Bible Geography Is It Accurate?
THE sun has just set in Palestine. The year is 1799. After a hot day on the march, the French Army has set up camp, and Napoléon, the commander in chief, is resting in his tent. By the flicker of candlelight, one of his servants is reading aloud from a French Bible.
Apparently this happened often during Napoléon’s military campaign in Palestine. “When camping on the ruins of those ancient towns,” he later recalled in his memoirs, “they read aloud Scripture every evening . . . The analogy and the truth of the descriptions were striking: they still fit this country after so many centuries and changes.”
Indeed, travelers to the Middle East find it easy to fit Bible events with present-day sites. Before the French Army conquered Egypt, little was known by foreigners about that ancient land. Then scientists and scholars, whom Napoléon had brought to Egypt, began revealing to the world details of Egypt’s former grandeur. This has made it easier to visualize the “hard slavery” that the Israelites were once subjected to.—Exodus 1:13, 14.
On the night of their release from Egypt, the Israelites gathered at Rameses and then marched to “the edge of the wilderness.” (Exodus 12:37; 13:20) At this point, God commanded them to “turn back” and “encamp by the sea.” This strange move was interpreted as a “wandering in confusion,” and Egypt’s king went forth with his army and 600 war chariots to recapture his former slaves.—Exodus 14:1-9.
According to Josephus, a historian of the first century C.E., the Egyptian army drove the Israelites “into a narrow place” and trapped them “between inaccessible precipices and the sea.” The exact place where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea is not known with certainty today. However, it is easy to visualize the event from atop a mountain range overlooking the northern end of the Red Sea. Interestingly, the mountain is called Jebel ʽAtaqah, meaning “Mountain of Deliverance.” Between this range and the Red Sea is a small plain that narrows to a point where the foothills jut almost into the sea. On the opposite side of the Red Sea is an oasis, with many fountains, called ʽAyun Musaʼ, which means “wells of Moses.” The seabed between these two points descends very gradually, whereas elsewhere it drops suddenly to a depth of between 30 and 60 feet [9 and 18 m].
Faithless theologians of Christendom have attempted to explain away the miracle that God performed when he parted the waters of the Red Sea and enabled the Israelites to escape on dry land. They relocate the event to a shallow swamp or marsh north of the Red Sea. But that does not fit the Bible record, which repeatedly states that the crossing took place in the Red Sea at a place where there was ample water to drown Pharaoh and his entire army, yes, to swallow them up.—Exodus 14:26-31; Psalm 136:13-15; Hebrews 11:29.
The Wilderness of Sinai
The harsh conditions found in the Sinai Peninsula are vividly portrayed in the Bible account of Israel’s wanderings. (Deuteronomy 8:15) So, could a whole nation assemble at the base of Mount Sinai to receive God’s Law and later withdraw to stand “at a distance”? (Exodus 19:1, 2; 20:18) Is there a place large enough to allow for such movement of a crowd estimated to have numbered three million?
A 19th-century traveler and Bible scholar, Arthur Stanley, visited the area of Mount Sinai and described the sight that confronted his party on climbing Ras Safsafa: “The effect on us, as on every one who has seen and described it, was instantaneous. . . . Here was the deep wide yellow plain sweeping down to the very base of the cliffs . . . Considering the almost total absence of such conjunctions of plain and mountain in this region, it is a really important evidence to the truth of the narrative, that one such conjunction can be found, and that within the neighbourhood of the traditional Sinai.”
The Promised Land
In the 40th year of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, Moses gave this description of the characteristics of the land they were about to enter: “Jehovah your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of torrent valleys of water, springs and watery deeps issuing forth in the valley plain and in the mountainous region.”—Deuteronomy 8:7.
The accuracy of this promise was soon experienced when the entire nation gathered together—men, women, little ones, and aliens—in the well-watered valley of Shechem between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. At the foot of Mount Gerizim stood six tribes. The other six tribes gathered on the opposite side of the valley at the foot of Mount Ebal to hear the divine blessings that the nation would enjoy if they obeyed Jehovah’s Law and the curses that would come if they failed to keep God’s Law. (Joshua 8:33-35) But was there enough space for the nation to fit into this narrow valley? And how did all of them hear without modern amplifying equipment?
Jehovah God could have miraculously amplified the voices of the Levites. However, such a miracle does not appear to have been necessary. The acoustics in this valley are excellent. “All travellers,” wrote 19th-century Bible scholar Alfred Edersheim, “are agreed on two points: 1. That there could be no difficulty whatever in distinctly hearing both from Ebal and Gerizim anything that was spoken in the valley. 2. That these two mountains afforded sufficient standing-ground for all Israel.”
Another 19th-century Bible scholar, William Thomson, described his experience in that valley in his book The Land and the Book: “I have shouted to hear the echo, and then fancied how it must have been when the loud-voiced Levites proclaimed . . . ‘Cursed be the man that maketh any graven image, an abomination unto Jehovah.’ And then the tremendous AMEN! tenfold louder, from the mighty congregation, rising, and swelling, and re-echoing from Ebal to Gerizim, and from Gerizim to Ebal.”—Compare Deuteronomy 27:11-15.
The Valley of Jezreel
To the north of Shechem lies another fertile valley, one that ascends from below sea level and opens into a vast plain. This entire region is called the Valley of Jezreel, named after the city of Jezreel. To the north of the valley are the hills of Galilee where Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, was situated. “Nazareth,” explains George Smith in his book The Historical Geography of the Holy Land, “rests in a basin among hills; but the moment you climb to the edge of this basin, . . . what a view you have! [The Valley of Jezreel] lies before you, with its . . . battle-fields . . . It is a map of Old Testament history.”
In this valley plain, archaeologists have excavated the ruins of city-kingdoms conquered by Israel in the days of Joshua, namely, Taanach, Megiddo, Jokneam, and possibly Kedesh. (Joshua 12:7, 21, 22) In this same region, in the days of Judge Barak and Judge Gideon, Jehovah miraculously delivered his people from overwhelmingly powerful enemy nations.—Judges 5:1, 19-21; 6:33; 7:22.
Centuries later, King Jehu rode up the valley to the city of Jezreel to execute Jehovah’s judgment on Jezebel and the apostate house of Ahab. From the watchtower in Jezreel, it would have been easy to see toward the east the approach of Jehu’s troops at a distance of 12 miles [19 km]. Hence, there would have been plenty of time for King Jehoram to send out a first and then a second messenger on horseback and, finally, for kings Jehoram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah to hitch up their chariots and meet Jehu before he reached the city of Jezreel. Jehu promptly executed Jehoram. Ahaziah fled but was later wounded, and he died at Megiddo. (2 Kings 9:16-27) Regarding battle sites such as the above, George Smith writes: “It is striking that in none of the narratives . . . is there any geographical impossibility.”
No doubt Jesus often looked down upon the Valley of Jezreel and meditated on the thrilling victories that had taken place there, knowing that he, the promised Messiah, was destined to fulfill the role of a Greater Joshua, Greater Barak, Greater Gideon, and Greater Jehu in vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty. Indeed, the Bible uses Megiddo, the most strategic city in this valley plain, as a symbol of the location of God’s war of Har–Magedon (meaning “Mountain of Megiddo”). That will be an earth-wide battle in which Jesus Christ, as King of kings, will destroy all enemies of God and of the Christian congregation, God’s true people.—Revelation 16:16; 17:14.
The Bible relates that angry Jews of Nazareth once attempted to throw Jesus to his death from “the brow of the mountain upon which their city had been built.” (Luke 4:29) Interestingly, to the southwest of the modern city of Nazareth is a 40-foot [12 m] cliff where this incident may have occurred. Jesus escaped from his enemies, and the Bible adds that “he went down to Capernaum.” (Luke 4:30, 31) Indeed, Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee, is at a much lower elevation.
These and many other details have caused others besides Napoléon to express amazement at the accuracy of Bible geography. “The [Bible’s] references to topography are very numerous, and entirely satisfactory,” wrote Thomson in The Land and the Book. “It is impossible not to be struck by the constant agreement between the recorded history and the natural geography both of the Old and New Testament,” comments Stanley in Sinai and Palestine.
The amazing accuracy of the Bible regarding geographic matters is just one evidence that it is not a book of mere human origin. The preceding three issues of The Watchtower contained related articles on the Bible. We invite you to obtain and to enjoy the other three parts in this series.
[Map on page 7]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
VALLEY OF JEZREEL
SEA OF GALILEE
Based on a map copyrighted by Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est. and Survey of Israel.
[Picture on page 5]
Israel received the Law at Mount Sinai
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.