The Bible is saturated with history and culture. The people of the Bible moved through a social world of culture, politics, economics, and religious and philosophical pluralism just as people do today. The characters in the biblical narratives were contemporaries with the rulers, leaders, artists, and thinkers of their day, and their lives intersected with them in sometimes unique and other times mundane ways.
The Bible does not claim to give us an account of things that occurred in some legendary land at some imaginary time that is inaccessible to historians. Rather, it gives us centuries of reports from peoples who shared the same space-and-time as existence as the one in which we live. These reports come primarily from a land that has been at the crossroads of the world for virtually all of recorded history and visited by people from every inhabited part of the Earth—a land which continues to yield physical evidence of the historical nature of the Bible to the archeologist’s spade.
With a few notable exceptions, the physical geography of biblical lands has changed little over the millennia during which its events occurred or in the millennia since. The political geography, however, changed many times during the course of biblical history. Understanding these changes helps us to better understand biblical events.
A major example of this found in the difference between the political worlds at the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. At the end of the Old Testament, the Persian Empire reached into three continents—Asia, Africa, and Europe—and ruled over a Jewish people that had reestablished its presence in Jerusalem and surrounding areas after 70 years of exile, although the majority remained scattered among Gentile nations. At the beginning of the New Testament, approximately 400 years have elapsed. Not only has the Persian Empire disappeared, but so has the Greek Empire that had conquered it. Jesus of Nazareth was born in a land that had been ruled by a Roman Emperor for more than a generation.
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