Chapter 3 – Of the Hebrew Territory, and Distribution of it
The territory, in which this government of the Hebrew nation was to be settled, lay as it were between the great empires of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon; though more immediately bounded by some smaller nations in Syria and Arabia, of less power and extent of dominion.
The extent of this country, and its contents in acres, has been very differently described by authors. I would avoid all geographical niceties concerning the situation of places, mentioned in the more ancient history, as of little use. Yet it will be necessary, I think, to give a general account of the extent of the Hebrew territory, to obviate an error which has misled some accurate authors into a mistake of great consequence. Hecataeus in Josephus, makes the territory of Judea to contain only three millions of acres, which seems a small provision of land for the whole number of Israelites, who were to be settled in it.
Upon this computation Mr. Harrington observes, “The land of Canaan would have afforded to this Commonwealth a root or balance, consisting of three millions of acres; which, reckoning the whole people in the twelve Tribes at six hundred and two thousand (which is more than in the latter poll they came to) would have afforded unto every man four acres, with a handsome remainder, for the Princes of Tribes, Heads of Families, Levitical cities, and other public uses. Four acres to a man, he observes, may seem but a small lot; but to lessen the difficulty, he adds, yet the Roman people under Romulus, and long after, had but two,” Harrington’s Commonwealth of Israel, 1, I, s.12. But I think this difficulty will be much better answered by observing, that Hecataeus, who lived under Ptolemy Lagus, first King of Egypt; on the division of Alexander’s Empire, among his captains, very likely gave an account of that part of Judaea only, which the Jews inhabited at that time by allowance of Alexander’s generals, and the King of Egypt; and when ten of the tribes were lost in captivity, and many of the Jews were settled in other places, and when the Samaritans were actually possessed of a great portion of the ancient Hebrew inheritance. However it be, this computation of Hecataeus, which so many learned men have followed, cannot be a true account of the territory, which Moses directed to be divided among the twelve Tribes.
For the general bounds of this territory are fixed to be, from Mount Lebanon on the north to the mountains of Seir and Sin, or part of Arabia Petraea on the south and from the Mediterranean Sea westward, to the mountains of Abarim, and the desert of Arabia on the east. If you consult the best maps of Spanheim, Cellarius, and Reland, you will find, that this country is situate from about 31 to 34 degrees north latitude, Cellarius in particular makes Mount Seir and Bozra not quite 31; and Mount Lebanon and Sidon above 34.
And this account is confirmed by known measured distances of places. The measured distance from Dan to Beersheba, both which were within their respective bounds, north and south, is one hundred and sixty miles; to this, if you add the distance from Dan to Mount to Lebanon, and from Beer-sheba to Mount Seir and Arabia Petraea, the length of the promised land north and south, may well be reckoned at two hundred miles.
As to the breadth east and west, though it was unequal in several places, yet Spanheim places Rhinocolura at 52 degrees, 30 minutes, longitude; and the borders of Arabia, the desert at 56 degrees, 20 minutes; and many considerable places short of the desert, are in 56, as Philadelphia, Pilla, Mount Giliad, and even Damascus. To take the distance from Joppa to Arabia, which was a middle distance between the shortest and the longest, and so may serve for a common measure; Joppa is reckoned 53 degrees 34 minutes, and the borders of Arabia 56 degrees, 20 minutes, or about 3 degrees of longitude, which, at that latitude, will be at about fifty miles to a degree; in the whole, one hundred and fifty miles. If we further compute this distance by actual measure, from Joppa to Jordan, was sixty-five miles; from Jordan to Philadelphia, forty-five; in the whole, one hundred and ten. If to this we add the distance from Philadelphia to the desert, twenty or twenty-five miles, it will be one hundred and thirty, or one hundred and thirty-five miles from east to west.
And it is to be observed, that the mountains were themselves included within the bounds, as well as some spaces beyond them, especially to the east and south, in so much that sometimes Moses makes Euphrates the eastern boundary of the promised land. However it is plain, the Hebrews had the privilege of common in the desert of Arabia, and sent their cattle to feed there, which, however desert in the general, had yet many spots of good ground interspersed among the more barren parts.
The mountains themselves were a profitable possession, affording timber in plenty, and of great value, as the cedars of Lebanon sufficiently show. Lebanon was even famous for its wines, and the other mountainous parts abounded in honey of an excellent kind; and fed great numbers of goats and kids.
Here are three computations of the contents of the Hebrew territory; the largest at two hundred miles by one hundred and fifty, which is no ways unreasonable, including the boundaries. The middle, which reckons one hundred and eighty miles by one hundred thirty, is certainly not an over-reckoning, adding the ground from the cities to the boundaries, to the measured distance between city and city. The least computation, by the measured distances from one city to another is certainly too little, as it plainly leaves out a very considerable and profitable part of the territory; and yet this computation is one hundred and sixty miles by one hundred and ten.
The lowest of these computations then will contain eleven millions, two hundred and sixty four thousand acres. The mean computation fourteen millions, nine hundred and seventy-six thousand acres; and the largest will contain nineteen millions and two hundred acres.
The very lowest calculation would have allowed a division of sixteen acres and a half to each of the six hundred thousand Hebrews, for their personal property; and a remainder of one million, two hundred and sixty-four thousand acres for the Levitical cities, the Princes of Tribes, the Heads of Families, or other public uses, which is above four times as much as the common calculation from Hecataeus.
According to the mean computation, the contents in acres will be fourteen millions, nine hundred and seventy-six thousand. This quantity of land will divide to six hundred thousand men, above twenty-one acres and an half in property, with a remainder of one million, nine hundred and seventy-six thousand acres for the aforesaid public uses; above five times as much as the common computation from Hecataeus. In the largest calculation, the contents in acres will be nineteen millions and two hundred thousand; which will divide to each man twenty-five acres in property, and will leave four millions of acres for public uses, which is above six times as much as Hecataeus computes in his reckoning of three millions of acres. I hope, it will not be thought impertinent to the subject, to be so particular, in setting right a mistake attended with considerable difficulties, as if the land of promise could never maintain so great numbers as were to live upon it; and because the mistake itself had obtained, chiefly it should seem by the authority of Hecataeus, to mislead many, and some very discerning and judicious writers on this subject. You see, according to unquestionable accounts from actual measure, and the degrees of latitude and longitude, in which it is situated, the territory assigned to the Hebrews for their habitation, was not so strait and narrow as generally represented; from which some have inferred, so great a number of people could not have found the bare necessities of life in it, at least that all must have lived in a very low and almost beggarly condition. Whereas it appears in fact, there was a provision of land for each man in property, upon every one of the calculations, sufficient for a plentiful and decent maintenance with industry, good husbandry, and frugality, which the Constitution itself made fashionable and honorable, though by it none could have such estates as to indulge themselves or encourage others in idleness or luxury; for a provision of above sixteen, or twenty-one or twenty-five acres of land in property to each person, would enable them with all the advantages of that country and climate, to live as well as men can do in ours upon an estate of forty, fifty, or sixty pounds a year, of their own.
Thus hee was a provision made for a militia of six hundred thousand men for the defense of the country, to maintain the Hebrew Government in peace and safety; and here was a provision for a general national plenty and national virtue, the Constitution recommending industry, husbandry, and frugality, as prudent and honorable, when every man’s circumstances naturally represented them so, to every wise man’s observation. And here was further a provision to leave this property and liberty with great security to their families, and posterity, free from foreign or domestic oppression.
To make this foundation of the Hebrew Government solid and lasting, the wisdom of Jehovah their Lawgiver declared, as two essential laws of the Constitution, that the territory should be equally divided. So that the whole six hundred thousand should each have a full property, in an equal part of it; and that every man should hold his estate as a free-hold in chief, immediately from God himself, as of his crown, without any other tenure of service or vassalage to any great men whatsoever, as intermediate lords; and that this tenure should be unalienable, or that these estates thus originally settled should never after be alienated from the family, but were to descend by and indefeasible entail in perpetual succession.