The map of ancient Israel is a fascinating document that has been studied by scholars and laymen for centuries. This valuable resource has helped historians understand how external influences have shaped the land over time, and it reveals the ever-changing borders of ancient Israel.
Ancient Israel was initially inhabited by various Canaanite tribes, which were later conquered by the Israelites in the 13th century BCE. The Israelites then established their kingdom in the land, which extended from the Mediterranean coast to the Persian Gulf (Arabian Gulf).
The map of ancient Israel shows the country’s territorial divisions during different periods of history. During the reign of King David, the kingdom of Israel included the land from the Euphrates River in the east to the River of Egypt in the west. Under King Solomon, the kingdom of Israel was at its peak and included parts of modern-day Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.
However, after the division of the kingdom into two states, Israel and Judah, in the 10th century BCE, the territory of ancient Israel was reduced once again. The northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 721 BCE and the southern kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, leading to significant changes in territory, population, and culture. Later, the Greeks established their own boundaries, and then the Romans.
The map of ancient Israel reveals how these different forces have shaped the borders of the land over time. It also shows how certain cities or regions were important centers for trade or cultural exchange between different peoples during different historical periods.
What are the boundaries of Israel in the Bible?
- Dan is described in the Bible as the northernmost city of the Kingdom of Israel.
- Be’er Sheva is described in the Bible as the southernmost city settled by the Israelites. Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov all spent time in Be’er Sheva (see map Journey of the Forefathers – Key Places).
- The Nile River is Egypt’s primary source of water. At the beginning of the Israelite’s slavery in Egypt, Pharaoh commanded that all baby boys be thrown into the Nile (Exodus 1:22), and baby Moses was placed in the Nile (Exodus 2:3) and drawn from the Nile (Exodus 2:5) when he could no longer be hidden from the Egyptians. The first two plagues that God brought upon the Egyptians also began in the Nile (Exodus 7:14-24, Exodus 7:26-8:11).
- The Euphrates River is the longest river of Western Asia, and is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia. According to the Bible, the Euphrates was one of four rivers whose source was a river flowing from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:14).
There are two different phrases often used to describe the biblical boundaries of the Land of Israel:
- From Dan (1) to Be’er Sheva (2)
- From the Nile (3) to the Euphrates (4)
The expression from Dan to Be’er Sheva appears nine times in the Bible (Judges 20:1, I Samuel 3:20, II Samuel 3:10, II Samuel 17:11, II Samuel 24:2, II Samuel 24:15, I Kings 5:5, I Chronicles 21:2, II Chronicles 30:5), and is used to define the area of the Israelite settlement in the Land of Israel (highlighted in yellow on the map). These borders reflect the promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 17:8 “I assign the land you sojourn in to you and your offspring to come, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting holding.” Though these are the basic borders of the Land of Israel, it is possible to expand beyond these borders as seen, for example, in Numbers 32.
The phrase “from the Nile to the Euphrates” (highlighted in pink on the map) includes a much bigger area than Dan to Be’er Sheva. This phrase has its source in the Covenant of the Parts in which God promises Abraham “’Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18). These two rivers mark the limits of potential expansion of the original borders of the Land of Israel. In addition, Rabbi Menachem Leibtag explains that the Nile and the Euphrates represent the two centers of ancient civilization, Egypt and Mesopotamia. By saying that the land in between these two bodies of water is set aside for the Children of Israel, God is implying that it is Israel’s destiny to become a blessing to all mankind by declaring His name “at the crossroads of the two great centers of civilization.”
How do you set biblical boundaries?
“You shall apportion the land among yourselves by lot, clan by clan: with larger groups increase the share, with smaller groups reduce the share. Wherever the lot falls for anyone, that shall be his. You shall have your portions according to your ancestral tribes.” (Numbers 33:54). Many times throughout the bible God has people do work but the results are predefined. He too it was God who chose the boundaries for the ancient land of Israel.