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Jerusalem Jerusalem
Seeking a capital from which to rule a united kingdom, David saw that Jerusalem—because of its position and strength—would be ideal. He conquered it. His son and successor Solomon built the Temple here. As a result, Jerusalem became the center of Jewish pilgrimage. Around 30 AD, Jesus arrived as a pilgrim, and because of what he suffered, the city became a center for Christian pilgrimage too. Centuries later, the site of the Temple was identified as the place from which Muhammad had ascended to heaven, and so the city became a pilgrimage goal for Muslims as well. Today, therefore, Jerusalem is sacred to all three major monotheistic faiths.
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Masada Rift Valley
The Rift Valley: A rip in the earth's crust, caused by the separation of Asia from Africa, extends about 4000 miles from Turkey to southern Africa, reaching its deepest point – indeed, the deepest on the face of the earth – at the Dead Sea, 418 meters below sea level. The dramatic landscape is connected to dramatic stories: the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Joshua's conquest of Jericho, and the final days of the Jewish rebels on Masada. The rift hosted visions of redemption. Here the Baptist did his work: where the waters had parted for the Israelites and later for Elijah, the heavens parted for Jesus. Here too the sectarians of Qumran propounded their vision of the end of days.
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Caesarea Maritima The Coast
The coast, an unbroken line, provides few natural harbors. Its plain, the Sharon ("straight"), has ridges running north-to-south. These trapped water flowing toward the sea, causing swamps. As a result, few Israelites lived on the Sharon Plain in First Testament times, while the Philistines occupied the southern coast. By contrast, in Phoenicia to the north (roughly, today's Lebanon), the mountains pushed people toward the sea, and the roots of those mountains formed good harbors. The Phoenicians, therefore, became the great sailors of the time, opening the markets of the Mediterranean; it was economically crucial for David and Solomon to ally with them, as later for Omri and Ahab. Centuries afterward, Herod the Great changed the geographical equation by building the first-ever artificial harbor at Caesarea. This feat opened the coast to Rome, and dozens of settlements soon sprang up on the Sharon Plain.
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Muhraka Central High Lands
Ancient empires could spread for hundreds of miles through the plains, but they had a hard time ruling uphill. This was the secret of the central highlands. They stretch like a loaf of bread from north to south. On them settled those who wished to avoid the empires, notably the ancient Israelites. In order to grow enough food they had to terrace the limestone slopes, an operation requiring a high degree of social organization at the level of clans and tribes. The northern section remained vulnerable, nonetheless, because of the mountain passes at Megiddo, Dothan and Shechem. But Judah, the section south of Jerusalem, was a landed peninsula, protected by deserts on the east and south and by a natural moat on the west. Its geography helped David of Bethlehem consolidate his power, and it helped his descendant Hezekiah survive the Assyrian onslaught of 701 BC. Judah could not withstand the Babylonians a century later, but by then the crucial First Testament texts had been gathered there, so that Torah could "go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3).
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Sea of Galilee Galilee
Galilee's green hills and broad valleys, all on an east-west pattern, made for easy passage between Egypt and Mesopotamia. The southernmost valley was Jezreel. Overlooking it from the Nazareth ridge, the young Jesus would have seen the theaters of battles he had read about: Deborah and Barak against the Canaanites, Gideon against the Midianites, the scene of Saul's death on Mount Gilboa and that of Josiah's at Megiddo. The last would give its name to the prophesied battle at the hill (har) of Megiddo, Ar-mageddon. Just four miles northwest of Nazareth lay Sepphoris, where Herod Antipas first established his capital. Later he built Tiberias on the western shore of Galilee's lake. North of it, at Capernaum, Jesus undertook his public mission.
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