A Map of All the Countries Mentioned in the Bible: What The Countries Were Called Then, and Now

“For most of the last two thou­sand years, the Bible has been vir­tu­al­ly the only his­to­ry book used in West­ern civ­i­liza­tion,” writes Isaac Asi­mov in his Guide to the Bible. “Even today, it remains the most pop­u­lar, and its view of ancient his­to­ry is still more wide­ly and com­mon­ly known than is that of any oth­er.” As a result, “mil­lions of peo­ple today know of Neb­uchad­nez­zar, and have nev­er heard of Per­i­cles, sim­ply because Neb­uchad­nez­zar is men­tioned promi­nent­ly in the Bible and Per­i­cles is nev­er men­tioned at all.” That same dis­pro­por­tion­ate recog­ni­tion is accord­ed to “minor Egypt­ian pharaohs” like Shishak and Necho, “peo­ple whose very exis­tence is doubt­ful” like Nim­rod and the Queen of She­ba, and “small towns in Canaan, such as Shechem and Bethel.”

Asi­mov notes that “only that is known about such places as hap­pens to be men­tioned in the Bible. Ecbatana, the cap­i­tal of the Medi­an Empire, is remem­bered in con­nec­tion with the sto­ry of Tobit, but its ear­li­er and lat­er his­to­ry are dim indeed to most peo­ple, who might be sur­prised to know that it still exists today as a large provin­cial cap­i­tal in the mod­ern nation of Iran.” In the video from Hochela­ga above, we learn that Iran, then called Per­sia, is cel­e­brat­ed in the Bible “for end­ing the Jew­ish exile and return­ing Israel to its home­land. The Book of Usa­iah gives a spe­cial shout-out to its King, Cyrus the Great: he is giv­en the title ‘anoint­ed one,’ or ‘mes­si­ah.’ ”

Though “Per­sia has played a huge role in the his­to­ry of the region, and at a time was one of the largest empires of its day,” it’s just one of the sur­pris­ing­ly many lands to receive Bib­li­cal acknowl­edge­ment. As Hochela­ga cre­ator Tom­my Trelawny makes clear, “when the Bible was writ­ten, the coun­tries as we know them today did­n’t even exist.” But though the con­cept of the mod­ern nation-state had­n’t yet come into being, the places that would give rise to a fair few of the nation-states in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry cer­tain­ly had: “shout-out to Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Per­sia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, and Spain, that still exist today, or at least go by the names that appear in the Bible.”

You may notice, Trelawny adds, that “many of these exot­ic lands are men­tioned in the sto­ry of King Solomon’s tem­ple, and how pre­cious raw mate­ri­als were import­ed from far­away places, from the strongest Lebanese cedars to the finest Indi­an ivories.” It hard­ly mat­ters “whether King Solomon was even real; we know these geo­graph­i­cal regions exist today, and that Bib­li­cal writ­ers seemed to know of them as well.” As depict­ed in the Bible or oth­er sources, the ancient world can seem scarce­ly rec­og­niz­able to us. But if we make the nec­es­sary adjust­ments to our per­spec­tive, we can see a process of glob­al­iza­tion not dis­sim­i­lar to what we see in our own soci­eties — whose fas­ci­na­tion with dis­tant lands and expen­sive lux­u­ries seems hard­ly to have dimin­ished over the mil­len­nia.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Lit­er­ary Crit­ic Northrop Frye Teach­es “The Bible and Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture”: All 25 Lec­tures Free Online

Chris­tian­i­ty Through Its Scrip­tures: A Free Course from Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty

Intro­duc­tion to the Old Tes­ta­ment: A Free Yale Course

Intro­duc­tion to New Tes­ta­ment His­to­ry and Lit­er­a­ture: A Free Yale Course

Ancient Israel: A Free Course from NYU

Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: A Wit­ty, Eru­dite Atheist’s Guide to the World’s Most Famous Book

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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