A geographical term introduced by James H. Breasted to describe the narrow strip of fertile land that stretches like a semicircle from the Persian Gulf up through Mesopotamia, arches westward to Syria and Lebanon, and then swings southwestward down through Phoenicia and Palestine. This cultivable corridor of land thus forms an agricultural and economic highway that curves around the entire northern end of the vast Arabian Desert, while chains of mountain ranges border the “crescent” on the other side, until the Mediterranean Sea finally becomes its western border. Some place the SW tip of the Fertile Crescent at Gaza in Philistia, below which the desert begins; others would have it extend beyond this relatively short stretch of desert and continue on into the Nile Delta and down the Nile valley of Egypt as far as Thebes.
The distinctive feature of this region is the amount of rainfall it receives, in comparison with the arid regions bordering it, and its irrigation by the waters of the Euphrates, Tigris, Orontes, Jordan and other rivers. Wheat, barley, grapes, olives, figs, oranges, lemons and pomegranates thrive throughout the Fertile Crescent.
Historians acknowledge that this area was the center of civilization from Abraham’s time all the way down to the period in which Greece entered its “Golden Age.” What knowledge men have of ancient secular history prior to the first millennium B.C.E., and for some time within it, comes primarily from this area. Research has demonstrated that the farther one withdraws from the Fertile Crescent the more the evidences of ancient civilization fade out. As archaeologist W. F. Albright says: “Archeological research has thus established beyond doubt that there is no focus of civilization in the earth that can begin to compete in antiquity and activity with the basin of the Eastern Mediterranean and the region immediately to the east of it—Breasted’s Fertile Crescent.”—From the Stone Age to Christianity, 1940 ed., p. 6.
Along the Fertile Crescent were to be found such cities as Ur, Babylon, Nineveh, Haran, Damascus and Jerusalem. Here sprang up the powerful Assyrian and Babylonian states, which, thereafter, engaged in warring competition with Egypt for the domination of the intervening area and its trade routes. These rival powers lay at opposite ends of the Fertile Crescent and the forbidding wastelands of the Arabian Desert and the Sinai Peninsula lay across the most direct route between them. Thus Palestine, forming a narrow elongated bridge of land that connected the Euphrates valley with the entrance to Egypt, was the route traversed not only by commercial caravans but also by the military forces from both Asia and Africa, and later, from Europe.
The majority of the events recorded in the Bible had their setting within the Fertile Crescent. Probably during the second century after the Flood, the Plain of Shinar was the scene of the abortive effort at building the Tower of Babel, frustrated by divine action. (Gen. 11:5-9) Some three centuries later Abraham left Ur of the Chaldeans, at the far SE corner of the Fertile Crescent, and set out for Canaan. Rather than attempt a crossing by camel caravan directly through the inhospitable desert, he followed the regular route leading N up to Haran, an important junction point, then headed S through Syria and into Palestine, eventually crossing into Egypt at the other end of the Fertile Crescent.
[Map on page 572]
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