The Cilician Plain and Tarsus

Throughout Bible times the region encompassing the plain of Cilicia and the surrounding mountains was sought after by various world powers. Over many centuries the Cydnus, Sarus, and Ptyramus Rivers deposited rich, fertile silt on the plain from the mountainous regions to the north, and the temperate climate provided sufficient rain for growing grains and pasturing horses. Key international routes also passed through the region, with strategic mountain passes located at the Cilician Gates through the Taurus Mountains and the Amanian and Syrian Gates through the Amanus Mountains. By 1650 B.C. the region likely belonged to the Hittite Empire, although local Cilician rulers exerted varying degrees of independence until the thirteenth century B.C., when Sea Peoples overran the entire plain and displaced the population. In the tenth century B.C., King Solomon of Israel, who controlled most of the land between Cilicia and Egypt, imported horses from Cilicia and paired them with chariots he acquired from Egypt. He kept some for his own forces, and others he exported to the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Aram (1 Kings 10:26-29). During the eighth century B.C. Cilicia came under Assyrian domination, but it regained independence once again after Assyria fell to the Babylonians. Cilicia then came under Persian rule, but later Alexander the Great seized it from the Persians, defeating a significantly larger Persian force by constricting them between the sea and the mountains just south of Issus. After Alexander’s empire was divided among his generals, control over Cilicia repeatedly traded hands between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids. Around 67 B.C. the Romans took control of the Cilician plain and made Tarsus the capital, and it was at Tarsus that Cleopatra famously sailed up the bay of the Cydnus River to meet with Mark Antony, where the two formed a romantic relationship and a strategic alliance. Around A.D. 5 the apostle Paul was born in Tarsus, which he later described as “no ordinary city” (Acts 21:39). Less than 90 miles (144 km) to the southwest lay Antioch, one of the largest cities of the Roman Empire and the place where believers were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).

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Proposed Locations for Mount Sinai

Exodus 13-40; Numbers 10:11-12; 33:1-36; Deuteronomy 1:1-2; Galatians 4:25

Tracing the route of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and their arrival at Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Law, is one of the most popular topics to include in Bible maps, yet this is one of the most hotly debated topics among scholars. Scholars have proposed several locations for the parting of the Red Sea (or Reed Sea), placing it at one of the small lakes bordering Egypt, at Lake Sirbonis, at the Bitter Lakes, at both branches of the Red Sea as it is known today, or at one of various empty lakebeds believed to have been filled with water at the time of the exodus. Likewise, Mount Sinai has had no less than a dozen locations proposed as the site of the holy mountain, most of which are shown here. Some of these proposals have many centuries of tradition supporting them, while others have only very recently been put forth. Some highlight a certain site’s appropriate distance from Egypt, from conjectured locations of other sites, and from Kadesh-barnea (see Exodus 15:22-23; Numbers 33; Deuteronomy 1:2). Others highlight a site’s congruence with the volcano-like phenomena that accompanied the giving of the law (see Exodus 19-20). Still others highlight a site’s compatibility with considerations such as Moses’ interaction with his father-in-law Jethro, who was a priest of Midian (see Exodus 3:1; 18:1).

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The City of Ephesus

The long and prestigious history of Ephesus, a valuable port city in western Anatolia, stretches back at least as far as 1440 B.C., when the city was likely the capital of the kingdom of Arzawa. Later, Greek peoples inhabited Ephesus and built a temple to the goddess Artemis on the site. After this first temple was destroyed in a fire, the Ephesians rebuilt it, and it was later recognized by the historian Herodotus as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Over time, the continual silting of the Cayster River forced the population to move westward, so that by the time Paul visited Ephesus it had relocated to where it is shown here, and its small harbor had to be constantly dredged to keep it navigable. By this time Ephesus had become one of the largest and most prestigious cities of the Roman Empire, but the progressive decline of its value as a port forced it to depend increasingly on income generated from pilgrims to the temple of Artemis. It is no surpise, then, that Paul’s prolonged ministry in Ephesus during his third missionary journey drew the ire of silversmiths and sellers of small shrines of Artemis, who feared his ministry would jeopardize their business (Acts 19:23-41). They stirred up a large crowd, seized two of Paul’s companions, and rushed into the theater, where they shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” for two hours. After the crowd eventually settled down and dispersed, Paul left for Macedonia (Acts 20:1). Years later the apostle John relocated his ministry to Ephesus along with Mary the mother of Jesus, whom Jesus had committed to his care (John 19:25-27), and it was likely from here that John wrote his three epistles. Ephesus is also one of the seven churches John addressed in the book of Revelation (2:1-7). Not long after this the Romans abandoned the burdensome task of dredging the small harbor, which then became unusable, thus forcing the city to slowly migrate westward once again. The modern shoreline now lies over 3 miles (5 km) west of Roman Ephesus.

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Israel Enters the Promised Land

Joshua 2-8

After Moses died, Joshua became the leader of the Israelites, and he led them to the Jordan River to prepare to enter the Promised Land. Priests carried the ark of the covenant before the Israelites, and as soon as their feet touched the water, which was in the midst of seasonal flooding, the waters were blocked upstream at Adam, and the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land on dry ground. The Israelites collected twelve stones from the middle of the river and set them up at their camp in Gilgal as a memorial of the event. While they were at Gilgal, all the Israelite males were circumcised, and the people celebrated the Passover. From that time on, manna no longer appeared from heaven for them. Nearby, the ancient, well fortified city of Jericho stood guard over the entrance to the rest of Canaan. After marching around the city each day for seven days, the Israelites watched its walls fall flat, and then they were able to capture the city. The family of Rahab the prostitute was spared from death because she had hidden two Israelite spies who were scouting out the city before the attack. Soon after this, the Israelites suffered defeat while trying to capture the small town of Ai, and the Lord revealed that it was because a man named Achan had taken some of the devoted items from Jericho. So Joshua took Achan and his family to the Valley of Achor and executed them there. Later the Israelites were able to capture Ai. Joshua then renewed the covenant at Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. He built an altar there, and half the Israelite tribes stood in front of Mount Gerizim and shouted the blessings of obedience to the covenant while the other half stood in front of Mount Ebal and shouted the curses for disobedience (see also Deuteronomy 11:26-32).

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Paul Is Transferred to Caesarea

Acts 21-26

After arriving in Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey, Paul went up to the Temple, but some Jews there started a riot, because they thought he had brought a Gentile into the Temple area and was teaching people to disregard the law of Moses. The Roman commander stationed there arrested Paul to rescue him from the crowd, and he arranged for the Sanhedrin to come and clarify why the crowd was angry with Paul. As Paul responded to the Sanhedrin’s accusations, some Jews made plans to ambush him if he was brought before the leaders again. But Paul’s nephew found out about the plot and informed the commander, who transferred Paul to Caesarea during the night under heavy guard–two hundred soldiers, seventy calvary, and two hundred spearmen. This large detachment escorted Paul to Antipatris, and then the soldiers returned, leaving the cavalry to escort Paul the rest of the way to Caesarea. The Roman governor, Felix, resided in Caesarea, which was the main headquarters of the Roman forces in Palestine. Felix ordered Paul to be held in Herod’s palace until his accusers arrived for his trial. Five days later the high priest Ananias and several others came and made their case against Paul. Felix adjourned the proceedings without issuing judgment, and over the two years that Paul remained in prison Felix often listened to him and waited for a bribe. It is possible that during this time Paul also wrote the Prison Epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossions, and Philemon). Eventually Felix was replaced by Festus, and once again the Jewish leaders requested to have Paul transferred back to Jerusalem, because they were plotting to ambush him along the way. But Festus required them to come to Caesarea to make their case against Paul. After the leaders finished making their case, however, Festus asked Paul if he would be willing to stand trial in Jerusalem, but Paul invoked his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to Caesar. As Paul awaited transfer to Rome, Herod Agrippa II and his sister Berenice came to Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus, and Festus requested their help to better understand the charges against Paul, since they were familiar with Jewish law. So Paul was brought before them and made his case once again.

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