At the start of Passover one week before Jesus was crucified, he and his disciples traveled to Jerusalem, approaching the city from the east. When they arrived at the village of Bethphage, Jesus mounted a donkey and rode down the Mount of Olives as a humble king entering his capital city. Along the way, many people laid branches and cloaks in his path to welcome him. After Jesus entered the city, he immediately went up to the Temple and drove out the moneychangers and merchants there, and he healed the blind and the lame. Then he traveled nearly two miles outside the city to the village of Bethany to spend the night, which appears to have been where he typically lodged each night while visiting Jerusalem during the crowded Passover festival. Bethany is also where Jesus’ close friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived. One evening while Jesus was there at a large dinner party given in his honor, Martha served the food, and Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.
The Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, where all Israelite males were commanded to offer sacrifices to the Lord, underwent several stages of reconstruction and development over hundreds of years. The first Temple was built by King Solomon to replace the aging Tabernacle, and it was constructed on a threshing floor on high ground on the north side of the city. Hundreds of years later King Hezekiah expanded the platform surrounding the Temple. When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. the Temple was completely destroyed. It was rebuilt in 515 B.C. after a group of Jews returned to Judea from exile in Babylon. Herod the Great completely rebuilt and expanded the Temple once again around 20 B.C., making it one of the largest temples in the Roman world. But Herod’s Temple did not last long: After many Jews revolted against Rome, the Romans eventually recaptured Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in A.D. 70. Not far from Herod’s Temple were several pools where Jesus performed healings. Jesus often met with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, which lay across the Kidron Valley, and it was there that soldiers arrested Jesus. Further east was the Mount of Olives, where Jesus began his triumphal entry one week before his crucifixion, taught his disciples about the last days, and eventually ascended to heaven after his resurrection.
Though the Old Testament never directly mentions Crete (shown in inset), this island had a significant impact on the history of Israel. Crete was home to the ancient city of Knossos and the great Minoan civilization, the first advanced society in Europe, which flourished from before the time of Abraham until around the time of Moses. As this civilization declined, many people from Crete and mainland Greece began to migrate in vast numbers to new lands further east, including Israel. This is likely how the Philistines came to inhabit the Mediterranean coast of southern Israel. In the centuries that followed, various world powers gained control over Crete until finally it came under the rule of Rome, which grouped it together with the area around Cyrene on the North African coast to form a single province. (Cyrene was the home of a man named Simon, who carried Jesus’ cross for him after Jesus was no longer able to carry it.) As Paul was on his way to stand trial in Rome (Acts 27), he sailed along the southern coast of Crete, and there the captain lost control of the ship in a storm while attempting to reach safe harbor at Phoenix. The sailors became terrified that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, but instead they sailed on to the island of Malta much further west, and the crew was saved.
The region commonly called Mesopotamia (“between the rivers”) was home to some of the oldest civilizations in the world, and it was the birthplace of Abraham, the ancestor of the Israelite people. Located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Mesopotamia is often speculated to be the location of the Garden of Eden, and it gave rise to the nations of Elam, Babylonia, and Assyria, each of which interacted with the people of Israel at various points history. In the later part of the Old Testament the Assyrians exiled many Israelites to Assyrian lands, and the Babylonians exiled many other Israelites (primarily from the tribe of Judah) to Babylon and its surroundings. Hundreds of years later in the time of Jesus, Magi (priestly astrologers) traveled from this region to worship Jesus, for they had seen a sign in the heavens that signaled the birth of the king of the Jews.
Sometime after ministering at the church in Jerusalem the apostle John moved his ministry to Ephesus, one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire. From Ephesus John ministered to several other churches in the province of Asia. Later, however, John was exiled to the island of Patmos, and there he recorded visions of the end of the world. Included in his visions were messages specifically addressed to seven different churches throughout Asia, and each message was listed in the order that a courier likely would have delivered it to the church addressed.
The land of Judah in southern Israel was home to many important leaders throughout Israel’s history. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph all lived in the hill town of Hebron for a time, and later several of them were buried in the family tomb there. Likewise, David was born in the Judean town of Bethlehem, and while he was on the run from Saul, he traveled from hideout to hideout throughout Judah, which was no doubt familiar terrain for him. Various strongholds near the oasis of En-gedi in the barren Judean wilderness served as some of David’s hideouts, and Masada (which means “stronghold”) was likely among them. When David first became king, he reigned over Judah from the town of Hebron and moved to Jerusalem only after he gained control over all Israel. His son Absalom later staged a rebellion against him from Hebron. Hundreds of years later Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and Masada became the final holdout for a group of Jewish zealots during their revolt against the Romans.
The mountainous region of Phoenicia (corresponding roughly to modern Lebanon) lay along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, just north of ancient Israel. Throughout most of their history the Phoenicians enjoyed a peaceful relationship with the people of Israel. They were renowned for their abundant supply of cedar, which was resistant to termites, and for their purple dye, which was extracted from murex shells along the shore. The name “Phoenicia” means “the land of purple.” The Phoenicians were also renowned as skilled seafarers and international merchants, establishing trading colonies in places as far away as Carthage (south of Italy) and even Spain. The island city of Tyre was one of the most prosperous of the Phoenician cities. When King Solomon built the first Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, he partnered with King Hiram of Tyre to float cedar timber down the Mediterranean Sea to Joppa, where it was brought ashore and hauled to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 2). Solomon also partnered with Hiram to send out merchant ships to very distant lands to bring back exotic goods (1 Kings 10). Hundreds of years later, Jesus ministered in the region of Tyre and Sidon for a time (Matthew 15:21).
During their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas traveled to several cities in the Roman provinces of Lycia and Galatia in southern Turkey. Over the previous centuries many Jews had been scattered to distant locations like southern Turkey, so this is why Paul and Barnabas were able to find audiences for their message about the Messiah in Jewish synagogues in these cities. Along the way, however, some of these Jews fiercely resisted their message and even persecuted them, but Paul and Barnabas were still able to establish churches in Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Later, Paul, along with Silas, revisited these churches during his second and third missionary journeys to strengthen and encourage them. He also wrote the New Testament letter of Galatians to these churches to exhort them to hold firm to the gospel and not follow those who were teaching that righteousness can be achieved by obeying the law of Moses.
The scenic and spacious Jezreel Valley is located just north of ancient Samaria. This fertile plain served (and still serves) as the breadbasket of Israel–and the site of numerous bloody battles throughout Bible times. From Gideon to Deborah to Saul to Josiah, various commanders have recognized the importance of maintaining control over this prolific farmland, but equally important was maintaining control over the Great Trunk Road, which passed through the valley and connected Egypt with Anatolia and Mesopotamia. The Central Ridge Route, which served as the main artery running north and south throughout Israel, also terminated just south of the valley. At perhaps the most strategic location in the valley lay the raised fortress of Megiddo, which guarded a key mountain pass along the Great Trunk Road. Perhaps it was this long and bloody history of Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley that was in the apostle John’s mind as he foretold in the book of Revelation of a great battle between good and evil at a place called Armageddon, which means “Mount Megiddo.”
Though the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Chinnereth and the Sea of Gennesaret) is hardly mentioned in the Old Testament, by the time of the New Testament the freshwater lake boasted a thriving fishing industry and several noteworthy towns along its shores. The lake is nestled among the lush hills of Galilee at an elevation of more than 600 feet below sea level and is fed by the northern section of the Jordan River. The main section of the Jordan River originates from the Sea of Galilee’s southern extreme. Soon after his baptism Jesus relocated his ministry from his hometown of Nazareth to the fishing town of Capernaum, and several of his disciples were fishermen on the lake. A number of the events described in the Gospels took place along (or sometimes on) the lake, including Jesus feeding thousands of people, walking on water, and calming the wind and the waves. Such storms are not uncommon on the lake, as winds can rush in suddenly from the west or the east and generate waves over 10 feet high. Jesus also taught many sermons and parables along the shores of the lake, including his famous Sermon on the Mount, and in one instance Jesus taught from a boat on the lake while people listened from the shore (Mark 4:1).