The names of the "Holy Land"
Canaan, Divided Kingdom, Eretz Israel, Israel, Judea, Palestine, Pelesheth, Philistia,
Samaria, United Kingdom....
The land that was once called Canaan and is now often referred to as the Holy
Land has gone through many name changes in the past 4 millennia:
Prior to the Exodus - Canaan:
"Exodus" is the name of the
second book in the Pentateuch -- the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures,
which forms the first section of the Christian Bible. It also refers to the
mass migration recorded in the book of Exodus. This is when the ancient Hebrews escaped from slavery in Egypt.
It has been variously dated as occurring sometime between 1440 and 1290
There is a general consensus that what we now call the "Holy Land" was called Canaan
In ancient times, before the time of the Exodus. It was occupied by the
Canaanites-- a Pagan society. Whether the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt and
whether the exodus actually happened is a hotly debated point among some
theologians and archaeologists.
After the time of the Exodus - Promised Land:
The interval between the Exodus and the monarchy is referred to as the
Tribal Period. It is described in the biblical books of Joshua, Judges,
Ruth, and 1 Samuel 1-8. The area in which the Hebrews settled was variously
called the "Promised Land" or simply "The Land."
There are many theories of how the ancient Hebrews
came to occupy Canaan:
|Many Christians -- particularly from the conservative wing -- regard the authors of the Hebrew
Scriptures as being inspired by God to write
inerrant text. Thus, they believe that the book of Joshua's
description of a massive and unprovoked invasion of Canaan and a genocidal war
against the Canaanites is literally true. |
|Judges 3:5 tells a different story. It explains that the Israelites
settled peacefully among the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites,
Amorites and Jebusites, and intermarried with them.|
|The archaeological record shows that, in many cases, cities mentioned
in Joshua either did not exist when the Israelite invasion was supposed to
have happened, or they existed as uninhabited ruins. There is a growing
belief among archaeologists that neither of the Biblical stories is true.
Rather, the Israelites developed from what some call proto-Israelites who
"...started out as indigenous Canaanites," already in Canaan.
The United Kingdom:
This is the name given to the land of Israel during the time when Israel was
ruled by three dictatorial kings: Saul, David and Solomon. This was circa 1047
to 930 BCE. The period of the United Kingdom is
described in 1 Samuel 9-31, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings 1-11, 1 Chronicles, and 2
The Divided Kingdom:
The United Kingdom did not survive long after the death of Solomon, circa 930
BCE. Perhaps because of Solomon's abusive corporal
punishment of his son, Rehoboam was a widely hated ruler who was insensitive
to the needs of his people. He barely escaped assassination by his own people.
The two tribes of Judah and Benjamin retained Rehoboam as king and formed the
Southern Kingdom of Judah. Their capital was Jerusalem. The remaining ten
tribes of Israel declared independence from the United Kingdom in 922
BCE, and formed the Northern Kingdom of Israel
under their king Jeroboam. Their capital was Samaria. This is recorded in 2
Chronicles 10-12 and 1 Kings 12-16. Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam claimed to be
God's chosen king. According to 1 Kings 14:30, there was continual warfare
between the two kingdoms.
The King James Version of the Bible has a single reference to
Palestine. It is in Joel 3:4: "...all the coasts of Palestine..."
This is from the Hebrew word "Pelesheth." Joel was
one of the earliest prophets to the
Southern Kingdom of Judah. His ministry can be dated to the middle of the
9th century BCE. This area called Palestine was located in
the southwestern costal area of the Holy Land which the Bible records as having
been occupied by the Philistines. The name Palestine was not used again until
Invasions of Israel and Judah by
Assyrians and Babylonians:
"...in 853 BC, [King] Ahad of Israel was defeated by Shalmaneser and
Israel began paying heavy tribute to Assyria... Israel existed from then on as
more or less a vassal of Assyria." 2 In 732 BCE the
Assyrians conquered and annexed large portions of northern Israel. The Northern
Kingdom ceased to exist in 721 BCE, when its capital was
destroyed by the Assyrian army. King Sargon II then deported nine Hebrew tribes
to Haran and the mountains of eastern Assyria. Their Jewish identity was forever
lost. Foreigners were brought into Israel to settle the land. The Assyrians
renamed Israel as Samaria. They then attacked Judah, destroying Lackish
and 44 other city states. During the siege of Jerusalem, they suddenly withdrew.
The final defeat of the weakened Southern Kingdom of Judah was as a
result of the invasions by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar in 597 and 586
BCE. After the second defeat, the Hebrew elite were taken into captivity and
relocated to Babylon. By this time, both the Canaanites, Philistines, and most
of the tribes of Israel had ceased to exist as distinct peoples.
Hebrews return to the land of Judea:
The king of Persia, Cyrus, who had defeated the Babylonians, had allowed the
Hebrews to return to their Land beginning in 536 BCE. The land was now called
Judea. Other migrations occurred in 458 and 445 BCE.
In 332 BCE, Alexander the Great annexed Judea to the empire that he
was creating. At his death, his empire was divided among his generals. At first,
the land of the Hebrews was part of the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt. Then the
Seleucid Kingdom of Syria conquered Judea in 198 BCE. Finally, during the Jewish
uprising under the Machabees which began in 167, Judea enjoyed independence from
130 to 63 BCE.
The Roman Era:
Rome conquered Judea under Pompey in 63 BCE. The timing of the introduction
of the term "Palestine" to refer to the Holy Land is controversial:
|According to Thomas McCall, the name "Palestine" was not used until
the early second century CE. The Romans continued
the use of Judea and called the northern regions Galilee.
McCall wrote: "When Titus destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Roman
government struck a coin with the phrase 'Judea Capta,' meaning Judea
has been captured. The term Palestine was never used in the early Roman
designations." 3 After Bar Kochba's unsuccessful
second Jewish revolt against Rome in 135 CE, Emperor Hadrian ordered
that all Jews be exiled from the Holy Land. "He took the name of the
ancient enemies of Israel, the Philistines, Latinized it to Palestine,
and applied it to the Land of Israel. He hoped to erase the name Israel
from all memory." 3|
|According to the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL):
By the early 1st century CE, Palestine existed in the form of a
number of territories:|
|Chalcis and Abilene in the Roman province of Syria.|
These areas were part of the Roman Empire, and were ruled directly from Rome,
or indirectly by Jewish kings, or other local rulers.
|According to author Darrell G. Young, "there has never been a State
of Palestine." 5|
Two of the three sources agree that the term "Palestine" has been in
use for over 1,860 years. We are trying to determine which of the three is an
accurate description of the initial use of the term.
Into modern times:
The Christian historian Eusebius referred to the land of Israel as "Palestine"
circa 300 CE. Church literature and maps have continued the
practice. When the British received a mandate to rule the area after World War
I, they called the land on both sides of the Jordan River, Palestine. "This
became the accepted geo-political term for several decades, and those who lived
in the land were called Palestinians, whether they were Jews," Muslims,
Christians, or others. 3
The state of Israel was carved out of Palestine by the
United Nations in 1948. Jerusalem, revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims,
was to become an international city. This was a momentous development for Jews,
as they were able to have control over their own land for the first time in over
18 centuries. It was also of great theological significance to many conservative
Christians. Their belief in the end times, the
rapture, the war of Armageddon, and the second coming
of Jesus Christ are dependent on biblical prophecy which implies that none of
these events would occur until after the Jews had returned to Israel.
The Government of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority
currently have radically different views of the land. The Palestinian Authority
maps allegedly label the areas under their control and under Israeli control as
"Palestine." To them, the state of Israel does not exist. Israel refers
to Palestine as "territories under Israeli administration,"
or "disputed territory." Some in the Israeli ruling coalition consider
these lands to be part of "Eretz Israel," (Land of Israel). The rest of
the world refers to the area as "occupied territories." 6,7
- Philip Davies, "What
separates a Minimalist from a Maximalist? Not much," Bible
Archaeology Review, 2000-MAR/APR Vol 26, #2, Page 24 to 27; 72 & 73.
- "Assyrian Campaigns in Israel and Judah," at:
- Thomas McCall, "Palestine vs. Israel as the name of the Holy Land,"
Zola Levitt Ministries, at: at:
- "New Testament world and times," Christian Classics Ethereal
- "Focus on Jerusalem: The occupied territory," Bible Prophecy
Ministry, Volume 53, Issue 1, at:
- The Israel Government Gateway is at:
http://www.info.gov.il/eng/mainpage.asp Their "Write Us" link
is inoperative; their search facility is essentially impossible to use.
- The Palestinian National Authority's official web site is at:
http://www.pna.net/ Their search
facility is also essentially impossible to use. However, at least their
"contact us" link works.
Copyright © 2003 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2003-MAR-16
Latest update: 2005-APR-01
Author: B.A. Robinson