Israel is the land that God promised to the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and their descendance, according to the narrative in the Book of Genesis. So let's take a look at the sites related to Abraham.
Abraham arrives in Canaan
God spoke to Abraham (his name was Abram at the time) in the family settlement of Harran, which is an oasis located at the border between Northern Syria and Turkey. This was in the Hebrew year 2022 AM (Anno Mundi), which is in 1737 BCE (Before Common Era). God said:
God said to Abram: "Go for yourself, from your land, from your relatives, and from the house of your father, to the land I will show you." [...] And Abram went when God spoke to him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Charan. [...] And they left to go to the land of Canaan, and they arrived to the land of Canaan. Abram passed in the land until the site of Shechem until Elon Moreh, and the Canaanite was then in the land. And God appeared to Abram and said: "To your offspring I will give this land." [...] And he moved from thence unto the mountain on the east of Beth-el, and pitched his tent, having Beth-el on the west, and Ai on the east. [...] And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South. --- Genesis 12:1-9
The mentioned sites in the Land of Israel are:
- Shechem, which is the city of Nablus today
- Elon Moreh which is a mount overlooking Shechem: today it is believed to be where the Jewish settlement of Elon Moreh is located; although, since the discovery of Joshua's Altar on Mount Ebal, the matter is debatable
- the mountain on the east of Beth-el: this mountain is Baal-Hatzor, as mentioned in my blog about Beth-El (click here); there, Abraham set an altar to God
- Going south: Abraham avoid the Canaanite cities and followed the so-called Route of the Patriarchs, from peak to peak, from Northern Samaria to Southern Judea. Due to a famine in the land, he continued until Egypt
Abraham settles in Hebron
The Biblical narrative continues after Abraham's return from Egypt. He returned all the way north to the mountain Baal-Hatzor near Beth-El:
And he went on his journeys from the South even to Beth-el, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Beth-el and Ai; unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first. --- Genesis 13:3-4
On top of this mountain, he and his nephew Lot decided to split their settlements in order to avoid conflicts:
Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, [...] And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him: 'Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which thou see, to you will I give it, and to your seed forever. [...] Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for unto you will I give it.' And Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the terebinths of Mamre, which are in Hebron --- Genesis 13:12-18
Lot settled in the valley, which is now the Dead Sea valley, in the city of Sodom. God repeated the promise made to Abraham. At the top of Baal-Hatzor (culminating over 1000 m, above all peaks of Samaria), we can see the Jordan valley in the east, the Mediterranean Sea in the west, as well as Jerusalem in the south. So Abraham could indeed see all the land that was promised to him.
The next stop of Abraham is in the vicinity of Hebron, which was a Canaanite city. Abraham settled on a west-side hill overlooking the city: it is there that tradition located the "terebinths of Mamre". An old terebinth was named after Abraham for centuries.
Abraham in (Jeru)Salem
Around year 2030 AM (1730 BCE), four kings from Mesopotamia made campaign in the land of Israel and took Lot, Abraham's nephew. Abraham pursued and defeated them. Then he passed through the region of Salem:
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was priest of God the Most High. And he blessed him, and said: 'Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth. --- Genesis 14:18-19
According to Jewish tradition, Salem was the ancient Jerusalem, before another Canaanite people, the Jebusite, settled there. In the times of Abraham, the patriarch Sem son of Noah was still alive and was called Melchizedek which means King of Justice. Because, in this generation of idolaters, only one man, Sem, could be called 'King of Justice' with the role of 'priest of God the Most High'.
According to Historians, the prefix Jeru- came from the ancient Egyptian word Huru- which means realm, or kingdom. So the kingdom of Salem was, from the Egyptian rulers, Huru-Salem which later was changed to Jerusalem in the Bible.
Birth of Ishmael in Hebron
Sarah, Abraham's wife, could not ger pregnant. So she pushed her maidservant, Hagar, into Abraham to give him a descendance. Ishmael was then born in Mamre, near Hebron, where Abraham lived.
And Abram was fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram. --- Genesis 16:16
Abraham was 86 years old, so it was in year 2034 AM (1726 BCE).
Sodom and Gomorrah
When Abraham was 99 years old, three men (angels, in fact) came to him in Mamre near Hebron. They announced that his wife Sarah would bear a child. Then they continued their way to the valley where the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were located. The inhabitants of these cities were wicked, and God had decided to destroy them. Their sins were about forbidden sexual practices. The word 'sodomy' comes from Sodom. The destruction took place on the date of 15 Nissan of 2047 AM (1713 BCE).
Then the LORD caused to rain upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; and He overthrow those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. --- Genesis 19:24-25
What is brimstone? An old name for Sulfur. This natural material is dangerously flammable. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were located in the Southern side of the present Dead Sea. Any tourist in the region would notice the change of environment when travelling from the northern side of this valley (it is desertic but with vegetation) to the southern side (desertic but void of flora): the destruction in this part of the valley has been much greater. In some parts of the valley, one can meet with remains Sulphur, of yellowish colour as shown in the video below when we tried to light up a natural mineral of Sulfur found in the area.
Abraham journeys south
The Biblical narrative continues as follows:
And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the land of the South and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. --- Genesis 20:1
It is unclear why Abraham left the more liveable area of the terebinths of Mamre to journey south, in the more arid part of the Land of Israel. One can assume he needed to move away from his neighbours in the city of Hebron. He was about to have a son from Sarah and may have feared bad influence.
Kadesh is an oasis at the border between two deserts: the Negev in Israel and the Sinai in Egypt. Much later, the Hebrews will settle in this oasis, also called Kadesh-Barnea, after they left Egypt. Shur is the desertic region east from Kadesh (probably all the area called the Wilderness of Sin), whereas Gerar is in the western part of the Negev, close to today's Gaza Strip (the Biblical Philistia). Gerar is more attractive to settle down, because of the presence of vegetation and seasonal streams such as Nahal Gerar and Nahal HaBesor (see map found in Wikipedia).
Birth of Isaac
The promised son came to life in Gerar in 2048 AM (1713 BCE). Abraham was 100 years old.
And the LORD remembered Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as He had spoken. And Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. --- Genesis 21:1-3
Hagar and Ishmael
But, as some years passed, the bad influence that Abraham wanted to escape from followed him in his own family: Ishmael was playing forbidden games with the young Isaac. Abraham was forced to send off Hagar and Ishmael.
And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away; and she departed, and strayed in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. And the water in the bottle was spent, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. [...] And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink. And God was with the lad, and he grew; and he dwelt in the wilderness and became an archer. And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt. --- Genesis 21:14-21
Going away from Gerar into the wilderness, a person would naturally follow the riverbeds (see same map above), even dry, because this is where vegetation and shade. But, once you reach Beer-sheva and go south-east, you enter a desert even dryer and void of vegetation. There is no water source to be seen in this region except for Beer Yeruham. It is a natural well near the modern city of Yeruham where Bedouin tradition says that this was the well that Hagar, mother of Ishmael (the father of Arabic nomadic people) found. The well still has water, permanently, and many trees grow around it. It can be seen in Park Yeruham. Bedouins still come to the area.
The Biblical narrative mentions that, when he grew up, Ishmael lived in the wilderness of Paran, which is a vast desert in the south-east part of the Negev around the stream called Nahal Paran that seasonally flows towards the Arava plain.
The oath of Beer-sheva
While in the region of Gerar, Abraham's shepherds were in dispute with those from Abimelech kingdom of Philistine. So Abraham and his camp moved more east, as Hagar did, and established themselves at the limit of the wilderness. This was the last place where they could find water and dig wells for it. But the dispute followed them and confrontation was imminent, until Abimelech came to visit Abraham:
And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of the well of water, which Abimelech's servants had violently taken away. And Abimelech said: 'I know not who hath done this thing; [...] So they made a covenant at Beer-sheba. --- Genesis 21:25-32
It seems that Abraham had a success in finding underground water. The geology of the region explains the presence of water not too deep from the ground surface. This was caused by the Messinian event some 5 million years ago, when the Mediterranean Sea dried up and then was refilled with sea water again when the straights of Gibraltar opened up. There is an attraction site in Beer-sheva around a very ancient well located in the right area where Abraham would have dug his, because it is in a lower level from the grounds of the city. The entrance is with a fee but is worth the visit. It is called Beer Abraham. For more information click here.
The Binding of Isaac
The Bible in chapter 22 doesn't indicate when this event took place, but it was before Sarah's death (in chapter 23). So opinions about this date differ within a few years. The Binding of Isaac must have occurred in Jerusalem around year 2074 AM (1686 BCE).
And Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he cleaved the wood for the burnt-offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. --- Genesis 22:3-4
Abraham and Isaac journeyed north from Beer-sheva, for three days. This would have taken them to the outskirts of today's Jerusalem, from the southern side. Jerusalem is 'the place of which God had told him'. Jewish tradition says that this place was the top of Mount Moriah, under the Dome of the Rock of today in the so called Temple Mount, because it is the place where Salomon built the Temple and where the Second Temple was also erected. After this divine trial, Abraham and his son returned to Beer-sheva.
Death of Sarah
Not many years after this event, Sarah died at the age of 127. It was in 2085 AM (1675 BCE). Isaac was 37 years at that time.
And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiriath-arba--the same is Hebron--in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her. --- Genesis 23:1-2
Why did she die in "Kyriat-Arba", near Hebron, and not in Beer-sheva? One has to assume that, when she knew her time of death was near, she journeyed there to be buried in a certain spot and not in Beer-sheva. It is in this place that Abraham negotiated and bought a field outside Hebron for 400 shekels of silver, with a natural cave to bury Sarah. The cave is well-known today to both Jews and Muslims as the Cave of Machpela. The names machpela (which means double-up) and -'arba' (which means four) refers to Jewish tradition that, in this cave, Adam and Eve had been buried, and Abraham knew that he and his son and grandson and their wifes would be buried in the same cave: in total it makes four couples as Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah.
After the death of his wife, Abraham took the responsibility to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac. He sent his servant Eliezer to the land of Charan. There Rebecca was chosen, and she was married to Isaac. This union took place when Isaac was 40 years old (as per Genesis 25:20), so it 2088 AM (1672 BCE).
Isaac had two twin sons, but non-identical (born from two different eggs): Jacob and Esau. They were probably born about 2108 AM (1652 BCE). Esau grew up as a hunter while Jacob was following the path of God. Esau sold his birthright to Jacob when Abraham died: it was at his mourning that Jacob prepared a stew of red lentils. It was in year 2123 AM (1637 BCE).
And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. --- Genesis 25:8
Abraham died in Beer-sheva and was buried in the Cave of Machpelah near his wife Sarah.
If you wish to visit some of these places related to the life of Abraham in the Land of Israel, please do not hesitate to contact me so we can arrange the visits.
Certified Tour Guide, Israel