Aram Captures Gilead

The century leading up to Israel’s fall to Assyria in 722 B.C. was marked by a complicated interplay of regional power struggles, palace intrigues, and territorial losses and recoveries. During Jehu’s reign over Israel the Lord began to reduce the size of Israel’s territory (2 Kings 10:32-33), primarily at the hands of Hazael king of Aram, who, like Jehu, had ascended to the kingship by assassinating his own king (2 Kings 8:7-15; 9:24-29). Sometime around 825 B.C. or soon thereafter Hazael brutally seized all of Gilead, including the former territory of Reuben, which had already been taken from Israel by Moab about 20 years earlier (2 Kings 1:1; 3:1-27; 8:12; 10:32-33; 2 Chronicles 21:8-10). Apparently Hazael also traveled unimpeded through Israel’s territory and attacked Gath. After this he turned to attack Jerusalem as well, but King Jehoash of Judah gave him all the treasures from the temple and persuaded him to withdraw (2 Kings 12:17-18). Around 790 B.C., however, King Jehoash of Israel (not the same as Jehoash of Judah) was able to recapture Gilead from Aram (2 Kings 13:25).

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Gideon Defeats the Midianites

Judges 6-8

During the time of the Judges, the Israelites were oppressed for seven years by several nomadic peoples, including Midianites, Amalekites, and perhaps Ishmaelites (see Judges 8:24), who repeatedly invaded the land during harvesttime and ruined all the crops. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to a man named Gideon in the town of Ophrah, which was located in the largely Canaanite Jezreel Valley (see Judges 1:27). The angel called upon him to save Israel from their oppressors. Gideon mustered an army of 32,000 men from the northern tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali and camped by the Spring of Harod, just south of the Midianite army of 120,000 men (Judges 8:10), who were camped in the Jezreel Valley near the hill of Moreh. But the Lord reduced Gideon’s forces to an elite unit of three hundred men. During the night Gideon’s men encircled the Midianites and threw them into confusion by blowing trumpets and breaking jars with torches inside. The Midianites began attacking each other and fled southeast out of the valley, passing Beth-shittah and apparently turning south at Abel-meholah, since the Ephraimites were called out to seize the shallow places of the Jordan River to prevent the Midianites from crossing back over to Gilead. At the same time, Israelites from Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh (who may have been among those not selected for Gideon’s elite force) were called out to continue pursuing the Midianites as they fled. The Ephraimites captured two of the Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb, and brought their heads to Gideon by the Jordan. The rest of the Midianites managed to cross the Jordan, perhaps near the shallows at Zaphon, and headed into the hill country of Gilead, likely passing through Succoth and Peniel along the way. Gideon and his men continued to pursue them but were worn about by the time they reached Succoth, so they asked them for bread. When the leaders refused, Gideon threatened to punish them when he returned. The same thing happened at Peniel, and he threatened to pull down the tower there. Gideon continued on with his men to Karkor, likely well to the east in the desert, and surprised the remaining Midianites forces by attacking them from behind. When Gideon returned, he took revenge on the leaders of Succoth and Peniel as he had promised, and then he returned to Ophrah.

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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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