Promised Land

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The Promised Land (Hebrew: הארץ המובטחת, translit.: ha'aretz hamuvtakhat; Arabic: أرض الميعاد, translit.: ard al-mi'ad) is Middle Eastern land in the Levant that Abrahamic religions (which include Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and others) claim God promised and subsequently gave to Abraham (the legendary patriarch in Abrahamic religions) and several more times to his descendants.

Abrahamic narrative[edit]

Dubious expansive interpretation claiming the Nile and Euphrates as the river boundaries of the original promise to Abraham in Genesis 15. See also: Greater Israel.
Estimated borders based on biblical interpretation of Numbers 34 and Ezekiel 47.

The concept of the Promised Land originates from a religious narrative written in the Hebrew religious text the Torah.[note 1]

Original promises in Genesis[edit]

God is claimed to have spoken the following promises to Abraham in several verses of Genesis (the first book of the Torah), which a modern English Bible translates to:

The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you." – Genesis 12:1
The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring [or seed] I will give this land." – Genesis 12:7

Later in what is called the covenant of the pieces, a verse is said to describe what are known as "borders of the Land" (Gevulot Ha-aretz):[1]

On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates – the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites." – Genesis 15:18–21

These allegedly divine promises were given prior to the birth of Abraham's sons. Abraham's family tree includes both the Ishmaelite tribes (the claimed ancestry of Arabs and of the Islamic prophet Muhammad) through Abraham's first son Ishmael and the Israelite tribes (the claimed ancestry of Jews and Samaritans) through Abraham's second son Isaac.

Subsequent confirmations[edit]

God later confirms the promise to Abraham's son Isaac (Genesis 26:3), and then to Isaac's son Jacob (Genesis 28:13) in terms of "the land on which you are lying". Jacob is later renamed "Israel" (Genesis 32:28) and his descendants are called the Children of Israel or the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

The Torah's subsequent Book of Exodus describes it as "land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:17) and gives verses on how to treat the prior occupants and marks the borders in terms of the Red Sea, the "Sea of the Philistines", and the "River", which a modern English Bible translates to:

"I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you. Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you." – Exodus 23:31–33

The Israelites lived in a smaller area of former Canaanite land and land east of the Jordan River after the legendary prophet Moses led the Israelite Exodus out of Egypt (Numbers 34:1–12). The Torah's Book of Deuteronomy presents this occupation as their God's fulfillment of the promise (Deuteronomy 1:8). Moses anticipated that their God might subsequently give the Israelites land reflecting the boundaries of the original promise – if they were obedient to the covenant (Deuteronomy 19:8–9).


Commentators have noted several problems with this promise and related ones: [citation needed]

  1. It is to Abram's descendants that the land will (in the future tense) be given, not to Abram directly nor there and then. However, in Genesis 15:7 it is said: He also said to him, "I am the LORD, who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it." However, how this verse relates to the promises is a matter of controversy.


Jewish interpretation[edit]

The concept of the Promised Land is the central national myth of Zionism, the Jewish national movement that in 1948 established Israel as a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.[2]

Mainstream Jewish tradition regards the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as having been given to anyone considered a Jew, including proselytes and in turn their descendants[3] and is signified through the brit milah (rite of circumcision).

Christian interpretation[edit]

Imagined painting by Frans Pourbus the Elder (c. 1565–80) depicting the Israelite's God showing Moses the Promised Land

In the New Testament, the descent and promise is reinterpreted along religious lines.[4] In the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul the Apostle draws attention to the formulation of the promise, avoiding the term "seeds" in the plural (meaning many people), choosing instead "seed," meaning one person, who, he understands to be Jesus (and those united with him). For example, in Galatians 3:16 he notes:

"The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ."[5]

In Galatians 3:28–29 Paul goes further, noting that the expansion of the promise from singular to the plural is not based on genetic/physical association, but a spiritual/religious one:

"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."[6]

In Romans 4:13 it is written:

"It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith."

German Lutheran Old Testament commentator Johann Friedrich Karl Keil states that the covenant is through Isaac, but notes that Ishmael's descendants have held much of that land through time.[7]

American colonialism[edit]

Many European colonists saw America as the "Promised Land", representing a haven from religious conflicts and persecution. For instance, Puritan minister John Cotton's 1630 sermon God's Promise to His Plantation gave colonizers departing England to Massachusetts repeated references to the Exodus story, and later German immigrants sang: "America ... is a beautiful land that God promised to Abraham."[8]

In a sermon celebrating independence in 1783, Yale president Ezra Stiles implied Americans were chosen and delivered from bondage to a Promised Land: "the Lord shall have made his American Israel 'high above all nations which he hath made',"[9] reflecting language from Deuteronomy of the promise.

Shawnee/Lenape scholar Steven Newcomb argued in his 2008 book Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery[10] that Christendom's discovery doctrine was also the same claim of "the right to kill and plunder non-Christians" found in this covenant tradition, whereby "the Lord" in Deuteronomy told his chosen people how they were to "utterly destroy" the "many nations before thee" when "He" brought them into the land "He" had discovered and promised to "His" "Chosen People" to "possess", and that this "right" was woven into US law through the 1823 Johnson v. McIntosh Supreme Court ruling.[11]


Mormonism teaches that the United States is the Biblical promised land, with The Constitution divinely inspired, and that Mormons are God's chosen people.

Muslim interpretation[edit]

1st century Roman–Jewish historian Flavius Josephus postulated that Ishmael was the founder of the Arab race.[12] And according to Muslim tradition, Islam's founding prophet Muhammad was a Hanif (true monotheistic believer of the religion of Abraham). His tribe, the Quraysh, traces its ancestry to Ishmael.

Palestinian interpretation[edit]

Some Palestinians claim partial descent from the Israelites and Maccabees, as well as from other peoples who have lived in the region.[13]

African-American spirituals[edit]

African-American spirituals invoke the imagery of the "Promised Land" as heaven or paradise[14] and as an escape from slavery, which could often only be reached by death.[citation needed] The imagery and term also appear elsewhere in popular culture, in sermons, and in speeches such as Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1968 "I've Been to the Mountaintop", in which he said:

I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.[15]

Boundaries from the Book of Numbers[edit]

Boundaries of the 'Promised Land' given in the Book of Numbers (chapter 34)
The South border. —(v. 3) "Then your south quarter shall be from the wilderness of Zin along by the coast of Edom, and your south border shall be the outmost coast of the salt sea eastward : (v. 4) And your border shall turn from the south to the ascent of Akrabbim, and pass on to Zin : and the going forth thereof shall be from the south to Kadesh-barnea, and shall go on to Hazar-addar, and pass on to Azmon : (v. 5) And the border shall fetch a compass from Azmon unto the river of Egypt, and the goings out of it shall be at the sea."
The Western border. —(v. 6) "And as for the western border, ye shall even have the great sea for a border : this shall be your west border."
The North border. —(v. 7) "And this shall be your north border : from the great sea ye shall point out for you mount Hor : (v. 8) From mount Hor ye shall point out your border unto the entrance of Hamath ; and the goings forth of the border shall be to Zedad : (v 9) And the border shall go on to Ziphron, and the goings out of it shall be at Hazar-enan : this shall be your north border."
The East border. —(v. 10) "And ye shall point out your east border from Hazar-enan to Shepham : (v. 11) And the coast shall go down from Shepham to Riblah, on the east side of Ain ; and the border shall descend, and shall reach unto the side of the sea of Chinnereth eastward : (v. 12) And the border shall go down to Jordan, and the goings out of it shall be at the salt sea : this shall be your land with the coasts thereof round about."[16]
Boundaries of the 'Promised Land' given by Jerome c.400
You may delineate the Promised Land of Moses from the Book of Numbers (ch. 34): as bounded on the south by the desert tract called Sina, between the Dead Sea and the city of Kadesh-barnea, [which is located with the Arabah to the east] and continues to the west, as far as the river of Egypt, that discharges into the open sea near the city of Rhinocolara; as bounded on the west by the sea along the coasts of Palestine, Phoenicia, Coele-Syria, and Cilicia; as bounded on the north by the circle formed by the Taurus Mountains[17] and Zephyrium and extending to Hamath, called Epiphany-Syria; as bounded on the east by the city of Antioch Hippos and Lake Kinneret, now called Tiberias, and then the Jordan River which discharges into the salt sea, now called the Dead Sea.[18][19]
  • 1845: Salomon Munk, Palestine, Description Géographique, Historique et Archéologique," in "L'Univers Pittoresque:

Under the name Palestine, we comprehend the small country formerly inhabited by the Israelites, and which is today part of Acre and Damascus pachalics. It stretched between 31 and 33° N. latitude and between 32 and 35° degrees E. longitude, an area of about 1300 French: lieues carrées. Some zealous writers, to give the land of the Hebrews some political importance, have exaggerated the extent of Palestine; but we have an authority for us that one can not reject. St. Jerome, who had long traveled in this country, said in his letter to Dardanus (ep. 129) that the northern boundary to that of the southern, was a distance of 160 Roman miles, which is about 55 French: lieues. He paid homage to the truth despite his fears, as he said himself, of availing the Promised Land to pagan mockery, "Pudet dicere latitudinem terrae repromissionis, ne ethnicis occasionem blasphemandi dedisse uideamur" (Latin: "I am embarrassed to say the breadth of the promised land, lest we seem to have given the heathen an opportunity of blaspheming").[20][21]


  1. ^ While the Torah is considered a Jewish holy book, it also known as an Islamic holy book called the Tawrat and is the first five books of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible, which is a subset of the Old Testament in the Biblical canon of Christianity.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kol Torah, vol. 13, no. 9, Torah Academy of Bergen County, Nov 8, 2003
  2. ^ Compare: Haberman, Bonna Devora (October 2014). Rereading Israel: The Spirit of the Matter (reprint ed.). Jerusalem: Urim Publications (published 2014). p. 151. ISBN 9789655242027. Retrieved 8 November 2020. Both Maccabean and modern Zionism seek to ensure the security of the Jewish People to exist, practice freely, and continue to develop our gifts to humankind. While defending Jewish life, both Maccabees and Zionists resort to territorial battle.
  3. ^ "Conversion to Judaism Resource Center". Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  4. ^ Burge, Gary M (2014). "The New Testament and the land". In Paul S Rowe; John H.A. Dyck; Jens Zimmermann (eds.). Christians and the Middle East Conflict. Routledge. ISBN 9781317801115. Thus if you were a child of Abraham by race you inevitably were heir to the great land promises in the Holy Land ... Paul challenges the exclusivity of racial descent from Abraham. Children of Abraham consist of people - Jews and Gentiles - who share Abraham's faith. And the promise of God, he notes, comes to Abraham and his seed (singular) and this seed is Christ (Gal. 3:16). Thus Christ is the true heir of Abraham and his promises. And if we belong to Christ, we too are attached to Abraham and the promises given to him. Again, for the non-Jewish Christian, it is hard to imagine the impact of this theological subversion. Paul has upended one of the chief arguments for exclusive Jewish privilege in the Holy Land ... If you want a glimpse of just how striking Paul's rethinking of this could be, just look at Romans 4:13. Here Paul refers directly to the inheritance of Abraham. This was the gift of Canaan, the Holy Land, and Israel! And yet look at what Paul actually says: the promise to Abraham was that he would inherit the entire world. How can that be? This is not in Genesis. But it can be true in only one way: the family of Abraham now includes the Gentiles - Gentiles living throughout the world: Romans, Greeks, Cappadocians, Arabs - and they now, inasmuch as they belong to Christ, also belong to Abraham. God's new claim is not for the restoration of Judaea. It is not for a political rebuilding of the Holy Land. God's new claim is for the entire world; His people in Christ will be instruments of that claim.
  5. ^ Galatians 3:16 NIV
  6. ^ Sizer, Stephen (2007). Zion's Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church.
  7. ^ Keil, Carl Friedrich; Delitzsch, Franz (October 3, 1866). "Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament". T. & T. Clark – via Google Books.
  8. ^ "America as the Promised Land". Museum of the Bible. 2021-07-12. Archived from the original on 2023-03-14. Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  9. ^ McDougall, Walter A. (1997). Promised Land, Crusader State. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-83085-0. Retrieved 2023-12-09. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  10. ^ Newcomb, Steven T. (2008). Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. Fulcrum Publishing. ISBN 978-1-55591-642-8.
  11. ^ Newcomb, Steven (2020-08-22). ""God's" Gift of a Right of Domination". ORIGINAL FREE NATIONS. Retrieved 2023-12-09.
  12. ^ Millar 2011, Chapter 14: "Hagar, Ishmael, Josephus, and the origins of Islam": "Josephus is thus alluding to a proposition, not yet established in his narrative, that Ishmael was the founder (ktistēs) of the race (ethnos) of the 'Arabes' and offers this as his explanation of a custom currently observed by them."
  13. ^ "(With reference to Palestinians in Ottoman times) Although proud of their Arab heritage and ancestry, the Palestinians considered themselves to be descended not only from Arab conquerors of the seventh century but also from indigenous peoples who had lived in the country since time immemorial, including the ancient Hebrews and the Canaanites before them. Acutely aware of the distinctiveness of Palestinian history, the Palestinians saw themselves as the heirs of its rich associations." Walid Khalidi, 1984, Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians, 1876–1948. Institute for Palestine Studies
  14. ^ For example: Beaulieu Herder, Nicole; Herder, Ronald (January 2001). Best-loved Negro Spirituals: Complete Lyrics to 178 Songs of Faith. Dover Books on Music. Mineola, New York: Courier Corporation. pp. 1, 10, 33, 58. ISBN 9780486416779. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  15. ^ "I've Been to the Mountaintop".
  16. ^ Henry P. Linton (1884). Notes on the book of Numbers. pp. 170.
  17. ^ Bechard, Dean Philip (1 January 2000). Paul Outside the Walls: A Study of Luke's Socio-geographical Universalism in Acts 14:8-20. Gregorian Biblical BookShop. pp. 203–205. ISBN 978-88-7653-143-9. In the Second Temple period, when Jewish authors were seeking to establish with greater precision the geographical definition of the Land, it became customary to construe "Mount Hor" of Num 34:7 as a reference to the Amanus range of the Taurus Mountains, which marked the northern limit of the Syrian plain (Bechard 2000, p. 205, note 98.)
  18. ^ Sainte Bible expliquée et commentée, contenant le texte de la Vulgate. Bibl. Ecclésiastique. 1837. pp. 41. Quod si objeceris terram repromissionis dici, quae in Numerorum volumine continetur (Cap. 34), a meridie maris Salinarum per Sina et Cades-Barne, usque ad torrentem Aegypti, qui juxta Rhinocoruram mari magno influit; et ab occidente ipsum mare, quod Palaestinae, Phoenici, Syriae Coeles, Ciliciaeque pertenditur; ab aquilone Taurum montem et Zephyrium usque Emath, quae appellatur Epiphania Syriae; ad orientem vero per Antiochiam et lacum Cenereth, quae nunc Tiberias appellatur, et Jordanem, qui mari influit Salinarum, quod nunc Mortuum dicitur
  19. ^ Hieronymus (1910). "Epistola CXXIX Ad Dardanum de Terra promissionis (al. 129; scripta circa annum 414ce)". Epistularum Pars III —Epistulae 121-154, p. 171 (The fifty-sixth volume of Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum also known as the Vienna Corpus: Letters Part 3, Containing letters 121-154 of St. Jerome.) Image of p. 171 at
  20. ^ Munk, Salomon (1845). Palestine: Description géographique, historique et archéologique (in French). F. Didot. pp. 2–3. Sous le nom de Palestine, nous comprenons le petit pays habité autrefois par les Israélites, et qui aujourd'hui fait partie des pachalics d'Acre et de Damas. Il s'étendait entre le 31 et 33° degré latitude N. et entre le 32 et 35° degré longitude E., sur une superficie d'environ 1300 lieues carrées. Quelques écrivains jaloux de donner au pays des Hébreux une certaine importance politique, ont exagéré l'étendue de la Palestine; mais nous avons pour nous une autorité que l'on ne saurait récuser. Saint Jérôme, qui avait longtemps voyagé dans cette contrée, dit dans sa lettre à Dardanus (ep. 129) que de la limite du nord jusqu'à celle du midi il n'y avait qu'une distance de 160 milles romains, ce qui fait environ 55 lieues. Il rend cet hommage à la vérité bien qu'il craigne, comme il le dit lui-même de livrer par la terre promise aux sarcasmes païens. (Pudet dicere latitudinem terrae repromissionis, ne ethnicis occasionem blasphemandi dedisse uideamur)
  21. ^ Munk, Salomon; Levy, Moritz A. (1871). Palästina: geographische, historische und archäologische Beschreibung dieses Landes und kurze Geschichte seiner hebräischen und jüdischen Bewohner (in German). Leiner. p. 1.

General sources[edit]