We are separated from the people who wrote and received books of the Bible by between 2000 and 5000 years. That’s a long time! We look at black and white pictures of our grandparents or great-grandparents and wonder about how different their world was. They lived only a hundred or so years ago, the Bible is from 2000 years ago.
Our Bible was not written in 21st century English to people from a Western background. It was mainly written in the Ancient Near East to people from a very different culture to our own.
For most of us, the world of the Bible is also a long way from home. Where is Shechem, Beer-Sheba, or the place “called in the Hebrew tongue, Armageddon” (Revelation 16:16)? Where was Abraham’s birthplace, “Ur of the Chaldees”, and what was it like? If we do some research on Ur we can appreciate the faith of Abraham more deeply when we realise that he left behind a wealthy, cosmopolitan city offering a luxurious, idolatrous lifestyle in order to be a stranger and a pilgrim living in a tent for the rest of his life (cp Hebrews 11:8-13). We need to understand more about these places to enrich our understanding of what is happening in the Biblical narratives.
To really understand our Bible, we must find ways to bridge the gap between its time and place, and our time and place. To grasp its meaning, we must properly appreciate its historical and geographical context. For the Old Testament, this means developing some personal understanding of the Ancient Near East. For the New Testament, this means gaining some knowledge of Judea at the time of Christ, as well as the broader ancient Roman world to which the gospel spread.
In the “Information Age” of today, we have a wealth of knowledge to help us. The main tools for finding out facts about Biblical times and places are Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, and resources on Biblical Archaeology. A few suggested resources are listed below. I personally use and recommend Logos Bible Software as a highly capable and expandable tool, well worth the monetary investment. However, I realise some people are limited to using freely available software and resources like E-Sword and programs from the Sword Project.
Resources on Biblical Times and Places:
Books and Book Excerpts
- The Archaeology of the Bible by James K Hoffmeier
- Discoveries from Bible Times by Alan Millard
- Cities of the Biblical World by LaMoine F. DeVries
- Archaeology of the Land of the Bible by Amihai Mazar
- Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament by John Walton
- The Historical Geography of the Holy Land by George Adam Smith
- How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart, Introduction: The Need to Interpret, pp.30-31
- Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard, Chapter 1 – The Need for Hermeneutics, pp.13-16
- The Hermeneutical Spiral by Grant R. Osborne, Chapter 1 Context, pp.37-39
Logos Bible Software
- Built-In Tools:
- Bible Factbook
- Resources that can be purchased
- Lexham Bible Dictionary (free)
- Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (expensive but very comprehensive)
- IVP Bible Dictionaries (similar in scope and price to Anchor Yale)
- Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (also available in paperback)
- Archaeology of the Land of the Bible (also available in print)
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (free)
- Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (small cost)
- Various free map sets available
- Biblical Historic Context – Information about Biblical sites together with photographs