It’s important to know what happened, where did it happen, and when it happened concerning the events in the Old Testament. This article will focus on where it happened. Knowing where the events of the Old Testament happened is good for getting an important background for the New Testament. Where the Old Testament events happened will show the land in which God’s revelation occurred.
The Old Testament occurred in ancient Israel which is a small part of the Ancient Near East. This is of course in reference to what we call the Middle East today. Israel was geographically smaller than most of its neighbors, but yet it’s location was strategically important throughout ancient history. Israel connects the three continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe. This is one of the reasons why Israel was taken over many times ranging from the Babylonians to the Romans. Two things would result of Israel’s location. First, many nations desired to take control of this land for the very strategic point mentioned before. Second, it resulted in many foreign cultural influences on Israel, which is why we see idol worshiping many times in the Old Testament.
The Middle East contains three geological sub regions all joined together by the Fertile Crescent. Many of these lands contain mountain regions where a lot of the battles from the Old Testament took place. Many of these lands contained deserts, flat lands, and rivers which played into transportation. The three sub regions are Mesopotamia, Syria-Palestine, and Egypt. Israel also had four sub regions that play into many of the events that have occurred there. First, is the coastal plains that are western coastline slants which are narrow in the north and become broader toward the south. Second, the central mountains that are a ridge of hills located between the coastal plains and the Jordan Rift. These hills are divided into four main regions, which are Galilee, Ephraim, Judean Hill Country and Eastern Negeb. Third, the Jordan Rift that is a series of depressions that run from the Jordan River to the foot of Mount Hermon. This area contains the lowest place on earth, which is the Dead Sea located 1,371 feet below sea level. Finally, The Trans-Jordanian Highlands that is located east of the Jordan Rift and sharply rises into a plateau. This area gives way to the Arabian Desert.
Mesopotamia contains the area in between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which the Greek implies land between the rivers. The region extends from the mouth of the Persian Gulf to the foot of the Zagros Mountains. Mesopotamia was not a good landscape for defending against enemies mainly due to the lack of natural defenses such as mountain ranges. However, for those who were able to live were able to grow crops and had transportation because of the two rivers. This is where civilization began and writing like cuneiform developed which was wedged shaped writings on wet clay tablets. Many nations sought to take this land because of the weak defense and the benefits of its landscape.
Egypt is a land located by and in the Nile River that is the dominate geographic feature of Egypt. Egyptian culture developed a unique language of hieroglyphs that is “sacred caving.” This was influenced by the cuneiform developed by Mesopotamia cultures, possibly by the Sumerians. Egypt also had great soil due to its locational relationship to the Nile River, which gave Egypt the name of “black land.” Egypt had commercial trading with Asian and European areas due to their seaports. Unlike Mesopotamia, Egypt was very seclusive to outside nations because of the desert borders and its location to the Mediterranean Sea. Due to this, invasion and cultural change did not occur often. At one time, the nation of Israel was located in Egypt.
Syria-Palestine is the area from the northern bend of the Euphrates and southward to the Sinai desert. Israel is located at the southernmost section of Syria-Palestine. This area contains smaller rivers like the Jordan, unlike the Tigris or Euphrates river. Syria-Palestine was not a location to advance societies or national empires in its early history. This was a point of control for many river cultures for both military and political reasons. The most important geographic feature of this area is its formation of a land bridge along the Fertile Crescent. This is also the area that contains the four sub regions of Israel.
The Middle East also contains two important highways that are Via Maris (the way of the Sea) and The King’s Highway. The Via Maris designates all the network of roadways from Egypt through Syria-Palestine into Mesopotamia. The King’s Highway is the second important route, which gets its name from Num. 20:17 & 21:22. It extends from the Gulf of Aqabah at Elath through the Trans-Jordanian Highlands to Damascus. It’s important to know where the events happened to understand what happened. The geology helps show details that are important for many of the events in both Old and New Testament. It also tells us why God choose to reveal himself to the Israelite's in this area and will play into when God did this as well.
Arnold, Bill T. and Bryan E. Beyer. Encountering The Old Testament: Third Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015. Text Book.