I. This term, either in the singular or plural, does duty in the A.V. for no less than seven distinct Hebrew words, each of which had its own independent and individual meaning, and could not be-at least is not- interchanged with any other. We frequently find two, three, and even more equivalents for the same Hebrew term; and, besides, some of the words are manifestly mistranslated, and some of them are proper names. SEE TOPOGRAPHICAL TERMS.
1. אָבל, abel, like the Arabic abala, signifies moisture and the verdure produced by it, as in a meadow, to which last term it chiefly corresponds. Hence it came to be applied to a low green plain. It occurs frequently as a proper name in Scripture; chiefly, however, in composition, as Abel-beth- maachah (2Ki 15:29; 1Ki 15:20), Abel-meholah (Jg 7:22), Abel-maim (2Ch 16:4), Abel-shittim (Nu 33:49); also alone, as in 2Sa 20:14,18. In 1Sa 6:18 the A. V. reads" unto the great stone of Abel;" but the Hebrew is עד אבל הגדולה, "unto Abel the great." Several MSS. read אבן, "stone" (the Sept. has λίθου), and this is probably the true reading (De Rossi, Var. Lect. ad loc.). Jg 11:33 is the only passage in which it is rendered "plain," "and he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith... and unto the plain of the vineyards" (עד אבל כרמים; Sept. ἕως Ε᾿βελχαρμίμ, v. r. Α᾿βὲλ ἀμπελώνων; Abel qua est vineis consita). There can scarcely be a doubt that this is a proper name, and it should be rendered Abel-keramim. Eusebius and Jerome mention it as a village of the Ammonites still existing in their day, situated six miles from Philadelphia, in the midst of vineyards (Onomnast. s.v. Abelavinearum). SEE ABEL.
2. אֵלוֹן, elon. This word is derived from the root אוּל, to be strong; and hence it is used in Scripture to signify a strong tree, and most probably the oak, which grows to a great size in central and southern Palestine (Gesenius, Thesaur. p. 42, 50, 51). In the A.V. it is rendered "plain" (Ge 12:6; Ge 13:18, etc.), or "plains' (18, 1; De 11:30), but in one place the margin has "oak" (Jg 9:6). It is difficult to account for this rendering. Probably it was adopted from the Vulgate, which translates convallis in four places, vallis in two, and quercus in three. The Sept. has δρῦς, except in Jg 9:9, where it has βάλανος; and ver. 37, ῾Ηλωνμαωνενίμ,I. The word should always be rendered "oak." It was considered a sacred tree. Under "the oak of Moreh," at Manure, Abraham pitched his tent, and worshipped God (Stanley, S. and P. p. 508). SEE OAK.
3. בַּקעָה, bik'ah, is from the root בָּקִע, to cleave asunder, and signifies literally a cleft, or place formed by dividing mountains, then a valley between mountains; It is equivalent to the Arabic buk'ah. It is generally used in the Bible to denote a low widely extended plain: as "the plain of Shinar" (Ge 11:2; Sept. πεδίον; campus); "the valley of Jericho" (De 34:3); "the valley of Megiddo" (2Ch 35:22; Zec 12:1); "the valley of Lebanon" (Jos 11:17, called in Am 1:5 "the plain of Aven"), which is now called el-Bukaa; "the plain of Ono" (Ne 6:2), which appears to have been a portion of southern Sharon, where the town of Ono was situated. This word is rendered "plain" in the following passages: Ge 11:2; Ne 6:2; Isa 40:4; Eze 3:22-23; Eze 8:4; Am 1:5; elsewhere it is translated "valley." It is generally rendered πεδίον in the Sept. and
campus in the Vulgate. בַקּעָא, bik'a, the Chaldee form of בקעה, found only in Daniel 3. Nebuchadnezzar set up "the golden image in the plain of Dura." SEE VALLEY.
4. כַּכָּר, kikkar, seems to be equivalent to כַּרכָּר, from the root כָּרִר, to move in a circle; ככר therefore signifies a circuit, or" the region round about any place" (allied to which are κύκλος, circus, and circle; Gesenius, Thesaur. p. 717). Hence, with the article הִכַּכָּר, hakkikkar, it was applied topographically to "the region of the Jordan," especially the southern part of it, in which the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah once stood. It is so used seven times in Genesis (Ge 13:10-12; Ge 19:17,25,28-29); also in 2Sa 18:23; 1Ki 7:46; 2Ch 4:17; and apparently in Ne 3:22; Ne 12:28. Reland suggests that the name may have been derived from the windings of the river (Palaest. p. 274; comp. Stanley, S. tad P. p. 278). Though uniformly rendered plain in the A. V., and περίχωρος or περίοικος in the Sept., it appears to have all the definiteness of a proper name. It must be confessed that it is not easy to trace any connection between a "circular form" and the nature or aspect of the Jordan valley, and it is difficult not to suspect that kikk-ar is an archaic term which existed before the advent of the Hebrews, and was afterwards adopted into their language. SEE JORDAN.
The word is also very frequently used in Scripture to signify "a piece of money," generally "a talent" in the A. V. (Ex 25:39; 1Ch 20:2, etc.); also "a cake" or "loaf of bread" (1Sa 10:3; Pr 6:26). Their circular form doubtless suggested the name.
5. מַישׁוֹר. mishor, with the article הִמַּישׁוֹר. This word comes from the root יָשִׁר, to be straight or even; hence mishor signifies a plain or level country; thus in Ps 26:12, "My foot standeth in an even place," that is, "in a plain;" also, figuratively, rectitude or justice, as in Ps 67:4, "Thou shalt judge the people righteously" (with justice). With the article it has a topographical signification, and has usually the definiteness of a proper name. In the A. V. it is uniformly rendered plain. It occurs in the Bible in the following passages: De 3:10; De 4:43; Jos 13:9,16-17,21; Jos 20:8; 1Ki 20:23,25; 2Ch 26:10; Jer 48:8,21. In each of these, with one exception, it is used for the district in the neighborhood of Heshbon and Dibon—the Belka of the modern Arabs, their most noted pasture-ground; a district which, from the scanty descriptions we possess of it, seems to resemble the "Downs" of England in the regularity of its undulations, the excellence of its turf, and its fitness for the growth of flocks. There is no difficulty in recognizing the same district in the statement of 2Ch 26:10. It is evident from several circumstances that Uzziah had been a great conqueror on the east of Jordan, as well as on the shore of the Mediterranean (see Ewald's remarks, Geschichte, 3, 588, note), and he kept his cattle ion the rich pastures of Philistines on the one hand, and Ammonites on the other. Thus in all the passages quoted above the word mishbo seems to be restricted to one special district, and to belong to it as exclusively as shephelah did to the low land of Philistia, or arabah to the sunken district of the Jordan valley. It is therefore puzzling to find it used in one passage (1Ki 20:23,25) apparently with the mere general sense of low land, or rather flat land, in which chariots could be maneuvered-as opposed to uneven mountainous ground. There is some reason to believe that the scene of the battle in question was on the east side of the Sea of Gennesareth, in the plain of Jaulan; but this is no explanation of the difficulty, because we are not warranted in extending the mishor farther than the mountains which bounded it on the north, and where the districts began which bore, like it, their own distinctive names of Gilead, Bashan, Argob, Golan, Hauran, etc. Perhaps the most feasible explanation is that the word was used by the Syrians of Damascus without any knowledge of his strict signification, in the same manner indeed as it was employed in the later Syro-Chaldee dialect, in which meshra is the favorite term to express several natural features which in the older and stricter language were denominated each by its own special name. SEE MISHOK.
6. עֲרָבָז, arabah, pl. עִרבוֹת (from the root עָרִב, to be dry), signifies an arid region. In poetry it is applied to any dry pastureland, like Midbar; but with the article it means the valley of the Jordan, and has the force of a proper name. In the A.V. it is commonly rendered "plain" (De 1:1,7, etc.); but in De 11:30, "champaign;" in Eze 47:8, "desert;" and, in Jos 15:6; Jos 18:18, "Arabah" (Gesen. Thesaur. p. 1066; Stanley, S. and P. p. 481). The Sept. usually has ῎Αραβα, but sometimes δυσμή. SEE ARABAH.
7. שׁפֵלָה, shephelah, a low plain, from the root שׁפל, to be depressed. In the A. V. it is rendered "plain" in Jer 17:26; Ob 1:19; Zec 7:7; "low plains" in 1Ch 27:28; 2Ch 9:27; but elsewhere "vale" or "valley." It has all the definiteness of a proper name, being the specific designation of the maritime plain of Philistia. To the Hebrews this, and this only, was the Shephelah. Shephelah has some claims of its own to notice. It was one of the most tenacious of these old Hebrew terms. It appears in the Greek text and in the A. V. of the book of Maccabees (1 Macc. 12:38), and is preserved on each of its other occurrences, even in such corrupt dialects as the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch, and the Targums of Pseudo-Jonathan and of rabbi Joseph. And although it would appear to be no longer known in its original seat, it has transferred itself to other countries, and appears in Spain as Seville, and on the east coast of Africa as SoJala. SEE SHEPHELAH.
The plain of Esdraelon, which to the modern traveler in the Holy Land forms the third of its three most remarkable depressions, is designated in the original by neither of the above terms, but by עֵמֶק, êmek, an appellative noun frequently employed in the Bible for the smaller valleys of the country—" the valley of Jezreel." Perhaps Esdraelon may anciently have been considered as consisting of two portions: the valley of Jezreel, the eastern and smaller; the plain of Megiddo, the western and more extensive of the two. SEE ESDRAELON.
II. The following are the principal plains of Palestine alluded to in the Bible, proceeding from north to south:
1. The great plain or valley of Caele-Syria, the "hollow land" of the Greeks, which separates the two ranges of Lebanon and Antilebanon, is the most remarkable of them all. It is called in the Bible the Bika'ath Aven (Am 1:5), and also probably the Bika'ath Lebanon (Jos 11:17; Jos 12:7) and Bika'ath Mizpeh (Jos 11:8), and is still known throughout Syria by its old name, as el Beka'a, or and el-Beka'a. "A long valley, though broad," says Dr. Pusey (Comment. on Amos 1:5), "if seen from a height looks like a cleft;" and this is eminently the case with the "valley of Lebanon" when approached by the ordinary roads from north or south. It is of great extent, more than sixty miles long by about five in average breadth, and the two great ranges shut it in on either hand, Lebanon especially, with a very wall-like appearance. SEE COELE-SYRIA.
2. The plain (called עֵמֶק) of Jezreel or Esdraelon, which runs from the bay of Ptolemais to the Jordan, dividing the mountains of Galilee from those of Ephraim. It is well watered and grassy. SEE JEZRREEL.
3. The flat along the Mediterranean from Carmel to the brook of Egypt (whose northern part near Joppa is called Sharon, שָׁרוֹן, the southern part Shephelah, שׁפֵלָה). The plain of the tribe of Judah stood in connection with the latter (1 Macc. 3:24, 40; 13:13). SEE SHARON.
4. The meadow of Jordan, or the plain on both sides of that river, from the Sea of Gennesareth to the Dead Sea, usually called simply The Plain (הָעֲרָבָה). In the neighborhood of Jericho this valley widens out into a great plain, thence called עֵיבוֹת ירַיחוֹ, The Plains of Jericho (Jos 4:13; Jos 5; Jos 10; 2Ki 25:5; Jer 39:5), as the Dead Sea is called the "Sea of the Plain" (De 3; De 17; De 4:49). SEE JORDAN.
5. The elevated plain (הִמַּישׁוֹר) in the tribe of Reuben, in which lay Bezer and Medeba (Jos 13:16; Jos 20:8; De 4:43). It belongs to the large but rather dry (Burckhardt, 2, 626) plateau of modern Belka (Ritter, 2, 368). SEE MOAB.
6. For "the plains of Jericho," SEE JERICHO. Plain Song (canto fermo, cantus planus) is' one of the terms applied to the monotonic recitative melody in ancient chants of the liturgy. In later times it became one of the parts in elaborate pieces, services, and anthems, originally the tenor, but afterwards assigned to the treble. The Cantus Prophetarum Epistolarum et Evanzgelii admitted certain inflections; the Cantus Psalmorum adopted inflections in the middle and end of the verse. An unrestricted melody was used in prefaces, anthems, and hymns, and the plain song is this cantus collectarunz. — Staunton, Eccles. Dict. p. 536.