Thursday, December 6, 2012

Biblical Geography: Coastal Plain – Plain of Dor

The Plain of Dor on the Survey of Western Palestine Maps

As we continue our virtual tour through the coastal plain (for previous posts, go here, here, and here) we next come to a seldom visited corner of the country: the Plain of Dor.  This coastal plain is a narrow strip of land stretching from the tip of Mount Carmel at the northern end to the Crocodile River at the southern end.  Only 20 miles (30 km.) from north to south and about 2.5 miles (4 km.) from east to west, it is squeezed between the coast and the western edge of Mount Carmel.  The picture below gives you a feel for how narrow it is.  The photographer is standing on Mount Carmel looking down onto the plain and the sea.

Mount Carmel Quarry Near Ramat HaNadiv

Until modern times, this was a marshy and forested area where runoff from Mount Carmel collected behind a hard sandstone ridge.  The port city of Dor was located here and the inhabitants of this region enjoyed a level of seclusion from their neighbors due to the marshy terrain.  The main trade route through the county bypassed this region: it passed over Mount Carmel instead of going around it.  In fact, the easiest way in or out of this area was by sea.  Below is an aerial shot of Tel Dor.  Additional photos of the site can be found here and here.

Dor Aerial from South

When the Israelites invaded the land of Canaan, the king of Dor joined forces with the king of Hazor along with other northern city-states to fight against Joshua (see Josh. 11:1-3 where this region is referred to as “Naphath-dor”).  However, Joshua won the victory and defeated the king of Dor along with all the others (Josh. 12:23).  At that time, this area was given to the tribe of Manasseh but at first they were not able to conquer the Canaanites who lived there (Josh. 17:11-13; Judg. 1:27; 1 Chr. 7:28-29).  During the reign of Solomon, the region of Naphath-dor was one of the twelve sections of the country where Solomon appointed an officer and required them to provide food for the palace one month out of the year (1 Kgs. 4:7, 11).

Extra-biblical records indicate that during the Late Bronze Age and Iron I period (the periods of the Conquest and the Judges) this region was inhabited by a group of people known as the Tjeker, distant relatives of the Philistines.  They and the Philistines were part of a larger group called the Sea Peoples, so it is easy to imagine how a group like that ended up living on a secluded strip of land that was most easily accessible by boat.  In the 5th century B.C. (after the Exile), the area appears to have been controlled by the Sidonians, another sea-faring group of people.  Just south of the Plain of Dor, Herod the Great (the king who tried to kill Jesus when he was a baby, see Matthew 2) built the great port city of Caesarea which gave the Roman Empire easier access to his kingdom.  So throughout the Old Testament and New Testament periods, this was an area of the Promised Land where the Gentile nations always had a foothold.  Later in history, this pattern of foreigners having a stronghold in this region was repeated when the Crusaders built the castle of Athlit on the Plain of Dor in their efforts to secure the Holy Land for European powers.
Map and photos courtesy of BiblePlaces.com and LifeInTheHolyLand.com.