Lesson 25, Geography Study Concerning the Scriptures, The Location of Cities and their Identification
CITIES: THEIR LOCATION AND IDENTIFICATION
Urban settlements in Palestine have been situated in accordance with a number of geographical/political factors.
Generally speaking there were five major factors that could determine the location of cities in Palestine;
availability of natural resources,
and natural lines of communication.
Foremost among those was the question of water accessibility.
This is of course central to all cities but some were positioned exclusively on the basis of water accessibility.
(What about Bagdad, Florida and its proximity to the Blackwater River? And Pensacola, and Mobile.)
The city of Capernaum, located along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and the city of Damascus, positioned at the eastern foot of the Anti-Lebanon mountain on a vast oasis fed by the Abana and Pharpar rivers, or a place called Tadmor, a lush oasis in the Syrian Desert nourished by a generous spring.
Because of an inexaustible supply of fresh water, settlements were built at each of these examples long before the dawn of biblical history, and they represent some of the oldest continuously occupied settlements in the Fertile Cresent.
Some cities were also positioned in close proximity to natural resources.
Jericho, one of the oldest settlements in all of Palestine, is one example.
Jericho was built near an exceptionally large and prolific spring but it is also near the Dead Sea and its bitumen.
Bitumen was a valuable commodity, used as a water solvent, fumigation agent, or in construction that utilized baked bricks.
Bitumen from the Dead Sea was transported throughout Egypt and much of the Fertile Crescent because few other known sources of the commodity existed.
Another illustration of a city positioned because of natural resources was the city of Ezion-geber, located near the head of the Gulf of Aqaba.
A copper refinery foundry was positioned there to take advantage of the strong winds (they used the winds to fan the flames of the furnace) that swept across the Arabah, and to process metals mined nearby.
Fertile soils were another natural resource that prompted the location of cities.
Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath (on the Philistine plain); of Jezreel on the Jezreel Plain, and of Dothan in the Dothan Basin.
Cities were also situated in accordance with regional topography.
The city of Megiddo was positioned to dominate a strategic intersection at a pass in the Carmel range.
The city of Beth-horon was situated precisely where it was in order to govern the main approach from the west into the interior of the central mountain spine.
Other cities were situated in accordance with local topography; cities such as Jerusalem, Masada, and Samaria illustrate this factor.
Jerusalem was surrounded on every side except the north by deeply-carved valleys that plunge more than 200 feet.
Masada was a lofty isolated mesa encompassed by precipitous rock cliffs in excess of 600 feet in height, where the first Jewish revolt was finally quelled in A.D. 73.
The city of Samaria straddled a 300 foot high isolated hill engulfed by tow steep valleys.
As a consequence of local topography, those three cities were commonly resistant to attacks, or they fell to opponents only after a protracted period of siege followed by a fierce assault.
Samaria thwarted a prolonged siege in the time of Elisha when the mighty Assyrian hordes were withstood for three years.
2 Kings 6:24,25, And it came to pass after this, that Benhadad king of Syria gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria. And there was a great famine in Samaria: and, behold, they besieged it, until an assís head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of doveís dung for five pieces of silver.
Because of the local topography of the city of Samaria the assaults of John Hyrcanusís army was held off for one year and Masada withstood a lengthy siege and all-out attack of the Roman Tenth Legion with numerous auxiliary forces for seven months.
Finally, urban settlements may have been positioned along natural lines of communication.
The powerful urban center of Hazor was situated on a 200 acre tell (a platform mound made from the debris of former towns and cities) 9 miles north of the Sea of Galilee.
Hazor was a heavily fortified emplacement and the largest tell in the country.
During the Late Bronze Age it appears to have served as a provincial capital.
Joshua 11:10, And Joshua at that time turned back, and took Hazor, and smote the king thereof with the sword: for Hazor beforetime was the head of all those kingdoms.
Hazorís location was dictated mainly by the course of the Great Trunk Road, and the city served as the port of entry for Palestinian locations and points south.
Many extra biblical citations of the city are found in trade texts.
As shown by the age of the towns and cities in Palestine there seems to be a geographic determinism in their location.
In other words the location for a town in a particular place was so valuable as to attract a population for centuries.
The reason for the city to be at a particular place did not go away.
Palestinian towns usually experienced an amazing continuity of settlement.
Even when a site was destroyed or abandoned for a long period, perhaps owning to famine, plague, or natural catastrophe, later setlers of the town were almost always attracted by the same factors that determined the original choice of the site.
Subsequent settlers were glad to make use of portions of walls still standing, or beaten earthen floors, of fortifactions, storage pits, or wells, or at least to reuse the convenient supply of on-site building materials.
And as succeeding settlements rose and fell, and towns were literally built one on top of another, the platform mound, tell, on which they rested grew ever higher, with steeper slopes along its perimeter, thus rendering a site increasingly defensible.
Joshua 11:11-12, And they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them: there was not any left to breathe: and he burnt Hazor with fire. And all the cities of those kings, and all the kings of them, did Joshua take, and smote them with the edge of the sword, and he utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the LORD commanded.
Jeremiah 30:18, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will bring again the captivity of Jacobís tents, and have mercy on his dwellingplaces; and the city shall be builded upon her own heap, and the palace shall remain after the manner thereof.
At some locations when the pattern of building and destroying was frequent as in the case of Megiddo, Hazor, or Bethshan, the occupational debris could reach heights of seventy feet or more.
Because of building and destruction of cities identication of the location of biblical places in not possible in every case. For example, there are cases in which a particular settlement has undergone a location shift.
Old Testament Jericho is not at the same location as New Testament Jericho and neither of those sites corresponds to modern Jericho.
Location shifts are known to have occurred at Lachish, Beth-shan, Tiberias, and elsewhere.
There have also been name shifts between periods as a result of what power is in place or other conditions.
Old Testament Rabbah became New Testament Philadelphia, which in turn became modern Amman.
Old Testament Shechem became New Testament Neapolis, which in turn became modern Nablus.
And then there are name changes that took place within a Testament, examples of which include, Luz/Bethel, Kiriath-Arba/ Hebron, Kiriath-sepher/Debir, Laish/Dan.
Then there is the problem of more than one site bearing the same name.
Aphek is in the Sharon plain,
I Sam 4:1, And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Ebenezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek.
in Lebanon, Joshua 13:4, From the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that is beside the Sidonians, unto Aphek, to the borders of the Amorites:
and in Golan. I Kings 20:26, And it came to pass at the return of the year, that Benhadad numbered the Syrians, and went up to Aphek, to fight against Israel.
There is a Socoh in the Shepala, in Judah, and in the Sharon plain.
Many times this occurs for the same reason the town and city names are repeated in our own country, because place names are generic in meaning.
Hazor means enclosure, Bethlehem means granary, Migdal means tower, Abel means meadow, Gibeah means hill, Kadesh means cultic shrine, Ain means spring, Mizpah means watchtower, Rimmon means pomegranate,Carmel means vineyard.