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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Geology of Palestine

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I. Natural divisions. The land of Palestine (using the name in its widest sense to include the trans-Jordanic plateau and the Sinai Peninsula) is divided by its configuration and by natural boundary lines into five strongly contrasted divisions. These are (1) the Coast Plain, (2) the Western Table-land, (3) the Ghôr, (4) the Eastern Table-land, (5) the Sinai Peninsula.

1. The Coast Plain extends from the mouth of the Nile to Carmel (the political boundary line, the valley known as Wady el-’Arîsh , or the River of Egypt, is of no importance geologically). North of Carmel, Esdraelon and the narrow strip that extends as far as Beyrout is the continuation of the same division. It is characterized by sandhills along the coast, and by undulating ground inland.

2. The Western Table-land extends from Lebanon to the northern border of Sinai: the headland of Carmel is an intrusion from this division on to the preceding. It consists of a ridge of limestone with deep valleys running into it on each side, and at Hebron it attains a height of 3040 feet above the sea-level; it broadens out into the desert of the Tib (or of the ‘wanderings’) an almost barren expanse of an average level of 4000 feet.

3. The Ghôr is the line of a fault wherein the strata on the Eastern side have been raised, or on the western side depressed. It runs from the base of Lebanon to the Dead Sea, where it is 1292 feet below the level of the Mediterranean; thence it rises to 640 feet above the same plane at er-Rishi , whence it descends by a gentle slope to the Gulf of ‘Akabah.

4. The Eastern Table-land runs along the W. side of the Arabian desert from Hermon to the Gulf of ‘Akabah. It is chiefly volcanic in the character of its rocks.

5. The Sinai Peninsula is composed of Archæan rocks, which form bare mountains of very striking outline.

Each of these divisions has special characters of its own. The Coast Plain is composed of sand, gravel, or calcareous sandstone, overlaid in many places with rich fertile loam. The Western Table-land has streams rising in copious springs of water stored in the limestone strata; these streams on the Eastern side have a very rapid fall, owing to the great depth of the Ghôr. The hills are generally bare, but the valleys, where the soil has accumulated, are very fertile. The surface of the Ghôr is for its greater part alluvial. The Eastern Table-land is composed of granite and other igneous rocks, overlaid towards the North by sandstones which are themselves covered by calcareous strata. To the South, however, it is entirely covered with basaltic lava sheets, through which the cones of extinct volcanoes rise. The Sinai Peninsula is characterized by its barrenness, vegetation being found only in the valleys.

II. Geological formations. The geological formations of which the above regions are composed are the following. (1) Archæan (granitic gneiss, hornblende, diorite, etc.): the oldest rocks in this region, found only among the mountains of Sinai and Edom. (2) Volcanic (lavas, ash-beds, etc.): found in the Wady Harûn and Jebal esh-Shomar, east of the Dead Sea. (3) Lower Carboniferous (sandstone, blue limestone): found in Wady Nasb, and Lebruj, E. of the Dead Sea: sandstones below, and limestones containing shells and corals of carboniferous limestone species. (4) Cretaceous : lower beds of Nubian sandstone, which is found all along the Tib escarpment and along the Western escarpment from ‘Akabah to beyond the Dead Sea. It was probably a lake-deposit. It is overlaid by a great thickness of cretaceous limestone, amounting to nearly 1000 feet. This is the most important constituent of the rocks of Palestine. Good building stones are taken from it in the quarries of Jerusalem. (5) Lower Eocene : nummulite limestone, found overlying the cretaceous beds in elevated situations, such as Carmel, Nâblus, and Jerusalem. (6) Upper Eocene : a formation of calcareous sandstone on the surface between Beersheba and Jaffa. Its true position is uncertain. Prof. Hull assigns it to the Upper Eocene, but Dr. Blanckenhorn to a post-tertiary or diluvial origin. (7) Miocene Period . No rocks are assignable to this period, but it is important as being that in which the country rose from the bed of the sea and assumed its present form. This was the time when the great fault in the Jordan valley took place. (8) Pliocene to Pluvial Period . During this period a subsidence of about 220 feet took place round the Mediterranean and Red Sea basins, afterwards compensated by a re-elevation. The evidence for this remains in a number of raised beaches, especially in the valley of Sheriah, east of Gaza. A similar phenomenon has been found at Mokattam, above Cairo. (9) Pluvial to Recent Period . In the glacial epoch there were extensive glaciers in Lebanon, which have left traces in a number of moraines. At that time the temperature was colder, and the rainfall higher; hence the valleys, now dry, were channels of running water. Alluvial terraces in the Jordan valley-lake prove that the Dead Sea was formerly hundreds of feet higher than its present level. With the passing of the Pleistocene period the lakes and streams were reduced to their present limits.

R. A. S. Macalister.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Geology of Palestine'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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