Huberman 19th century exploration of the Holy Land19th century exploration of the Holy Land19th century exploration of the Holy Land

  • Issue: November 1987
  • Designer: A. Glaser
  • Stamp size: 25.7 x 40 mm
  • Plate no.: 44 - 46
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: E. Lewin-Epstein Ltd.
  • Method of printing: Photolithography

In the second half of the 19th century, the river Jordan, its sources, and the Dead Sea were still terra incognita. Although there is evidence of explorers who had rediscovered this region in previous generations, the unknown far exceeded the known.

The majority of visitors to the Jordan river were pilgrims who went down from Jerusalem to be baptised in its waters. With the rediscovery of the Holy Land in the 19th century, the first travellers and explorers turned their attention to the unknown areas of the land and made their way along its hypaths.

The pioneer explorer of the Jordan and Dead Sea basins at that time (1835) was a 25-year old Irishman, Christopher Costigan who brought his boat to the harbour of Akko (Acre) and took it overland to Tiberias. He tried to row in the Jordan as far as Bet Shean and from there had the boat carried on horseback to Jericho. For eight days he travelled the Dead Sea and got as far as the "tongue", when the excessive heat forced him to return to the northern shores of the Dead Sea, together with his Maltese assistant. Thirst compelled them to drink the hitter water of the Dead Sea. The Maltese reached Jericho, having left Costigan, who had contracted fever, on the sea-shore. He was later taken to Jerusalem, where he died and was buried on Mount Zion.

Twelve years later, in 1847, a British lieutenant, Thomas Howard Molyneux, came to discover the secrets of the Jordan and the depths of the Dead Sea. He arrived at Akko with three British friends and they transported their boat to Tiberias by camel and horse. They were joined by two local servants. Molyneux also tried to brave the Jordan falls but, having failed, followed its banks either having his boat carried by camels or rowing. After many hardships and clashes with unfriendly Bedouins, they reached the Dead Sea and sailed for two days until Molyneux came down with malaria. He died later aboard a ship that was taking him from Jaffa to Beirut.

One year later, in 1848, an expedition led by an American naval lieutenant, William Francis Lynch, came to explore the Jordan and the Dead Sea. He was accompanied by 13 men in two boats, one of iron and the other of copper; they came ashore at Haifa, where they were joined by four others. Their boats were carried on camelback through the lower Galilee to Tiberias. In a joint expedition of reconnaissance parties on land together with boats sailing the river, they reached the Dead Sea. Lynch's expedition charted maps of the Jordan and the Dead Sea.

During 1868-1869, John MacGregor, a Scotsman, sailed his canoe through the Suez Canal, along the Nile, the rivers of Damascus, the sources of the Jordan, Lake Hula, the Sea of Galilee and the Kishon river. He used a canoe because only such a boat could sail through the swamps and marshes. In the Hula valley, he was taken prisoner by Bedouins but managed to escape thanks to his courage and resourcefulness. He mapped Lake Hula and the Sea of Galilee. His canoe "Rob Roy", recently discovered in England, has been brought to the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv.

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19th century exploration of the Holy Land