Borders of the Tribes of Israel

Defining the Borders and Site Marking

Introduction

The aim of this project is to mark, in-situ, the borders of the tribes’ lands, using maps and explanations as well as signposts in appropriate areas. This will facilitate hikers’ and visitors’ knowledge of the affiliation of the tribes of Israel to their lands.

The territorial division of the land between the twelve tribes is described in the book of Joshua, chapters 13–19: the lands of Reuven, Gad and half the tribe of Menashe on the plains of Moab; the land of Judah, Epvvhraim and half the tribe of Menashe in the Gilgal; the lands of the seven remaining tribes in the Gilgal.

This division is described on three different occasions: the notion of the division of the land already existed when Jacob blessed his sons in Parashat Vayechi (Genesis 47:28–50:26), and is mentioned once again in Moses’ blessing in Vezot Habracha (Deuteronomy 33:1– 34:12). These verses and others teach us that there was an ancient tradition concerning the land’s division which was actualized in Joshua’s allocation. The Scriptures emphasize the tribes’ bonds to their land, saying: “So shall no inheritance remove from one tribe to another tribe; for the tribes of the children of Israel shall cleave each one to its own inheritance” (Numbers 36, 9). The idea of each tribe having its own location is also found in the orderly fashion in which they camped around the Mishkan (Numbers 2)

The settlement of each tribe in its land is a prerequisite for the observance of the edict of the Jubilee, which is valid only when each tribe dwells in its own land, “and not while they are mixed”. (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Erchin 32b). Additionally, there are laws relating to lists of walled cities in the times of Joshua.

Maimonides gives an explanation for the division of the land — “It was for this reason that Joshua and his judicial court divided the land to tribes despite the fact that the land had not yet been conquered; that each tribe should not act as an individual and attempt to conquer its tribal lands alone.” (Trumot, chapter 1 law 2)

All these examples serve to illustrate the entrenchment of this division in the history of Israel, in Jewish law (halacha), in Midrash, and in the actual cleaving of the tribes to their lands.

With the exile of the ten tribes and the dispersal of the nation of Israel, the significance of the bond between the tribes and their lands became an abstract notion. Today, as recognition and perception of the historical foundations of this bond in Hebrew heritage grows, and in light of the increasing desire to become intimately acquainted with the land, it is fitting to renew and revive the ancient bond between the tribes of Israel and their lands.

Introduction

The following booklet includes two main parts:


Part One - Drawing the Borders and Marking the Sites


a. Drawing the borders


First, we introduce the sites that represent the borders between the lands of the tribes. Each site is described along with its biblical reference, literature, its current condition and significance within the framework of hiking and tourist visits on a national scale.


The book of Joshua constitutes the main source of information regarding the location of the tribes’ lands and includes two components — a description of the borders themselves, and a list of cities located within the tribal territories.


New geographical studies have demonstrated that the descriptions of the borders are extremely accurate and provide a continuous account of the land, leaving no crack or crevice between the tribes’ areas. The precise and winding border lines are evidence of this (Zacharias Kalai, 1970 ).


Nevertheless, descriptions of the tribes’ lands are not all equally detailed. For example, the description of the borders of the land belonging to the tribe of Judah is very elaborate and even contains a subdivision, whereas descriptions of other tribes’ lands are far more general in nature.


In historiographic literature concerning the Biblical period, various explanations and meanings were given to the location of the boundaries, and there have arisen different interpretations of their exact locations.


Additional sources worthy of mention are maps sketched by the sages of Israel, which include their interpretations of the location of the borders. One famous map is attributed to the Vilna Gaon. This map, and others, will be used, whenever possible, to support the marking of the borders. The first step will demand, therefore, reaching an understanding and a decision regarding the exact lines of the borders of the tribes’ lands, their location and marking on modern maps.

b. Marking the Sites


This section proposes the positioning of signposts and explanatory information boards at each site. Explanatory information will relate the Biblical story of the site within the context of a visit to the surrounding area. The exact position and wording of each sign are included.


Part two - Accompanying Materials


a. Summarizing table


The sites mentioned in this report are summarized in a table, which provides a general picture, including the biblical name of the site, the verse in which it appears, its modern name and whether the identification is certain or disputed.


b. Example of a hiking trail


After sketching the borderlines, we came to realize that hiking trails passing through them can be easily located. The most striking example of this is on the northern border of Judah’s land. We therefore added an example of such a trail on this border as an appendix. It is a simple track that could be integrated into the framework of themed trails in Israel. Similar trails could also be located along the other borders.


c. Characteristics of the tribes


Finally, we portray the characteristics of each of the tribes according to relevant sources. The resulting portraits of the tribes are used in designing the signs. d. Sign design Suggestion of a basis for general designs of the signs.

Site, Description and Meaning

The following chapters present the sites that denote the borders of the tribes. For each site a map is included, showing its location, in addition to the following information:

1. Source


The relevant verse in the book of Joshua referring to the site in the description of the borders.


2. Identification


Identification of the site based on the first part of the project. This paragraph includes only the final choice and not the indecisions and deliberations, which are presented in the appendix.


3. Description


A geographical description of the site, including designation of a landmark with as much detail as possible, in relation to roads, cities, activity centers and existing trails.


4. Significance as a site for hiking and learning


This paragraph includes geographical details relating to trails, scouting and orienteering in the area. It also refers to the possibilities of integration with other trails in the area, with reference to archeology, history, nature, etc…


5. Sign


A specific concrete location for placing a sign. The location was chosen to enable maximum exposure. The sites that were chosen are attractive ones, in proximity to natural sites, fountains, groves, viewpoints and such.

Gezer

“And to Gezer” (Joshua 16,3)

Identification


Tel Gezer


Description


Tel Gezer is located between Latrun and Ramle, and is identified as the ancient Canaanite city of Gezer. The Tel is one of the most important archeological sites in Israel. Gezer is mentioned in many writings from the ancient era, such as correspondence between the kings of Gezer and the rulers of Egypt, and various Egyptian inscriptions. The city of Gezer is mentioned in the Bible as one of the cities conquered by Joshua, although it was not in Israelite hands at the time of Saul and David. In 950 BCE, the city was handed over to King Solomon by the king of Egypt. An interesting archaeological find from that period is the “The Gezer Calendar” – the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found (it is exhibited in the Museum of Istanbul). The city was conquered by the Assyrians, later by the Greeks and then the Hasmoneans in 142 BCE. The importance of the city decreased in the reign of King Herod.


Significance as a site for hiking and learning Tel Gezer is adjacent to the southern coastal plain. The top of the Tel provides an excellent viewpoint from which the entire space between Tel-Aviv and Ashdod is visible. The Tel is shaped like a narrow and steep hill which makes it easy to defend. An important major road – Via Maris – ran past the foot of this hill. The Tel was inhabited for thousands of years, and the remains are visible on the Tel and its surroundings.


Sign


The most suitable places for sign are the parking space and the viewpoint facing west.

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