International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
ESDRAELON, PLAIN OF
es-dra-e'-lon, (yizre`e'l; in Apocrypha the name varies: Esdrelon, Esdraelon, Esdrelom, Esrelon, Esrechon):
1. The Name:
The Greek name of the great plain in Central Palestine (Judith 3:9; 7:3, etc.). It is known in Scripture by the Hebrew name "valley of Jezreel" (Joshua 17:16 Judges 6:33, etc.). It is called `emeq in Judges 5:15, which properly denotes "a depression," or "deepening," and is used more commonly of the vale running eastward between Gilboa and Little Hermon. Biq`ah is the term usually employed (2 Chronicles 35:22, etc.), which accurately describes it, "an opening," a level space surrounded by hills. The modern name is Merj ibn `Amr, "meadow of the son of Amr."
2. Position and Description:
It lies between Gilboa and Little Hermon on the East, and Mt. Carmel on the West. It is enclosed by irregular lines drawn from the latter along the base of the foothills of Nazareth to Tabor; from Tabor, skirting Little Hermon and Gilboa to Jenin, and from Jenin along the North edge of the Samaritan uplands to Carmel. These sides of the triangle are, respectively, about 15, 15 and 20 miles in length. North of Jenin a bay of the plain sweeps eastward, hugging the foot of Mt. Gilboa. An offshoot passes down to the Jordan valley between Gilboa and Little Hermon; and another cuts off the latter hill from Tabor. The average elevation of the plain is 200 ft. above the level of the Mediterranean. The Vale of Jezreel between Zer`in and Beisan, a distance of about 12 miles, descends nearly 600 ft., and then sinks suddenly to the level of the Jordan valley. The chief springs supplying water for the plain are those at Jenin and at Megiddo. The former are the most copious, and are used to create a "paradise" on the edge of the plain. Those at Megiddo drive mills and serve for irrigation, besides forming extensive marshes. The springs near Zer`in, three in number, `Ain Jalud, possibly identical with the well of Harod, being the most copious, send their waters down the vale to the Jordan. The streams from the surrounding heights are gathered in the bed of the Kishon, a great trench which zigzags through the plain, carrying the water through the gorge at Carmel to the sea. For the most of its course this sluggish stream is too low to be available for irrigation. The deep, rich soil, however, retains the moisture from the winter rains until far on in the year, the surface only, where uncovered by crops, being baked to brick in the sun. When winter sets in it quickly absorbs the rain, great breadths being turned to soft mud. This probably happened in the battle with Sisera: the northern cavalry, floundering in the morass, would be an easy prey to the active, lightly armed foot-soldiers. The fertility of the plain is extraordinary: hardly anywhere can the toil of the husbandman find a greater reward. The present writer has ridden through crops of grain there, when from his seat on the saddle he could no more than see over the tops of the stalks. Trees do not flourish in the plain itself, but on its borders, eg. at Jenin, the palm, the olive and other fruit trees prosper. The oak covers the slopes of the hills North of Carmel.
3. Part Played in History:
This wide opening among the mountains played a great part in the history of the land. This was due to the important avenues of communication between North and South that lay across its ample breadths. The narrow pass between the promontory of Carmel and the sea was not suitable for the transport of great armies: the safer roads over the plain were usually followed. So it happened that here opposing hosts often met in deadly strife. Hardly an equal area of earth can so often have been drenched with the blood of men. No doubt many conflicts were waged here in far-off times of which no record remains. The first battle fought in the plain known to history was that in which Sisera's host was overthrown (Judges 5:20). The children of the East were surprised and routed by Gideon's 300 chosen men in the stretches North of Zer`in (Judges 7). Near the same place the great battle with the Philistines was fought in which Saul and his sons, worsted in the plain, retired to perish on the heights of Gilboa (1 Samuel 31). In the bed of the Kishon at the foot of Carmel Elijah slaughtered the servants of Baal (1 Kings 18:40). Dark memories of the destruction of Ahab's house by the furiously driving Jehu linger round Jezreel. Ahaziah, fleeing from the avenger across the plain, was overtaken and cut down at Megiddo (2 Kings 9). In the vale by Megiddo Josiah sought to stay the northward march of Pharaoh-necoh, and himself fell wounded to death (2 Kings 23:30 2 Chronicles 35:20). The army of Holofernes is represented as spreading out over all the southern reaches of the plain (Judith 7:18, 19). Much of the fighting during the wars of the Jews transpired within the circle of these hills. It is not unnatural that the inspired seer should place the scene of war in "the great day of God" in the region so often colored crimson in the history of his people-the place called in the Hebrew tongue "Har-Magedon" (Revelation 16:14, 16).
Esdraelon lay within the lot of Issachar (Joshua 19:17). The Canaanite inhabitants were formidable with their chariots of iron (Joshua 17:16, 18). The tribe does not appear to have prosecuted the conquest with vigor. Issachar seems to have resumed the tent life (Deuteronomy 33:18), and ignobly to have secured enjoyment of the good things in the land by stooping to "taskwork" (Genesis 49:14 f).
4. Arab Raids:
Through many centuries the plain was subject to raids by the Arabs from the East of the Jordan. The approach was open and easy, and the rich breadths of pasture irresistibly attracted these great flock masters. The Romans introduced some order and security; but with the passing of the eastern empire the old conditions resumed sway, and until comparatively recent times the alarm of an Arab invasion was by no means infrequent.
The railway connecting Haifa with Damascus and Mecca crosses the plain, and enters the Jordan valley near Beisan.