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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Esdraelon

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[from v.r. Ε᾿σδραηλών ] (or rather Esdrelon, Ε᾿σδρηλών, Judith 3:9; Judith 4:6; but "Esdreloam," Ε᾿σδρηλών , Judith 1:8; "Esdraelom," 7:3, where it is called "the great plain," as simply in Josephus everywhere, τὸ πεδίον μέγα ), the name of a valley or large bottom, a Graecized form derived from the old royal city of Jezreel, which occupied a commanding site, near the eastern extremity of the plateau, on a spur of Mount Gilboa. "The great plain of Esdraelon" extends across central Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, separating the mountain ranges of Carmel and Samaria from those of Galilee. The western section of it is properly the plain of Accho or Acre ('Akka). The main body of the plain is a triangle. Its base on the east extends from Jenin (the ancient Engannim) to the foot of the hills below Nazareth, and is about 15 miles long; the north side, formed by the hills of Galilee, is about 12 miles long; and the south side, formed by the Samaria range, is about 18 miles. The apex on the west is a narrow pass opening into the plain of 'Akka. This vast expanse has a gently undulating surface in spring all green with corn where cultivated, and rank weeds and grass where neglected dotted with several low gray tells, and near the sides with a few olive groves. This is that valley of Megiddo (בַּקְעִת מְגַדּוֹ, so called from the city of Megiddo [q.v.], which stood on its southern border), where Barak triumphed, and where king Josiah was defeated and received his death-wound (Judges 5:1-31; 2 Chronicles 25:1-28). Probably, too, it was before the mind of the apostle John when he figuratively described the final conflict between the hosts of good and evil who were gathered to a place called Ar-mageddon (Ἀρμαγεδδών, from the Hebrews עָר מְגַדּוֹ, that is, the city ofMegiddo; Revelation 16:16). The river Kishon "that ancient river" so fatal to the army of Sisera (Judges 5:21) drains the plain, and flows off through the pass westward to the Mediterranean.

From the base of this triangular plain three branch plains stretch out eastward, like fingers from a hand, divided by two bleak gray ridges one bearing the familiar name of Mount Gilboa; the other called by Franks Little Hermon, but by natives Jebel ed-Duhy. The northern branch has Tabor on the one side, and Little Hermon on the other; into it the troops of Barak defiled from the heights of Tabor (Judges 4:6); and on its opposite side are the sites of Nain and Endor. The southern branch lies between Jenin and Gilboa, terminating in a point among the hills to the eastward; it was across it that Ahaziah fled from Jehu (2 Kings 9:27). The central branch is the richest as well as the most celebrated; it descends in green, fertile slopes to the banks of the Jordan, having Jezreel and Shunem on opposite sides at the western end, and Bethshean in its midst towards the east. This is the " valley of Jezreel" proper the battle-field on which Gideon triumphed; and Saul and Jonathan were overthrown (Judges 7:1 sq.; 1 Samuel 29:1-11; 1 Samuel 31:1-13). Indeed, a large part of the most sanguinary battles fought in Palestine in every age have been waged upon this eventful plain.

Two things are worthy of special notice in the plain of Esdraelon: 1. Its wonderful richness. Its unbroken expanse of verdure contrasts strangely with the gray, bleak crowns of Gilboa, and the rugged ranges on the north and south. The gigantic thistles, the luxuriant grass, and the exuberance of the crops on the few cultivated spots, show the fertility of the soil. It was the frontier of Zebulon "Rejoice, Zebulon, in thy going out" (Deuteronomy 33:18). But it was the special portion of Issachar "And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute" (Genesis 49:15). 2. Its desolation. If we except the eastern branches, there is not a single inhabited village on its whole surface, and not more than one sixth of its soil is cultivated. It is the home of the wild, wandering Bedouin, who scour its smooth turf on their fleet horses in search of plunder; and when hard pressed can speedily remove their tents and flocks beyond the Jordan, and beyond the reach of a weak government. It has always been insecure since history began. The old Canaanitish tribes drove victoriously through it in their iron chariots (Judges 4:3; Judges 4:7); the nomad Midianites and Amalekites those "children of the East," who were "as grasshoppers for multitude," Whose "camels were without number" devoured its rich pastures (Judges 6:1-6; Judges 7:1); the Philistines long held it, establishing a stronghold at Bethshean (1 Samuel 29:1; 1 Samuel 31:10); and the Syrians frequently swept over it with their armies (1 Kings 20:26; 2 Kings 13:17). In its condition, thus exposed to every hasty incursion and to every shock of war, we read the fortunes of that tribe which for the sake of its richness consented to sink into a half-nomadic state "Rejoice, O Issachar, in thy tents... . Issachar is a strong ass, crouching down between two burdens; and he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant, and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute" (Genesis 49:14-15; Deuteronomy 33:18). Once only did this tribe shake off the yoke-when under the heavy pressure of Sisera, "the chiefs of Issachar were with Deborah" (Judges 5:15). Their exposed position and valuable possessions in this open plain made them anxious for the succession of David to the throne, as one under whose powerful protection they would enjoy that peace and rest which they loved; and they joined with their neighbors of Zebulun and Naphtali in sending to David presents of the richest productions of their rich country (1 Chronicles 12:32; 1 Chronicles 12:40). (See ISSACHAR).

The whole borders of the plain of Esdraelon are dotted with places of high historic and sacred interest. Here we group them together, while referring the reader for details to the separate articles. On the east we have Endor, Nain, and Shunem, ranged round the base of the "hill of Moreh;" then Bethshean in the center of the plain where the "valley of Jezreel" opens towards,the Jordan; then Gilboa, with the "well of Harod," and the ruins of Jezreel at its western base. On the south are Engannim, Taanach, and Megiddo. At the western apex, on the overhanging brow of Carmel, is the scene of Elijah's sacrifice; and close by the foot of the mountain below runs the Kishon, on whose banks the false prophets of Baal were slain. On the north, among places of less note, are Nazareth and Tabor. The modern Syrians have forgotten the ancient name as they have forgotten the ancient history of Esdraelon, and it is now known among them only as Merj ibn- 'Amer, "the Plain of the Son of Amer." A graphic sketch of Esdraelon is given in Stanley's Syr. and Pales. page 327 sq.; see also Porter, Handbook for Syria and Palestine, p. 851 sq.; Jowett, Christian Researches, page 146, 222; Robinson, Researches, new edition, 2:315-30, 366; 3:113 sq.; Thomson; L(rd and Book. 2:216 sq.; Walther, De Μεγαλωπεδιῳ Paulestinca (Lips. 1792). (See JEZREEL).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Esdraelon'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/e/esdraelon.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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