The Contributions of the Survey of Western Palestine

From Thirty Years' Work in the Holy Land: (A Record and a Summary): 1865-1895, by Sir Walter Besant.  Published for the Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund.  London: A. P. Watt & Son, 1895.  Pages 84-85, 129-31.


The Biblical Gains from the survey may be considered from many points of view.

First, therefore, from that of the recovery of ancient sites. There are 622 Biblical names west of the Jordan. Of these 262 were known before the Survey was commenced, that is, rather more than a third. During the Survey no fewer than 172 were discovered, and are now generally accepted. So that of the whole number of places now identified, namely 434, almost exactly two-fifths are due to the Survey. There still remain 188 places hitherto undiscovered. Some of these may lie among the 10,000 names collected by the surveyors. Others may still be discovered, because we cannot pretend in a country so full of names to have collected every one. But those which yet await recovery are for the most part obscure places mentioned perhaps once or twice, such as the Brook Besor (I Samuel xxx. 9, 10, 21), Avim (Joshua xviii. 23), or Eleph (Joshua xviii. 28). Some names not yet found are important, such as Arimathœa, Gath, the Brook Cherith, Eshcol, the stone Ezel, Gethsemane, Nob, Mamre, and Ziklag. It is to be hoped that all these names will, one by one, be rescued from oblivion.

As regards the natural features of the country, the Survey has substituted exact detail for general statements. It is impossible in these short limits to explain the enormous importance of this to the historical student. The boundaries of tribes; the march of armies; the route of travellers and pilgrims; the way of commerce; intercourse with foreign nations; the fords, passes, and valleys open for an invader,—these things form the foundation of Bible history; without these things its history cannot be understood. And these things are found legible to him that can read maps on our great survey.

To sum up, therefore, as to the value of this Survey to the world at large. Not only has there been a very great extension of the known sites, but for the first time, the natural features of the country have been laid down in exact detail, so that the reader of the Bible may now follow step by step the events of which he reads. It is no longer with him a question as to which route might have been followed; he sees which route must have been followed, he need no longer, to arrive at the true distances from place to place, follow Robinson, Guérin, and the rest, in their tedious "two hours to the east, then an hour and a quarter to the north-east," and so forth; he can simply take a compass and measure the exact distance. More than this, he can follow on the map the route which must have been taken in any expedition. If again he will turn from the map to the memoirs he will learn the character of the country and its fertility, its ancient vineyards, terraced hills, and olive presses, its modern forests, its fountains—in one sheet alone of the map there are 200 fountains, —and its flora. Again, if he wishes to study the history of the country subsequent to that of the Bible, he will find how one ruin stands upon another, and that upon an older ruin still; so that even in Joshua's time there were already ruins in the land; how you may find the mosque built from the materials of the church, the church from those of the synagogue, or the Turkish fort from the Crusading castle, the castle from the monastery, the monastery from the Roman walls.

It may in short, be fairly claimed for the Survey of Western Palestine that nothing has ever been done for the illustration and right understanding of the historical portions of the Old and New Testament, since the translation into the vulgar tongue, which may be compared with this great work. The officer whose name is especially associated with these, maps and memoirs has made himself a name which will last as long as there are found men and women to read and study the Sacred Books.

See Survey of Western Palestine: The Maps or Survey of Western Palestine: The Index