New Testament Geography (2023)

by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.

Student Goals:
  • To get a sense of the geographical flow of the four canonical Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
  • To learn about the major NT events that happened in the following Roman provinces and cities.
  • To be able to identify these provinces and major cities (esp. the capitals) by location on a map:
    • see Bible Maps on the "BibleStudy.org" website; or Interactive Bible Maps on the bible.ca website,
    • or see the collection of Bible Maps on this website (access restricted to current students),
    • or see the maps in the back of most good "Study Bibles."
Notes:
  1. Since borders frequently shifted, there are some differences between the political geography at the time of the birth of Jesus (ca. 4 BC), the death of Jesus (ca. AD 30-33), the ministry of Paul (ca. AD 40-64), and the writing of the other NT books (ca. AD 70-100).
  2. The names of the ROMAN PROVINCES (or other significant regions) are in bold capital letters below; their first-century capital cities are in bold italics; other important cities and towns are in small bold print.

PALESTINE (and Its Environs) during the Lifetimes of Jesus & Paul; mostly ruled by the Herodian Dynasty:

New Testament Geography (1)GALILEE – part of the Kingdom of Herod the Great, 40-4 BC; part of the Tetrarchy of Herod Antipas, 4 BC – AD 39

  • Sepphoris & Tiberias – political capitals during the first century, but not mentioned in the NT! (so was Jesus ever there?)
  • Nazareth, Nain, Cana – towns in the interior of Southern/Lower Galilee
  • Capernaum, Bethsaida, Chorazin, Magdala – towns on or near the shore of the Sea of Galilee

SAMARIA – core of ancient (Northern) Kingdom of Israel; place of early Christian expansion (John 4; Acts 1:8; 8:1-25; 9:31; 15:3)

  • Samaria or Sebaste – capital in ancient & Herodian times (same place, name changed)
  • Sychar – smaller town near Jacob's well (cf. John 4); possibly ancient Shechem

JUDEA – at times a separate province; at other times a sub-province of the Roman Province of SYRIA

  • Jerusalem – Jewish capital; site of the Temple, thus the center of religious and cultural Judaism, until its destruction in AD 70
    • locations in/near Jerusalem mentioned in the Synoptics: Mount of Olives, Palace/Praetorium of Pilate, Courtyard & House of the High Priest (Caiaphas), Gethsemane, Golgotha
    • more places in/near Jerusalem mentioned only in John's Gospel: Pool of Bethesda, Pool of Siloam, Kidron Valley, etc.
  • Bethany, Bethphage, Bethlehem, Emmaus, Arimathea – smaller villages important in the four Gospels
  • Caesarea (Maritimae) – seat of Roman Government; site of Paul's imprisonment (Acts 8:40; 9:30; 10:1-24; 11:11; 25:1-13; etc.)

JORDAN RIVER VALLEY and PEREA (Trans-Jordan) – the region "across" the Jordan river from Judea; also ruled by Herod Antipas, 4 BC – AD 39

  • Jericho – possibly the world's oldest city; in the Jordan river valley; Jesus gives sight to blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52 & par.)
  • Qumran – ruins on an ancient settlement, most likely a "monastery" of the Essenes
  • Dead Sea / Salt Sea – lowest spot on earth

IDUMEA – the region south of Judea, conquered by the Maccabean Jews in the 2nd cent. BC

  • Mentioned 55 times in the LXX (Greek OT); but only once in the NT, in Mark 3:8.
  • Equivalent to ancient Edom (the descendants of Esau; see Gen 25:30); native country of Antipater and his son, who became King Herod the Great.

DECAPOLIS = "Ten Cities" – a league of ten semi-independent Greek cities next to but not part of first-century Israel (Matt 4:25; Mark 5:20; 7:31)

  • The league included Scythopolis, Pella, Gerasa, Gadara, Hippos, Dion, Philadelphia, Abila, Raphana, and Damascus (with some variation over time).
  • Damascus was the capital of ancient Syria, and is prominent in the Bible (mentioned 45x in the OT; 16x in the NT)
  • The other cities are not mentioned individually in the NT, aside from an exorcism in the "region of the Gadarenes" (Matt 8:28) or the "region of the Gerasenes" (Mark 5:1; Luke 8:26,37).

NORTHEASTERN TERRITORIES – part of the Kingdom of Herod the Great, 40-4 BC; part of the Tetrarchy of Herod Philip, 4 BC – AD 34

  • Philip ruled over the territories of Ituraea and Trachonitis (see Luke 31:1) as well as Gaulanitis (the Gola Heights), Auranitis, and Batanea.
  • Caesarea Philippi – Herod Philip's capital, located in northeastern Iturea, just East of ancient Dan, near one of the headwaters of the Jordan River.
  • On the way to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks his disciples about his identity (Mark 8:27; Matt 16:13)

Roman PROVINCES important during the Expansion of Christianity in the First Century:

New Testament Geography (2)SYRIA – province including most of the Holy Land up until AD 70, except when parts were ruled by various Herods

  • Damascus – ancient center of Syria; site of conversion of Saul/Paul (Gal 1:17; 2 Cor 11:32; Acts 9:1-25; 22:5-11)
  • Antioch – 3rd largest city of Roman empire; early Christian center (Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3; 14:2415:35; 18:22-23)
  • Tyre and Sidon – coastal cities in Syrophoenicia (Matt 11:21-22; 15:21; Mark 3:8; 7:24-31; Luke 6:17; 10:13-14; Acts 12:20; 21:3-7);
    part of ancient Phoenicia, but mostly part of the Province of Syria during the Roman era.
CILICIA – region of very early Christian missionary activity (Gal 1:21; Acts 6:9; 15:23, 41; 23:34); today's SE Turkey
  • Tarsus – home city of Saul/Paul; major university (Acts 9:11, 30; 11:25; 21:39; 22:3)
CYPRUS – island in Eastern Mediterranean; homeland of Barnabas; first stop on first missionary journey of Barnabas & Paul (Acts 4:36; 11:19-20; 13:4-12; 15:39; etc.)
  • Salamis & Paphostwo cities on Cyprus visited by Barnabas & Paul (Acts 13:4-13)
PAMPHYLIA – small coastal region south of Galatia
  • Perga & Attalia – port cities visited only briefly by Barnabas and Paul on their first journey; John Mark left them from Perga (Acts 13:13-14; 14:25)

LYCIA small coastal region, southwest of Pamphylia

  • Myraport city; brief stop on Paul's final journey (Acts 27:5); home of 4th-century bishop St. Nicholas
GALATIA – distinguish the pre-Roman Kingdom of Galatia (later called "Northern Galatia"), with capital Ancyra, and the probable area of Pauline ministry in "Southern Galatia," incl. the regions of PISIDIA & LYCAONIA
  • Antioch, Lystra, Derbe, Iconium – cities visited by Barnabas & Paul in Southern Galatia (Acts 13:1314:24; 16:1); note that this "Pisidian Antioch" is different from the "Syrian Antioch" mentioned above
MACEDONIA – area of "Europe" where Pauline mission first spreads (Rom 15:26; 1Cor 16:5; 2Cor 1:16; Acts 16:617:15)
  • Philippi – early Pauline community; Roman colony (Philippians; 1 Thess 2:2; Acts 16:11-40; 20:6)
  • Thessalonica – early Pauline community (1 & 2 Thessalonians; Acts 17:1-14, also nearby Beroea)
ACHAIA – core region of ancient "Greece" (1 Thess 1:7-8; Rom 15:26; Acts 18:12, 27; 19:21)
  • Athens – Pauline mission attempted, but unsuccessful (1 Thess 3:1; Acts 17:15-34)
  • Corinth – major Pauline center (Acts 18:1-18; 20:2-3); many letters to & fro; trial before proconsul Gallio (Acts 18:12);
    its two ports were Lechaion and Cenchreae (Rom 16:1)
ASIA (MINOR) – heavily populated region, in modern-day South-Western Turkey; many famous cities, incl. most of the "Seven Cities of Revelation" (Rev 2-3); ancient center in Pergamum
  • Ephesus – major Pauline missionary base in mid-50's (Eph; 1Cor 15:32; 16:8; 1Tim 1:3; Acts 18:19-19:41; 20:16-38); later also a center of Johannine Christianity (Rev 1:11; 2:1)
  • Colossae & Laodicea – Paul (or one of his followers) wrote letters to the Christians in both these cities (Col 2:1; 4:13-16; also Rev 1:11; 3:14)
  • Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea – the cities of the seven churches of Revelation (Rev 1:11; 2:13:22)
  • Patmos – small island in the Aegean Sea, near Ephesus; where John, the author of Revelation, was (Rev 1:9)
CRETE – large Mediterranean island south of Aegean Sea; visited by Paul on his journey to Rome (Acts 27:7-21; Titus 1:5)

MALTA & SICILY – Mediterranean islands south of Italy; also visited by Paul on his journey to Rome (Acts 27:3928:10; 28:11-12)

ITALIA – central Roman province covering most of modern-day Italy (Acts 10:1; 18:2; 27:1-6; 28:11-15)

  • Rome – capital of the entire empire; Christian community there long before Paul (Romans; Acts 19:21; 23:11; 28:16-31)

New Testament Geography (3)

New Testament Geography (4)

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