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T is difficult to fix with precision the boundaries of Galilee and Samaria. Originally the Samaritan kingdom included the whole territory of the ten northern tribes from Dan to Bethel; but very soon it shrank within much narrower limits. Galilee, at first a small “circle,” as the name means, around Kadesh Naphtali, on the frontiers of Tyre, had in the time of our Lord become a province of great extent stretching southward to the ridge of Carmel and the mountains of Gilboa. The Plain of Esdraelon, which under the kings of Israel had been in the centre of Samaria, was under the Romans its northern boundary, and belonged to Galilee. Jezreel and the other historic sites in the neighbourhood being so closely connected with the southern kingdoms have been spoken of in the preceding chapter. We now proceed to the region lying to the north of the plain. Galilee thus defined consists of a series of fertile hills and valleys, stretching down from Hermon in the north to Tabor and Little Hermon on the south. Its uplands are better wooded, its valleys and plains are richer, its natural beauty greater than the rest of Palestine. Van de Velde truly describes it as “a land rich in beauty and fertility. A thick wood of oaks and other trees continued for a considerable way over the heights, again through the valleys, but everywhere characterised by a luxuriance of verdure, by which you can recognise at once the fertility of Naphtali's inheritance.”
Joshua xx. 7. I Kings ix. 11.
It was a region in which Asher should “dip his foot in oil;” Zebulun and Issachar “rejoice in their going out, and in their tents” and "suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand;" and Naphtali be “satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the Lord.” Among the hills of Southern Galilee TABOR is conspicuous, not so much from its greater elevation—it only rises one thousand four hundred feet from the plain—as from its peculiar form. It is a truncated cone, detached from the surrounding heights, and forms a very striking object from whichever side it is approached. Its general contour reminded me of the Wrekin in Shropshire. Formerly it was richly wooded to the very summit; but the timber has been cut down, and now only a few clumps or detached trees spring from the verdant turf which clothes its sides. The view from the summit is magnificent, commanding a panorama from the mountains of Gilead to the Mediterranean, from Hermon, with its snowy summits, to Ebal and Gerizim on the south. Well might the Psalmist exclaim,
“The north and the south Thou hast created them :
Its traditional claim to have been the scene of the transfiguration is now universally abandoned. This must be sought for farther north, among the gorges of the Hermon, near Banias, the ancient Caesarea Philippi.
In crossing the hills of Galilee from Esdraelon to Nazareth, we pass three villages, each with a place in the inspired record. The first is Sólem, the ancient SHUNEM. It lies at the foot of Little Hermon, about three miles from the fountain of Jezreel. Luxuriant orange groves and corn-fields, fenced with hedges of prickly pear, encompass a cluster of mud-walled, flat-topped hovels. The inhabitants seemed a merry, good-humoured, contented race, fearing nothing but a Bedouin raid, or a visit from the Turkish tax-gatherer. Blocks of marble, with traces of sculpture upon them, probably brought from the ruins of Jezreel, are worked into the mud-walls of the village, and the largest house has a couple of willow-pattern plates, like those we noticed at Bethel, with a dish to match, over the doorway. But there is nothing to remind us that this is the scene of one of the most touching incidents which the Bible records. It was here that a “great woman” of the village, “the good, kind Shunammite,” made “a little chamber on the wall, and set there a bed, and a stool, and a candlestick," that the prophet might freely pass in and out. Content to dwell “among her own people” she refused to “be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host.” And when a son was granted to her old age her cup of happiness was full. Whilst scarcely a trace of the ancient village exists, the surrounding scenery remains unchanged. It was in these luxuriant corn-fields that the child, smitten by sunstroke, “said to his father, My head, my head. And he said to a lad, Carry him to his
'Deut. xxxiii. 18-24.