Josephus tells us, that John Baptist was imprisoned by Herod in the castle of Machaerus: "He [the Baptist], upon Herod's suspicion, is sent prisoner to Machaerus." A little before that he had told us, This place "is the frontier betwixt the kingdom of Aretas [the Arabian king] and Herod."
Of the situation of the place, Pliny hath this hint; "that Arabia of the Nomades [or Moab], situated on the east of Asphaltites, fronts it on the west, and Machaerus situated on the north, fronts it on the south"; otherwise, you would remove Machaerus a great way from its proper situation.
We meet with it in the Talmudists under the name of Macvar.
"The mountainous country of Perea was the hill Macvar and Gedor." The Jerusalem Targum, and Jonathan upon Numbers 32:35, instead of "Atroth, Shophan, and Jaazer," have "Maclelta of Shophan and Macvar": to which Jonathan adds "Macvar of Garamatha."
It is obvious enough how they came to render Atroth by Maclelta (as also Onkelos hath done); viz. because they translated the Hebrew word, which denotes a crown, by the Chaldee word, which is of the same signification. But why Jaazer by Macvar? Onkelos upon the third verse of the same chapter, renders 'Jaazer' and 'Nimrah' by, which I should translate, "the Atrati or denigrati of the house of Nimrin." And Ptolemy comments thus in Arabia Petraea: "There are all along that country certain mountains called the Black Mountains, namely, from the bay which is near Pharan, to Judea." But whether Macvar hath any relation with blackness from a dish or furnace, I leave it to others to inquire.
So that we see Herodium and Machaerus are situated on the outermost coast of Perea towards the south, or the land of Moab, near the shore of Asphaltites, or the Dead sea.
The nature of the place we have described by Josephus, "There spring out, near this place, certain fountains of hot waters, of a very different taste, some bitter some sweet; there are also many springs of cold waters," &c. Compare the bitter waters with the waters of Nimrin, Isaiah 15:6, and the other with those of Dimon, verse 9; where, query whether Dimon be not the same with Dibon [Beth and Mem being alternately used]; that by that pronunciation it might agree more with blood; "The waters of Dimon are full of blood."
Whilst we are in this watery country, are we not got amongst the rivers of Arnon? The learned Beza commenting upon those words of St. John 3:23, "for there was much water there," affirms it, commenting thus: "namely, many rivers, of which also in that tract about Aroer there is mention in the books of Moses." And the situation of the place confirms it; when as Machaerus was the very utmost bounds of the 'land of Israel' towards Moab, according to Josephus, as also was Arnon according to Moses.
But here we find no place that is called either Aenon or Salim. True, indeed; but the place, for the very wateriness of it, deserves to be called Aenon, that is, a place of springs; and if Salim may be the same with Salamean, here we have also the Kenite or Salamean, Genesis 15 and Numbers 24. However, in a thing so very obscure, it is safest not to be positive; and the reader's candour is begged in this modest way of conjecturing. The way we tread is unbeaten, and deserves a guide, which as yet we have not obtained.