Jezreel, Valley of

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JEZREEL, VALLEY OF (also known as the "Plain of Esdraelon"; (Heb. עֵמֶק יִזְרְעֶאל), Emek Yizre'el, named after the city of *Jezreel), the largest of the inland valleys of Israel, after the Jordan Valley. It consists of the alluvial plain of the Kishon River, forming a rough equilateral triangle with its base at the Carmel range and its continuation and its apex at Mount Tabor. Each side is about 20 mi. (33 km.) long and the total area about 96.5 sq. mi. (250 sq. km.). Whether the valley of the Naḥal Ḥarod (the Ḥarod Valley), its southeastern extension in the direction of the Beth-Shean Valley, should be included in the Jezreel Valley is disputed. The first mention of the "Valley of Jezreel" occurs in Joshua 17:16 where it appears together with the region of Beth-Shean as an area dominated by the iron chariots of the Canaanites and therefore outside the control of the tribe of Manasseh of the House of Joseph (cf. also Josh. 17:11–12; Judg. 1:27). When Manasseh became stronger, however, it put the cities in the Valley of Jezreel to tribute and Issachar was able to establish a foothold at the city of Jezreel itself. As a result of the battle Deborah and Sisera fought in the Kishon Valley, the northern slopes of the valley became Israelite. In their thrust westward the Midianites passed into the valley and camped in its eastern part near Gibeath-Moreh (Jebel al-Daḥī), while Gideon camped opposite them at En-Harod (Judg. 7:1). Gideon's victory secured the valley from the east. The Philistines advanced against Saul through the valley where they had bases at Shunem and Beth-Shean and tried to split his kingdom in two; however, even after Saul's defeat the district of Jezreel remained in Israelite hands (ii Sam. 2:9). David eliminated the foreign enclaves in the valley and secured it for Israel. The establishment at Jezreel of the winter capital of the kingdom of Israel strengthened its hold on the region, especially as the kings were interested in creating a royal estate in its fertile lands – an activity of which the dispossession of Naboth was but one instance. Subsequently the main part of the valley remained a royal estate of whatever power dominated the country. When Tiglath-Pileser iii reduced Israel to the mountains of Ephraim, he made Megiddo the capital of an Assyrian province. After the fall of Assyria, Josiah, king of Judah, who expanded his kingdom northward, tried to bar the passage of the valley to Pharaoh Necoh at Megiddo, but lost the battle as well as his life (609 b.c.e.).

The status of the valley is not clear under Babylonian and Persian rule. In Hellenistic times it was administered from the royal fortress of Itabyrion (Tabor). In i Maccabees 12:49 and in the writings of Josephus it is called "the great plain." Its position between Galilee and Samaria is not clearly defined: Galilee ended at Exaloth (Iʾksol) at the foot of Mount Tabor and Samaria began at Ginae (Jenin; Jos., Wars, 3:39, 48). The villages in the plain were the property of the Hasmonean dynasty; they were taken from the Jews by Pompey but restored to Hyrcanus ii by Julius Caesar (Ant., 14:207), and the valley later belonged to the Herodian dynasty. Queen Berenice had her grain stored at Besara (Bet She'arim) on the northern side of the plain. With the extinction of the Herodian dynasty the plain passed to the emperor. When the Legio vi Ferrata was posted near Megiddo at Caparcotnei (whence the place was called Legio, in Arabic Lajjūn), it was given the Jezreel Valley which was thus known in late Roman and Byzantine sources as Campus Maximus Legionis. It formed the territory of the city known as Legio-Maximianupolis in later times. The northern slopes of the valley belonged to Sepphoris from which they were separated in the fifth century and formed into the territory of Naim, which included the Plain of Exaloth (Bikat Iksalo of the Midrash; Gen. R. 98:17). In the Middle Ages the valley of Jezreel was known as the Campus Fabae ("Plain of the Bean") after the castle called La Fève. In Mamluk times it was called Merj Bani Amir after the Bedouin tribe who had occupied it. After the Crusader period the valley developed into a marshy plain, abandoned to the nomads; the swamps bred malaria which made settlement impossible. In 1799 a battle between the French army under Napoleon and the Turks was fought at Afulah. In 1918 the swift passage of Australian cavalry across the plain decided Allenby's victory. Soon after the establishment of the British Mandate, large tracts of the valley were acquired by the *Jewish National Fund (following the founding of a pioneer settlement at Merḥavyah in 1911). In the 1920s the valley was drained and settled, making it the showpiece of Zionist pioneering and progressive regional development. In 1948, after the establishment of the State of Israel, an additional 19 rural settlements were founded as well as two urban settlements – Migdal ha-Emek and Nazareth. The present-day Jezreel Valley maintains its rural character, while the major urban settlement is Afulah, also known as the "Jezreel valley capital." Kibbutz Yifat houses the Museum of the Beginning of Settlement, exhibiting items and photos of the pioneer settlement in Israel. In 2003 the Jezreel Valley numbered 412,600 inhabitants.


G.A. Smith, Historical Geography (193125), 379ff.; Abel, Geog, 1 (1933), 91–92, 411ff.; Avi-Yonah, Geog, index; em, s.v.; Y. Aharoni, et al., Me-Ereẓ Kishon…, ed. by N. Tardion (1967), 107ff. add. bibliography: A. Turai, The Emek Jezreel and the Beisan Valley. Palestine Pioneer Library No. 5 (1947); Y. Tsafrir, L. Di Segni, and J. Green, Tabula Imperii Romani. IudaeaPalaestina. Maps and Gazetteer (1994), 182, s.v. Mega Pedion, Campus Maximus

[Michael Avi-Yonah /

Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]