Promised Land

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Map showing the borders of the Promised Land, based on the Bible. (Numbers 34, Ezekiel 47).
Map showing one interpretation of the borders of the Promised Land, based on God's promise to Abraham (Genesis 15).

The Promised Land (Hebrew: הארץ המובטחת, translit.: ha'aretz hamuvtakhat; Arabic: أرض الميعاد, translit.: ard al-mi'ad; also known as "The Land of Milk and Honey") is the land which, according to the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament), God promised and subsequently gave to Abraham and his descendants. In modern contexts, the phrase "Promised Land" expresses an image and an idea which is related to the restored homeland for the Jewish people and the concepts of salvation and liberation.

God first makes the promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:18–21:

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."

He later confirms the promise to Abraham's son Isaac (Genesis 26:3), and then to Isaac's son Jacob (Genesis 28:13), who is later renamed "Israel" (Genesis 32:28). The Book of Exodus describes the Promised Land in terms of the territory from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates river (Exodus 23:31). The Israelites conquered and occupied a smaller area of former Canaanite land and land east of the Jordan River after Moses led the Exodus out of Egypt (Numbers 34:1–12), and the Book of Deuteronomy presents this occupation as God's fulfillment of the promise (Deuteronomy 1:8). Moses anticipated that God might subsequently give the Israelites land reflecting the boundaries of God's original promise – if they were obedient to the covenant (Deuteronomy 19:8–9).

The concept of the Promised Land is the central tenet of Zionism, the Jewish national movement to re-establish the Jewish homeland.[1] Palestinians also claim partial descent from the Israelites and Maccabees, as well as from other peoples who have lived in the region.[2]

African-American spirituals invoke the imagery of the "Promised Land" as heaven or paradise[3] 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.[4]

Divine promise[edit]

Yahweh (God) shows Moses the Promised Land (Frans Pourbus the Elder, c. 1565–80)

The promise that is the basis of the term is contained in several verses of Genesis in the Torah. In Genesis 12:1 it is said:

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."

and in Genesis 12:7:

The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring [or seed] I will give this land."

Commentators have noted several problems with this promise and related ones:

  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.
  2. There is nothing in the promise to indicate God intended it be applied to Abraham's physical descendants unconditionally, exclusively (to nobody but these descendants), exhaustively (to all of them) or in perpetuity.[5]
  3. Jewish commentators drawing on Rashi's comments to the first verse in the Bible, assert that no human collective ever has any a priori claim to any piece of land on the planet, and that only God decides which group inhabits which land in any point in time. This interpretation has no contradictions since the idea that the Jewish people have a claim to ownership rights on the physical land is based on the idea of God deciding to give the land to the Jewish people and commanding them to occupy it as referred to in Biblical texts previously mentioned.

In Genesis 15:18–21 the boundary of the Promised Land is clarified in terms of the territory of various ancient peoples, as follows:

On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates - the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites."

The verse is said to describe what are known as "borders of the Land" (Gevulot Ha-aretz).[6] In Jewish tradition, these borders define the maximum extent of the land promised to the descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob.[7]

The promise was confirmed to Jacob at Genesis 28:13, though the borders are still vague and is in terms of "the land on which you are lying". Other geographical borders are given in Exodus 23:31 which describes borders as marked by the Red Sea, the "Sea of the Philistines" i.e. the Mediterranean, and the "River," (the Euphrates).

The promise is fulfilled in the biblical book of Joshua when the Israelites cross the Jordan river into the promised land for the first time.

Pastoral scene of the Promised Land

It took a long time before the Israelites could subdue the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. The furthest extent of the Land of Israel was achieved during the time of the united Kingdom of Israel under David.[8][9] The actual land controlled by the Israelites has fluctuated considerably over time, and at times the land has been under the control of various empires. However, under Jewish tradition, even when it is not in Jewish occupation, the land has not lost its status as the Promised Land.

Descendants of Abraham[edit]

The concept is central to Zionism. In 1896, Herzl exhorted Jews to take up the movement, writing "for these have never lost the faith in the Promised Land".

Traditional Jewish interpretation, and that of most Christian commentators, define Abraham's descendants as Abraham's seed only through his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, to the exclusion of Ishmael and Esau.[7][10][11][12] [13][14][15][16][17][18][19] This may however reflect an eisegesis or reconstruction of primary verses based on the later biblical emphasis of Jacob's descendants. The promises given to Abraham happened prior to the birth of Isaac and were given to all his offspring signified through the rite of circumcision. Johann Friedrich Karl Keil is less clear, as he states that the covenant is through Isaac, but notes that Ishmael's descendants have held much of that land through time.[20]

Mainstream Jewish tradition regards the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as having been given to all Jews, including proselytes and in turn their descendants,[21] with the traditional view being that a convert becomes a child of Abraham, as in the term "ben Avraham".[citation needed]

Christian interpretation[edit]

In the New Testament, the descent and promise is reinterpreted along religious lines.[22] 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."[23]

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."[5]

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."

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."[24]
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[25] 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.[26][27]
  • 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").[28][29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ "(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
  3. ^ 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. p. 1, 10, 33, 58. ISBN 9780486416779. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  4. ^ "I've Been to the Mountaintop".
  5. ^ a b Sizer, Stephen (2007). Zion's Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church.
  6. ^ Kol Torah, vol. 13, no. 9, Torah Academy of Bergen County, Nov 8, 2003
  7. ^ a b See 6th and 7th portion commentaries by Rashi
  8. ^ Stuart, Douglas K., Exodus, B&H Publishing Group, 2006, p. 549
  9. ^ Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Walter A. Elwell, Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2001, p. 984
  10. ^ "Edersheim Bible History - Bk. 1, Ch. 10". Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  11. ^ "Edersheim Bible History - Bk. 1, Ch. 13". Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  12. ^ "Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible - Genesis 15". Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  13. ^ "Genesis 15 Commentary - John Gill's Exposition on the Whole Bible". Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  14. ^ Parshah In-Depth - Lech-Lecha
  15. ^ Doe, John. "Where the World Comes to Study the Bible". Archived from the original on 2009-04-13. Retrieved 2016-03-13.
  16. ^ "Methodists and Roman Catholics". Third Millennium Ministries. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  17. ^ "The Promises to Isaac and Ishmael". Archived from the original on 10 March 2016. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  18. ^ "GOD CALLS ABRAM ABRAHAM". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  19. ^ "Nigeriaworld Feature Article - The Abrahamic Covenant: Its scope and significance - A commentary on Dr. Malcolm Fabiyi's essay". Nigeria World. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  20. ^ Biblical commentary on the Old Testament, Volume 1, Carl Friedrich Keil, Franz Delitzsch, p. 224
  21. ^ "Conversion to Judaism Resource Center". Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Galatians 3:16 NIV
  24. ^ Henry P. Linton (1884). Notes on the book of Numbers. pp. 169–170. Image of p. 170 at Google Books {{cite book}}: External link in |quote= (help)
  25. ^ 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.)
  26. ^ Sainte Bible expliquée et commentée, contenant le texte de la Vulgate. Bibl. Ecclésiastique. 1837. p. 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; (Image of p. 41 at Google Books) {{cite book}}: External link in |quote= (help)
  27. ^ 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
  28. ^ 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)
  29. ^ 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.