Lycia and Pamphylia

Throughout their long history, the mountainous region of Lycia and the fertile plain of Pamphylia repeatedly changed hands among the dominant powers of Anatolia. During the Trojan War, Lycia was allied with the Trojans, and Pamphylia belonged to the Hittite Empire. Later, various Greek powers held sway over Lycia and Pamphylia until Cyrus the Great of Persia subdued the entire region. After Alexander the Great wrested the region from Persia, Lycia and Pamphylia were once again fought over by various powers, including the Ptolemies, the Seleucids, and the Rhodians. As time went on, Pamphylia became a haunt for pirates, but after Lycia and Pamphylia came under Roman control the region enjoyed greater security. It was also during this time that the cities of Lycia formed the Lycian League, the earliest known democratic union of city-states, which was headquartered at Patara. Even after the Romans took control over the region, the Lycian League was allowed to exercise some degree of autonomous rule. During New Testament times, the apostle Paul passed through Perga as he made his way to Antioch of Pisidia and also as he returned. From there he went to Attalia before setting sail for Antioch (Acts 13-14). Near the end of his third missionary journey, Paul changed ships at the port of Patara on his way to Jerusalem (Acts 21:1-2). Later, Paul changed ships at the port of Myra while being transferred to Rome to stand trial before Caesar (Acts 27:5). Myra is also the hometown of St. Nicholas, the fourth-century Christian bishop who became widely associated with gift-giving and Christmas.

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The Nation of Moab and the Tribe of Reuben

Throughout the Old Testament, the land immediately east of the Dead Sea was home to the nation of Moab and also to the Israelite tribe of Reuben. The Moabites were distantly related to the Israelites through Abraham’s nephew Lot (Genesis 19), and as the Israelites made their way to the Promised Land under Moses’ leadership, they had to pass by Moab’s territory (Numbers 21:10-20; Deuteronomy 2:1-23), but they were not to take anything that belonged to them. After the Israelites defeated Og and Sihon, the tribe of Reuben was granted an inheritance of land east of the Jordan River immediately north of Moab. At times Israel’s relationship with the Moabites was peaceful, such as when Naomi and her family moved to Moab to escape famine in Judah (Ruth 1:1). Likewise, David (Naomi’s great-grandson) placed his parents in the care of the king of Moab while fleeing from Saul (1 Samuel 22:3-4). Other times, however, the Israelites fought against the Moabites (Judges 3:12-30; 2 Samuel 8:1-2; 2 Kings 3; 1 Chronicles 18:1-2; 2 Chronicles 20), and eventually David subjugated them (2 Samuel 8:1-2). But sometime around 852 B.C., King Mesha of Moab reestablished his nation’s independence and expanded its borders northward to include all the territory of Reuben (2 Kings 1:1; 3; 8:20-22; 2 Chronicles 21:8-10), which had belonged to Moab before Sihon seized it (Numbers 21:26). This lost territory would remain under the control of various foreign rulers for another 700 years until the time of the Maccabees.

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Oases of the Arabian Desert

One of the most overlooked locations of biblical history is the desert region encompassing the oases of Dumah, Tema, Dedan, and Yathrib. While Dumah, Tema, and Dedan are mentioned by name only a few times in the Old Testament and Yathrib is not mentioned at all, the history of these cities often overlaps with biblical history at very significant points. All of these cities existed because of their roles as much needed oases along two very important trade routes through the Arabian Desert. The Incense Route stretched for over a thousand miles through forbidding desert, beginning in Sheba in southern Arabia and terminating at Gaza on the Mediterranean coast, where traders could find ready markets for Sheba’s prized incense and precious stones. Traders from Sheba could also reach the great civilizations of Babylon and Assyria by another route that turned northeast from the Incense Route at Dedan and passed through Tema and Dumah. Over time these critical desert oases grew very wealthy, and foreign rulers did not fail to take notice. Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon, eventually appointed Belshazzar to rule in his stead while he traveled to each of these cities to defeat them. Then for several years Nabonidus ruled over the these cities from Tema. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel mention these desert cities in association with Edom (Isaiah 21; Jeremiah 25:23; 49:8; Ezekiel 25:13), and Tema is also mentioned in Job 6:19. Dedan is said to be among those who traded with Tyre (Ezekiel 27:20). Dumah is prophesied against by Isaiah (Isaiah 21); Tema is prophesied against by Isaiah and Jeremiah (Isaiah 21; Jeremiah 25); and Dedan is prophesied against by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel (Isaiah 21; Jeremiah 25; 49:8; Ezekiel 25:13).

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Troy and Its Surroundings

If ever there was a defining place in the ancient world where pivotal decisions changed the entire course of history, the Troad Peninsula in northwest Anatolia was just such a place. Located along the Hellespont (the ancient name for the single, narrow waterway connecting the prosperous Black Sea with the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea), this region was highly strategic and lucratrive for those who controlled it. The Troad Peninsula also stood at the border between the two great continents of Europe and Asia. The many layers of archaeological ruins at the site of ancient Troy attest to the significance of this prized location, and Troy’s momentous fall to the Mycenaean Greeks became enshrined in history through Homer’s Iliad. It was here also that the Persian army under Xerxes crossed from Asia into Europe at great expense, for his first attempt met with disaster when a storm destroyed the bridges he had built from Abydos to Sestus for this purpose. Xerxes was said to be so enraged that he sought to punish the Hellespont with lashes and fetters. Years later, it was here again that Alexander the Great crossed back into Asia to launch his long campaign of revenge against the Persians. Still later, while the apostle Paul was at Troas he saw a vision of a man from Macedonia calling for to him for help, so Paul and his companions crossed into Europe with the gospel and established a church at Philippi (Acts 16:6-12). On a later missionary journey Paul and his companions returned to Troas from Macedonia, and as Paul was preaching late into the night a young man fell out a window and was taken up dead, but Paul came to his aid, and the young man was returned to his family alive again (Acts 20:1-12). Even in modern times, this strategic area was the site of one of the largest battles of the First World War.

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The Land of Exile

When the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians around 740 B.C. and 722 B.C., the Assyrians carried away many people to places along the Habor River (2 Kings 15:29; 1 Chronicles 5:26) and to cities in Media (2 Kings 17:1-6), and the nation essentially ceased to exist. Over a hundred years later, the kingdom of Judah likewise experienced several exiles at the hands of the Babylonians (605 B.C., 597 B.C., and 586 B.C.; see Daniel 1; 2 Kings 24-25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 39; 52), with the most devastating episode occurring in 586 B.C., when the Temple of the Lord was destroyed and Judah was no longer ruled by its own king. Judah’s experience of exile, however, was markedly different from that of Israel. The Babylonians carried away only the upper echelons of society, and from these exiles the Babylonians selected the most promising for service in the royal court (e.g., Daniel and his friends). The rest of the exiles were typically allowed to live together in their own communities in Babylon, to continue to worship the Lord, and to follow their distinct social customs. Many even became prosperous in exile. By the time Cyrus of Persia defeated Babylon in 539 B.C. and declared that captive Judeans (now called Jews) could return to their homeland (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1-2), many chose not to return, since by this time life in exile would have been all that many had ever known. This was even more true by the time of Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah, well over 60 years after Cyrus’s decree. As time went on, other Jews left Palestine either voluntarily or by force, so that by the time of the New Testament more Jews lived outside Palestine than in it. This new reality explains why the apostle Paul was almost always able to find a synagogue in the cities he visited along his missionary journeys (Acts 13:5,14; 14:1; 17:1,10,17; 18:1-4,19).

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