'Ascalon,' in the Samaritan interpreter, is the same with 'Gerar,' Genesis 21.
The word Gerar, among the Talmudists, seems to have passed into 'Gerariku.' "Wherefore (say they) have they not determined of that country, which is in Gerariku? Because it is ill to dwell in. How far? To the river of Egypt. But behold, Gaza is pleasant to dwell in," &c.
In the author of Aruch it is, Gardiki. "Bereshith Rabbah (saith he) renders Gardiki." 'The king of Gerar,' Genesis 20:2, with the Jerusalem Targumist, is "The king of Arad." Note the affinity of Arad, Gerar, and Ascalon; and thence, unless I am deceived, will grow some light, to illustrate those places in the Holy Bible, where we meet with these names.
Ascalon was distant from Jerusalem five hundred and twenty furlongs: that is, sixty-five miles. Which is to be understood of the older Ascalon. For Benjamin Tudelensis makes mention of a double Ascalon,--(this our) old, and the new. For thus he writes: "Then" (from Azotus) "is new Ascalon distant two parsae, or leagues" (that is, eight miles); "which Ezra, the priest, of blessed memory, built at the seashore...now that is distant from old Ascalon, now destroyed, four leagues."
So that, from Azotus to Ascalon, of which we are speaking, and of which alone the Holy Scripture speaks, were, by his computation, four-and-twenty miles; and by the computation of Adrichomius, two hundred furlongs, that is, five-and-twenty miles.
"Ten miles from Gaza" (says our countryman Sandes [Sandys], an eyewitness), "and near the sea, is placed Ascalon, now of no note, anciently a venerable place to the heathen for the temple of Dagon, and the festivals of Semiramis' birthday."
From Gaza to Azotus, Diodorus Siculus being witness, are two-hundred and seventy furlongs: which amount to four-and-thirty miles: namely, from Gaza to Ascalon, ten miles, and thence to Azotus four-and-twenty.
That is a common saying, "From Ascalon onward to the south, is the heathen country, and Ascalon itself is reputed for a heathen country." And yet something of Ascalon was within the land of Israel. The apple-gardens or orchards, did bound the land of Ascalon on that coast, which we have observed before. And yet, "when R. Ismael Ben R. Josi, and Ben Hakkaphar, were set over the space of Ascalon" (that is, when it was intrusted to them to judge concerning the spaces or parts of Ascalon,--namely, what were within the land, and what without, &c.) "They pronounced it clean from the authority of R. Phinchasi Ben Jair, who said, We went down to the corn-market of Ascalon, and thence we received wheat, and going up into our city we washed, and ate our Thruma"; i.e. The portion of first-fruits belonging to the priests. The greatest part of the city, if not the whole, was esteemed, under the second Temple, to be without the limits of the land: but some part, or at least the apple-yards, and the places next adjacent, were within the land.
Mention is made of a certain temple in Ascalon among the "five more famous temples,--viz. the temple of Bel in Babylon, the temple of Nebo in Cursi, of Tiratha in Mapheg, of Zeripha in Ascalon, and of Nishra in Arabia."
And there is a story of a fast enjoined, because some sign appeared of a blast of the corn in Ascalon: "The elders went down from Jerusalem into their cities, and enjoined a fast, because so much of a blast was seen in Ascalon as the space of the mouth of an oven may contain."
But most famous of all is the story of the eighty women, that were witches, hanged by Simeon Ben Shetach in one and the same day. We will not think much to relate the thing in the words of the Gemarists:--"When as two disciples of the wise men in Ascalon were intent upon the study of the law, one of them, at length dying, had no funerals performed for him,--when yet a publican, dying at that time, had. To the student, that survived, are revealed the joys of his saved companion, and likewise the punishments of the damned publican." Let the learned reader turn this clause into English; unless my conjecture fail me, it savours of spite and poison. I should thus render it: "He saw Mary, the daughter of Eli, in the shades, hung up by the kernels of the breasts; and when he inquired, How long she was to suffer those things? it was answered, Until Simon Ben Shetach came to supply her place. But, said he, for what crime? It is answered, Therefore, because he sometime swore against his soul, and said, If I shall ever become a prince, I will destroy all wizards. But behold, he is become a prince, and yet he hath not done this: for eighty women, that are witches, lie hid in a cave at Ascalon, and kill the world. Go, and tell him, &c. He went to him, therefore, and related these things, &c. On a certain rainy day, therefore, having eighty young men in company with him, he goes to the cave, knocks, professes himself one of the bewitching society, and is let in. He sees them exercising their art. For, muttering certain words together, one brings morsels of meat,--another, wine,--another, boiled flesh, &c. But what can you do, say they? Saith he, I will twice utter my voice, and I will bring in eighty youths handsomely habited, themselves merry, and shall make you so. They say to him, Such we would have. He utters his voice the first time, and the young men put on their clean clothes" (free from the rains, for they had carried them with them covered and safe in certain vessels for the same purpose). "Crying out the second time, in they all come: and a sign being given, that each man should lift up from the earth one woman (for so their magical power would perish), he said to her which had brought the morsels, Bring hither now the morsels; but she brought them not. Therefore, said he, Carry her away to the gallows. Bring wine, but she brought it not; Carry her also away, saith he, to hanging. And so it was done with them all. Hence is the tradition, Simeon Ben Shetach hung eighty women in Ascalon. But they do not judge two persons in the same day: but this he did out of the necessity of the time." Where the Gloss thus; "He was compelled to do this, because the women of Israel had very much broke out into witchcraft. Therefore, he made a hedge to the time, and hanged them, to expose the thing publicly. And this in one and the same day, that their kindred might no way conspire to deliver them."