This video is part of a series of 12 animated maps.

View series: The Bible and History

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Canaan, a small territory surrounded by great empires

This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of The Bible and History.

The Bible gives a central place to the ‘Land of Canaan’, the territory that God gave Abraham and his descendants in the Book of Genesis. In the Jewish tradition, it is also known as the ‘Land of Israel’, the ‘Holy Land’ and the ‘Promised Land’.

The frontiers of the Land promised to Israel by God vary from one Biblical text to another. Passages in Genesis and Deuteronomy give a utopian idea of an immense territory stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to Mesopotamia, [Gen.15.18; Deut.1.7 and 11.24].

Other texts refer to a more restricted area with the Beqaa valley as its northern frontier. [see Num. 34.1-12; Judg. 3.3; 1 Kings 8.65; Amos 6.14].

However, the majority of texts in the Bible [see Judg. 20.1; 1 Sam. 3.20; 2 Sam. 3.10; 17.11; 24.2 and 15; 1 Kings 5.5; Amos 8.14] suggest that Canaan’s approximate boundaries were Mount Hermon, which rises to 2,814 metres (9,232 ft) to the north (in Dan’s territory), Beersheba in the Negev Desert to the south, the Mediterranean to the west, and, to the east, the River Jordan, as a natural frontier from Mount Hermon through Lake Hula and Lake Tiberias to the Dead Sea.

This reading suggests that Canaan measured about 500 kilometres from north to south and 100 kilometres from east to west. It contained a vast desert area in the south, a coastal plain suitable for agriculture, and a range of hills rising to 900 metres. above sea level in the centre of the country and in Galilee. This central area is known as ‘the Central Hill Country’ by historians studying the Bronze Age and early Iron Age, and corresponds to regions later known as Judea and Samaria.

In the Middle Bronze Age, i.e. between 2000 and 1550 BCE, Canaan was made up of a number of small city-states. Located on the coastal road linking the Nile Valley and Mesopotamia, it was strategically important for the powerful kingdoms in the region: Egypt to the south, the Hittite Empire in today’s Turkey to the north, and to the east the kingdoms of Mitanni, Assyria, Babylonia and Elam.

At the time when the Bible’s chronology begins, Canaan was mainly under the influence of Egypt.

No archaeological evidence of an Israelite presence in the Intermediate Bronze Age has been found. The first indication of a human community named Israel dates from 1207 BCE: this is a victory stele erected by the Pharaoh Merenptah, son of Ramesses II. During his reign, Canaan revolted against Egypt and among the groups he had to bring under control was a community known as Israel.