The region of Palestine, heart of the middle east
The concept of Palestine
Palestine has long been used in English as a generic term for the middle eastern area centred upon Judea and Galilee. The term is used here in that generic sense unless the text specifically indicates otherwise.
Palestine is dominated by two valleys, the Jordan rift which runs from north to south and the broad vale of Jezreel that runs from east to
west. The Jordan follows the rift valley that runs southward, often below sea level, to become the Red Sea. In places the valley is occupied
by lakes such as the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. To either side the land rises, to the east a plateau, to
the west the central spine of Judea. On its other sides the central range is bounded by the swampy vale of Jezreel to the north, a coastal
plain to the west the arid Negev to the south. Between the coastal plain and the hills lies a belt of fertile land known as the Shephelah.
To the north of the vale of Jezreel lie the continuation of the central hills into Galilee . The higher peaks exceed 1000 metres
The climate is temperate but dominated by two seasons, a dry summer and a wet winter. Bounding the wet season were the former and later rains, transitional periods with lower rainfall but nevertheless serving to extend the growing season. The wind, usually westerly, can, during the transitional periods, bring hot dusty air from the south east.
Some areas, for example Carmel and Gennesaret, were important areas for agricultural production. In antiquity, the forests of Lebanon provided high quality timber for building. The coastal region had significant ports such as Caesarea, Joppa and Sidon and major trade routes traversed the region. The Dead Sea region was a major producer of salt.
Main Ethnic Groups
The population was mixed and the scriptures mention Jews, Syrians, Samaritans, Idumeans and Romans. At the time of the major Jewish festivals this was augmented by crowds of worshippers travelling to Jerusalem from Jewish settlements scattered throughout the Roman Empire.
Herod the Great had revitalised the fortunes of Judea and, through cooperation with the Romans, he had built the nation into a force to the reckoned with. Upon his death his lands were divided amongst his sons, with Archelaus installed in Judea. However, Rome was wary about Archelaus and refused to declare him king in his father's stead. Ultimately, Archelaus was exiled, leaving Judea under direct rule from Rome and a Roman governor in place. This was not a popular situation and many resented the role that Rome played in their national life.
Aramaic was spoken amongst the Jews, though a form of Greek called Koine was known to some extent by most people. Most male Jews would also have been taught Hebrew so that they could read the scriptures.