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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

Ramah in the Mountain of Ephraim.


Since there prevail so many erroneous opinions with respect to this town, the birth-place of the prophet Samuel, I am induced to speak of it more at length than usual.

In the village Rameh Nebi Smuel, 4 English miles northwest from Jerusalem, is found a monument, which is said to mark the resting-place of Samuel. Over it stood formerly a Christian church, but now a Turkish mosque, with a high tower, whence the muezzin calls the people five times every day to their devotions with a loud voice. The lower part of this mosque is a very old massive structure, having its origin at the time of the Christian supremacy in Palestine; but the upper portion and the tower are more modern, and the work of the Turks, and were constructed under Mahomed Pacha, who resided at Jerusalem in the year 5385 (1625). I ascended once to the top of the tower, and was well rewarded for the exertions I made by the magnificent and wide prospect which offered itself to my view. I saw on the one side the long line of the Mediterranean, on the other the whole plain of the Dead Sea; the southern mountains near Chalchul (which see, page 107); the mountains of Shechem, &c.; in short, such a prospect as I had scarcely ever enjoyed before. In the interior of the mosque, where the Arabs keep a perpetual light, is found the form of a grave-hillock, over which is the monument, over which is spread a handsome green cover. Under this stone a cavern is said to exist, in which, as is alleged, rest the remains of Samuel and his parents, Elkanah and Hannah. This spot is also honoured by the devout of our own brother Israelites, and is visited, especially on the 28th and 29th of Iyar of every year. (Comp. Orach Chayim, chap. 580.) It is nevertheless not to be disputed, that it is erroneous to take this monument as the one which marks the grave of Samuel; because Rameh is in the centre of the cities of Benjamin, near Gibath­Shaul; and it appears from I Samuel 15:1, that the prophet was buried in his home at Ramah, in the mountain of Ephraim (ibid. 1:1). This mountain, it is true, extends itself widely both in length and in breadth, even into the territories of other tribes, for instance, Menasseh, Issachar (Judges 10:1), Benjamin, Dan, and as far as the Lowland of Judah. Still it can be easily proved that Ramah did not lie near Gibath Shaul, because

  1. When Saul went out to seek the stray asses of his father, he only arrived, on the third day after leaving his father's house, at Gibath-Shaül, at Ramah (1 Sam. 9:20). The question now would arise, how could he spend the time of three days in roaming over a space of but a few miles in extent, that is in case the present Rameh should mark the residence of Samuel?
  2. David fled from before Saul, and went to Samuel at Najoth in Ramah (1 Sam. 19:18). If now Ramah had been close to Gibath-Shaül, the residence of his mortal enemy, David would surely not have fled thither.
  3. It appears from the commentary of Ramban to Genesis 35 distinctly, that this eminent and learned man knew positively the situation of Ramah, and he places it two days' journey from the grave of Rachel, which is, however, but 10 English miles from Gibeah. Consequently Nachmanides paid no attention to the various fables which were no doubt current in his time also on this subject.

It is, therefore, evident that the alleged grave at Rameh Nebi Smuel, can by no means be the real sepulchre of the prophet Samuel, since this place is, as I have already stated above, page 126, the ancient town of Mizpeh, in the land of Benjamin. This erroneous opinion, however, had its origin, as many other similar fallacies, in that period when the Christians came into Palestine, and obtained the government of it, when the holy monuments were pulled down, and others again erected on spots chosen at pleasure; and then they gave them such arbitrary names as the fancy of the moment dictated; through which means great confusion and false opinions have originated, and these have, alas! survived even to our day.

In the same spirit does Rabbi Benjamin, of Tudela, report, that when the Nazarenes took and conquered Ramah from the Mahomedans, "they found there the grave of the prophet Samuel, near the Synagogue; that they then took him away from here and carried him to Shiloh, where they reinterred him, and built over his remains a church, which they called after this prophet." I deem it perfectly useless to prove that this traditional legend is both fabulous and improbable. In order, however, to determine the proper position of Ramah, i.e. Ramathaim-Zophim, we will, in the first place, endeavour to ascertain the districts which Saül passed over in his journey from Gibeah to Ramah, where he was anointed king over Israel. We are told (1 Sam. 9:4-5): "He passed through Mount Ephraim, the land of Shalishah, the land of Shaalim, the land of Jemini, and came at length to the land of Zuph."

Shalishah שלישה As late as Eusebius' time, there was a town called Beth-Salisa, 15 mill north of Lod. Nevertheless, I believe that I may place the land of Shalishah with greater accuracy in the valley of the Jordan, the modern Al Gor; since, according to the assertion of the Talmud, Sanhedrin, fol. 12a, the vicinity of Shalishah produces and ripens the first and earliest fruit in the whole land, and this is actually the case at the present time in Al Gor. The same is said in Tosephtah Shebiith, chap. 7, and Bereshith Rabbah, chap. 99; that the neighbourhood of Jericho (Al Gor) ripens its fruits first of all. We also read in Midrash Shemuel to chap. 13, "Shalishah is Beth-Ramtha," and, according to Yerushalmi Shebiith, chap. 6, Beth-Ramtha is synonymous with Beth-Charim. So also is it said in Talmud Shabbath, fol. 26, that from En-Gedi to Ramtha is found the Balsam shrub. The latter place is the same with Beth-Ramtha, which King Herod called Livias; it was situated on the northeastern shore of the Dead Sea, or beyond Jordan, and consequently in the valley of this river. This position appears to me more correct than that of Eusebius.

Shaalim שעלים seems to me identical with Shuäl, of which it is said (1 Sam. 13:17, 18): "And the spoilers came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies; one company turned unto the way to Ophrah, unto the land of Shuäl; and another company turned their way to Beth-Horon; and another company turned to the way of the border that looketh to the valley of Zeboim, towards the wilderness." The first division, accordingly, took their course northeasterly to Ophra (which see); this lay 5 English miles east of Beth-El, and consequently Shuäl must have been in the same vicinity. The second went southwesterly to Beth-Choron (which see), and the third, southeasterly to the valley of Zeboim. There are uncommonly high masses of rock near En-Gedi (see above), on the western shore of the Dead Sea; from the top of these one beholds this lake, which has a depth of fifteen hundred feet, bathing the rocks beneath. These appear to me to be "the rocks of the wild goats" mentioned in 1 Samuel 24:2, and represented as being near the wilderness of En-Gedi. Between them there runs a valley, in which the ancient Zeboim (Gen. 10:19) may have been situated, wherefore it is termed the valley of Zeboim, which town must, however, not be mistaken for the one of the same name in Benjamin (Neh. 11:34).

Jemini was, as is well known, the patronymic term for Benjamin, consequently the land of Jemini means the territory of this tribe in general. Zuph (from צפה Zaphoh "to behold") is probably applied to the high and elevated environs of Ramathaim, called thence Zofim "of the watchmen," because it offered a wide prospect. If we now pursue Saul on his journey which he took in company with his young man, we shall have the following route: From Gibeah (or Kirjath-Jearim or Gibath-Shaul;l) they travelled northward to Lod, which was already in the land of Ephraim; from there to Shalishah, in the valley of Jordan; thence they turned northward to Shaalim; then northwesterly to Jemini; again to the northern part of Benjamin, near Lower Beth-Horon, and thence, at last, farther to the north, till they reached Zuph, i. e. Ramathaim-Zofim or Ramah.

After I had positively convinced myself, that Ramah must have been several days' journey from Gibeah, and that its position must have been to the north of Shechem, I sought to ascertain whether some traces could not be now found of this birth and burial­place of Samuel; and I am pleased to state that I succeeded in quite a satisfactory manner. 3½ English miles west of the fortification of Sanur, the Shamir of Judges 10:1, there lies, on a high mount, in an opposite direction to the valley of Jezreel, the village Rameh, unquestionably the Ramah of Samuel. It is said in the book of Judith, 4:6,7: "And the high priest Jehoiakim wrote to the inhabitants of the large field (or plain) situated opposite to Jezreel, near Dathaim (or as other readings have it Bamathaim), to occupy the (approaches and) passes of the rocks which are on the sides of the mountains on the way to Jerusalem, through which the enemy would have to pass into the land of Judea." There can be no question but that an error has crept into the translation, and that instead of Dathaim or Bamathaim, places not otherwise known, we should read Ramathaim (Zofim); for there is no spot where the road from Galilee to Judea has to pass between mountains and rocky cliffs but precisely here, and it is likewise opposite to the valley of Jezreel. We have already stated above that the mountains of Ephraim extend to this valley, and, among other portions, included part of Issachar; and so the Judge, Tola, a man of Issachar, lived in Shamir, in the mountain of Ephraim (Judges 10:1). I also suppose that Ramah, the birth-place of Samuel, who was a Levite, was one of the Levitical cities belonging to Issachar, which is called Jarmuth in Joshua 21:29, and Ramoth in 1 Chron. 6:58. (See Kimchi to 1 Sam. 1:1.)

Another proof that Ramah must have been near Shechem can be derived from the following passage of 1 Sam. 19:22: "Then went he (Saül) also to Ramah, and came to the great well which is in Sehchu." My labours to ascertain the position of the town of Sehchu, led me to the following results: Southeast from Shechem is as yet a village called Adjar ; not far from it, on the road to Jerusalem, is a large well, which is 100 feet in depth, and called "Jacob's Well," and it is said of it that at its bottom is found the cupola of a destroyed church. Near it are the ruins of the large buildings which the Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine, had caused to be erected in honour of the place. It now strikes me that this village Adjar can be none other than the ancient Sechu, and that the so-called Jacob's Well is the same great well where Saul made inquiries concerning the whereabouts of David and Samuel on his journey to Ramah.

Bezek בצק (Judges 1:4), is the modern village Abzik, 5 English miles south of Beth-Shean.

Zelzach צלצח on the boundary of Benjamin (1 Sam. 1:2). According to the Talmud it is identical with Jerusalem. To me, however, it appears a compound noun from צל shade and צח rock; and actually there are found southeast of Jerusalem large masses of rocks, which mark almost accurately the boundary line of Benjamin. It is also possible that the name of the village Tseltsia (for Zelza), situated 3 English miles west of Shiloh, is derived from the ancient Zelzach.

Arumah ארומה (Judges 9:41), is the village Ramin, 2 English miles west of Samaria (compare Zohar Shemini, fol. 39b).

Ophrah עפרה (Judges 6:11), is perhaps the village Erafa, situated north of the fortification of Sanur, the modern name probably having arisen by transposing the letter F and R.

Jeshanah ישנה  (II Chron. 13:19), is the village Al Sawn, 2 miles west of Beth-El.

Ephraim עפרין (ibid.), was situated east of Beth-El, in the valley of Jordan. According to Hieronymus, it was distant 20 mill north of Jerusalem. At present it is unknown. (See Menachoth, 83b, and above, Chazor, in Benjamin.)

Birzaith ברזית (I Chron. 7:31), is the village Bir-Sith, still existing, 2 miles north of Djifni (Ophni). It must not surprise us that this town, situated in Ephraim, is also reckoned to Asher; because we often find that the possessions of one tribe encroach on those of the other; which also is the case with Japhlet mentioned along with Bir-Sith. (See 1 Chron. 7:31-33, and Joshua 16:3.)

Gath-Rimmon גת רמון (Joshua 21:25, and called Bileam in 1 Chron. 6:55) appears to me to be identical with Hadad-Rimmon in the valley of Megiddo of Zechariah 12:11. This Levitical town of the tribe of Menasseh, situated 2 English miles west of En-Gannim, and southeast of Legion (Megiddo), in the valley of the latter, the environs of which extended to Megiddo itself, was called in the time of the Romans Maximianopolis. At present it is but the village Kafer Guth. The site of this village agrees accurately with the description given in the book of Judith 7:3, "And they encamped in the valley near Blema (i. e. Bileam), which is opposite to Jezreel." In the Talmud it is called Kefar Uthni (see Gitten, fol. 76a), and it is said in Bechoroth, 55a, that מכפר חנינה לכפר עותני ל״ב מיל "from Kefar Chaninah to Kefar Uthni is 32 mill, and that Zippori (Sephoris) lay between them." This agrees also exactly with the position of Kafer Guth, which is near 32 mill, each mill being reckoned as always, in the Talmud, of eighteen minutes' walk, or about 24 English miles, from Kafer Anan (which see), and Sephuri is moreover midway between the two.

Abel-Mecholah אבל מחולה (Judges 7:22), was according to Eusebius 16 mill south of Beth-Shean, on the bank of the Jordan. Perhaps, however, it may be identical with the present village Methshalon, situated 2 English miles southeast of the fortress of Sanur.*

* According to Yarchi to Ketuboth, 105b, the prophet Elisha was of the tribe of Gad, consequently his birth-place (Abel-Mecholah), must then have been east of Jordan, in the land of that tribe. But I can find no passage which authorized Yarchi to make this assertion.

Zerarah צררה (Judges 7:22, and Zorethan צרתן in 1 Kings 7:46), although not known at present, must still have been, to judge from the passages cited, south of Beth-Shean opposite the ruins of Sukkoth, which are situated on the east side of Jordan.

Of the places belonging to the sons of Joseph mentioned in the Talmudic writings, we will notice the following:

Akrabbah עקרבה See farther down, at the end of this chapter.

Assiri אסירי (Tosephtah Mikvaoth, chap. iv.), probably the village Assiri, situated in a southern direction, opposite to the village Djeba (i.e. Geba, which, however, is an arbitrary name, having neither Biblical nor Talmudical origin), 5 English miles north of Shechem.

Kefar Nimrah כפר נמרה (Midrash Echa, 72a) is the village Bir Namar, 2 English miles southwest from the just named Djeba.

Yathmah יתמה (Orlah, chap. 2:5), is the present village Yathmah, 5 English miles south of Chavara, i.e. BethHoron.

Bedan בדן (ibid. 3:7, Kelaim, 17:5; Yerushalmi Demai, iii.) Northeast of Shechem there is a valley, which is known as Wady Al Badan.

Perech פרך (ibid.) That part of the just-named valley which extends to the southeast close to the Jordan, is now called Wady al Farchi. Jos., Bell. Jud., book ii. chap. 21, mentions a Capharecho, probably the Perech in question.

The Valley of the Spring Socher בקעת עין סוכר (Menachoth, fol. 64b). Between Salin, i. e. Shalem, and the village Abulnita, famous for possessing the grave of Joseph, lies the village Askar, where the spring En-Askar rises. Here commences a fruitful plain, opening towards the east, and extending to the Jordan, which appears to me to be the plain or valley in question. The spring, which gives it the name, is also called, in Yerushalmi Abodah Zarah, chap. v., En Kushith עין כושית, "the spring of the Moors." I have already mentioned, when speaking of Ramah, that the well of Jacob is considered holy by the Christians. I therefore also believe that idolatry may have fixed its abode near the spring of Askar, to which, probably, the contemptuous name also refers. In Bereshith Rabbah, chap. 98, it is said ברכת שמים מעל זו אזכרות שבבעל, which passage no commentator has as yet been fortunate enough to decipher. But I believe that reference is here made to the Valley of Socher, since בעל in the Talmudic dialect stands for  בקעת מישור "plain, or valley" (see 2 Chron. 24:7); and as this vicinity, which belonged to Joseph, is exceedingly blessed and fruitful, it may be assumed that Jacob, in blessing him, had reference to this valley, therefore "the blessing of heaven above means Askar in the plain;" so that אזכרות stands for אסכרות "the springs of Askar."

Kefar Dichrin כפר דכרין (Gittin, fol. 57b). This considerable and large town is, besides the passage cited, often referred to in Talmud and Midrashim. It was situated on Mount Ephraim, the Tur Malkah, "King's Mountain" of the Rabbis. At the time of Astori there was a vestige of it remaining in the village Dachran, situated a few miles north of Lod, in the mountains; at present, however, it is unknown. It might be believed that it was identical with the town Beth-Zecharias; often mentioned by Josephus, as both have the same signification, only that it appears from several passages of this author, that Beth-Zecharias was not as far north, but more to the south, in the part of Judah; which circumstance induced me to state already that I suppose Beth-Zecharias to be the present Beth Sachur, not far from Beth-Lehem. (See Jos., Bell. Jud., book i., chap. i.)

In the book of Jashar to Gen. 34, speaking of the wars of the sons of Jacob, the following names occur:

Chasar חסר, probably Chazor in Benjamin (Neh. 11:33).

Sartan סרטן. Here prevails, without doubt, an error in the transcriber, and it should read Sartaf, this name being applied to the town because it lay near the Mount Sartaf, situated 5 English miles west from the Jordan.

Arbelio ארבליו "And they heard that the men of Arbelio had gone out to them." By this name cannot by any means be meant the town of Arbel, in the land of Naphtali; for this place was situated near Chinnereth, and was, therefore, too far out of the way for the sons of Jacob; and it is of their then sojourn of which the book of Jashar speaks in the passage referred to. But probably it should read Archelio ארכליו with כ instead of ב; and reference is had, no doubt, to the town of Archelais, which, as Josephus relates (Ant., book xvii. 13), was a day's journey from Jericho. The assertion of this historian, that Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great, was the builder of this city, may be explained to mean that the king in question improved materially this very ancient city of Archil, having some resemblance to his own name, and, so to say, had it completely restored. (See also Rimmon in Zebulun.)

Ethanim אתנים appears to me should read Machanaim (compare with Yalkut). This was on the east side of Jordan, and was opposite to where the sons of Jacob were at the time.

Shiloh, Gaash, Beth-Choron, Tappuach, and Har Sion, have been described in their proper places.

Castra קסטרה In Echa Rabbethi, chap. i. 17, "Castra and Cheipha were perpetual enemies;" in Midrash Samuel, chap. 16, is Kazra, which is an erroneous reading, and should be Castra. Compare with Baba Kamma, fol. 98a, "in Castra," or on "the King's Mount." The place now called Chirbath (ruins of) Athlot, situated at the foot of Carmel, on the sea-coast, north of Dardura, and south of Cheipha, was formerly called Castrum Peregrinorum. I have no doubt that this is the place referred to in the above quotations. Astori did not know of this Castrum, and therefore corrected Castra into Caesarea, which, as will be seen, was by no means necessary.

Taba טאבא, stated in 1 Macc. 9:50 to be in the vicinity of Beth-El and Jericho, is no doubt the village Taibi, which is 7 English miles west of Nama (maarah), and situated on the highest point of the mountains of that neighbourhood. Between it and Nama flows the stream Duga (Fish River; compare with Ezek. 47:9). Here, therefore, seems to have been situated the village Dagun, of which Josephus speaks in his Bell. Jud., book 1. chap. 1.

Maabartha מעברתא (see Yerushalmi Taanith, chap. iv). According to the account of Josephus (Bell. Jud., book v. chap. iv.), Neapolis or Shechem was also called Maabartha.