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Shephelah

SHEPHELAH

SHEPHELAH (Heb. שְׁפֵלָה), biblical geographical term derived from shfl ("low"). The Shephelah is one of the component parts of the Promised Land, together with the mountain, the valley (Arabah), and the Negev (Deut. 1:7; Josh. 9:1; 12:8; and is so referred to in Jer. 17:26; 32:44; 33:13; Zech. 7:7). It refers to an area of hills and valleys, which separates the highlands from the coastal plain. In this sense, the Shephelah can only be regarded as a "lowland" from the point of view of those holding the higher parts of the country, i.e., the Israelites, as against the Canaanites of the plain or the Philistines. In particular, the term refers to the western fringe of the Judean mountains. In this region Joshua smote the Canaanite kings after the battle of Aijalon, defeating them from Jarmuth to Eglon (Josh. 10:40). Later, the tribe of Judah fought against the Canaanites in the Shephelah (Judg. 1:9). A still more precise definition is given in ii Chronicles 28:18, which enumerates the cities of the Shephelah occupied by the Philistines in the time of Ahaz: they include Beth-Shemesh, Aijalon, Gederoth, Socoh, Timnah, and Gimzo. The struggle between the inhabitants of the Shephelah and the Philistines on the coast for possession of the region is reflected in Obadiah v. 19. The detailed description of the region in Joshua 15:33ff. reflects the division of Judah in the time of the divided monarchy, under Jehoshaphat or later, when the districts of Socoh, Lachish, and Mareshah (the second to the fourth districts) comprised the area of the Judean Shephelah.

The sycamore tree was characteristic of the region. Solomon made cedars as abundant in Jerusalem as sycamores were in the Shephelah (i Kings 10:27; i Chron. 1:15; 9:27). A special officer of the king was appointed to guard these trees (i Chron. 27:28).

The term is sometimes extended to other similar regions in the country. The Shephelah of Israel (Josh. 11:16) possibly refers to the hills and valleys bordering the mountains of Ephraim on the west. This definition, however, is somewhat artificial, for the western border of the mountains of Ephraim presents no such network of valleys and hills as is found in western Judah. The term appears as well in connection with the battle against Jabin, king of Hazor (Josh. 11:2); the location of this area between Kinneret and Dor suggests that here the term refers to the hilly region in southern Naphtali.

In the Hellenistic period, the area covered by the term Shephelah was extended westward, reaching from Bet Guvrin to Jaffa (i Macc. 12:38; Eusebius, Onom. 162:8). Talmudic sources (in particular Shev. 9:2; Tosef., Shev. 7:10; tj, Shev. 9:2, 38d; Sif. Deut. 6) generalize the term and apply it to each of the three main districts of the country. In Galilee it refers to the area of Lower Galilee, below Kefar Ḥananyah, where sycamores grow; in Judea the Shephelah of Lydda is included in that of the south; in Transjordan it includes Heshbon, Dibon, Bamoth-Baal, and Beth-Maon. The area of the Judean Shephelah was resettled by Jews from 1882 onward and contains many agricultural settlements.

bibliography:

Press, Ereẓ, 4 (1955), 918f.; G.A. Smith, The Historical Geography of the Holy Land (1931), 197ff.; Abel, Geog, 1 (1933), 416ff.; D. Baby, The Geography of the Bible (1957), 142ff.; Aharoni, Land, index.

[Michael Avi-Yonah]

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