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Study Resources :: Dictionaries :: Palestine Exploration, 1

Dictionaries :: Palestine Exploration, 1

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International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia

Palestine Exploration, 1:

(as of 1915)

Preliminary Consideration


1. Outside of Palestine

2. In Palestine

(1) Early Christian Period

(2) Period of Cursory Observation

(3) Beginning of Scientific Observation


1. Period of Individual Enterprise

(1) First Trained Explorers

(2) The Climax of Individual Exploration

2. Scientific Cooperative Surface Exploration

3. Most Recent Results in Surface Exploration


1. Southern Palestine

(1) Tell el-Chesy

(2) Excavations in Jerusalem

(3) Excavations in the Shephelah

(4) Painted "Tombs of Marissa"

2. Northern Palestine

(1) Tell Ta?annek

(2) Tell el-Mutesellim

(3) Tell Chum

3. Eastern Palestine


4. Central Palestine

(1) Jerusalem

(2) Samaria

(3) ?Ain Shems

(4) Gezer


Preliminary Consideration:

Previous to the last century, almost the entire stock of knowledge concerning ancient Palestine, including its races, laws, languages, history and manners, was obtained from Josephus and the Bible, with a few brief additional references given by Greek and Roman authors; knowledge concerning modern Palestine was limited to the reports of chance travelers. The change has been due largely to the compelling interest taken in sacred history and the "Holy Oracles." This smallest country in the world has aroused the spirit of exploration as no other country has or could. It has largely stimulated many of the investigations carried on in other lands.

I. Era of Preparation.

1. Outside of Palestine:

Much direct information concerning ancient Palestine, absolutely essential to the success of modern exploration in that land, has come through discoveries in other countries; but due in many cases to Biblical influence. All the most important Hebrew and Greek manuscripts and versions of the Bible and most of the Jewish Talmud and apocryphal and Wisdom books were found outside of Palestine. The pictures of its population, cities, fortresses and armies give a color and perspective to its ancient history far more vivid than can be found on any of its own contemporary monuments. The records of Thothmes III (15th century BC) describing the capture of Megiddo in the plain of Esdraelon with its vast stores of "chariots wrought with gold," bronze armor, silver and ebony statues, ivory and ebony furniture, etc., and of his further capture of 118 other Canaanite towns, many of which are well known from the Bible, and from which he takes an enormous tribute of war materials, golden ornaments and golden dishes, "too many to be weighed," find no parallel in any indigenous record-such records even if written having been doomed to perish because of the soil, climate and character of the rocks West of the Jordan. So circa 1400 BC, the Tell el-Amarna Letters (discovered in 1887) mention by name many Biblical cities, and give much direct information concerning the political and social conditions at that period, with at least 6 letters from the governor of Jerusalem, who writes to the Pharaoh news that the Egyptian fleet has left the coast, that all the neighboring cities have been lost to Egypt, and that Jerusalem will be lost unless help can be had quickly against the invasion of the Khabiri. The literature of the XIXth Dynasty contains many Hebrew names with much information concerning Goshen, Pithom, Canaan, etc., while in one huge stele of Menephtah the Israelites are mentioned by name. Later Egyptian Pharaohs give almost equally important knowledge concerning Palestine, while the Assyrian texts are even more direct. The black obelisk of Shalmancser II (9th century) catalogues and pictures the tribute received from Jehu; almost every king of the 8th century tells something of his relations with the rulers of Jerusalem or Damascus, throwing immense light on local politics, and the later Bah records give vividly the conditions previous to and during the exile, while the edict of Cyrus gives the very decree by virtue of which the Jews could return to their native land. Later discoveries, like the Code of Hammurabi at Susa (1901), the Sendjirli and other Aramaic texts from Northern Syria (1890, 1908), and the Elephantine papyri, some of which are addressed to the "sons of Sanballat" and describe a temple in Egypt erected to Yahu (Yahweh) in the 5th century BC, may not give direct information concerning Palestine, but are important to present explorers because of the light thrown upon the laws of Palestine in patriarchal times; upon the thought and language of a neighboring Semitic community at the time of the Monarchy; upon the religious ritual and festivals of Nehemiah's day, and upon the general wealth and culture of the Jews of the 5th century; opening up also for the first time the intimate relations which existed between Jerusalem and Samaria and the Jews of the Dispersion. So the vast amounts of Greek papyri found recently in the Fayyum not only have preserved the "Logia" and "Lost Gospels" and fragments of Scripture texts, early Christian Egyptian ritual, etc., but have given to scholars for the first time contemporaneous examples of the colloquial language which the Jews of Palestine were using in the 1st century AD, and in which they wrote the "memoirs" of the apostles and the Gospels of Jesus.

2. In Palestine:

(1) Early Christian Period.

At this time, during the first three or four centuries the ancient sites and holy places were identified, giving some valuable information as to the topographical memories of the earlier church. By far the most valuable of these carefully prepared summaries of ancient Bible places, with their modern sites, and the distances between them, was the Onomasticon of Eusebius, as it was enlarged by Jerome, which attempted seriously the identification of some 300 holy places, most of these being vitally important for the modern student of the Bible. While some of these identifications were "curiously incorrect" (Bliss) and the distances even at the best only approximate, yet few satisfactory additions were made to the list for 1,500 years; and it was certainly a splendid contribution to Palestinian topography, for the list as a whole has been confirmed by the scientific conclusions of recent investigators.

(2) Period of Cursory Observation.

The earliest traveler who has left a record of his journey into Palestine was Sinuhit, who, perhaps a century after Abraham, mentions a number of places known to us from the Bible and describes Canaan as a "land of figs and vines,.... where wine was more plentiful than Water,.... honey and oil in abundance.... all kinds of fruit upon its trees, barley and spelt in the fields, and cattle beyond number"; each day his table is laden with "bread, wine, cooked flesh and roasted fowl.... wild game from the hills and milk in every sort of cooked dish" (Breasted, Ancient Records, I, 496). A few other Egyptian visitors (1300-1000 BC) add little to our knowledge. The report of the Hebrew spies (Nu 13) records important observations, although they can only humorously be called "genuine explorers" (Bliss), and Joshua's list of cities and tribes, although their boundaries are carefully described (Joshua 13-21), are naturally excluded from this review.

The record of early Christian travel begins with the Bordeaux Pilgrim (332 AD), and during the next two centuries scores of others write out their observations in the Holy Land, but for 1,000 years there is scarcely a single visitor who looks at the country except through the eyes of the monks. A woman traveler of the 4th century reports some interesting facts about the early ritual of the Jerusalem church and the catechumen teaching, and surprises us by locating Pithom correctly (although the site was totally forgotten and only recovered in 1883), and the Epitome of Eucherius (5th century) gives a clear description of the holy places in Jerusalem; but almost the only other significant sign that anyone at this era ever made serious observations of value comes from the very large, fine mosaic of the 5th century recently discovered at Madeba, which gives a good impression of ancient Jerusalem with its buildings, and a careful bird's-eye view of the surrounding country (see below II, 3). By the middle of the 6th century the old "Holy Places" were covered by churches, while new ones were manufactured or discovered in dreams, and relics of martyrs' bones began to engross so much attention that no time was left in which to make any ordinary geographical or natural-history observations. A little local color and a few facts in regard to the plan of early churches and the persecution of Christians by Moslems constitute almost the sum total of valus to be gathered from the multitude of pilgrims between the 6th and 12th centuries. In the 12th century John of Wurzburg gives a few geographical notes of value; Theoderich notices certain inscriptions and tombs, describes accurately the churches and hospitals he visits, with their pictures and decorations, and outlines intelligently the boundaries of Judea and the salient features of the mountains encompassing Jerusalem; the Abbot Daniel notices the wild beasts in the Jordan forests and the customs at church feasts, and his account is important because of the light it throws on conditions in Palestine just after its conquest by the Crusaders, while in the 13th century Burchard of Mt. Zion makes the earliest known medieval map of Palestine, mentions over 100 Scripture sites, and shows unexpected interest in the plant and animal life of the country-but this practically exhausts the valuable information from Christian sources in these centuries. The Moslem pilgrims and writers from the 9th to the 15th centuries show far more regard to geographical realities than the Christians. It is a Moslem, Istakhri, who in the 10th century makes the first effort at a systematic geography of Palestine, and in the 10th and 13th centuries, respectively, Muqaddasi, after 20 years of preparation, and Yaqut, in a "vast work," publish observations concerning climate, native customs, geographical divisions, etc., which are yet valuable, while Nacir-i-Qhusran, in the 11th century, also gave important information concerning Palestinian botany, gave dimensions of buildings and gates, and even noticed to some extent the ancient arches and ruins-though in all these there are pitiful inaccuracies of observation and induction. One of the best Moslem writers thinks the water of Lake Tiberias is not fit to drink because the city sewerage has ceased to flow into it, and Christian writers from the 7th century down to modern times continually mention the Jor and Da as two fountains from which the Jordan rises, and continually report the most absurd stories about the Dead Sea and about its supernatural saltness never noticing the salt mountain near by and the other simple causes explaining this phenomenon.


In the 14th century Marino Sanuto gave a "most complete monograph" (Ritter) of Palestinian geography, his maps being really valuable, though, according to modern standards, quite inaccurate. The Jew, Estoai ben Moses ha-Phorhi, in this same century advanced beyond all Christian writers in a work of "real scientific knowledge" (Bliss), in which he correctly identified Megiddo and other ancient sites, though the value of his work was not recognized for 400 years. The great name of the 15th century is that of the Dominican, Father Felix Fabri, who in his large book, Wanderings in the Holy Land, was the first to notice monuments and ruins to which no Biblical traditions were attached (Bliss), and who, within a decade of the discovery of America, described most vividly the dangers and miseries of the sea voyages of that era, and in most modern fashion narrated his adventures among the Saracens; yet notwithstanding the literary value of the book and his better method of arranging his materials, Fabri actually explained the saltness of the Dead Sea as due to the sweat which flowed from the skin of the earth! In the 16th century travelers showed more interest in native customs, but the false traditional identification of sites was scarcely questioned; the route of travel was always the same, as it was absolutely impossible to get East of the Jordan, and even a short trip away from the caravan was dangerous.

(3) Beginning of Scientific Observation.

In the 17th century Michal Nau, for 30 years a missionary in Palestine, De la Roque and Hallifix showed a truly scientific veracity of observation and an increasing accuracy in the recording and verification of their notes, and Maundrell advanced beyond all his predecessors in noticing the antiquities on the seacoast, North of Beirut; but all of these, though possessing fine qualities as explorers, were forced to travel hastily and limit their study to a very narrow field.

II. Era of Scientific Exploration.

1. Period of Individual Enterprise:

(1) First Trained Explorers.

True scientific exploration opened with the 18th century, as men began to think of this as itself an important life-work and not merely as a short episode in a life devoted to more serious pursuits. Th. Shaw (1722) carefully fitted himself as a specialist in natural history and physical geography, and scientifically reported a number of new facts, e.g. conditions and results of evaporation, etc., in the Dead Sea. Bishop Pococke (1738) had been well trained, was free from the bondage of tradition, and did for the antiquities of Palestine what Maundrell had done for those of Syria, making a large number of successful identifications of sites and contributing much to the general knowledge of Palestine. Volney (1783) was a brilliant literary man, in full sympathy with the scientific spirit, who popularized results and made a considerable number of original researches, especially in the Lebanon. Seetzen (1800-1807) and Burckhardt (1810-1812) are called by Bliss "veritable pioneers in the exploration of the ruins of Eastern and Southern Palestine." The former opened Caesarea Philippi to light, visited a large unexplored district and made important observations in almost every field of knowledge, zoology, meteorology, archaeology; the latter, having become an Arab in looks and language, was able to go into many places where no European had ventured, one of his chief triumphs being the discovery of Petra and the scientific location of Mt. Sinai.

(2) The Climax of Individual Exploration.

The climax of the era of scientific observation, unassisted by learned societies, was reached by the American clergyman and teacher, Edward Robinson. He spent parts of two years in Palestine (1838 and 1852) and in 1856 published 3 volumes of Biblical Researches. He strictly employed the scientific method, and showed such rare insight that scarcely one of his conclusions has been found incorrect. His knowledge was as extensive as minute, and although he gave, in all, only five months of steady labor to the specific task of exploration, yet in that time he "reconstructed the map of Palestine" (Bliss), and his conclusions henceforth "formed the ground work of modern research" (Conder). He studied Jerusalem, being the first to show that the ancient fragment of an arch (now "Robinson's") had been part of the bridge connecting the temple with Mt. Zion, and was the first to trace with accuracy the windings of the tunnel leading from the Virgin's Fount to the Pool of Siloam. All Judea, Galilee and Samaria were very well covered by him. He was the first to notice that the ruined building at Tell Chum was a synagogue; from the top of one hill he recognized seven Biblical sites which had been lost for at least 1,500 years; he identified correctly at least 160 new sites, almost all being Biblical places. Robinson's results were phenomenal in number and variety, yet necessarily these have been constantly improved upon or added to in each generation since, for no man can cover the entire field or be a specialist in every department. W.M. Thomson in his Thomson, The Land and the Book (new edition, 1910) and G.E. Post, Flora of Syria, Palestine, and Sinai (1896), gave a needed popular resume of the manners, customs and folklore of the people, as these illustrated the Bible, and many books and articles since have added to this material.

In 1848 the United States sent an expedition under Lieutenant Lynch to the Dead Sea, which ascertained the exact width, depth, currents, temperature, etc., and many parties since have added to this knowledge (see e.g. DEAD SEA; and also PEFS, 1911, XII, 7). From 1854 to 1862 De Vogue thoroughly examined the monuments of Central Syria and remained the sole authority on this section down to the American Archaeological Expedition of 1899. Tabler (1845-63) scientifically described Jerusalem and its environs, and the districts lying between Jaffa and the Jordan, and between Jerusalem and Bethel. Guerin who studied Palestine during periods covering 23 years (1852-75), though limited by lack of funds, covered topographically, with a minuteness never before attempted, almost the whole of Judea, Samaria and Galilee, gathering also many new records of monuments and inscriptions, the record of which was invaluable because many of these had been completely destroyed before the arrival of the next scientific party. A most sensational discovery was that of F. Klein in 1868, when he found at Dibon the huge basalt tablet set up by Mesha, king of Moab (9th century BC), on which in a language closely resembling the Hebrew, he gave honor to his god Chemosh by describing his successful revolt against a successor of Omri, the latter being mentioned by name with many well-known Biblical places. In style, thought and language this inscription greatly resembles the early Old Testament records.

2. Scientific Cooperative Surface Exploration:

With the foundation of the Palestine Exploration Fund (1865) the work of exploration took on an entirely new phase, since in this case, not a single individual, but a large company of specialists entered the work, having behind them sufficient funds for adequate investigation in each necessary line of research, and with the British War Office furnishing its expert Royal Engineers to assist the enterprise. Under the auspices of this society during the next 15 years Jerusalem was explored as never before, and all Western Palestine was topographically surveyed (see below); a geological survey (1883-1884) of Sinai, Wady ?Arabah and the Dead Sea, and later of Mt. Seir (1885) was accomplished under Professor Edward Hull; the natural history of the country was treated with great thoroughness by several specialists; Palmer and Drake in the dress of Syrian natives, without servants, risked the dangerous journey through the Desert of the Tih in order to locate so far as possible the route of the Exodus; Clermont-Ganneau, who had previously made the discovery of the Jewish placard from the Temple, forbidding strangers to enter the sacred enclosure, added greatly to archaeological knowledge by gathering and deciphering many ancient inscriptions, uncovering buried cemeteries, rock-cut tombs and other monuments. He also laid down important criteria for the age of stone masonry (yet see PEFS, 1897, LXI); identified various sites including Adullam, found the "stone of Bethphage," "Zoheleth," etc., and made innumerable plans of churches, mosques, tombs, etc., and did an incredible amount of other important work. Capt., afterward Col., C.R. Conder did an equally important work, and as the head of the archaeological party could finally report 10,000 place-names as having been gathered, and 172 new Bible sites successfully identified, while the boundaries of the tribes had been practially settled and many vitally important Bible locations for the first time fixed. The excavations in Jerusalem under the same auspices had meanwhile been carried out as planned. After an introductory examination by Sir Charles Wilson, including some little excavating, Sir Charles Warren (1867-1870) and, later, Col. Conder (1872-1875) made thorough excavations over a large area, sinking shafts and following ancient walls to a depth of 80-150 ft. They uncovered the Temple-area from its countless tons of debris and traced its approximate outline; examined underground rock chambers; opened ancient streets; discovered many thousand specimens of pottery, glass, tools, etc., from Jewish to Byzantine periods; found the pier in the Tyropoeon Valley, where Robinson's arch had rested, and also parts of the ancient bridge; traced the line of several important ancient walls, locating gates and towers, and fixed the date of one wall certainly as of the 8th century BC, and probably of the age of Solomon (G.A. Smith), thus accomplishing an epoch-making work upon which all more recent explorers have safely rested-as Maudslay (1875), in his masterly discovery and examination of the Great Scarp, and Guthe (1881), who made fine additional discoveries at Ophel, as well as Warren and Conder in their work afterward (1884), when they published plans of the whole city with its streets churches, mosques, etc., 25 inches to the mile, which in that direction remains a basis for all later work.


Perhaps, however, the greatest work of all done by this society was the Topographical Survey (1881-1886), accomplished for Judea and Samaria by Col. Conder, and for Galilee by Lord Kitchener, resulting in a great map of Western Palestine in 26 sheets, on a scale of an inch to the mile (with several abridged additions), showing all previous identifications of ancient places. These maps, with the seven magnificent volumes of memoirs, etc., giving the other scientific work done by the various parties, marked such an epoch-making advance in knowledge that it has been called "the most important contribution to illustrate the Bible since its translation into the vulgar tongue."

In addition to the above the Palestine Exploration Fund established a Quarterly Statement and Society of Biblical Archaeology from which subscribers could keep in touch with the latest Biblical results, and published large quantities of translations of ancient texts and travels and of books reporting discoveries as these were made. Altogether more advance was made during these 15 years from 1865-1880 than in the 15 centuries before.

3. Most Recent Results in Surface Exploration:

The next ten years (1880-90) did not furnish as much new material from Palestine exploration, but in 1880 the Siloam Inscription (compare 2Ki 20:20; 2Ch 32:30) was accidentally found in Jerusalem, showing the accuracy with which the engineers of Hezekiah's day could, at least occasionally, cut long tunnels through the rock (see also Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches, 313); and in 1881-1885 Conder and Schumacher attempted their difficult task of making a scientific topographical map of Eastern Palestine. In 1881 H. Clay Trumbull rediscovered and properly described Kadesh-barnea, settling authoritatively its location and thus making it possible to fix previously obscure places mentioned in the account of the Exodus wanderings. Since 1890 continued investigations in small districts not adequately described previously have taken place, new additions to the zoological, botanical, geological and meteorological knowledge of Palestine have been frequent; studies of irrigation and the water-supply have been made, as well as investigations into the customs, proverbs, folklore, etc., of the Arabs; many districts East of the Jordan and through Petra down into Sinai have yielded important results, and many discoveries of surface tombs, ossuaries, mosaics, seals and manuscripts have been made in many parts of Palestine. This has been done perhaps chiefly by the Palestine Exploration Fund, but much by individuals and some by the newly organized excavation societies (see below). The most surprising discoveries made by this method of surface exploration (a method which can never become completely obsolete) have been the finding at different times of the four Boundary Stones of Gezer (1874, 1881, 1889) by Clermont-Ganneau, and, in 1896, of the very large mosaic at Madeba by Father Cleopas, librarian of the Greek Patriarch.

The latter proved to be part of the pavement of a 6th-century basilica and is a "veritable map of Palestine," showing its chief cities, the boundaries of the tribes, and especially the city of Jerusalem with its walls, gates, chief buildings, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and chief streets, notably one long straight street intersecting the city and lined with colonnades. As Madeba lies near the foot of Mt. Nebo, it is thought the artist may have intended to represent ideally a modern (6th-cent.) vision of Moses. George Adam Smith (HGHL, 7th edition, 1901); Jerusalem (2 volumes, 1910), and E. Huntington, Palestine and Its Transformation (1911), have given fine studies illustrating the supreme importance of accurate topographical knowledge in order to understand correctly the Bible narratives and the social life and politics of the Hebrews.

Written by Camden M. Cobern

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