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Maps: The world of the Old Testament

Bible overview
Maps of the world in Old Testament times.
Contributed by The Bible Journey
Old Testament Palestine formed a narrow land bridge between the continents of Asia and Africa. It lay mid-way along vital trade routes linking the rival civilisations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. <br/>These two prosperous civilisations relied on abundant water for fertile agriculture and sat astride the major rivers of the ancient world - the Nile, the Tigris and the Euphrates. (Mesopotamia means ‘between the rivers’ - between the River Tigris and the River Euphrates.) <br/>Palestine (known earlier as Canaan) became an important prize for conquering armies - a pawn in a huge power struggle between empires to the east, and those to the west – fought for over the centuries and up to the present day. – Slide 1
1. In c.1850BC, Abraham travelled from Mesopotamia to Palestine (Canaan), a land promised by God to his descendents. Forced by famine, he moved on to Egypt before returning to Canaan. <br/>2. His great-grandson, Joseph, became Vizier (the chief government official) of Egypt in c.1660BC, and Joseph’s father Jacob (also called ‘Israel’) and the rest of his family came to live in Egypt. <br/>3. Two hundred years later, Moses led the ‘Israelites’ out of Egypt in c.1450BC. <br/>4. After forty years living in the desert, Joshua led God’s ‘chosen people’ into Canaan and conquered the ‘promised land’. The twelve tribes of Israel (descended from Jacob’s twelve sons) formed a loose confederation under the ‘Judges’, but came together as a unified monarchy in 1012BC under Saul, David and Solomon. <br/>5. After the collapse of the ‘United Kingdom’, the northern confederation of ten tribes (Israel) and the southern confederation of two tribes (Judah) gradually become weaker until Israel was conquered by Assyria in 721BC and led into exile. <br/>6. Judah was conquered by Babylon in 587BC and the people of Judah were exiled to Babylon. <br/>7. After fifty years in Babylon, some of the exiles returned to Jerusalem and began to rebuild the Temple and the land of the Jews (‘Judah’). – Slide 2
Three main international routes crossed Palestine from south to north: <br/>1. The Way of Shur - crossed the Negev Desert from Succoth in Egypt to Beersheba and then went north via Hebron and Jerusalem, through the hill country of Ephraim via Bethel, Shiloh and Shechem to join the Via Maris at Megiddo. <br/>2. The King's Highway - went along the high plateau to the east of the Arabah and the Jordan Valley from Ezion Geber on the Gulf of Aquaba north to Heshbon, Rabbah, Mahanaim and Ramoth Gilead to Damascus. <br/>3. The Way of the Sea – the Via Maris - followed the coast from the Nile Delta in Egypt north to Gaza, Ashdod and Aphek before cutting inland across the Vale of Jezreel via Megiddo and Hazor to Damascus and Mesopotamia - the land of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian empires. <br/>Each of these three main routes was used during Old Testament times: <br/>1. Abraham followed The Way of Shur to and from Egypt (see Genesis 12:10 & 13:1-3), as did Joseph and his father and brothers (see Genesis 37:12-28 & 46:5-7). <br/>2. Abraham pursued the four kings along The King's Highway to rescue Lot (see Genesis 14:14), and the twelve tribes of Israel entered the ‘promised land’ of Canaan along this route (see Numbers 21:22). <br/>3. King Neco led the Egyptian army north along the Way of the Sea en route to Assyria and killed King Josiah of Judah at Megiddo (see 2 Kings 23:29), while King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded Judah along this route and seized Gaza (see 2 Kings 24:1-7). – Slide 3
The Jordan Rift Valley was formed by movements of the earth’s crustal plates. This resulted in a series of parallel fault lines, between which the land dropped by up to 4600 feet / 1400 metres to form a deep trough floored by a wide, flat plain about 10 miles / 17 km across. <br/>The river is a remarkable source of life-giving water, running for about 100 miles / 160 km through an otherwise barren, inhospitable desert landscape. It is one of the very few rivers in Palestine that flows all the year round. This is because its headwaters are fed during the dry spring and summer months with meltwater from the winter snows that have fallen on the slopes of the mountains to the north of the region. <br/>The source of the River Jordan is near Dan, where a series of springs issues from the limestone foothills of Mount Hermon. At the Jordan springs at Banias (the site of the Roman temples of Caesarea Philippi), the ice-cold water can be seen gushing from beneath the sheer limestone cliffs. From here, the Jordan flows south along the floor of a steep-sided valley to the Dead Sea (Salt Sea) 1280 ft / 385 m below sea level – the lowest place on the earth’s surface. This was the location of Sodom and Gomorrah and the setting for the story of Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:23-29). – Slide 4
After the invasion of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, Ancient Israel extended 150 miles / 240 km from north to south, ‘from Dan to Beersheba’ (see 2 Samuel 24:2). <br/>Ancient Israel was at its greatest extent under the rule of King David and his son Solomon, when the Kingdom of Israel and its vassal states stretched from the borders of Egypt to the banks of the River Euphrates (see 2 Samuel 8:2-14 & 1 Kings 4:20-21). Solomon took the wise political decision of allying with the neighbouring super-power Egypt. This meant that Israel was able to deploy the latest military technology - the iron chariot. With his network of strategically placed 'chariot cities', Solomon was able to extend his kingdom across the lowland plains beyond the Judaean uplands. <br/>But this 'mega-Israel' lasted for only two generations - about 50 years. After this brief ‘glorious age’ during the ‘United Monarchy’, the country split in two. Repeated power struggles and civil wars during the ‘Divided Monarchy’ period ensured that both the remnant kingdoms of Israel and Judah were ultimately conquered by their neighbours – the northern kingdom of Israel by Assyria in 722BC, and the southern kingdom of Judah by Babylon in 587BC. – Slide 5
The Bible is divided into two volumes, the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ Testaments. ‘Testament’ means a solemn covenant promise or agreement. <br/>The theme of the Old Testament (literally, the ‘old covenant’) is God’s agreement with Abraham and the people of Israel. God promises Abraham that he will be the father of ‘many nations’. His descendants will occupy the ‘promised land’ of Canaan – but only if the people are faithful to God, and follow his commands. <br/>There are 39 books in the Old Testament (the same number as in the Jewish Tanakh): <br/>5 books recounting the giving of the Jewish Law (the ‘Pentateuch’ or ‘Five Volumes’). <br/>12 books of Jewish history. <br/>5 books of Jewish poetry. <br/>17 books of the Jewish prophets. <br/>Three of these prophetic books are called the ‘major’ prophets (as they have longer prophesies), and 14 are termed ‘minor’ prophets (with shorter prophetic messages). – Slide 6
In the Jewish version of the Old Testament (the Hebrew ‘Tanakh’), the authorised books are divided into three sections: <br/>The first 5 books of the Old Testament are known as the ‘Torah’ (Hebrew, ‘Hattora’ or 'the Law’). They retell how God gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, and go on to give details of the 613 ‘mitzvot’ or ‘commandments’ that Jews were implored to keep in their everyday lives. Nehemiah, writing in c.445BC, refers to these five books as “the Book of the Law of Moses” (see Nehemiah 8:1). <br/>The 6 historical books of Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings, together with the  3 books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and 12 books of the ‘minor’ prophets are known as the ‘Neviim’ (the ‘Prophets’), as the history books were also considered to have been the work of prophets. <br/>These two sections of the ‘Tanakh’ were recognised as the authorised ‘canon’ of the Jewish scriptures by c.200BC. These were the authorised Jewish scriptures in Jesus’s day, and Jesus referred to them as “the Law and the Prophets” (see Matthew 5:17). <br/>The 5 books of poetry (Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Lamentations and Ecclesiastes), together with the 8 books of Job, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and 1 & 2 Chronicles are called the ‘Kethuvim’ or ‘K’uvim’ (the ‘Writings’). They were written and used over a long period of time (some of the Psalms are attributed to Moses and David), but were not brought together and authorised as part of the Hebrew scriptures until c.90AD. The authorised three-fold ‘canon’ of Jewish scriptures was called the ‘TaNaKh’ because it consisted of the Torah (the Law), the Neviim (the Prophets) and the Kethuvim (the Other Writings). – Slide 7
The Biblical account of creation in Genesis proclaims God to be the source and maker of all things. Written in Palestine, a land where water was very scarce, the creation story places a great emphasis on life-giving water. <br/>Gen 1:1-5   On the first ‘day’, “Darkness covered the ocean, and God's Spirit was moving over the water” (Genesis 1:2). <br/>Gen 1:6-8   On the second ‘day’, “God said, 'Let there be something to divide the water in two'. So God made the air and placed some of the water above the air and some below it. God named the air ‘sky’” (Genesis 1:6-8). <br/>Gen 1:9-13   On the third ‘day’, the land was separated from the sea. <br/>Gen 1:14 - 2:3   God then created the sun and moon, sea creatures, birds, animals and mankind. He set apart the seventh day – the Sabbath - as a day of rest. <br/>Gen 2:4-6   God had not yet sent rain on this dry land, but water would come up from beneath the surface and "water all the ground” (Genesis 2:6) - a reference to springs which were (and still are) very important in the desert climate of the Middle East. <br/>Some people believe that a ‘day’ in this Biblical creation account literally means twenty-four hours. Others believe that a ‘day’ signifies a long period of time, and point out that the author of Psalm 90 (attributed to Moses) says, “To you, a thousand years is like the passing of a day” (see Psalm 90:4). – Slide 8
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