When this our evangelist, whom we have undertaken to handle, makes mention of some places in the land of Canaan, whose situation is somewhat obscure and more remote from vulgar knowledge; I might seem to be wanting to my task, if I should pass them over unsaluted, and not clear them, as much as lies in me, with some illustration: which I thought very convenient to do here in the very entrance; partly, lest, by the thrusting-in of these discourses into the body of this comment, whatsoever it be, the order of it might be too much broken; and partly, because I would do the same here that I did before my animadversion on St. Matthew.
That I have enlarged upon some places, besides those in the evangelists, I have done it for the reader's sake; to whom, I hope, it will not be unacceptable to hear such things, which do either bring with them profit or pleasure,--or, at least, such as are not commonly heard of.
There was a time when the land of Israel and Idumea were not only distinct countries, but separated with an iron wall, as it were, of arms and hostility: but, I know not how, Idumea at last crept into Judea; and scarcely left its name at home, being swallowed up in Arabia.
They were truths, which Pliny speaks, in that time, when he spake them; "Arabia is bounded by Pelusium sixty-five miles. Then Idumea begins, and Palestine, at the rising up of the Sirbon lake." But "thou art deceived, O Pliny," would the ancienter ages have said; for Idumea is bounded by Pelusium sixty-five miles: then begins Palestine, at the rising up of the Sirbon.
We are beholden to Strabo, that we know the reason of the transmigration of that people and of the name. For thus he writes: "The Idumeans and the lake [of Sirbon] take up the farthest western parts of Judea, next to Casius. The Idumeans are Nabateans: but being cast out thence by a sedition, they joined themselves to the Jews, and embraced their laws."
Every one knows what the land of Edom, or Idumea, in the Old Testament, was: but it is not the same in the New; and if that old Idumea retained its name (which it scarcely did, but was swallowed up under the name of Arabia), then, by way of distinction, it was called "Great Idumea." Idumea the Less, or the New, is that which we are seeking, and concerning which St. Mark speaks, no small part of Judea;--so called either from its nearness to Idumea properly so called, or because of the Idumeans that travelled thither and possessed it, and that became proselytes to the law and manners of the Jews. Such a one was Herod Ascalonita. When, therefore, it is said by the evangelist, that "a great multitude followed Jesus from Galilee, and from Judea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea," he speaketh either of the Jews inhabiting that part of Judea, which, at that time, was called Idumea,--or at least of the Idumeans, who inhabited it, being now translated into the religion of the Jews. Concerning the country now contained under that name, we shall speak by and by, following, first, Pliny's footsteps a little, from the place where he sets out his progress,--namely, from Pelusium.