Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Biblical Geography: Drawing the Map

Random question for you ... Could you draw a geographic map of the Holy Land and describe its various parts?

Actually, let me step back for a minute. I'm getting ahead of myself. I love biblical geography, so everyone does, right? Hmm ... not so much, I imagine.

I guess the first question is: Why would you want to draw a geographic map of the Holy Land? But really it is quite a handy skill. If you have a general idea of the layout of a country, it gives you insight into its history.

For example, think back to your U.S. History courses in school. Think of how the expansive Great Plains, the steep Rocky Mountains, and the lush West Coast with its gold deposits played important roles in history. Without them, there would have been no pioneers, no trans-continental railroad, no Little House on the Prairie, and no California Gold Rush. American history would have been very different. The same is true with biblical history. Things happened the way they did in part because of the simple physics presented by the lay of the land.

So let me ask you again: Could you draw a rough geographic map of the Holy Land and describe its various parts? If you could, you could understand your Bible better. Read on, and I'll show you how ...

Place a blank sheet of paper on your desk, and place your right hand in the middle of it. Starting on the left side of your index finger, start drawing a line down. Go around the tip of your thumb and continue down. When you get toward the bottom of your hand, instead of bending in to meet your wrist, draw out toward the edge of the paper instead. Congratulations! You just drew the coastline of Israel. Your page should look something like this:
Leave your hand on the page, and to the right of your pinkie draw a moderately sized, upright oval. Then draw a large, upright oval next to your arm, just below your wrist. Then move your hand out of the way and draw a squiggly line from the top oval to the bottom one. You have just drawn the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, and the Dead Sea. (Okay, okay ... so your drawing won't be published in the next major Bible atlas, but we're just going for a rough map here.)So far, so good. Here's where it gets interesting. The Jordan Valley gets a lot of press, and rightly so. It divides the Holy Land from north to south. But just as important is the Jordan Valley's cousin, the Jezreel Valley. This valley (with a little bit of help from the small but significant Harod Valley) divides the Holy Land from ... you guessed it ... east to west. In general, the hills and valleys to the north of it move in a different direction than the hills and valleys to the south of it. It's as if the the Jezreel Valley pierces the Land of Israel like an arrow, wrecking havoc on its geography. I use that analogy deliberately because the Jezreel Valley is shaped like an arrowhead, which brings us back to our map ...

If the arrowhead you're about to draw was on a clock, it would be pointing at the 10. The tip should be aimed at the bump that your thumb made, and the bottom of the arrowhead should almost reach the squiggly line (if I may be so bold as to call the noble Jordan River a "squiggly line"). The arrowhead should be moderately sized and should look something like this when you're done:Next we need to fill in the map with the major geological sections of the land. In the lower half of the map, between the coastline and the Jordan River and Dead Sea, draw 4 vertical lines leaving a little extra space between the second and third lines. Then draw another vertical line to the right of the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, and the Dead Sea . Now your map should look like this:Next, draw a figure 8 tipped on its side below the vertical lines like this:
(For all you science and math buffs, you can call it an "infinity symbol" if you like.)

Finally, in the top section of the map, draw four horizontal lines above your arrow. And finish the the map off with a large box above that:
So now that we have our sections, let's give them some names:
-- In the bottom half, the vertical sections going from left to right are "Coastal Plain," "Shephelah" (I know, funny word; we'll talk about it more later), "Hill Country," "Wilderness," "Jordan Valley," and "Transjordan."
-- The figure 8 at the bottom is the "Negev" (another funny word we'll come back to).
-- The arrow is the "Jezreel Valley." (Technically the shaft of the arrowhead is the aforementioned, small but significant Harod Valley, but let's keep things simple.)
-- In the upper half, the horizontal lines are "Lower Galilee" and the big box is "Upper Galilee."
Congratulations! With some practice and a little memorization, you will be on your way to being a "resident expert" on biblical geography. In future posts, we'll dig deeper into these regions and sharpen your skills (and consequently your understanding of the Bible) even more.