Palestine - The Jews

Palestine extends from north to south a length of about 200 miles, and 50 in breadth; and is therefore, in point of size, of nearly the same extent as Scotland. The general character of the country is that of a hilly region, interspersed with moderately fertile vales; and being thus irregular in surface, it possesses a number of brooks or streams, which for the most part are swollen considerably after rains, but are almost dry in the hot seasons of the year. The present condition of Palestine scarcely corresponds with its ancient fertility. This is chiefly attributable to the devastating effects of perpetual wars; and some physical changes have also contributed to the destruction of agricultural industry. Yet, after all, so excellent would the soil appear to be, and so ample its resources, that Canaan may still be characterized as a land flowing with milk and honey.

The history of the extraordinary nation which once inhabited this land, must be so much more familiar to our readers than that of any other ancient nation, that all that is necessary here is a brief sketch, such as will assist the imagination in tracing with due completeness the general. career of the East till the establishment of the Persian empire. According to the accounts given of the Jews in Scripture, and in their history by Josephus, they were descended from Abraham, who was born in the 292d year (according to other authorities, in the 352d year) after the Deluge, 'left the land of Chaldea when he was seventy-five years old, and, at the command of God, went into Canaan, and therein he dwelt himself, and left it to his posterity. He was a person of great sagacity, both for understanding of all things and persuading his hearers, and not mistaken in his opinions; for which reason he began to have higher notions of virtue than others had, and he determined to renew and to change the opinion all men happened then to have concerning God; for he was the first that ventured to publish this notion, that there was but ONE God, the Creator of the universe; and that as to other gods, if they contributed anything to the happiness of men, that each of them afforded it only according to His appointment, and not by their own power. For which doctrines, when the Chaldeans and other people of Mesopotamia raised a tumult against him, he thought fit to leave that country, and at the command of God he came and lived in the land of Canaan. And when he was there settled, he built an altar, and performed a sacrifice to God.' After the death of Abraham's son Isaac, his younger son Jacob remained for a number of years in Canaan, surrounded by a family of twelve sons, one of whom, Joseph, as related in Scripture, became the cause of the removal of his father and brethren, and all belonging to them, into Egypt. The Hebrew emigrants were seventy in number, and formed at the first a respectable colony among the Egyptians. Jacob died after having been seventeen years in Egypt, and his body was carried by Joseph to Hebron, and buried in the sepulchre of his father and grandfather. Joseph also died in Egypt at the age of 110, and at length his brethren died likewise. Each of the twelve sons of Jacob became the progenitor of a family or tribe, and the twelve tribes, personified by the term ISRAEL, continued to reside in Egypt, where they increased both in number and in wealth. Their rapid increase and prosperity soon excited the jealousy of the masters of the country; and from being in high favor, the different tribes gradually fell under the lash of power, and came to be treated as public slaves.

The entire body of Israelites, guided by Moses, fled from Egypt in the year 1490 before Christ, at a time when Thebes, Memphis, and the other magnificent cities of that country, were in all their glory. Proceeding in a north-easterly direction from Rameses (near the site of modern Cairo), they went through the level region of the land of Goshen (now a barren sandy plain) to the head of the Gulf of Suez, the western branch of the Red Sea. Here they crossed in a miraculous manner to the opposite shore, to a spot now called the Wells of Moses, where, according to the Scripture narrative, they sang their song of thanksgiving for their deliverance. The country in which they had now arrived was a portion of Arabia Petra, consisting of a dismal barren wilderness, now called the Desert of Sinai, from the principal mountain which rises within it. From the point at which the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea from Egypt, they were conducted by a most circuitous and tedious route towards the Promised Land of Canaan.

The country on the shore of the Mediterranean which was allotted as a settlement to this people, was at that time occupied by many warlike tribes, who had grown strong in its fertile plains and valleys; and the generation of the Hebrews who were conducted into it were compelled to fight for its possession. The struggle was not of long continuance. The whole land was conquered in the year B.C. 1450.

According to the account given in the 26th chapter of the book of Numbers, the Hebrew nation thus brought out of the land of Egypt and settled in Canaan amounted to 601,730 souls, unto whom the land was divided for an inheritance, according to the number of individuals in the respective tribes.