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 "" website; or Interactive Bible Maps on the 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."
  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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