By: Emil G. Hirsch
A collection of tents (Judges vii. 13), or booths and huts (Neh. viii. 14), pitched or erected to give shelter to shepherds, travelers, or soldiers, sometimes overnight merely, or for many days or even months. Safety and a sufficient supply of water were the prime considerations determining the choice of location ("Pitched at the waters of Merom," Josh. xi. 5; compare also Judges vii. 1; I Macc. ix. 33). Security against sudden attacks by roving robbers (Bedouins) or other enemies was effected by establishing the camp on the side of a ravine or valley. Watches, moreover, were placed in three shifts for the night (Judges vii. 19; I Macc. xii. 27); and a garrison was left on guard when the main body of the campers went out to the combat (I Sam. xxx. 24). That the camp was usually laid out in a circle, a form of construction much affected by the modern Bedouin, may be inferred from the word "ma'gal" (I Sam. xvii. 20, xxvi. 5); though by many commentators and ancient versions this rare designation is explained as etymologically connected with the Hebrew word for "wagon," and on this basis the theory has been advanced that wagons surrounded the camp to increase the security and to insure ease of defense. It is impossible definitely to decide which of these interpretations deserves greater credence.
From Num. ii.—a chapter which the critical school would not accept as containing historical data—it would appear that in the construction of the camp a certain plan was followed in the grouping of the different tribes, which was indicated by flags with a fixed relation to the tabernacle at the halting-places. The descriptions by Doughty and others of the hadj to Mecca agree in reporting the observance of a similar arrangement marked by flags and lamps, or torches, for the pilgrims when on the march. Artificial defenses to add to the natural advantages of the chosen location, or to supply their absence, are also mentioned (I Sam. xvi. 1 et seq.).
In their anxiety to protect their flocks the early nomads were driven to erect permanent enclosures (stockades) in which to keep their herds overnight (Num. xxxii. 36), generally in the neighborhood of caves, near which a massive platform of loose large stones was built, whereon the huts of the shepherds were placed ("Migdal," "Migdal 'Eder"). The erection of these permanent shepherd camps must be considered as the first step toward the abandonment by the Hebrews of the migratory life with its movable camps. Hence the proverb "from the watch-tower to the fortified city" (II Kings xvii. 9, xviii. 8).