Courtesy: Hufington Post: Rachel Havrelock: The phrase “Biblical Israel” often passes on the lips of Republican presidential contenders, representatives of the Netanyahu government, and Israeli settlers. But where exactly is this Israel of the Bible to be found?
Not in the Bible itself. The Hebrew Bible (known to Christians as the Old Testament and to Jews as the Torah or Tanakh) contains five different “maps.” These “maps” aren’t pictures, but lists of boundaries that define the Promised Land. None of them resemble the modern-day “Biblical Israel.” One map — surprisingly found in the book of Joshua, which describes an all-out holy war — suggests a regional federation in which the tribes of Israel overlap and coexist with local inhabitants. Joshua chapter 15, verse 63 even states: “the Jebusites (local inhabitants of Jerusalem) and the People of Judah dwell together in Jerusalem until today.” This not only sounds like contemporary Jerusalem — a mixed city of Palestinians and Israelis — but also like a prophecy of how the division of Jerusalem might give way to dwelling together.
The closest we get to “Biblical Israel” in the Bible is a map buried in the book of Numbers in which the land spans from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Jordan River in the east. The northern and southern boundaries don’t correspond to “Biblical Israel” at all.
If not the Bible, then where does “Biblical Israel” come from? It results from a series of decisions made by the British when they asserted their power and later controlled the Middle East. With increasing awareness of the rich oil fields paralleling the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and dreams of transporting this oil to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea, the British War Office began funding the efforts of the biblically driven Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF). The PEF aimed to prove the legitimacy of the Bible through scientific endeavors like archeology and mapping. In 1879, the British War Office published maps that became widely available in 1880. The 26 sheets of hand-drawn maps present a Palestine conforming to the biblical formulae “from Dan to Beersheba” for the north-south axis and “from the Jordan to the Sea” for the east-west axis. Thus the Holy Land as a potential holding of a Protestant empire was born.