Which countries are in the Bible

Israel and its neighbors


The story of God with his people Israel, of which the Hebrew Bible tells, took place in an area that has always been the focus of historical events. The reason for this is the special situation of the land of Palestine, which in the Bible is called Canaan or Israel. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the desert to the east. The cut of the Jordan and the Dead Sea divide it into the East and West Banks. In the south, the Negeb desert limits the possibilities for settlement, while the northern limit is formed by the Lebanon and Antilebanon mountain ranges. Within Palestine, the mountains of Judah and the Carmel ridge are the dominant geological formations, so that efficient traffic routes could only develop in the few lower plains.

If one looks at Israel / Palestine in a larger geographical context, it is noticeable that it was surrounded by three areas with dominant powers: Egypt in the south, Asia Minor in the north and Mesopotamia in the north-east. The connecting routes between these larger powers inevitably led through Canaanite territory, which could have a positive effect on trade relations (for example for the Phoenician cities on the coast) as well as negative effects on military campaigns. In fact, above all Egypt and the changing empires of the Mesopotamia have endeavored to bring Palestine into their respective politico-military sphere of influence.


For a first understanding of the history of Israel it is necessary to know some political developments of the time of the 2nd and 1st millennium BC. At the beginning of the 2nd millennium (Middle Bronze Age), Palestine was under Egyptian rule, which was then replaced by the Hyksos, a coalition of probably Near Eastern tribes. This time is considered to be a time of upheaval, in which there are technical innovations (fortress construction, chariots) and social innovations (feudal system). In the late Bronze Age from 16.-13. In the 18th century, Egypt strengthened again, the pharaohs of the 18th dynasty were able to push back the Hyksos and expand their sphere of influence beyond Syria / Palestine to the Euphrates (Battle of Megiddo, 1468). The following 19th dynasty is of special interest for the history of Israel because of the pharaohs Ramses II and Merenptah, since the exodus from Egypt is connected with this time. The Egyptian power slackened, and the Hittites pushed into the vacuum created from the north. Kadesh on the Orontes in Syria was established as the border between Egypt and the Asians Minor around 1280, but there was virtually no central power in Palestine to the south.

Syria / Palestine

The Hittite Empire perished around 1200 (Iron Age I), possibly because of the expansion of a new ethnic group, the later called the Philistines Sea Peoples. The Syrian trading city of Ugarit was also destroyed by this campaign. At the same time there was a migration of Aramaic tribes who moved into the cultivated land from the deserts and claimed areas that were not controlled by the Canaanite city-states. In this historical context, a separate Israelite state was formed at the beginning of the Iron Age II.

Under the Pharaoh Shishak / Sheschonk (22nd Dyn.) There was again a brief Egyptian domination over Palestine around 930 (1 Kings 14.25), then for the last time in Old Testament times around 600 under Necho (26th Dyn. ) after the fall of the Assyrians and before the conquest by the New Babylonians (2 Kings 23: 29f.).


Meanwhile the empires from the Mesopotamia had become the dominant powers. The frequent change in the predominance of different regions and peoples, which was triggered by the constant migration of individual groups of peoples, is of importance for the historical development.


Sargon I of Akkad (around 2300) and Hammurabi of Babylon (around 1700) brought about the first large-scale central empires that replaced the previous city-state system (Mari, Ur, Uruk, etc.). However, the Babylonian Empire was destroyed by the Hittites. With Tiglat-Pileser I, the Assyrian empire emerged around 1100, which extended into the former Hittite areas to the Mediterranean and in the following period dominated the entire Middle East mainly because of its tight administration and ruthless military campaigns. Thus the area of ​​the northern kingdom of Israel became gradually Assyrian between 730 and 720 under Shalmaneser V and Sargon II. The upper classes were deported, foreign population groups settled.

The southern Reich of Judah became politically dependent. The army of the Assyrian king Sennacherib even stood before Jerusalem in 701 without being able to conquer it (2 Kings 18 + 19). Under his son Azarhaddon the Assyrians came as far as Egypt in 671.

New Babylonians and Persians

Allied with the Medes, however, the New Babylonians gained supremacy, with the common conquest of Nineveh in 612, the Assyrian Empire fell. The New Babylonians reached the brief climax of their power with Nebuchadnezzar (587/6: conquest of Jerusalem. In the northeast the Persians under their leader Cyrus were already powerful, who first conquered the Median regions and then also Babylon in 539. Persian rule, which under Cambyses around 525 until Egypt was expanded, then remained decisive for the fate of Israel / Palestine until the victory of the Macedonian Alexander (333).


K.R. Veenhof, History of the Ancient Orient up to the time of Alexander the Great, ATD Erg. 11, 2001.
E.A. Knauf, The Environment of the Old Testament, NSK-AT 29, 1994.
W. Zwickel, Introduction to Biblical Geography and Antiquity, 2002.

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Electronic Bible Studies

The texts on this page are taken from:

Old testament

Rösel, Martin: Biblical studies of the Old Testament. The canonical and apocryphal scriptures. With learning overviews by Dirk Schwiderski, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 10., veränd. Edition 2018.