Northern Levant

With its pivotal position at the nexus of some of the greatest civilizations of ancient times, the broad plains of the northern Levant and its many important routes served as the crossroads of the ancient Near East. The region itself was home to some of the oldest civilizations in history, and it has been ruled by nearly all the dominant powers of biblical history, including the Akkadians, the Amorites, the Mitanni, the Hittites, the Arameans, the people of Mari, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, Alexander the Great, the Seleucids, the Parthians, and the Romans. It is no surprise, then, that the history of this region often intersects with biblical history, beginning with Abraham and continuing all the way to the apostle Paul. When Abraham and his father Terah first set out from Ur, they were intending to go to Canaan, but instead they settled in Haran for a time. After Terah died, Abraham left Haran with his family and completed the journey to Canaan (Genesis 11:31-12:5). Later he sent his servant back to the region of Haran to find a wife for his son Isaac (Genesis 24). Still later, Abraham’s grandson Jacob fled to this same area to escape the wrath of his brother Esau, and there he married two wives (Genesis 28-30). Hundreds of years after this, David’s victories led the king of Hamath to offer him tribute (28:3-9), and Solomon extended Israel’s rule all the way to the Euphrates River (1 Kings 4:24). The Assyrians eventually overtook the entire Levant, including the land of Israel, and they exiled many Israelites to Gozan and beyond (2 Kings 15:29; 17:1-23; 1 Chronicles 5:26). Over a century later Haran became the last holdout of the Assyrians as the their empire collapsed. Alexander the Great also fought several key battles in this region to seize it from the Persians, and his successor Seleucus I Nicator founded the city of Antioch to serve as the capital of his empire. By the time of the New Testament, the Romans ruled over all the Levant west of the Euphrates River, while the Parthians ruled over all the area east of the river. Antioch had become one of the largest cities of the Roman Empire, and it is where believers were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). The church at Antioch was also the location from which the apostle Paul began all three of his missionary journeys recorded in the book of Acts (13:1-3; 15:36-41; 18:23).

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