Galilee could boast of the beauty of its scenery and the fruitfulness of its soil. It was the main highway to the world outside Palestine. Even though it could boast of prettier terrain, Judea could not covet any of Galilee’s advantages. The terrain there was barren, its hills bare and rocky, its wilderness lonely, but around the grey limestone mountains was the sacred history of Israel. Galilee could be considered the outer court, but Judea was the inner sanctuary.
After the pilgrim went through Galilee, he started climbing the hills that led to Jerusalem. There he could keep on climbing until he stood in front of the Temple itself. After leaving Galilee, the first place the pilgrim would approach was Shiloh. This was Israel’s earliest sanctuary and according to tradition the Ark had rested here for 369 years. (Shiloh is not on the map below, but would be to the north of Bethel, which is on the map). The next place one would come across was Bethel. Here was the sacred memorial of the great patriarchs.
Then one would stand on the plateau of Ramah which was very close neighbors with Gibeon and Gibeah. It was in Ramah where Rachel died, and was buried. In Genesis 35: 19-20 it says that Jacob set up a pillar on her grave. The Orientals have such a reverence for the resting places of historical people that it may never have been bothered all these years later. Opposite Rachel’s grave were the graves of Bilhah and Dinah. Rachel’s pillar was only five miles from Jerusalem, so this was no doubt a well-known landmark for the people of that day. This was the place where the Israelites captives met before they were carried into Babylon. There must have been many tears from those left behind, knowing they may never see their loved ones again.
Further westward where the mountains came down into the sea, were the scenes of former triumph. It was here that Joshua had pursued the kings of the south; Samson had come down upon the Philistines, and here for long years had war been waged against the Philistines, who were the arch enemy of Israel.
To the south was Bethlehem, and still farther the city of Hebron which was filled with priests, with its caves holding the remains of the patriarchs. It was this highland plateau that was the wilderness of Judaea. It was named for the villages which dotted it at long distances apart. It was a desolate, lonely place which was filled mostly with shepherds tending their sheep. It had long been the homes of outlaws, or those just trying to hide from the world.
It was the same limestone caves that had been the hiding place of David and his followers. John the Baptist had also prepared for his work here, and it was also the retreating place of the Essenes. They were a people who hoped to find purity in separating from the world and all the bad things in it.
Right beyond here in the lowest place on earth stretched the Dead Sea. On its western shore rose the castle which Herod named after himself, and farther south that almost inaccessible place of Masada. This was the scene of the last tragedy in the great Jewish war. (Masada was in the Wilderness of Judea at bottom of map).
Just a few hours from the desolate place around the Dead Sea lay the important city of Jericho. It was flanked and surrounded by four forts. Herod had built its walls, its theatre and amphitheatre; and Archelaus had built its new palace that was surrounded by splendid gardens. It was a very lush and lavish place that was so different from the Dead Sea and its surrounding area. This was the first large city that you came to coming down from Galilee by way of the Jordan River.
The soil of Jericho was extremely fertile, with vast amounts of tropical produce. Its palm-groves and gardens of roses, its balsam-plantations, with a huge one being behind the royal palace, made it seem like a land of fairy tales. It looked like a lush tropical paradise. The city had much general trade, but it was the trade in balsam that set it apart. Balsam not only could be made into the sweetest perfume, it was also cherished as a medicine, and was coveted by almost every household. There were people here of every description: pilgrims, priests, traders, robbers, wild fanatics, and it was not very far from Jerusalem.
Rome had also made the city a central station for the collection of tax and custom. This was where Zaccheus had gotten his wealth as the chief publican. One of the heathen historians of the day recorded that no one could have wished to wage serious warfare for Judaea’s possession. The Jew would readily concede this, for what attracted the Jew there was not the riches of the land, but this was the true home of his soul. This small area was the center of the Jew’s innermost life and the longing of his heart. Psalms 137: 5-6 – If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. This was the way the true Jew felt about Jerusalem. Many of the Psalms talk about how they loved Jerusalem and Judaea. The riches brought into the Temple from everywhere always were an attraction for the Gentile, because they had no allegiance such as this.
Judaea was to the Jew the symbol and prophecy of Israel’s resurrection. It was the hope of every Jew to go at least once to Jerusalem and stand within the sacred courts of the Temple, to mingle with the other worshippers, to bring offerings, to see the white-robed throng of ministering priests, to hear the chant of Levites, to watch the smoke of sacrifices uprising to heaven. Just to be there was to have a wonderful dream fulfilled and was like having heaven on earth to them. It is no wonder that during the feasts the population of Jerusalem swelled to millions. Devout Jews from every nation wanted to just be a part of the rituals and worship that went on there.
They had misinterpreted a lot of the prophecies to mean that “the end” was near and the promised Messiah might at any moment appear and when he did he would restore the kingdom to Israel. This was especially appealing to them since they were under Roman rule at the time. Even the heathen historians noted that there was a general expectancy of an impending Jewish world-empire, and most of them think this is what led them to rebel against Rome.
Outside of Palestine all eyes were directed toward Judaea. Any person who was a traveler would hold special attention of the people because he might bring news of what was going on there. Depending on what the traveler said, it could bring the people to delirium and frenzy. This probably accounts for the appearance of so many false messiahs. The crowds, despite repeated disappointments, were still very ready to accept any person who said they were the messiah until he was proven wrong. The people were so accepting of this situation, that while the Roman soldiers were actually preparing to set the Temple on fire, a false prophet could assemble 6,000 men, women and children in its courts and porches to wait for a miraculous deliverance from heaven.
The people waited fervently and expectantly for “the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers”. It was this hope that sent them scurrying when a person claimed to be the Messiah. This is why it was easy for all eyes to be turned on Jesus very quickly when He said He was the Messiah. It didn’t matter to them about his origins or his circumstances. They were desperately seeking for the Messiah, so it was much easier for them to accept Jesus than if they just didn’t care at all. It was also easier for the people to accept and get excited about John the Baptist, because he told of the coming of the real Messiah. They flocked to him and to Jesus because they were so expectant of a Messiah to come and help them.
Below is a map of Galilee and Judaea so that you can see their geographical locations. At the time Samaria was not considered to be part of any of the Jewish inheritance as they were mixed blood and were not true Jews.