Regions of Palestine

The coastal plain looking from Tel Gezer towards the city of Tel Aviv (dry season)

Palestine can be divided into 6 sorts of land:

The plains, flat land in a strip along the sea coast, thinner to the north and broader to the south, together with the "Great Plain" which cuts through the hills north of the Carmel ridge and joins the Jordan valley via the Jezreel valley. In this dry climate, the plains with good run-off from the hills were prime land. This was the most fertile and productive area, and the major routes and trade caravans passed through this easier country.

Shephelah, note crops on valley floor, trees on slopes (dry season)

Shephelah, is the biblical term for the low hills and valleys between the plain and the hill country. Orchards grow well on their gentler slopes, and crops in the valley floors. Flocks (of sheep and goats) could be kept on the steeper land. A number of broad valleys cut through this region into the Judean hills, these provide natural routes, and so were the site of several important cities (such as Gezer). The Shephelah was "border country" where Israelite and Philistine controled territory met.

This view of the Nahal Kidron near Mar Saba suggests that the valley floors on the E side of the hill country do not provide good routes! (photo adapted from Tod Bolen used by permission)

The hill country, runs down the spine of the land, broken only by the Great Plain. The western slopes receive reasonable rainfall (and in the dry season dew) and offer some possibilities for farming, while the eastern slopes being steeper (falling to the Rift Valley) and drier were only suitable for flocks which were moved up or down the hill according to the season. The Judean hills tend to run North-South while in Samaria and Galillee such a tendency is less clear. Enemies must either enter this region up one of the broad valleys through the Shephelah, or move N-S along the ridges of the hills themselves.

The Rift Valley, with the Jordan river running from Dan in the North through the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, is part of a great cleft in the earth which continues by the Red Sea down into Africa. In Palestine this valley is the lowest point on the land surface of the Earth (down to over 300m below sea level). The Jordan winds some 300kms to pass 100kms between Galilee and Jericho. The Dead Sea is so-called because no river flows out of it and all the water entering is lost by evaporation and thus it is exceedingly salty.

Transjordan, as the plateau East of the Jordan is known, has reasonable rainfall and was particularly known for its cattle (cf. Am 4:2).

The Negev (meaning South) describes the dry flatish area that stretches from the Mediterranean and the southern end of the Judean hills south to the port at Elat on the Red Sea. Herding is possible, and habitation (whether Beduin camps or ancient cities) tends to be found at the base of hills where wells and vegetation are found.

The Negev near Arad, in the closeup you can see settlements at the base of the hills.

This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos,

© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.