Returning and Redemption
Method of Enquiry

1. Although census-taking was a well known practice in antiquity, the fragmentary data that have reached us do not contain sufficient information to enable us to draw definite conclusions regarding the numbers and fluctuations of the population of Palestine.

In the absence of a detailed census of inhabitants, the simplest way to arrive at an estimated number is to make a census of habitations. Had we had a complete list of the ancient localities of Palestine, we could probably arrive at a fairly reliable estimate.

Unfortunately, no such complete gazetteer for ancient Palestine exists. Lists of place names have been collected from various written sources. Some come under the category of geographical lists; but many of these are fragmentary and incomplete, while others mention only the most salient points of a geographical landscape, or the main localities of a given region. Finally, not all of them belong to the same period- by the time the later lists were drawn up, some localities had ceased to be inhabited, and new settlements had been founded in others. It must also be remembered that many places appear in these sources only incidentally in connection with some historical or literary narrative. Other, and possibly more important places, which have no relation to the story told, are not mentioned. Fresh archaeological discoveries constantly add to our toponymic lists, and demonstrate the unavoidable gaps in our knowledge. To quote but one well-known example- there are about 600 place names in the Old Testament, but only slightly over twenty in the New, although the latter deals with a period in which the country was much more densely inhabited. (See below, pp. 12 fol.)

2. These unavoidable deficiencies in our written sources are remedied to a great extent by the unwritten evidence of archaeology. Every scientific explorer of Palestine, from Edward Robinson in 1838 down to the latest archaeological surveys, has been struck with the great number and extent of ruined sites in the country as compared with present-day habitations. The following facts, taken from official sources, will show how far this impression is correct-

(a) In the Palestine Gazette No. 1375 of the 24th November 1944 (Supplement No. 2) the Director of Antiquities publishes a schedule of over 2800 historical sites and monuments. It should be noted that this lists only places whose importance entitles them to protection by law. The archives of the Department of Antiquities, which are open to the public, contain a total record of over 4000 sites. The number of inhabited sites in Palestine at the time of the 1931 census was 981, and at present cannot exceed 1200.

(b) For the kingdom of Transjordan schedules noting a total of 507 ancient sites have been published in the Official Gazette of the Emirate, Nos. 621 (1st January 1939) and 656 (2nd December 1939). The archives of the Transjordan Department of Antiquities record 607 sites. This is far from complete; in 1933-38 Prof. Nelson Glueck, Director of the American School of Oriental Research, Jerusalem, made an archaeological survey of Transjordan, which covered ancient Edom, Moab, Ammon and about half of Gilead. In those parts alone he found about 716 ancient sites 1.

The total number of inhabited localities in Transjordan, as shown on the 1- 250,000 scale map published in 1937 by the Department of Lands and Surveys, Transjordan, is 311.

There exists, therefore, a strong prima facie case for the belief that the ancient population of Western Palestine exceeded the modern by four to one, and that Transjordan’s inhabitants were once two and a half times their present number.

3. Two objections seem at first sight to present themselves to this method of rough computation-

(a) In each list, localities large and small are lumped together, appearing as single units. The ancient site might have been a single farm, and the modern village may number several thousands of inhabitants. This objection is not, however, as valid as it might appear. It will be shown below in detail that the size of the ruins does not differ much from that of an average Arab village of to-day, and the density of habitation has certainly not changed since ancient times. In addition, some of the units in the list of ancient sites represent cities, such as Caesarea and Ascalon, which had very large populations in antiquity. The comparison of the numbers of ancient and modern sites is therefore quite legitimate.

(b) A second, and more weighty objection, is that all the places listed in the schedules of ancient sites cannot have been inhabited at the same time, as obviously in the course of several thousand years the population centres must have shifted considerably. A mere counting of ruins does not therefore give an adequate idea of the density of population at any given time.

This objection is valid in itself, and the proper method is to take into account only such sites which can be proved to have been inhabited contemporaneously. The dating of sites becomes therefore a factor of prime importance for this enquiry.

4. There are two ways of determining the date of an ancient site, corresponding to the two kinds of sources we possess, written and unwritten. If a place is mentioned in the Egyptian or Assyrian inscriptions, in the Old or New Testaments, or in ancient topographical works, and if it can be identified with a modern locality, then its existence during the given period is assured. However, as explained above, written sources give only a fragmentary and disconnected account of ancient settlement in Palestine.

Far more fruitful is the dating of sites by archaeological evidence. This method has now been adopted by all competent scholars and has yielded new and most important results for the history of territorial settlement in antiquity.