Jalul in the 19th Century Explorer’s Accounts

Posted in: Archives Month, ASOR
Tags: Antonin Jaussen, Archaeology, Archives, Capt. Charles Leonard Irby, Charles Montagu Doughty, Charles Warren, Dgellgood, el-Hahlih, Eugene L. Rogan, explorer, Ğaloul, Gamereyn, Harfa, Henry Baker Tristram, Howihih, James Mangles, James Silk Buckingham, Jeljul, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, Khurbet Enjahsah, Libbun, Louis-Félicien-Joseph Caignart de Saulcy, Meddain, Mehaineh, Mehnwwara, Mehrud, Negaes, Nelnockh, Transjordan, Ulrich Seetzen
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By: Paul J. Ray, Constance E. Gane, and Randall W. Younker
Institute of Archaeology
Andrews University

The Bronze and Iron Age site of Tall Jalūl, in central Jordan, has been excavated since 1992, yielding an impressive array of domestic and administrative buildings; remnants of an Iron Age II gate, with superimposed roadways leading to it; and more recently a large section of the city wall, a water channel, and the ancient water system. What is not so well-known is that Jalul (under variant spellings such as Djeloul, Jelool, Jeljul, Schelul and others) was visited by a number of nineteenth century explorers, all who left accounts contributing to a knowledge of both the site and its immediate region which can be helpful in delineating the history of the site and region, even potentially identifying its ancient identification.

Fig. 1 Bedouin Map ca. 1900.

Fig. 1 Bedouin Map ca. 1900.

Transjordan in a 19th Century
The Turkish Government had no physical presence in Eastern Palestine until 1867. Although nominally in control of the region, they were unable to guarantee the safety of travelers, as the Bedouin tribes, of which the Beni-Sakhr were the most powerful in central Transjordan, tended to be a law unto themselves.

When passing through parts of Transjordan, western travelers, of which there had only been a few since the Frankish (Crusader) period, took their lives into the hands, either travelling in disguise or under the protection of Bedouin guides, a logistic that sometimes failed when moving into the territory of tribal groups who were unaffiliated or unrelated to the guides.

Ulrich Seetzen (1767-1811)
The German explorer Ulrich Seetzen was the first European to explore Transjordan scientifically, which he did from 1805-1807. He studied Arabic for one year in Aleppo, Syria, and became proficient enough in Arabic to travel as a native (Hakim Musa), often disguised as a beggar, without a companion. He collected lists of the names of villages in Jordan in the Fall of 1806, and rediscovered such sites as Amman/Philadelphia and Jerash. Seetzen’s Karte von Palaestina was published in 1810, with the south-eastern section including both Transjordan and the site of  “Schelul,” north of Madaba.

Johann Ludwig Burckhardt
One of the earliest western travelers to mention Jalul was the Swiss explorer, Johann Burckhardt (aka Shaykh Ibrahim) who rode by Jalul in 1812.  He wrote in his Travels in Syria and the Holy Land (1822: 365-66): “in order to see Medaba, I left the great road at Hesban, and proceeded in a more eastern direction. At six hours and three quarters, about one hour distant from the road, I saw the ruins of Djeloul, at a short distance to the east of which, are the ruined places called El Samek, El Mesouh, and Om el Aamed  (Umm al-‘Amad). However, Burckhart did not include Djeloul on his map.

James Silk Buckingham (25 August 1786 – 30 June 1855) was an English author, journalist and traveler (known as Hadjee ‘Abdallah). In 1821, his “Travels in Palestine” were published, followed by “Travels Among the Arab Tribes” in 1825. In the latter, there are entries from 1816 where he talks about people inhabiting the countries east of Syria and mentions “Jelool” several times:

From Menjah (Manja) we continued our way, going in a SSE direction, and gradually descending to a lower level. As we proceeded, I remarked that the soil became more mixed with clay and silicious stones, and grew less fertile as we advanced. In about an hour after quitting Menjah we came to Jelool. At this place we found the ruins of a larger town than any we had yet passed, with the exception only of Amman. The position is a favourable and commanding one, occupying the brow of an elevated ridge of the land, and looking over an extensive space to the south of it, of a lower level than the great plain by which we had approached this spot from the north (p. 89).

The ruins of Jelool, at present, form two divisions, an eastern and a western portion; between which is a bare space that does not appear to have been ever built upon. In passing over this bare space, and through the respective masses of ruins, neither of which I could afford time to examine, I thought I observed in one of the dwellings a solid stone door, similar to those used in the tombs at Oom Kais (Umm Qais), and which I learnt from my guide, were frequently met with in almost all the ruined cities of the Hauran.  Amid these ruins there were several columns and heaps of large hewn stones, belonging to the edifices of the town, with a number of cisterns, grottos, tombs, and sarcophagi, all now entirely deserted, and exhibiting a melancholy example of the wreck of former opulence and power (pp. 89-90).

The remains of buildings here at Oom el Weleed (Umm al-Walid) appeared to me to be more extensive than even those at Jelool. The blocks of stone, of which the buildings were constructed, were also much larger. Roman arches were still remaining perfect at many of the entrances to private dwellings; but throughout the whole, neither columns nor fragments of sculptured work any where met my view (p. 92).

Saturday March 3. — We left Oom el Weleed before the day broke, and on ascending the hill to the north of it, we could see as the sun rose, the position of Oom el Russas (Um er-Rasas), to the south, its tower rendering it conspicuous at the distance of from fifteen to twenty miles . . . In about two hours more, going in the direction generally of NNW, we came to Jelool, in riding over which I remarked an abundance of broken pottery of a fine red kind, differing, in this respect, from that in more ordinary use…Proceeding onward in the same direction, we approached the ruins of Hhuzbhan or Heshbon which, are about two hours distant from Jelool (p. 105).

The fine remains at Jerash and Amman, which my guide had often seen, were scarcely at all esteemed by him; while, in describing the shapeless masses at Jelool, Hhuzbhan, and Oom el Russas, which he had only seen at a distance before, and had never entered or examined until during our late excursion, in which we took them in our way, he exclaimed, “Never were cities in the world like these three;there is no counting the number of the houses, and every house is as big as the castle of As-Salt! the pillars are larger round than the circle of the whole company; the writings are so numerous that no one could copy them; and the tower of Oom el Russas is as high as a mountain! (p. 114)

Capt. Charles Leonard Irby and Capt. James Mangles (English Naval officers)
In their Travels in Egypt, Nubia, Syria and Asia Minor During the Years 1917 and 1918 (1923): 370, Irby and Mangles refer to a site called “Dgellgood,” possibly a reference to Jalul:
The ruins are mostly of ordinary buildings, but it is evident that one of them was a Christian church; another ruined site to the west was called Dgellgood.

Louis-Félicien-Joseph Caignart de Saulcy (French antiquarian and numismatist 1807-1880). He excavated Baalbek and Jerusalem in mid-19th century, visiting Madaba in 1851, and according to his Voayage en Terre Sainte, vol. 1 (1865): 296 saw Djebel-Djeloul, but made no comment about what was there.

Fig. 2 Kiepert Map.

Fig. 2 Kiepert Map.

Heinrich Kiepert
Kiepert was a German geographer who made a set of maps of the Holy Land based on the notes and maps of earlier explorers and cartographers. His 1:400,000 scale map of 1856 (used to illustrate Robinson and Smith’s Historical Geography book) was drawn from Robinson’s itineraries, and was one of the first to show Jelul, although he mistakenly located the site 6 km to the northwest of Madaba.

Capt. Charles Warren
While Warren is best known for his work in Jerusalem, before leaving the country, in 1870, he also explored Eastern Palestine.  He included Jalul on his reconnaissance map of the Jordan Valley in 1867 (published in 1880), evidently the first person to do so using the current spelling, as well as in the list of site names he collected east of the Jordan River, which he published in the Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund 4 (1872): 132.

Fig. 3 Warren Map 1867.

Henry Baker Tristram
Henry Baker Tristm visited the site in 1872, which he referred to by the name Jeljul  (The Land of Moab, 1873: 118).  After visiting “Azizah,” Tristram rode west until he came to a site which he described as a “small ruin, apparently of a fort and a village.” He referred to the site as “Jeljul” and noted that the site had previously been visited initially by Burckhardt and later by Irby and Mangles:

Five minutes west of this was a small ruin, apparently of a fort and a village, which we visited, called Jeljul (Djellgood of Irby and Mangles, or Djeldjoun of Burckhardt). (p. 118).

Figs. 4 Conder Maps ca. 1881.

Conder and Mantell Survey 1872-80
The site appears as Jelul on a triangulation map of Condor and Mantell (published in1881) of their ill-fated attempt at an Eastern Survey of Palestine. The map was used to connect what had been surveyed in Transjordan, before they were forced by the Ottoman authorities to abandon their work, to that of the Western Survey of Palestine.

Antonin Jaussen
The inhabitants of Ğaloul are listed among the tax payer lists for the region in 1883 by Antonin Jaussen, in his Coutumes des Arabes us Pays de Moab (1908): 244, also mentioned in Village, Steppe and State: the Social Origins of Modern Jordan, by Eugene L. Rogan and Tariq Tell (1994): 47.

Charles Montagu Doughty

Figs. 5 Conder Maps ca. 1881.

The next explorer to mention the site was the English traveler, Charles Montagu Doughty, who passed by the site in 1886.  Doughty lists the names of some of the ruins he passed by including one called Jeljul in his Travels in Arabia Deserta, vol. 1 (1888): 22:

The plots of khurbets (Khirbets) are mostly small as hamlets; their rude dry buildings are fallen down in few heaps of the common stones.  I was so idle as to write the names of some of them, Khurbet Enjahsah, Mehnwwara, el-Hahlih, Mehaineh, Meddain, Negaes, Libbun, Jeljul, Nelnockh, Mehrud, Howihih, Gamereyn (of the two moons) Harfa (where there is a Mohammedan shrine and mosque; anciently it was a church).

Gottlieb Schumacher
Visited Madaba between October 10-14, 1891. He published an article, “Madaba” in Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins  18 (1895): 113-25,  in which he describes the town and its ruins. He also published one of the first maps of the ruins of the city that include two eastern roads to “Dschelul” (p. 117).

Fr. Paul-M. Séjourné
Father Paul-M.  Séjourné of the École Biblique also visited Madaba and made a map that was published in 1892, including the road to “Djeloul.”

Alois Musil
In 1896 Alois Musil, a graduate student at the École Biblique, in Jerusalem, began his first journey to the territory of Jordan. He visited Madaba and vicinity for the first time on Sept 17, 1896, disguising himself as Sheikh Musa al-Rweili as he explored the area east of Amman. He prepared a 1:300,000 map of Transjordan between1896-1902, and

published the book Arabia Petraea in 1907, in which Ğelûl is mentioned 9 times (pp. 5, 106, 110, 125, 174, 267, 302, 306 and 352). On May 9, 1901 Musil traveled west of Madaba to the hill of el-Meshneqa, and at 7:50 am from a nearby dolmen, at El-Khwejžije, he took compass directions of a number of sites in all directions, including Ğelûl:

Fig. 6 Musil’s Triangulation Map.

Wir folgten der Šefa’-Straße gegen N. und heilten nach 8 Min. bei einer Dolme, von wo aus ich verzeichen konnte: in der Richtung 98° Mâdaba, 95° Ğelûl, 56.5° Es-Sâmač, 37° el-‘Âl, 185° … (p. 267).

Both Musil’s map of his journeys in Jordan and his triangulation map for his Arabia Petraea  (1908) include Jalul.

The question might be asked if any of these references to Jalul in the nineteenth century travel accounts help in the identification of this ancient site?

The vocabulary of the Fulde language, in Africa, which is a cognate dialect to Arabic, lists Jalul as a word meaning “spring.”

Fig. 7 Jalul Water System.

Jalul = Heshbon?
In connection with water, it has often been suggested that Jalul is Heshbon because of the plural water sources (pools or reservoirs) mention in the Hebrew Bible in Song 7:4. While a topographical map of Jalul indicates the presence of two major indentations, possibly suggesting dual water systems, the archaeological excavations from 1992 to the present seem to indicate that only one of these is ancient, dating to the Iron Age. The second, which contains a cistern, is located just inside of an Iron Age II gate system with superimposed roadways leading into the site. Its location, where one would instead expect a plaza and administrative buildings, would seem to suggest that the second water system is more recent than the Iron Age.

Jalul = al Jiza (Ziza)?
It has recently been suggested that Jalul was Ziza, at least in certain periods. However, Ziza has always been associated in the literature with a site on the Hajj route, on the edge of the desert. A site further west, such as Jalul, does not seem to fit this location.

Fig. 8 Aerial of Jiza and Reservoir (David Kennedy).

Jalul = Bezer?
It has also been suggested that Jalul is ancient Bezer (Dearman, Historical Reconstruction and the Mesha Inscription 1989: 186; Younker, forthcoming). In the explorer’s accounts, Musil Arabia Petraea (1907: 218, n. 1) identified biblical Bezer with Khirbet Barazin (Ruinenfelde Barazên), north of Jalul, with the last two letters of the tri-literal root (BZR) transposed to (BRZ), and since the time of F.M. Abel (Geographie de la Palestine (1933-38: 2.264) Bezer has usually been associated with Umm al-‘Amad. Not that Musil’s identification was necessarily correct, but it does seem to indicate that at the time there didn’t seem to be a connection between Bezer and Jalul.

Overall, while the nineteenth century explorer’s accounts yield a considerable amount of interesting and useful information on the site of Jalul and its surrounding region, they do not seem to lend any substantive help in identifying its ancient name.


As the excavations of the site of Jalul are now in publication stage the authors thought it would be useful to see what kind information a study of the nineteenth century explorer’s accounts might add to our database.


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