NATURAL FEATURES [ISBE]
- fe'-turz: As has been pointed out by various authors (compare HGHL), the principal physical features of Palestine run in North and South lines, or rather about from South-Southwest to North-Northeast.
The lowland or Shephelah (the King James Version "vale, valley, plain, or low country") includes the maritime plain and the western foothills.
The hill country consists of the mountains of Judea, and its features are continued northward to the plain of Esdraelon and southward to the Sinaitic peninsula. It is rocky and has very little water. Except for the few fountains, the scanty population depends upon rain water collected during the winter months.
The Arabah (Revised Version) includes the Jordan valley from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, as well as the depression running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Akabah. It is to the latter depression that the name Wady-ul-`Arabah] is now applied by the Arabs. It is bounded on the East by Mr. Seir or Edom, and on the West by the mountains of the Sinaitic peninsula. Its highest point, about halfway between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Akabah, is a few hundred ft. higher than the level of the Mediterranean, but nearly 2,000 ft. above the level of the Dead Sea. From this point the valley slopes southward to the Gulf of Akabah, and northward to the Dead Sea. The lower Jordan valley slopes from about 600 ft. below ocean-level at the Sea of Galilee to about 1,300 ft. below ocean-level at the Dead Sea.
To the East are the highlands of Gilead and Moab rising abruptly from the valley, as does the hill country of Judea on the West. The country to the East of the Jordan-Dead Sea-Arabah depression, to the whole of which the name Ghaur (Ghor) is applied by the Arabs, is a great table-land sloping gradually to the East from the sharp edge which overlooks the Ghaur. It has no conspicuous peaks. What appear to be peaks when viewed from the Ghaur are irregularities of its western contour, which are invisible or appear as slight mounds to the observer who looks westward from any point some miles to the East Mt. Nebo, for instance, when seen from Medeba is not readily distinguishable. This is because it really does not rise above the general level of the table-land. The small annual rainfall on the heights near the Ghaur diminishes eastward, and the desert begins within from 20 to 40 miles.
Another term much used by Old Testament writers is South or Negeb, which embraces the southernmost portion of the promised land, and was never effectively occupied by the Israelites. Its uttermost boundary was the "river of Egypt" (al-`Arish), and coincides roughly with the present boundary between the Ottoman territory on the East and the Anglo-Egyptian territory of Sinai on the West.
The term slopes, 'ashedhoth, the King James Version "springs," occurs in Josh 10:40, "So Joshua smote all the land, the hill country .... and the lowland, and the slopes, and all their kings"; and again in Josh 12:7,8, "And Joshua gave it .... for a possession according to their divisions; in the hill-country, and in the lowland, and in the Arabah, and in the slopes, and in the wilderness, and in the South." In the former passage, it seems to refer to the foothills which form the eastern or higher part of the lowland or Shephelah. In the latter passage, it might mean the same, or it might mean the descent from the Judean hills to the Ghaur. In Dt 3:17; 4:49; Josh 12:3; 13:20, we have "the slopes of Pisgah" ('ashdoth-ha-pisgah, "springs of Pisgah"), which denotes the descent from the heights of Moab to the Ghaur. The same word occurs in the sing in Nu 21:15, referring to the descent to the Arnon. "Slopes," therefore, does not seem to be a term applied to any particular region.
The wilderness is usually the desert of the wandering, including the central part of the Sinaitic peninsula, but it is by no means always used in this sense,. e.g. Josh 8:15,20,24, where it clearly refers to a region near Ai. "The wilderness" of Mt 4:1 is thought to be the barren portion of Judea between Jerusalem and the Jordan.
See CHAMPAIGN; COUNTRY; DESERT; EAST; HILL; LOWLAND; SOUTH.
Alfred Ely Day