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Mount Hermon

Mount Hermon (Heb. הַר חֶרְמוֹן; in Ps. 89:13 and Song 4:13, called just Hermon), the highest mountain in Israel, range in Lebanon, Syria, and (after the Six-Day War) Israel on the N.W. border of Transjordan. Mt. Hermon dominates its surroundings and its impressive peak is visible from a distance of more than 60 mi. (100 km.). It is called Jebel al-Sheikh ("the chieftain mountain") by the Arabs. In the south Mt. Hermon borders on the edge of the basalt table-land of the Golan; in the west on the valley of the Senir River (Ar. Ḥaṣbānī River and its continuation Wadi al-Taym); in the north on the Beirut-Damascus highway, which passes through the upper valley of the Parpar River (now called Barada River); and in the east on the Damascus tableland. Mt. Hermon may be considered to be an upfaulted block whose anticlinal axis, running northeast-southwest, constitutes the southern continuation of the Anti-Lebanon range. The slopes of the massif turning southeast and east are much steeper than those in the west. The Mt. Hermon block extends over a length of about 28 mi. (45 km.) and is widest in the south – about 15 mi. (25 km.). Tectonics, together with erosional processes, have created secondary depressions, most of which parallel the direction of the axis. Its highest peak, reaching 9,230 ft. (2,814 m.) above sea level, is called Qaṣr ʿAntar, "the fortress of ʿAntar," the Black hero of Arab legend. The top stratum of the Hermon massif is mostly Jurassic limestone, while younger strata (Lower Cretaceous, Cenomanian) have preserved themselves only in the mountain's circumference. Mt. Hermon does not appear to have ever undergone glaciation, so that alpine characteristics (e.g., needle peaks, cirques, arêtes, etc.) are absent. Karstic erosion, on the other hand, has been strongly active in the mountain's limestone, resulting in rough terrain features (crags, boulders, sinkholes, etc.) and in an almost complete absence of soil from much of the area. The latter fact also explains the scantiness of the vegetation cover, in spite of the abundant precipitation (dew, rain, and snow), which attains a maximum of 60 in. (1,500 mm.) per year on the mountain's highest reaches. These waters are quickly absorbed in the porous rocks and reappear in strong karstic and tectonic springs at the foot of the mountain. Its peak is covered with snow for about two-thirds of the year, and its waters feed the headstreams of the Jordan and springs descending eastward into the Damascus basin.


In the Bible Mt. Hermon is considered the northern boundary of Transjordan, i.e., of the territory of the Amorite kings conquered by Israel (Deut. 3:8; Josh. 12:1), as well as the extreme limit of the territory of the half-tribe of Manasseh east of the Jordan (Josh. 13:11). The name Hermon is derived from the root ḥrm ("sacred"), and like most high mountains it was thought to be the residence of a god, whose name, Baal-Hermon, also served as the name of the mountain itself (Judg. 3:3; I Chron. 5:23). According to Deuteronomy 3:9, Mt. Hermon was called Sirion by the Sidonians (Phoenicians) and Senir by the Amorites. These names, which apparently designate the entire Anti-Lebanon range and not just the Hermon peak, appear in the Egyptian Execration Texts of the 19th century B.C.E., and in Ugaritic literature, in a treaty between the Hittites and Amorites (c. 1350 B.C.E.), in which the two sides swear, inter alia, by the gods of Mt. Shariyanu. When the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III attacked Damascus in 841 B.C.E., the Assyrian army had first to overcome Hazael's forces at Mt. Saniru. As late as the 10th century C.E., Arab geographers mention the name Snir. In the Psalms, Mt. Hermon is contrasted with Mt. Lebanon (29:6); the land of the Hermons is mentioned with the land of Jordan (42:7); and Mt. Hermon is also juxtaposed with Mt. Tabor (89:13), which led to the Hill of Moreh being called the "Little Hermon." The Bible praises the dew of Hermon (Ps. 133:3), its lions (Song 4:8), and its cypresses (Ezek. 27:5). In classical times Jerome mentions that a temple stood on the mountain (Onom. 21:13–14). A Greek inscription found near the peak states that only those who "had taken the oath" were allowed to continue on from there. Snow from Mt. Hermon was sent to Tyre. The Targums called it Tur Talga ("Mountain of Snow"; Targ. Onk., Deut. 3:9 and Song 4:8), a name still used by the Arabs, Jebel al-Thalj.

In recent times, most parts of Mt. Hermon have been uninhabited. Only at its foot and on its lowest slopes villages nestle on protected sites, many of them inhabited by minority groups (Druze, Alaouites, etc.) that sought refuge there hundreds of years ago. The larger part of Mt. Hermon, its northwestern and western section, including the highest point of the massif, is in Lebanese territory. The northeastern part belongs to Syria. In the Six-Day War (1967), Israel forces occupied the formerly Syrian southeast corner (including the high "Hermon Shoulder"), where Syrian troops had built an elaborate network of fortifications and from where they had frequently shelled the Huleh Valley settlements. They had also begun to dig a canal there, with the intention of diverting the Jordan sources from Israel. Among the villages that came under Israel jurisdiction on June 10, 1967, are the Druze center Majdal Shams and the Alaouite (Nusairi) village of Ghajar. After 1967 roads were built on Mt. Hermon, two of which meet near the highest point in Israel hands (7,320 ft., or 2,200 m., above sea level), and a recreation and wintersports center was constructed on the Hermon. In all, Israel controlled nearly 30 sq. miles (70 sq. km.) of the mountain. From 1969 Arab guerrillas installed themselves on Lebanese territory on the western slopes of Mt. Hermon, from which they repeatedly shelled Israel population centers; the Israel Defense Forces reacted with air attacks and land assaults on these hideouts.


C. Clermont-Ganneau, Recueil d'archéologie orientale, 5 (1903), 346ff.; Abel, Geog, 1 (1933), 347–9; EM, S.V.

[Michael Avi-Yonah and

Efraim Orni]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.