Though the Old Testament never clearly mentions the region encompassing Carthage, southern Italy, and several large islands, these lands eventually influenced some of the events of the New Testament and the early church. The Phoenicians (located just north of Israel) founded Carthage as a trading colony on the coast of North Africa around 800 B.C., and over time the highly prosperous colony grew into an empire in its own right. Around the same time, however, Rome was expanding into an empire as well, as were the city states of Greece. All of these major powers fought for control over nearby islands such as Sicily and Sardinia. After losing three wars to Rome, Carthage and its lands were completely absorbed into the Roman Empire by 146 B.C. Later during the time of the New Testament, Paul was shipwrecked nearby on the small island of Malta while being transferred to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. Still later in A.D. 354, the Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo was born not far from Carthage.
On the Friday of Passover, Jesus was crucified and his body was placed in a tomb, but early Sunday morning he was raised to life again through the power of the Holy Spirit! After this he appeared to many believers over a period of forty days until he ascended into heaven (Acts 1:1-4), although it is difficult to know in what order all these events occurred. The first believers to see the risen Jesus were women, including Mary Magdalene, who had gone that morning to finish preparing Jesus’ body with spices. Later that same day (Sunday) Jesus also appeared to two disciples traveling from Jerusalem to a town called Emmaus about seven miles away (Luke 24:13-36). Still later that day when the two disciples had returned to Jerusalem and were telling Jesus’ disciples what they saw, Jesus appeared again to them and several other believers. Apparently a week after this, presumably in Jerusalem, Jesus appeared again to a group of disciples that included Thomas (John 20:24-29). At some point Jesus also met his disciples on a mountain in the region of Galilee, perhaps at Mount Tabor or the cliffs of Arbel, where he had told them earlier to meet him (Matthew 28:16). Jesus also met with Peter and some other disciples who were fishing on the Sea of Galilee, likely near Capernaum (John 21:1-14). Finally at the end of Jesus’ forty days on earth after his resurrection, Jesus led his disciples out from Jerusalem to the vicinity of Bethany and ascended to heaven (Luke 24:50-53).
On the Thursday before Jesus was crucified, Jesus had arranged to share the Passover meal together with his disciples in an upper room. This room is traditionally thought to be located in the Essene Quarter of Jerusalem. After they had finished the meal, they went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus often met with his disciples. There Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ own disciples, betrayed him to the soldiers sent from the High Priest, and they arrested Jesus and took him to the High Priest’s residence. In the morning the leading priests and teachers of the law put Jesus on trial and found him guilty of blasphemy. Likely seeking to avoid blame from the people for Jesus’ death, the council then sent Jesus to stand trial for treason before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who resided at the Praetorium while in Jerusalem. The Praetorium was the former residence of Herod the Great, who had died over 30 years earlier. When Pilate learned that Jesus was from Galilee, he sent him to Herod Antipas, who had jurisdiction over Galilee. Herod asked him many questions and listened to the charges of the leading priests and teachers of the law, but when Jesus gave no answer, Herod and his soldiers merely ridiculed him and sent him back to Pilate. Though Pilate sought to release Jesus, the people repeatedly demanded that he crucify him, so Pilate ordered that Jesus be led away to be crucified. Jesus was forced to carry his cross out of the city gate to Golgotha, meaning Skull Hill, referring to what may have been a small unquarried hill in the middle of an old quarry just outside the gate. After it became evident, however, that Jesus was unable to carry his cross any further, they forced a man named Simon from Cyrene to carry it for him. There at Golgotha they crucified Jesus. After Jesus died, his body was hurriedly taken down before nightfall and placed in a newly cut, rock tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, who was a member of the council. This tomb was likely located at the perimeter of the old quarry.
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 (Exodus 23:14-19; Deuteronomy 16:16-17), 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 (2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 21). 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 (2 Kings 25:1-21; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21; Jeremiah 39:1-10; 52:1-30). It was rebuilt in 515 B.C. after a group of Jews returned to Judea from exile in Babylon (Ezra 1:5-6:15; Nehemiah 7:5-65). 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. Jesus’ first believers often met together in Solomon’s Colonnade, a columned porch that encircled the Temple Mount, perhaps carrying on a tradition started by Jesus himself (John 10:23; Acts 3:11; 5:12). 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.
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 were driven by the storm 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 is often speculated to be the location of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8-14). Located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Mesopotamia formed a large portion of what is often called the Fertile Crescent, 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. Mesopotamia was the birthplace of Abraham, the ancestor of the Israelite people. Much later during the Old Testament the Assyrians exiled many Israelites to Assyrian lands (2 Kings 15:29; 17:1-6; 1 Chronicles 5:26), and the Babylonians exiled many other Israelites (primarily from the tribe of Judah) to Babylon and its surroundings (2 Kings 24:15-17; 25:8-12; 2 Chronicles 36:20). 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 (Matthew 2).
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).