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The names of the "Holy Land"

Canaan, Divided Kingdom, Eretz Israel, Israel, Judea, Palestine, Pelesheth, Philistia, Samaria, United Kingdom....

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The land that was once called Canaan and is now often referred to as the Holy Land has gone through many name changes in the past 4 millennia:

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Prior to the Exodus - Canaan:

"Exodus" is the name of the second book in the Pentateuch -- the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, which forms the first section of the Christian Bible. It also refers to the mass migration recorded in the book of Exodus. This is when the ancient Hebrews escaped from slavery in Egypt. It has been variously dated as occurring sometime between 1440 and 1290 BCE.

There is a general consensus that what we now call the "Holy Land" was called Canaan In ancient times, before the time of the Exodus. It was occupied by the Canaanites-- a Pagan society. Whether the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt and whether the exodus actually happened is a hotly debated point among some theologians and archaeologists.

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After the time of the Exodus - Promised Land:

The interval between the Exodus and the monarchy is referred to as the Tribal Period. It is described in the biblical books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and 1 Samuel 1-8. The area in which the Hebrews settled was variously called the "Promised Land" or simply "The Land."

There are many theories of how the ancient Hebrews came to occupy Canaan:

bullet Many Christians -- particularly from the conservative wing -- regard the authors of the Hebrew Scriptures as being inspired by God to write inerrant text.  Thus, they believe that the book of Joshua's description of a massive and unprovoked invasion of Canaan and a genocidal war against the Canaanites is literally true. 
bullet Judges 3:5 tells a different story. It explains that the Israelites settled peacefully among the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Amorites and Jebusites, and intermarried with them.
bullet The archaeological record shows that, in many cases, cities mentioned in Joshua either did not exist when the Israelite invasion was supposed to have happened, or they existed as uninhabited ruins. There is a growing belief among archaeologists that neither of the Biblical stories is true. Rather, the Israelites developed from what some call proto-Israelites who "...started out as indigenous Canaanites," already in Canaan. 1

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The United Kingdom:

This is the name given to the land of Israel during the time when Israel was ruled by three dictatorial kings: Saul, David and Solomon. This was circa 1047 to 930 BCE. The period of the United Kingdom is described in 1 Samuel 9-31, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings 1-11, 1 Chronicles, and 2 Chronicles 1-9.

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The Divided Kingdom:

The United Kingdom did not survive long after the death of Solomon, circa 930 BCE. Perhaps because of Solomon's abusive corporal punishment of his son, Rehoboam was a widely hated ruler who was insensitive to the needs of his people. He barely escaped assassination by his own people. The two tribes of Judah and Benjamin retained Rehoboam as king and formed the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Their capital was Jerusalem. The remaining ten tribes of Israel declared independence from the United Kingdom in 922 BCE, and formed the Northern Kingdom of Israel under their king Jeroboam. Their capital was Samaria. This is recorded in 2 Chronicles 10-12 and 1 Kings 12-16. Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam claimed to be God's chosen king. According to 1 Kings 14:30, there was continual warfare between the two kingdoms.

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The King James Version of the Bible has a single reference to Palestine. It is in Joel 3:4: "...all the coasts of Palestine..." This is from the Hebrew word "Pelesheth." Joel was one of the earliest prophets to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. His ministry can be dated to the middle of the 9th century BCE. This area called Palestine was located in the southwestern costal area of the Holy Land which the Bible records as having been occupied by the Philistines. The name Palestine was not used again until Roman times.

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Invasions of Israel and Judah by Assyrians and Babylonians:

" 853 BC, [King] Ahad of Israel was defeated by Shalmaneser and Israel began paying heavy tribute to Assyria... Israel existed from then on as more or less a vassal of Assyria." 2  In 732 BCE the Assyrians conquered and annexed large portions of northern Israel. The Northern Kingdom ceased to exist in 721 BCE, when its capital was destroyed by the Assyrian army. King Sargon II then deported nine Hebrew tribes to Haran and the mountains of eastern Assyria. Their Jewish identity was forever lost. Foreigners were brought into Israel to settle the land. The Assyrians renamed Israel as Samaria. They then attacked Judah, destroying Lackish and 44 other city states. During the siege of Jerusalem, they suddenly withdrew.

The final defeat of the weakened Southern Kingdom of Judah was as a result of the invasions by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar in 597 and 586 BCE. After the second defeat, the Hebrew elite were taken into captivity and relocated to Babylon. By this time, both the Canaanites, Philistines, and most of the tribes of Israel had ceased to exist as distinct peoples.

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Hebrews return to the land of Judea:

The king of Persia, Cyrus, who had defeated the Babylonians, had allowed the Hebrews to return to their Land beginning in 536 BCE. The land was now called Judea. Other migrations occurred in 458 and 445 BCE.

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Greek invasions:

In 332 BCE, Alexander the Great annexed Judea to the empire that he was creating. At his death, his empire was divided among his generals. At first, the land of the Hebrews was part of the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt. Then the Seleucid Kingdom of Syria conquered Judea in 198 BCE. Finally, during the Jewish uprising under the Machabees which began in 167, Judea enjoyed independence from 130 to 63 BCE.

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The Roman Era:

Rome conquered Judea under Pompey in 63 BCE. The timing of the introduction of the term "Palestine" to refer to the Holy Land is controversial:

bullet According to Thomas McCall, the name "Palestine" was not used until the early second century CE. The Romans continued the use of Judea and called the northern regions Galilee. McCall wrote: "When Titus destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Roman government struck a coin with the phrase 'Judea Capta,' meaning Judea has been captured. The term Palestine was never used in the early Roman designations." 3 After Bar Kochba's unsuccessful second Jewish revolt against Rome in 135 CE, Emperor Hadrian ordered that all Jews be exiled from the Holy Land. "He took the name of the ancient enemies of Israel, the Philistines, Latinized it to Palestine, and applied it to the Land of Israel. He hoped to erase the name Israel from all memory." 3
bullet According to the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL): By the early 1st century CE, Palestine existed in the form of a number of territories:
bullet Chalcis and Abilene in the Roman province of Syria.
bullet Iturea,
bullet Galilee,
bullet Samaria,
bullet Judea, and
bullet Idumea. 4

These areas were part of the Roman Empire, and were ruled directly from Rome, or indirectly by Jewish kings, or other local rulers.

bullet According to author Darrell G. Young, "there has never been a State of Palestine." 5

Two of the three sources agree that the term "Palestine" has been in use for over 1,860 years. We are trying to determine which of the three is an accurate description of the initial use of the term.

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Into modern times:

The Christian historian Eusebius referred to the land of Israel as "Palestine" circa 300 CE. Church literature and maps have continued the practice. When the British received a mandate to rule the area after World War I, they called the land on both sides of the Jordan River, Palestine. "This became the accepted geo-political term for several decades, and those who lived in the land were called Palestinians, whether they were Jews," Muslims, Christians, or others. 3

The state of Israel was carved out of Palestine by the United Nations in 1948. Jerusalem, revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims, was to become an international city. This was a momentous development for Jews, as they were able to have control over their own land for the first time in over 18 centuries. It was also of great theological significance to many conservative Christians. Their belief in the end times, the rapture, the war of Armageddon, and the second coming of Jesus Christ are dependent on biblical prophecy which implies that none of these events would occur until after the Jews had returned to Israel.

The Government of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority currently have radically different views of the land. The Palestinian Authority maps allegedly label the areas under their control and under Israeli control as "Palestine." To them, the state of Israel does not exist. Israel refers to Palestine as "territories under Israeli administration," or "disputed territory." Some in the Israeli ruling coalition consider these lands to be part of "Eretz Israel," (Land of Israel). The rest of the world refers to the area as "occupied territories." 6,7

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  1. Philip Davies, "What separates a Minimalist from a Maximalist? Not much," Bible Archaeology Review, 2000-MAR/APR Vol 26, #2, Page 24 to 27; 72 & 73.
  2. "Assyrian Campaigns in Israel and Judah," at:
  3. Thomas McCall, "Palestine vs. Israel as the name of the Holy Land," Zola Levitt Ministries, at: at:
  4. "New Testament world and times," Christian Classics Ethereal Library, at:
  5. "Focus on Jerusalem: The occupied territory," Bible Prophecy Ministry, Volume 53, Issue 1, at:
  6. The Israel Government Gateway is at: Their "Write Us" link is inoperative; their search facility is essentially impossible to use.
  7. The Palestinian National Authority's official web site is at: Their search facility is also essentially impossible to use. However, at least their "contact us" link works.

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Copyright 2003 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-MAR-16
Latest update: 2005-APR-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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