During my Old Testament Survey course I wrote an essay on how the study of the geography of Israel and its surrounding countries impact one’s study of the Bible. This was a really interesting subject for me, so I decided to post it. I hope you enjoy!
How does the knowledge of the geography of Israel and its surrounding countries impact one’s study of the Bible? The study of the geography of Israel is important because it helps the reader have a grasp of the historical background, the timeline of the Bible, and to visualize the stories of the Bible. Students in public schools will study hours and hours about the map of the United States; they will read and take a test. Then they will read more, listen to a lecture, and they will take another test. Just as those who study geography of the world, even more should the church study the geography of the Bible.
The Historical Background
Knowing the geography of Israel and its surrounding countries help the reader to get a grasp on the historical events that occurred there. The Bible is filled with so many amazing stories, and anytime we, as readers, can more get more information about the historical background it can add a lot to the overall story. For instance, knowing the geography of the great powers like Egypt and Assyria help the student to understand how big of a civilization they were from looking at a map of how much land they possessed. The Book, “Zondervan Atlas of the Bible” has some very intriguing points about the land in the Middle East. For instance it talks about how, “Some of the mighty armies of the great powers of antiquity – Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans – passed along these same international routes, bringing with them death, destruction and deportation[i].” This explains how the tension between Israel and other countries was amplified when they would travel. Things like this can help the reader to understand more of what was really going on in those times. Even knowing Abraham’s routes and paths that he traveled help out to understand his story better. These things help with the flow of the Bible.
The geography of the Bible also helps with the timeline of the Bible. Many times readers of the Bible can get lost at all of this walking. Because in today’s day, there really is not a lot of walking. When we read about all of the different places and how far they had to travel, it really puts into focus the time frame of the Bible. For instance, the Pauline epistles have so many different places where Paul wrote, and for believers to get a grip on the different places that Paul wrote helps the reader to understand how real these places are. It shows the history and how they lived and traveled. As for Israel’s path to the Promised Land, one can see the path they took and get a more visual idea of their path. The student can see how there were many places they traveled through in their way towards the Promised Land instead of just a straight short path. They had to go through a lot of enemy territory, and as one learns these places, it will help them to put the story into focus.
Visualizing the Bible
The knowledge of the geography of the Bible helps the Bible reader to visualize the Bible. Many times the reader will study a passage about Assyria or Damascus and will not get a full picture of what was going on. The Zondervan Atlas also talks about how, “Much of the Middle East, in its more limited Old Testament sense, is desert[ii].” These maps help the reader to see what it was like to walk on a road in Syria. This can expand the students’ ideas about what was going on in the Bible and what it looked like. If someone today were to ask a teenager to explain what a road is like, they will describe something close to that of a cemented highway. Whereas if one were to ask someone to describe what a road looked like in the Bible time, they will get an answer very different from the one today. The Atlas explains, “It should be remembered that ‘roads’ in the ancient world were, until late in the Roman periods (ca. AD 200), usually unpaved dirt paths[iii].” These maps add onto what the Bible reader has and expand on their view of the Bible.
How does the knowledge of the geography of Israel and its surrounding countries effect one’s study of the Bible? It matters because of the historical background, the timeline of the Bible, and the ability to visualize the stories of the Bible. The, “Zondervan Atlas of the Bible” is a good book to pick up and start. This is a Bible atlas that is highly recommended. Geography is something that even students of secular schools learn, so it is even more important for students of the Bible. God wants the church to know His word, and anytime we can understand more and more about His love letter for us, He is pleased
Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105).
[i] Carl Rasmussen. Zondervan atlas of the Bible. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2010.
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