (i. e. a dangerous place) for Israel in the Greek period. When now the kings of the Asmonean family conquered it, that day was called the day of the conquest of the tower of Shir." In another place it is called "the tower of Shid," and again "the tower of Zur." The poet, in the Yotzer of the 2d Sabbath Hannuckah, calls it "the tower of Nassy."* But it is by no means the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, that Ekron and Caesarea are identical; for Ekron belonged to Judah, and Caesarea was at a great distance from it and belonged to Dan. But he explains the words of the prophet Zephaniah, "Ekron shall be rooted up," as having been fulfilled in Caesarea Palestine, which was, indeed, uncommonly large, and always dangerous to Israel. It was also called Stratonis Tower. Astori wishes to prove from the passage cited that Ekron is Caesarea, but his explanation is too forced and unsatisfactory.

*This will explain an obscure passage in Talmud Chagigah, fol. 4b, which reads thus: מרים מגדלה נשיא, in later editions it is even שער נשיא. Yarchi, as well as other commentators, explain this, "Miriam, who plaited the hair of the women," Megadelah thus meaning "to plait," Nashi, "women;" and in order to render it more explicit still, the later addition was made of Seär, "the hair." But there can be no doubt that the real sense of מגדלה נשיא (read "Migdalah Nahsi,") is the name of the above-mentioned town Kisri, or Caesarea, which was called Migdal Nahsi; hence this Miriam who was of Caesarea, obtained the surname "Miriam of Migdalah Nahsi." In order, however, to explain the sense farther, there arose an improper change in the passage in question; it was made to read Miriam Megadelah Dardeki (the educator of children), to show that Megadelah should not be taken for a proper name. In old and more correct editions, however, I found the addition of "Mechamemath Tannura" instead of the above.

Avim עוים. Although the name of the Avites is at present entirely unknown in Palestine, there is, nevertheless, no doubt that they once lived in the southern portion of the land of the Philistines, and had an extent of country reaching to the neighbourhood of Kadesh-Barnea. (See Raphiach and Chezron.)

Gibthon גבתון (I Kings 15:27) of the Philistines. This was a Levitical city, belonging to the tribe of Dan (see Joshua 21:23, and 19:44). In the latter passage it is described as between Elthekah and Baalath; it must therefore have stood between Bailin, which I take for Baalath, and Elthini, which I suppose to be Elthekah. At present I cannot find a vestige of it in that neighbourhood.*

* In Shir Hashirim Rabbethi to chap. i., v. 16, it says, that from Gibthon to Antipatris was a large multitude of towns, the smallest of which was Beth-Shemesh. In Sanhedrin 94 is said "from Gebeth to Antipatris;" in other places it reads "Geba;" but both these variations refer to Gibthon. (In Bereshith Rabbah, chap. 61, there is "from Akko to Antipatris;" probably, however, an error of the transcriber.) In Yebamoth, fol. 62, it is also said that Rabbi Akiba had 12,000 scholars between Gibthon and Antipatris. .It does not appear to me that reference is here made to the well-known Antipatris, the present Kefar Saba (Zaba, which see), for its situation to Gibthon was not such as to indicate two opposite points of a boundary line. I found, however, in Midrash Mishle to ch. 9:2, that the corpse of Rabbi Akiba, who was slain as a martyr in Caesarea, was carried to Antipatris belonging to Kozrim for interment. Unquestionably must the reading "Kozrim" be erroneous, and should be Kazarah, which was in Galilee, close by Maon (which see); and to this day they point out the sepulchre of Rabbi Akiba between Tiberias and the ruins of Beth-Maon. From all this we may deduce that there was an Antipatris in Galilee, near Tiberias, and that this is the spot of which the passages cited speak; and thus Gibthon and Antipatris properly denote two extremes of a boundary, namely, Gibthon at the southwest, and Antipatris at the northeast, although I have not been able to discover a vestige of this place, nor the origin of its name. Perhaps it may have been derived from Antipater, the father of Herod.