“Who do people say I am?” Jesus asked His disciples.
Studying His words and works in their appropriate setting will help us gain a deeper understanding of the
person of Christ and the program in which He was involved during His stay on earth.
Christ came into the world “in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4) and His life cannot be adequately understood without some knowledge of His surroundings. Therefore, we shall bring into our chronological and thematic study of His life the physical, political, intellectual, religious, moral and social conditions of the world in which Jesus lived.
The Physical World
Names of the Land. We often call the physical world Jesus lived in the Holy Land (Zechariah 2:12). It was known as Canaan (Genesis 11:31) before it became the home of Israel. It was the land promised to Abraham, thus the Promised Land (Hebrews 11:9) From the Conquest to the Babylonian Captivity it was called Israel (2 Kings 5:2) and Judah (Nehemiah 5:14), and Judea (Mark 1:5) after the Captivity. The Greeks and Josephus called the entire land Palestine, taking it from Philistia on the coastal plain. Palestine is a land bridge between the two oldest civilizations in the world — Mesopotamia and Egypt.But it is immensely different from both of them. The scenery of Mesopotamia and Egypt is monotonous; in Palestine, there is variety. If fact, it is probably true that no country of the world offers such variety of scenery and climate in such a small area.
Physical Characteristics. In shape and size, it is much like the state of New Hampshire. Including Perea it contains 12,000 square miles; without it, about 9,000. Its seacoast from Tyre to Gaza is 140 miles long; its Jordan line, from Mt. Hermon to the south end of the Dead Sea is 156 miles. It is from 25 to 70 miles wide.
It was a land “flowing with milk and honey,” and was cultivated like a garden to the very tops of the mountains. No modern land has been made to support so dense a population. Wheat, barley, the vine and the olive grew abundantly. Four great highways, linking Asia, Europe and Africa, cross it. Up and down its coast roads the merchants and great armies of the Ancient World past.
Physical Divisions. The land divides into five longitudinal divisions and two lateral divisions:
The Longitudinal Regions. Along the Mediterranean lies the Coastal Plain two or three miles wide at the north, but widening as it goes southward, to nearly 20 miles at Gaza. Crossing this region are the Shephelah or foothills; a terrace of low hills from 300 to 500 feet high. Ascending these, we reach the Western Plateau (Western Mountain Ridge or Jordan Hills), a range of mountains broken by ravines, varying from 2,000 to 4,000 feet. This region was the home of the Israelites in all their history. The plains and valleys were mainly foreign and heathen in their population. Crossing the mountains, we descend to the Jordan Rift or Jordan Valley lower than the sea level, and from 5 to 20 miles wide. This deep depression has an average width of 10 miles and descends to a depth of about 1,300 feet. More important, however, is the fact that the mountains generally rise steeply and abruptly to a height of 3,000 feet and more above the valley floor. Beyond the valley rises the Trans-Jordan Hills or Eastern Tableland
with higher mountains but more level summits, and broken by fewer valleys. The mountains gradually decline to the great Syrian Desert on the east.
Lateral Regions. The southern lateral region is the Negev, roughly a triangle, with its base at the southern edge of the Jordan Hills and its apex on the Gulf of Aqaba. At its base, it is about 70 miles wide, and covers an area about 4,600 square miles, the size of Connecticut. In the north, the Plain of Esdraelon extends northwest and southeast and is about 24 miles in length from Mount Carmel to Mount Gilboa. The region varies in altitude from 60 to 160 feet, and the soil is dark, heavy, and rich in organic matter.
Palestine enjoys a moderate climate, except in the Negev. Annual rainfall varies from 29 inches in Nazareth to 8 inches in Beersheba to 2 inches in the Negev.
Water Sources. Water plays an important place in the land. The Jordan River, rising in Mt. Hermon, flows south 130 miles from Lake Merom/Huleh, and the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. It was narrow, swift, with occasional fords. The Sea of Galilee, 13 miles long and 8 wide, was the only navigable water in the Land and was encircled by a dense population. The Brook Kidron, flows between the Temple and the Mount of Olives, now dry most of the year. The Dead Sea, 20 miles southeast of Jerusalem, 46 miles long, 10 wide, and 1,300 feet below sea level. The Great Sea or Mediterranean, bounding the land on the west was the outpost of ancient commerce and travel. There are numerous wadis, brooks, streams and rivers (Zered, Arnon, Jabbok, Yarmuk, Yarkon) in a land surrounded by desert and sea. It is “a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven” (Deuteronomy 11:11).
Provinces. The land was divided into five provinces during the time of Christ.
GALILEE on the north, west of Jordan, divided into Lower and Upper Galilee. It was inhabited by a brave, simple-heated people, mainly Jews, but with many Gentiles among them.
SAMARIA in the center. It was not a province with a political organization, but only a district around the cities of Shechem and Samaria; extending neither to the Jordan nor to the Mediterranean, and of uncertain limits; governed from Judea, and inhabited by a composite people, partly Israelites, partly heathen in their origin.
JUDEA is the southernmost province. As the largest and special home of the Jewish people it often gave its name to the whole land.
IDUMEA is the southern part was a narrow belt or rugged highlands, 100 miles long by 20 wide, stretching from the southeast of the Dead Sea, to the eastern arm of the Red Sea; the land of the Edomonites, descendants of Esau.
PEREA is on the east of the Jordan and the Dead Sea. Perea means “beyond.” In the NT the region is called, “the coasts of Judea beyond Jordan” (Mathew 19:1).
PHILIP’S TETARCHY was in the northeast embracing five sections: Gaulanitis, Auranitis, Trachonitis, Iturea and Batanea. Scattered throughout this province was Decapolis (Mark 7:31), a league of ten Greek cities which was probably formed at the time of Pompey’s invasion of the land (64-63 B.C.).