Genesis 15:18–21 Describes what are known as “Borders of the Land” which in Jewish tradition defines the extent of the land promised to the descendants of Abraham, through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. The passage describes the area as the land of the ten named ancient peoples then living there.
More precise geographical borders are given Exodus 23:31 which describes borders as marked by the Red Sea the “Sea of the Philistines” the Mediterranean, and the “River”, the Euphrates), the traditional furthest extent of the Kingdom of David.
Genesis gives the border with Egypt as Nahar Mitzrayim – nahar in Hebrew denotes a river or stream, as opposed to a wadi.
A slightly more detailed definition is given in Exodus 23:31, which describes the borders as “from the sea of reeds (Red Sea) to the Sea of the Philistines (Mediterranean sea) and from the desert to the Euphrates River”, though the Hebrew text of the Bible uses the name, “the River”, to refer to the Euphrates.
Only the “Red Sea” (Exodus 23:31) and the Euphrates are mentioned to define the southern and eastern borders of the full land promised to the Israelites. The “Red Sea” corresponding to Hebrew Yam Suf was understood in ancient times to be the Erythraean Sea, as reflected in the Septuagint translation. Although the English name “Red Sea” is derived from this name (“Erythraean” derives from the Greek for red), the term denoted all the waters surrounding Arabia—including the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, not merely the sea lying to the west of Arabia bearing this name in modern English. Thus, the entire Arabian peninsula lies within the borders described. Modern maps depicting the region take a reticent view and often leave the southern and eastern borders vaguely defined. The borders of the land to be conquered given in Numbers have a precisely defined eastern border which included the Arabah and Jordan.
Numbers 34:1–15 describes the land allocated to the Israelite tribes after the Exodus. The tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh received land east of the Jordan as explained in Numbers 34:14–15. Numbers 34:1–13 provides a detailed description of the borders of the land to be conquered west of the Jordan for the remaining tribes. The region is called “the Land of Canaan” (Eretz Kna’an) in Numbers 34:2 and the borders are known in Jewish tradition as the “borders for those coming out of Egypt”. These borders are again mentioned in Deuteronomy 1:6–8, 11:24 and Joshua 1:4.
According to the Hebrew Bible, Canaan was the son of Ham who with his descendants had seized the land from the descendants of Shem according to the Book of Jubilees. Jewish tradition thus refers to the region as Canaan during the period between the Flood and the Israelite settlement. Eliezer Schweid sees Canaan as a geographical name, and Israel the spiritual name of the land. He writes: The uniqueness of the Land of Israel is thus “geo-theological” and not merely climatic. This is the land which faces the entrance of the spiritual world, that sphere of existence that lies beyond the physical world known to us through our senses. This is the key to the land’s unique status with regard to prophecy and prayer, and also with regard to the commandments. Thus, the renaming of this landmarks a change in religious status, the origin of the Holy Land concept. Numbers 34:1–13 uses the term Canaan strictly for the land west of the Jordan, but Land of Israel is used in Jewish tradition to denote the entire land of the Israelites. The English expression “Promised Land” can denote either the land promised to Abraham in Genesis or the land of Canaan, although the latter meaning is more common.
The border with Egypt is given as the Nachal Mitzrayim (Brook of Egypt) in Numbers, as well as in Deuteronomy and Ezekiel. Jewish tradition (as expressed in the commentaries of Rashi and Yehuda Halevi, as well as the Aramaic Targums) understand this as referring to the Nile; more precisely the Pelusian branch of the Nile Delta according to Halevi—a view supported by Egyptian and Assyrian texts. Saadia Gaon identified it as the “Wadi of El-Arish”, referring to the biblical Sukkot near Faiyum. Kaftor Vaferech placed it in the same region, which approximates the location of the former Pelusian branch of the Nile. 19th century Bible commentaries understood the identification as a reference to the Wadi of the coastal locality called El-Arish. Easton’s, however, notes a local tradition that the course of the river had changed and there was once a branch of the Nile where today there is a wadi. Biblical minimalists have suggested that the Besor is intended.
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