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Students will be able to

1 identify four topographical features in the Holy Land;

2 identify main geographical features of the Bible world; and

3 characterize the major civilizations of the Bible world.

Content of Lecture

When the prophet Amos began his criticism of the abuses of his day, he started with Damascus, the capital of Syria; then he turned his attention to the sins of the Philistines, the Edomites, the Ammonites and other neighbors of the Northern Kingdom... Israel. A study of geography reveals that the prophet was drawing a noose around Israel in condemning her sinful neighbors. The student of history will understand that Israel was willing to participate in the lynching as her people would have agreed with Amos' (God's) chastisement of the various civilizations which she bordered.

In many other places, knowledge of geography and people of the biblical world enhances our understanding of the Old Testament.

There are three main geographical regions of the biblical world in which civilizations were located:

1) Egypt,

2) Canaan (Palestine), and

3) The area North and East of Palestine, including territories occupied at various times by Syrians, Assyrians and Babylonians. (TN#1)

The "Fertile Crescent"

identifies the land area shaped like a partial moon which extended from one point at the edge of Egypt through the Holy Land, expanding to include Syria and lands northeast of Palestine and finally bending down to the other end in the Mesopotamian Valley and the top of the Persian Gulf. Most of the civilizations of the Biblical world were located in this fertile area since other parts of the region could not always support human life.


means "between the rivers", identifying the fertile soils between the Tigris and Euphrates which sustained the advanced civilization of the Sumerians and later became the power base of the Babylonians.

Abraham migrated from this area eventually to establish a new nation in the Holy Land. Over one thousand years later his descendants returned in exile when the Kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians (586 B.C.).

In the sense that Abraham is the Father of the Jewish nation, the history of the Hebrew people begins in the Mesopotamian Valley.

Directly north of the land of Canaan was the area of Syro-Phoenicia. The coastal area with its natural harbors sustained the commercial activities of the Phoenicians who were prominently involved in the life of Israel during the Hebrew Monarchy.

A Phoenician King, Hiram, was instrumental in the construction of the Temple (I Kings 7:13-22) and assisted Solomon in maritime commerce (I Kings 9:26-28). Later, Ahab married the Phoenician princess Jezebel who imported the worship of Baal into Jewish religious practice.

Ancient Syria was located to the east of the Phoenician coast. During the lifetime of the prophet Isaiah, the Syrian King Rezin joined the King of Israel, Pekah, in opposition to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Isaiah encouraged Ahaz, the King of Judah, to ask God for a sign... a promise that a virgin (young woman) would give birth to a son to be called Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:1-17).

The citizens of Syria were known as the Arameans, the descendants of Amorites and Hurrians. Occupying the border north of the Holy Land, they were at different times both Israel's enemies and allies.

"The Land of Egypt lay immediately to the Southwest of Palestine and has been known since ancient times as the 'Gift of the Nile"' (Hill and Walton, 46). No single civilization was more directly intertwined with the history of Israel than the empire of Egypt.

Both peaceful and painful relationships existed between the Egyptians and the descendants of Abraham. Some of the biblical references to Egypt include the visit of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 20:1-7); the experiences of Joseph and his family (Genesis 37-50); the crisis associated with Moses leading the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity (Exodus 1-14); the conflict and alliances during the Hebrew Kingdom between the Jewish people and the Egyptians as the former struggled to maintain autonomy; and the return to Egypt of many Israelites at the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 43:1-7).

The Arabian Peninsula

To the East and South of Palestine was a massive plateau comprised of desert and small civilizations. The Transjordan region east of the Holy Land was the home of descendants of Abraham's nephew Lot. The Moabites and Ammonites opposed the movement of the Jewish people from Sinai to Canaan and challenged Jewish monotheism. The god of the Ammonites was Milcom or Molech; the Moabite deity was Chemosh (I Kings 11:7).

The Moabitess, Ruth, in contrast, provided an extraordinary example of loyalty and devotion to her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi.

South of Moab were the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, a civilization frequently condemned by Jewish prophets (Malachi 1:2-4 and Obadiah) for opposing the Exodus of the Jewish people.

That continued animosity partially explains why Herod the Great, descendant of the Edomites, could never gain the allegiance of the people he governed (The Israelites were descendants of Jacob or Israel).

The Amalakites were another group which descended from Esau (Genesis 36:12) and provided opposition to the Israelites during the Exodus.

Living in the area of Moses' exile (Exodus 2:15-23), the Midianites were descendants of Abraham by Keturah, a later wife (Genesis 25:1-2).

While not in direct contact with the Holy Land, to the Northwest beyond Syro-Phoenicia, the region of Asia Minor provided a homeland for the Hittites whose suzerainty treaties were similar to many of the covenants of the Bible. The suzerainty treaties were offered by the powerful nation who guaranteed protection and other benefits to the weaker vassal that would be required to demonstrate loyalty to its protector.

The land of Palestine received its name from the Philistines who inhabited the southwest coastland from Joppa to Gaza during the time of Joshua's conquests. These people proved to be formidable enemies of the Jews during the periods of the judges (Judges 14-16 describe Samson's exploits) and the Hebrew monarchy.

The Holy Land or Palestine functioned as a natural land bridge connecting Asia to Africa. "Palestine is often referred to as the geographical and theological center of the ancient world" (Hill and Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 48). (DQ#2)

Although the boundaries of the Holy Land varied at different periods of time, its north to south extremities, Dan to Beersheba, are approximately 150 miles apart. The east to west measurements vary from less than fifty miles width in the north to almost 100 miles width in the south. The entire area would fit into the state of Texas more than twenty times.

"The land is easily divided into four basic longitudinal, or north-south, geographical regions: the coastal plain, the central hill country, the Jordan rift and the Transjordan plateau (Hill and Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 48) (TN#3)

The coastland provided access to the Mediterranean Sea for the Philistines in the South and the Phoenicians to the north.

Just east of the coastal plains lay the "hill country" or plateau known as the Shephelah. Beyond the Shephelah. were the central highlands. Running north to south this mountainous terrain was the backbone of the Holy Land. Most of the important Jewish cities were established with the highlands providing natural fortification.

The Jordan River Valley (Rift Valley) separates the central mountain range (hill country) from the Transjordan highlands (plateau).

Three bodies of water prominently mentioned in the Bible help to make up the rift valley.

(1) The Jordan River flows into the

(2) Sea of Galilee at an elevation of 650 feet below sea level. Flowing south from the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan empties its contents into the

(3) Dead Sea at 1300 feet below sea level, it is the lowest point on the surface of the earth.

To the East of the rift valley, the plateaus of Transjordan rise from 3000 feet to 5000 feet above sea level. The Kings' highway ran the length of this region. When the Israelites began their conquest of Canaan, the Transjordan was the first region to be conquered and settled (Joshua 13:24-31).


Read an Historical Overview of the Old Testament such as Hill and Walton, chapter three.


Be able to locate the following places on a map and identity the civilizations which occupied these areas during the Old Testament era:

Fertile Crescent--







Asia Minor--

Southwest coastline of Palestine--

There are four topographical divisions of the Holy Land

1. The coastal plain

2. The central highlands

3. The Jordan Valley

4. The Plateaus of Transjordan

Discussion Questions:

Could you give another person directions on how to get to the Holy land or ancient Palestine? Who are the modern neighbors of Israel? (Answer: Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon).

#2 Why might this region be considered the geographical center of the world? (Answer. The area was the crossroads for important ancient civilizations.) In what sense is the Holy Land the theological center of the world? (Answer: Judaism, Christianity and Islam trace their origin to this area.)

If the Jews and Muslims are distant relatives (Abraham fathered Isaac by Sarah and the Israelites are descendants of Isaac's son, Jacob. Ishmael was previously born to Abraham by Sarah's handmaid, Hagar. The Arab people see Ishmael as their link to Abraham), why does a continued animosity exist between these people over control of the Holy land?

In what sense do both Arabs and Israelites have a claim on the Holy Land?


Teacher's Notes:

A map of the Old Testament world will assist this presentation. Aspects of this lecture correspond to material presented in A Survey of the Old Testament by Hill and Walton, pgs. 43-55 and Jensen's Survey of the Old Testament, pgs. 24-49.

#1 Jensen's Survey of the Old Testament has a map of these regions on pg. 30. Note the various journeys he has outlined.

#3 A helpful map of the regions is found in Hill and Walton's text on pg. 49.

#4 Note the topographical diagrams in Hill and Walton, pg. 51.



Credits and Copyright This online text book is provided by the Division of Student Ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, 333 N. Washington Dallas, Texas 75246-1798 214.828.5100 Use the text to meet your academic needs. If you copy any part of this online text, please give credit to the Division of Student Ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Any donations which you give will be used in the Division of Student Ministry Summer Missions Programs.

Credits and Copyright This online text book is provided by the Division of Student Ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, 333 N. Washington Dallas, Texas 75246-1798 214.828.5100 Use the text to meet your academic needs. If you copy any part of this online text, please give credit to the Division of Student Ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Any donations which you give will be used in the Division of Student Ministry Summer Missions Programs.