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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The World into Which Jesus Came

Don Stewart :: What Were the Different Political Divisions of the Holy Land When Jesus Came into the World?

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What Were the Different Political Divisions of the Holy Land When Jesus Came into the World?

The World Into Which Jesus Came – Question 2

When Jesus Christ, God the Son, came into our world the land of promise or the Holy Land was divided up into a number of different political divisions. The following is a simple breakdown of these different political divisions in the Holy Land at the time when Jesus came.

Judea

This was the Greek and Roman designation for the land of Judah. After the Roman conquest in 63 B.C., the word was used in two senses: (1) denoting the entire Holy Land (2) the Holy Land minus Galilee and Samaria. Jerusalem is in Judea. This was the last part to fall into captivity and the first to be reclaimed by the people. The strict religious Jews lived there (the right wing).

Samaria

This was the dwelling place of poor Jews, and Samaritans (half-Jew and half-Gentile). They adopted a mixed form of religion. There was a bitter rivalry between them and Jews from the time of Nehemiah.

We read about this in the Gospel of John where Jesus had an exchange with a Samaritan woman:

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew. How is it that you ask me, a Samaritan, for something to drink?” — Jews, of course, do not associate with Samaritans. (John 4:9 NJB)

As this passage tells us, the Jews did not associate with the Samaritans.

Though traveling Jews often bypassed Samaria, Jesus took the shorter route through Samaria to Galilee despite the mutual antagonism. Luke explains the route He took:

While traveling to Jerusalem, He passed between Samaria and Galilee. (Luke 17:11 HCSB)

Jesus Himself had no problem being with the Samaritans.

Galilee

Both Jews and Gentiles lived there. The Jews were loyal to the nation but not as fanatical as Judeans. The Judeans considered Galileans as second class Jews. Most of Christ’s ministry was in Galilee.

In fact, all of His disciples were Galileans (with the possible exception of Judas Iscariot). He may have been from Judea.

Perea

This is a district beyond the Jordan (Transjordan). It is never mentioned by name in the New Testament (except in a variant reading of Luke 6:17).

However, the district is referred to several times (e.g. as the land beyond the Jordan). We read of this in Matthew:

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. (Matthew 19:1 NRSV)

At the time of Christ’s public ministry it was occupied by Jews, and ruled by Herod Antipas. Geographically it was connected to both Galilee and Judea. Because it adjoined both these regions one could pass from Judea to Galilee, and bypass the territory of the Samaritans.

Decapolis

Decapolis was a league of ten cities founded by the Greeks. Its large territory was south of the Sea of Galilee and mainly to the east of Jordan. Inhabitants from Decapolis joined the great crowds that followed Jesus.

Matthew writes about Jesus crowds from this geographical area following Jesus. We read,

Large crowds followed Him from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. (Matthew 4:25 HCSB)

When Jesus cast the demons out of the man in the land of the Gadarenes, they were sent into a heard of pigs, or swine. The presence of the swine in this area suggests that the population was primarily Gentile. The cities were not on good speaking terms with the Jews.

This gives us a basic idea of the political and geographical divisions of the land where Jesus ministered. These divisions are important to know for our understanding of the public ministry of Jesus.

Summary – Question 2
What Were the Different Political Divisions of the Holy Land When Jesus Came into the World?

When God the Son, Jesus Christ, came into our world, there were five basic political/geographical divisions in the Holy land. We can simply explain them in the following manner.

Judea was the Roman name for the entire land. However, the term Judea was also used for the entire land minus Samaria and Galilee. In other words, it referred to the area around Jerusalem. The context must determine what is meant by the use of this word.

Galilee was to the north where Jews and Gentiles lived together. This is the place where Jesus was raised as well as the area where most of His public ministry took place. All of His disciples, with the possible exception of Judas, were Galileans.

Samaria was where the Samaritans, half-Jews and half-Gentiles, lived. They were not on good speaking terms with the Jews. Indeed, they had their own center of worship as well as their own translation of the first five books of Scripture, the books of Moses. While most Jews avoided Samaria Jesus chose to travel through this area.

Perea was the area beyond the Jordan and was mostly inhabited by Jews. While not mentioned by name in the gospels, it is referred to several times. It was the land beyond the Jordan. When Jews traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem and back they would usually bypass Samaria and travel through Perea.

The word Decapolis means “ten cities.” Mostly Gentiles inhabited this particular area which was south of the Sea of Galilee and east of the Jordan. Great crowds would come out from these cities and follow Jesus.

This gives us a brief idea of the various divisions of the Holy Land at the time of Jesus Christ. It is important to recognize these divisions because a number of events in the life of Christ have special significance due to where they took place.

Therefore, the more that we appreciate who lived in these particular areas, as well as their current religious and political situation, it will better help us understand the significance of Jesus’ words and deeds.

What Was the World like in the First Century A.D.? ← Prior Section
What Language or Languages Did Jesus Speak? Next Section →
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