February 6, 2015

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The land that flows with milk and honey

John F. FinkLet’s consider the land where Jesus lived.

In the Book of Numbers, Moses sent 12 men into the Promised Land, and they returned to report that “it does indeed flow with milk and honey” (Nm 13:12). Properly understood, this is an apt description because it reflects a wide difference in climate, fertility and elevation in a country that measures only 150 mile long and 50 miles wide.

“Milk” means goats’ milk. The parts of the Holy Land that flow with milk are the desert areas, mainly in the southeast with its low elevation, dry atmosphere and nomadic shepherds. Olive and fig trees abound, and not even those in the desert.

“Honey” means fruit—citrus trees, bananas, grapes. The Land of Honey is in the northwest, along the Mediterranean Sea and in Galilee. There is plenty of rain, but only during the rainy season (January through April), so there is excellent agriculture.

Some people who visit the Holy Land for the first time are surprised at how mountainous it is. The Jordan Valley is separated from the Mediterranean coast by a ridge of mountains about 18 miles wide and 80 miles long, with the mountains rising to 1,640 feet.

The Jordan Valley, where the Jordan River flows between the Sea of Galilee in the north and the Dead Sea in the south, is all below sea level. As you travel down the Jordan Valley to Jericho before turning west to go up to Jerusalem, you see the land change from fertile, green and lush fields to desert.

Jesus and his Apostles must have had strong leg muscles because they walked everywhere. The distance between Nazareth to Jerusalem was 120 miles and the last 15 miles, from Jericho to Jerusalem, was uphill from 1,300 feet below sea level to about 2,500 feet above sea level—a climb of 3,800 feet.

They could walk it quicker, about 90 miles, if they walked through Samaria, between Judea and Galilee. However, that meant traveling through an even more mountainous area. Besides, Jews didn’t like to walk through Samaria. Jesus and his Apostles did it at least once, though, when they stopped at Jacob’s Well and Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman.

During the three months I spent in the Holy Land studying in Jerusalem, I could never get used to the fact that, less than five minutes out of Jerusalem, we were in the desert. It could be cold and rainy in Jerusalem during the rainy season (and we had snow once), but sunny and pleasant in Jericho.

Galilee, where Jesus lived most of his life, is usually 15 to 20 degrees warmer than Jerusalem. That’s good during the winter, but bad in the summer. Galilee’s high humidity, and its average high temperature during July and August of 99 degrees, makes it most unpleasant to walk, and there are high mountains throughout Galilee.

Mount Tabor, six miles from Nazareth and 11 miles from the Sea of Galilee, is 1,886 feet high. Many scholars believe that Jesus and his Apostles walked at night rather than during the heat of the day. †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!