The ancient Near East is the land of the Bible.
The Garden of Eden was at the confluence of
the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (Mesopotamia
on the map above).
That was where Abraham was called, at Ur of
the Chaldees. He moved up from Mesopotamia
to Haran, around the Fertile Crescent and down
to the Levant, site of the Promised Land.
Abraham's descendants traveled west into
Egypt after Joseph was sold into slavery until
they were led out by Moses. They returned to
their Promised Land, which is where most of the
rest of scripture takes place, except for the
Assyrian and Babylonian captivities and the
missionary journeys of Paul.
It's called the Near East to distinguish it from the
Far East (China, Japan, Korea)--a name given it
by the British; as California, for instance, is
nearer the Far East than the Near East.
Recently, what used to be called the Near East
has been called the Middle East, which presents
all sorts of problems for countries like India,
which were formerly called the Middle East.
If you're now thoroughly confused, you're in
good shape to consider the history, culture and
religion of this complicated part of the globe.
Much of the land is desert land—dry, barren, a
place of hot days and cold nights, lonely,
isolated, not a lot of houses or other structures
Nancy Leigh DeMoss points out that the
Israelites during the Exodus would swing back
and forth between a mighty spiritual experience
and a desert one: "In . . . the book of Exodus,
chapter 15 through 17, we have three accounts
of the Children of Israel having a great
experience with the power of God and then
immediately following that, having a desert
She points out how, from the crossing of the
Red Sea to the crossing of the Jordan, the
Israelites experienced God's provision and
victory alternately with periods in the desert of
Shur, the desert of Sin, and the Sinai Desert.
From the place of blessing immediately into the
desert, she says, "after benediction comes battle."
What is it about the desert and meeting
God--through both the good and the bad? Three
major world religions began in the desert. Judaism
was forged at Sinai, where God met his people and
gave them the Law. Christianity began in the desert,
when Jesus was driven into the wilderness after his
baptism to be tempted by Satan. Paul went away
into the desert of Arabia for three years. And Islam
began in the Arabian desert.
In the fourth century, the desert fathers and mothers
went into the desert to escape the noise and
distractions of civilized society. Their writings inspire
Christians even today.
As Stephanie Saldana in The Bread of Angels writes,
"The desert, in the monastic tradition, does not
function as a landscape. The desert is instead a
mirror, where the silence and emptiness become so
vast that the only things left to meet there are the
self and God."
I met God in my own desert as a child in West Texas,
and I have journeyed with him ever since.
Why would one of the bleakest, most barren places
on earth be the birthplace of three major religions,
an empire larger than Rome at its height, and a
democratic uprising that is still impacting the world?
I hope you enjoy the website, which includes "The
Rise of Islam"; "The Ottoman Empire"; and "The
Arab Spring." Write me with your reactions at
An eclectic website about Women, Christianity, History, Culture and
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The Ancient Near East
--Meeting God in the Desert
Sand dunes (left) in North Africa;
Mount Sinai (right), where the
Israelites met God and received the
Law; and Mount Hira (below), where
Muhammad received his call.
|Religions and individuals that come from the
- are born to adversity. They develop
- know broad vistas. They look to the
- look closely for beauty. They develop
- are surprised by joy. They worship.
- are hospitable, caring, optimistic and
grateful. They spread the love of God.