Bible study interlude – Notes on geographyPosted: October 26, 2016
A lot of different place names have appeared so far, most of which I have never heard about, and the fragmented nature of the story has made it hard for me to know which places would be of importance later. But things have calmed down now; we are no longer in the fantasy world of the Garden of Eden, the flood has swept over the earth, and our characters are now travelling back and forth between known locations in the Middle East. So I thought it would be useful to summarize their locations throughout the story.
Noah and his family are the progenitors of all later humans, so we will start with them. After making a landing with the ark, they travelled either eastward or westward (the text is ambiguous) to Shinar (Mesopotamia) in present day Iraq. Here they built Babel (Babylon), but God quickly scattered them “abroad over the face of all the earth” – or at least the Middle East, where their names became the names of the places they settled (like Egypt, Nineveh, etc.).
But we will focus on the family line of Noah’s son Shem, from which Abraham came. They were living in Ur of the Chaldeans, which is possibly the same as the historical Ur, and certainly in Shinar. But Abraham’s family left Ur and settled in Haran, which is possibly Harran in south-eastern Turkey. When he was 75, Abraham left Haran with Sarah and Lot to travel to Canaan, which is the general area of modern-day Israel. He travelled through Canaan (Shechem and Bethel), and into the Negeb, but because of the famine there he continued to Egypt. After the business with Sarah and the Pharaoh he went back through the Negeb to Bethel in Canaan. Here he parts ways with Lot, who travels to Sodom in the “plain of the Jordan” (probably south of the Dead Sea), then to nearby Zoar, and finally up into the hills. Meanwhile Abraham moves to Hebron, and this is also where he buried his wife Sarah in chapter 23.
I’ve made two maps to more easily visualize these movements: One that shows the place names in the context of modern country borders, and one that shows the biblical characters’ travels.