Things They Thought You Knew Part 2 Geography

Things They Thought You Knew  

Part 2    Geography

Valley of Elah, Mt Arbel, and Capernaum


Moselle, Mikaela, Lukas, Arielle, Laura & Michael

 Atop Mt Arbel on a rainy day, May 2018

The geography of Israel often helps us better understand a Biblical narrative, as the writer thinks you know about the lay of the land. For example, Elijah chose to go to Mt. Carmel to call down rain on Israel. Bible people know that the wettest region in the Land is the northwest corner near the coast where Mt Carmel is located. This is the greenest portion of the country. As you travel south and east, it gets browner as you go. The southern Negev is the driest place in the land.

Photo: The Jezreel Valley from Mt Carmel.

“Going up” to Jerusalem is actually quite a hill climb. From Jericho to Jerusalem is about eight miles, and you gain over 4000 feet of elevation – Jericho is at 1300 feet below sea level and the Mount of Olives is 2800 feet above sea level.

Photo: We are hiking along the ancient road up from Jericho to Jerusalem through the Wadi Quilt.

When David confronted the Phillistine giant Goliath in the Valley of Elah southwest of Jerusalem, the Israelites occupied the southern ridge of the valley, which ran from the west coastal area to the hills of Judea to the east.

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; and they were gathered at Socoh which belongs to Judah, and they camped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. 2 Saul and the men of Israel were gathered and camped in the valley of Elah, and drew up in battle array to encounter the Philistines. 3 The Philistines stood on the mountain on one side while Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with the valley between them.            1 Samuel 17:1-3

I took this photo from the Azekah ridge looking south a few yeas ago. The ridgeline in the middle is where the Philistines were, and the ridgeline on the upper right was occupied by the Saul’s army. The Valley of Elah separates the two. The second photo shows the valley floor.

4 Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was clothed with scale-armor which weighed five thousand shekels of bronze. 6 He also had bronze greaves on his legs and a bronze javelin slung between his shoulders. 7  The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and the head of his spear weighed six hundred shekels of iron; his shield-carrier also walked before him. 8 He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel and said to them, “Why do you come out to draw up in battle array? Am I not the Philistine and you servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me. 9  If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will become your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall become our servants and serve us.” 10 Again the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together.” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. 1 Samuel 17:4-11

King Saul did not want to confront the giant but offered money, his daughter, and no property taxes for the man who killed him.

26 Then David spoke to the men who were standing by him, saying, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?27 The people answered him in accord with this word, saying, “Thus it will be done for the man who kills him.” 1 Samuel 17:26-27

David convinced King Saul that he could defeat the giant, so Saul clothed him in his body armor and gave him his sword.

39 David girded his sword over his armor and tried to walk, for he had not tested them. So David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” And David took them off. 40 He took his stick in his hand and chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the shepherd’s bag which he had, even in his pouch, and his sling was in his hand; and he approached the Philistine.                                                                          1 Samuel 17:38-40

This photo is looking east toward the hills of Judea. Philistines on the left and Israelites on the right (trees).

This photo is our family walking back to the road on the south side (Israelites).

Here is looking north to the Philistine ridge.

The stream runs at the base of this ridge.

There is a steam that runs down this valley that is located on the north side- right at the base of the ridgeline occupied by Goliath and his friends. Archeologists say the ancient steam followed the same line- running at the base of the Philistine ridge.

Goliath is standing by the stream, where the smooth rocks are, worn down by years of running water. Smooth stones fly through the air more aerodynamically straight than rough irregular shaped stones. For accuracy with a sling, smooth stones work best.  David ran across the valley literally unarmed, and picked five stone from the stream, right at the Philistines line of battle. Then he turned the face the giant.

We know the rest of the story. The writer of 1 Sameul hopes we realized the geographical setting of this event, which point out the immense courage David demonstrated in this confrontation.

One of the best places to understand the geography of Galilee is atop Mt Arbel- a peak that is 594 feet MSL but 1250 feet above the Sea of Galilee.

From here the view of the northern Sea of galilee is spectacular, with Mt Hermon in the distant left.


This panorama photo shows the northeastern corner of the Sea of Galilee, and the area where most of Jesus’ ministry occurred. Scholars suggest that 60% of all of Jesus recorded words were spoken in this green area along the shoreline. Notice the gap between Arbel and the next peak. This was the easy way to walk up to the Jezreel Valley area.

Notice this Google Earth map with the location of the Dead Sea in the south and the Sea of Galilee in the middle, with the modern road system. In Biblical times, the main road was along the coast connecting Egypt and Phoenicia. To go inland to Damascus, the easiest way was to cut northeast south of Haifa, through any of the three valleys that cut the Mt Carmel ridgeline that runs southeast from the coast, walk through the Jezreel Valley, and downhill to the largest lake in this part of Western Asia. The road followed the northwest curve of the lake, passing through a small community named Capernaum, where the Romans had tax station, collecting taxes from the caravans travelling this important commercial route. Think of it as a toll booth on a major turnpike. Here the caravans would have to offload their cargo for inspection, and pay the appropriate tax. From there they would follow the road up to the Golan Heights, and then down to Damascus. The outskirts of Damascus are barely visible from the military lookout on the modern day border.

This is where Jesus chose to launch the Jesus Christ Messiah Savior ministry- at the toll booth on the major inland highway from Egypt to Syria. It was a strategic location where many would encounter Jesus. Here are three examples of those encounters. The first is with a ‘royal official’, part of King Herod Agrippa’s government.

He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see  signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.”

49 The royal official *said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus *said to him, “Go; your son lives.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off.

51 As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. 52 So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives”; and he himself believed and his whole household. 54 This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.            John 4:46-54.                                                                                                                                        

From Capernaum it is an 8 hour walk up from the lake to the site of ancient Cana, just north of Nazareth, climbing about 800 feet or more. Here is the route by Mt Arbel. Walking back down only takes about 5 hours- downhill most of the way. The Bagby Family is standing above this road out of the lake shore area. The second photo shows it tracking up the valley and turning north.

The royal official left before dawn and got to Cana by noon. Jesus healed the boy at a distance about 1 pm. The father had time to walk back to Capernaum before sundown but chose to stay somewhere close to Cana for the night.

His faith was strong. He spent the rest of the day a Cana, probably with Jesus.

Here is an encounter with a Roman legion officer.

And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, 6 and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.” 7 Jesus *said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

10 Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. 11 I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; 12 but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

 13 And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very moment.

 Matthew 8:5-13

The local Roman military commander asked Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus did. How did that affect the Centurion?

Photo: The Flying Saucer Church built over the 5th Century church which was constructed around an ancient ‘fisherman’s house.

Finally, an encounter with and ‘official of the synagogue.’

40  And as Jesus returned, the people welcomed Him, for they had all been waiting for Him. 41  And there came a man named Jairus, and he was an  official of the synagogue; and he fell at Jesus’ feet, and began to implore Him to come to his house; 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, and she was dying. But as He went, the crowds were pressing against Him.

43 And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and could not be healed by anyone, 44 came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped.

Mark adds some details to the story:

25 A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, 26 and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse— 27 after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. 28 For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” 29 Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. 30

Photos: The 5th Century church under the Flying Saucer Church

The remains of a large ‘insula’ – home with many rooms added on

The Synagogue with a floor from the 1st Century

Our group listening to Randy in the synagogue

Luke continues:

45 And Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me?” And while they were all denying it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing in on You.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone did touch Me, for I was aware that power had gone out of Me.” 47 When the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him, and declared in the presence of all the people the reason why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Notice how Jesus paused and called her forth, and allowed her the opportunity to give her public testimony of the miracle. Personal testimonies are powerful and convincing.

49 While He was still speaking, someone *came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, “Your daughter has died; do not trouble the Teacher anymore.” 50 But when Jesus heard this, He answered him, “Do not be afraid any longer; only believe, and she will be made well.” 51 When He came to the house, He did not allow anyone to enter with Him, except Peter and John and James, and the girl’s father and mother.

 52 Now they were all weeping and lamenting for her; but He said, “Stop weeping, for she has not died, but is asleep.” 53 And they began laughing at Him, knowing that she had died. 54 He, however, took her by the hand and called, saying, “Child, arise!” 55 And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately; and He gave orders for something to be given her to eat. 56 Her parents were amazed; but He instructed them to tell no one what had happened.                                   Luke 8:40-56


 The Royal Official, The Centurion, and the Leader of the Synagogue were all disciples of Jesus.

The Civil, Military and Religious leaders were all Jesus’ friends.

This is why Capernaum was a safe place for Him.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.                                                                Matthew 18:1-6

Scattered around the site of ancient Capernaum are mill stones that were used for grinding grain. Because of the volcanic basaltic rock that is the bedrock of this entire northwestern corner of the Sea of Galilee, the manufacture of millstones was a local industry.

Obviously, this would be a good object lesson for the disciples who lived with Jesus in Capernaum.

Basalt had excellent sound attenuation qualities.

 In the 1970’s a sound company set up microphones around the hillside where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. They found that a man speaking in a normal volume at the bottom of the hill could be clearly heard all the way at the top, over 500 years away! My friends Roy and Mary once stayed at a hotel at the top of that hill, but could not sleep because of the loud sound of trucks and cars coming up that hill! The sound was unusually loud.

Photo at right.                                                                   GMB