Modern Place Names and the Bible
A family member asked me for a brief list of major regions in the biblical world that are mentioned in the news today by other names. Since most Bible dictionaries do not have entries for the modern names, this list is intended to bridge that gap. With the ancient names in hand, you can consult a Bible dictionary for more details.
Iraq – ancient Assyria (northern Iraq) and Babylon (southern Iraq). Assyria conquered the ten tribes of the north, and Babylon conquered Judah and Jerusalem.
Iran – ancient Persia. Setting of familiar stories of Daniel in the lions’ den and Esther.
Syria – ancient Aram. Rarely united in ancient times, leading to multiple Aramean countries. The prominent one in the Bible was centered in Damascus.
Lebanon – home of the biblical cities of Tyre and Sidon and the ancient Phoenicians.
Jordan – settled in biblical times, from north to south, by Israel (tribes of Manasseh, Reuben, and Gad), Ammon, Moab, and Edom.
West Bank – the modern name for the biblical lands of Judah (Judea), Ephraim, and Manasseh (Samaria). Strangely enough, the Israelis today do not live in most of the land that was the heartland of ancient Israel.
Gaza Strip – once was part of the land of the Philistines (no relation to the Palestinians of today except in name). Most of the Philistine territory is inhabited by Jewish Israelis today, including the coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon.
Golan Heights – biblical Bashan. Known for its cattle and oaks, but sparsely settled in the biblical period.
Turkey – in the Old Testament period this was home to a variety of people that are less directly related to the Bible (including the Hittites). In the New Testament times, Paul founded and worked with many churches, including those in Galatia, Ephesus, and Colossae.
Greece – Paul’s second missionary journey focused on Macedonia (northern Greece) and Achaia (southern Greece). Macedonia includes the cities of Philippi and Thessalonica, whereas Achaia includes Athens and Corinth.
Russia – this region is never named in the Bible. Some believe that references to the enemy in “the north” pertain to Russia, but I think this is unlikely. Because Israel was sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Arabian desert to the east, invaders came from the south (Egypt) or the north (Assyria and Babylon).