In the English versions the word "forest" is employed for the rendering of four different Hebrew words: (1) "ya'ar," which occurs more than forty times; (2) "ḥoresh," five times; (3) "ḥoreshah," once; and (4) "pardes," once. The sense of "ya'ar" (LXX. δρυμός; Vulg. "silva," "saltus") is now generally explained, from the Arabic "wa'ar," to be "rough" (as of a road or of a tract of land).
From the conditions now prevailing in Palestine no conclusion can be drawn as to forest-growth in the Biblical period. The following are the forests mentioned or alluded to in the Bible:
- 1. The "forest of Ephraim" ("ya'ar Efrayim"), where Absalom perished (II Sam. xviii. 6, R. V.). It was east of the Jordan, in the neighborhood of the city of Mahanaim in Gilead. The name "Ephraim" is certainly surprising for the location.
- 2. The "forest of Hareth" ("ya'ar Ḥaret"), in the land of Judah, where David sought refuge on his return from Moab (I Sam. xxii. 5).
- 3. The forest ("ya'ar") on the road from Jericho to Beth-el, whence the bears came out that avenged Elisha (II Kings ii. 24). It was probably situated along the present Wadi al-Ḳelt.
- 4. The forest ("ya'ar") where, in their pursuit of the Philistines, the Israelites found the honey (I Sam. xiv. 25). See, however, Wellhausen, and also Klostermann, Driver, and Budde, in their commentaries ad loc.
- 5. The forest ("ḥoresh") in which Jotham built forts and towers (II Chron. xxvii. 4) must have been in the mountains of Judah, in high places suitable for observation, very likely, as well as for defense, and consequently can not have been more than a copse of low growth.
- 6. The forest ("ḥoreshah") in "the wilderness of Ziph," where David took refuge (I Sam. xxiii. 15, 18, 19). This was probably a crest of the mountain (Gesenius, "Handwörterbuch," 11th ed.) or a copse (Klostermann, Commentary ad loc.); and "Ḥoreshah" seems to have been its proper name.
- 7. The "forest of the south" ("ya'ar ha-negeb"; Ezek. xx. 46), which is probably nothing more than a figure of rhetoric.
- 8. The "king's forest" (Neh. ii. 8); this was a reservation or park rather than a forest proper; such, at least, is the interpretation suggested by the word "pardes" (see Gesenius, "Thesaurus"). It might have originated from the plantation of cedars which Solomon made "to be as the sycamore trees that are in the lowland" (II Chron. ix. 27, R. V.).
The passage just quoted shows that the forests or groves of sycamores from which the city of Sycaminum (the modern Haifa) was named were in existence when the Book of Chronicles was written.
The name "Kirjath-jearim" (Josh. ix. 17 and often elsewhere) means "the city of forests"; but this is hardly sufficient to justify the supposition that it was so named from the presence of forests around or about it, or, at any rate, that such forests were still in existence during the occupation of the land by the Hebrews. In Isa. lxv. 10 the Septuagint translates "Sharon" by Δρνμός; but this is also too weak a basis for assuming the presence of forests in that plain, except, however, in post-Biblical times (comp. Strabo, xvii. 758).Existing Forests in Palestine: Two Main Centers of Forest.
There are now two important centers of forests in Palestine, one in Galilee and one in Gilead. By "Galilee" is understood the region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan from a line running through Janin in the south to another line running through Tibnin in the north. Over 13 per cent of that area is wooded, this percentage being almost equally divided between open and dense forests (7 per cent and 6 per cent respectively). Of the latter one-fourth consists of high wood, and three-fourths of low. For details as to the precise location of the forests (Mount Carmel and the hills east and north of Nazareth), or the species therein occurring (Quercus coccifera, Q. Ægilops, Arbutus unedo, A. Andrachne, Pistacia Lentiscus, Ceratonia Siliqua, Pistacia Terebinthus, Phillyrea Media, etc.), see Anderlind in "Z. D. P. V." 1885. In Gilead, from the Shari'at al-Manaḍirah (ancient Yarmuk) to the Wadi Sarka (ancient Jabbok), especially in the northern portion of that region, there is an abundant growth of oak forests. The trees belong to the same species as those of Galilee, but they are of a much finer growth. South of the Wadi Sarka the upper range of Gilead is oak and arbutus; the central, arbutus and fir; the lower, valonia-oak (Q. Ægilops). The ilex occurs throughout (see Stanley, "Sinai and Palestine," p. 390). Outside of these two great centers there are no forests proper of any extent. Trees are fast disappearing from the Jaulan (anc. Gaulanitis), once densely wooded (see Schumacher, "The Jaulan," p. 15). In the vast territory of Bashan the oaks, for which it was famous in Biblical times, though still plentiful, are too much scattered to constitute forests. Ammon, in the south, is outside of the range of forests.Smaller Areas.
North of Jerusalem as far as Mount Carmel, and east and southeast to the valley of the Jordan and to the Dead Sea, the country is entirely destitute of trees of natural growth. West of Jerusalem there are two small forests (3½ and 12 acres respectively) of pines (Pinus Halepensis; see Anderlind, l.c.). Southwest of Jerusalem there is still a fair proportion of thickets or copses consisting mainly of the species Quercus coccifera, Arbutus, and Pistacia Lentiscus. All along the valley of the Jordan, on a terrace above the bed of the river, runs a thick jungle, once the haunt of lions (Jer. xlix. 19; 1. 44-46). It consists chiefly of tamarisks and willows. Finally, in the plain of Sharon straggling coppices of Turkey oaks (Quercus Cerris) mark the site of the forest mentioned by Strabo (see above), and which, under the name of "forest of Arsuf," or "Arsur," became famous, during the Crusades, for the victory of Kings Richard I. of England and Guy of Jerusalem over Saladin (1191).
- Tristram, The Natural History of the Bible;
- Stanley, Sinai and Palestine;
- Post, Flora of Syria, Palestine, and Sinai;
- Anderlind, Einfluss der Gebirgswaldungen im Nördlichen Palästina, etc., in Z. D. P. V. 1885;
- Buhl, Geographie, des Alten Palästina;
- Benzinger, Arch.