Listen to the Land (Historical Geography) - Lesson 21


There are two different stories in the Gospels of Jesus feeding large groups of people. One account is in John 6 and another account is in Mark 8. The message is similar but the geography gives you some clues to help you understand why the details are different.

Cyndi Parker
Listen to the Land (Historical Geography)
Lesson 21
Watching Now

I. John 6

II. Mark 8

  • The Historical Geography of the Land of the Bible is a course that aims to explore the secrets of the land of the Bible by learning how to pay attention to details like rocks, water, and roads, and how they have a dramatic impact on the people living in that context and will change our theology.

  • The land influences the people that are living on it by affecting their stories. Learning to listen to the land helps you understand the details that are hiding in the background so that when you read the Bible, it’s like you see the narrative in living color and 3 dimensions.

  • Major rivers in the Ancient Near East provided the resources necessary for empires like Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Persia to grow and flourish. Israel is on a couple of the major trade routes that connects these cultures. The location of mountains, hills and valleys in Israel affects the lifestyle and travel patterns of the people who live there and the people travelling through.

  • Wind patterns and the shape of the land determine where more rain falls. Finding and managing sources of water is a critical aspect of survival. The feasts coincide with the agricultural calendar. Biblical passages containing references to water and the feasts had profound meaning to the original audience.

  • Of the granite, sandstone and limestone layers of rock, the limestone layer is what controls much of the lifestyle of the people. The layers of limestone that are common throughout Israel and the surrounding areas are Cenomanian, Senonian and Eocene. It is a good land because there are enough resources to survive and thrive, but it is not an easy land. It has been referred to by different names throughout the years and the political boundaries have been fluid.

  • Bashan is in the north and has enough rainfall and arable soil to support crops and large animals like cattle. The Dome of Gilead provides connection points for international and local travel. Ammon and Moab are neighbors and descendants of Lot’s daughters. Edom is south and are descendants of Esau.

  • The people that migrated to live in the coastal plain were known as the Philistines. Because of the location and terrain, the roads were sources of international travel and trade. Cities were built for commerce and control. The Negev was an important area to control for travel.

  • The Rift Valley is valuable because of its location and resources. Bitumen and Balsam were sought after. It was a popular trade route but it was important to know where to get water. Jericho was at crossroads and was near some major springs. Connecting events in biblical history to the event and location of the baptism of Jesus adds weight and significance to it.

  • The hill country of Judah has enough rain to grow grapes and other crops. Hebron was first given to Caleb and then was the city that David ruled from when he first became king. It was a connecting point for local roads. Bethlehem and Tekoa are also cities in this area.

  • Jerusalem is framed by the hills and valleys that are near it. The Sorek Wadi System is to the west and the Mount of Olives is to the east. David built a palace and Solomon later built a temple. Jerusalem was important in Jewish history and also has a place in eschatology.

  • By the beginning of the first century, Jerusalem was the site of a magnificent Jewish temple built by Herod the great. He also built an impressive palace and a Roman fort which overlooked the temple. The events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus take on added layers of meaning when you understand how the geography of the events reminded people of Messianic prophecies.

  • Benjamin has the smallest tribal allotment but it is one of the most significant areas in the nation of Israel. The geographical features, the cities located there and the roads that run through it make it a region of national and international importance.

  • The Shephelah is between the hill country and the coastal plain and has unique geographical features. When you know the location of the roads, valleys and cities in this area, you can see their significance in the stories. When you understand where Micah and Isaiah came from and their historical context, you can understand why there is a difference in their message and tone.

  • The rocks and roads will give you valuable information about the Sharon Plain and Mt. Carmel. The international road took different paths around Mt. Carmel depending on your final destination. The harbor and palace that Herod built in Caesarea were impressive.

  • The hill country of Joseph has abundant resources and nearby roads for commerce. Shiloh was a religious center and the place where Joshua met with representatives from each tribe to determine their tribal allotment. The women of Shiloh also were instrumental in saving the tribe of Benjamin. Shechem was important as far back as Abraham. Every time people would see Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, it was a reminder of the blessings and curses of their covenant with God.

  • Who was Omri, and why was he significant in making Samaria an important city? When the people of Judah returned from Persia, there was a conflict with the people of Samaria. The animosity that was still present during the ministry of Jesus set the stage for an encounter he had with a woman that was at a well near the city.  

  • Upper and Lower Galilee have the climate soil that is conducive to widespread agriculture. Lower Galilee also has some valleys that became major roads. Major empires of the fertile crescent exerted their influence here as they expanded. When the Greeks took control with their military, they also spread their cultural influence.

  • The Jezreel Valley is the center of activity for many of the biblical narratives. Not only was it an important economic and strategic location for Israel, but also for the Canaanites, Egyptians, Arameans and Assyrians. It is also a place where significant events took place in the lives of the prophets and Jesus.

  • This body of water is often referred to as a, “sea” even though it is fresh water, not salt water. There are not many stories in the Hebrew Bible that take place in this area, but it is a center of activity for Jesus during his ministry. Many of the parables are illustrations taken from local culture and geography.

  • The Huleh basin has an abundance of water from several sources. The soil is also good, but the conditions for growing crops in some areas presents some challenges. Dan is a strategic city in the north as a gateway to the region and a religious center under Jeroboam. Caesarea Phillippi was built by Herod and was a place that Jesus used to teach his disciples about his role as Messiah and their future as leaders of the church.  

  • The Gospel of Luke traces the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, and the book of Acts traces the journey of the gospel going out from Jerusalem. The events in Pentecost have a connection to the events at Mt. Sinai. The gospel is for the world but the events that made it possible are anchored in Israel. (Don't forget the Epilogue, Lesson 21!)

  • There are two different stories in the Gospels of Jesus feeding large groups of people. One account is in John 6 and another account is in Mark 8. The message is similar but the geography gives you some clues to help you understand why the details are different.

Have you ever read about a place and when you went there in person, it came alive? As you walk through the hills and valleys of Israel with Dr. Parker, you will see the stories of the Bible in living color. 

Your location affects your lifestyle, relationships, worldview, occupation, diet and travel. In ancient Israel, you depended on the resources around you to survive. People often lived near springs or rivers, but it was possible in some places to collect rain water and ration it through the year. The terrain and the type of soil would determine what crops you could grow, or what animals you could raise. Living near a road would give you opportunities to sell what you produced or buy what you needed. Your location would determine the amount of risk you would face from people in neighboring countries. By living in the hill country, you would develop a different mindset than if you lived on an open plain.

Once you begin to have an understanding of the, "rocks and roads" of Israel, reading your Bible with a good map next to you will help you get a 3 dimensional perspective. When the characters and the scenery become life-like in your mind, you will find yourself being inspired and motivated in your understanding of your relationship with God and how you can apply it in your interactions with others. Take this opportunity to learn from Dr. Parker to "Listen to the Land!"

Don't forget the Epilogue, Lesson 21!


Recommended Books

Listen to the Land: Historical Geography - Bible Study

Listen to the Land: Historical Geography - Bible Study

Have you ever read about a place and when you went there in person, it came alive? As you walk through the hills and valleys of Israel with Dr. Parker, you will see the...

Listen to the Land: Historical Geography - Bible Study
Satellite Bible Atlas

Satellite Bible Atlas

A comprehensive guide to biblical geography, The Satellite Bible Atlas by William Schlegel provides historical context and insightful maps to help readers better understand the world of the Bible.
Satellite Bible Atlas

Dr. Cyndi Parker
Listen to the Land (Historical Geography)
Lesson Transcript


As a fun epilogue to the whole course. I would like to read maybe a story. I think this story is really fun. You can see my computer's closed. I'm not going to put any maps up. I'm not putting the calendar up. This is all to test you. So let's just see if you can start putting into practice the things that we have been learning. So I want you to pull. I want you to just practice what it feels like to to take the information we've been studying over all this time and read it back into the Scripture to see these details that are already there. I'm going to start with John Chapter six, and I chose this one because John is so determined for you to see how cool this thing is that he adds all kinds of crazy little elements in there. So he's giving us lots of clues to help us on this like final exam of our time together. So, John, chapter six, This is one of the stories of the feeding of the thousands. So it's a story we're maybe all familiar with or have heard of before, and maybe we can just add a few layers of color and interest and context. Okay. So he says, starting in verse one. After these things, Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee or Tiberius already. Right. I am going to try not to stop every time, but we already talked about what going to the other side means. So we should be asking, where was he? He was in a different political unit. And the important thing is he's going into the political unit of Galilee. A large crowd followed him because they saw the signs which he was performing on those who were sick.


Then Jesus went up on the mountain. But we know it's one of the mountains, right? And there he sat down with his disciples. Now, the Passover, the feast of Jesus was near. John always tells us things on purpose. So what time of year is it? April, what is it everyone is thinking of? The barley harvest, the fact that God and Pharaoh go head to head and God wins in this redemption story, really very significant, very foundational for the Israelite and the Jewish mindset. Okay. So John can tell us that just by telling us the name of the the feast. Now in verse five, therefore Jesus lifting up his eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to him, said to Philip, Where are we to buy bread so that these may eat? He was saying this to test him, for he himself knew what he was intending to do. And Philip answered him. 200 denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them for everyone to receive a little. One of his disciples, Andrew Simon, Peter's brother, said to him, There is a lad here who has five barley loaves. Oh, isn't that very clever? Of course he has barley loaves. It's the only grain his mom has in the house right now. If the time of Passover is near, they have just harvested the barley and he has to fish. Now, also kind of knowing that Galilee structure, there's a part of me that always wonders if this lad is out, like with his little school lunchbox. I wonder if they're preserved fish from Magdala. Maybe not fresh fish he did that would stink, you know, but maybe they are the preserved fish. So it's just kind of interesting to go, oh, maybe.


Oh, we've seen that. Oh, we know what that looks like. Okay, so here is a lad with five barley loaves, two fish. But what are these for? So many people? And Jesus said, Have the people sit down? Now, there was much grass in the place. Oh, so very nice. Because what we know about the barley harvest and April on the calendar, there's a certain what is weather wise? What is going on? It's the latter rain ray. And this is when the earth burst forth in all kinds of color. So of course, there's a lot of grass in that place because it's that latter rain and there's been a lot of moisture in the hills are green there. Green only for a short amount of time because then they burn off. Okay. So there's a lot of grass and they sit down. Jesus then took the loaves and having given thanks, he distributed to those who were seated likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted when they were filled. He said to his disciples, Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost. So they gathered them up and filled 12 baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. Okay. 12 baskets. I mean, this is really fun, right? Because 12 automatically with especially within a Jewish context, we think 12 tribes when is so given. I shouldn't say win was. But given all of this context, it's April. People have Passover on their mind physically. We've already seen John kind of playing with it. There's grass, there's barley loaves. But in the first Passover, as soon as the people left and they go like out into the wilderness and they would sit and they would eat.


Who was providing for the 12 tribes of Israel? God was providing manna. And plenty of mana as much as they needed to eat. Like exactly enough. And so, John, the way he's describing it, but everyone, especially those who are in in fact, I would say a good portion of the people experiencing Jesus during Passover, getting people together in a place where there aren't resources and providing bread for them. And then 12 baskets are left over. It's inviting them to go, Wait, who are you in this scenario? And people get it. Because in John's version of this, we then move on to one of the large discourses between Jesus and the people where they're like, Really? Because they're starting to go, God prevented manna in the desert for our forefather Moses like. And they're already making the connection contextually. And Jesus goes into this long discourse of how I am the bread of life. Right. They understand the context and what's going on. Okay. Now there's another very similar miracle. Not all of the gospel writers included. Only two do. So we're going to read the Mark version. All of the Gospels have this feeding of the 5000. Two of the Gospels have another very similar miracle. So let's read Mark's version. We're going to go to Mark. I think it's chapter eight. Mark Chapter eight. Okay. And just to contextualize this in the greater history of what's around, especially because we touched on this a little bit in the official part of the course in chapter five, Jesus and the disciples are in the to capitalists. So in that Helena ized area, and this is when Jesus encounters the demonic and he throws the demons, purifies this guy, cleans this guy, and then he wants to go follow Jesus.


He's like, No, no, no, go back. Like, we talked about this during the course. Okay. Jesus leaves the Nicopolis and in chapter seven is the first time Jesus comes back to the two capitals. And in chapter eight, it seems like he's still in that nicopolis. Okay, so let's start in verse one. In those days when there was again a large crowd and they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples and said to them, I feel compassion for the people because they have remained with me now three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from a great distance. And his disciples answered him, Where will anyone be able to find enough bread here in this desolate place to satisfy these people? And he was asking them, How many loaves do you have? And they said, seven. And he directed the people to sit down on the ground and taking the seven loaves he gave them and broke them and started giving them to his disciples to serve to them. And they served them to the people. They also had a few small fish. And after he blessed them, he ordered these to be served as well. And they ate and were satisfied. And they picked up seven large baskets full of what was left over the broken pieces. About 4000 were there, and he sent them away. Well, according to this context, we don't really have the same. Israelite underlying story. Which maybe makes sense, right? Because where Jesus. In the day Capitalists, which has a Hellenistic base to it. They're not sitting on top of thick soil of Israelite stories. So we don't we don't have that same kind of play, but we have a second version of a miracle that he did in Galilee.


Jewish territory with Jewish symbolism. And now he's doing the same thing. But in the Coppola's. Now seven. What is it about seven, right? If there are seven loaves of bread this time through and seven baskets that are leftover this time through, it has to mean something. So seven seven is the perfect number. It's the number of creation. There's significant there. And. And maybe that could be an element to this story. For me, the context of it being in the dark hapless is also really significant because the decay is almost like the utter most parts of the earth. It's the other. And if we're looking at this story of Jews and Gentiles. The number seven is quite informative because by this time the Jews would refer to all the nations of the world as the seven nations. Why? Because in Deuteronomy chapter seven, Deuteronomy says when you go into this land, there are groups of people who are there to get rid of and then they're named. It happens to be seven. And that tradition carried over. And so the seven was always like and the whole rest of the nations. So now we have Jesus doing the exact same type of provision for people in a desolate place that he did for the Jews with all the the symbolism of Passover. But this time, he's in a Gentile place. And the significant thing is he's providing for them in the same amount of abundance he provided for the Jews. Isn't that so? Fine. Yeah. So it may not change the way we've been interpreting these biblical passages, but it is adding a humanity and it is adding a depth and an awareness of context. We can see Jesus being aware of where he is and teaching those people as real people as He is doing these miracles and as he is explaining himself, we're always asking ourselves not only what happened, where did it happen, Why are these details included? Because they are probably all significant.